Resources from a Messianic perspective



A story is told about a boy who returned from Sunday School class and his father asked him, "What did you learn today?" The son answered, "My teacher told us how Moses led the children of Israel out of Egypt."

"How?" asked the father.

"Moses was a big strong man and he beat Pharaoh up. Then while Pharaoh was down, Moses got all the people together and they ran towards the sea. When they got there, Moses had the corps of engineers build a huge pontoon bridge. Once the people got to the other side, they blew up the bridge while the Egyptians were trying to cross."

Quite shocked, the father inquired, "Is that what you teacher really taught you?"

The son replied, "No. But you'd never believe the story that he really did tell us."

There are truly some remarkable events associated with Passover. But more importantly, there are many symbolic elements of Passover that reveal the life and ministry of Yeshua the Messiah. In particular, the Lord's Supper or Communion is derived from a pivotal part of the observance of Passover. By considering these symbolic elements in their original context, we are able to gain a deeper understanding of what it means to participate in the Lord's Supper.

 Afikomen—The Coming of Messiah

 You might ask, "How close is the modern observance of Passover to what was done in biblical days?" The elements of the Passover service, known as the Seder, have changed somewhat over time, but most of the modern practices were in place back in late Second Temple times. In other words, the manner in which Passover is kept today is very much like the way it was kept in the day of Yeshua.

When Yeshua and his disciples gathered for their last Passover together, they would have retold God's deliverance of Israel from bondage in Egypt. They would have recited the phrase, "Every person in every generation must regard himself as having been personally freed from Egypt." They would have chanted the Hallel (Psalms 113-118), and said the blessings over four cups of wine. They would have eaten bitter herbs and lamb, although lamb is not commonly eaten today.

They would also have eaten matzah (meaning unleavened bread). Another of the symbolic rites practiced both today and in biblical times involves a special piece of matzah that is broken and hidden, called the afikomen.

Early in the Seder, three pieces of matzah are taken and the middle one is removed. It is then broken in two and the larger piece is hidden somewhere. The celebration continues with other ceremonial elements. Then toward the end of the Seder, the children search for the afikomen, and when it is discovered, they hold it for ransom. The leader then redeems it by paying an agreed upon price to the children. A piece is distributed to all participants who then eat their portion.

This custom of the afikomen is not well understood today and has lost its original meaning. The most common rabbinic explanation is that it represents dessert, or the end of festivity. Unfortunately, that is an explanation that neglects its linguistic meaning.

Oddly, in the midst of a ceremony that is based on the Hebrew language, afikomen is a Greek word that means, "I came." That is the way it is used in Passover Seders all around the world today. But in the times of the Second Temple, the word was actually phrased slightly differently. In that day, the name was not in the past tense, it was phrased in the future: aphikomenos "he is coming."

The custom of naming objects and places is an important practice in the Jewish culture. For example, the gates of the city of Jerusalem were given names, as were the pillars of the Temple. And these names carried the meaning of the object or place. The name itself was a way of communicating a key spiritual concept.

He is coming? Now that kind of a name should prompt some very straightforward questions – who is He? And what is he coming to do?

Historically speaking, this word has direct messianic implications. During the Second Temple period the afikomen was a symbol of the expected Messiah. It became the custom at Passover that this special piece of matzah served as a reminder that the Messiah was coming. Each year, as the afikomen was redeemed and shared by everyone at the Seder, it was affirmed, "He is coming, he is coming." It was a symbol that gave the people of ancient Israel a source of great hope.

And in a precise day ordained by God, Yeshua the Messiah did indeed come. Not everyone was willing to accept Him with open arms. But others were looking for Him to come.

An example of this kind of expectation is found in Matt. 11:3, where John the Baptist asks Yeshua: "Are You the Expected One (erchomenos), or shall we look for someone else?"

And again, as recorded in Matt. 21:9, on that day we know as Palm Sunday –

"And the multitudes going before Him, and those who followed after were crying out, saying, 'Hosanna to the Son of David; Blessed is He who comes in the name of the LORD; Hosanna in the highest!' "

The people were echoing the words of the 118th Psalm that were filled with messianic implications. Clearly, in biblical times, there was an expectation of the coming of Messiah, and it formed an important component in the celebration of Passover.

Incredibly, the custom of the afikomen is still part of the modern observance of Passover throughout Judaism. Each year, this emblem of messianic testimony is handled and eaten by Jews, but it is greatly misunderstood. Very few Jewish people are familiar with this history.

Undoubtedly, this background has been set aside as a response to the claim that Yeshua was the Messiah. When Messianic Jews and Gentile Christians continued with the practice of associating the Messiah with the afikomen, rabbinical Judaism shifted the meaning to that of dessert (since it was the last foot eaten during the seder). Ironically, it was a non-believing Jewish scholar from Oxford, David Daube, who completed the definitive work on the afikomen, both linguistically and historically, revealing its messianic origins.

