Abstract: Studying the origins and traditions of Passover enriches our understanding of Easter. We can deepen our own worship and expand our ritual memory by an acquaintance with these traditions. Latter-day Saints possess unique understandings that further illuminate the constancy and plenitude of the Lord’s covenantal relationship with us.
As the calamitous strife of war and the terrifying distress of displaced peoples seeking refuge continue to swirl around our globe, we turn our thoughts and observance to the Prince of Peace. Easter season, and its ancient connection with the Passover, sits like a steadfast rocky island in the churning flow of time, reminding us of covenant promises made and fulfilled over millennia by our faithful God. We can rejoice that the dreadful day of Jesus Christ’s death was soon followed by the great and glorious day of his victory over mortality.
Christians may be tempted to give a patronizing nod to the thought that the Jews in the meridian of time did not understand the true nature of Christ’s kingdom. We sometimes hasten to point out that Christ’s was a spiritual not a worldly kingdom. And yet we may also suffer our own myopia regarding the significance of the Jewish traditions of this season. Such blindness impoverishes our understanding of Easter. As we read the scriptural account of the last week of Christ’s life, we see that Christ himself made specific and strict efforts to conform his life and actions to Jewish expectations as they had been formed by the ritual of the Passover feast. Our collective study of the Old Testament this year can open our own vision to the richness of Passover. Memory and memorial, multiple millennia of ritual reiterations, covenants made and fulfilled — all can magnify our Easter worship.
By the time of Jesus Christ, the Passover season combined two feasts: Passover and the Feast of the Unleavened Bread. The terror and urgency [Page 82]of that original Passover night are hard to overestimate. Pressure between the Egyptians and Israelites had been intensifying dramatically. Moses’s return to Pharaoh’s court, perhaps initially welcomed by his fellow Israelites, was soon perceived as an additional cause of great suffering. Pharaoh twisted Moses’s request to go into the wilderness to worship as an excuse to impose new and unreasonable demands upon the “idle” Israelites who he sardonically pretended must have too much time on their hands. The officers of the people made an accusation against Moses and Aaron: “The Lord look upon you, and judge; because ye have made our savour to be abhorred in the eyes of Pharaoh, and in the eyes of his servants, to put a sword in their hand to slay us” (Exodus 5:21). Moses, feeling the brunt of their anger, took his dismay to the Lord, complaining, “For since I came to Pharaoh to speak in thy name, he hath done evil to this people; neither hast thou delivered thy people at all” (Exodus 5:23).
The opening chapters of the Passover story begin here with the perception of a broken promise, an impossible request, and a divided and downtrodden people. The Lord encourages Moses, who proceeds in faith, but as for the people, they are just too overwhelmed; “they hearkened not unto Moses for anguish of spirit, and for cruel bondage” (Exodus 6:9). Despite their weakness, the Lord proceeds to call upon these timid and enslaved sufferers, even outlining their family organizations as his “armies” (Exodus 6:26, 7:4). While the Lord multiplies his signs and wonders, Pharaoh continues to refuse and finally threatens to kill Moses. The Israelite people, by choice or by circumstance, must be feeling the weight of that same displeasure. Interestingly, because of these same wonders, “Moses was very great in the land of Egypt, in the sight of Pharaoh’s servants, and in the sight of the people” (Exodus 11:3). Perhaps Moses’s increasing popularity was behind Pharaoh’s frustrated final dictum that he would rather kill Moses than see him. Moses responded by unveiling the Lord’s ultimate curse that all the firstborn of Egypt, from the house of the Pharaoh to that of the miller’s maidservant, as well as of their beasts, should die. “But against any of the children of Israel shall not a dog move his tongue, against man or beast: that ye may know how that the Lord doth put a difference between the Egyptians and Israel” (Exodus 11:7).
The “otherness” of the Israelites had meant continued subjugation, but now the Lord promises that their “otherness” will be their salvation, if they choose to obey him. He wants to divide them from the Egyptians, setting them apart as his holy people. As a sign of their covenant standing and willingness to follow the Lord, Moses instructs the children of Israel [Page 83]to sacrifice lambs without blemish, with unbroken bones, one per home, and to paint the side posts and top posts of their doors with the lamb’s blood. This is a public declaration of loyalty that will be impossible to ignore. The Lord promises, “And the blood shall be to you for a token upon the houses where ye are: and when I see the blood, I will pass over you, and the plague shall not be upon you to destroy you, when I smite the land of Egypt” (Exodus 12:13).
The Israelites were spared (passed over) because they followed the Lord’s commandment and performed the sacrifice of the lamb. Christians note that the required lamb was unblemished, the bones unbroken, and that “nothing of it remain[s] until the morning” (Exodus 12:10). These descriptions stand as testaments to the typology of this paschal lamb as the Lamb of God. Jesus Christ was also without sin, his bones unbroken, and his tomb empty on Resurrection morning.
