by Mark Robinson
The highlight of the entire Passover Seder is the drama surrounding the afikomen. At the beginning of the evening the leader of the Seder will lift up the tri-compartment matzoh bag, and remove the middle board of matzoh. This middle piece is then broken and the larger part is wrapped in a white linen napkin, and becomes known as the afikomen, which is then hidden somewhere in the home. After the meal the children will search for the afikomen, and the finder is rewarded with a gift. For a child, this is the most exciting part of the entire evening.
The destruction of Jerusalem in 70 A.D. had a major impact on the format of the Passover and the afikomen. The birth of Christianity and the surrounding culture, now that the Jewish people were in diaspora, also played a role in the way Passover evolved. Chaim Raphael in his A Feast of History: The Drama of Passover Through the Ages says, “[The Seder] was more sharply defined in its present form in the century after the destruction of the Temple – say between 100 and 150 C.E.” Raphael reveals the influence Greek thought had on the development of the Seder later in his book. The origin of the afikomen ritual is ancient, most likely predating the destruction of the Temple in 70 A.D. Jewish scholar David Daube1 argues persuasively that this is the case in his writings on the subject. Of extreme importance is his establishment of the afikomen with Messianic identification. He states that “…the decisive framework for a Messianic ritual is there, in the early sources” in arguing not only for a Messianic understanding of the afikomen, but for the use of the afikomen before 70 A.D. It is highly unlikely, though, that the drama of the matzoh bag of today was practiced before the destruction of the Temple in 70 A.D. Daube dates today’s routine as late as medieval times.
Simplistic beginnings of the afikomen have evolved to the present usage. Although various explanations are given for the three boards of matzoh, the primary explanation is that they represent the Kohanim, the Levites, and the Israelites. The Messianic identification of the afikomen is important in understanding this ritual. Quoting Daube again, “…granted the likelihood that the triplication of the cakes and their naming after the three estates [Kohanim, Levites, Israelites] are of medieval provenance, both are plainly developments of an initial, simpler rite – which already contained the representation of the people and its Messiah by the unleavened bread ceremoniously eaten at the supper.” The afikomen thus represents the Messiah. Additionally, some Jewish sources also identify the afikomen with the Passover Lamb. The meaning and importance of this can now begin to take focus.
Of the different explanations offered for the present ritual of the afikomen, only one has any basis in historical events. This is the one offered by Jewish people who believe in Jesus. The matzoh bag and its three matzoh do not represent the unity of Israel and the Kohanim, Levites, and Israelites. Rather, the bag represents the One God of Israel and the three persons of the Tri-unity2: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. These persons are identified in Isaiah 48:16.
It is the middle matzoh, representative of the Son, that is removed and broken, just as Jesus left heaven, became a man, and died for the sins of the world. The larger piece of matzoh is then wrapped in a linen napkin, which becomes the afikomen, representing the Messiah, as Jewish sources establish.
The afikomen is then hidden, and the child that finds it receives a reward or gift. After his death Jesus was hidden away (buried), but rose from the grave, and those who find Him, accept Him as their personal Messiah, receive the gift of eternal life (Romans 6:23).
Finally, even the meaning of the word afikomen (which is Greek) argues for the Messianic understanding of this routine. The common Jewish meaning of this word is either dessert or entertainment. Daube questions this understanding. He even makes the statement, “The Talmudic interpretations of the word Aphiqoman are wide off the mark – maybe deliberately so.”3 The Greek word for afikomen is aphikomenos, used in an aorist tense, and thus means “He has come.”
When the background of the afikomen is understood, its impact is enormous. It speaks of the Messiah who came, was cut off and buried, brought back, and the finder of Him receives a gift. This is the biblical portrait of the work of the Messiah which is developed in detail in Isaiah 53, and corresponds with the ritual of the afikomen in the Passover Seder. The only one in history who fulfills this picture is Jesus.
1. The following quotes of David Daube come from a written version of his address at St. Paul’s Lecture founded by the London Diocesan Council for Christian-Jewish Understanding.
2. For a more detailed consideration of this, contact Jewish Awareness Ministries Outreach Ministries for the author’s pamphlet “One God: or Three?”; John Metzger’s book The Tri-Unity of God is Jewish; or Stan Rosenthal’s book, One God or Three?
3. Daube, David, The Significance of the Afikoman, Pointer, The Union of Liberal and Progressive Synagogues, London, Spring, 1968.
Your ideas about the afikomen are beautiful and well-written. The only thing I might disagree with is that the concept of “Messiah” and “sacrifice” of the afikomen should not be exclusive or limited to Lord Jesus. When I grew up in my Jewish household, we understood that the afikomen represented Isaac, kohanim, as well as the Messiah concept of the future which is there for us always.
Isaac was the child who represented the future generations of Israel who Abraham was going to sacrifice. To sacrifice your child for God represents the deepest level of sacrifice and understanding of thinking about the future. Obviously God would not have it, but the concept is deep and powerful. The passover celebration can not end until the afikomen is eaten. The children find this afikomen and only give it back for eating after some reward is given. There reminds the family that the children bring this messianic hope and new knowledge for the future of heaven on earth. It helps the children understand that they are indeed powerful and important in this process.
It is clear that this afikomen can also represent Lord Jesus. You illustrated this very well in your essay… But we shouldn’t limit the ceremony to only that meaning. The afikomen represents the deepest sacrifice and search that we must all make for renewal.
There are a number of Jewish explanations for the afikomen, as you state.
The “drama” of the afikomen is a “picture” that is only seen in what the Messiah, Jesus, did. When was Isaac or the Kohanim broken, hidden away, and then brought back? Never.
But Jesus was killed, “cut off”, for the sins of the world, buried (hidden away), and then raised from the grave, “brought back”, as the afikomen “drama” depicts.
Certainly one is free to apply this as they choose, but the historical evidence convincingly argues that it is a picture of the work of Jesus as Messiah and Savior.
The Rabbis can not explain why the middle Mitzoh is broken.If they think the 3 mitzoh represent Abraham, isaac and Jacob or Preists, Levites and Israel then why the center Mitzoh broken? Why not Abraham or Jacob…or Priests or Israel nation? It was the middle of the 3 Godhead, Jesus, who was to picture Isaac and who would be our Priest.
Could this represent the “Book of the Covenant” (EX 25) broken then place inside the ark because it was not received in faith. SO we have the Book of the Law placed outside the Ark (Duet 31) as a witness against your until the “seed” comes and then is is revealed via a re-newed covenant and taken it’s rightful place witten on your heart in the Holy Place of your temple (Jer 31 and Eze 36) by faith in Messiah
Great that you are one of the not too many who understand The Book of the Covenant (Gen 1:1-Ex 24:11, specifically Ex 24:7) and The Book of the Law (Lev 1:1-Deut 34:13, specifically Deut 28:61, 29:21, 30:10, 31:26). Interesting insight