And as they were eating, he took bread, and after blessing it broke it and gave it to them, and said, “Take; this is my body.” 23 And he took a cup, and when he had given thanks he gave it to them, and they all drank of it. 24 And he said to them, “This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many. 25 Truly, I say to you, I will not drink again of the fruit of the vine until that when I drink it new in the kingdom of God.”
26 And when they had sung a hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives. (Mark 14:22-26)
The word “Passover” comes from a story in the book of Exodus. It refers to the time when a death angel “passed over” the homes of Israelites in Egypt to escape God’s judgement. Only those who had placed blood of a sacrificed lamb on their doorposts were spared. The plague of the death angel was the last of ten plagues endured by Pharaoh and the people of Egypt. It was brought about by the Lord God as a way of liberating the Israelite people from bandage in Egypt.
Each plague increased in unrelenting intensity until at last the death angel came. The angel brought death to every first born child unless a lamb without blemish was sacrificed and its blood smeared on their doorpost. After the devastation of that final plague, Pharaoh relented and Israel was set free.
Every aspect of the meal applied special significance to events of that liberation.
The death angel represents the unleashing of God’s perfect justice over humanity. That incredible force moved over the powerful Egyptian nation like a knife through warm butter and brought about death and judgment without bias on every Egyptian home. Think about the significance of this truth: God told the Israelites that the only thing standing between them and the most powerful force in the universe, the judgement of God, was a tiny, helpless little lamb. They were to shed its blood and place it on their doorposts.
So how are we to understand the meaning of the passover meal that would later become the Last Supper? What do death angels and divine judgement and unleavened bread, bitter herbs, wine and sacrificial lambs have to do with modern people?
I want us to focus on the three aspects of the Lord’s Suppr that have meaning to us:
1. The bread represents His body broken for us
Consider all the meaningful ways Jesus was symbolized in just the bread used in the Passover meal.
First, it was significant that the bread was made without leaven. Unleavened bread was the bread of slaves. It was bread quickly and cheaply made because it did not need to rise. It was the bread slaves in Egypt would’ve been accustomed to eating. It was called “matzah”, a flattened hard bread that was easy to store and transport. This is why it carries the symbolism of freedom from slavery- in eating it, the Jew was reminded of how God brought them out of their lowly status as slaves into a new way of life.
‘Seven days you shall eat unleavened bread, the bread of affliction, for you came out of the land of Egypt in haste -- that all the days of your life you may remember the day when you came out of the land of Egypt" (Deut. 16:3).
Second, to celebrate the meal, God told the Israelites to remove all traces of leaven from their houses (Exodus 12:5, 13:7; Deuteronomy 16:4). On the night before Passover, the Jews would perform a ceremony called “bedicat chametz” in which they removed all bread crumbs or other traces of bread from their houses. Why was this important? Leaven (i.e., yeast) produces fermentation, especially in bread dough, and is the result of natural processes of decay. Unless it is removed it can influence the unleavened dough.
The leavening represented death and decay. In this way Jesus is symbolized in the unleavened bread in that he defeated sin and death. He rose from the grave and was not overcome by the power of death.
Third, in removing all the bead crumbs from the house, the passover event also represented a new beginning, a starting over. God would take them from their Egyptian bondage and move them into a new way of living. Similarly, in Christ, we are transformed by the power of the gospel and all things become new:
Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here! (2 Corinthians 5:17)
Fourth, the matzah was called the “bread of affliction” as a way of signifying the hardship of Egyptian slavery. As believers we see a profound symbol in the bread representing the body of Christ. His body was broken for us. He took our sin and death onto himself. He became sin for us and died in our place. Isaiah the prophet wrote this:
Surely he took up our pain
and bore our suffering,
yet we considered him punished by God,
stricken by him, and afflicted.
But he was pierced for our transgressions,
he was crushed for our iniquities;
the punishment that brought us peace was on him,
and by his wounds we are healed. (Isaiah 53:4-5)
It was God's grace that brought salvation to the ancient Israelites, just as it was God's grace that saved us from our sins. Eating unleavened bread, the "bread of affliction", is really to eat the bread of HIS affliction and therefore testifies to our own powerlessness in salvation. It is eaten "in haste", not the result of human work or planning. It symbolizes that salvation is of the LORD rather than from human striving.
The idea that we can merit our own righteousness before God, that we are self-sufficient and do not need a Savior, is something Jesus regarded as a form of "spiritual leaven." (Mark 16:6-12) It is only when we humble ourselves (i.e., "unleavened") that we are able to discern the truth of our fallen nature and turn to him for salvation and are rescued from slavery.
