The Bread, Wine, and the Last Supper
by Stephen Allen
The night Yeshua was betrayed, he took bread and wine, said a blessing, gave them to his talmidim (disciples), and told them that as they continued in this practice they should remember him (Luke 22:19-20 and 1 Corinthians 11:24-25). That sounds simple enough, yet it is amazing how many varied opinions exist about what he said and what he meant.
Thinking that Yeshua was observing the Passover that night, some believe that Yeshua changed the “symbols” of the Passover from bitter herbs and roasted lamb to bread and wine. According to this point of view, Yeshua’s current talmidim should only break bread and drink wine in remembrance of him once a year – at Passover. On the other hand, others believe that Yeshua instituted a brand new “sacrament” intending for his talmidim to break bread and drink wine (or “take communion”) on a daily or weekly basis, but only in a “religious setting.” Of course, there exists multiple variations on these two main themes, but generally, most beliefs fit more or less into one of these two categories.
Regardless, could Yeshua legitimately change the order or observance of the Passover, or institute a new commandment or “religious observance” considering the following words of Elohim’s from the Torah? “What thing soever I command you, observe to do it: thou shalt not add thereto, nor diminish from it (Deuteronomy 12:32). Again, in Deuteronomy 4:1-2, we read, “Now therefore hearken, O Israel, unto the statutes and unto the judgments, which I teach you, for to do them, that ye may live, and go in and possess the land which YHVH Elohim of your fathers giveth you. Ye shall not add unto the word which I command you, neither shall ye diminish ought from it, that ye may keep the commandments of YHVH your Elohim which I command you.”
If he did, one could raise serious objections to his claim to be the Messiah of Israel.In this article, we shall address these questions fully while providing an historically accurate and meaningful reconstruction of the bread and wine tradition.
Kiddush and its Antiquity
As we have indicated in The Final Week in Yeshua's Life, Yeshua was not observing the Passover the night in which he was betrayed. Rather, he was holding a celebratory graduation banquet for his talmidim called a se’udat mitzvah or a se’udat siyyum (see The Last Supper: A Se’udat Mitzvah). In this context, we need to ask a particularly relevant question. Were his talmidim familiar with the “bread and wine” before he made them symbolic of his body and blood?
For those unfamiliar with the Jewish manner of life, it may be surprising to realize that the custom of breaking bread and drinking wine has been an inseparable part of a meal on the Sabbath and other festive occasions. To lay some background, we need to explain the term Kiddush. A succinct explanation, found in the Jewish Encyclopedia’s 1911 edition article on “Kiddush,” states that the Kiddush is the “Ceremony and prayer by which the holiness of the Sabbath or of a festival is proclaimed.” The word kiddush derives from the Hebrew word for “sanctification” or “holiness.”
Yet, there is more to the Kiddush than just that. “Under an old custom, recognized by the Mishnah [a part of the oral Torah] (Ber. viii. 1), the Sabbath and the festivals are sanctified in another cheerful and impressive way – over a glass of wine before the evening meal, even though the benediction has already been recited in the prayer. The drinking of the wine, with the recitation of the accompanying words, constitutes the ceremony of Kiddush, in which husband, wife, children, and dependents take part together.”
To find out whether this custom dates to the first century, i.e. whether Jews practiced this custom in the time of Yeshua, we need to determine how old the custom of drinking a cup of wine at the beginning of the Sabbath or a festival meal really is. Let us continue to read from the same article. “According to Ber. 33a [a portion of the oral Torah], the origin of the Kiddush can be traced back to the time of the Great Synagogue; indeed, from the controversies between the schools of Shammai and Hillel on various points connected with the Kiddush, it is clearly seen that the ceremony is very old.”
To put this into perspective, the rabbinical schools of Shammai and Hillel were the two main schools for Torah studies in the generation before Yeshua. Not only that, but the Great Synagogue takes us back to the days of Ezra after the Jewish exiles returned to the land of Israel after their Babylonian captivity! Clearly then, we know that this custom dates to well before the first century and that Jews were practicing this custom in the time of Yeshua.
At this point, however, we have only mentioned the drinking of a cup of wine at the beginning of the meal. If we are to link Yeshua’s blessing of bread and wine to the Kiddush tradition we must effectively answer three more questions.
What does Kiddush have to do with the breaking of bread?
How does the Kiddush relate to Yeshua’s blessing of the cup of wine, since according to Luke 22:17-20, the cup of wine he blessed in reference to the blood of the b’rit chadashah [renewed covenant] was after the meal, not before it?
Was it traditional for Jews to observe the Kiddush on other joyous events, including graduation banquets, in addition to the Sabbath and feasts?
