Faith Lessons by Ray Vander Laan: The Fifth Cup

The Lord’s Supper was instituted as part of a Passover meal. The Passover, of course, celebrates God’s deliverance of Israel from Egyptian bondage.

By the time of Jesus, the meal was celebrated with four cups of wine, each reflecting a promise of God made to Moses and Israel at the beginning of their delverance —

(Exo 6:5-8)  “Moreover, I have heard the groaning of the Israelites, whom the Egyptians are enslaving, and I have remembered my covenant.

6 “Therefore, say to the Israelites: ‘I am the LORD, and I will bring you out from under the yoke of the Egyptians. I will free you from being slaves to them, and I will redeem you with an outstretched arm and with mighty acts of judgment. 7 I will take you as my own people, and I will be your God. Then you will know that I am the LORD your God, who brought you out from under the yoke of the Egyptians. 8 And I will bring you to the land I swore with uplifted hand to give to Abraham, to Isaac and to Jacob. I will give it to you as a possession. I am the LORD.'”

RVL finds that at least three of the cups were recorded in the Gospels’ account of the Last Supper.

Imagine Jesus presiding over the Last Supper, a traditional Passover meal that gives new significance to each cup. In the traditional Passover meal, the head of the household would recite each promise from God with each cup.

The first cup, preceding the meal, is the Cup of Sanctification – based on God’s statement, “I will bring you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians”

The second cup, preceding the first course, is the Cup of Judgment or Deliverance — based on God’s statement, “I will deliver you from slavery to them”

(Luke 22:17)  After taking the cup, he gave thanks and said, “Take this and divide it among you.”

Drink!

The family would then take the meal together, followed by the third cup, the Cup of Redemption – based on God’s statement, “I will redeem you with an outstretched arm”

(Luke 22:20)  In the same way, after the supper he took the cup, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood, which is poured out for you.”

Drink!

The fourth cup is the Cup of Protection – based on God’s statement, “I will take you to be my people, and I will be your God.” In fact, pesach, translated Passover, most literally means “protection.”

Drink!

Jesus did not take this cup, forfeiting the Passover, God’s protection against the death angel. Instead, he said,

(Mat 26:29)  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.”

Although Jesus drank no more wine, he did drink from another cup. You see, the traditional Passover has a fifth cup, taken from Jeremiah —

(Jer 25:15-17)  This is what the LORD, the God of Israel, said to me: “Take from my hand this cup filled with the wine of my wrath and make all the nations to whom I send you drink it. 16 When they drink it, they will stagger and go mad because of the sword I will send among them.” 17 So I took the cup from the Lord’s hand and made all the nations to whom he sent me drink it:

This is the cup of God’s wrath, also known as Elijah’s cup. Malachi prophesied that Elijah would return shortly before the coming of the Messiah and day of God’s wrath against all wickedness.

(Mal 4:5)  “See, I will send you the prophet Elijah before that great and dreadful day of the LORD comes.”

At this part of the Passover ceremony, the door is opened, and the head of household says, “Pour out your wrath on the world!”

In the traditional ceremony, this cup is filled but not drunk — not until the coming of Elijah. But Jesus drank the cup.

(Mat 26:39-42)  Going a little farther, he fell with his face to the ground and prayed, “My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will.” … 42 He went away a second time and prayed, “My Father, if it is not possible for this cup to be taken away unless I drink it, may your will be done.”

Jesus drank the cup of God’s wrath against the nations.

Church of Christ application

We have a strong tradition of dispensational teaching, that is, we teach that there were three “dispensations” — Patriarchal, Mosaic, and Christian. Each dispensation replaced and repealed the one preceding. We are no longer under the Patriarchal or Mosaic dispensations.

There is truth, of course, in the observation that Christianity has important differences from the God’s relationship with the Patriarchs and the Israelites. But it’s a colossal mistake to therefore treat the Old Testament as a dead letter, no longer essential to our understanding of God, Jesus, and our salvation. Indeed, this understanding flatly contradicts Paul, who writes —

(1 Tim 4:13)  Until I come, devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture, to preaching and to teaching.

(2 Tim 3:16)  All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness,

In both passages, Paul is referring primarily to the Old Testament. Large portions of the New Testament had not yet been written, and the epistles had not yet been gathered and compiled into a single canon. We are commanded teach and train from the Old Testament.

