Harry Whittaker
Studies in the Gospels

193. The Last Supper as a Passover

It is here taken as already established that the Last Supper was not a Jewish Passover. Too many difficulties stand in the way of such an identification. (See Study 181).

Yet Jesus called it "this Passover" (Lk.22 :15), and many of the details associated with the meal seem to have a Passover flavour about them. The timing of the meal after sunset, the special arrangement to eat it in Jerusalem, the number of the company at table, the sop, the two (?) cups in Luke, the giving of thanks, the hymn, Paul's expression "the cup of blessing"-all of these facts have been stressed as suggesting that the Jewish Passover was kept.

A more accurate conclusion is that, for reasons which the following exposition should make plain, Jesus aimed at making the meal as much like a Jewish Passover as possible; this was to help his disciples appreciate him as the Lamb of God whose sacrifice makes possible a deliverance greater than that of Israel from Egypt. These ideas took on considerable importance in the thinking of the early church.

Hence the many details occurring in the crucifixion narrative which reinforce the idea that the passover ritual of Exodus 12 was intended as a fore-shadowing of Christ as the true Passover. Here, without doubt, is one of the finest types of the Old Testament. The following verse-by-verse exposition aims at bringing this out. (Apologies for some repetition from earlier gospel exposition).

Ex.12 :2: "This month shall be unto you the beginning of months." Here, in Jesus, was a new beginning in the redemptive work of God. And so it is also for all who come within the scope of that redemption. Except they make their baptism into Christ a genuine new beginning, their understanding of life in Christ as "a new creature" is seriously defective. And should not one's baptism, rather than the day of one's natural birth, be the anniversary to celebrate?
Verse 3: "In the tenth day ... they shall take to them every man a lamb." If was on this day, six days before the Passover celebration on the 15th Nisan (reckoned inclusively) that the anointing of Jesus took place at Bethany (Jn.12 :1). There can be little doubt that Mary was consciously identifying Jesus as the Lamb of sacrifice, She anointed his feet (Jn.12 :3) and also his head (Mt.26 :7). This is the counterpart to Exodus 12 :9: "his head with his legs." The comment of Jesus chimed in with this; "Against the day of my burying hath she kept this" (Jn.12 :7). The verb here is not equivalent to "saved this", but has the sense of keeping a commandment-the Passover commandment of Exodus 12:3,9.
Verse 4: "Let him and his neighbour next unto his house take it." The words emphasize fellowship, an aspect of redemption both essential and inevitable: hence Paul's word "communion" (1 Cor.10:16).Then, in practice, ought not a man to seek fellowship at his nearest ecclesia?
Verse 4: "Every man according to his eating"; i.e. enough and to spare, and to each participant according to his individual 10. need. Even so is Christ, at the Breaking of Bread.
Verse 5: "Without blemish". How many times did Pilate assert: "I find no fault in him at all"? Yet more important, the Father's assessment of this sacrifice was the same: "How much more shall the blood of Christ, who ... offered himself without spot to God, purge your conscience from dead works to serve the living God?" (Heb.9 :14). "Ye were not redeemed with corruptible things, as silver and gold . . . but with the precious blood of Christ, as of a lamb without blemish and without spot" (1 Pet.l :18,19; there are other Passover allusions in this context).
Verse 5: "Ye shall take it out from the sheep, or from the goats." Jesus was himself one of "the flock"-he truly shared the nature of those whom he died to save. And yet Jewish tradition has always insisted that the Passover sacrifice be a lamb and not a kid. There is more fitness in this than perhaps the Jews have realised.
Verse 6: "The fourteenth day ... in the evening." Jesus died on the cross at the very time when the slaying of the Passover lambs began in the temple court (Mk. 15:34). The phrase is literally, "between the two evenings" (see margin), an expression traditionally interpreted as meaning between the decline of the afternoon sun and its actual setting. This is demonstrated to be correct by the pointed allusion to the two evenings in the record of 15. the feeding of the five thousand at the preceding Passover (Mt: 14:15,23).
Verse 6: "The whole assembly of the congregation of Israel shall kill it." "The Lord hath laid on him the iniquity of us all;" 16. and today "the whole assembly", and not just the more faithful members, should gladly celebrate the fact.
Verse 7: "And they shall take of the blood, and strike it on the two side posts and on the upper door post of the houses." A public avowal of faith in the redeeming power of the blood of the Lamb. That mark of the blood is the equivalent of the Hebrew letter Cheth (Ps.119 :57), which also means "a fence"; or else to the letter He~(119 :33), which is almost the divine name Yah. And at Passover Jesus prayed: "Keep through thine own Name those whom Thou hast given me"(Jn.17:11).
Verse 9: "Nor sodden at all with water, but roast with fire." When, at another Passover, Jesus cleansed the temple, "his disciples remembered that it was written, The zeal of thine house hath eaten me up" (Jn.2 :17). Contrast the boiled or stewed sacrifices during the rest of Passover week (Dt.16 :7, where the RV has correctly: "seethe"). Thus is emphasized the difference in degree of self-consecration of Jesus and of those redeemed by him.
