The Messianic Meal
Blaine Robison, M.A.
Published 10 September 2007; Revised 9 April 2020
Formerly titled "Eucharist or Messianic Passover?
Scripture: Unless otherwise indicated Scripture quotations are taken from the Messianic Jewish Family Bible: Tree of Life Version (TLV), © 2014 by Messianic Jewish Family Bible Society. Click here for Abbreviations of Bible Versions. Quotations marked with the initials "BR" indicate the translation of the author.
Sources: Bibliographic data for works cited may be found at the end of the article. Unless otherwise indicated references to the Talmud are from the Soncino Babylonian Talmud (1948); available online at Halakhah.com.
Terminology: In order to emphasize the Hebraic and Jewish nature of Scripture I use the terms Tanakh (Old Testament), Besekh (New Testament), Yeshua (Jesus), and Messiah (Christ).
Then came the day of matzah, on which the Passover lamb had to be sacrificed. Now Yeshua sent Peter and John, saying, "Go and prepare the Passover for us, so we may eat." (Luke 22:7-8)
Christian theologians generally acknowledge that Yeshua (Jesus) and His disciples observed the Pesach or Passover on the night before he died on the cross (Luke 22:15), which for the apostles later became a Messianic meal (1Cor 11:23-26). Yet, many Christians have little understanding of Passover and may assume that it has no value. See my article The Passover for a summary of the institution of Passover and its observance in Bible times, as well as the development of the Passover Seder.
Yeshua, being an observant Jew, made special arrangements for the twelve disciples to share the meal together at the home of a mutual friend (Luke 22:7-13). See my commentary on Mark 14. There is no evidence of a precise order for the preparation and conduct of Passover in the first century, but most of the customs set forth in the Mishnah tractate Pesachim are featured in the composite record of the apostolic narratives. Nevertheless, within these accounts there is an order followed for the observance. Yeshua complied with required customs and added some new elements:
Before the Seder
• Shabath Seor-Chametz, removal of leaven and leavened products from dwellings on Nisan 14 (Mark 14:12; Pes. 1:1; 3:1).
• Korban Pesach, the slaughter of Pascal lambs on Nisan 14 following the afternoon burnt offering (Mark 14:12; Pes. 5:1).
• Kun Pesach, preparation of the Passover with all the required foods (Mark 14:16).
During the Seder
• Erev ("evening"): Conducting the Passover meal in the evening of Nisan 14 as required by Torah (Matt 26:20; Mark 14:17; Luke 22:14; John 13:30). Since the Seder began after sundown, then the meal occurred at the beginning of Nisan 15.
• Zakur (lit. "all the men"): The presence of Yeshua and the twelve disciples fulfilled the Torah requirement that all males participate in the Passover (Matt 26:20; Mark 14:17; Luke 22:14; John 13:5).
• Shakab ("reclining"): The posture at table for the festival meal was reclining rather than sitting upright (Matt 26:20; Mark 14:18; Luke 22:14; John 13:12, 28; Pes. 10:1). Reclining was not lying prone on the front or back, or leaning on the right side, but only on the left side to facilitate eating with the right hand (Pes. 108a).
• Shulchan Orekh ("eating the meal"): Presumptively, the meal included the unleavened bread, bitter herbs and lamb (Matt 26:17, 20-21; Mark 14:12, 18; Luke 22:7, 11, 15; John 13:2, 4).
• Rachtzah (lit. "to wash"): Yeshua arose "from the supper" to wash the feet of his disciples and follows with a teaching on serving one another (John 13:3-20). Normally, foot washing was an act of hospitality conducted prior to eating (e.g. Gen 18:4; 19:2; 24:32; 43:24; Jdg 19:21). However, the washing may have been an acted out parable of the Exodus story, of which the apostolic narratives make no mention.
• Ramah Nebuah ("prophecy of betrayal"): During the meal Yeshua announced that one of his disciples would betray him (Matt 26:21; Mark 14:18; Luke 22:21; John 13:21), and pointed to the culprit by dipping matzah, perhaps with maror, into the charoset and sharing it with Judas (Matt 26:23; Mark 14:20; John 13:26). [Judas then departed the Seder, John 13:30.]
