Today, I’m priveleged to have a guest blogger – Dr. Tony Crisp. Dr. Crisp is my father-in-law and the visionary founder of True Life Concepts Ministry, TLC HolylandTours, and The Olive Tree Foundation.
Communion: A Hebraic Perspective
here is much misunderstanding and ignorance in the Evangelical world in general and Southern Baptists in particular about the meaning of “The Lord’s Supper” or “Communion”. Historically throughout Christianity, there have been several differing views. Each of these views arises from the question, “How should one view the elements of the Lord’s table?” There are many forms of each of the following “views” or interpretations, but almost everyone would fall into one of these interpretations of the elements of Communion: transubstantiation, consubstantiation, the reformed view and the totally symbolic view. The latter is generally held by Southern Baptists. Any good systematic theology book will explain the views named above. Traditional apologetics are given for each of these interpretations, however rarely will one read or hear of the nature of the Passover Feast out of which arises the ordinance of Communion. The nature of the Passover was “symbolic” in nature.
The Passover was an object lesson, illustration, or ordinance given to remind Israel of God’s miraculous redemption and deliverance from the bondage of Egyptian slavery. The “Lord’s Supper” that Christians observe today is the same an object lesson, illustration or ordinance given to remind believers that the Lord Jesus has redeemed us and delivered us from the bondage of sin and the slavery it brings to the human heart. The Passover meal and ensuing feast was not soteriological in nature, but was symbolic of God’s salvation wrought miraculously for His ancient people. The Passover was a tangible means and ritual of “remembering” what God had done for them. Passover was a memorial meal.
Likewise, Communion is a tangible means or ritual for “remembering” what the Lord Jesus did for us. Communion is a memorial meal. The Lord Jesus had observed many of the “traditions” of the Jewish people that had been embraced through the centuries that enhanced worship and understanding of who God is. For example, Jesus worshipped in the synagogue each week on the Sabbath, “So He came to Nazareth, where He had been brought up, and as His ‘custom was’ He went into the synagogue…” (Luke 4:16ff). Synagogue attendance was not an Old Testament mandate, but was a “tradition” that arose out of the period of the exile while Israel was living in captivity in Babylon.
God initiated the Passover in Exodus 12 and codified it in Leviticus 23, but not all the details of “how” the various elements were to be handled and lessons taught were solidified immediately. By the time of Christ, the “Haggadah” or “Order of Service” was firmly entrenched and observed routinely each year at Passover. There is little doubt that the Lord Jesus followed this Haggadah the night of His last Passover with His disciples. Each Passover required much “preparation” of the room, the meal, the presentation of the meal and the like. This explains the question of the disciples and Jesus’ subsequent instruction, “…Where do You want us to prepare for You to eat the Passover?” (Matthew 26:17; emphasis mine) The night of this last Passover, Jesus did as He had done with His disciples for all their years together, except on this special night Jesus changed the meaning of the Passover for Jewish and Gentile believers alike forever.
The following information should prove helpful in better understanding of the proper symbolic and deeply spiritual experience of communion. The Gospel accounts add different details according to the emphasis of that particular Gospel. The Passover supper or the events surrounding it are recorded in Matthew 26:17-39; Luke 22:7-20; Mark 14:12-21; John 12-14; as well as what the Apostle Paul wrote to correct disobedience in I Corinthians 11:23-31. The preparation of the heart, the room, the food, and the table were prescribed.
The Passover table is set with one place for each member of the family and one additional place left vacant for Elijah, who, according to tradition, will return prior to the coming of the Messiah; this is explained in #18 below. Specific items are placed on a Seder plate in front of the leader who is usually the head of the household.
Seder Table (items 1 through 5 are placed on the Seder plate, the remaining items on the table)
 A Roasted Shank Bone of a Lamb – This is in memory of the temple sacrifices.
 Bitter Herbs – Called maror, this is usually horseradish as a reminder of the bitterness of Egyptian slavery (Ex. 1:14).
 Charoseth (pronounced with a hard ‘ch’, like ‘k’) – this is a mixture of nuts, apples, cinnamon, and a little wine. It represents the mortar, which the Hebrews had to make while slaves in Egypt (Ex. 1:14).
