The Cup of the Covenant

“Therefore say to the children of Israel, ‘I am the LORD; I will bring you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians, I will rescue you from their bondage, and I will redeem you with an outstretched arm and with great judgements” Exodus 6:6.
This year, Pesach and Easter coincide reminding us that “the last supper” was Jesus’ final Passover meal with his disciples. At that time, Jesus himself was to become the sacrificial lamb, as John the Baptist proclaimed at the beginning of Jesus’ public ministry: “Behold! The Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world”.

In Jerusalem, tens of thousands of lambs were inspected in the days leading up to Passover, to see if they were perfect enough for sacrifice. In the week before his death, Jesus too was tested, as the religious authorities tried –but failed – to catch him out with trick questions before resorting to bringing out false witnesses to testify against him. Three times Pilate said, “I find no fault in him” and even Pilate’s wife warned her husband, “Have nothing to do with that just man.”

The Passover re-enacts the last meal before the flight from Egypt using various visual aids, including four cups of wine that are taken at specific times. Luke 22:17-20 mentions two of these, “Then he took the cup, and gave thanks, and said, ‘Take this and divide it among yourselves; for I say to you, I will not drink the fruit of the vine until the kingdom of God comes.’ And he took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to them, saying, ‘This is my body which is given for you; do this in remembrance of me.’ Likewise he also took the cup after supper, saying, ‘This cup is the new covenant in my blood, which is shed for you.’”

According to the Haggadah, an order of service used at Passover, the first cup speaks of sanctification. Following the Passover meal, Jesus prayed to the Father for his disciples, “Sanctify them by your truth. Your word is truth. As you sent me into the world, I also have sent them into the world. And for their sakes I sanctify myself, that they also may be sanctified by the truth”.

The second cup represents deliverance, the third cup redemption and the final one completion. These remind Jewish people of their deliverance from slavery in Egypt and the redemption of the firstborn by the blood of an unblemished lamb smeared on the doorposts. How appropriate that Jesus, as he took one of the last two cups, should speak of his body being broken as he broke the unleavened Passover matzos, and his blood being poured out to establish the New Covenant.

Perhaps Jesus deferred the final cup, for in Gethsemane he prayed: “My Father, if it is not possible for this cup to be taken away unless I drink it, may your will be done”. Then, in John 19: 28-30 we read, “After this, Jesus, knowing that all things were now accomplished, that the Scripture might be fulfilled, said, ‘I thirst!’ Now a vessel full of sour wine was sitting there; and they filled a sponge with sour wine, put it on hyssop, and put it to his mouth. So when Jesus had received the sour wine, he said, ‘It is finished!’ And bowing his head, he gave up his spirit.”

The four cups remind us that Jesus purifies us by his Spirit so that we are sanctified, set apart, to glorify God. He has delivered us from evil, slavery to sin, and death. “In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins in accordance with the riches of God’s grace”. And because of his last words on the cross – “It is finished” – we know that Jesus completed what he had come to do – to give salvation and eternal life to all who believe.

This article first appeared in the Spring 2009 issue of the Herald

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