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The Passover Seder

This is the third of four articles in this Tough Topics Explained series about Passover.

The Passover points to Jesus as the Messiah.

This third article is called: “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.

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 the God’s deliverance of the Israelites from Egypt and 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.” 

It reflects upon various ways the symbols of the original Passover foreshadow the work of Jesus as the Passover Lamb and the Unleavened Bread. It also considers how the Jewish celebrations of these Holy Days are emblematic of specific moments and actions from Jesus’s final week celebrating the Passover in Jerusalem.

The fourth article is “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 focuses on several ways that Jesus used this Passover meal to further reveal things not only about Passover, but about Himself as the Messiah.

 

THE ORIGINS OF THE PASSOVER SEDER

Seder means “order.” And a Passover Seder is a ceremonial meal full of symbolic meaning. It uses certain foods that symbolize various aspects of the first Passover and follows a specific order of words and actions to redramatize its events. The Passover Seder is designed to connect its participants to God’s deliverance of the Israelites from bondage in Egypt and to remind them of God’s promised redemption of themselves.

Incredibly, the roots of Passover Seders were celebrated as far back as the Exodus generation in obedience to God’s command to keep the Passover (Numbers 9:1-5). These services have evolved much over millennia. And while it is a virtual certainty that Jesus did not follow the patterns of a Modern Passover Seder, He did celebrate the Passover with His disciples (Matthew 26:18-19; Mark 14:14, 16; Luke 22:11, 13, 15) the night before He was crucified. And He celebrated it by incorporating many of the symbols, actions, motifs, and forms that have long been customary in Passover Seders. It is no stretch then to describe what Jesus did with His disciples at His “last supper” as a Passover Seder.

The Passover Seder grew out of the Lord’s command to eat the roasted lamb “with unleavened bread, and bitter herbs” (Exodus 12:8) on the night before they were to leave Egypt in conjunction with His commands to “tell your son on that day, saying, ‘It is what the Lord did for me when I came out of Egypt” (Exodus 13:8) and to “keep this ordinance at its appointed time from year to year” (Exodus 13:10).

It is from these commands that the “Haggadah,” the Passover’s instructional guide-book, developed. The word “Haggadah” means “telling.” The Haggadah is the re-telling of the Passover story. Over time other elements (4 cups of wine, saltwater, vegetables, and a nutty-fruit paste) were added to the original elements of unleavened bread and bitter herbs as a way to tell the story.

The Passover Seder, then, is an ordered retelling (Haggadah) of what the Lord did for Israel when He brought them out of Egypt. It retells this story through a meal where each of the foods and the order in which they are eaten symbolize various aspects of this wonderful event.

It is important to note that there is no single or supremely authoritative Haggadah. Numerous Haggadahs have been developed and used over the millennia and even though they are different in some aspects they are considered acceptable so long as they fulfill the Lord’s commands.

Seders were not formerly codified and written down until the three centuries after Jesus lived on earth. Because of this, some argue that Jesus could not have done a Seder because it wasn’t written down. But something does not have to be codified or recorded to exist. For instance, people were born and existed long before birth certificates came into use. Moreover, this argument ignores the fact that Passover Seders were part of the oral tradition millennia before they were transcribed.

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 written record for what Seder services looked like. 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 later 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 when the Mishnah does mention rules, it is simply citing various Rabbinic authorities who do not always agree on the particulars of the Seder rules.

Here is one example from the Passover Mishnah citing various Jewish Rabbis and their differing schools of thought. They are each giving their opinion of how far into the Hallel the Seder participants are to recite. (The Hallel is a recitation of Psalms 113-118 as a prayer.) The Mishnah cites four different opinions on this matter. All are acceptable.

“Since one does not complete hallel [the hallel is a recitation of Psalms 113-118 as a prayer] at this point in the seder, the mishna asks: Until where does one recite hallel?

“Beit Shammai say: Until ‘Who makes the barren woman dwell in her house as a joyful mother of children, halleluya.’ (Psalms 113:9).