But the Egyptians suffered:
And it came to pass, that at midnight the Lord smote all the firstborn in the land of Egypt, from the firstborn of Pharaoh that sat on his throne unto the firstborn of the captive that was in the dungeon; and all the firstborn of cattle. And Pharaoh rose up in the night, he, and all his servants, and all the Egyptians; and there was a great cry in Egypt; for there was not a house where there was not one dead. (Exodus 12:29–30)
The Haggadah requires the telling of this story during the first part of the Passover Feast. The central element is the message of deliverance. Israel gained freedom from bitter bondage, oppression, and slavery (Exodus 1:11–14). Yet this is also the story of the creation of a political entity — the birth of the Israelite nation, their “armies,” their endowment of a Promised Land, all begin to unfold as the Lord defines his relationship to them as his chosen people and separates them from the Egyptians.
Finding his firstborn dead in the middle of the night, Pharaoh immediately calls for Moses and Aaron and says,
Rise up, and get you forth from among my people, both ye and the children of Israel; and go, serve the Lord, as ye have said. … And the Egyptians were urgent upon the people, that they might send them out of the land in haste; for they said, We be all dead men. (Exodus 12:31, 33)
The expulsion of the Israelites is predicted in the Lord’s admonition to celebrate Passover “with your loins girded, your shoes on your feet, [Page 84]and your staff in your hand; and ye shall eat in haste” (Exodus 12:11). The Lord had already prepared his people to leave. The Feast of the Unleavened Bread celebrates the urgent flight from Egypt with the image of the Israelite refugee army leaving at such speed that they are unable to allow their bread to rise, and so they bake unleavened cakes along the way. “And the people took their dough before it was leavened, their kneadingtroughs being bound up in their clothes upon their shoulders” (Exodus 12:34).
The Exodus account shows us that the Feast of the Passover and the Feast of the Unleavened Bread were instituted before the actual event. The Lord explained what he wanted of his people and established the feast as a “memorial” to be kept through the generations to honor what he was about to do in delivering them and taking them to the Promised Land.
For I will pass through the land of Egypt this night, and will smite all the firstborn in the Land of Egypt, both man and beast; and against all the gods of Egypt I will execute judgment: I am the Lord.
And the blood shall be for a token upon the houses where ye are: and when I see the blood, I will pass over you, and the plague shall not be upon you to destroy you, when I smite the land of Egypt.
And this day shall be unto you a memorial; and ye shall keep it a feast to the Lord throughout your generations; ye shall keep it a feast by an ordinance for ever. (Exodus 12:12–14)
Instruction, tokens, and memorials are closely associated with the Lord’s covenants with his people and especially, anciently, with the Passover. The people accepted the Lord’s covenant by keeping the Passover and the Feast of the Unleavened Bread. After describing the manner of the feasts, the Lord emphasizes that their yearly observance “shall be for a sign unto thee upon thine hand, and for a memorial between thine eyes, that the Lord’s law may be in thy mouth: for with a strong hand hath the Lord brought thee out of Egypt” (Exodus 13:9).
By the time of Christ, the Passover feast had merged completely with the Feast of the Unleavened Bread, and the Israelites were once again subject to a foreign power. Unsurprisingly, these celebrations of divine deliverance in the past became layered with Messianic significance and developed into a traditional time of political unrest. Passover was political and it was combustible. In the Mekhilta, the earliest commentary [Page 85]on Exodus, we find the dictum of Rabbi Joshua ben Hananiah (c. 90 ce) that “In that night they were redeemed, and in that night they will be redeemed.”1 A millennium later, the Exodus Rabbah proclaims, “Let this sign be in your hands: on the day when I wrought salvation for you, on that very night know that I will redeem you. Passover was the night of deliverance in the past and in the future.”2 The ancient Passover poem, “Four Nights,” stated that the night of creation, the night of the covenant with Abraham, the night of deliverance from Egypt, and the night of the coming of the Messiah, were all to happen on Nisan 14/15, the Jewish calendar dating of Passover. The night of Passover is the ‘sign’ of the coming of the Messiah.3
Roman rulers were uneasy at this time of year as outsiders flocked to Jerusalem. The Jewish historian, Josephus, wrote that it was at these feasts that seditions generally began, and consequently Roman soldiers were stationed on high alert.4 We see several such incidents close to Christ’s time. At Herod’s death in 4 ce, revolts were suppressed. In 6 ce Judas of Galilee, the father of zealotry, initiated his revolt on Passover. It was on or near Passover that Agrippa executed James the brother of John, perhaps fearing his inﬂuence (Acts 12:2–3). Pilate’s successor, Cumanus, killed over 20,000 Jews in putting down a Passover riot. Of course the devastating Roman seige of Jerusalem, in 65 ce, began during Passover week.5 Josephus tells us that 256,500 lambs were sacrificed at the temple. Each lamb was, by law, for a group of at least 10 people, but often as many as 20.6 Estimates of visitors to the city range from 500,000 to 2 million.7 The soldiers were on alert, messianic hopes permeated the festivals, and the jostling crowds were numerous. The emotional urgency of the expulsion from Egypt ﬁnds a ready parallel in the ferment of messianic anticipation in Jerusalem.
