In John 13-17, Jesus is in the upper room with His disciples spending His last hours with them before He goes to the cross. On that night, He gave to His disciples what we now call the Lord’s Supper as the fulfillment of the Jewish celebration of Passover.
Over 1,000 years before Jesus was born, Moses, a “shadow” of the ultimate Deliverer, Jesus, led God’s people out of slavery in Egypt on a journey to the Promised Land in Canaan.
A terrible ruler, Pharoah, had enslaved and was oppressing God’s people. God sent Moses, His deliverer, to lead His people out of Egypt and out of slavery so that they could worship Him. Pharoah would not let them go, and so God judged Pharoah for His tyranny, for killing God’s children and for his constant worship of other Gods. God sent an angel to punish Pharoah and the Egyptians for their sin.
Israel, God’s people, would be spared from the angel’s wrath only if the blood of a pure, spotless lamb was painted over the door of their house. The slain lamb was to be roasted and eaten completely along with unleavened bread and bitter herbs. They were to be fully ready to travel in a hurry as God led them out of Egypt. God commanded His people to keep the feast of the Passover each year from then on in celebration of what God was going to do and to remind them of how He would save them. In the years following, the Passover Feast also include the drinking of 4 small glasses of wine.
Sure enough, just as God has said, the angel of death came to the Egyptians but God’s people were spared. The Israelites left Egypt in a hurry under Moses’ leadership, and God even blessed His people by having them plunder their enemies of their gold and valuables. Though Pharoah and his armies chased God’s people, the Egyptians were swallowed up in the Red Sea as God’s people passed unharmed through the waters that were miraculously held back. After they made it through, they celebrated with great joy on the other side on their way to the Promised Land!
God’s deliverer had led God’s people through the Red Sea as they were saved, but their enemies were swallowed up in the waters. Free from slavery, free from oppression, now able to worship God in freedom as they traveled to the Promised Land!
And so every year, for over 1,000 years, the Passover had been celebrated each year in commemoration of this great saving act of God. The drinking of 4 cups of wine had been added to celebrate the 4 deliverances of Exodus 6:6-7: Saving them, setting them free from slavery, taking off their heavy load, and taking them to be His own people.
Now, Jesus, in John 13-17, is preparing to go the cross – and He gives the disciples a new celebration, the fulfillment of the Passover that isn’t just once a year, but as often as they want to celebrate it! Jesus is the Great Deliverer. His payment for our sins on the cross would purchase a permanent, perpetual celebration in the ultimate deliverance of God’s people – salvation from sin and from slavery to it; rest from our labors to satisfy God, as Jesus would do the work for us; and a full and final restoration to God the Father as His sons and daughters!
In this celebration, there is physically only wine, bread and those who eat and drink it to celebrate Christ. The wine would represent the blood of the lamb that was smeared over the wooden crossbeam of the door – just as Jesus, the doorway to the Father – His blood would be smeared over the beam of a wooden cross. The unleavened bread spoke of the sinless Christ who gave His body to pay for our sins in the flesh.
But what about the lamb? The true Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world, Jesus Christ, paid for our sins with one perfect offering – no animal sacrifice is ever needed again! And just as the children of Israel feasted on the lamb which had been sacrificed, we too eat the bread and drink the wine or juice as a symbol of us living in, abiding in and taking Christ into our very spirit. And though there is now no physical lamb to sacrifice, Christ Himself is present in our midst as He nourishes our souls and spirits in the awareness of our salvation.
But what about the bitter herbs? The bitter herbs represented the bitterness of slavery to the Egyptians – but it is no longer part of this celebration – the captives have been set free and the burden of our sin is gone! The bitterness of sin has been replaced with the joy represented by the cup of wine!
Jesus Christ saves us from slavery to sin and from death through the Red Sea of His blood and restores us to life with Him, a restored relationship with God the Father and the presence of the Holy Spirit in our lives. The bitterness of sin and slavery is gone; the joy of new life in Christ is present forever as we learn to live life in the Spirit, eternal living in Christ!