by Mark Robinson
The long evening of the Seder was winding down. A few hours earlier family and friends had gathered for the beginning of the annual tradition of the Passover Seder; it seemed as if the reading of the Passover Haggadah would never get to the place where the meal is served. The first and the second cup of wine were finished. Finally, we were at the point of serving dinner. The feast was brought in and grateful people enjoyed the food and fellowship.
As the meal approached its conclusion, the young children were excited about searching for the afikomen, knowing a gift awaited the finder. The children eagerly searched high and low until the one fortunate child found the afikomen. With the afikomen “redeemed” by the leader of the Seder, the evening continued with the reading of the Haggadah. The third cup of wine was one of the first items on the agenda after the afikomen.
Nearing the close of the Passover service, one last cup of wine was to be partaken. The symbolism of this cup is missed by modern participants of the Seder, as well as by many Christians. Pull up a chair and consider the impact of the fourth cup of wine – the cup of acceptance.
Four cups of wine
For centuries, every Seder has had four cups of wine as an integral part of the service. This tradition dates back before New Testament times. Each of these cups has a name derived from the “I wills” in Exodus 6:6-7.
6 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:
7 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 first cup is referred to as “the cup of sanctification.” The second cup is known as “the cup of praise.” The third cup is “the cup of redemption.” And the fourth cup is “the cup of acceptance.”
The promise incumbent in the cup of acceptance lends to a fascinating study in the word of God. The promise “I will take you to me for a people, and I will be to you a God,” or its similar thought, “they shall be my people, and I will be their God,” is used no less than ten other times in the Old Testament, beside the verse in Exodus (Jeremiah 24:7; 31:1,33; 32:38; Ezekiel 11:20; 34:31; 37:23,26; Zech. 8:8; 13:9). These 10 other usages are all in an eschatological context around the return of the Jesus at the end of the Tribulation period and His revelation of Himself to Israel as her Messiah and God. Each of these instances are in the future tense, “I will take…they shall be…,” but one is, I believe, unique in how this phrase is expressed.
Space does not allow us to look at all these passages, so we will briefly look at three; one each from Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and Zechariah.
The New Covenant
Jer. 31:33 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.
These verses are part of the greater promise of the New Covenant (Jer. 31:31-34). Mentioned only once in the Hebrew Scriptures as the New Covenant, this promised covenant is referenced probably no less than seventeen times in the Hebrew Scriptures1. The focus of these passages is future. The covenant’s promise is certain – its implementation is future.
The New Covenant is specifically promised to the Jewish people, “this shall be the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel.” The promise is collective, “to the house of Israel” (Isaiah 66:8; Matt. 23:39; Romans 11:26-27; Zech. 12:10), although it will be entered into on an individual basis (Zech. 12:11-14; Joel 2:32).
The miracle of the New Covenant is the internal transformation brought about in individuals. “I will put my law in their inward parts, and write it in their hearts.” In contrast with the Old Testament, the Mosaic Law, in which the teachings were external and to be applied internally, the New Covenant’s teachings are internal and will be manifested externally in the lives of people.
When individuals enter into the New Covenant, not only are they transformed, but they become God’s people, or children, as we are taught here and in other Scriptures. “[I] will be their God, and they shall be my people” is a promise that when the New Covenant is established between God and Israel, there will be a special relationship between God and the Jewish people. This is not denying the unique and special relationship God has now with the nation of Israel (Deut. 7:6-8) but speaks of a unique, personal relationship with God every individual Jewish person will have at the time of the fulfillment of the New Covenant.
The Covenant of Peace
Ezek. 37:26 Moreover I will make a covenant of peace with them; it shall be an everlasting covenant with them: and I will place them, and multiply them, and will set my sanctuary in the midst of them for evermore. 27 My tabernacle also shall be with them: yea, I will be their God, and they shall be my people.