Jesus Christ entered Jerusalem at Passover to fulfill and transform the promises made to Moses and the children of Israel, and he was recognized by many as a Davidic king. Julie Smith’s richly perceptive and intriguing study of Mark argues that Mark depicted Christ’s being anointed for his death and for his kingship by the unnamed woman in Bethany.8 The story of this anointing varies somewhat in the different tellings, but its significance in Mark and in JST Mark is indisputable.9
Zechariah had prophesied that the Messiah would come on a donkey to shouts of acclamation: “Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion; shout, O daughter of Jerusalem: behold, thy King cometh unto thee: he is just, and having salvation; lowly, and riding upon an ass, and upon a colt the foal of an ass” (Zechariah 9:9).10 Christ accepted the mantle of the Davidic [Page 86]kingship when he rode this colt into Jerusalem, the people thronging the way, throwing down their coats and branches in front of him and shouting: “Hosanna; Blessed is he that cometh in the name of the Lord: Blessed be the kingdom of our father David, that cometh in the name of the Lord: Hosanna in the highest” (Mark 11:9–10). If we were Jews at the time of Christ and saturated in the Old Testament promises of the Messiah, we would have the ears to hear the wider echoes of the story we are given as the Passover events unfold. The people welcomed Christ with the words from Psalms 118, part of the Hallel11 sung again at the close of Passover. Joachim Jeremias cites numerous witnesses that the exegesis of these psalms in late Second-Temple Judaism “was predominately eschatological-Messianic.”12 Christ certainly identified himself with the messianic language of the rejected building stone becoming the keystone (Psalms 118:22). Jeremias argues persuasively that the undated Midrash exegesis of Psalms 118 goes back to the time of Jesus.13 It equates “the day which the Lord hath made” (Psalms 118:24) to the day of redemption. The Midrash continues in the following verses, depicting a beautiful antiphonal choir composed of the men inside Jerusalem welcoming the Messiah with the first half of each verse, and the men outside, descending from the Mount of Olives with the Messiah, responding with the second half of each verse. In the midrashic exegesis, the Jerusalemites and the pilgrims greet one another in exultant antiphonal chorus as they both unite in praise of God.14
To refer to the house of David, and Christ as the son of David, was to express a political hope! The prophecy in Zechariah is embedded in a larger prophecy that the Lord will fight for Israel and turn back its oppressors: “He shall speak peace unto the heathen: and his dominion shall be from sea even to sea, and from the river even to the ends of the earth” (Zechariah 9:10); “the Lord of hosts shall defend them; and they shall devour, and subdue with sling stones” (Zechariah 9:15). The people’s acceptance of Christ’s authority is demonstrated by throwing their coats before him. When Jehu, son of Jehosophat, was suddenly anointed king by Elisha’s messenger, the people spread out their coats to demonstrate their acceptance of his kingship (2 Kings 9:13). The Pharisees, on hearing the uproar from the temple, exclaimed, “Perceive ye how [we] prevail nothing? behold, the world is gone after him” (John 12:19).15
During his final week, Christ was questioned by the Pharisees about his authority, by the Sadducees concerning resurrection, and by the Herodians about his political agenda. He confounded all three groups until they dared not ask him any more questions. All three concerns are [Page 87]woven into Christ’s final days, but Christ himself was in Jerusalem with the intention of claiming and forever transforming the Passover.
There is disagreement about whether Christ celebrated the Last Supper on the actual day of Passover or the day before. Matthew, Mark, and Luke all call this a Passover meal. John seems to connect Passover to the time of Christ’s crucifixion itself, placing it at the time the lambs were being slain in the temple (John 19:14).16 The appeal of this interpretation is also obvious.
Although it is generally agreed that it is impossible to know which day is accurate,17 Matthew Colvin surveys the debate and makes a strong linguistic and narrative defense of the thesis that there is no difference between John and the synoptics Gospels on dating. He argues,
The correct translation of the phrase, put forth by Theodore Zahn in 1908, is “it was the preparation [day] in the [week-long] Passover [feast]” sc. the preparation day for the Sabbath, which is the denotation of παρασκευὴ when used substantively for this very day in all the synoptic gospels … and for Friday generally in other 2nd Temple Judaic Greek sources (e.g. Josephus, Antiquities, 16.6).18
It may be more important to note that Christ himself, in Luke’s account, states, “With desire I have desired to eat this passover with you before I suffer” (Luke 22:15). Christ could simply be calling this a Passover meal, or he could be saying he wanted to eat it early for reasons of his own. Either way, it seems we are clearly being encouraged to interpret the supper as a Passover. Perhaps this echoes the pattern of the original institution of Passover, where the Lord, whom we also understand to be Jesus Christ, instructed the Hebrews how to perform the Passover and explained his covenant before the event of the covenant, or the actual feast and flight. Christ explains the new covenant, and instructs them in the performance of the Passover now transformed into a new covenant ritual, before the event of the actual paschal sacrifice of the Lamb of God. For those who insist on a Wednesday supper, this reading could preserve all four Gospel account descriptions of the Last Supper as Christ’s Passover experience.