“And Beit Hillel say: Until “Who turned the rock into a pool of water, the flint into a fountain of waters” (Psalms 114:8). And one concludes this section of hallel with a blessing that refers to redemption.

“Rabbi Tarfon says that although one should recite: Who redeemed us and redeemed our forefathers from Egypt, one who did so would not conclude with the formula: Blessed are You, Lord.

“Rabbi Akiva says that one recites a different version of this blessing: So too, the Lord our God and the God of our forefathers will bring us to future holidays and Festivals in peace, happy over the building of Your city and joyous in Your service. And there we will eat from the Paschal lamb and other offerings, etc., until: Blessed are You, Lord, Who redeemed Israel.”
(Mishnah Pesachim 10)

Much of the Mishnah reads this way as it described the Passover Seder. The diversity opinion in the Mishnah shows how the Passover Seder has not only evolved over time, but it is also an elastic form. It is designed to allow a measure of creativity to make the Passover and its meaning more personal to those who are partaking in it.

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, and Deuteronomy 16:1-8. Even now there are two major classifications of Jewish traditions which celebrate the Passover Seder by using somewhat different liturgies for their respective Haggadahs.

  1. Ashkenazi Tradition: Central and Eastern European Jewry
  2. Sephardic Tradition: Mediterranean and Middle Eastern Jewry

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. Even within the same Jewish traditions, Passover Seders are somewhat like a family’s traditions on Christmas mornings. Every Christmas they will open their presents around a Christmas tree along with their other traditions, but even within the same household, each year is a little different than the others. It is the same with Passover Seders. There are traditions and commandments that are faithfully kept every Passover. Seders are not so rigid that they have no variation or life.

Modern Passover Seders often print out the Haggadah for each participant to read and follow along. In the 3,500 years since the first Passover, many Haggadahs have been developed to celebrate the Passover meal. But almost all of them center around the text of Exodus 6:6-8 and the four promises God makes to the sons of Israel within it:

  1. I will bring you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians,
  1. and I will deliver you from their bondage.”
  1. I will also redeem you with an outstretched arm and with great judgments.”
  1. “Then I will take you for My people, and I will be your God.”

This passage seems to have a fifth and final promise that reads:

  • I will bring you to the land which I swore to give to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and I will give it to you for a possession.”

But Jews consider this final promise to be fuller expression of the first promise. The final promise is: “I will bring you to the land which I swore to give to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and I will give it to you for a possession; I am the Lord.”

The entire Seder recalls God’s past faithfulness and celebrates His ever-present faithfulness, even as it anticipates His future faithfulness in the New Jerusalem.

PASSOVER SEDER AND THE NUMBER FOUR

Within the Passover Seder, the number four is prominently featured.

  • Four Divine Promises

(Listed above – Exodus 6:6-8).

  • Four Cups of Wine

(Listed below – See the Elements of the Passover Seder and their Significance).

  • Four Main Foods

(Listed below – See the Elements of the Passover Seder and their Significance).

  •  Four Questions

(Listed below – See the Order of the Passover Seder).

In Hebrew the number four has allusions to governance, and service. On the fourth day of creation, God separated the day from the night. God created the sun, and the moon and stars to “govern the day and the night” (Genesis 1:16-18). And the fourth (middle) lamp of the Menorah is called the “servant light” because the other candles are lit from it. Governance and service are also heavily associated with the Messiah. Jesus came to serve and give His life for many as our Passover lamb (Matthew 20:28). And all authority in Heaven and earth belong to Him (Matthew 28:18).

In Jewish writing, the number four is represented by the fourth letter: ד‎ (pronounced “dalet”). It is an image of a door frame. (“Door” in Hebrew is pronounced “delet”). The reader may recall how God commanded the Israelites to paint the blood of the lamb upon their doorposts at the first Passover. Moreover, the visual image of the Hebrew number four as a “door” points to Jesus as the Messiah and our Passover Lamb. Jesus said: “Truly, truly, I say to you, I am the door of the sheep” (John 10:7).

