By Rev. Dan Bergman
Trying to fully grasp the modern Passover can be an intimidating task to any believer who has not experienced the unique perspective of a Jewish upbringing. Although of Jewish heritage on my father’s side, like many “Samaritans”, I was raised in a church-going home. I had no inkling of what it was like to be brought up Jewish. My father’s experience with the synagogue didn’t extend beyond his childhood. A few years after my salvation as a teenager, I headed off to Bible College in order to prepare for the ministry the Lord had called me to. By the spring of my junior year, I had become part of a small group of students who were interested in Jewish ministry. Then came the question. “Hey, you’ve got a Jewish background, right? Could you lead us in a Passover Seder?”
“You’re kidding, right?” was my thought.
Sure enough, no one was kidding. Like any young preacher-boy, I whole-heartedly stepped up to the plate (although I had no idea what I was doing). One of the students gave me a Haggadah (literally “showing forth”) that shows the Passover from a Jewish–Christian perspective. This small booklet was the order of service for the Passover Seder.
Upon returning to my dorm room, with a very small window of time with which to acquaint myself with this ancient Jewish feast, I began thumbing through the Haggadah like a student “cramming” for finals. My pace soon slowed as I began to discover the deep meanings behind this incredible night. One of the greatest discoveries I made that day, was that of the meaning of the four cups of wine.
Four Cups of Wine
During the Seder, the cup of each participant is filled, and drank four separate times. I found that each of these cups, with their own order, blessing, and name, symbolize a part of God’s four-fold promise of redemption found in Exodus 6:6, 7.
“Wherefore say unto the children of Israel, I am the Lord, and I will bring you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians, 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.” Emphasis added
The tradition of the four cups of wine were not in place when the Hebrew slaves experienced the first Passover, but it was definitely practiced by the first century.
CUP 1: SANCTIFICATION
After the lighting of the candles and the blessing that corresponds, the command to keep the Passover is read from Exodus 12 – then comes the first cup, the cup of sanctification. Ask most Bible-believing Christians what sanctification means, and you will likely receive a response along the lines of “being made holy” or “set-aside.” That would also be true of this cup. The cup does not make us holy, or separate, but rather, it sets aside this night as special. It characterizes this night as different from all other nights of the year. None of the meanings of these cups should be derived apart from the main event of the first Passover – the slaying of the lamb, and the spreading of his blood on the doorposts to stay the Lord’s hand from taking the life of the first-born within that house. That was a very special night – as was the night in which our Lord was betrayed. In that same night, He and His disciples celebrated this historic event. It was set apart. As the promise stated, “I will bring you out”. God would separate His people from the Egyptians through the Passover. The Lord sanctifies those who know Him as Lord and Savior from those who do not.As Hebrews states, “…we are sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.”1
CUP 2: PRAISE
The second cup comes much later in the Seder. It is known as the cup of Praise, or Hallel. It can be found just after the reading of Psalms 113 and 114 in what is known as the Hallel. The participants are encouraged to praise the Lord for what he has done through the Passover. This cup corresponds to the phrase “I will rid you out of their bondage.”2 One may ask, “Isn’t that the same thing as bringing you out from under their burdens?”
Well, no. The Lord wouldn’t have said it the way that He did, if it was supposed to mean the exact same thing as the first promise. It is similar, but carries with it an amazing truth. The first promise was to be brought out from under their burdens. You and I were born sinners. Through our life we carried a burden, a load of sin with its guilt and consequences on our shoulders. Through salvation, the Lord has brought us out from under that load – but that’s not all He did. Are we in bondage anymore? No!
“Even so we, when we were children, were in bondage under the elements of the world: But when the fulness of the time was come, God sent forth his Son, made of a woman, made under the law, to redeem them that were under the law, that we might receive the adoption of sons.”3
That is the point of this second cup, and our reason to praise Him! We are not simply out from under the burden of sin, but He has rid us of its bondage! Praise the Lord!
