The Passover Hustle

 

Is it wrong for followers of Jesus to celebrate a Passover Seder? Was the Last Supper even a Passover Seder? This past week, Christianity Today published an article by two Rabbis, Yehiel Poupko and David Sandmel, titled, Jesus Didn’t Eat a Seder Meal and Why Christians Shouldn’t Either. I cannot figure out why a purportedly Christian magazine would give these men, who are decidedly not followers of Jesus, a platform for their views. But that’s their decision. What bugged me even more was the con job that was presented in the article itself.

I’m from New York City and as a teenager I used to watch the con men in Greenwich Village’s Washington Square Park hustle people with their sleight of hand. Nobody ever won, whether playing three card monte or a shell game. That’s what I felt as I read this article–it was “The Passover Hustle,” designed to make Jesus followers feel guilty about celebrating a messianic Passover. Here are three ways they used deception to confuse this issue.

First, the article uses historical sleight of hand. It states, “The Seder ritual, as it is practiced today, did not exist at the time of Jesus.” Frankly no one disputes that. Certainly, the Seder meal was only codified after the AD 70 destruction of the Temple. However, the authors know very well that the codification was based on the book of Exodus and oral traditions present for generations. So, the last supper was substantively a Passover meal/a Seder with multiple aspects of Seder ritual evident in the gospels. Some examples include ritual hand washing, the breaking of bread or matzoh, the use of red wine, reciting the Hallel psalms (they sang a hymn after the meal), the anticipation of the messianic kingdom (Jesus said I won’t drink of this cup until I drink it with you in the kingdom), eating ground up bitter herbs (called the sop that Jesus passed to Judas). The great scholar Joachim Jeremias in the Eucharistic Words of Christ, notes 14 of these clear associations with the Passover Seder. So, even if the Last Supper was not a Seder as practiced today, it certainly was an incipient Seder, as practiced before AD 70.

A second problem with the article is its theological sleight of hand. The authors intend to drive a deep wedge between Exodus of the Hebrew Bible and New Testament faith. They argue that the Exodus belongs to Jewish people and the Last Supper belongs to Christians, and the two shall never meet. They further maintain that Jesus created a new religious civilization unrelated to the Jewish world from which He came. The problem with their view is that Exodus is the foundation for New Testament faith. Without understanding Passover, we could never fathom what Jesus’ cousin John meant when he said, “Here is the lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29). Or Peter’s description of the Messiah Jesus as “that of a lamb without defect or blemish” (1 Pet 1:19). Or Paul’s declaration that “Messiah our Passover has been sacrificed for us” (1 Cor 5:7). Followers of Jesus, recognize that He is the Jewish Messiah, the ultimate fulfillment of the Passover ritual. The authors may disagree with this conviction but they may not determine how followers of Jesus should express their faith in the Jewish Messiah Jesus.

A third issue with the article is that it practices cultural sleight of hand. The authors assert that observing a messianic Passover Seder somehow shows a lack of respect for Judaism and Jewish people, as if Judaism never borrowed from any other culture. Of course Jewish scholars actually recognize that some aspects of the Seder, such as reclining at the table to show freedom is taken directly from Greco-Roman culture. The authors maintain that Jewish people find it troubling when followers of Jesus participate in a Seder, particularly if led by a Messianic Jew. While it may very well bother these authors, they certainly don’t speak for all Jewish people at large. Moreover, Romans 11:18 attests that the Jewish root sustains the faith of Gentile believers. When followers of Jesus celebrate Passover, even with all its messianic implications, it reflects great appreciation for Jewish people. No disrespect is ever intended or present.

If we believe that Jesus is the Messiah of Israel and therefore the Messiah of the world, we can’t help but appreciate the heritage of the people of Israel. It enlightens and enlivens our faith. And that’s why we lose if we play the Passover hustle; We’ll have abandoned the Hebrew heritage of the Scriptures from which we understand our faith, while cutting ourselves off from the rich root of the olive tree from which our faith springs. Always keep your eye on the pea!

42 thoughts on “The Passover Hustle

  1. I was disturbed by this article too. I am a Gentile who was married to a Jewish believer and we participated In the Passover seder. What a wonderful picture of Messish Yeshua/Jesus our Savior. Thank you for your insights and “setting the record straight”. Blessings.

  2. Awesome article, Michael! I love the feasts of Judaism. I often feel that Jewish people often view Christians like most Christians view those deceived by the cults. In so many ways that is sad. If only they knew how much we revered their Torah and their culture, they might enjoy rich friendships with us. They don’t have to accept Yeshua as Messiah for us to love them. We are not their enemies, and we love their LORD.

    1. I love how you expressed this. I too am a Follower of Jesus married to a Jew. It touched my heart. Thank you.

  3. Thank you for exposing this magazine “Christianity Today” ! I stopped reading it a long time ago, due to false statements it published. People need to read The WORD and research the Jewish life and customs.

  4. The Feast of the Exodus was a prophetic occurrence with the lamb chosen for the Passover meal foretold the sacrificial death of the Messiah. The Old Covenant was, by and large, a prophetic document. To try to eradicate the importance of One or The Other is egregious, as the Old is the precursor of the New. A thorough study of the New Covenant (Testament) gives proof of this truth!