THE ELEMENTS OF THE PASSOVER SEDER AND THEIR SIGNIFICANCE

Before the Seder ceremony begins, the table is set with four (sometimes five) cups of wine. A plate is placed at the center of the table with Matza (unleavened bread) along with the other foods.

Any additional elements that will be required for the Passover Seder are put in place beforehand.

This preparation was likely in part what the disciples meant when they asked Jesus, “Where do You want us to prepare for You to eat the Passover?” (Matthew 26:17).

The Four Cups of Wine

Each of the four cups of wine correspond with one of God’s promises from Exodus 6:8,

  1. “The Cup of Sanctification” – “I will bring you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians”
  1. “The Cup of Judgment or Deliverance – “I will deliver you from their bondage”
  1. “The Cup of Redemption” – “I will also redeem you with an outstretched arm”
  1. “The Cup of Praise or Consummation” – “I will take you for My people, and I will be your God.”

The four cups may have originally represented Pharaoh’s four evil decrees.

  1. The enslavement of Israel
  1. The infanticide of Hebrew males by the midwives
  1. The drowning of Hebrew male babies in the Nile
  1. The decree for Hebrew slaves to gather their own straw while still making bricks

Over the centuries the four cups have also come to symbolize God’s deliverance of Israel from her four exiles.

  1. Egypt
  1. Babylon
  1. Greece
  1. The current exile beginning with the Roman Occupation 63 B.C. under Pompey and continuing until the reconstruction of the Temple and/or return of the Messiah.

It is interesting that a fifth cup is often set out upon the table and left undrunk. It is for the prophet Elijah whose return is expected to herald the Messiah, who will at long last redeem Israel from all her sufferings.

The Traditional Foods of the Passover Seder

  1. Unleavened Bread “Matza”

On top of the Seder plate is a stack of three pieces of unleavened bread. The fact that the bread is unleavened represents the haste in which the Israelites had to leave Egypt. They did not have time for their bread to rise.

  1. Green Vegetable “Karpas” (often celery or parsley)

This green vegetable is often celery or parsley. The karpas symbolizes the initial flourishing of the Israelites in Egypt after Israel and his sons moved there under the protection of Joseph.

  1. Sweet Fruit-Paste “Charoset”

Charoset often consists of crushed fruit, nuts, honey, or wine. The appearance of this sweet fruit-paste is intended to resemble the mortar that Israelites used to build Pharaoh’s cities when they were enslaved in Egypt.

  1. Bitter Herb “Maror”

This herb is often horseradish. The bitter taste of the Maror recalls the bitterness of slavery in Egypt. Sometimes a second bitter herb or vegetable with bitter roots (such as Romaine) called a “Hazeret” is added to the Seder plate.

Additional items set on table include:

  •  A Bowl of Salt Water or Vinegar

This bowl is used for dipping the Karpas (green vegetable) in. It represents the tears of slavery in Egypt and/or the tears of the mothers whose sons were killed by Pharaoh’s decree.

  • Shank bone of a Lamb “Zeroa”

The roasted lamb shank symbolizes the Passover lamb (Exodus 12:3-10) that the children of Israel sacrificed and whose blood they sprinkled over their door posts when the Lord ‘passed over’ the houses of Israel, but struck dead the firstborns of Egypt (Exodus 12:12-13; 29). The shank bone is not eaten. It seems this shank bone is a post-temple modification to the Passover meal by the Ashkenazi Jewish tradition. They do not typically eat a lamb at the Passover because there is no longer a temple in which to sacrifice it. The Passover lamb and the temple are remembered by the presence of this bone.

Some members of the Sephardic Jewish tradition do eat the Passover lamb and therefore do not have a bare shank bone at the table.

Because the Temple was still in operation during Jesus’s lifetime, Jesus and His disciples would likely have eaten a sacrificed lamb as part of their Seder meal.

  • Boiled Egg “Beitzah”

The egg was added to the Seder plate sometime after Rome’s destruction of the temple in 70 A.D. The first record of its inclusion is from the sixteenth century A.D. The egg serves as a reminder of the Temple in Jerusalem where the Passover sacrifices were performed and as a symbol of hope (new life) that God will remember Israel again and restore her place among the nations. Traditionally, the egg is not eaten.