2. The cup represents a new covenant in His blood
Jesus said the cup was a “new covenant”. What did that mean?
God established several covenants- one with Noah, one with Abraham, one with Moses, and one with David.
The story of the Old Testament is the story of how the people of God tried and failed to live up to all of the many covenants established by God. These varying failures through hundreds of years of biblical history were painstakingly recorded as a way of dramatically illustrating that truth.
In other words, all of these covenants were pointing to a new and better day that was in the future. The prophets prophesied of a coming Messiah who would usher in a new kingdom and a new relationship between God and his people that would last forever. The prophet Jeremiah announced the coming of a new covenant the Lord God would bring about that would finally fulfill all of the old covenants and usher in this future kingdom:
“This is the covenant I will make with the people of Israel after that time,” declares the LORD. “I will put my law in their minds and write it on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people. No longer will they teach their neighbor, or say to one another, ‘Know the LORD,’ because they will all know me, from the least of them to the greatest,” declares the LORD. “For I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more.” (Jeremiah 31:33-34)
So in the new covenant God pledges to forgive the sins of his people and to write his laws not on tablets of stone but on tablets within their hearts. Gone are the days when God’s people are held to covenants they were incapable of keeping. With the new covenant God says in effect,
“All of it will fall on me, I will create in you the establishment of a new power!”
The new covenant is not a mere possibility; it is a new creation. It is not something God proposes, but something he accomplishes. It is the creation of a people for God who will not forsake him. They will be his people and he will be their God forever. The certainty of it lies not in them, but in God's covenant commitment: he says that he will forgive their sins and remember their iniquity no more.
Another promise of the new covenant was made by Moses in Deuteronomy 30:6,
"And the Lord your God will circumcise your heart and the heart of your offspring, so that you will love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul, that you may live." (Deut. 30:6)
In the new covenant "thou shalt love the Lord your God" is not just a command, it is also a gift. Ezekiel 36:27 puts the new covenant commitment of God like this:
"I will put my Spirit within you and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to observe my ordinances." (Ez 36:27)
In the new arrangement, our position before God is not in question- God secures it with the blood of Christ and with the infinite power of his Spirit. The connection between the new covenant and the death of Christ and the work of his Spirit in our lives is made clear in Hebrews 13:20–21.
Now may the God of peace who brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus, the great shepherd of the sheep by the blood of the eternal covenant, equip you with everything good that you may do his will, working in you that which is pleasing in his sight, through Jesus Christ; to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen. (Heb 13:20-21)
As you can see, this new covenant was a game changer of eternal proportions! It was, in fact, what the entire Old Testament pointed toward in hundreds of years of Israelite history. It is what the Passover meal foreshadowed with the imagery of a lamb slain for the salvation of God’s people and with the symbolism of the bread of affliction.
And this is what makes Jesus statement about the cup so powerfully significant. When Jesus said, “This cup is the NEW COVENANT in my blood” he was announcing an amazing and powerful new reality available to all of us.
In the garden of Gethsemane Jesus cried out to the Lord in anguished prayer,
"Father, if it is Your will, take this cup away from me; nevertheless not my will, but yours, be done" (Luke 22:42).
So the next time you hold the cup at a Lord’s Supper meal, remember that Jesus took the cup of wrath and drank it to the dregs so that you could drink from the cup of blessing. Remember that it was because of his blood shed on the cross that a new covenant was established.
3. The Lamb represented the atoning sacrifice of Jesus
The lamb was of special and important significance to the meaning of his death and resurrection. When Jesus began his earthly ministry he was baptized by his cousin John the Baptist who saw him from a distance and called out,
Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world! (John 1:29)
Jesus was the lamb without blemish who was sacrificed for the sins of the world. But none of the biblical accounts of that last Passover meal gives an account of a lamb on the table. Where was it? It may have merely been left out of the story and was therefore implied to be there. Or maybe there was another meaning to its absence. After all, Jesus did not tell the disciples to add a lamb to the meal when we remember his body and blood at the Lord’s Supper. So what can it mean?
Perhaps there was no lamb on the table because the perfect lamb without blemish was already sitting at the table.
- What is the passover?
- How does the passover point us to Jesus?
- In what ways does the blood of Jesus keep us from the judgement of God?
- Why is the Lord’s Supper important to the believer?