• Melekh Kos ("Cup of the Kingdom"): After the departure of Judas Yeshua gave this cup to his disciples to share, saying that he would not drink the fruit of the vine again "until the Kingdom of God comes" (Luke 22:17-18). Matthew and Mark associate this saying with the one cup they report.
• Lechem Oni ("Bread of Affliction"): Before the meal concluded Yeshua offered the appropriate blessing, broke unleavened bread for the disciples to share, and said, "Take, eat, this is my body which is given for you; do this in remembrance of Me" (Matt 26:26; Mark 14:22; Luke 22:19; cf. 1Cor 11:23-24). The bread did not represent a "broken body" (cf. John 19:36), but a "pierced body" (Ps 22:16; Isa 53:5), since the matzah was pierced with holes.
• Birkat Hamazon, ("Grace"). A blessing to God for His gracious provision was offered after the meal, although the narrative of the last supper does not mention it (Deut 8:10; Pes. 10:6; Ber. 6:6; 48b).
• Midrash ("teaching"): Unlike a typical Seder Yeshua delivered an extensive discourse to exhort his disciples in spiritual fruitfulness (John 14–16).
• Brit Hadashah Kos, ("Cup of the New Covenant"): After the meal Yeshua presented a cup of wine, offered the appropriate blessing, and shared among the disciples, saying "This cup which is poured out for you is the new covenant in My blood" (Luke 22:20; cf. Matt 26:27-29; Mark 14:23-25; 1Cor 11:25). True to his previous word, Yeshua did not drink of this cup.
• Tephillat Hakohen Hagadol ("High Priestly Prayer"): After the extensive teaching Yeshua concluded the Seder with a unique action for Passover, a lengthy intercessory prayer (John 17).
• Hallel ("Praise"): The Seder was closed with a hymn, some portion of Psalm 113–118 (Matt 26:30; Mark 14:26; Pes. 5:5).
The most significant elements of Yeshua's Passover observance are clearly the bread and cups of wine. Of historical relevance is that the first mention of bread and wine is in Genesis 14:18 where Melchizedek brought these items to celebrate Abraham's victory. Later the Torah would prescribe that the daily offering at the sanctuary would include matzah and wine with the lamb (Ex 29:38-43). In that passage God promises, "I will meet you there."
In addition, the Torah prescribed that on the Sabbath after Passover sheaves of the barley harvest were to be waved before the Lord in the temple in thanksgiving for a bountiful harvest. This ceremony was called Reishit Katzir ("Beginning of Harvest," Lev 23:9-14). Following the "wave offering," the priests were to present a drink offering of wine and a grain offering consisting of fine flour mixed with oil (Lev 23:12-13). So, Yeshua's emphasis on the bread and cup may point to this ceremony, which symbolizes the resurrection of Yeshua, the "first fruits" of those who believe (1Cor 15:20-23).
One other item of historical interest from the first century is that at Qumran, the people observed a periodic ceremonial meal in honor of the Messiah, which involved bread and wine (Stern 932f). In all these occasions the portions bore no resemblance to the tiny morsel of bread and the sip or thimble-full amount of wine or juice as in Christian observances.
Paul on Pesach and the Lord's Supper
"Completely remove the old leaven, that you might be a new lump, just as you are unleavened, for also Messiah our Passover was sacrificed 8 so that we might keep the feast, not with old leaven, nor with the leaven of evil and wickedness, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth." (1Cor 5:7-8 BR)
The apostle Paul provides valuable instruction on Passover that has been little considered by Christians. In addressing a serious matter of sin in the Corinthian congregation Paul makes an analogy with the practice of Passover. He reminds the disciples that Yeshua as the Pesach sacrifice is a sin offering (1Cor 5:7). Paul was not referring to the Passover lamb killed on Nisan 14 for the Seder, because that sacrifice was not a sin offering, but a type of peace offering (Pes. 3a).
However, the chagigah sacrifices of lambs and bulls on Nisan 15 did include a sin offering (Lev 23:6; Num 28:17-25). In the nativity story an angel of the LORD announced that Yeshua would die to save his people from their sins (Matt 1:21; cf. 2Cor 5:21; 1Pet 3:18). When Yochanan the Immerser said, "this is the Lamb of God that takes away the sin of the world," (John 1:29), he was not referring to the lamb killed on Nisan 14 for the Seder. Rather, Yochanan summarized the Isaiah teaching on the Suffering Servant as one who would be led as a lamb to slaughter and bear the iniquities of his people (Isa 53:5-7; cf. Acts 8:32; 1Pet 1:19).
