The Order and Meaning of Passover

At His last Passover meal, our Savior said, This do in remembrance of me." Yet many professed believers do things He said not to do, or in a way other than He said to do them. This is certainly demonstrated in the many ways that the New Testament Passover, called the Lord's Supper by some, is observed.

Does it make a difference? Is the order or manner of the service not important? Or is it the heart and mind of the participants -- the attitude of faith -- that is the only consideration? Can one prove from the Scriptures the order and meaning of the Passover service?

A careful reading of John, the sixth chapter, especially verses 47-58, shows that the proper partaking of the Son of man's body and blood is essential to having eternal life. Notice the order, verses 53 and 54: the flesh, and then the blood. The same order is given in I Corinthians 11:23-29. Eating the bread, then drinking the wine, is shown six times. Matthew 26:26-30 has the same order. Mark 14:22-26 is virtually the same as that of Matthew.

Luke 22:13-20, seems at first glance to show a cup, the bread, and then another cup. Is this the proper order for the New Testament Passover? To understand this, one must understand the order of service (Hebrew: seder) of the Old Testament Passover meal. From Christ in the Passover by Ceil and Moishe Rosen, pages 50-59, we learn that the Jewish traditional seder service had four cups of wine, in this order:

(l)blessing over the first cup of wine by the head of the feast (the host), (2) ceremonial washing of hands by the host, (3) dipping of the bitter herbs, (4) second cup of wine poured, (5) asking questions by the youngest son ("why is this night different?" etc. following Exodus 12:26), (6) singing of first part of Hallel, Psalms 113, 114, and drinking of second cup of wine, (7) washing of hands the second time, as an act of respect for the unleavened bread they were about to eat, (8)blessings over the bread, (9) eating of the bread, dipped in bitter herbs, (10) eating of the Paschal lamb, (11) after supper, the host poured the third cup of wine, a blessing was said, and everyone drank it, (12) the second portion of the Hallel, Psalms 115-118recited, (13) drinking of fourth cup, (14) closing song or hymn.

During the eating of the Old Testament Passover lamb with the disciples, the Messiah instituted NEW ordinances, to replace the old ones. As I Corinthians 11:20-34 indicates, the Old Testament Passover meal of lamb and bitter herbs is no longer to be observed. The Hebrew Seder helps us understand Luke 22, as well as what the Savior did in attaching special significance to the bread and one of the cups of the Old Testament Passover. Luke 22:17-18 was the first cup. Notice that Luke shows that the Messiah attached no special significance to this cup. The bread, which followed, He did make special, symbolizing His body given for us, verse 19. Of this, and not the first cup, He said, "this do in remembrance of me."

Likewise, the cup after supper (the third cup of the Old Testament traditional Passover meal), the Savior being the host, took, gave thanks, Matthew 26:27. In Luke 22:20 He said "This cup is the new testament in my blood: this do ye, as oft as ye drink it, in remembrance of me," I Corinthians 11:25. It was this cup, after supper, that joined the earlier symbolic bread, to become part of the New Testament Passover.

The institution of the Passover in Exodus 12 shows only the Passover lamb, unleavened bread, and bitter herbs. Nothing is said about cups of wine with Passover. This was a Jewish tradition added later. Surely our Savior kept no Jewish customs, or did He?

He did! By the first century A.D., the Passover service had the hymns, hand washing and four cups of wine. The celebrants reclined at the table in the Babylonian custom of free men (as opposed to Exodus 12:11). The Son of man kept this custom! Notice John 13:25, 21:20. They were in a reclining position, so John could virtually lean on the Master's breast.

Luke mentions two of the four cups, the first and the third. Early Jewish tradition says these were the most important. The first cup was special because it consecrated the entire Passover service that followed. The Savior said that this Passover service would be the last one He would observe with them until the Kingdom of God, Luke 22:14-18. Tradition says that the third cup was the most important of all. It was called the "cup of blessing" or the "cup of redemption," because it represented the blood of the Paschal lamb. This third cup became the symbol of the shed blood of the Savior, the blood of the New Testament, Luke 22:20, the Christian "cup of blessing," I Corinthians 10:16.