    1. Totally agree with your comments…also christianity today seems fo have fallen prey to satans devices..as he tries to stop the unstoppable, ….which is that christianity in its proper form, is a very jewish faith, and the two shall one day soon be ONE,..ECHAD.

  5. Kind Sir, I have been looking at publishers and book stores to no avail in search of a children’s book that depicts Christ in detail in the Passover. I home school three children, the middle age nine; and, I am so passionate about a children’s book that I’d like to make one with my daughter illustrating it. Maybe you will write a book for Christian and Jewish children, and all the children that God loves, that shows His love reminders through their knowledge of or the keeping of His holidays.

    1. Hi. Tomorrow I celebrate a Messianic Passover with my friends and family! My children are grown, but people in my Messianic congregation have been know to use the Sammy Spider Haggadah for their children. It is not Messianic, but I think they adapt it. As far as a Messianic haggadah, I use The Messianic Passover Haggadah published by Lederer Books, which is a division of Messianic Jewish Publishers: http://www.messianicjewish.net

      This haggadah is for adults, but could also be adapted. Look on the internet for ideas for games and songs for children during Passover!!! There are many sources.

  6. Very worth it to be translated and shared over and over again! can I? (From English into Spanish). Blessings and thank God for His fire in you! But we know what this means, right? Am Echad! They don’t know that when we say the Shema we are really meaning what He decided to be from the beginning of the time, “the LORD our GOD, the LORD is ONE.” There is not Greek Yeshua/Jesus or Gentil Yeshua/Jesus, He is the same He was yesterday in the Land of Israel and, indeed, came to bring all peoples back to the True and living God, but HE IS ONE; working in different ways, in different times and personifications. Many blessings and Life in Him, Dr. Rydelnik. <3

  7. Hey, Michael,
    Seth here (who lived on the same floor with your son Seth): had a conversation the other day with somebody about the chronology in the gospels. The synoptics seem to state clearly that the last supper was in fact the passover meal, but the Johanine narrative seems to read like the last supper was in fact before passover, and a number of “Bible” films (not that these should be our primary source of theology) that have come out lately have depicted lambs being sacrificed on the same day as the crucifixion (but aren’t those the lambs that would also be eaten for supper later)? Perhaps you can shed light on the chronology and how to reconcile the Johanine and synoptic accounts here…

  8. Thanks, Michael, for these insights and rebuttal to the CT article. I often point out that in Lev 23:2, the LORD said to Moses “These are my appointed feasts, the appointed feasts of the LORD . . .” There is an implied universal “feasts of the LORD” not “the feasts of Israel” exclusively in this critical verse. Practiced by Yeshua in whatever form existed in his day gives both gentile and messianic believers a way of following what our Master has done!

  9. Thank you for the article. I recently taught the Jewish Seder meal with emphasis on how Jesus turned it into the Last Supper. I watched the Appointed Times video #2 around five times. I studied other materials and got my material together. How can Christians not see the Jewish foundations of Christianity? Inspiring and interesting.
    I have taught between 8-15 Presbyterian ladies each week for around ten years.

  10. Thanks so much for this thoughtful response to the CT article. Yeah for you. I love Jews because my Savior is Jewish.

  11. I listen to Openline all the time Please, send me the book Passover.
    Question: A non-married christian couple living together. They love each other, what makes them “living in sin”

    for the book “passover’ my address is

    Pierre Maxime
    3005 Buckeye Point Dr
    Winter Haven, FL 33881

    Thanks.

  12. Thank you, Dr. Rydelnik!
    As a gentile believer in Yeshua/Jesus, I appreciate the beautiful tangible symbolism of the Jewish Seder.
    I enjoyed the Day of Discovery DVD series of some years back, that taught about the Jewish feast days and their significance and fulfilment in Messiah Yeshua/Jesus. It was a pleasure to hear you and other Jewish believers reminisce of family Seder traditions in your families and of their fulfilment in the Lord. It is good to remember. God knows us too well????
    I am moved by the Seder the Lord shared with his disciples at the ultimate Passover…his sinless body to be broken, symbolized by the broken matzah, His redeeming blood to be shed, by the cup of wine …a new and complete covenant..our perfect Passover lamb. This Seder unites us whether Jew or Gentile….He has made us one and we so desperately need one another. While only our Jewish brothers endured the bondage of Egypt, we share in common the bondage to sin. So thankful to the Lord for His perfect Redemption plan.

    It is unfortunate that articles like the one you have critiqued are written at all. They are so unnecessary and can be troubling for the less assured in the faith.

  13. There have always been iconoclasts, in almost every discipline. People who bash something revered by others hope to attract attention to themselves; it makes them feel important. “Ha-ha, I know something you don’t…” This supposedly makes them smarter than the rest of us. I think the article was well answered by Dr. Rydelnik.

  14. Thank you Dr. Rydelnik for always making the confusing clear and giving us the correct Biblical God honoring information. I am humbled by your knowledge and love of our Lord.

