Passover – The 4 cups

While Yeshua certainly fulfilled the prophecies concerning Messiah Son of Joseph (משיח בן־יוסף‎‎, Mashiach ben Yoseph), i.e. the suffering servant, it seems interesting that he also respected some of the things that were traditions during his life. Among these things are a number of elements of the Passover meal (פסח סדר‎‎, Pesach Seder) traditions. An example are the 4 cups that are traditionally drunk during the meal.

Traditional basis for the cups

The Mishnah explains that drinking four cups is essential, although the text is not very explicit as to the reason for those cups:

[…] And they must give him no fewer than four cups of wine, even from the charity plate. They pour the first cup [of wine] for [the leader of the seder], […] and then recites a blessing over the wine. […] They pour a second cup [of wine] for him. And here the son questions his father. […] After they poured for him the third cup, he blesses over his food. The fourth [cup of wine], he completes over it the Hallel, and he recites over it the blessing of the song. Between these cups, if he wants to drink, he may drink, but between the third and the fourth he may not drink. […]
Excerpts of Mishnah, Seder Moed, Pesachim 101

These four cups are named using an excerpt from Exodus 6:

Say therefore to the people of Israel, ‘I am the Lord, and I will bring you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians, and I will deliver you from slavery to them, and I will redeem you with an outstretched arm and with great acts of judgment. I will take you to be my people, and I will be your God, and you shall know that I am the Lord your God, who has brought you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians.
Exodus 6:6-7

Based on the Mishnah explanation and Exodus 6, the four cups are named, but this is slightly different in the various traditions:2

  1. The cup of sanctification or blessing (Kadesh, קדש‎‎)
  2. The cup of deliverance or judgement, i.e. plagues, in which a drop of wine is put on the plate for each plague
  3. The cup of redemption or the cup of blessing (for the food, i.e. the Passover sacrifice)
  4. The cup of praise (Hallel, הלל‎‎) or restoration, also called the cup of acceptance or the cup of Elijah

Yeshua’s cups

When reading Luke’s narrative of Yeshua’s celebration of Pesach right before his death, it becomes apparent that he understood this tradition:

Then came the day of Unleavened Bread, on which the Passover lamb had to be sacrificed. […] And when the hour came, he reclined at table, and the apostles with him. And he said to them, “I have earnestly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer. For I tell you I will not eat it until it is fulfilled in the kingdom of God.” And he took a cup, and when he had given thanks he said, “Take this, and divide it among yourselves. For I tell you that from now on I will not drink of the fruit of the vine until the kingdom of God comes.” And he took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to them, saying, “This is my body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” And likewise the cup after they had eaten, saying, “This cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood.
Luke 22:7,14-20

In this text, Yeshua begins the celebration with the cup of blessing (Luke 22:17). The next cup in this text is the third cup, the cup of redemption or blessing after the meal. So where is the second cup, the cup of plagues? And where is the fourth cup, the cup of praise?

It appears that Yeshua drinks the cups not simply in the in a small Pesach celebration with his disciples, but in a grand Pesach Seder involving the entire world.

With his first cup, Yeshua started the meal (Luke 22:17) and let us participate in his grand Seder with him:

The cup of blessing that we bless, is it not a participation in the blood of Christ? The bread that we break, is it not a participation in the body of Christ?
1 Cor. 10:16

Yeshua spoke of the second cup, the cup of judgement, shortly after the celebration with his disciples. This is the cup he drank on the cross. This is the judgement that we deserved, the plague he took by dying for us:

He said: “Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me. Nevertheless, not my will, but yours, be done.”
Luke 22:42

He literally drank this cup while hanging on the cross:

The soldiers also mocked him, coming up and offering him sour wine.
Luke 23:36

We see the cup of plagues reappear in the book of Revelations (chap. 16), where all people who did not accept Yeshua’s drinking of that cup have to take that weight on themselves, and creation suffers with them. And like Yeshua drank it out and said: “It is finished!”, so is the judgement at the end (Rev. 16:17).

Yeshua fulfilled the cup of redemption by speaking the blessing of thanks for the meal (Luke 22:20), which included the lamb sacrifice, i.e. his own death, as he is the Lamb of God (John 1:29-34).3 After the meal, Yeshua and his disciples sang the Hallel psalms.4

And finally the fourth cup: Earlier, during the celebration with his disciples, Yeshua had alluded to it by announcing that he would not drink another cup until the kingdom of God comes (Luke 22:18). This announced the fourth cup, the cup of praise for the coming of God’s kingdom and his return as Messiah the king (משיח בן־דוד‎‎, Mashiach ben David).

References

1 Mishnah, Seder Moed, Pesachim 10 (Link) on eMishnah.com

2 Article on the four cups, by Chabad (Link)
3 Yeshua was the Lamb of God fit for the Pesach sacrifice because John, as a son of Zechariah the High priest (Luke 1:3ff), was legally allowed to declare lambs pure for a Pesach sacrifice.
4 The Hallel Psalms (113-118) were usually sung both at the end of the meal (Mat. 26:30, Marc 14:26) and during the offering of the Pesach sacrifice

Additional information

  • Jews for Jesus, The mystery of the Passover cup (Link)
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