When we take the trouble to understand First Century Judaism, which was steeped in the Law and the Prophets, we understand our own Christianity in much greater depth. We understand the Lord’s Supper in greater depth.

The Lord’s Supper is built on a tradition that by the time of Jesus had developed over 1,500 years. We don’t understand why Jesus chose to institute communion at the Passover or what the cups meant. We just know we’re supposed to pass a tray of Welch’s around and stare at the floor in silence to please God. But God chose to tie our observance to the Passover. Surely there is deep symbolism in it.

For example — and this is just one example — when we see Jesus speak of his death as drinking a “cup,” we should see the reference to Jer 25. Jesus drank the cup destined for the nations and so brought salvation to the nations. (I leave the meaning of the other cups for us today as an exercise for your small groups and Bible classes.)

And in the reference to “all the nations,” we should hear the echoes of God’s covenant with Abraham — to bless all nations through his seed. You see, it all ties together. It’s all one narrative. It fits.

In the Lord’s Supper we have Abraham, Jeremiah, and Jesus all converging. And there’s so much more — which we ignore by treating the Old Testament as obsolete and meaningless. It’s like referring to the soil under a tree as worthless. After all, the soil doesn’t produce fruit or firewood! That comes from the tree! But the tree comes from the soil and quickly dies if uprooted.

The tree is not the soil, but God made the soil for good reason.

Profile photo of Jay Guin

About Jay Guin

I am an elder, a Sunday school teacher, a husband, a father, a grandfather, and a lawyer. I live in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, home of the Alabama Crimson Tide. I’m a member of the University Church of Christ. I grew up in Russellville, Alabama and graduated from David Lipscomb College (now Lipscomb University). I received my law degree from the University of Alabama. I met my wife Denise at Lipscomb, and we have four sons, two of whom are married, and I have a grandson and granddaughter.
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12 Responses to Faith Lessons by Ray Vander Laan: The Fifth Cup

  1. Randall says:

    Great lesson Jay. verse 6 form above says: 6 “Therefore, say to the Israelites: ‘I am the LORD, and I will bring you out from under the yoke of the Egyptians. I will free you from being slaves to them, and I will redeem you with an outstretched arm and with mighty acts of judgment. 7 I will take you as my own people, and I will be your God. Then you will know that I am the LORD your God, who brought you out from under the yoke of the Egyptians. 8 And I will bring you to the land I swore with uplifted hand to give to Abraham, to Isaac and to Jacob. I will give it to you as a possession. I am the LORD.’”
    You put God's statements that "I will bring you out… I will redeem you… I will take you as my own people, and I will be your God in bold print. May I suggest that those that emphasize the sovereignty of God do exactly the same thing. They place the emphasis on what God does and regard it as primary and regard what man does as secondary and the result of what God does. Someone has said that even Pelagians like Calvinism until someone points it out and then they back off of it. Thus they take a little of the credit and glory that belongs to God and appropriate it to themselves for making the right choice and deciding to give their lives to Jesus. Granted, they don't see it that way, but it is logical to see it like that when they say the difference between them and a lost person is their free will choice. Calvinists do not deny man making a choice and being responsible for the choice he makes. They just believe the credit for their choice belongs to God rather than themselves.

    A second point has to do with Jesus drinking the cup of wrath. NT Wright seems to be the darling of many progressives in the CofC as well as the emerging church movement. I can't get my head wrapped around his teaching that Jesus is my substitute but NOT a penal substitute. I wish someone could explain it to me better than what I've heard. In your post above Jesus certainly drinks the cup of wrath that is intended for, and deserved by sinners. This seems altogether consistent with the Calvinistic doctrine of penal substitution atonement. That is, he paid the penalty for my sin and his righteousness is imputed to me through faith. Did you intend for us to understand it that way?
    Peace,
    Randall

  2. laymond says:

    Randall, said "They just believe the credit for their choice belongs to God rather than themselves."

    I believe if you read the account of the freeing of the Hebrews from Egypt , you will see much of the responsibility was placed directly on the people. If it were not a testing of the people, what took so long. It only took seven days to create the heavens and earth, and everything therein including man.
    God showed the way, through Moses, just as he showed the way for Christians, through Jesus.

