Jesus’s Last Supper as a Passover Seder

This is the fourth and final article in this Tough Topics Explained series about Passover.

The Passover points to Jesus as the Messiah.

This fourth article is called, "Jesus's Last Supper as a Passover Seder."

It considers how Jesus's final Passover meal with His disciples incorporated many elements of a Passover Seder. It will focus on several ways that Jesus used this Passover meal to further reveal things not only about Passover, but about Himself as the Messiah.

The first article was called: "The Original Passover and the Holy Days of Passover, Unleavened Bread, and First Fruits." 

It considers the Biblical account of God's deliverance of the Israelites from Egypt, His commands for how Israel was to observe and memorialize this event, and their entrance into the Promised Land.

The second article was: "Jesus and the Messianic Fulfillments of Passover and Unleavened Bread and First Fruits."  

It reflects upon various ways the events of the original Passover and the remembrances of these Holy Days foreshadow the work of Jesus. They specifically consider how these things portrayed moments and actions of Jesus's final week celebrating the Passover in Jerusalem.

The third article was "The Passover Seder." 

It explains the elements and order of a Jewish Seder which symbolically commemorate the Passover story and its lessons through a special meal.


Over the course of their accounts, Matthew, Mark, and Luke all seem to depict this meal as a Passover Seder (Matthew 26:17, 26-30, Mark 14:17, 22-25, Luke 22:14-23). Though the Passover meal itself is hardly the focus of John's gospel, it too provides a few clues that suggest that Jesus's Passover meal with the disciples included elements associated with a Seder.

If the reader is not familiar with a Passover Seder, we encourage you to read the third article of this series on Passover before reading this one. It is called "The Passover Seder."

Before we continue, however, it is good to recall that the Passover Seder is more like an elastic form—like a Haiku or Sonnet—than it is a rigid script. There are certain things that are required of all Passover Seders—not the least of which is that it is a meal that focuses on the events of the Passover. The requirements for celebrating the Passover that inform the Seder are mentioned in Exodus 12, Leviticus 23:4-8, Deuteronomy 16:1-8. Additional items and actions such as cups, blessings, and certain actions that are commonly associated with Passover Seders have been included over the millennia. But there are no two Passover Seders which are exactly alike. They all are different and designed to be personal and adapted to its participants. This article will:

  • Consider how Jesus's final Passover meal should be considered a Passover Seder.
  • Reflect upon the contextual meaning and significance of Jesus's statements and actions during His Passover meal.
  • Address the two main reasons some give for not considering Jesus's final Passover meal as a Seder.


Jesus's Final Passover Meal should be understood as a Passover Seder

The main reason this meal should be considered a Passover Seder is because Jesus explicitly described it as a Passover meal when He said "I have earnestly desired to eat this Passover with you..." while He was at the table with the disciples (Luke 22:15).

The disciples also clearly understood this meal to be a Passover meal. They asked Jesus where He wanted to eat the Passover (Matthew 22:17, Mark 14:12), so Jesus sent them on an errand to prepare for the Passover (Luke 22:8 also see Matthew 22:18-19, Mark 14:14).

But even without these external and explicit indicators, Jesus's final Passover meal should still be considered in terms of a Passover Seder, because of the things He said and did throughout the course of this meal.

Matthew, Mark, and Luke all make it apparent that this Passover meal is a ceremonial meal (Matthew 26:26-30, Mark 14:22-26, Luke 22:14-20). And they all present Jesus as the one who led the ceremony. Passover Seders are ceremonial by their nature, and they are led by one person. In Jesus's day, it was the head of the household or Rabbi's responsibility to lead them.

During this Passover meal, Jesus said to and/or led the disciples to do the following statements and/or actions that are associated with Passover Seders:

1a.       Throughout the Seder, the leader prompts participants to dip pieces of unleavened bread and green vegetables into a bowl of bitter herbs and a bowl of sweet Haroset.

1b.       Jesus dipped food into a bowl with His disciples.

(Matthew 26:23, Mark 14:20, John 13:26)

2a.       The Seder leader takes the unleavened bread and asks God to bless it.

2b.       Jesus took and blessed the bread.

(Matthew 26:26, Mark 14:22, Luke 22:19)

3a.       After the Seder leader gives thanks to God for the unleavened bread, he breaks it and distributes it to everyone at the table.

3b.       Jesus broke the bread and gave it to His disciples.