THE ORDER OF THE PASSOVER SEDER

While each Passover Seder follows its own “Haggadah,” the following is a basic order of what a typical Seder might follow. The Seder and it sequential actions are perhaps best understood if we mentally group them into four movements. We will refer to these movements as:

  1. The Preparation
  1. The Passover Story
  1. The Meal
  1. The Anticipation.
  1. THE PREPARATION

Passover Seders begin with a preparation. This first movement is a preparation of one’s heart to help it remember the fullness of God’s power and love that He displayed when He rescued Israel from bondage in Egypt. It begins after the table and food has already been prepared. The first movement begins with an invitation, a blessing, and a washing of hands. The First Cup of Wine is poured during the first Seder movement.

The Invitation

Traditionally, Passover Seders begin with the line: “This is the bread of affliction…Let those who are hungry, come and eat!” This is an invitation that everyone, especially the poor, is to be included in the blessings of Passover. Doors are often left open throughout the feast as an additional gesture.

The Passover Seder invitation is similar to a Messianic prophecy in Isaiah and several of the Messiah’s invitations:

“Every one who thirsts, come to the waters;
And you who have no money come, buy and eat.
Come, buy wine and milk
Without money and without cost….
Listen carefully to Me, and eat what is good,
And delight yourself in abundance.”
(Isaiah 55:1-2)

“Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest.”
(Matthew 11:28)

“I am the bread of life; the one who comes to Me will not be hungry, and the one who believes in Me will never be thirsty.”
(John 6:35)

“I will give to the one who thirsts from the spring of the water of life without cost”
(Revelation 21:6).

The First Cup of Wine.

The first cup of wine, “The Cup of Sanctification,” is poured. Sanctification means to be set apart. God called Israel. He set the Hebrews apart from all other nations as His special people.

As this cup is poured and drunk, the first of the Divine Promises from Exodus 6:6-8 is read:

“I will bring you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians.”

Another reason the first cup of wine is referred to as the “Cup of Sanctification” is that it sets this ceremony apart from normal activities.

The First Blessing

As the first cup of wine is poured, the leader of the Seder and its participants offer a short prayer to God that includes the blessing: “Blessed are you, O Lord our God, ruler of the universe, who creates the fruit of the vine.” This specific blessing is repeated for each cup of wine that is shared throughout the Seder.

Pass around a Washing Bowl.

A bowl of water is passed around for everyone to dip their hands into so they can wash before eating. This is in accordance with Jewish custom. The Old Testament required priests to wash their hands before they offered sacrifices, or before they entered the Tabernacle (Exodus 30:17-20). But it does not command people to wash their hands before eating. By the time of Jesus, it was a cultural expectation to wash hands before eating and was apparently considered by the religious leaders to be sinful not to do so (Mark 7:3-5). This ritual is preserved in the Passover Seder.

Dip the Karpas (green vegetable) into the Bowl of Saltwater or Vinegar.

This is done as a reminder that the fruit of the Israelites’ labor was the result of many tears in their slavery. After the leader of the Seder praises God for the karpas, everyone eats their dipped vegetables.

The second blessing is: “Blessed are you, O Lord our God, ruler of the universe, who creates the fruits of the earth.”

The Breaking of the Bread

The Seder leader takes the Matzah (unleavened bread) and breaks it. He repeats the invitation: “This is the bread of affliction… let those who are hungry enter and eat.” No blessing is given over the Matzah at this time because it will be eaten later.

The Seder leader usually takes and wraps the second of three pieces of Matzah in a cloth to save for later. This second piece of Matzah is eaten after the meal is finished. It is called “Afikomen,” which means “that which comes after.” Often the Afikomen is hidden. The broken Matzah is distributed by the leader to the participants. For Christians, the broken, wrapped, and hidden Matza represents the Messiah’s broken, wrapped, and buried body that was hidden in the earth until His resurrection.

