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The Passover Supper itself consisted of the unleavened bread with bitter herbs, of the so-called Chagigah, or festive offering (when brought), and, lastly, of the Passover lamb itself. After that nothing more was to be eaten, so that the flesh of the Passover Sacrifice might be the last meat partaken of. But since the cessation of the Passover Sacrifice the Jews conclude the Supper with a piece of unleavened cake, which they call the Aphikomen, or after-dish. Then, having again washed hands, the third cup is filled, and grace after meat said. Now, it is very remarkable that our Lord seems so far to have anticipated the present Jewish practice that He brake the bread 'when He had given thanks,' instead of adhering to the old injunction of not eating anything after the Passover lamb. And yet in so doing He only carried out the spirit of the Passover feast. For, as we have already explained, it was commemorative and typical. It commemorated an event which pointed to and merged in another event--even the offering of the better Lamb, and the better freedom connected with that sacrifice. Hence, after the night of His betrayal, the Passover lamb could have no further meaning, and it was right that the commemorative Aphikomen should take its place. The symbolical cord, if the figure may be allowed, had stretched to its goal--the offering up of the Lamb of God; and though again continued from that point onwards till His second coming, yet it was, in a sense, as from a new beginning.
The Third Cup
Immediately afterwards the third cup was drunk, a special blessing having been spoken over it. There cannot be any reasonable doubt that this was the cup which our Lord connected with His own Supper. It is called in Jewish writings, just as by St. Paul (1 Cor 10:16), 'the cup of blessing,' partly because it and the first cup required a special 'blessing,' and partly because it followed on the 'grace after meat.' Indeed, such importance attached to it, that the Talmud (Berac. 51, 1) notes ten peculiarities, too minute indeed for our present consideration, but sufficient to show the special value set upon it. *
* It is a curious circumstance that the Mishnah seems to contemplate the same painful case of drunkenness at the Passover Supper, which, as we know, actually occurred in the church at Corinth, that so closely imitated the Jewish practice. The Mishnah does not, indeed, speak in so many words of drunkenness, but it lays down this rule: 'Does any one sleep at the Passover meal and wake again, he may not eat again after he is awaked.'
The service concluded with the fourth cup, over which the second portion of the 'Hallel' was sung, consisting of Psalms 115, 116, 117, and 118, the whole ending with the so-called 'blessing of the song,' which comprised these two brief prayers: 'All Thy works shall praise Thee, Jehovah our God. And Thy saints, the righteous, who do Thy good pleasure, and all Thy people, the house of Israel, with joyous song let them praise, and bless, and magnify, and glorify, and exalt, and reverence, and sanctify, and ascribe the kingdom to Thy name, O our King! For it is good to praise Thee, and pleasure to sing praises unto Thy name, for from everlasting to everlasting Thou art God.'
'The breath of all that lives shall praise Thy name, Jehovah our God. And the spirit of all flesh shall continually glorify and exalt Thy memorial, O our King! For from everlasting to everlasting Thou art God, and besides Thee we have no King, Redeemer, or Savior,' etc. *
* Exceptionally a fifth cup was drunk, and over it 'the great Hallel' was said, comprising Psalms 120-137.