At the last supper Yeshua said of the cup, "this is My blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for forgiveness of sins" (Matt 26:28). By Yeshua's death occurring during the Passover festival then his death also represented deliverance from eternal death (Rom 6:23; 1Cor 15:22). Paul also states that Yeshua's death was that of a sin offering (2Cor 5:21), as does Peter (1Pet 3:18).
Yeshua was also not the Yom Kippur sacrifice, even though his death did indeed provide atonement. The Yom Kippur sacrifice was primarily concerned with atoning for the sins of the nation on one day. However, the atonement was for unintentional sins only; it provided no remedy for intentional sin, which normally merited the death penalty under the Torah (Num 15:30). Yeshua's death atoned for all sins of all peoples (Acts 13:38-39).
Paul goes on to say that the removal of leaven is intended to facilitate the proper observance of the feast. Most versions translate Grk. eortazō in verse 8 as an imperative, "let us keep the feast," but it is actually a subjunctive as in my translation above. The verb eortazō occurs in the LXX in reference to the prescribed feasts (Lev 23), and in this passage refers to observing Passover. He provides a spiritual explanation of why leaven is removed from homes. Leaven symbolizes malice and wickedness, whereas matzah is likened to sincerity and truth. The natural deduction is that disciples should clean out the old leaven, which in context would also pertain to removing the sinning member from the congregation.
"The cup of blessing that we bless—isn't it a sharing of Messiah's blood? The bread which we break—isn't it a sharing of Messiah's body? 17 Since there is one bread, we who are many are one body—for we all partake of the one bread. ... 21 You cannot drink the cup of the Lord and the cup of demons. You cannot partake of the table of the Lord and the table of demons." (1Cor 10:16-17 TLV)
In chapter 10 Paul alludes to a ritual observance he calls the "table of the Lord" (Heb. S'udat Adonai) and he speaks of the cup of blessing and the broken bread. Paul criticizes Corinthian disciples for thinking they can enjoy a banquet at the pagan temple and then engage in a meal in honor of Yeshua at the congregation. The bread and cup represent the body of Messiah and whatever we do affects our Lord. Such blatant hypocrisy is offensive to God.
"Therefore your coming together at the place is not to eat the Lord's supper. ... 23 For I received from the Lord what I also delivered to you, that the Lord Yeshua in that night he was betrayed took bread, 24 and having given thanks, he broke, and said, "This is my body which is for you. Do this as a memorial to me. 25 Similarly also the cup after having dined, saying, "This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as, if you drink, as a memorial to me. 26 For as often as if you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the death of the Lord until he comes." (1Cor 11:20, 23-26 BR)
Then in chapter 11 Paul makes reference to the "Lord's Supper," Grk. kuriakon deipnon, regarding which he had given the congregation instruction in its observance based on divine revelation. This is the only time the term is mentioned in the apostolic writings and was probably coined by Paul. Kuriakos means of or belonging to the Lord Yeshua and deipnon refers to the daily main meal (John 12:2), or a formal banquet (John 13:2). Paul addresses a peculiar situation of meals marred by drunkenness and greed (1Cor 11:20-22) and admonished them to conduct the Lord's Supper with orderliness and holy respect to avoid further divine displeasure. Apparently God's judgment had already fallen on the congregation for their ungodly display (11:29-30). (See my commentary on 1Corinthians 11.)
Paul's instructions in chapter five for keeping Passover may seem to conflict with his guidance in chapter eleven on the Lord's Supper. The Jerusalem Temple was still standing at this time and all Jews were required to go to Jerusalem for the annual observance of Passover. Jerusalem was the only place where Passover lambs could be sacrificed and while all Jewish males were required to go there for the Passover, the celebration was voluntary for women. Travel from the Diaspora to celebrate Passover could be expensive and hazardous and probably not all Jews attended every year. However, Yeshua had prophesied that the day was coming when worship in Jerusalem would not be possible (John 4:21).