It was at this point in His last Seder, that Jesus likely told His disciples: “This is My body which is given for you” (Luke 22:19).

  1. THE PASSOVER STORY

After the initial rituals of Preparation have been performed—the pouring of the First Cup of Wine, the Sanctifying Blessings, the Washing of Hands, the Dipping of Karpas, and the Breaking of the Matzah—the Seder leader tells the story of Passover. The second movement is initiated by what is often referred to as “The Four Questions,” it includes a scriptural retelling of the Passover events and an explanation of the significance of the main Seder elements. It ends with a singing of psalms of Praise called, “The Hallel.” The Second Cup of Wine is also poured during this movement.

The Four Questions

At this point the youngest person participating in the Seder is supposed to ask the four questions. All four are forms of the question: “Why is this night different from all other nights?”

  • First Question: On all other nights, we don’t dip even once. Why on this night do we dip twice?
  • Second Question: On all other nights, we eat chametz (leavened foods) and matzah (unleavened foods). Why on this night, only matzah?
  • Third Question: On all other nights, we eat all vegetables. Why, on this night, maror (bitter herbs)?
  • Fourth Question: On all other nights, we eat either sitting upright or reclining. Why on this night do we all recline?

These questions can be directly answered by the Seder leader or others present.

The Retelling of Passover

The Seder leader continues to relive the Passover by recounting Israel’s lowly state in Egypt and what the Lord did to bring His people out of bondage. He quotes various verses, and his story culminates with the 10 plagues—the final of which was God’s striking down all of Egypt’s firstborn. This final plague was called the Passover because God’s Spirit “passed over” the houses of Israel as He went through Egypt that night.

The Second Cup of Wine

The second cup of wine—“The Cup of Judgement or Deliverance”—is poured. The Ten Plagues are recalled—particularly the final plague where God struck down the firstborn sons of Egypt. The second cup symbolizes God’s wrath and His deliverance.

As this cup is poured and drank, the second of the Divine Promises from Exodus 6:6-8 is read:

“I will deliver you from their bondage.”

This cup also represents how God poured out His wrath on His firstborn Son—Jesus. And because of this we can experience deliverance from the penalties of sin which is death and slavery.

As the wine is poured, the blessing: “Blessed are you, O Lord our God, ruler of the universe, who creates the fruit of the vine,” is repeated.

Explaining of the Main Biblical Elements

After the story of Passover is told, the Seder leader interprets or explains the main Biblical elements of the Seder before they are eaten. Typical things the Seder leader would explain the significance of include:

  • The Passover Lamb: Its presence is symbolized by the shank bone, or the cut of lamb if it is a part of the meal. It recalls the substitutionary sacrifice of the Lamb that spared Israel from God’s wrath at Passover.
  • The Matzah (unleavened bread): This symbolizes the holiness of God’s people from the leaven of Egypt and the haste in which they departed.
  • Bitter Herbs: This symbolizes the bitterness of slavery in Egypt.

Praise for Deliverance

At this point in the Seder, an offering of praise is given to God for His deliverance. This is usually done by reading or singing from the Psalms. Traditionally, the portion of scripture that is selected for this musical praise is called “The Hallel.” “Hallel” in Hebrew means “praise.” The more familiar term (to Westerners), “Hallelujah”—“Praise the Lord”—is related to “hallel.”

The Hallel refers to a liturgical recitation or singing of Psalm 113-118. In ancient times, Jews sang the Hallel when they offered the sacrifices at the Temple in Jerusalem during the three required pilgrim festivals—Passover, Pentecost, and Tabernacles.

Jews usually divide the Hallel into parts. And instead of singing it all at once, they sing through it in portions throughout the Seder service. It is at this point after the Passover story has been told and its main elements explained that the Jews sing the first part of the Hallel, just before eating the Seder Meal.

The portion they typically sing here is Psalm 113 and Psalm 114.

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.

Both hymns are songs of thanksgiving for God’s salvation.

