The Cup of Redemption
by Barney Kasdan, Messianic Rabbi
Our G-d, the G-d of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, loves symbolism. Perhaps it is because He realizes that we mortals have a difficult time comprehending the things of the Spirit. Yet G-d wants us to understand Him, indeed to know Him in a very personal way. Nowhere does the use of symbolism shine forth more strongly than in the Biblical Holy Day of Pesach, Passover. Through the course of the Seder meal, we make use of a rather strange variety of elements such as parsley, horseradish, and matzah. Yet, all of this is vital for believers to understand not only because it is based on Biblical commandments, but also because the Messiah Yeshua (Jesus of Nazareth) celebrated this beautiful Feast. In fact He chose Pesach to teach His followers many lessons about the work that He could accomplish as Messiah.
For generations Israel has celebrated the 4 Cups of Passover. These were to symbolize the 4 promises which G-d made to our people in Exodus 6:6-7: “I will bring you out…I will deliver you…I will redeem you…then I will take you for my people.” What promises these are to celebrate! For Messianic believers the third cup is especially significant.
The Cup of Redemption, as it is called, was of course to remind the Jew of our physical redemption. It is a rich word (ga alti) that G-d uses to describe a slave being bought out of the slave market. And if anyone could understand the concept of redemption it was that generation that was delivered from Egypt! For over 400 years our people had been literal slaves but suddenly they were set free. In a most dramatic way G-d illustrated this redemption through the slaying of the Passover Lamb:
“for the L-rd will pass through to smite the Egyptians; and when He sees the blood on the lintel and on the two doorposts, the L-rd will pass over the door and will not allow the destroyer to come into your houses to smite you.” (Exodus 12:33)
Even after that first Passover, Jews continued to remember the redemption; not with the literal blood on the doorposts, but with the third cup of the Passover Seder called the Cup of Redemption. We were slaves, but now we are free! How? By the death of that innocent Passover lamb. To many modern Jews this might sound like outdated superstition. But I can’t think of a more practical way to test the true faith of a person; afterall, faith is merely submitting to what G-d says we should do. G-d was showing us that redemption would be realized only as we trusted in His way. We must be brought out of slavery by the purchase made by G-d Himself.
In light of this history of the Cup of Redemption, it is fascinating to take a look at the Passover Seder that Yeshua celebrated with His disciples. He had already proclaimed time and again that He was in fact the Messiah sent from G-d. He had performed many attesting miracles to back up those claims to our people. But what symbol could illustrate to the Jewish disciples the reality of Messiah’s redemption?
“And He took a cup (the third cup) and gave thanks and gave it to them saying ‘Drink from it, all of you; for this is My blood of the covenant which is to be shed on behalf of many for forgiveness of sins.” (Matthew 26:27-28)
Imagine the impact this must have had on those disciples! They had celebrated Pesach for many years. Every year they drank the third cup, the Cup of Redemption, to commemorate the physical deliverance from the bondage of Egypt; a deliverance that was symbolically paid for by the death of an innocent lamb. Yeshua of course joyfully celebrated this historical deliverance as well. It was a miracle of G-d! But what is amazing about that last Passover Seder is that Yeshua expanded the meaning of many of the symbols. For Messianic believers the third cup would now also commemorate the spiritual redemption from the bondage of sin and death. This redemption would likewise be purchased by the death of an innocent sacrifice. Not that lamb of Passover, but of the greater fulfillment; the Lamb of G-d, the Messiah Himself! As the disciples raised that Cup of Redemption, they were to remember the blood of the lamb in Egypt. Now this spiritual message would be fulfilled, as Yeshua said “this (cup) is My blood of the Covenant!”
Today most Christians recognize this symbolism in what is called the “Eucharist,” “Communion,” or “The L-rds Supper.” But with proper understanding of Bible history, I think we can see that it is really the spiritual reality behind Passover. It was not something new that Yeshua created, but rather the fulfillment of something very old.
For this reason, the Passover Seder does not become less important for believers in Yeshua (contrary to what some may say). But indeed it becomes all the more important as G-d’s teaching tool of our redemption! For us it is a great privilege to gather at the Passover table, to lift the Cup of Redemption and to celebrate the redemption paid for by our Messiah. As Rabbi Saul of Tarsus reminded the early believers:
“For Messiah our Passover also has been sacrificed. Let us therefore celebrate the Feast! ” (1 Cor. 5:8)
To this the Messianic believers of today respond with a heartfelt “Amen.”