CUP 3: REDEMPTION
Following the meal, and the breaking of bread (which is referred to as the Afikomen), the third cup is poured. What is special about this cup? If one would search the Gospel account of the Lord’s Supper, they would find that the Afikomen was signified by Jesus to symbolize His body, the wine of this, the third cup, His blood. This is the cup of Redemption.
This cup in its origin was based upon the phrase from Exodus 6, “I will redeem you.” As we read in the above mentioned Galatians passage, the primary role of the Messiah was to redeem. God told Moses to tell the Children of Israel, “וְגָאַלְתִּי אֶתְכֶם” (and I will redeem you). The Hebrew verb ga’al “to redeem” literally means to reclaim as one’s own.4 The Lord was reclaiming ownership of His people from Pharaoh and the Egyptian taskmasters. He brought them out of slavery through the Passover.
Mankind, Jews and Gentiles alike, are in bondage and are under a curse. That curse holds a tighter grip on humanity than Pharaoh and his armies ever could. It is the curse of sin, of imperfection, of falling short of God’s standard of holiness. The Law, although perfect and good, only amplified this imperfection. Like a powerful microscope to cancerous tissue, the Law pinpoints our problem. We need redemption.
When Jesus raised that third cup, He said “Drink ye all of it; for this is my blood of the new testament, which is shed for many for the remission of sins.”5
With that statement Jesus made an incredible connection between an event that took place 1,400 years before His birth and a prophecy that was penned 600 years before. The event was the Passover. The prophecy was from Jeremiah.
“Behold, the days come, saith the Lord, that I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel, and with the house of Judah: not according to the covenant that I made with their fathers in the day that I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt; which my covenant they brake, although I was an husband unto them, saith the Lord: but this shall be the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel; after those days, saith the Lord, I will put my law in their inward parts, and write it in their hearts; and will be their God, and they shall be my people. And they shall teach no more every man his neighbour, and every man his brother, saying, know the Lord: for they shall all know me, from the least of them unto the greatest of them, saith the Lord: for I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more.” Jeremiah 31:31-34emphasis added
When Jesus made that statement in the upper room, He equated His own blood with that of the Paschal lamb. It was His blood that would make possible all of the promises of Jeremiah 31. The average Christian may read Jesus’ statement from Matthew 26, and conclude that this was simply the institution of the Lord’s Supper as a memorial. It was certainly that, but so much more! This was the culmination and connection of centuries of tradition, prophecy, and hope. This was redemption, and it all centered around the third cup.
CUP 4: ACCEPTANCE
There remains yet one last cup in the Passover Seder, the cup of Acceptance. The phrase that this cup is based on “I will take you to me for a people,”6 interestingly parallels a phrase from the New Covenant prophecy in Jeremiah “(I)will be their God, and they shall be my people.”7 Although the literal fulfillment of this exact prophecy in its context leads us to Zechariah 12:10 and 13:9, where Israel sees Jesus at His second coming, and accepts Him as their Messiah, one cannot deny the fact that believers are now “accepted in the beloved.”8 Nor can we ignore the passage in which Peter stated that “ye should shew forth the praises of him who hath called you out of darkness into his marvellous light: Which in time past were not a people, but are now the people of God.”9 This cup is quite possibly the cup Jesus referred to when he told His disciples that He would not drink of it until He was with them again in His Father’s kingdom.10
As nervous as I may have been in leading the first Seder I had ever been to, I was greatly calmed by the incredible truths that I found in my study of the four cups. Everything went as it was supposed to, and I was greatly blessed by the rich connections between the first Passover in Egypt, and the Passover celebrated by our Savior the very night He was arrested, to shortly thereafter shed His own blood as our Passover. May Passover, with Christ as THE Passover Lamb, also be your blessing!
1 Hebrews 10:10
2 Exodus 6:6
3 Galatians 4:3–5
4 William Lee Holladay and Ludwig Kohler, A Concise Hebrew and Aramaic Lexicon of the Old Testament (Leiden: Brill, 2000), 52.
5 Matthew 26:27–28
6 Exodus 6:7
7 Jeremiah 31:33
8 Ephesians 1:6
9 1 Peter 2:9–10
10 Matthew 26:29