  1. THE MEAL

Hand Washing

A wash basin is passed around and hands are ceremonially washed a second time just before the eating of the Seder meal begins.

Eating the Main Elements

As each element is taken and eaten, a blessing is said over each one.

  • First, everyone takes a piece of the Unleavened Bread/Matzah.

As they do this, the Seder Leader says: “Blessed are you, O Lord our God, Ruler of the universe, who brings forth bread from the earth.”

  • Second, everyone dips their piece of Matzah into the bowl of Bitter Herbs/Maror (horseradish) and eats it.

As they do this the Seder Leader says: “Blessed are you, O Lord our God, Ruler of the universe, who has set us apart by his Word and commanded us to eat bitter herbs.”

This is another reminder of the bitter toil the children of Israel suffered under slavery. But just as importantly, it is a practice to praise God even in our sufferings, that God uses our sufferings for His glory and our good.

  • Next, everyone takes a scoop or dips their Matzah into the sweet fruit paste/charoset and eats. Some Jews use Karpas (Romaine or celery) to do this dip. Then they eat it. As they do this, the Seder leader says: “Blessed are you, O Lord our God, Ruler of the universe, who creates the fruit of the earth”.

This is a reminder that even the most bitter circumstances can be sweetened by hope if we trust in God.

Sometimes all of these elements are combined and eaten together as a sandwich, thus fulfilling all the commandments in a single act as taught by Rabbi Hillel of the Temple times.

Festive Meal

The rest of the holiday meal is served. This would include the Passover lamb.

Afikomen

After everyone is finished eating, the second piece of the three pieces of Matzah (that was covered and/or hidden) is brought out and shared with everyone to eat. (The first and third pieces of Matzah were already consumed). This hidden and recovered piece of Matzah is called the “Afikomen.” Afikomen means, “that which comes after,” and can be loosely translated as “dessert.” If children are present at a Seder meal, they go find where the Afikomen was “hidden” so everyone can eat it.

This was probably the piece of Matzah that Jesus said was His body broken for everyone. He was the second Person of the Trinity. His body was hidden in the earth. And He returned from the grave. And He shares His Life to all who believe in Him. He is the “Afikomen,” Bread of Life.

The blessing for bread is repeated here.

Grace after Meal

After all this food has been eaten. A prayer of gratitude and grace is offered to God for His blessings. This blessing is offered by orthodox Jews after every meal, so even though it is practiced at Seder meals, it is not unique to Passover.

  1. ANTICIPATION

After the Passover meal is explained and eaten, the Seder ends with a movement of anticipation and praise. This fourth and final movement begins and ends with the third and fourth cups of wine, respectively. Between these cups the remaining Psalms of “The Hallel” are sung.

The Third Cup of Wine

The third cup of wine—“The Cup of Redemption”—is poured. This cup is a celebration of God’s deliverance. It specifically represents the blood of the Passover Lamb. As Hebrews 9:22 says: “And according to the Law, one may almost say, all things are cleansed with blood, and without shedding of blood there is no forgiveness.”

As this cup is poured and drank, the third of the Divine Promises from Exodus 6:6-8 is read:

“I will also redeem you with an outstretched arm.”

The Cup of Redemption is most likely the cup where Jesus, during His last Seder, told His disciples: “This cup which is poured out for you is the new covenant in My blood” (Luke 22:20; see also 1 Corinthians 11:25).

Of the Messiah, Isaiah prophesied:

“But He was pierced through for our transgressions,
He was crushed for our iniquities;
The chastening for our well-being fell upon Him,
And by His scourging we are healed.
All of us like sheep have gone astray,
Each of us has turned to his own way;
But the Lord has caused the iniquity of us all
To fall on Him.”
(Isaiah 53:5-6)

The blessing for wine is repeated here.

Concluding the Hallel

“The Hallel” refers to the Psalms of praise found in Psalms 113-118. The first two of these Psalms were liturgically sung earlier in the Seder, at the end of the second movement and just before the meal. Now the rest of the Hallel (Psalms 115-118) are sung.

Psalm 115 proclaims how God is the central figure in every story.