Knowing the traditional order of events19 and customs attunes us to the descriptions given by the early apostles. Because Passover was a familiar ritual, there would be much that would be implicitly understood to a contemporary. From a distance, we still see the threads of different themes: deliverance, bitter herbs, the unleavened bread, the passover lamb, as well as the mention of different customs such as the casual [Page 88]mention of “cup after supper” (Luke 22:20), the reclining position, and the rented room. It is Rabban Gamaliel, a near contemporary of Christ, who teaches us how we should regard the Passover story:
In every generation a man must so regard himself as if he came forth himself out of Egypt, for so it is written, ‘And thou shalt tell thy son in that day, saying, It is because of that which the Lord did for me when I came forth out of Egypt.’”(Exodus 13.8) (m. Pes. 10.5)20
Gamalial’s dictum, still included in modern Haggadahs, points to the immediacy of the experience. This was a ritual that called for personal involvement, and which spanned past, present, and future in its symbolism. In a sense, ritual takes us, within time, to a place outside of time, where we can meet God and participate in events outside our personal experience. Messianic expectations permeated this feast. In the disciple’s minds, their own experience with Christ, his anointing, and triumphal entry surely weighed heavily as they prepared the room and the meal.
The Gospel of John elaborates the teachings of Christ during this supper, hinting at how Christ recast the traditional Passover. Was it during one of the blessings thanking God for the “fruit of the vine” when Christ explained how he is the true vine? With the exception of Luke’s later Gospel, the accounts seem to imply that the institution of the sacrament occurred near the end of the meal. Again, it is impossible to know, since the accounts differ, but perhaps Judas is gone by this time and doesn’t partake of the sacrament or the new covenant. Our scriptural tradition allows a larger context for the Passover story as we can link the prohibition against strangers participating in the Passover with Christ’s command to the Nephites not to let anyone partake unworthily.21 Jesus would have been mindful of this. John’s account states that Judas leaves immediately after dipping his bread in the bitter herbs. Surely there could be few things more bitter at this point than this discussion of betrayal among friends (John 13:18–27, 30).22 It would be reasonable to think it is after the meal, and just before the third of the four Passover cups, when Christ introduces the sacrament.
Mark’s description of the Passover meal has been considered as the most accurate and the closest to Aramaic sources.23 Mark doesn’t dwell on the entire meal or the extended teachings, but instead he brings to our attention to the bread ritual of the afikomen and the blessing over the third cup, the cup of redemption. He also mentions the singing of hymns, Christ’s refusal of the fourth cup, and the exhortation to watchfulness. [Page 89]Our understanding of the Jewish traditions related to each of these, in turn, enhances our understanding of this crucial evening.
The afikomen ceremony spans the entire meal. As the acting host, Christ would have wrapped a piece of unleavened bread, or matzoh, and hidden it in a linen cloth prior to the telling of the Exodus story.24 After the meal, Christ would have taken it out, broken it, and passed it to all participants. This was a high-context act.25
The bread represented the longed-for Redeemer, or “coming one.”26 The breaking and sharing of the bread brought the Messiah into the assembled company and united him with the Jewish people.27 As Christ lifts the cloth and says, “This is my body” he is announcing his Messianic role and locating his followers at a new point in the Passover story.
Paul draws on this understood messianic typology of the Passover bread ceremony. In his letter to the Corinthians he asks, “The cup of blessing which we bless, is it not the communion of the blood of Christ? The bread which we break, is it not the communion of the body of Christ? For we being many are one bread, and one body: for we are all partakers of that one bread” (1 Corinthians 10:16–17). Here we again see that the sharing of the bread represents Israel being gathered and unified by the redeeming Christ, and, in Paul’s language, becoming the body of Christ. This parallels Alma’s teaching that the baptismal covenants with Christ, which we renew in our sacramental observance, also encompass duties to each other which we fulﬁll “… as ye are desirous to come into the fold of God, and be called his people … and are willing to bear one another’s burdens, that they may be light; Yea, and are willing to mourn with those that mourn; yea, and comfort those that stand in need of comfort” (Mosiah 18:8–9).
Perhaps one of the most clear New Testament sources demonstrating the well-understood Messianic significance of the bread ceremony is the account of the disciples on the road to Emmaus who unsuspectingly talked with Christ as he taught them, in true Passover style, expounding all the scriptures from Moses on, concerning himself. “And it came to pass, as he sat at meat with them, he took bread, and blessed it, and brake, and gave to them. And their eyes were opened, and they knew him; and he vanished out of their sight” (Luke 24:30–31, emphasis added). Despite the hours Christ spent with these disciples, he is only truly revealed as he shares the bread with them. Luke underlines this point in describing the disciples’ reunion with the apostles in Jerusalem, “they told what things were done in the way, and how he was known of them in breaking of bread” (Luke 24:35, emphasis added).28
[Page 90]Christ uses the ritual of the Passover to teach the disciples that the Law of Moses is fulfilled, that he has come, and that even as the afikomen was wrapped, his body will be wrapped in linen and hidden, or buried, until it shall be resurrected. Today we “hide” or cover our sacramental bread with a cloth; and as it is brought forth it represents the resurrection of Christ’s body and the promise to us that we too will rise again.
