What is commonly known today as Jesus' last supper is really a Passover Seder meal. Jesus, being an observant Jew, was also required to go to Jerusalem and celebrate the Passover slaughtering of the Paschal Lamb. This event took place on the evening before His death, probably on the 14th of Nissan, the traditional day for the Passover Seder.
The Seder meal has changed over time, especially after the destruction of the temple in 70 A.D. There is still a resemblance between the traditional seder meal and the last supper. The Gospel accounts of the Passover Seder may only give reference to two cups of wine while today's Seder uses four.
Both the Seder meal and communion are to be a time of self-examination. It is a time of introspection to solemnly search our heart for sin in our life and make a commitment to do something about it. It is a time to remember our Saviors last meal.
Jesus said a blessing over wine (a Kiddush - Luke 22:17-18), which would have represented the traditional first cup of wine at the Seder. A blessing over the fruit of the vine is the appropriate blessing for a glass of wine at the Kiddush.
In John 13:4-5, we read about Jesus washing the feet of the disciples. This may have been a substitution of/or in addition to the ceremonial washing of hands. Also during this time, there would have been a second cup of wine poured and drunk along with the asking of the traditional four questions. Then the unleavened bread would be broken and a blessing said.
After the second cup of wine is drunk (no scriptural reference), Jesus takes a piece of something off the Seder table and dips it into either the bitter herbs or Haroseth and then hands it to Judas (John 13:26,27, This is probably not the same bread as Matthew 26:26).
At this point in the Passover Seder, the lamb would be eaten. Notice Judas left before this happened. This would have made him subject to the consequences of Numbers 9:13, which says, "But if a man who is ceremonially clean and not on a journey fails to celebrate the Passover, that person must be cut off from his people because he did not present the LORD's offering at the appointed time. That man will bear the consequences of his sin" (Numbers 9:13).
After the Lamb is eaten, the third cup of wine is poured. This was the time of a traditional prayer known as blessings (grace) after meals. This prayer is still said at the end of every meal, not just at Passover.
1 Corinthians 11:23-24 gives us some insight to what happed at Jesus' Seder table.
"For I received from the Lord what I also passed on to you: The Lord Jesus, on the night he was betrayed, took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, 'This is my body, which is for you; do this in remembrance of me" (1 Corinthians 11:23-24).
It is important to see that Jesus applied two of the main parts of the Seder to His life: the unleavened bread and one cup of wine. By applying the bread, Jesus was saying that His life contained no sin. Jesus equated leaven (yeast) with sin in Matthew 16:11 and Mark 8:15.
In His hands, the unleavened Bread of Affliction, symbolizing the suffering of Israel, became something more - it became His affliction and suffering. The Third Cup of Redemption, symbolic of the blood of the Passover Lamb, became the redeeming power of His own blood, shed for the remission of sins (Matthew 26:28). From that moment forward, the Passover meal was forever transformed.(1)
Blessing over third cup.
In the same way, after supper He took the cup, saying, "This cup is the new covenant in my blood; do this, whenever you drink it, in remembrance of me" (1 Corinthians 11:25).
In the Seder meal, the third cup immediately follows supper. It also corresponds to the third promise of Exodus 6:6, "I will redeem you."
Traditional Jewish teaching on the four cups of wine at the Passover Seder were as follows. The Mishna teaches that according to Rabbi Yohanon and Rabbi Benayah, these four cups of wine correspond to the four verbs in Exodus 6:6-7 describing God's redemption.
"I will bring you out,I will deliver,I will redeem and I will take you."(Exodus 6:6-7)
The cup of redemption that Jesus referred to here symbolized the redemption He was about to offer us through His death (Ephesians 1:7).
It is because of this symbolism that Christians observe the communion ritual today.
Also at this time, there would have been singing of the Psalms and a fourth cup of wine poured and drank. Then time was spent in fellowship and singing of hymns that were traditional hymns of the holiday.
Consider this passage found in Matthew:
This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins. I tell you, I will not drink of this fruit of the vine from now on until that day when I drink it anew with you in my Father's kingdom. When they had sung a hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives (Matthew 26:28-30).
Although this is a rough estimate to tie in the last supper and a Passover Seder together, it is very possible that things happened close to how they were prepared here. Some like to call the fourth cup of wine the cup of redemption instead of the third and say that this cup is never really fully empty until Messiah comes back and redeems Israel. It is possible that the fourth cup wasn't added to the Passover Seder until after the destruction of the temple in 70 A.D. Since the Seder has been through so many changes, it is sometimes hard to pinpoint where and when the changes were made.
Read The Four Cups Of Wine to learn more about this part of the traditional Passover meal.
Was The Last Supper A Passover Seder?
Learn more about The Holiday Of Passover.
Judas is believed to be the one who brought fulfillment to Psalm 41:9.
The act of communion, eating a small piece of bread and drinking a little bit of wine or juice is done in remembrance of the Last Supper at most churches today.
1). Chosen People Ministries Newsletter April 2008.
Some of this outline was found in a book published by Jews for Jesus called Christ In The Passover. The book is authored by Ceil and Moishe Rosen.
The Feast of Israel by Bruce Scott of Friends of Israel Ministries.