  15. Loved this article. Our previous pastor, Leon Engman used to hold a Passover Seder. We always were respectful and thankful for the chance to share in this. It opened a direction to learn of Christ & his heritage. It was a gift we were thankful for.

  16. Hi Michael,
    Thanks for the good, clear, and rapid response to the CT article. I appreciate a friend sending it to me to help have an answer to those who might be confused about the CT article. I thought it was also odd that CT would give such an important topic to 2 non-Christian writers at Easter week.
    God bless and keep you as you serve Jesus, Frank Benoit (DTS, 1984, 2009)

  17. It shouldn’t matter HOW we celebrate it, but rather that we Do celebrate it. The rabbis are still trapped in lawful thinking – which is what Jesus rebuked them for continually when on earth.

  18. Thank You Micheal, I don’t HAVE to celebrate any of the Moedim, BUT, I, GET, to with eagerness and anticipation!!!

  19. ….. Dear Dr. Rydelnik… I just came upon the Christianity Today article and knew exactly where to come with my concern and questions on what they published. And here you are with an article that addresses it ALREADY. Thank you, man of God. I am so blessed by you…. …. Big hugs, too, to my former professor, Eva!

  20. Thanks for your critique; it was right on the money. I grew up Roman Catholic, going to Parochial school and never understood the connection between Judaism and Christianity until much later when I made a conscious decision to receive salvation by grace through faith. It was then I began to see, as Edith Schaeffer explained in her book, the “Jewishness of Christianity”. How much untold suffering of the Jewish people could have been avoided if the Church had properly taught this clear truth of Scripture instead of allowing the evil of anti-semitism to take root in so-called “Christian” countries down through the centuries. I’m sure the writers of this CT article do not appreciate how their position actually adds to the problem; thanks again Michael, for your corrective. BTW, I was informed of your piece by your friend of long ago, Judge Joseph Latwin; I’m his Court Officer here in Rye. Tom

  21. Thank you for the great job Michael. I have grown weary of the historical, theological and cultural slight of hand. I let my subscription lapse for CT years ago for similar reasons.

  22. Right on. Thank You for this article. I am a Gentile who loves Israel and Jewish people and its Holy Days. I will attend a Seder tomorrow!

  23. I am always amazed, that, every year, someone decides that they
    must find a way to convince Christians that they “don’t have a right”
    to “appropriate” holidays or festivals that are in their own Bibles.
    Really?

    I would like to borrow a little from Ockham’s Razor and
    propose a simple rationale:

    1. Exodus and Passover are in the Bible.
    2. Christians accept the first thirty-nine books of the Bible–Genesis
    through Malachi–as the inspired Word of God.
    3. Yeshua/Jesus celebrated Passover and all the biblical festivals
    of the Torah, plus Purim and Hanukkah. We have some of His
    sermons recorded in the Gospels on several Passovers, at Sukkot, and on Hanukkah.
    4. Therefore, anything Yeshua/Jesus did, we can do.

    For most of us, it really is that simple.

    There is no lack of Clergy Control Freaks who feel they have the
    obligation to stop the rest of us “Ignorant Festival Keepers of Christendom”, or at least insist upon being present to make sure
    “we do it right”. Some arguments simply defy logic.

    A. For example, there is what I call the “liturgcide” argument, which essentially states that if you or your church/fellowship hold some form of Passover Seder, you are in danger of “disrupting” whatever Holy Week liturgy you practice. After all, we have the __________
    service, so you little Ignorant Church Folks should just forget
    about that seder stuff.

    This leads to the “just read, but don’t do” admonition–it is OK to
    READ Exodus 12 as part of the history of our salvation, but it
    is not OK to DO Exodus 12, because “that’s under the Law.”
    But the events of Exodus 12 occurred BEFORE the Torah was
    given on Mount Sinai.

    B. Then there is the “mis-appropriation” argument. If we observe
    Passover, some say, we are appropriating something that “is not
    ours.” Well, the charge of “appropriating” Passover is accurate–we
    Christians have been appropriating the first thirty-nine books of
    the Bible for several millenia. We are we supposed to now cut
    ourselves off from the first thirty-nine books of our own Bibles?

    There is no difference between a Passover celebration, or any
    other worship experience which depicts a biblical event. Churches
    have held Creation pageants, biblical plays and festivals that
    are centered specifically around a particular scripture or series of scriptures. Passover Seders are re-enactments of the Exodus event, and for Christians, the Last Supper figures prominently
    as the event set within the context of the Passover Seder.

    However, we must not forget about the “mixed multitude” of people
    from several nations who escaped from slavery, along
    with the Hebrews. These ethnic groups also began to believe
    in YAHWEH when they saw His power on display in the ten
    plagues–these plagues lasted over a year. These peoples are
    not “tangential” to the Exodus story; God had already determined how he would rescue masses of non-Hebrew slaves through the Exodus of the Hebrews.

    All non-Hebrews who placed the blood on the lintel and doorposts
    of their home escaped the divine judgement which was poured out
    on Pharoah and any Egyptians that did not believe.

    The Exodus story and Gospel narratives speak volumes and
    let us know what God thinks of suffering and oppression, and
    also sensitize us to the plight of suffering people in our world
    today.

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