We too can come to know our Savior in “the breaking of the bread.” We too are brought out of Egypt, and out of our afflictions, we too make public witness that we are the Lord’s individually and as a people. We too look forward to the Messianic feast of the Second Coming, and we do it in resounding concert, united with everyone who has ever performed this rite. Our sacramental ritual brings us into a sacred time frame that ritually steps outside of our present time, encompassing past and future where we covenant, and renew covenant, to become one with Christ.
JST Mark 14 reiterates the importance of “remembrance” which is also witnessed by Luke and Paul. “Behold, this is for you to do in remembrance of my body; for as oft as ye do this ye will remember this hour that I was with you” (JST Mark 14:20). Remembrance is inextricable from the Passover theme. In Mark’s account, the supper is immediately preceded by the unnamed woman’s anointing of Christ and Christ’s declaration that this “shall be spoken of for a memorial of her” (Mark 14:9). The word “memorial” is “μνημόσυνον” (“mnēmosynon”) in Greek, the same word used in the Septuagint to refer to the ultimate memorial of the Passover (Exodus 12:14, 13:9), heavily underscoring the connection of this day’s events to the celebration of Passover.29
There is broad agreement with Jeremias’ argument that “in remembrance of me,” from the perspective of Second-Temple Judaism, can scarcely mean “that you may remember me,” but “most probably that God may remember me.” He glosses this to be understood that Christ’s people, through partaking of the bread and wine, continually hold Christ before God, daily imploring the “consummation in the paraousia [second coming].”30 Certainly there is an important element of God remembering Christ and us as we remember him. We understand that our own sacrament prayers today emphasize a covenant-based concept of remembrance, which I would argue is also very recognizable from the perspective of Second-Temple Judaism. We are asked to eat “in remembrance of the body of thy son” and then additionally to “always remember him” (Moroni 4:3). Christ himself parses this more fully for the Nephites: “And this shall ye do in remembrance of my body, which I have shown unto you. And it shall be a testimony unto the Father that [Page 91]ye do always remember me. And if ye do always remember me ye shall have my Spirit to be with you” (3 Nephi 17:7). Christ twice reiterates (3 Nephi 17:10, 11) that by partaking in the ritual we are witnessing to God. Christ’s baptism was his memorial — the earlier Nephi taught that even Jesus Christ, through his baptism, “humbleth himself before the Father, and witnesseth unto the Father that he would be obedient unto him in keeping his commandments (2 Nephi 31:7). He then exhorts us:
Wherefore, my beloved brethren, I know that if ye shall follow the Son, with full purpose of heart, acting no hypocrisy and no deception before God, but with real intent, repenting of your sins, witnessing unto the Father that ye are willing to take upon you the name of Christ, by baptism — yea, by following your Lord and your Savior down into the water, according to his word, behold, then shall ye receive the Holy Ghost; yea, then cometh the baptism of fire and of the Holy Ghost; and then can ye speak with the tongue of angels, and shout praises unto the Holy One of Israel. (2 Nephi 31:13)
The holy ordinance of the Sacrament remembers and renews our baptismal covenant. Just as Passover was instituted to remind Israel of their deliverance, our Sacrament commemorates weekly that we too choose to forsake all other gods and alliances, turning to the true Lord and, in faith, entering the waters of our own Red Sea. Miriam and Moses, surrounded by Israel, stood on the other side of that baptism, shouting praises and singing. We, too, sing praises and speak with the tongue of angels. We, like the Israelites who painted their door frames with lamb’s blood, covenant to be Christ’s people, to remember him, to obey him, and to be separated out from the “Egyptians.” We are marked by our participation and obedience to be “passed over” by the destructions visited upon Egypt. Our sacramental rituals, though events, are like the physical altars erected by Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob to memorialize covenants. Weekly, ritually, we build altars witnessing to the Lord and our fellow Saints our covenant to be one.
Mark also draws our attention to Christ’s use of the Cup of Redemption, or the cup after supper. In the Book of Jubilees (second century bce) we see wine associated with the Passover celebration.31 The medieval Seder and modern usage links each of the four wine cups to God’s actions in Exodus:
Wherefore say unto the children of Israel, I am the Lord, and I will bring you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians, [Page 92]and I will rid you out of their bondage, and I will redeem you with a stretched out arm, and with great judgments: And I will take you to me for a people, and I will be to you a God: and ye shall know that I am the Lord your God, which bringeth you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians. (Exodus 6:6–7, emphasis added)
Although the names are not completely ﬁxed, common labels today for each cup are the Cup of Sanctiﬁcation (“I will bring you out”), the Cup of Deliverance/plagues/judgement (I will deliver you/rid you of their bondage), the Cup of Redemption/Blessing (I will redeem you), and the Hallel Cup or Cup of Praise/Hope/Kingdom/Salvation/Restoration. Most likely at the time of Christ, the purpose of each cup was clear but they were probably not so formally named.32
The Cup of Redemption — the third cup, or the cup after supper — is the most likely candidate for the cup that radically transforms the Passover into a new sacramental covenant. Andrew Skinner has pointed out that this cup is mixed with water, symbolizing the water and blood that will come forth from the crucified Christ.33 When Christ takes the cup and says, “this is my blood of the new testament, which is shed for many for the remission of sins” (Matthew 26:28), he takes the place of the lamb and points the meaning of the feast to himself and his sacrifice.34 It is no longer the blood above the doors and on the side posts that matters — it is the blood of Jesus Christ that protects and saves us. Christ had fulfilled the prophecy of Zechariah during his triumphal entry to Jerusalem at the beginning of Passover week. Now, at the Last Supper, he recalls Zechariah’s prophecy again when he says, “As for thee also, by the blood of thy covenant I have sent forth thy prisoners out of the pit wherein is no water” (Zechariah 9:11).