Paul received the plan for the Lord's Supper directly from Yeshua, which would in the short term benefit uncircumcised disciples (Hellenistic Jews and Gentiles). The Jerusalem Council had ruled that Gentile disciples did not need to be circumcised, which would effectively prevent many disciples from partaking of the annual feast in Jerusalem. For the rest of the present age the Supper would serve as a continual reminder of Yeshua's last supper and its spiritual message. It could be that the original instructions for the Lord's Supper were based on the Passover menu, especially the unleavened bread and wine, since these were the elements Yeshua emphasized at his last Seder. The word "supper" connotes a real meal, not just a ceremonial token of the elements. The design of the Lord's Supper meant it could be observed anywhere (e.g., Corinth).
The meal shared by the congregation would be considered a "love feast," a term preserved by Judah, the half-brother of Yeshua (Jude 1:12). The carried-in meal was no doubt patterned after the practice of the newly formed congregation in Jerusalem in which disciples devoted themselves to the apostles teaching, fellowship, breaking bread and prayer with one another (Acts 2:42). The expression "breaking bread" does not refer to the Lord's Supper, but simply to sharing a meal which commenced with a blessing over bread (Matt 14:19). Then the Jewish participants break off a piece of the loaf and eat it, so that the blessing of God specifically for his provision of bread to eat will not have been said in vain (Stern 227). The mention of apostolic teaching in concert with the meal is also typical of Jewish practice that included Torah study with eating (Avot 3:17). We can easily imagine that the "love feast" included the four elements of Acts 2:42.
While all Christian traditions have a prescribed ritual and frequency for the sacred ceremony, Paul offers no guidance on either issue, other than the general allowance, "as often as you…" (1Cor 11:26). Presumptively, any ritual would include the traditional Hebrew blessings over the bread and cup. Unlike traditional Passover, which is family-centered, the observance of the Lord's Supper appears to be shared by the congregation (1Cor 11:33). The Lord's Supper only requires bread and cup sanctified for that purpose.
From Lord's Supper to Sacramental Meal
As Christianity disassociated from its Jewish roots, church leaders developed significant theological positions related to the last meal of Yeshua and the instructions of Paul. First, they removed the bread and cup from their connection with a communal meal and labeled the new ritual "Eucharist," which comes from a Greek word meaning "thanksgiving." The term "Holy Communion" used today as a synonym of Eucharist refers to the actual reception of the Eucharist. Second, the elements could only be prepared and dispensed by the clergy, which transformed servants of Yeshua into an elite class that could control access to heaven.
In spite of the meaning given to the bread and cup in the Lord's Supper by Yeshua and Paul, the church fathers created a major paradigm shift. Ignatius (AD 30-107) determined the bread and cup to be the "very flesh of our Savior Jesus Christ" (Smyrnæans 7; Philadelphians 4), and the "medicine of immortality" (Ephesians 20). Ignatius demonstrates a new development in theology, since Clement of Rome (AD 30-100) offers no hint of sacramentalism in a discussion of the Eucharist in his Epistle to the Corinthians written ten years earlier. In other words, the communion elements literally become the body and blood of Yeshua (later called transubstantiation). To justify this viewpoint Catholic theologians later appealed to a literalistic interpretation of John 6:53, "unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, you have no life in yourselves." See my commentary which rebuts this interpretation.
The doctrine of transubstantiation facilitated the view of the Eucharist as a sacrament. The oldest definition of sacrament is a manifestation of grace. That is, a sacrament is a visible sign of invisible reality or an outward sign of inner grace. Viewing the sacred meal as a sacrament means that the bread and cup are a manifestation of real grace, that is, a vehicle in which God's actual presence abides and from which God may impart salvation grace. Since the merit is in the meal, faith is not required to receive the benefit of the ritual. The merits of the meal are transferred upon consumption.
The second definition of sacrament is a means of grace. This viewpoint is a natural conclusion of the first definition, and a part of the theology of sacrament in the Protestant Reformation until the Methodist revival. To John Wesley, a means of grace referred to those means by which God "might convey to men, preventing, justifying, or sanctifying grace." Wesley did not mean that one is saved or sanctified by consuming the sacred meal, because the principal agents in spiritual transformation are the Holy Spirit and faith. Wesley insisted, "Whosoever, therefore, imagines there is any intrinsic power in any means whatsoever, does greatly err, not knowing the Scriptures, neither the power of God" (Sermon 16, Means of Grace). Salvation is by grace through faith, not by any work man may perform. That being said, Wesley enjoined all who would seek an increase in the grace of God to wait for it by the obedience of prayer, searching the Scriptures and partaking of the Lord's Supper.