However it is not just some Jewish people who misunderstand the identity of Yeshua. Many people around our world do not see him as the one who came to redeem them, and are looking for someone or something else.

The afikomen is a remarkable echo of the voice of Messiah, saying – "I came." Did He come for you?

Matzah—The Sinlessness of Messiah

 When God instructed the Israelites how to observer Passover, the people were told to eat only unleavened bread for seven days (Ex. 12:15).

You might be wondering, "Why is that bread called matzah?"

There is a simple answer to that question – because it is shaped like matzah. It has holes like matzah. It is dry like matzah. And it tastes like matzah. What else could it be but matzah?

Actually matzah is made from just flour and water. It has no yeast to make it rise. But it is not just ordinary flour; it is flour that has been carefully watched to insure that it never touches water until the time of baking. Then it is mixed and kneaded into dough quickly and baked within 18 minutes before any rising can take place. In addition to leaving out leavening, perforations are made with a sharp-toothed wheel to keep the dough from rising during baking.

All other foods made with ordinary grains are prohibited during the Passover holiday, such as wheat, rye, oats, and barley. Sephardic Jews (from the Mediterranean and the Middle East) limit the prohibition to the grains. Ashkenazi (European) Jews take it one step further and ban beans, peas, corn and rice. Basically the restriction refers to all grains that swell up when they come in contact with water.

There is a Second instruction regarding unleavened bread in Exod. 12:15. The people were to remove all leaven (chametz) from their homes before observing Passover. Because of this biblical ordinance, it has been customary to conduct major housecleaning projects just prior to the holiday. All rooms, especially the kitchen, are cleaned. So the search is made to remove leavened products prior to Passover—bread crumbs on the floor, tortilla chips behind the couch, forgotten peanut butter and jelly sandwiches in a backpack—all of these wayward foods are purged from homes.

As a final ceremonial act, the father of the house searches for the last remaining crumb of leaven. He scrapes it up using a feather and then destroys it, often in a bonfire. Finally the house is declared cleansed, and the family is ready to celebrate Passover.

In addition, many Jews will also use special pots, dishes, and utensils that have never come in contact with leaven. In Israel, large boiling pots are placed in neighborhoods for making kitchen items suitable for Passover. Grocery stores in Israel also set aside all leavened foods and cannot be purchased a week before Passover.

A few years ago, the drinking water of Jerusalem was declared not kosher for Passover because it primarily came from the Sea of Galilee, where fishermen used bread for bait. The Chief Rabbi, however, overturned the ruling and recommended filtering the water instead.

While some of the practices have changed, the basic concept of cleaning out leaven from homes dates back to biblical days.

It was this subject that the Apostle Paul used to convey the importance of spiritual purity in 1 Cor. 5:6-7, saying,

"Do you not know that a little leaven leavens the whole lump of dough? Clean out the old leaven, that you may be a new lump, just as you are in fact unleavened."

What was he saying here? In Scripture, leaven is consistently used as a symbol for sin (cf. Lev. 6:17; Hosea 7:4). Leaven works by starting out in a small amount and then spreading throughout the dough. Likewise, when we allow sin to start in our lives, it typically spreads within us. In other words, if we give in to one sin, we are more likely to commit another one.

Paul was using the metaphor of matzah to convey the importance of keeping our lives free of sin. And he bases that admonition on a very sobering fact. Continuing in 1 Cor. 5:7, he reminds us – "For Messiah our Passover also has been sacrificed."

It was this piece of matzah—the afikomen—that Yeshua took during that last Passover with His disciples and confirmed that He was the promised Messiah and redeemer of Israel. Just as every leader of every Seder was doing in Jerusalem in that day, Yeshua took the afikomen matzah and divided it into pieces for everyone to eat. As Matthew records,

"Yeshua took some bread, and after a blessing, He broke it and gave it to the disciples" (Matt. 26:26)

But unlike other families in that day, he alone was qualified to say that it represented himself. For he alone was without sin. Thus Matthew goes on to record Yeshua's words in v. 26, saying, "Take, eat; this is My body."

His body was sinless. His mind and His very being was sinless. This principle is depicted elsewhere in Scripture –

 "And you know that He appeared in order to take away sins; and in Him there is no sin." (1 John 3:5)

Thus when we follow in His instructions to observe this memorial now known as the Lord's Supper, we are proclaiming the perfection of Christ. And as such, our symbol needs to represent that unique attribute of Christ. Not just any bread would suffice in the celebration of Passover. Likewise, when we celebrate the Lord's Supper, only unleavened bread accurately declares the sinless perfection of Christ.