  3. paul says:

    Fascinating article, I never knew that. Um, according to your article, "one-cuppers" would be totally un-biblical in their practice. Interesting…

  4. Randall says:

    Laymond,
    You have done a fine job of illustrating my point. I think it is clear that the emphasis on this activity goes to God. God can accomplish whatever he wants and will do it how he wants. In the CofC many immediately change the emphasis to man's part and leave the impression God could not have done it w/o them. But scriptures says that if the people do not praise God, he could have the stones of the street sing his praises. That's quite a contrast.

    I have actually heard teachers at church emphasize that God could not accomplish his work w/o us. Sadly, I have even heard it said that God is "lucky" to have some of us on his side. It shouldn't be this way.

  5. Jay Guin says:

    Paul,

    I think the one-cup position is one cup at a time. Of course, they and the rest of the CoC are one-cup per communion service, whereas Luke describes two. And Matthew and Mark describe just one.

    Strange way to draft legislation on which our very souls depend …

  6. heavenbound says:

    NO NO NO! to quote Paul in this instance leaves us with an empty hope.
    Paul was given progressive revelation. The offering of the kingdom was still in his sight. That is why is went to the synagogue first and then to the teaching of a new message that salvation was being offered to the Gentiles. Remember what he said about another gospel? That was mixing law and grace together. The old testament is used to study from a point of where have we come from. Not to be used on where are we going. I really don't do communion any more because of its Jewish nature you just explained.

  7. rey says:

    Considering that this whole thing is just a tradition of the elders and that Jesus and the apostles had a tendency of disregarding those, I don't think any of this is accurate.

    Fascinating article, I never knew that. Um, according to your article, “one-cuppers” would be totally un-biblical in their practice.

    Anyone who is literate can clearly see that he only said "This is the New Covenant ratified by my blood over one cup" regardless however many other cups they had at the Passoever. For example, with the first cup mentioned in Luke he doesn't ascribe this meaning to it. Only to the second. Just sayin.

    "This seems altogether consistent with the Calvinistic doctrine of penal substitution atonement." Leave it to a Cavinist to make every discussion about bashing God's grace.

    "I really don’t do communion any more because of its Jewish nature you just explained." What does that mean 'really don’t do communion'?

  8. Jay Guin says:

    Heavenbound,

    If I insisted on Passover as a condition to salvation, that might be another gospel. Understanding the Jewish history behind communion is not remotely another gospel.

    It's unfathomable to me that you reject communion because of its Jewish roots. Faith has a Jewish nature. So does the concept of a Messiah/Christ. So does Jesus. Christianity has a Jewish nature.

    (Rom 11:24) After all, if you were cut out of an olive tree that is wild by nature, and contrary to nature were grafted into a cultivated olive tree, how much more readily will these, the natural branches, be grafted into their own olive tree!

    We Gentiles were grafted into a Jewish tree. We therefore have and should honor our Jewish roots.

  9. stan says:

    Heavenbound,

    You stated, "I really don’t do communion any more because of its Jewish nature you just explained."

    Is that the reason you give Jesus in the assembly when you decide not to take communion? Do you express that thought to Jesus when communion is served? Are you telling me that . . . had you been in the upper room when Jesus was serving the communion meal . . . that you would have said, "No thanks."

    I don't understand your reasoning. Anyway, didn't Jesus say, "Do this in memory of me." Isn't the bread and the wine something to embrace? Something To cherish? I would think that someone who was heavenbound would cherish this gift Jesus gave us.

    Some other questions for you:

    My god is the god of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Is not my god your god? You wouldn't reject my god would you . . . seeing that he was their god first?

    Wasn't the "prophet like me" prophesied by the prophet speaking in Deuteronomy 18 . . . Moses the lawgiver? You wouldn't reject The Prophet Greater Than Moses would you . . . seeing that the very god at work in Moses brought to completion that which Moses prophesied?

    Didn't Paul tell us to study the scriptures . . . the Jewish scriptures? You wouldn't reject the Psalms would you?

  10. stan says:

    Bishop Jay,

    Back to the lesson on the 5 cups. I really found myself nourished by this information, as I do in all of the summaries you are giving us on the faith lessons by Ray Vander Laan.

    After reading the lesson above, it seems to me that the bread that represented his body and the wine that represented his blood were incorporated into a passover meal that was already in practice. So instead of these two things taking the place ot the passover meal, or being instituted as something separate, they were made a part of the passover meal. The passover meal was "upgraded" or reshaped into the communion meal Christ initiated. Am I reading correctly?