 A Boiled Egg – this is a symbol of the temple. It was a ritual food eaten after a funeral and was a symbol of fertility and new life.
 Lettuce or Parsley – Called the Karpas, this is a reminder of the hyssop used to place the blood on the doorpost (Ex. 12:22).
 Three Matazahs – The three loaves of unleavened bread are placed in a cover or placed between napkins.
 Wine – This is placed in a decanter at the center of the table to be given to each participant. The wine represents the blood of the sacrificial lamb.
 Salt Water – Placed in a dish, this represents the tears of the people and is a reminder of the deliverance at the Red Sea.
The use of eight elements is significant. In number symbolism, eight is the number of new beginning and number of the Messiah.
This is a printed order of service, which is used by the head of the house to lead the Passover service. There are many variations to the Haggadah. All follow a general pattern but there are some slight variations. The service of the four cups is the basic pattern around which every Haggadah is based.
1) Brechat Haner – Passover begins with the lighting of the festival candles by the lady of the house. The following blessing is given for this ceremony (Jn. 8:12).
Blessed are Thou O Lord, our God,
King of the universe who has sanctified us by the commandments
and has commanded us to kindle the festival light.
Blessed art Thou O Lord our God, King of the universe,
who has kept us in life, preserved us and enabled us to reach this season.
2) The Kiddush – This is the first cup called the cup of sanctification or blessing. The Passover Seder
is built around drinking of four cups at various points in the celebration. These four cups are based on the four “I wills” of Exodus 6:6-7, “I will bring you out,”, “I will deliver you,”
“I will redeem you,” and “I will take you to be my people.” The four cups are called: (1) The cup of sanctification; (2) The cup of judgment; (3) The cup of redemption and (4) The cup of praise.
The fruit of the vine is poured into each cup at the table and the blessing is repeated:
Blessed art Thou, O Eternal our God, King of the universe,
Creator of the fruit of the Vine.
Sanctification should be the goal of every believer (1 Thess. 4:1-7)
3) The Urchatz – This is the washing of the hands by the head of the household, in preparation for the remainder just before the Passover (John 13:1-11; Eph. 5:25-27).
4) The Karpas – Green herbs, usually parsley, are a reminder of the hyssop used to sprinkle the blood on the doorposts (Ex. 12:22). The blood is represented by the fruit of the vine. The salt water is a reminder of the tears of the people in Egypt (Ex. 2:23) and the miraculous deliverance at the Red Sea (Ex. 14:1-31; Rom. 3:23; 6:23).
5) The Yachutz – Three “loaves” of matzah bread are stored in a pillow called a matzah tash. At this point, the middle loaf is removed, broken in half and one half wrapped in a white linen cloth called an afikomen. The afikomen may be hidden somewhere in the house during the Passover meal (#15 below) to be retrieved after the supper. The three loaves are thought to represent the priests, Levites, and Israelites. In them, we also see Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
6) The Maggid – This is a retelling of the story of the exodus from Egypt and the origin of the Passover as presented in Exodus 12:1-13. The remaining two matzahs are removed from the matzah tash at this time and held up with the middle broken half for all to see while repeating the following blessing:
This is the bread of affliction, which our ancestors ate in the land of Egypt;
let those who are hungry enter and eat, and all who are in distress,
come and celebrate the Passover.
At present, we celebrate it here, but next year
we hope to celebrate it in the land of Israel.
This year we are servants here, but next year we hope to be free in the land of Israel.
*The second cup called the cup of judgment is poured at this time but not taken.”
7) The Four Questions – At this point in the service the youngest member of the family asks, “Why is this night different from all other nights?” The head of the house explains that the Hebrews were slaves in Egypt and were it not for the deliverance God gave them, they would still be the slaves of the Egyptians. The child continues with the following four questions:
1. On all other nights, we eat either leavened or unleavened bread.
“Why, on this night, do we only eat matzah?”
2. On all other nights, we eat vegetables and herbs of all kinds.
“Why, on this night, do we only eat bitter herbs?”
3. On all other nights, we do not dip herbs in water.
“Why on this night do we dip the herbs in salt water and the bitter herbs in Charoseth?”