Verse 8: "With unleavened bread." Originally a reminder of Egyptian affliction (Dt.16:3), in the New Testament it is given a somewhat different meaning: "Neither with the leaven of malice and wickedness, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth" (1 Cor.5 :7,8).
Verse 11: "Loins girded" etc. Interpreted by Peter as an eager expectation of ultimate redemption in Christ (1 Pet.l:13). Cp: "Ye do shew forth the Lord's death till he come."
Verse 12: "I will smite all the firstborn in the land of Egypt." The reign of death over all who are not numbered among the Lord's firstborn.
Verse 13: "When I see the blood, I will pass over you." Observe that the blood must be there in fact. It was not sufficient to believe that the blood was on the door! The bearing of this on Christian baptism and on the indifference of certain evangelical contemporaries towards that rite will be obvious.
Verse 14: "This day shall be unto you for a memorial." This redemption was a vivid experience which must never grow dim in the memory. "Do this in remembrance of me."
Verse 16: "No manner of work shall be done . . . save that which every man must eat." A minimum of attention to worldly interests is proper in those redeemed. There is here also an appropriate discouragement of dependence upon one's own good works as a means of salvation: "For he that is entered into his (God's) rest, he also hath ceased from his own works, as God did from his" (Heb.4:10).
Verse 19: "No leaven in your houses." From time immemorial this commandment has been generalised by the Jews to mean a complete Spring-cleaning just before Passover. Accordingly, at the first and last Passovers of his ministry Jesus did in his Father's House what all the Jews were doing in their own houses (Jn.2 :13; Mk. 11:15). Today the counterpart in the experience of the disciple is: "Let a man examine himself, and so let him eat" (1 Cor. 11:28). "Whosoever eateth that which is leavened, even that soul shall be cut ,off from the congregation" is also interpreted by Paul: "He that eateth and drinketh unworthily, eateth and drinketh damnation to himself."
Verse 22: "Take a bunch of hyssop ... and dip it in the blood." In Scripture hyssop is associated with cleansing from sin (Lev. 14:6; Ps. 51:7). This must be the reason why John was careful to mention it in his account of the crucifixion (Jn.19 :29).
Verse 22: "None of you shall go out at the door of his house until the morning." The day-to-day meaning of these words '^'""' probably is that there shall be no light- hearted abandonment of membership of God's house: "Whose house are we, if we hold fast the confidence and the rejoicing of the hope firm unto the end" (Heb.3 :6). But consider also: "Come, my people, enter thou into thy chambers, and shut thy doors about thee: hide thyself as it were for a little moment, until the indignation be overpast" (Is.26 :20). The basis of this prophecy is Hezekiah's Passover. Those who responded to his call, and kept Passover in Jerusalem, were the only people in the Land safe from the Assyrian invasion and from the storm and fire and destroying angel (ls.29 :5,6; 30 :30; and 37 :36) by which God brought deliverance. All of which is a figure of a greater deliverance in the last day when "the Lord cometh out of his place to punish the inhabitants of the earth for their iniquity."
Verse 23: "The Lord will pass over the door." Not "pass by", as is usually understood, but "hover over" in protection. Compare the use of the same Hebrew word in Isaiah 31 :5: "As birds flying, so will the Lord of hosts defend Jerusalem . . . passing over he will preserve it"-Hezekiah's Passover, once again! On the night of the first Passover when "the destroyer" went through the land of Egypt, the houses of the twelve tribes of Israel were protected by twelve legions of angels "passing over" them. Al another Passover, the same angels were all on the alert, eager to protect the Son of God: "Put up thy sword into his place ... thinkest thou that I cannot now pray to my Father, and he shall even now (RV) give me more than twelve legions of angels?" Today those angels minister to the new "Israel of God": "The angel of the Lod encampeth round about them that fear him, and delivereth them" (Ps.34 :7). "Are they not all ministering spirits, sent forth to minister for them who shall be heirs ol salvation?" (Heb.l :14).
Verse 23: "The Lord . . . will not suffer the destroyer to come in unto your houses to smite you." Psalm 78 :49 RV has the phrase "angels of evil." Thus there were, on duty in Egypt that night, angels with two completely different assignments, all of them doing the will of God. The same apparent "conflict" continues to this day in the experience of the saints of God, and hence the problem of evil which continues as a problem to both men and angels until the day when there is "peace in heaven, and glory in the highest" (Lk.l9:38).
Verse 26: "Your children shall say unto you, What mean ye by this service?" So it may be fairly confidently inferred what the boy Jesus was asking the learned rabbis in his Father's house at his first full Passover (Lk.2:46) and also the nature of their answer: verse 27. But it would be interesting to know how they expounded this, under pressure of his further questions. "And then shalt shew thy son in that day . . ." (Ex.13:8). It is to this Haggadah (showing forth) that Paul alludes: "As often as ye eat this bread, and drink this cup, ye do shew (RV: proclaim) the Lord's death till he come"(lCor.11:26).
Verse 27: "It is the sacrifice of the Lord’s passover"- until Jesus came this was the only sacrifice which had neither altar nor priest. And, like his, it was three kinds of sacrifice in one:

a) in the sprinkling of the blood, a sin offering (v.22: cp.Lev.4 :6);

b) "roast with fire", a burnt-offering (v.8, 10);

c) in the eating of it, a peace-offering (v.8; Lev.l9:5,6).