    We see this practice in other aspects of what Jesus gave us. Christian baptism is an example that comes to mind. Baptism wasn't new in Acts 2. There was already a baptism for forgivenss of sins. Jesus took the baptism that John the Baptizer was administering to the people and "upgraded" it. Not only was there foregiveness of sins as John taught . . . but also the gift of the Spirit was promised. A pretty good upgrade!

    So God's practice of taking existing expressions of faith . . . and incorporating them into new expressions of faith . . . is well established. Did I get this right?

    Is it a stretch to conclude that it was Jesus' intent to incorporate the symbolism from the original passover meal into the new meal that Christians would partake? This seems reasonable because, as the lesson illustrates, it would help us "understand our own Christianity in much greater depth." and help us "understand the Lord’s Supper in greater depth." By dropping the original components of the meal, we have lost the symbolism that Jesus intended to hand to us. Did I read this correctly? Is that what Ray Vander Laan is thinking? Is that where you are leading? I like it.

  11. Jay Guin says:

    Stan,

    I agree that God "upgrades" existing practices. Baptism not only upgrades the baptism of John, it upgrades the ceremonial washings of the Law of Moses and other traditional washings that had been added by the Jews.

    The Lord's Supper takes elements from the Passover, some of which were added by tradition. The point isn't to impose the Passover on us by command, but to build on the symbolism and story already implicit in the Passover.

    Jesus crucified on Passover — celebrating God's rescue of his people from the death angel and freeing of them from slavery. The Spirit came on Pentecost, celebrating the first fruits of the harvest. These are not coincidences — God uses tradition and history teach and to demonstrate that Jesus fulfills the Law.

  12. Joel says:

    Great article and comments. I never considered the fifth cup. My question for myself and all of us is, how much are we influenced by our own traditions? Particularly, I am talking about how we treat the Word of the LORD and his Torah [instruction, guide]. Traditions and teaching can be very helpful, but we need to understand that it is not the source. That is what NT Write and the emerging church seem to emphasize. Our traditions have taken us a long way from our Jewish roots to where we boast over the branches that have been cut off, but there will be such greater blessing when they are grafted back on — and God is faithful to his promises!

    Jesus said he did not come to abolish (by misinterpreting and misapplying them) the law and prophets, but to fulfill (by appropriately applying them) them. He said not the least bit would pass away until heaven and earth passed away, and that anyone who taught others to disobey even the least of the law (indicatin the spirit of the law, and a hierarchy of certain laws, hence fulfilling/applying them properly) would be called least in the kingdom.

    The feasts of the LORD are everlasting “dates” with our Beloved. They are a joy, not a burden. Passover is one of seven of the LORD’s seasonal feasts (notwithstanding the weekly sabbath and monthly new moons). Our traditions have taught that the new covenant dispenses with the old, but I don’t read that anymore. What I read is that the curse of our sins have been paid by Yeshuah’s death on the cross. The blessings from following God’s instruction are still for us to claim and live out as proclamation that we are kingdom members in the space we inhabit here and now. In fact, the prophets (Zechariah 14:16) talk about all nations coming to Jerusalem to celebrate the feast of Tabernacles(Sukkot) after the Lord comes to reign on earth (note to Heaven Bound that we are bound for a joining of heaven to earth).

    I think we miss the debate and context about the weight of traditions that defined how to keep the law in Jesus’ and Paul’s day. Jesus seemed to always point to the heart of the law and give priority to the greater, and higher truths in any given situation (I.e. preserving life, healing on sabbath – fulfilling the law), rather than faulty interpretations that favor the letter of the law over a greater Spirit or intent of the law. We no longer have only the law as a tutor, but the living Word, as an example (which makes more sense when we know the full context of the revelation from Adam, to patriarchs, and Israel).

    I think we get the major messages from our Christian traditions when we follow Jesus, but we also miss so much of the details. Jesus was calling his followers to a much higher standard than they were living — in fact, to be perfect as the Father is perfect. Not a standard of following impossible traditions hedged around the law, but a lighter yoke of loving God above all else and our neighbor as ourselves – true love, what the law pointed to and what God/Jesus is. We have been given additional help in the sending of God’s Spirit So that the sanctifying work of the removal of sin in God’s redemptive plan.

    Blessings and Shalom, all. Let’s continue to learn, dig, grow, question and live in the Spirit and power of God to participate in His redemptive plan of His beautiful creation.

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