Normally when people observe the Lord's Supper, there are some things that go unnoticed. Since Christians rarely receive the elements in the context of Passover, we don't see the matzah being broken and hidden. We don't notice that it was the second of three pieces of matzah, just as the Son is the second person of God's tri-unity. Since the bread is usually broken into pieces for convenience, we miss out on the symbolism of the piercings and the stripes manifested on the whole wafers.

Yet the symbolism is powerful. As the prophet Isaiah recorded, "he was pierced through for our transgressions" (Is. 53:5). Both Isaiah and Peter observed that "by his stripes we are healed" (Is. 53:5; 1 Pet. 2:25). Like Messiah who was broken in death, the afikomen is broken during the Seder and later redeemed back by paying a price. And both the afikomen and the Messiah are hidden and then revealed. That is the way it is for all of us. At one point in our lives, we are unaware of who He truly is and what He has done for us. But a day comes when His true identity is revealed to us and through faith we become part of His everlasting kingdom.

The imagery is unmistakable – for us to be redeemed by God, sin must be removed from our lives. And ultimately the only way that can happen is through the forgiveness made possible by a Savior who gave His life for us, even though He Himself never sinned. The afikomen matzah is the symbol of that great gift.

The Cup—The Sacrifice of Messiah

So if the afikomen is the bread of the Lord's Supper, what is the connection between Passover and the Communion Cup?

During the Seder, the eating of the afikomen is followed by the drinking of the third cup of wine. It is traditionally called the Cup of Redemption. But in a broader sense, this was the cup, which Yeshua took and declared to represent the blood which he was about to shed, a sacrificial act that would allow our sins to be "passed over" in the Day of Judgment. According to Matt. 26:27-28,

"And when He had taken a cup and given thanks, He gave it to them, saying, "Drink from it, all of you; for this is My blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for forgiveness of sins."

Cups are often symbolic of judgment in Scripture. The prophets spoke of them frequently in that sense (Isa. 51:17; Jer. 49:12; Hab. 2:16) as did John in the book of Revelation (Rev. 14:10). And on the eve of his crucifixion, Yeshua referred to his imminent death as a cup (Matt. 26:39).

Redemption literally means in the biblical sense, "to pay a ransom." In the same way that God delivered the Israelites from slavery in Egypt, Yeshua is able to deliver us from the slavery to sin. And quite literally, Yeshua paid the ransom with his very life.

Matt. 27:45 tells us Yeshua died between the 6th to 9th hour (in the way that time was reckoned in that day) which is 3:00-6:00 p.m. according to our measurement of time. What was happening at that time?

Thousands of his Jewish kinsmen were gathering in a designated area of the Temple in Jerusalem. Each one carried a lamb that was without spot or blemish—a visually perfect lamb. Each one laid his hands on the head of the animal, signifying his identification with it, and then sacrificed the animal and took it back to his home or where his family was staying to observe Passover. (Mishnah Pesahim 58a).

While this sacrificial ritual was taking place, a short distance away on another part of the same mountain top – a place called Golgotha, Yeshua was crucified. In other words, Yeshua's death, in perfect divine timing, occurred at the very moment when the Passover lambs were being slaughtered in Jerusalem. Surely He was the ultimate Passover lamb. As one who lived a sinless life, he was the perfect "lamb without spot or blemish."

Amazingly, the method of His death on the cross was foreshadowed in the commemoration of Passover. The final plague that came upon Egypt was the death of the firstborn. As the Angel of Death passed over the land of Egypt during the night, only those homes that had the blood of a lamb placed upon the doorway were spared the plague. The Israelites were called to follow some very specific instructions -

"And you shall take a bunch of hyssop and dip it in the blood which is in the basin, and apply some of the blood that is in the basin to the lintel and the two doorposts." (Ex. 12:22)

As God required, the blood was placed over the entrance to the home in the shape of a cross. So when the Angel of Death passed over those homes, it was the mark of blood in the shape of a cross that resulted in the sparing of their lives. Likewise, our sins are passed over eternally when our lives are "marked" with the blood of "the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world" (John 1:29).

During Passover, Jewish people are taught to consider themselves as having personally come forth from Egypt and as being eyewitnesses to the works of God. It is not just some distant ancestor who was passed over by the angel of death, and then marched across the Red Sea and received the Torah on Mt. Sinai. Every Jewish person in every generation is called to identify with this extended community.

In a similar fashion, may all of us who believe in Yeshua the Messiah consider ourselves as having come forth from Calvary and as being eyewitnesses to the works of the Savior. When He died on the cross, He died for me and for you.

For believers, these are days of true celebration—because our sins are forgiven, and our Messiah reigns from heaven. Yet He is still calling people from every tribe and language to receive His redemption. There is room for all of us beneath the Cross.

Dr. Galen Peterson
© 2003 American Remnant Mission