In this manner was the Passover Supper celebrated by the Jews at the time when our Lord for the last time sat down to it with His disciples. So important is it to have a clear understanding of all that passed on that occasion, that, at the risk of some repetition, we shall now attempt to piece together the notices in the various Gospels, adding to them again those explanations which have just been given in detail. At the outset we may dismiss, as unworthy of serious discussion, the theory, either that our Lord had observed the Passover Supper at another than the regular time for it, or that St. John meant to intimate that He had partaken of it on the 13th instead of the 14th of Nisan. To such violent hypotheses, which are wholly uncalled for, there is this one conclusive answer, that, except on the evening of the 14th of Nisan, no Passover lamb could have been offered in the Temple, and therefore no Passover Supper celebrated in Jerusalem. But abiding by the simple text of Scripture, we have the following narrative of events:--Early on the forenoon of the 14th of Nisan, the Lord Jesus having sent Peter and John before Him 'to prepare the Passover,' 'in the evening He cometh with the twelve' (Mark 14:17) to the 'guest-chamber,' the 'large upper room furnished' (Luke 22:11,12) for the Supper, although He seems to have intended 'after Supper' to spend the night outside the city. Hence Judas and the band from the chief priests do not seek for Him where He had eaten the Passover, but go at once to 'the garden into which He had entered, and His disciples'; for Judas 'knew the place,' (John 18:1,2) and it was one to which 'Jesus ofttimes resorted with His disciples.' 'When the hour was come' for the commencement of the Passover Supper, Jesus 'sat down, and the twelve apostles with Him,' all, as usual at the feast, 'leaning' (John 13:23), John on 'Jesus' bosom,' being placed next before Him, and Judas apparently next behind, while Simon Peter faced John, and was thus able to 'beckon unto him' when he wished inquiry to be made of the Lord. The disciples being thus ranged, the Lord Jesus 'took the cup and gave thanks, and said, Take this, and divide it among yourselves' (Luke 22:17). This was the first cup, over which the first prayer in the service was spoken. Next, as in duty bound, all washed their hands, only that the Lord here also gave meaning to the observance, when, expanding the service into Christian fellowship over His broken body, He 'riseth from Supper,' 'and began to wash the disciples' feet' (John 13:4,5). It is thus we explain how this ministry, though calling forth Peter's resistance to the position which the Master took, did not evoke any question as to its singularity. As the service proceeded, the Lord mingled teaching for the present with the customary lessons of the past (John 13:12-20); for, as we have seen considerable freedom was allowed, provided the instruction proper at the feast were given. The first part of the 'Hallel' had been sung, and in due order He had taken the 'bread of poverty' and the 'bitter herbs,' commemorative of the sorrow and the bitterness of Egypt, when 'He was troubled in spirit' about 'the root of bitterness' about to spring up among, and to 'trouble' them, by which 'many would be defiled.' The general concern of the disciples as to which of their number should betray Him, found expression in the gesture of Peter. His friend John understood its meaning, and 'lying back on Jesus' breast,' he put the whispered question, to which the Lord replied by giving 'the sop' of unleavened bread with bitter herbs, 'when He had dipped' it, to Judas Iscariot.
'And after the sop Satan entered into him,' and he 'went out immediately.' It was an unusual time to leave the Passover table, for with 'the sop dipped' into the 'Charoseth' the Passover Supper itself had only just begun. But then 'some of them thought'-- perhaps without fully considering it in their excitement--that Judas, who 'had the bag,' and on whom, therefore, the care of such things devolved, had only gone to see after 'those things that they had need of against the feast,' or to 'give something to the poor'-- applying some of the common stock of money in helping to provide 'peace-offerings' for the poor. This would have been quite in accordance with the spirit of the ordinance, while neither supposition necessarily involved a breach of the law, since it was permitted to prepare all needful provision for the feast, and of course also for the Sabbath, which in this instance followed it. For, as we have seen, the festive observance of the 15th of Nisan differed in this from the ordinary Sabbath-law, although there is evidence that even the latter was at that time by no means so strict as later Jewish tradition has made it. And then it was, after the regular Passover meal, that the Lord instituted His own Supper, for the first time using the Aphikomen 'when He had given thanks' (after meat), to symbolise His body, and the third cup, or 'cup of blessing which we bless' (1 Cor 10:16)--being 'the cup after supper' (Luke 22:20)--to symbolise His blood. 'And when they had sung an hymn' (Psa 115-118) 'they went out into the mount of Olives' (Matt 26:30).
Then it was that the Lord's great heaviness and loneliness came upon Him; when all around seemed to give way, as if crushed under the terrible burden about to be lifted; when His disciples could not watch with Him even one hour; when in the agony of His soul 'His sweat was as it were great drops of blood, falling down to the ground'; and when He 'prayed, saying: O my Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from Me: nevertheless not as I will, but as Thou wilt.' But 'the cup which the Father' had given Him, He drank to the bitter dregs; and 'when He had offered up prayers and supplications with strong crying and tears unto Him that was able to save Him from death, and was heard in that He feared; though He were a Son, yet learned He obedience by the things which He suffered; and being made perfect, He became the author of eternal salvation unto all them that obey Him' (Heb 5:7- 9).
Thus the 'Lamb without blemish and without spot, who verily was foreordained before the foundation of the world' (1 Peter 1:20)-- and, indeed, 'slain from the foundation of the world' (Rev 13:8)-- was selected, ready, willing, and waiting. It only remained, that it should be actually offered up as 'the propitiation for our sins: and not for ours only, but also for the whole world' (1 John 2:2).