Biblical scholars are well aware of the fact that Jesus celebrated the Passover and that his celebration of this Mosaic festival must shape our understanding of the Lord’s Supper. But while these scholars stress the salvific significance of Passover, they virtually ignore its important eschatological background. (For the uninitiated, eschatology usually refers to what might happen towards the end of history). So, what does Passover have to do with eschatology in Matthew 26:26-29?
Passover evokes the story of the Exodus and God’s delivery of the Jewish people from slavery. Passover also evokes the story of Mt. Sinai and the ratification of the Mosaic covenant that formally established Israel as a nation. Jesus’ declaration that, “this is my blood of the covenant” clearly echoes the words of Exodus 24:8: “This is the blood of the covenant.”
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But the Passover celebration of Jesus’ day was more than just a memorial of Israel’s past redemption; it was also a celebration of Israel’s future restoration. The celebration of Passover evoked the theme of the eschatological New Exodus. Biblical passages like Isaiah 11:15-16 and Ezekiel 20:33-38 reveal that Israel’s prophets appropriated the language of the exodus to describe Israel’s return from exile and the inauguration of the messianic era.
Similarly, in the rabbinic material, the Exodus is understood as a paradigm of Israel’s future redemption. Many of these texts express the belief that the Messiah would appear during the night of the Passover. For example, in Mekhitla Exodus 12:42, we read, “In that night were they redeemed and in that night will they be redeemed in the future.”
According to the New Testament, Jesus does inaugurate the New Covenant of Jeremiah 31, which brings about the forgiveness of sin. It is this event that sets in motion God’s plan to restore Israel! The Last Supper weaves together the Passover, the New Exodus, and the New Covenant to reveal God’s amazing plan to redeem his chosen people and to bring great blessing to the world-at-large.
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