(Matthew 26:26, Mark 14:22, Luke 22:19, John 13:18)

4a.       During the Passover Seder, the leader invites the attendees to drink multiple cups of wine. Traditional Seders usually have four cups of wine (plus one for Elijah)

4b.       Jesus invited the disciples to drink multiple cups of wine. Matthew and Mark mention at least one cup (Matthew 24:27, Mark 14:24). Luke describes at least two (Luke 22:17, 20).

5a.       As the Seder leader explains the Passover events, he often comments on each event's relevance to the present.

5b.       Jesus not only explained the Passover events and their relevance, He also revealed their true significance and fulfillment in Him (Matthew 24:26, 27-28, Mark 14:22, 24, Luke 22:19-20).

6a.       The Seder Leader asks God to bless the wine by referring to it as "the fruit of the vine."

6b.       Jesus refers to the wine multiple times as "this/the fruit of the vine" (Matthew 26:29, Mark 14:25, Luke 22:18).

7a.       The Seder ends by singing Psalms and Hymns.

7b.       Jesus and the disciples concluded their Passover meal by singing hymns (Matthew 26:30, Mark 14:26).

8a.       The Seder anticipates the Messiah, by pouring a cup of wine for the prophet Elijah and checking the door after the Seder ends to see if Elijah has come to announce the Messiah's arrival. (Jews have long believed Elijah will be the forerunner of the Messiah).

8b.       The Seder anticipates the Messiah. Jesus explained to the disciples how the Passover pointed to Him and His Messianic mission (Matthew 26:26, 27-29, Mark 14:22, 24-25, Luke 22:16, 18, 19, 20).


The Meaning and Significance of Jesus's Statements and Actions during His Passover Meal.

Typically, the main point of the Passover Seder is to remember and praise God for His miraculous deliverance of the Israelite people from their slavery in Egypt. The entire meal is a ceremony that symbolically recreates and contemporizes the exodus experience through retelling the story, blessings, questions, hymns, and the meal itself. The Seder leader attempts to bring into focus the rich meaning and significance of these symbols.

The disciples, who were all Jewish, would have been quite familiar with the symbols and motifs of the Passover Seder. They also would likely expect the Seder leader to connect this event with the present situation. And because they already knew Jesus to be the Messiah and God in human form (Matthew 16:16), they may have even expected Jesus to say things that they would never hear at another Seder. If so, they would not be disappointed.

We have already mentioned that Jesus did far more than retell the story of Passover. He reinterpreted, indeed revealed, how its true meaning revolved around Him. Had Jesus not been God, this would have been blasphemous. But because He was God, Jesus was revealing the true meaning of Passover.

The original Passover was the event that God used to rescue Israel from slavery in Egypt. Its annual celebration had served as a sort of founding holiday for the Jews (Exodus 12:14).

But the Passover celebrations were always more than a reflection that looked backwards. From early on they were intended to be an anticipation of something greater to come. In Leviticus, when God commanded the Israelites to keep the Passover, the Lord declared Passover to be a holy convocation (Leviticus 23:4-8). The word translated as "convocation" is the Hebrew word "Miqrā" which can mean "rehearsal." God gave His appointed times as holy rehearsals for a messianic event in the future. Passover was to be annual rehearsals that the children of Israel were to practice so that they would be ready to do the real event when the Messiah appeared.

During the course of this Seder meal, Jesus, the Messiah, stunningly revealed how the Passover holiday was a rehearsal for Him. And even more astonishingly, Jesus revealed that the original Passover itself, as spectacular as it was, was simply the foretaste of the divine rescue that God was about to accomplish through Jesus. The original Passover redemption was merely the teaser, an appetizer, a preview of God's plan to redeem the world. At Passover, God redeemed a particular people, the Israelites, and called them to be His chosen nation. But through Jesus, God would redeem the entire world. He would adopt anyone who believed in Him to belong to His eternal family. He would establish a forever kingdom. And He would make all creation new.

And at His last Seder, Jesus claimed how it was actually about Himself. And He revealed how some events from the original Passover and some common elements (bread and wine) that are used at Passover Seders would mirror, and perhaps be surpassed by, some of the Messianic events in His life that were soon to take place.

Such thoughts would likely have been unbelievably mind-blowing for the disciples as they heard Jesus reveal these things. The disciples would have been amazed because Jesus was saying that something like the defining event in Israel's history was about to happen again with Jesus, the Messiah, at the center of it.

The disciples would also have likely been disturbed by how He would be in the middle of these things. It did not seem to register with them that He would suffer and die as the Passover lamb. It did not seem to occur to them that the Passover role Jesus was about to play would be the part of the Sacrifice.

