The Paschal Feast and The Lord’s Supper
The first cup of wine was then drunk, and each washed his hands. It was evidently at this time that Jesus humbled Himself and washed the disciples’ feet. In the original Greek, verse 2 translates ‘and when supper had come,’ so this was actually part of the meal. It was probably in reference to that first cup that Luke talks about in Luke 22: 17 – ‘And He took the cup, and gave thanks, and said, Take this, and divide it among yourselves’ – the ‘cup of blessing,’ which was the third, and formed part of the new institution of the Lord’s Supper, being afterwards mentioned in verse 20.
In washing their hands, they repeated the following customary prayer: ‘Blessed art Thou, Jehovah our God, who has sanctified us with Thy commandments, and hast enjoined us concerning the washing of our hands.’ Two different kinds of ‘washing’ were prescribed by tradition – ‘dipping’ and ‘pouring’. At the Paschal Supper the hands were to be ‘dipped’ in water.
Then the Paschal Table was brought forward. The president of the feast first took some of the herbs, dipped them in salt water, ate of them, and then gave to each of the others at the table. Immediately after this, all the dishes were removed from the table, and then the second cup was filled. A very interesting ceremony now took place. It was written in the Law that at each Paschal Supper the father was to show his son the importance of this festival. The son was directed at this particular part of the service to make inquiry. If he was too young or incapable of doing so, the father would do it for him. The following is a transcript of this inquiry.
The Son’s Question
The Son asks: ‘Why is this night distinguished from all other nights? For on all other nights we eat leavened or unleavened bread, but on this night only unleavened bread? On all other nights we eat any kind of herbs, but on this night only bitter herbs? On all other nights we eat meat roasted, stewed, or boiled, but on this night only roasted? On all other nights we dip (the herbs) only once, but on this night twice?’ Then according to the earliest and most trustworthy tradition, it is added that ‘Then the father instructs his child according to the capacity of his knowledge, beginning with our disgrace and ending with our glory, and expounding to him until he has explained all through, to the end of the whole section’ (Deut. 26: 5 – 11). In other words, the head of the house was to relate the whole national history, commencing with Terah, Abraham’s father. He was to tell of his idolatry, and continue in due order the story of Israel up to their deliverance from Egypt and the giving of the Law. The more fully the father could explain it all, the better.
After this was done, the Paschal dishes were brought back onto the table. The president now took up in succession the dish with the Passover lamb, that with the bitter herbs, and that with the unleavened bread, and briefly explained the importance of each. The reason for this according to Rabbi Gamaliel was:
“From generation to generation every man is bound to look upon himself not otherwise than if he had himself come forth out of Egypt. Exodus 13: 8 – And thou shalt show thy son in that day, saying, This is done because of that which Jehovah did unto me when I cam forth out of Egypt. Therefore, we are bound to thank, praise, laud, glorify, extol, honor, bless, exalt, and reverence Him, because He hath wrought for our fathers and for us all these miracles. He brought us forth from bondage into freedom, from sorrow into joy, from mourning to a festival, from darkness to a great light, and from slavery to redemption. Therefore let us sing before Him: Hallelujah! Then the first part of the Hallel was sung, comprising Psalms 113 and 114, with this brief thanksgiving at the close: ‘Blessed art Thou, Jehovah our God, King of the Universe, who has redeemed us and redeemed our fathers from Egypt.’ Upon this the second cup was drunk. Hands were now washed a second time, with the same prayer as before, and one of the two unleavened cakes broken and thanks were given.”
The Breaking Of The Bread
Rabbinical authorities distinctly state that this thanksgiving was to follow, not precede, the breaking of bread, because it was the bread of poverty. The poor did not have whole cakes, but only broken pieces. This distinction is important because it proves that since the Lord instituted His Supper, He first gave thanks and then brake the bread. Matthew, Mark, and Luke all testify to this fact.
Pieces of the broken cake with ‘bitter herbs’ between them and ‘dipped’ in the Charoseth, were next handed to each in the company. This probably was the ‘sop’ which Jesus gave to Judas. The unleavened bread with bitter herbs in reality constituted the beginning of the Paschal Supper. Previously, the first part of the service had only served as a kind of introduction. But because Judas ‘having received the sop, went immediately out’, could not have possibly partaken of the Paschal Lamb, and certainly not of the Lord’s Supper. The solemn discourses of Jesus recorded by John 13: 31; 16 can then be regarded as His last real talk with the disciples, and the intercessory prayer that followed served as His ‘grace after meat.’
The Three Elements Of The Feast
The Paschal Supper itself consisted of the unleavened bread with bitter herbs of the Chagigah, or festive offering, and lastly of the Paschal Lamb itself. After that nothing more was to be eaten, so that the flesh of the Paschal Sacrifice might be the last meat that was partaken of. In modern times, though, the Jews conclude the Supper with a piece of unleavened cake. They call this Aphikomen, or after-dish.
After this they washed their hands again and filled the third cup. It seems remarkable that Jesus seems to have anticipated the present Jewish practice that He ‘brake the bread when He had given thanks’, instead of adhering to the old injunction of not eating anything after the Passover Lamb. In doing so, He really carried out the spirit of the Paschal Feast.