The fourth cup introduces the theme of kingship and ultimate salvation in the promised land, or Kingdom of God. Daube pointed out that already in the third-century Mishnah, the rabbis, referring to even older rules, forbade drinking between the third and fourth cups. When Christ announces that he “will drink no more of the fruit of the vine, until that day that I drink it new in the kingdom of God,” He is following this rule. This last cup, The Cup of Praise, is linked eschatologically to the kingdom of God and the strict prohibitions symbolize patient Israel awaiting the promised land.35 The fourth cup was then drunk with specific sung blessings which pointed to the theme of Kingship of Israel’s God. Colvin argues Christ abstained from drinking this cup, and also from the wine offered to him on the cross, “since he intended to [Page 93]substitute the actual coming of the kingdom for the anticipatory ritual that pointed to it.”36 Christ’s use of the cup imagery to refer to his actual sacrifice resonates here. He asked the sons of Zebedee, “Can you drink the cup that I am going to drink?” (Mark 10:38) and in Gethsemane he said “Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me” (Matthew 26:39, Mark 14:36, Luke 22:42).
“And when they had sung a hymn, they went out into the mount of Olives” (Mark 14:26). During the ﬁrst century ce, the Hallel (Psalms 113–18) were sung while the priests sacriﬁced lambs in the temple and during the Passover meal. Mark’s simple statement that Christ and his apostles sang a hymn before departing invites us into their experience, into the very words that might have framed Christ’s thoughts as he departed to Gethsamene. When we read the moving Hallel, we consider how Christ might have felt, singing about “the cup of salvation.”
The sorrows of death compassed me, and the pains of hell gat hold upon me: I found trouble and sorrow.
Then called I upon the name of the Lord; O Lord, I beseech thee, deliver my soul.
Gracious is the Lord, and righteous; yea, our God is merciful.
The Lord preserveth the simple: I was brought low, and he helped me.
Return unto thy rest, O my soul; for the Lord hath dealt bountifully with thee.
For thou hast delivered my soul from death, mine eyes from tears, and my feet from falling.
I will walk before the Lord in the land of the living.
What shall I render unto the Lord for all his benefits toward me?
I will take the cup of salvation, and call upon the name of the Lord.
I will pay my vows unto the Lord now in the presence of all his people.
Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of his saints.
O Lord, truly I am thy servant; I am thy servant, and the son of thine handmaid: thou hast loosed my bonds.
[Page 94]I will offer to thee the sacrifice of thanksgiving, and will call upon the name of the Lord.
I will pay my vows unto the Lord now in the presence of all his people,
In the courts of the Lord’s house, in the midst of thee, O Jerusalem. Praise ye the Lord. (Psalms 116: 3–9, 12–19)
Despite the fact that the fourth cup had been drunk by the company, and the hymns sung, there is further evidence that Christ did not consider the feast over. This evidence is distinctively Talmudic, but Mark’s account strongly suggests the rules outlined in the later Talmud were operative. Christ admonishes his disciples to watch, yet they fall into a deeper and deeper sleep. David Daube comments:
R. Asha, at the beginning of the 5th cent., defines the meaning of “a doze,” which does not bring about the dissolution of the ḥaburah, as opposed to “a proper sleep,” which does. A man, he says, merely dozes “if, and when addressed, he replies but does not know how to answer sensibly.” This late comment is curiously reminiscent of Mark’s description of the state in which the disciples were when Jesus returned the second time: “neither wist they what to answer him.”37
Christ’s remarks at subsequently finding them soundly asleep are probably better understood if translated literally: “you are sleeping the remainder and taking your rest.” In other words, you are no longer dozing, you are thoroughly asleep.38 Significantly it is at this point that the company actually breaks up.