The disciples expected Him to take charge by liberating Israel from her foes (like Moses and David). They may have even expected Him to use miracles and unleash plagues upon His foes, like the ones that occurred when Moses led Israel out of bondage. They knew the Messiah would establish His everlasting kingdom. And they believed Jesus was the Messiah. And it seemed like Jesus was ready to spectacularly claim His kingdom now.

Perhaps these strong expectations were what blinded them from comprehending what Jesus told them: that His body would be broken like bread and His blood poured out like wine. They still did not grasp that Jesus would be crucified and killed—even though He had told them many times before that it was necessary for these things to take place. And so, while the disciples were excited for the wondrous things of the New Passover that was about to take place, they were confused and troubled by what this meant.

Reading the Gospel accounts, it is difficult to know the full extent and order of the things Jesus did and spoke at His last Seder. It is challenging because they do not all record the same details. And even with all four writers together, it does not seem that they collectively included everything Jesus said or did during this Seder. Instead, they wrote down the things that were important to their narratives.

Matthew and Mark seem to have largely edited out details common to all Seders. They focused on the things that Jesus said or did that were unique to His Haggadah. (The Haggadah is the Seder leader's retelling of the Passover and its meaning. It is the "program" for the Seder meal). Perhaps they edited things this way because their predominantly Jewish audiences were extremely familiar with Seders and could have easily filled in the gaps.

Luke, who was Greek and who wrote primarily to a Gentile audience, provides the most Seder details. But even the Gentile Christians would likely have had some familiarity with the Passover Seder because Christianity was still very linked to Judaism during the first century.

John, whose intended readership was probably also Gentile, hardly mentions any details about Jesus's Seder. Instead, he focuses on how Jesus washed the disciples' feet (John 13:3-20) and gave extensive detail to Jesus's conversation afterward (John 14).

All four writers describe in varying degrees how Jesus announced that one of the twelve disciples would betray Him and how He subtly, but clearly, identified that it was Judas (Matthew 26:20-25, Mark 14:17-21, Luke 22:22-23, John 13:21-30).

Piecing their four narratives together we can begin to sort a sequence of events for how Jesus ate the Passover with His disciples. It may have looked something like this:

  1. Jesus and the Disciples arrive at the Upper Room (Mark 14:17).
  1. Jesus washes the Disciples' feet (John 13:3-17).
  1. Jesus announces that one of the disciples will betray Him (John 13:18-20).
  1. The Seder officially begins (Matthew 26:20, Luke 22:14).
  1. Jesus announces that He has longed to eat this Passover with them (Luke 22:15-16).
  1. Jesus blesses the first cup of wine (Luke 22:17-18).
  1. Jesus breaks bread and identifies Himself as the Unleavened Bread (Matthew 26:26, Mark 14:22, Luke 22:19).
  1. Jesus announces a second time that one of the twelve will betray Him. This troubles the disciples. Jesus identifies Judas as His betrayer, but the disciples do not pick up on this fact until afterward. Judas then leaves to betray Jesus (Matthew 26:21-25, Mark 14:17-21, Luke 22:21-23, John 13:21-30).
  1. Jesus pours a second (or more) cup of wine and identifies Himself as the Passover Lamb (Matthew 26:27-28, Mark 14:23-24, Luke 22:20)
  1. Jesus pours a third (or more) cup of wine and says that He will not drink it until He is with the disciples again in the Kingdom (Matthew 26:29, Mark 14:25)

The following took place after the formal portion of the Seder:

  1. The disciples argue about who is the Greatest (Luke 22:24).
  1. Jesus reminds them about True Greatness (Luke 22:25-29) and discusses His Kingdom (Luke 22:25-29).
  1. Jesus tells them about His command to love one another (John 13:31-35).
  1. Jesus informs Peter that he will deny Him. Peter swears he would never deny Jesus (Luke 22:31-34, John 13:36-38).
  1. Jesus informs the disciples that He is going on a journey. They question Him and He answers them (John 14, also Luke 22:35:38).
  1. Jesus and the disciples sing a hymn and depart for the Mount of Olives (Matthew 22:30, Mark 14:26, Luke 22:39, John 14:31).

Because this article is primarily about how Jesus used the Passover Seder to reveal Himself and His Messianic objectives, we will focus on those that pertain to the Seder itself (events 4-8 and 15 from the above list).

After Jesus washed the disciples' feet and announced that one of them would betray Him, He reclined at the table and began to lead the disciples through their Passover Seder (Luke 22:14). He introduced it with a personal confession: "I have earnestly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer" (Luke 22:15). Jesus knew this would be His final Passover with them and that His time had drawn near. There was so much that He desired to tell them, before He would be arrested, tried, and executed. This Seder provided the right occasion to do so.