Third, with the rise of Evangelicalism many Christians came to view a sacrament as a memorial of grace. This viewpoint rejects the Catholic definition of sacrament. Many Christians prefer the term "Lord's Supper" instead of "Eucharist," and "ordinance" instead of "sacrament" in order to stress the distinction in theology. The sacred ceremony, as Paul said, is a memorial of the atoning death of the Savior. The Lord's Supper is also a celebration of grace previously received rather than the grace being transmitted through the conduct of the ceremony and consumption of the bread and wine. Yet, the ceremony provides the opportunity for self-examination, confession and spiritual readiness before handling the sacred elements (1Cor 11:28).
In contrast Judaism does not attach any sacramental value to any of the rites and festivals of God's appointed times, since Jews are merely obeying God's commandments. The Lord's Supper by biblical definition is a memorial of Yeshua's atoning sacrifice (1Cor 11:26), as well as a testament of the unity of God's people (1Cor 10:16-17). The biblical corollaries are the covenantal signs God established: the rainbow (Gen 9:13), circumcision (Gen 17:11) and Sabbath observance (Ex 31:13). The two elements of the Lord's Supper are signs of remembrance, that is, they call us to remember what God has done for us and the grace we have received from Him.
The Sacred Elements
While the Catholic Church and most Protestant churches today use a small unleavened wafer or cracker, Eastern Orthodox and some Protestant churches following Reformation tradition use leavened bread in the Lord's Supper observance, "seeing the leaven as a symbol of new life in Christ" (Tait). Some note the biblical practice of offering leavened bread in the Tabernacle/Temple in conjunction with peace offerings (Lev 7:13) and on Shavuot (Lev 23:17-20), but these offerings were the only times that leavened bread was allowed in the presence of the Lord.
Some scholars argue for the use of leavened bread because of the use of Grk. artos (Heb. lechem), in the institution ritual of the Lord's Supper (Matt 26:26; Mark 14:22; Luke 22:19; 1Cor 11:23). Artos refers to a baked product produced from cereal grain and also to food or nourishment in general, in contrast to azumos, which means bread made without leaven or yeast. The argument is that Yeshua and his disciples ate leavened bread in this meal, in spite of the fact that unleavened bread is mentioned in the introductory portion of these narratives. Not considered by these scholars is that artos is used in the LXX of the showbread (Heb. lechem happanim, "bread of the Presence" or lit. "bread of the faces") maintained in the Temple (Ex 25:30; 35:13; 39:36; 40:23; Num 4:7; 1Sam 21:6; 1Kgs 7:48; 1Chr 4:19; 23:29; 28:16; 2Chr 2:4; 13:11; 29:18; Neh 10:33). Showbread is mentioned in the apostolic narratives (Matt 12:4; Mark 2:26; Luke 6:4).
Showbread was unleavened (Lev 8:2, 26; 24:5). This usage demonstrates that the definition of artos is not based solely on its leaven content. In the apostolic narratives "loaf" or "cake" would be a better translation than simply "bread" (Marshall). The use of artos in Synoptic narratives follows the specific mention that the event occurred at the beginning of the Feast of Unleavened Bread (azumos). It could well be that the use of artos hinted at the showbread. Twelve loaves representing the twelve tribes was prepared weekly (Lev 24:5, 8; 1Chr 9:32) and intended for consumption by the priests (Lev 24:9). The one exception occurred when David took this bread to feed his men when he was fleeing from King Saul (1Sam 21:1-6; Mark 2:25). The action of David portended a Messianic fulfillment. Yeshua, the Great High Priest and Davidic King, was offering the bread intended only for priests to his disciples who would share in his body. Certainly the broken bread symbolized the sufferings of our Lord (in which we share, 1Cor 10:16), but as showbread Yeshua also pointed to his people becoming a kingdom of priests (Eph 4:12; 1Pet 2:5-9; Rev 1:6; 5:10; 20:6).