Yet although the Lamb was unique in those respects, it was to be followed by other sacrifices (Num.28 :16-25)—the types of those who seek to imitate the self-offering of Jesus (Rom.l2:1; Col. 1:24).
Verse 29: "All the firstborn in the land of Egypt." This included even the Godfearing Egyptians who did not identify themselves fully with Israel (Ex.9 :20). This also had its counterpart when Jesus died: "Daughters of Jerusalem, weep not for me, but weep for yourselves, and for your children" (Lk.23 :28).
Verse 38: "A mixed multitude went up also with them," and later helped forward Israel's apostasy (Num.11 :4). The New Testament likewise speaks of wheat and tares, grain and chaff, sheep and goats, good fish and bad.
Verse 42 RVm: "It is a night of watching unto the Lord", i.e. a night of prayer, as the request of Jesus to his disciples in Gethsemane plainly shows: "Tarry ye here, and watch with me" (Mt.26 :38). In Egypt Israel prayed, doubtless, for the full accomplishment of their deliverance-even though it had already been promised through Moses. In Gethsemane Jesus prayed for a fit and proper attitude of mind to his own ordeal, so that he might be the deliverer. In each instance the answer came almost immediately-to Israel, in the slaying of the firstborn and the urgent thrusting out from Egypt; to Jesus, in the appearance of an angel strengthening him. What would have been the experience of the eleven, had they been persevering in prayer instead of heavy with sleep? Today the disciple eats his Passover with prayer—but prayer for what? and with what kind of ready response? If for Israel there was immediate deliverance from bondage, cannot the same still be true, since this is "for the remission of sins" (Mt.26 :28)?
Verse 45: "A foreigner and an hired servant shall not eat thereof." And "this Passover" is not for those who are "aliens from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers from the covenants of promise"; but it is for those whom Jesus calls "not servants, but . . . friends; for the servant knoweth not what his lord doeth" (Eph.2:12;Jn.15:15).
Verse 46: "Thou shalt not carry forth ought of the flesh." Here is explicit condemnation of the men who thought to enjoy God's highest blessings to Israel whilst refusing to share fellowship with others similarly blessed. Sharing the Lamb and yet not sharing one another's fellowship is a hopeless contradiction. Dr. Thomas's famous phrase: "Breaking a factious loaf in solitude." The apostle John put it thus: "Even now there are many antichrists . . . They went out from us, but they were not of us, for if they had been of us they would have continued with us" (1 Jn.2 :18,19).
"Neither shall ye break a bone thereof." A further emphasis that Christ is not divided. Any man so doing breaks God's law: "We are members of his (Christ's) body, of his flesh and, of his bones" (Eph. 5:30). The importance of this symbolism in the crucified body of Jesus is given special prominence in John's narrative of the crucifixion: "The Jews therefore . . . besought Pilate that their legs might be broken . . . Then came the soldiers, and brake the legs of the first, and of the other which was crucified with him. But when they came to Jesus, and saw that he was dead already, they brake not his legs... For these things were done, that the scripture should be fulfilled" (Jn. 19:31-36). The words of the hymn: "Thy body broken for our sake", can be misleading, except the word "broken" be mentally associated with the symbolic Bread and not with the Body.
Verse 47: "All the congregation of Israel shall keep (i.e. observe) it"-"not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as the manner of some is", not "counting the blood of the covenant, wherewith he was sanctified, an unholy thing" (Heb.10 :25,29). These words may have been written as an explicit allusion to misuse of or indifferece to the blood of the Passover Lamb.
Verse 49: "One law shall be to him that is homeborn, and unto the stranger." The benefits of this sacrifice are for Jew and Gentile alike, but only on terms. The previous verse states what terms-that the Gentile first become a Jew. And thus the blessing of redemption comes to the whole "Israel of God."
Ch.13 :5: "When the Lord shall bring thee into the land of the Canaanites.. .which he sware unto thy fathers to give thee . .." So the first Passover was also a prophecy of inheritance. "This Passover" also is a prophecy of a yet better inheritance: "until it be fulfilled in the Kingdom of God."

This assemblage of details is not complete, but it will serve to illustrate why the early church came to see in the Jewish Passover a pattern of redemption in Christ. It becomes equally clear that this was by design of One who first instructed Israel to keep such a celebration, and according to such a pattern. The foreshadowing of Christ and the Breaking of Bread was purposed, and not an accident.

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