Jesus's Introductory Remark

Jesus also informed the Disciples that this would be the last Passover He would eat "until it is fulfilled in the kingdom of God" (Luke 22:16).  The "it" likely refers to the Passover itself. This introduced the main theme of Jesus's Seder Haggadah. (The Haggadah is the Seder leader's retelling of the Passover story).

The main theme of Jesus's Haggadah is "the Passover foreshadows the Messiah." The work Jesus, as the Messiah, was about to do would in effect be a second Passover, a more complete Passover, "a New Passover", as it were, with Jesus, Himself, as the central figure and fulfiller of all its requirements. The original Passover was the founding event in Israel as a nation. Jesus would describe it as a "new covenant in My blood" that would be with His people (Luke 22:20).

From the disciples' perspective, the Messianic Kingdom was about to be wonderfully fulfilled. And it would somehow be even greater than God's rescue of Israel from slavery in Egypt. When the disciples heard Jesus promise: "I will not drink of this fruit of the vine from now on until that day when I drink it new with you in My Father's kingdom" they likely believed that Jesus's Kingdom would be inaugurated before the next Passover. In other words, they believed the Kingdom would be instituted before next year. This likely thrilled their hearts with great excitement!

Jesus's remark about eating this Passover with the disciples "before I suffer," was likely confusing to and/or mostly ignored by the eager disciples.

From our vantage point, after the fact, what we now know is that Jesus will suffer and die and fulfill the role as the Passover lamb before coming back to life and ascending into heaven. Jesus will one day return to earth a second time. And that is when He will establish His kingdom and partake once again in the Passover Seder after it has been completely fulfilled. We know that as our Passover Lamb, Jesus was about to willingly die and defeat humanity's twin foes. He would wipe out the Pharaoh of Sin and divide the great Sea of Death, making a way for us to cross it into the Promise Land of New Life.

The First Cup of Wine

Luke is the only gospel writer to record the first cup of Jesus's last Seder. He narrates that when Jesus "had taken a cup and given thanks, He said, 'Take this and share it among yourselves'" (Luke 22:17).

Traditionally there are four cups of wine in Seder meals. The first cup is often called "The Cup of Sanctification." Sanctification means to be set apart for a special purpose. Israel was sanctified and set apart by God to be His chosen people. The twelve men at the Seder table with Jesus were also set apart and specially chosen by Him to be His disciples.

This cup is often associated with the first of four divine promises from Exodus 6:6-8. The first of these four promises is: "I will bring you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians." If Jesus quoted this divine promise from scripture at this time, the disciples would likely have imagined that Jesus was telling them that He will bring His followers out from under the burdens of Rome.

Jesus then repeated His reference to kingdom come: "for I say to you, I will not drink of the fruit of the vine from now on until the kingdom of God comes" (Luke 22:18). Once again, the disciples in their excitement when they heard these things, likely imagined that Jesus was about to overthrow Roman oppression throughout Judea and inaugurate His kingdom before the next Passover.

The Breaking of the Bread

After drinking the first cup of Passover with His disciples, Jesus then took and gave thanks for the bread. Because this was Passover meal, the bread was unleavened. Leaven is a substance that reacts with dough to make the bread rise and become soft. In the ancient world this leaven substance would have been yeast. The dough of unleavened bread was cooked without any leaven in it to make it rise. Leaven was used in the Bible as a symbol for sin (Matthew 16:6, 11-12, Mark 8:15, Luke 12:1, 1 Corinthians 5:6-8, Galatians 5:9). Even as tiny traces of leaven has an enormous influence to transform dough into fluffy bread, so too does "small" sin lead to death.

When Jesus took the bread, He broke it. This is what the Seder leader traditionally does at a Passover dinner. He takes the unleavened bread (called "Matzah") and breaks it into pieces and distributes it to everyone around the table. Jesus did these things. But as He did so, He said something truly remarkable. It was so remarkable, that all three gospel writers who detail Jesus's last Seder mention it in their accounts.

As Jesus broke the bread, He said: "This is My body which is given for you" (Luke 22:19. Also see Matthew 26:26, Mark 14:22). In saying this, Jesus was claiming that the Unleavened Bread of Passover represented Himself.

As Matzah was without leaven, so was Jesus without sin. Bread provides nutrition and substance for those who eat. The leavened/sinful bread of the world is toxic to our life. It corrupts our hearts to crave what is wicked and depraves our minds to lose true perspective. Jesus, who said, "I am the bread of life" (John 6:48) was the true bread from Heaven. He was unleavened and without sin. Whoever ate His bread will gain life, love what is good, acquire true perspective, and will be satisfied.

