Happy Maundy Thursday! For those who did not grow up in a liturgical church, Maundy Thursday is the fifth day of Holy Week (the Thursday before Easter), and it recalls the Passover dinner that Jesus celebrated with His disciples on the night of His arrest.
The First Passover: A Night of Watching
Imagine that you are a slave in Egypt in a generation with a higher girl to guy ratio because a couple of decades earlier Pharaoh had ordered the genocide of all male Hebrew children. You worked everyday building cities for Pharaoh and were overseen by harsh taskmasters who used brutal force to punish or to "encourage" efficiency. You cried out to God to end the suffering of you and your people, to act on the promises that He'd made to give you land, and to vindicate you. Your parents prayed this prayer as did your grandparents and your great-grandparents. But each day you woke up to more work, more oppression, more despair.
Until this man named Moses comes promising God's deliverance. And you see miracles - the Nile River turned to blood, creatures such as frogs and flies devastate crops, hail destroys the land, boils cover the Egyptians, disease overtakes the livestock, and the sun even stops shining for three whole days! Then Moses tells you and all of your kin to kill a lamb at twilight, rub its blood on the doorframe of your house, roast its meat, and quickly eat it with unleavened bread and bitter herbs while fully dressed and prepared to travel. You perceive a weightiness and apprehension with these instructions, especially since God has promised that the next plague would involve a judgment on all the gods of Egypt with the blood on the doorframe being your only protection against this coming judgment, so you make preparations.
That night you do as you were instructed, watching and waiting for God to do as He promised and to strike down the firstborn son of every family lacking the bloodstained doorpost. And at midnight, you begin to hear it. Great wailing coming from Egyptian homes - echoing so loudly in the desert and in the cities that there was no escaping the mourning, fear, and hysteria as Egyptian families discovered more and more sons and livestock dead. Even Pharaoh's own son - considered to be divine and a descendant of the sun god - had been killed!
And quickly you are told you must leave - leave your home, leave Egypt. No time for packing. Take what you have and go! So you gather what you can as quickly as you can in the middle of the night, and you head into the desert with your family, your neighbors, and your countrymen. Relieved at God's protection of your family in a night with so much death. Exhilarated at the prospect of your release from slavery. Wondering what's next and where you will go and how you will get there with so few supplies. Amazed as you see a pillar of fire leading you by night and a pillar of cloud by day. And apprehensive as the Hebrew men - ill equipped as they were - travel prepared for battle.
The Significance of the Passover
We can't understand the last Passover without grasping the context of the first one. When Moses relayed God's instructions regarding the Lamb's blood and the meal, Moses told them of God's design for this day - the tenth day of the first month - to be celebrated as a memorial for how God "'passed over the houses of the people of Israel in Egypt, when he struck the Egyptians but spared our houses'" (Ex. 12:27). God formulated how He would deliver His people from slavery in Egypt, and in His wisdom, He foreshadowed what would occur with regards to Christ's death and our salvation. In all of this, He also prepared the Israelites to understand why the Messiah would have to die.
- As God spared His people from judgment by the blood of the Passover lamb, all who trust in Christ for salvation are spared eternal judgment because of the shedding of Christ's blood. He is the ultimate Passover Lamb (1 Cor. 5:7).
- The Lamb chosen for the Passover had to be without blemish (Ex. 12:15), and Christ the Savior was/is sinless.
- God used the Passover as the impetus for freeing the Israelites from slavery in Egypt, and Christ's death frees us from slavery to sin.
The Last Passover: A Night of Inauguration
Matthew 26:17-30, Mark 14:12-26, and Luke 22:7-20
In God's wisdom and timing, this meal - the Passover - served as the reason for Jesus' gathering with the Twelve on what would be the night of His arrest, the night before He would hang on the cross becoming the sacrificed Lamb. And on this night, Christ instituted the Lord's Supper, giving new meaning to the Passover meal.
For the Jews, the Passover involved a word of blessing with the cup of wine being offered by the host, and dishes of green herbs, bitter herbs, and fruit puree being served. Then the head of the family would tell the story of the Passover and sing the first part of the Hallel Psalms (the Hallel are Psalms 113-118). The drinking of the second cup, the cup of interpretation, would occur at this time. The head of the family would then pray over the unleavened bread, and the meal (passover lamb, herbs, fruit puree) would be eaten with a prayer being prayed over the third cup, the cup of blessing. To conclude the meal, the head of the family would sing the remainder of the Hallel and would offer praise over the fourth cup of wine, the hallel cup.
In Matthew, Mark, and Luke, we see Jesus taking the bread and blessing it as was common practice, but unlike the ritual, He offered His own words of interpretation: "'This is my body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me'" (Lk. 22:19). As He broke the bread, He symbolized the breaking of His body that would soon occur as He was beaten and crucified. In this, Christ identified with the Passover Lamb, for both had to be broken for the people to be "passed over." It gives a whole new level of meaning to Christ declaring Himself to be "bread of life" (Jn. 6:35). Eternal life could only be given once His life - His body - had been broken.
After doing this with the bread, Jesus took the third cup (the cup of blessing), blessed it, and provided new teaching: "Drink of it, all of you, for this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins. I tell you I will not drink again of this fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new with you in my Father's kingdom" (Matt. 26:27-29).
With this meal, Christ ended the old covenant and inaugurated the new covenant. He used the same languages as Moses did in Exodus 24:8 at the commencement of the old covenant. By declaring “this is my blood,” Jesus showed that He was doing what Moses had done – inaugurating a new covenant – that was sealed by His blood, not an animal’s blood.
Furthermore, Jesus' reference to the "many" harkened back to Isaiah 53 and Isaiah's prophecies regarding the Suffering Servant who would bear "the sins of many, and make intercession for the transgressors" (Isa. 53:12). And this was on top of Jesus' self-identification as this Suffering Servant who had come to give His life as a "ransom for many" (Mt. 1:21; 20:28). As Dr. Allen Ross notes, "So Jesus was teaching that His substitutionary death would forgive sins and establish the New Covenant, all in fulfillment of the prophecies, and in fulfillment of the true meaning of the Passover."
At the conclusion of the meal, Christ did not offer the fourth cup of wine - the hallel cup or the cup of consummation. Why? Because He will not drink this cup until the time of consummation - the Marriage Supper of the Lamb (Rev. 19). This is why the next event that the Gospels record involves Jesus and the disciples singing a hymn then heading to the Mount of Olives, for the Passover meal concludes by singing the rest of the Hallel Psalms.
The Lord's Supper
For us, the Lord’s Supper reenacts (role plays) the events in the upper room, symbolizes Christ’s sacrifice (the means of salvation), and renews the covenant (each time we take, we’re examining our life in light of the new covenant). The Israelites ate the Passover to identify with their ancestors who were redeemed from bondage by participating in the Passover meal, and we as Jesus’ followers are to identify with His redemptive death by eating the bread of the Lord’s Supper. When we celebrate this meal, we’re to remember what Christ has done and that He is returning (1 Cor. 11:23-32). So as we head into Good Friday and Easter Sunday this weekend, let us remember Christ, our Passover Lamb.
"For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord's death until he comes" (1 Cor. 11:26).