Psalm 116 is a prophetic hymn of praise about the Messiah’s betrayal, death, and resurrection.

Psalm 117 is a praise and an evangelical command.

Psalm 118 is a celebration of the Messiah’s arrival.

The Fourth and Final Cup

The fourth cup of wine—“The Cup of Praise” or “The Cup of Consummation”—is poured.

As this cup is poured, the fourth of the Divine Promises from Exodus 6:6-8 is read:

“I will take you for My people, and I will be your God.”

This cup anticipates Israel’s joy of living with God in the Promised Land. Upon pouring the fourth cup, the Seder leader revisits the major points from the Passover and the Seder meal. He may also speak to the hope of salvation Jews look to upon the Messiah’s coming.

The blessing for wine is repeated here.

In the post-Temple era, this fourth and final cup is sometimes referred to as “Elijah’s Cup.”

Jews believe that Elijah is to come as an advanced messenger or forerunner to the Messiah (Malachi 4:5-6). Many Jews still eagerly await the Messiah and Elijah’s coming. And one of the final acts of traditional Passover Seders is for the youngest participant to check the door to see if Elijah has finally come to proclaim the Messiah’s arrival. This cup of wine is often left undrunk, in the event that if Elijah does come, he will have something to drink.

But Elijah has already come, “But I say to you that Elijah already came, and they did not recognize him” (Matthew 17:12). John the Baptist came as the expectant Elijah to prepare the way of the Lord.

Interestingly, the Jews believe that Elijah will come on Passover, and the scriptures seem to indicate that John the Baptist was born during Passover.

The Old Testament tells us that the division of priests were divided into 24 orders (1 Chronicles 24:5-18). In addition to dividing their time of service for the high festivals, each division served for one week throughout the Jewish calendar—from Sabbath to Sabbath (2 Chronicles 23:8). The order of Abijah perform their priestly services during the eighth lot of the year (1 Chronicles 24:10).

John’s father, Zacharias, was a priest in the order of Abijah (Luke 1:5). If we add two weeks for the festivals of Passover/Unleavened Bread and Pentecost, this means Zacharias would have been serving during the 10th week of the year. And it was while he was performing his priestly service in the temple (Luke 1:8) when the angel of the Lord appeared and announced to him that his wife would bear a son (Luke 1:11-16) “in the spirit and power of Elijah” (Luke 1:17).

It is generally believed that it was sometime in the month that followed, after Zacharias returned home, that his wife Elizabeth conceived their son, John (Luke 1:23-24). Nine months later would have been the month of Nisan, which is the month Passover is celebrated. If these calculations are correct, then the Jews are right, Elijah indeed comes at Passover—he was literally born during Passover!

This would also mean Jesus’s conception, which took place six months after Elizabeth became pregnant with John (Luke 1:36), happened during the tenth month of the year, “Tevet.” Hannukah, “festival of lights” is celebrated this month. “The true Light which… enlightens every man” (John 1:9) was conceived into the world during the festival of lights. And He was born nine months later during the Festival of Tabernacles. So, He literally “dwelt/tabernacled among us” during the Festival of Tabernacles (John 1:14).

This fourth and final Seder cup may have been the cup that Jesus did not drink during His final Seder with the disciples: “Truly I say to you, I will never again drink of the fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new in the kingdom of God” (Mark 14:25).

What Jesus may have meant by this statement was that this portion of His mission would not be completed until He restored His kingdom. Jesus did not entirely fulfill the final Passover promise of Exodus 6:8 in His first coming. But He will completely fulfill it in His second coming when His kingdom comes. When the New Jerusalem is established in the New Heaven and the New Earth, there will no longer be any doubt that we live with God and He will live among us, His people. He will truly be our God. The celebration of Isaiah 25:6-9 will no longer be prophetic words only. They will describe an incredible reality. And it will be at that time that Jesus will at long last drink the final cup of Passover.

BENEDICTION

In the post-Temple era, Jews often end their Seder remembrances with the hopeful expression: “Next year in Jerusalem”.




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