In breaking the bread and saying these things, Jesus was predicting His death and explaining to His disciples the good that would come from it

This abundant life was possible because Jesus was uncorrupted by the world and completely without sin, and because He allowed Himself to be broken by laying His life down on our behalf. Jesus had taught His disciples, "Unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit" (John 12:24). Jesus's body would be broken for us on the cross. His sinless death made it possible for us to have eternal life.

After saying that the broken unleavened bread of Passover represented His sinless life and His crucifixion, Jesus reiterated the main theme of His last Seder. Jesus's main theme was "the Passover foreshadows the Messiah." And the way He reiterated it was by telling the disciples, "Do this in remembrance of Me" (Luke 22:19).

To understand the significance of this statement, consider how the entire Passover Seder was done as a holy remembrance of what the Lord did for Israel in Egypt (Exodus 12:14, Leviticus 23:4). But here Jesus commanded the disciples to break bread in remembrance of Himself. In other words, the Passover was not chiefly about the Passover. It was chiefly about Himself. Jesus said many startling things like this: "Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing" (Luke 4:21); "Son, your sins are forgiven" (Mark 2:5); "Before Abraham was born, I am" (John 8:58).

To learn more about how Jesus identified as the Unleavened Bread of Passover, see the second article of this series: "Jesus and the Messianic Fulfillments of Passover and Unleavened Bread."

(It may be of interest to note, that Judas left to betray Jesus shortly after Jesus broke bread during the Seder. We know this because the Matzah is dipped in various bowls and Jesus dipped the morsel and gave it to Judas (John 13:26) and in predicting His betrayal, Jesus cited David's line from Psalm 41:9, "He who eats My bread has lifted up his heel against me" (John 12:18). And when Jesus signals that Judas is His betrayer in Matthew and Mark, both gospel writers record Jesus as saying, "He who dipped his hand with Me in the bowl is the one who will betray Me" (Matthew 26:23, see also Mark 14:20). These clues indicate that Judas ate the unleavened bread that Jesus broke and gave to him to dip into the bowls and eat. John tells us when Judas left, "So after receiving the morsel he went out immediately; and it was night" (John 13:30).)

The Second Cup of Wine

Just as the Unleavened Bread (Matzah) represented Jesus' sinless perfection and humble sacrifice to provide and sustain our new righteous life in Him, so too did the Passover Lamb represent Jesus's substitutionary blood that was spilled in our place.

The Bible is not clear on how many cups of wine Jesus used at the Seder Service. Traditional Seders call for four. Luke describes no less than two. The fact that Matthew and Mark only mention one cup demonstrates how the gospel writers did not mention every detail and action that occurred during this Seder meal. There may or may not have been additional cups that Jesus poured during His last Seder. Moreover, it is not clear whether the cup described in Matthew and/or Mark is the same as or different from the second cup mentioned in Luke's gospel.

While there is a place to consider such matters, what primarily concerns us is what the Bible actually says.

The three Gospel writers who detail Jesus's last Seder say similar but not quite identical things about this/these cup(s):

"And when He had taken a cup and given thanks, He gave it to them, saying, 'Drink from it, all of you; for this is My blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for forgiveness of sins.'"
(Matthew 26:27-28)

"And when He had taken a cup and given thanks, He gave it to them, and they all drank from it. And He said to them, 'This is My blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many.'"
(Mark 14:23-24)

"And in the same way He took the cup after they had eaten, saying, 'This cup which is poured out for you is the new covenant in My blood.'"
(Luke 22:20)

The obvious similarities include:

  • the mention of a covenant
  • the metaphorical comparison of the wine to "My blood"
  • the cup being poured out for the sake of others.

The main difference between the three accounts is that Matthew and Mark both include Jesus's line about not drinking this until He is with them in the kingdom (Matthew 26:29, Mark 14:25) while Luke does not mention this line here. It is possible that the reason Luke did not include this line was because he previously quoted Jesus as saying something similar twice already. (More on this in just a moment).

Most scholars associate this cup/these cups with the third and fourth cups of the Passover Seder.

The third cup of wine is called "The Cup of Redemption." It is associated with the third promise of Exodus 6:6-8, which is: "I will also redeem you with an outstretched arm." The normal symbolism of this cup is emblematic of the sacrifice of the Passover lamb.

