When the time came, Jesus and the apostles sat down together at the table. Jesus said, “I have been very eager to eat this Passover meal with you before My suffering begins. For I tell you now that I won’t eat this meal again until its meaning is fulfilled in the Kingdom of God.” Then He took a cup of wine and gave thanks to God for it. Then He said, “Take this and share it among yourselves. For I will not drink wine again until the Kingdom of God has come.” He took some bread and gave thanks to God for it. Then He broke it in pieces and gave it to the disciples, saying, “This is My body, which is given for you. Do this to remember Me.” After supper He took another cup of wine and said, “This cup is the new covenant between God and His people—an agreement confirmed with My blood, which is poured out as a sacrifice for you. But here at this table, sitting among us as a friend, is the man who will betray Me. For it has been determined that the Son of Man must die. But what sorrow awaits the one who betrays Him.” The disciples began to ask each other which of them would ever do such a thing.Luke 22:14-23
First, let’s deal with the matter hanging from yesterday first. Why does Luke seemingly change the order of the bread and the cup? Why too, does Luke refer to the cup twice, in verse 17 and again in 20, with the bread sandwiched in between the two references to the cup? Also, there is debate as to whether Jesus actually drank from the cup at all. Some feel He just offered the cup to the disciples and states that He will not drink. Did He drink from the cup at that time or didn’t He? From verse 18 we could conclude Jesus means He is not going to drink with them. He will not drink from that moment until the Kingdom of God comes in all of its fullness. Or He could be meaning He drank the cup at that time but then said, ‘from this moment onwards I will not drink again until the Feast of the Lamb in heaven’.
How do we reconcile these complexities and make sense of this passage? Well, firstly, we need to know something about the process of the Passover meal. There is an obligation to drink four cups of wine. Our problem is to work out which of the cups is being meant here and is only one in focus or do we have two here. Each cup is connected to a different part of the Seder and represents the four expressions of deliverance promised by God:
The basis of the Passover meal goes back to the Exodus experience and God’s promises to Israel.
“Therefore, say to the Israelites: I am the LORD. I will free you from the forced labor of the Egyptians and will deliver you from their slavery. I will rescue you by my outstretched arm and with mighty acts of judgment. I will take you as my own people, and you shall have me as your God. You will know that I, the LORD, am your God when I free you from the labor of the Egyptians.”Exodus 6:6-7
The Passover Meal can be broken down into four basic parts all based on the cups and what they symbolized:
1st Cup – The first part of this Passover meal is the festival blessing and in that festival blessing the presiding priest says, “Let the festival begin.” They say a few prayers and they drink from the first cup of wine.
2nd Cup – Then they go on to the second part of the meal. At this point the youngest person in the room would ask the presiding priest, “Father, why is tonight different from all other nights?” And the person administering the meal or priest would read from Exodus in the Torah. This was a very special way to remember the Exodus so that future generations would never forget how Yahweh saved the Israelites from the bondage of slavery. After singing the Little Halle (Psalm 113)l, they would drink from the second cup of wine, and this would finish the second part of the meal.
3rd Cup – Then they ate the main course. Each different food had a symbolic meaning. They eat the roasted lamb. This represents the Pascal lamb that was sacrificed in Egypt. They eat bitter herbs and spices which remind them of the bitterness of bondage and being enslaved for so long. They eat green herbs dipped in salt water which reminds them of the tears that the Israelites shed during the 400 years of slavery. They also eat haroseth, which is mashed apple cooked with wine and a touch of cinnamon and nutmeg. It represents the mortar used in the bricks to build Egypt. They also eat unleavened bread called matzah, just as they ate on that first night in Egypt. When the meal is finished they drink from the third cup of wine called the “Cup of Blessing.”
4th Cup – They conclude the meal with prayers and then sing the “Great Hallel”, (Psalms 114-118). Then they drink the fourth cup of wine and the presiding priest would say the words, “TEL TELESTI” which means “IT IS FINISHED” or “IT IS CONSUMATED”. The meal is completed.
The question we must ask now is which of the cups mentioned by Luke match the cups of the Passover meal? It is not easy to work out.
Alfred Edersheim in his book The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah (1883) says this reference in Luke evidences that this is the 1st cup being referred to here. Largely because the drinking of the cup is followed by giving thanks. But so too is the second cup. So it could be either. If this is the 1st cup referred to in verse 17, then Jesus comments came at the beginning of the meal, which makes sense. But alternatively, it could be the 3rd cup which is then followed by the singing of remaining psalms and the partaking of the 4th cup. So our options appear to be that either these comments were made at the beginning of the meal fitting between the sequences of the Passover cups or set at the end of the meal and therefore these cups of Luke are the 3rd and 4th cup. When Jesus says, “Take this cup”, the cup is plural. This would mean that He is referring to the complete sequence of cups in the Passover meal.
Thus, Luke is not changing the sequence of the Communion. It is not that it is Cup then Bread. Rather the sequence is Cup, Bread, Cup. So don’t worry, your Communion practice is not being radically revamped. Take in a deep breath and rest easy.
What is also interesting, is that this institution of the Communion was not actually meant to be institutionalized and celebrated once a month or whatever sequence your church practices. Rather, it was meant to be done “as often as you drink it, in remembrance of Me. For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until He comes.” Do it often to remind yourself you are in limbo between this present Age and the Age to come. Be in a ready state of expectation of His Coming again. It could happen at any moment. Do it often to remind yourself that you are poised between two significant points in history. The Coming of the Saviour of the World the first time and the Coming of the King of Glory the second time. But they are One and the Same God.
Now, on the matter of whether Jesus drank or didn’t. I think He did partake of this last Passover cup before His sacrifice as the Lamb of God. It is fitting that He would. But not only that, it would have been strange if he hadn’t. As a Jew presiding over the Passover meal it would have been hugely significant and out of place for Him not to have taken the cup. Secondly, He had stated that He earnestly wanted to share it with them before His big event and highly symbolic as this would be the last time He would celebrate it before the New Covenant would be instituted. Thus, Jesus is saying, ‘I am taking the cup this time but it will be My last time before we celebrate what I am about to do later in heaven.’
I will stop at this point and leave the perspective on Luke’s overall arrangement for the next Gem. This passage is unfolding as we go.
God only gives us what we can handle, but sometimes I wish he didn’t trust me so much!Anon
Don’t look up, look down. You are seated with Him in heavenly places.Anon
Know where you stand — between His First Coming and His Appearing Again. What an exciting time to be living.Anon