Where does footwashing fit in? Followers of the Watchtower movement keep the annual Passover on Nisan 14 with the bread and wine. Yet strangely enough, they do not follow the footwashing ceremony shown in John 13:1-17. When does this important aspect of the Passover occur in the New Testament order of service?

John 13:2 (KJV) says "and supper being ended." Verses 4-5show that the Savior rose from supper and washed the disciples' feet. It sounds like the footwashing should be after the supper; as is also the wine, Luke 22:20.

A poor translation is to blame for this misunderstanding. The literal Greek says "and supper taking place." The Revised Standard Version says, "and during supper." So the footwashing was not after the bread and wine, but before them, during the Passover meal. This act was no doubt an extension of the second hand washing (item #7 of the traditional Passover service, as shown above). Washing was preparatory to receiving the unleavened bread. The Savior sanctified this new act, stating that it was an example for us to follow, John 13:14-17. Will we follow what He said for us to do, in exactly the way He said?

Before we partake of the New Testament Passover symbols of bread and wine, we must be prepared mentally, by going through a physical act of footwashing to learn humility, and demonstrate humble service to our brethren.

The order of the New Testament Passover service depicts the life of the Messiah: (1) His humble service to mankind (footwashing), (2) His beaten body for our physical sins and infirmities (unleavened bread), I Peter 2:20-25, Isaiah 50:6-7 (bread), and (3) His blood poured out for our sins, John 19:34, Isaiah 53:10-12 (wine).

Any other order of service does not depict the proper spiritual lesson we are to learn. Sincere people, wanting to do what is right, may not always have the proper understanding in this matter. The Eternal is the judge. We who desire to worship the Creator in spirit (attitude) and in truth (exactly as He says), John 4:24, should follow the proper order of service.

The apostle Paul received an order of service from the Master and he delivered the same to us, not deviating from it one iota, I Corinthians 11:23-25. Will we deviate from it? It does make a difference, Revelation 22:18-19, Deuteronomy 4:2, 12:32.

We now have at least three major proofs that the proper order of the New Testament Passover service is footwashing, unleavened bread, and wine:

(1) The witness of scripture, many scriptures,

(2) the witness of tradition, that of the ancient Jews, the New Testament Church, and the 19th and 20th century Churches of God.

(3) The witness of scriptural object lessons, the meaning behind the physical rituals.

In the mouth of two or three witnesses let everything be established, Matthew 18:16.

Some weak First Century A.D. believers were not careful with the ordinances they received. They gave up the Sabbath for Sunday, the Passover for Easter, etc. It does make a difference. To be careless about how we partake of the Passover is one way to partake of it in an unworthy manner, I Corinthians 11:27-30.

Let us partake of the Passover, in obedience to the Eternal. Let us have the right heart, mind and spiritual attitude as well as being careful about how we obey. Hebrews 10:22 tells us that when we draw near unto Him, let us have pure hearts in full faith.

Also, let us have our bodies (all physical aspects) washed in pure water, that is, all the physical things in the proper order as well. If we know these things and do them, we will have great joy, John 13:17.


Additional Articles:

Passover & Feast of Unleavened Bread Part 1
Passover & Feast of Unleavened Bread Part 2
Passover -- 14th or 15th?
Passover, Lord's Supper, or Communion?
Drink the Pure Blood of the Grape
Instructions for Keeping the New Covenant Passover
Why Do We Take the New Testament Passover?
The New Testament Passover Ceremony
Feast of Unleavened Bread: Putting Sin Out
Polluted Bread for Passover?
Recipes for the Days of Unleavened Bread
Let a Man Examine Himself
Observance of the Passover.
Passover and Feast of Unleavened Bread Quiz

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Written by: Richard C. Nickels
Giving & Sharing
PO Box 100
Neck City, MO 64849
United States of America

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