The fourth cup of wine is sometimes called "The Cup of Consummation." It is associated with the fourth promise of Exodus 6:6-8 which is: "I will take you to for My people, and I will be your God." The normal symbolism of this cup anticipates the joy of living with God in the Promised Land.

Whether Jesus drank both cups separately, or He combined them, one can easily see how He seems to have been incorporating major themes that are associated with both of these Seder cups.

This cup of wine related to the third cup—"The Cup of Redemption."

"For this is My blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for forgiveness of sins" (Matthew 26:28).

With this statement Jesus was directly telling His disciples that the Passover lamb was Himself.

To learn more about how Jesus was the Passover lamb, see our article: "Jesus and the Messianic Fulfillments of Passover and Unleavened Bread."

Note how Jesus declared that the cup symbolized "My blood." In making this statement Jesus was saying that the cup directly symbolized the bloody sacrifice He was about offer for the sins of the world.

Indirectly, this statement implied the main theme of His Seder Haggadah—"the Passover foreshadows the Messiah." He was revealing to the disciples that the blood of the Passover lamb was actually more of a foreshadow and a symbol depicting the Messiah's sacrifice than it was a final sacrifice. (See Colossians 2:16-17, Hebrews 9:15-26). The Passover lamb's sacrifice was the blood of the old covenant (Hebrews 9:18). But the true significance of the old covenant and its laws was that it pointed toward the new covenant of Jesus (Galatians 3:23-24). Jesus will completely and perfectly fulfill the entire old covenant (Matthew 5:17-18). And it was at this Seder meal and with this cup in particular, that Jesus announced that He was inaugurating an important aspect of the new covenant which the original Passover and its commemorations had long foreshadowed. This is what Jesus meant when He said this cup was "My blood" of "the new covenant."

This cup of wine also relates to the fourth Seder cup—"The Cup of Consummation."

"But I say to you, I will not drink of this fruit of the vine from now on until that day when I drink it new with you in My Father's kingdom"
(Matthew 26:28).

Some scholars see this as relating to the fourth promise (and Seder cup) of Exodus 6:6-8 where God promises to take Israel for His people and to be their God.

Jesus commanded all the disciples to drink this cup (Matthew 26:27). And they all did (Mark 14:23). But interestingly Jesus may not have drunk from this cup. When Matthew quotes Jesus's line about how He will not drink the cup, he includes an extra word that is not in either of Luke's similar lines which Jesus said earlier in the Seder meal (Luke 22:16, 18). The extra word that Matthew records Jesus as saying is the Greek word "arti." It means "from now." The inclusion of this extra word in Matthew could be an indication that Jesus did not drink from this final cup.

By possibly leaving this final cup of wine undrunk, it emphasized the point of Jesus's statement, which was that He would not fulfill every aspect of His Messianic mission during His first Advent. During His first Advent, Jesus would be the suffering servant of Isaiah 53. He would defeat sin and overcome death. He would call men to His kingdom. But He would not fully establish it on earth; judge the nations; destroy Satan; or make all things new until His second Advent. Jesus said He would not drink this cup again until—that day—when all of these things have been accomplished and He was with them in His Father's kingdom. He would drink it then. He would drink it during the celebration described in Isaiah 25:6-9.

Once again, Jesus's statement and gesture reinterpreted and revealed how the Passover Seder concerned much more than recalling the Passover. It was about something bigger than Passover. Both the Seder and the holy day it commemorated were really about Jesus and His role as the Messiah.

The Singing of Hymns

"After singing a hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives" (Matthew 16:30, Mark 14:26). In Matthew, the Greek literally reads "when they had finished their hymning/singing."

Hymns of praise are typically sung at the conclusion of Passover Seders. According to the Jewish Mishnah (the oral traditions of the Jews, that was redacted and written in 200 AD) Psalms 113-118 were sung. The Jews call these psalms the "Hallel." It is possible that these psalms were the hymns sung by Jesus and His disciples.

Psalm 113 recalls the Passover. It is a rework of the song of Moses and the sons of Israel after God saved them from the clutches of Pharaoh when He closed the Red Sea upon the Egyptians (Exodus 15:1-18). The central verse of this psalm—"Who is like the Lord our God"? (Psalm 113:5)—asks the famous question of the hymn in Exodus: "Who is like You among the gods, O Lord?" (Exodus 15:11).

Psalm 114 also recalls the Passover. It marvels at how the physical features of the earth trembled in wonder at how God called and miraculously brought Israel out of Egypt.