The promise of freedom and deliverance that was anticipated in the Passover ritual was kept in the infinite and atoning sacrifice of our Savior. Christ’s passage through Gethsemane and Golgotha, through the atonement and the crucifixion, meant freedom and the establishment of a new kingdom, not only for the Jews oppressed by Imperial Rome, but also for all mankind in all places and throughout all time. As Alma says, the bands of death were broken and the chains of hell which encircle us about were loosed (see Alma 5:6–9). Death and sin were defeated. We know from modern revelation that this also extended to the spirits bound in prison (see D&C 138:16–18). Perhaps it is the spirit world that Zechariah’s prophecy also referenced: “… by the blood of thy covenant I have sent forth thy prisoners out of the pit wherein is no water” (Zechariah 9:11).
[Page 95]The cataclysmic events attending Christ’s death testify to the overturning of Satan’s reign. As darkness fills the earth, the veil of the temple is rent. The Greek word σχίζω (shizo) means to “split, divide, open,” or “rend.” It is also used by Mark to refer to the heavens opening at Christ’s baptism (Mark 1:10). As he is killed, the piercing of Christ’s body is physically replicated in the veil of the temple, for it too is torn open. Paul’s letter to the Hebrews equates the veil with the body of Christ:
This is the covenant that I will make with them after those days, saith the Lord, I will put my laws into their hearts, and in their minds will I write them; And their sins and iniquities will I remember no more. Now where remission of these is, there is no more offering for sin.
Having therefore, brethren, boldness to enter into the holiest by the blood of Jesus, By a new and living way, which he hath consecrated for us, through the veil, that is to say, his flesh; And having an high priest over the house of God; Let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience, and our bodies washed with pure water. Let us hold fast the profession of our faith without wavering; (for he is faithful that promised;) (Hebrews 10:16–23, emphasis added)
It is through the open veil, or through the piercing of His body, that all are invited to approach God and enter the Holy of Holies. Previously this had been the domain of the High Priest alone, and only on the Day of Atonement (Leviticus 16:2–34). In the time of Moses, when the children of Israel had seen that the Lord was waiting on the mountain, they feared and would not go up to him, but sent Moses as their representative. As Christ’s sacrifice establishes the new covenant, Christ himself is now our High Priest, our intercessor, and he invites all to come and see the face of the Lord. “For with a strong hand hath the Lord [Jesus Christ] brought thee out of Egypt” (Exodus 13:9).
Christ is our example in all things, and his ultimate sacrifice shows us how comprehensive is the sacrifice required to follow him and obtain his order. Andrew Skinner notes,
The sacrament of the Lord’s Supper raised to a new height the level and intensity of individual commitment and interaction with God. … What the Savior said explicitly to the Nephites he said by inference to the apostles during the Last Supper: “And ye shall offer up unto me no more the shedding of blood; [Page 96]yea, your sacrifices and your burnt offerings shall be done away, for I will accept none of your sacrifices and your burnt offerings. And ye shall offer for a sacrifice unto me a broken heart and a contrite spirit.” (3 Nephi 9:19–20)39
Indeed, as Skinner, insightfully moving between the two accounts, explains, Christ modeled even this sacrifice for us in His death as he experienced a “crushed” or contrite spirit in Gethsemane, and a broken heart on the cross. Unlike under the Mosaic Law, where the House of Israel offered up the blood of an animal, we must give up our own sins.40
Taking into our bodies the bread and water, as a remembrance of Christ, witnesses our willingness to become one with Christ, and to be nourished by his sacrifice. Christ asks his followers to take up their crosses and follow him. We should expect that we who take upon us the name of Christ will be tried in all things. None of us will escape. However, the great support we have is the promise of a resurrection and freedom from sin. The way to the Holy of Holies has been opened. Christ, who is faithful, has redeemed us!
During that final Passover week, Christ did establish His kingdom and did fulfill the Passover covenant. The establishment of Christ’s kingdom continued in crescendo as he visited the spirit world and then the Nephites, as well as others of His lost sheep. The Book of Mormon and Joseph F. Smith’s vision of the spirit world (D&C 138) give us unique appreciation of the magnitude of Christ’s Passover victory. It stretched through all time, all places, all worlds. We revel in the joy of “Isaiah, who declared by prophecy that the Redeemer was anointed to bind up the broken-hearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to them that were bound” (D&C 138:42). In the Vision of the Redemption of the Dead we see Isaiah rejoicing with prophets from Adam to Malachi as they receive the crucified Savior and accept new commissions from him. They had prophesied this day; they recognized it and awaited it. The tradition of a Passover deliverance adds poignancy to their knowledge that the “day” and “hour” was at hand. Joseph F. Smith reports,
I beheld that they were filled with joy and gladness, and were rejoicing together because the day of their deliverance was at hand. They were assembled awaiting the advent of the Son of God into the spirit world, to declare their redemption from the bands of death. … While this vast multitude waited and conversed, rejoicing in the hour of their deliverance from the [Page 97]chains of death, the Son of God appeared, declaring liberty to the captives who had been faithful. (D&C 138:15–16, 18)
As part of the fulfillment of Passover, the Nephites in the New World also received Jesus Christ among them, where he immediately taught them of baptism and the sacrament.41 When they marveled, he explained how he Himself provides the continuity between the Passover and the sacrament:
Behold, I say unto you that the law is fulfilled that was given unto Moses. Behold, I am he that gave the law, and I am he who covenanted with my people Israel; therefore, the law in me is fulfilled, for I have come to fulfil the law; therefore it hath an end. (3 Nephi 15:4–5)
During his visit, we see an abundant fulfilling of covenant blessings as many of the Nephites’ righteous dead resurrected, and the people experienced angelic visitations and wonders.