4. On all other nights, we eat sitting upright or reclining.
“Why on this night do we all recline?”
The head of the house answers the questions by explaining: (1) unleavened bread is a reminder of the haste with which our ancestors left Egypt (Ex. 12; 8, 19-20); (2) the bitter herbs are a reminder of the bondage in Egypt (Ex. 1:11-12); (3) the herbs in the salt water are a reminder of new life and new beginning; the bitter herbs in the sweet Charoseth are a reminder of the bitter slavery sweetened by the hope of freedom; (4) reclining was a sign of a free man and since our ancestors were freed on this night, we recline. [In these we see (1) Christ our Passover, 1 Cor. 5:7-8; (2) the bitterness of sin (Rom. 6:23); (3) Christ the hope of redemption (Zech. 12:10-14; 13:1ff; Heb. 12:14-15); (4) Christ our hope of freedom (Rom. 8:14-17; Gal. 5:13.]
8) The Four Sons – The head of the house recites the story of four sons, one wise, one wicked, one
innocent and one indifferent to the Passover. This recitation explains why the Passover is
important to all.
- The Wise Son asks, “What are these testimonies, statues and judgments which the Eternal, Our God, has commanded? This provides opportunity for instruction about the Passover.
- The Wicked Son asks, “What mean you by this service?” Use of the word “you” indicates he does not include himself.
- The Innocent Son asks, “What is this?” This affords an opportunity to tell him.
- The Indifferent Son does not ask. Therefore, he must be told how God instructed parents to relate the Passover events to each new generation.
9) The Ten Plagues – Each of the ten plagues is read from the scripture and a drop of wine poured in the cup as each is named. The ten are: blood (Ex. 7:20-25), frogs (8:1-15), lice (8:16-19), flies (9:20-32), pestilence on the cattle (9:1-7), boils (9:8-12), hail (9:13-35), locusts (10:1-20), darkness (10:21-29) and death of the firstborn (11:4-10; 12:29-36; Hos. 13:14: 1 Cor. 15:55-58).
The naming of the ten plagues is followed by reading Exodus 12:1-14 and the recitation of a refrain in which the head of the house reads a proposition “If He had merely rescued us from Egypt, but had not punished the Egyptians.” – Dyenu (We would have been satisfied.)
If He had merely rescued us from Egypt, but had not punished the Egyptians”–Dyenu.
“If He had merely punished the Egyptians, but had not destroyed their gods” –Dyenu.
“If He had merely destroyed their gods, but had not slain their first born”–Dyenu.
“If He had merely destroyed their first born, but had not given us their property”–Dyenu.
“If He had merely given us their property, but had not split the sea for us”–Dyenu.
“If He had merely brought us through on dry ground, but had not drowned our oppressors”–Dyenu.
“If He had merely drowned our oppressors, but had not supplied us in the desert for forty years”–Dyenu.
“If He had merely supplied us in the desert for forty years, but had not fed us with manna”–Dyenu.
“If He had merely given us the Sabbath, but had not brought us to Mount Sinai”–Dyenu.
“If He had merely brought us to Mount Sinai, but had not given us the Torah”–Dyenu.
“If He had merely given us the Torah, but had not brought us to the land of Israel”–Dyenu.
“If He had merely brought us to the land of Israel, but had not built us the temple”–Dyenu.
“We would have been satisfied.”
After singing, the head of the house lifts each of three essential elements of the Passover and explains the significance of each. They are: (1) Pesach – the shank bone of the Passover lamb; (2) Matzah – the two-matzah loaves; (3) Maror – the bitter herbs.
10) The Hallel – Psalms 113 and 114 are read responsively followed by drinking the second cup called
the cup of judgment, which was poured after the Maggid. Before drinking, the cup is blessed with
“Blessed are Thou, O Eternal, our God, King of the universe,
Creator of the fruit of the vine.”
11) The Rachatz – The head of the house washes his hands once again and recites the following blessing;
“Blessed are Thou, O Lord our God, Ruler of the world,
Who made us holy by His commandments and commanded us,
concerning the washing of hands.”
12) The Matzoth – Three loaves of matzah are held for all to see while everyone recites the following blessing:
“Blessed art Thou, O Lord our God, King of the Universe,
Who brings forth bread from the earth.”