Psalm 115 proclaims how God is the central figure in every story. The first half of its hymn mocks the powerlessness of idols and the folly of those who trust in them. The second half calls on Israel to trust the Lord. Considering what Jesus is about to undergo, the psalm ends with a prophetically ironic line: "The dead do not praise the Lord, nor do any who go down in silence" (Psalm 115:17). Jesus will die but He will not remain in the grave.

Psalm 116 is a prophetic hymn of praise about the death and resurrection of the Messiah. It describes how "cords of death encompassed me and the terrors of Sheol came upon me" (Psalm 116:3). The psalmist then praises the Lord for salvation: "for you have recused my soul from death" (Psalm 116:8) and "I shall walk before the Lord in the land of the living" (Psalm 116:9).

The hymn's line: "All men are liars" (Psalm 116:11) foreshadowed the painful abandonment of the Messiah when all His disciples deserted Him despite their promises that they would never do so (Matthew 26:35).

And perhaps most poignant of all is the line that reads:

"I shall lift up the cup of salvation, And call upon the name of the Lord" (Psalm 116:13).

The word translated as "salvation" in this verse is a Hebrew word, pronounced "yesh-oo'-aw." It is the Hebrew name for Jesus—"Yeshua." This verse literally says, "I shall lift up the cup of Jesus." Recall how when Jesus took the cup during the Seder, He told the disciples: "This is My blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for forgiveness of sins" (Matthew 26:28). Christ's blood was spilled on our behalf which took away our sins (John 1:29, 1 John 2:2). The sacrifice of Jesus is literally our salvation. And salvation is literally Jesus's name. This verse is a self-exhortation to lift up Jesus and call upon His name for salvation.

Psalm 117 is a praise and an evangelical command. Between its proclamations of/exhortation to praise the Lord (Psalm 117:1a, 2b), this shortest chapter in the Bible commands all nations and peoples to proclaim the good news of God's boundless grace and everlasting truth.

Psalm 118 is the final psalm of the Hallel. It is a celebration of the Messiah's arrival. The hymn describes the triumphant scene when Jerusalem receives her King. In other words, the psalm describes the occasion when Jesus will drink the cup of wine in the New Jerusalem with His disciples.

This psalm was quoted or alluded to no less than three times during Jesus' final week.

The first was upon His triumphal entry into Jerusalem. As the people cried out "Hosana," they also shouted Psalm 118:26, "Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord" (Matthew 21:9).

The second reference of Psalm 118 during Jesus's final week was when He rebuked the chief priests and Pharisees by quoting verses 22-23 of the hymn:

"Did you never read in the Scriptures,
'The stone which the builders rejected,
This became the chief corner stone;
This came about from the Lord,
And it is marvelous in our eyes'?"
(Matthew 21:42)

As the rejected Messiah, Jesus was the rejected corner stone of God's kingdom.

The third reference was Psalm 118:26 again. It came when Jesus lamented over Jerusalem, "For I say to you, from now on you will not see Me until you say, 'Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord!'" (Matthew 23:39).

Two other Messianic expressions within this Seder psalm are also worth pointing out.

"I shall give thanks to You, for You have answered me,
And You have become my salvation.
(Psalm 118:21)

Again, the word translated as "salvation" in this verse (and throughout Psalm 118) is the Hebrew word and name of Jesus—"Yeshua." The verse gives thanks for God becoming Jesus/salvation.

"The Lord is God, and He has given us light;
Bind the festival sacrifice with cords to the horns of the altar."
(Psalm 118:27)

As the true Passover lamb, Jesus was the festival sacrifice nailed to the cross at the same time as the ceremonial Passover lambs were bound to the altar and sacrificed (Matthew 27:45-46, John 19:14, 31, 42).

Jesus's Four Remarkable Passover Claims

In conclusion, it is apparent from the Gospel writers' main takeaway from Jesus's final Seder was the way He revealed to them that the Seder was not only a look back at the original Passover, it was a way to understand the Messiah's mission. The Seder, indeed the Passover itself, was a framework to understand both the suffering He was about to undergo and the celebration of His return. Both the events of the original Passover and its observance as a holy day show how the Passover foreshadows the Messiah.

From now on Passover Seders and what has become known as "The Lord's Supper" or "Communion" was to be an observance to remember Jesus and the hope we have in Him.

Jesus memorably expressed this in three ways:

  • The Unleavened Bread of Passover represented His broken body and sinless sacrifice.
  • The Second Cup of Wine represented His spilled blood as the Passover lamb.
  • That Jesus will drink the cup again with His disciples in the Kingdom upon the Messiah's return.

A Response to the Two Arguments against the Lord's Supper being a Passover Seder

There are two arguments some use to say that Jesus was not using a Passover Seder at this time.