After the night of Jesus’ betrayal, the Paschal Lamb would have no further meaning, and it was right that the way Jesus did it should take its place. He knew that things were about to change, and He changed the way this was done also. The old event pointed to and merged in with another event – the offering of the better Lamb, and the better freedom connected with that sacrifice.
The Third Cup
Immediately afterwards, the third cup was drunk with a special blessing that was spoken over it. There cannot be any doubt that this was the cup which Jesus connected with His own supper. In Jewish writings, it is called ‘the cup of blessing’, partly because it and the first cup required a special blessing, and partly because it followed the ‘grace after meat.’
There was such importance attached to it that the Talmud notes ten peculiarities that are too minute for present consideration, but sufficient to show that special value that was set upon it.
The service concluded with the fourth cup over which the second portion of the ‘Hallel’ was sung. This consisted of Psalms 115, 116, 117, and 118. The whole thing ended with the ‘blessing of the song’ which comprised these two prayers: ‘All Thy works shall praise Thee, Jehovah our God. And Thy saints, the righteous, who do Thy good pleasure, and all Thy people, the house of Israel, with joyous song let them praise, and bless, and magnify, and glorify, and exalt, and reverence, and sanctify, and ascribe the kingdom to Thy name, O our King! For it is good to praise Thee, and pleasure to sing praises unto Thy name, for from everlasting to everlasting Thou art God. The breath of all that lives shall praise Thy name, Jehovah our God. And the spirit of all flesh shall continually glorify and exalt Thy memorial, O our King! For from everlasting to everlasting Thou art God, and besides Thee we have no King, Redeemer, or Saviour.’
The Supper In Our Lord’s Time
It was in the above manner that the Paschal Supper was celebrated by the Jews at the time that Jesus sat down to it for the last time with His disciples. It is very important to have a clear understanding of everything that happened on that occasion, so we will repeat some so that we can piece together the notices in the various Gospels, adding to them again those explanations which have just been given in detail. According to Scripture, we have the following narrative of events:
Early on the forenoon of the 14th of Nisan, Jesus sent Peter and John before Him to ‘prepare the Passover’, and in the evening He and the other disciples came to the large upper room where Peter and John were preparing the Supper. It seems, though, that He seems to have intended ‘after Supper’ to spend the night outside the city, because Judas and his band of chief priests did not seek for Jesus where they had eaten the meal, but went straight to ‘the garden into which He had entered, and His disciples; for Judas knew the place’. The Garden of Gethsemane was a place where Jesus often went with His disciples.
When the hour was come for the commencement of the Paschal Supper, Jesus ‘sat down, and the twelve apostles with Him leaning’ at the feast. John was on Jesus’ bosom, with Judas apparently next behind, while Simon Peter faced John. This made him able to talk easily when he wished to ask something of Jesus.
After the disciples were arranged, Jesus ‘took the cup and gave thanks, and said Take this, and divide it among yourselves.’ This was the first cup, over which the first prayer in the service was spoken. Next, they all washed their hands, only Jesus gave special meaning to the service because he expanded it into Christian fellowship over His broken body. He rose from the supper and began to wash the feet of the disciples. Jesus was mingling teaching for the present with the customary lessons of the past. The first part of the Hallel had been sung and in due order there was the ‘bread of poverty’ and the ‘bitter herbs’ that were to be a reminder of the sorrow and bitterness of Egypt.
It was at this time that Jesus gave ‘the sop’ of unleavened bread with bitter herbs to Judas Iscariot.
The Bible says that ‘after the sop Satan entered into him and he went out immediately.’ It was an unusual time to leave the Paschal Table because when the ‘sop’ was dipped, it meant that the Supper itself had just begun. In their excitement it seems that they didn’t fully understand what Jesus was talking about. They just assumed that Judas was going to get something for the feast that they had forgotten, or give some of the money to help provide peace-offerings for the poor, since he took care of the money bag. This would have been quite in accordance with the spirit of the ordinance, since it was permitted to do whatever it took to prepare and make provisions for the feast. It was only after Judas had left, and after the regular Paschal meal, that Jesus instituted His own Supper, for the first time. Then they sang a hymn and went out into the Mount of Olives.
Our Lord’s Agony
It was now that the Lord’s great heaviness and loneliness came upon Him; when all around seemed to give way, as if crushed under the terrible burden about to be lifted. His disciples could not even watch with him for one hour during his time of greatest agony. ‘His sweat was as it were great drops of blood, falling down to the ground. He prayed, Father if it be possible, let this cup pass from Me: nevertheless not as I will, but as Thou wilt.’ But ‘the cup which the Father had given him, He drank to the bitter dregs; and when he had offered up prayers and supplications with strong crying and tears unto Him that was able to save Him from death, and was heard in that He feared though He were a Son, yet learned He obedience by the things which He suffered and being made perfect, He became the author of eternal salvation unto all them that obey Him.’
Thus the ‘Lamb without blemish and without spot, who verily was foreordained before the foundation of the world’ was selected, ready, willing, and waiting. It only remained that it should be actually offered up as ‘the propitiation for our sins: and not for ours only, but also for the whole world.’