Ezekiel refers to a “covenant of peace” with Israel. This covenant is the same as the “New Covenant.” At the time of this “covenant of peace,” God will set His sanctuary in the middle of Israel. He will dwell with them.
The context of this passage is the last days when God has gathered the Jewish people back to the land from all countries (Ezek. 36:24; 37:1-8), given them a new heart and put His spirit in them, as individuals, causing them to keep His laws (Ezek. 36:26-27). It will be after much warfare, the time referred to as the Tribulation period (Ezek. 38-39).
Notice the phrase, “I will be their God, and they shall be my people. This covenant of peace, what Bible believers usually refer to as the New Covenant, will establish a unique relationship between God and Jewish people. As mentioned earlier, unique in that it is a personal relationship between the individual Jewish person and God. Unique also, in that all Jewish people, all Israel, living at this time will enter into this relationship with God.
Entering the Covenant
Zech. 13:8 And it shall come to pass, that in all the land, saith the LORD, two parts therein shall be cut off and die; but the third shall be left therein. 9 And I will bring the third part through the fire, and will refine them as silver is refined, and will try them as gold is tried: they shall call on my name, and I will hear them: I will say, It is my people: and they shall say, The LORD is my God.
This passage starts out detailing the devastating loss of life among the Jewish people during this coming period of Tribulation. Two thirds of the Jewish people will die during this time. This period of distress (other passages tell us it will be seven years long) is not without its purposes.
One of the purposes is to prepare a remnant of Jewish people to receive their Messiah. “I will bring the third part through the fire, and will refine them as silver is refined, and will try them as gold is tried: they shall call on my name.” Zechariah 12:1-10 gives us further information on this climatic event when all nations have come against Israel, Messiah defends Israel, and the remaining Jewish people “shall look upon me whom they have pierced.”
When Israel calls on His name, Jesus, He will hear them. The promise of this is future, “And I will bring the third part through the fire, and will refine them as silver is refined, and will try them as gold is tried: they shall call on my name, and I will hear them.” (Emphasis added)
What is different, though, from the other ten passages is that the prayer, although future, is in the present tense. God will say, It is my people and the people of Israel shall say, The LORD is my God (emphasis added). The future now becomes the present. The promise now becomes reality.
During Jesus’ last Passover Seder, I believe it was the cup of acceptance Jesus referred to when He said, “…I will not drink henceforth of this fruit of the vine, until that day when I drink it new with you in my Father’s kingdom (Matthew 26:29).” Jesus knew that He would be rejected by the nation of Israel, just as the prophets had predicted. Israel would turn her back on God’s promised Messiah. Instead of the kingdom being established at that time, the Messiah became the sacrificial Lamb of God who would provide spiritual redemption for all people.
No, it was not at this time that He would drink this last cup of wine with His people. That would have to wait for His second coming, the Kingdom Age, the promised time when Israel would embrace Him as their Messiah and King and they would be received as the children of God.
The promise of acceptance of Exodus 6:7, “And I will take you to me for a people, and I will be to you a God…” will one day be realized. Israel will accept her Messiah and He will accept them. The prophet Zechariah saw this day when he penned the ultimate fulfillment of this promise, “…they shall call on my name, and I will hear them: I will say, It is my people, and they shall say, The LORD is my God. (Zech. 13:9)” or, as he said earlier, “…and they shall look upon me whom they have pierced… (Zech. 12:10).”
As Israel accepts her Messiah Jesus, God, in return, will receive them into His family and Kingdom. The time for the drinking of that fourth cup will have arrived.
1. “Everlasting covenant” – Is. 55:3; 61:8; Jer. 32:40; 50:5; Ezekiel 16:60; 37:26
“New heart,” “circumcised heart” or “new spirit” – Deut. 30:6; Jer. 32:39; Ezekiel 11:19; 36:26
“Covenant of peace” – Isaiah 54:10; Ezekiel 34:25; 37:26
“A covenant” or “my covenant” – Isaiah 42:6; 49:8; 59:21; Hosea 2:18-20