The first argument is how some interpret John to mean that Jesus was killed the day of Passover (John 18:28, 19:14, 31, 42)—before the Seder was traditionally eaten. This would mean Jesus ate this meal before the Passover officially began (John 13:1).

However, as was mentioned in the second article of this Passover series: "Jesus and the Messianic Fulfillments of Passover and Unleavened Bread and First Fruits,"  this argument against this being a Seder can be easily resolved.

Perhaps the best resolution is that John was using the term "Passover" to broadly cover the entire Passover-Unleavened Bread holy days. To the Jews, these holy days were functional synonyms. And Numbers 28:17-23 describes the special sacrifices offered for the Feast of Unleavened Bread which begin the day after Passover. Moreover, it should be noted that Matthew 27:62, Mark 15:42, Luke 23:54 also refer to the preparation day as being for the Sabbath and the "preparation of the Passover" mentioned in John 19:14 could be taken as a possessive—as a preparation day for the Sabbath "belonging to Passover."

All this to say that it is very likely that Jesus did eat this meal on the night of Passover—Nisan 14-15. (Jewish days begin and end at sundown). This timing would clearly indicate that the meal was a Seder because it was eaten on the exact day and time when the Seder was celebrated by the Jews.

Another way to reconcile some people's interpretation of John as evidence against this being a Seder is that the various factions of Pharisees and Sadducees may have celebrated Passover on different days. Jesus ate the Passover Seder with His disciples according to one religious calendar and was crucified on the Passover on a different religious calendar.

Finally, Jesus may have simply eaten Passover a day early because He knew that His time was at hand (John 13:1). And as God, Jesus was certainly not a slave to schedules. He was more than capable of rearranging the timing of things to suit His purposes (Mark 2:27). Moreover, the Lord allowed the Israelites to celebrate Passover later, if they were unable to do so on the normal date (Numbers 9:9-12). This allowance shows that it is of greater importance that Passover is observed rather than when it was observed. Because He would soon be killed, Jesus appears to have observed the Passover a day early rather than not celebrate it at all.

Therefore, however one interprets the timing of John 18:28, 19:14, 31, 42, they cannot be taken as sufficient proof against this meal being a Seder—especially when Jesus said it was a Passover meal (Luke 22:15)—all Passover meals in Jesus's day were a type of Seder.

The second reason some give for why this is not a Passover Seder is that Seders were not formerly codified and written down until the three centuries after Jesus lived on earth. (For that matter, the Old Testament was not officially codified at the time of Christ either, but it was not disputed as God's word. Something does not have to be codified to exist.)

Some argue that because the Seder was not codified or written down, that Jesus could not have done a Seder. But this argument ignores the fact that Passover Seders were part of the oral tradition long before they were written.

Passover meals during Jesus's day were drawn from the oral traditions of the Jews. These traditions were later redacted and written down in the third century A.D. This record is called "the Mishnah." The Mishnah discusses many things, including the Passover Seder. Its third treatise, or "tractate," is our ancient record for Seder services. Seder services have evolved since the time of the Exodus down to our own day. Seders seek to connect the events of the first Passover with the present circumstances at the time, be it the Babylonian Exile, or the Greek or Roman occupation, the diaspora, the Holocaust, the reemergence of Israel as a nation, etc.

The Seder's continual evolutions, strongly suggest that Jesus did not strictly adhere to the Seder instructions of the Mishnah, much less the modern Seders which developed from it. A short perusal through the Mishnah itself quickly reveals that it does not so much provide a single set of rules for how the Passover Seder should be followed. Rather, it presents principles to follow, and to the extent that it mentions rules, it does so by citing various Rabbinic authorities who do not always agree on the particulars of the Seder rules.

There is no (and possibly never has been) a universally agreed upon way that the Seder must be done so long as it adhered to the guidelines of Exodus 12, Leviticus 23:5-8, Numbers 9:9-12, Deuteronomy 16:1-8. In this sense, the Passover Seder is more like a form or pattern that allows for great variance rather than a rote repetition. It is like a sonnet or haiku (poetic forms), or sonata allegro (a musical form)—these patterns allow for infinite variation within the structures.

When these factors are considered alongside what Jesus said about the supper He shared with His disciples, and the things He said and did within that meal, it is apparent that He was celebrating a Passover Seder. At the very least, Jesus was celebrating something that strongly resembled a Passover Seder.

Select Language
This website uses cookies to enhance your browsing experience and provide personalized content. By continuing to use this site, you agree to our use of cookies as described in our Privacy Policy.