The Jews did not merely await a Messiah to rid them of the Romans. Their messianic hopes then, like ours now, anticipated the Final Kingdom and the ultimate revelation of the King of Kings. If we can step into sacred time, considering ourselves as if we each came out of Egypt with Moses, then we see Passover is also our memorial. Passover proclaims that our Lord is faithful in His promise of our salvation. Understanding the Passover illuminates how our Easter celebrations and our sacrament services fulfill and comprehend multiple millennia of memorials that witness Christ’s deliverance and his faithfulness to the Abrahamic Covenant. Christ’s death and resurrection purchased our freedom. Christ’s blood bought our deliverance. Christ’s body, pierced for us, opened the way to the presence of God.
This is indeed liberty to the captives and freedom to them that are bound! Let us also rejoice, joining in this great day of Christian celebration, and let us bear with hope the trials we endure, keeping always in our remembrance the infinite victory of our Savior.
THE KIDDUSH: After taking the cup, he gave thanks and said, “Take this and divide it among you. For I tell you I will not drink again of the fruit of the vine until the kingdom of God comes.” (Luke 22:17–18)
THE FIRST WASHING OF HANDS: He got up from the meal, took off his outer clothing, and wrapped a towel around his waist … and began to wash his disciples’ feet. (John 13:4–5) (This was followed by the bitter herbs dipped in salt water; table of food removed; second cup of wine poured; ritual questions asked and answered; table of food brought back; explanation of lamb, bitter herbs, and unleavened bread; first part of Hallel; second cup taken; second washing of hands; one wafer of bread broken; and thanks over bread recited.)
BROKEN PIECES OF BREAD DIPPED IN BITTER HERBS AND CHAROSETH AND HANDED TO ALL: Then, dipping the piece of bread, he gave it to Judas Iscariot, son of Simon … . “What you are about to do, do quickly,” Jesus told him. … As soon as Judas had taken the bread, he went out. (John 13:26–27, 30) (The Paschal meal eaten; hands washed a third time; third cup poured.)
BLESSING AFTER MEALS: The Lord Jesus, on the night he was betrayed, took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, “This is my body, which is for you; do this in remembrance of me.” (1 Corinthians 11:23–24)
BLESSING OVER THIRD CUP (CUP OF REDEMPTION): In the same way, after supper he took the cup, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood; do this, whenever you drink it, in remembrance of me.” (1 Corinthians 11: 25) (Third cup taken; second part of Hallel recited; fourth cup poured and taken.)
CLOSING SONG OR HYMN: When they had sung a hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives. (Matthew 26:30)
Robert Eisler first suggested that the rabbis had misidentified the term aphikomen when he traced to a Greek word aphikomenos meaning “the coming one” or “He who has come” (Carmichael, [Page 102]“David Daube On the Eucharist and the Passover Seder,” 53). This is a well-attested messianic title in Second-Temple Judaism (Colvin, The Lost Supper, 64). We need merely think of John the Baptist sending his disciples to ask Jesus, “Are you the coming one or do we wait for another?” (Matthew 11:3). The Greek here is erchomenos, but the meaning translates the same. Undoubtedly, Eisler’s polarizing personality, and the dramatic academic jousting that ensued, led to his thesis being buried until it was given a firm foundation by Daube almost 40 years later in an address to the London Diocesan Council for Jewish-Christian Understanding (Carmichael, “David Daube On the Eucharist and the Passover Seder,” 47, 48). Jewish folk traditions of celebrating the Passover include practices such as using the aﬁkomen to ward against the evil eye, gain power over ﬂoods and the sea, or represent the binding between spouses. Most interesting is the Djerban tradition of tying the aﬁkomen to the shoulder of a family member who then visits relatives and neighbors to prophecy the coming of the Messiah. See Dov Noy and Joseph Tabory, “Aﬁkomen,” s.v. Encyclopaedia Judaica, 2nd Ed. (New York: Macmillan, 2006), 1:434. The Djerban Jews of Tunisia are one of the oldest Jewish communities in the world. They trace their origins, through oral legend, at least back to the fall of the Temple at the time of the Babylonian captivity.
Daube’s thesis has become popular with Christian Jews. See Rich Robinson, “Passover: Why is this night different since Yeshua observed it?” Jews for Jesus (November 1, 1983), https://jewsforjesus.org/publications/issues/issues-v03-n02/passover-why-is-this-night-different-since-yeshua-observed-it/, and Paul Sumner, “He Who is Coming: The Hidden Afikomen,” Hebrew Streams, https://www.hebrew-streams.org/works/judaism/afikoman.html. Sumner agrees that “The NT attributes the title ‘Coming One’ to Yeshua, verifying that it was a messianic moniker.” He cites multiple examples.