The apostolic record is clear that Yeshua and the apostles celebrated Passover and the Feast of Unleavened Bread in accordance with the rules prescribed by God in the Torah (Matt 26:17; Mark 14:16; Luke 22:8; John 13:1) and the Mishnah. There would not have been any leaven or leavened bread in the house (Ex 12:15; 13:7). If Yeshua had used leavened bread in the Passover meal ritual, then it would have marked him as a sinner (Ex 12:15, 19; 34:25). Leaven symbolizes sin (1Cor 5:7-8; cf. Luke 12:1). Given Paul's analogy of leaven to sinful behavior, the use of unleavened bread, then, signifies a commitment to get rid of personal sin in order to emulate and honor our sinless Lord. Only unleavened bread in the sacred meal can symbolize the sinless Messiah who was sacrificed for the world.
The question has been raised of what to do in places where the agriculture does not produce grain or people do not customarily eat bread or in congregations with members having celiac disease or gluten intolerance. It's important to remember that while unleavened bread used in modern ceremonies is made from wheat, the matzah eaten by Yeshua and the apostles would have been made from barley. While the Vatican insists that Eucharist wafers be made only from wheat and contain gluten, some Protestant and Messianic Jewish congregations have begun using gluten-free wafers, which may be made from rice flour, potato flour, garbanzo bean flour, tapioca flour, sorghum flour, soy flour, corn flour or fava bean flour, or some combination of these ingredients. It's important to remember that Yeshua did not stipulate the kind of flour to use in making the "bread" for the Lord's Supper. The Church should not impose legalistic rules where Scripture is silent. The important issue is not the type of the flour, but that the memorial of Yeshua's body lacks yeast or some other leavening product.
ADDITIONAL NOTE: Some Christians have erroneously concluded on the basis of 2Corinthians 5:21 that Yeshua became sinful on the cross. The source of this mistaken belief is the failure of standard Christian Bibles to accurately interpret the Hebrew theology of the verse in harmony with the rest of Scripture. The TLV renders the verse, "He made One who knew no sin to become a sin offering on our behalf, so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God." In the Tanakh the Hebrew word chattath (rendered by Grk. hamartia in the LXX) may mean either "sin" or "sin offering" (BDB 308). The Complete Jewish Bible, Mounce Reverse-Interlinear New Testament, New Living Translation, The Message and the Orthodox Jewish Bible concur with the use of "sin offering" in the TLV. Yeshua as the unblemished Lamb of God, the perfect Passover lamb, bore our sins as a sin offering. He did not become sinful (cf. John 1:29; 9:16; Rom 8:3; 1Cor 5:7; 2Cor 5:21; Heb 7:26; 9:26; 1Pet 1:19; 2:24; 1Jn 3:5; Rev 5:12).
The Catholic Church and some Protestant churches use wine in the Communion ceremony, but other Protestant and Evangelical churches prefer grape juice. All the narratives of Yeshua's Passover meal identify the contents of the cup shared at the meal simply as "fruit of the vine" (Matt 26:29; Mark 14:25; Luke 22:18), which is an allusion to the kiddush or Jewish blessing recited over the cup, "Blessed art Thou, ADONAI our God, King of the universe, who creates the fruit of the vine." Paul's instruction on the Lord's Supper likewise does not specifically identify the beverage. Interpretation of the Hebrew idiom has been long debated. Did Yeshua use wine or did he use fresh grape juice?
Those in favor of unfermented grape juice claim the Torah prohibited priests from drinking fermented wine or strong drink when they offered sacrifices in God's presence (Lev 10:9; Ezek 44:21). Some Bible expositors have even asserted that the Hebrew and Greek words used to mean "wine" in the Bible actually referred to grape juice. The lack of the word "wine" in the apostolic narratives also imply that fresh grape juice was used. Yeshua even refused the alcoholic wine while on the cross (Mark 15:23). Yeshua exemplified sanctification (John 17:19), and as the perfect Lamb and the perfect High Priest he would have followed the Torah standard.