The upper and middle loaves are broken and pieces distributed to everyone. Then all recite the following:
“Blessed are Thou, O Lord our God, King of the universe,
Who sanctified us with His commandments and
commanded us concerning the eating of unleavened bread.”
13) The Maror – the bitter herbs are eaten after reciting the following blessing:
“Blessed are Thou, O Lord our God, King of the universe,
Who sanctified us with His commandments and
commanded us concerning the eating of bitter herbs.”
14) The Korech – The Charoseth is eaten with bitter herbs placed between two pieces from the bottom loaf of matzah.
15) Shulchan Orech – The table is cleared and the Passover meal is served.
This concludes the first portion of the Passover and dinner is served to the family. During dinner, the head of the house hides the afikomen mentioned in #5 above.
16) Tzaphun – The afikomen, which was hidden during the meal, is found by the children of the house. When it is brought to the head of the house, it is broken in pieces, distributed, and eaten with the reminder that it represents the Passover Lamb. This is the point at which the gospels begin to record the story of Jesus reinterpretation of the Passover to the disciples. That they had already finished the first part of the Passover and eaten the meal is confirmed by both Luke (22:20) and Matthew (26:21, 26) Jesus broke the unleavened bread and said He was the Passover Lamb (Isa. 53:5-6; Matt. 26:26; Lk. 22:19).
17) Ha-Geulah – The third cup called the cup of redemption is taken after offering the following blessing:
“Blessed are Thou O Eternal, our God, King of the universe,
Who created the fruit of the vine.”
**This was the next point of Jesus’ reinterpretation of the Passover. He took the cup, after breaking and eating the bread, and said that it was His blood, shed for the redemption of sins (Matt. 26:28; Lk. 22:20; Eph. 1:8).
18) Elijah’s Place – At each Passover table an empty chair is left and a place set at the table for Elijah.
This custom grew from the final words of the last prophet of Israel, Malachi, who closed his message with the following exhortation:
“Behold I send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the Lord. In addition, he shall turn the heart of the fathers to the children, and the heart of the children to the fathers, lest I come and smite the earth with a curse.” (Malachi 4:5-6)
Jews believe that Elijah will come back to earth just prior to the coming of the Messiah. Jesus said that John the Baptist was the fulfillment of Malachi’s prophecy (see Matt. 11:2-25, esp. vv. 12-14). However, in an even more literal sense Elijah also came to earth. The gospels report that at the transfiguration of Jesus, both Moses and Elijah appeared and talked with him (Matt. 17:3, 12; Mk. 9:4, 11-13).
19) The Hallel – After the drinking of the third cup called the cup of redemption the participants sing a hymn of praise, which is traditionally Psalm 118. This is one of the great Messianic psalms. Verses 22-24 are quoted five times in the New Testament (Matt. 21:42; Mk. 12:10-11; Lk. 20:17; Acts 4:11; 1 Pet. 2:7). Verses 25-27 were the words, which the crowd chanted at the triumphal entry of Jesus to Jerusalem (Matt. 21:9, 23:39; Mk. 11:9; Lk. 13:35; 19:38; Jn. 12:3). The word “Save Now!” in Hebrew is “Hosanna!”
It is significant that this is the hymn that Jesus doubtless sang with the disciples before they departed on that Passover night before His death (Matt. 26:30).
20) The Fourth Cup – The Passover concludes with the drinking of the fourth cup called the cup of praise. It is based on the fourth “I will” from Exodus 6:6-7, “I will take you to me for a people” (cf. Jn. 14:1ff). It is extremely significant that Jesus did not observe the fourth cup of the Passover. He and the disciples departed after the song (Matt. 26:30). He stated that He would not drink the last cup until He drank it at the coming of the Kingdom (Matt. 26:29; Lk. 22:18). Jesus postponed the fourth cup until the Second Coming. Prophetically this cup represents the Second Coming when Jesus will take all believers as His people (Ex. 6:7; Jn. 14:1-14; 1 Thess. 4:16-17; Rev. 7:14-17; 21:1-5).
“Even so come quickly Lord Jesus” Rev. 22:20