Sharing today from Bible Engager’s Blog
April 15, 2019
By Suzy Silk
Almost every Sunday, churches across America remember Jesus’s “Last Supper” as they take communion together. Eating bread or wafers and drinking grape juice or wine, they recount Jesus’s words: “Take, eat; this is My body which is broken for you; do this in remembrance of Me. … This cup is the new covenant in My blood. This do, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of Me” (1 Corinthians 11:24-25).
But would it surprise you to learn that this wasn’t an ordinary dinner Jesus was having with his disciples, and this wasn’t normal bread he broke? When I first learned that Jesus’s last meal took place during a Passover dinner, and that the bread he broke was unleavened bread (matzah), I was surprised and thrilled. Jesus’s words and actions on that night suddenly became so much clearer to me.
How Jesus used Passover
Passover was the first holiday ever given by God to the Jewish people. Several times, the Lord gave the Israelites specific instructions on how to commemorate their miraculous exodus from Egypt—by recounting the Exodus and Passover story over a shared meal of unleavened bread, wine, bitter herbs, and roasted lamb on the 14th day of the month of Aviv. This was to be a lasting ordinance for all future generations (see Exodus 12:1-18; Deuteronomy 16:1-8).
As a righteous Jewish man, Jesus grew up celebrating Passover every year in Jerusalem (Luke 2:41); and so, as to be expected, in the days leading up to his arrest, Jesus again obediently celebrated the Passover meal with his disciples on the 14th day of Aviv (see Matthew 26:17-19; John 13:1). During that evening, Jesus used the various items on the Passover table as prophetic signs of what he was about to do in the following 24 hours, explaining his mission and purpose to his disciples.
The questions I asked when I first learned all of this were: Why this bread? Why that particular cup? Why during that particular ceremonial moment, when he dipped his bread into the bitter herbs? And although there are many other ways in which the Passover meal helps us understand Jesus’s many words that night, let’s begin with the four required items on the Passover table: unleavened bread, bitter herbs, wine, and a roasted lamb.
The Unleavened Bread (Matzah)
During Passover, God commanded the Israelites to eat only unleavened bread (i.e., bread without yeast) for seven days. The point was to have an annual reminder of how they left Egypt in a hurry. For this reason, later generations nicknamed matzah both “the bread of affliction,” as a reminder of their slavery, and “the bread of freedom,” as a reminder of their freedom after leaving Egypt in haste (see Deuteronomy 16:3). This bread was also sacred/holy bread, since yeast was often seen as a symbol of sin in the Old Testament and was therefore not in the bread regularly offered in the Temple. Because matzah has no yeast, it also doesn’t rise, and so must be pierced all over to prevent it from burning–though striped burn marks are often inevitable.
This pierced, striped, and holy bread was a perfect symbol for what would be done to Jesus. The prophet Isaiah foretells that the Messiah, though righteous and blameless (i.e., without sin), would be “pierced for our transgressions” and that “by his stripes we are healed” (Isaiah 53:5). Jesus held up the pierced, striped, yeast-less bread on the Passover table—which symbolized affliction and freedom at the same time—and compared it to his body. Then, he broke it and divided it among his disciples. Soon, Jesus would be pierced, striped, and “broken.” He would give himself up to affliction, explaining to his disciples that his body was to be “given for [them]” (Luke 22:19)—in other words, for their freedom.