In reality, using grape juice for communion was not even an issue in the Church until the temperance movement of the late 19th century. The campaign for social change deemed all alcoholic beverages, regardless of whether fermented, brewed or distilled, to be dangerous and poisonous to drink and therefore evil. Motivated by biblical and scientific arguments, Protestants searched for a way to make unfermented grape juice. Thomas Welch, an American Methodist dentist, was the first to succeed on a large scale and through the marketing by his son, Charles, "Welch's Grape Juice" became both a popular beverage and the preferred alternative for the communion table of most Protestant churches (Tait).
The argument in favor of wine has first century language in its favor. The biblical words for "wine" do, in fact, mean the fermented beverage. After all, the pasteurization process to prevent fermentation of grape juice wasn't discovered until the 19th century. Although not required many Jews diluted wine with water for Passover observance, because in ancient times wine was very potent (cf. Isa 28:7; Pesachim 108b). The warnings against drunkenness in Scripture exist because fermented wine was an important part of Jewish culture and some people overindulged. There is no evidence that Yeshua changed the traditional Jewish beverage for his Passover meal.
As for the Torah prohibition, this intent of the rule was to avoid drinking to such a degree as to inhibit reasoning (Lev 10:10). Often forgotten is that when sacrifices were offered daily and during festivals wine was also presented and drank (Ex 29:40; Lev 23:13; Num 15:5; Deut 32:38). God had no aversion to using wine in ceremonies and there is no biblical reason to assume that He has changed His mind.
In the final analysis, both wine and grape juice qualify as "fruit of the vine" and there seems to be no spiritual advantage in the use of one over the other. Wine has the advantage of biblical sanction and custom, but grape juice would be more practical in many circumstances.
Theology of a Messianic Meal
Yeshua's memorable words at his last meal reflect awareness that all Israel was gathered around the Pesach lamb "in commemoration of the past, in celebration of the present and in anticipation of the future" (Edersheim 814). Yet, Yeshua's teaching throughout the meal invested new meaning and purpose into the Passover observance.
First, Yeshua connected the Passover to the prophecy of a new covenant that God had promised Israel through Jeremiah and Ezekiel:
"Behold, days are coming" —it is a declaration of ADONAI— "when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah—32 not like the covenant I made with their fathers in the day I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt. For they broke My covenant, though I was a husband to them." it is a declaration of ADONAI. 33 But this is the covenant I will make with the house of Israel after those days —it is a declaration of ADONAI— I will put My Torah within them. Yes, I will write it on their heart. I will be their God and they will be My people." (Jer 31:31-33 TLV)
"I will put My Spirit within you and cause you to walk in My statutes, and you will be careful to observe My ordinances." (Ezek 36:27 NASB)
"He took the cup after the meal, saying, "This cup is the new covenant in My blood, which is poured out for you." (Luke 22:20; cf. 1Cor 11:25)
The mention of the New Covenant by Yeshua emphasizes the continuation of the authority and relevance of the previous covenants God made with Abraham (Gen 12, 13, 15, 17), Moses (Deut 4, 5) and David (2Sam 7:12-16; 23:5), all of which were given to Israel as permanent and special blessings (cf. Rom 9:4; 11:29; Eph 2:12). Yeshua did not abrogate the promises of the Older Covenant since he did not come to abolish the Torah (Matt 5:17). In his last meal with the apostles he affirms in the most positive manner God's intention that "the just requirement of the Torah might be fulfilled in us" (Rom 8:4 NIV). Yeshua embodied the fulfillment of the ancient promises and therefore the New Covenant deserves a New Messianic Passover.
Second, Yeshua pointed out that the meal portended his sufferings that included betrayal, unlawful arrest, physical abuse, verbal torment, public humiliation, flagellation and the agony of being impaled on an execution stake (Matt 16:21; Luke 22:15). The meal therefore honors and hallows the sufferings of Yeshua so that the community celebration could be rightly deemed "the fellowship of His sufferings" (Php 3:10; cf. 1Pet 4:13). The Messianic meal is a reminder of the incarnate Yeshua, truly human and born of woman with a physical body and blood in His veins, who felt and endured pain and is fully able to understand and sympathize with our needs (cf. Gal 4:4; Heb 4:15; 1Jn 1:1).
Third, Yeshua deliberately transferred the redemption typology of the Pesach lamb to his anticipated sacrifice on Golgotha. It is with this significance that he commanded his disciples to "do this as a memorial to Me" (Luke 22:19; 1Cor 11:24-25). The original purpose of the Passover was to celebrate the greatest deliverance from death and bondage in Israelite history and that through a human servant, Moses. Yeshua commanded that in the future the special meal should be observed as a celebration and proclamation of the atonement for the sins of the whole world accomplished by His death (1Cor 11:26). Partaking of the bread and the cup calls to mind both the magnanimous grace of God and the terrible cost of the atoning sacrifice to save us from eternal death.
Fourth, the meal not only remembers the origin of salvation by a sacrificial lamb and memorializes the death of Yeshua, the perfect Lamb of God, but also anticipates the glorious consummation of His kingdom on earth and the continuance of Passover, at least into the millennial kingdom. Departing from the usual practice, Yeshua declared at the beginning of the meal:
And He said to them, "I have eagerly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer. For I tell you, I will never eat it again until it is fulfilled in the kingdom of God." And when He had taken a cup and offered the bracha, He said, "Take this and share it among yourselves. For I tell you that I will never drink of the fruit of the vine from now on, until the kingdom of God comes." (Luke 22:15-18)
Sharing the meal reflects our trust in his promise to be reunited with us in his kingdom when we join with the patriarchs in a great banquet (Matt 8:11).
Return to Our Roots
The unfortunate fact of history is that the separation of Christianity from its Jewish roots ended observance of the Passover by Christians, as well as all the other divinely appointed festivals, without Scriptural authority. (See my web article God's Appointed Times.) While Yeshua used the bread and the cup to illustrate and memorialize his atonement, he never suggested in deed or word that the Passover or a Messianic meal should be abandoned. The apostles, who faithfully kept the Torah calendar, would have been shocked at such a suggestion.
By the same token Passover observance should be invested with its full Messianic significance by appropriate Scripture reading and reflection on the sufferings of our Lord. As for frequency Passover is an annual event and the Torah schedule should be followed. As an abbreviated Messianic meal the Lord's Table (just the bread and cup) may be conducted as often as desired. In keeping with Paul's instruction the Lord's Supper could be conducted in connection with an actual fellowship meal, either at the beginning or the end.
In the view of this writer Christians need to carefully consider the roots of the Lord's Supper ordinance in Passover. However frequently the abbreviated Lord's Supper may be conducted, the distribution of the bread and juice could be preceded with teaching that explains the scriptural reason for sharing the symbolic ritual, its connection to Yeshua's Passover and how it represents the New Covenant.
Christians would also greatly benefit from participating in a Messianic Passover. Celebration of this memorial and memorable event shows respect for the divine instructions of the Torah, and sends the message that they love the Jewish people and appreciate the banner of faith carried by the faithful remnant of Israel for so long throughout history.
God's appointed times of spiritual celebration and worship detailed in the Torah were originally intended for all mankind (Lev 24:22; Num 15:16; Acts 17:26). When Yeshua returns and establishes his millennial kingdom, he will oversee the restoration of all the festivals that God ordained (Lev 23:4; Isa 66:22-23; Ezek 46:1-11; Zeph 3:18; Zech 14:16; Matt 26:29; Col 2:16-17). So, fostering greater knowledge of Passover in collaboration with Messianic Jewish congregations can only strengthen the Body of the Messiah and appreciation for all that the meal symbolizes and prepare Christians for the religious calendar of the millennial kingdom.
BDB: The New Brown, Driver, Briggs Hebrew and English Lexicon. Oxford University Press, 1907. Reprinted by Associated Publishers and Authors, Inc., 1981.
Edersheim: Alfred Edersheim (1825-1889), The Life and Times of Yeshua the Messiah. New Updated Edition. Hendrickson Publishers, Inc., 1993.
Jastrow: Marcus Jastrow, Dictionary of Targumim, Talmud and Midrashic Literature. G.P. Putnam's Sons, 1903, 1926. Online.
Kasdan: Barney Kasdan, God's Appointed Times. Lederer Messianic Publications, 1993.
LSJ: Henry George Liddell and Robert Scott, A Greek-English Lexicon. Rev. Sir Henry Stuart Jones. Clarendon Press, 1940. Online.
Marshall: Alfred Marshall, NASB-NIV Parallel New Testament in Greek and English. Zondervan Pub. House, 1986.
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