Manna – Bread
Let us begin with the first question. Does Kiddush involve the breaking of bread? Once again, we will quote from the article entitled “Kiddush” from the Jewish Encyclopedia. “At the beginning of Sabbath two whole loaves of bread are laid down in memory of the double measure of manna that was gathered on Friday (Shab. 117b), with a white cloth under and over them…After reciting the Kiddush the master of the house sips from the cup, and then passes it to his wife and to the others at the table; then all wash their hands, and the master of the house blesses the bread, cuts it, and passes a morsel to each person at the table.”
In enumerating the order of Kiddush, first, two loaves of bread are prepared symbolizing the manna that came down from heaven during the days Israel wandered in the wilderness. Second, the master of the house recites the blessing over the wine. Third, he passes the cup of wine to those at the table. Fourth, the master of the house recites the blessing over the bread. Finally, he distributes the bread to those at the table.
Now, notice the similarities to what Luke wrote in his Gospel. “And when the hour was come, he sat down, and the twelve apostles with him. And he said unto them, With desire I have desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer: For I say unto you, I will not any more eat thereof, until it be fulfilled in the kingdom of Elohim. And he took the cup, and gave thanks, and said, Take this, and divide it among yourselves: For I say unto you, I will not drink of the fruit of the vine, until the kingdom of Elohim shall come. And he took bread, and gave thanks, and brake it, and gave unto them, saying, This is my body which is given for you: this do in remembrance of me (Luke 22:14-19).
To a Jew or Messianic Israelite who understood and observed Kiddush, the parallels were unmistakable. What more could Luke have written to let his readers know that Kiddush was being observed? Without a doubt, Yeshua and the talmidim were observing the Kiddush at the beginning of their meal.
The truly amazing thing about this account is what Yeshua said after the blessing over the bread. He said, “This is my body which is given for you: this do in remembrance of me” (Luke 22:19). Do you understand the significance of his statement?
All of his talmidim knew that the bread of the Kiddush symbolized manna. They grew up rehearsing that idea every Sabbath day. Yeshua’s statement was very clear. He was the real manna that came down from heaven, symbolized every Sabbath by the bread of the Kiddush.
Earlier, some had asked him about his ministry. “What sign shewest thou then, that we may see, and believe thee? What dost thou work? Our fathers did eat manna in the desert; as it is written, He gave them bread from heaven to eat. Then Yeshua said unto them, Verily, verily, I say unto you, Moses gave you not that bread from heaven; but my Father giveth you the true bread from heaven. For the bread of Elohim is he which cometh down from heaven, and giveth life unto the world. Then said they unto him, Adon, evermore give us this bread. And Yeshua said unto them, I am the bread of life: he that cometh to me shall never hunger; and he that believeth on me shall never thirst“ (John 6:30-35).
Later on, he added, “Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that believeth on me hath everlasting life. I am that bread of life. Your fathers did eat manna in the wilderness, and are dead. This is the bread which cometh down from heaven, that a man may eat thereof, and not die. I am the living bread which came down from heaven: if any man eat of this bread, he shall live for ever: and the bread that I will give is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world” (John 6:47-51).
Brethren, during their final meal together, Yeshua wanted to impress upon his talmidim that he was the reality to which the bread of the Kiddush pointed. He wanted them to understand that the bread that they ate at Kiddush, although having represented manna for years and years, really represented him – since he was the true manna that came down from heaven.
That is why he told them to do it in remembrance of him. He was not telling them to start practicing a new religious observance – to do it – and then remember him when they did it. The emphasis was on the remembering, not the doing. After all, they were already doing it. Rather, he was telling them that when they broke bread at Kiddush they were to remember him, remember his sacrifice, and remember that he represented the true manna that came down from heaven.
Cup of Blessing
For those who read the Gospels carefully, you will have noticed that Luke’s account of the se’udat siyyum (banquet of completion or “graduation”) mentions two cups of wine, one at the beginning of the meal in conjunction with the breaking of the bread and the other at the conclusion of the meal. In fact, Luke is the only writer who records the two cups of wine.
“And he took the cup, and gave thanks, and said, Take this, and divide it among yourselves: For I say unto you, I will not drink of the fruit of the vine, until the kingdom of God shall come. And he took bread, and gave thanks, and brake it, and gave unto them, saying, This is my body which is given for you: this do in remembrance of me. Likewise also the cup after supper, saying, This cup is the new testament in my blood, which is shed for you” (Luke 22:17-20).
To understand what was going on here, we need to understand a little bit about the structure of the traditional Jewish meal. As we have already seen, blessings are recited over the cup of wine and bread at the beginning of the meal on Sabbaths and feast days. However, a blessing over another cup of wine follows the grace that concludes the meal.
To give us an idea of how celebratory meals are enjoyed, we will quote from the article entitled “Banquets” from the Jewish Encyclopedia. The section that we will be quoting from concerns Sabbath and Holy-Day meals. “These, which in later times assumed the character of simple family repasts [meals] permeated by the spirit of genuine domesticity, were originally Banquets of the Pharisaic brotherhood, enlivened by song and discussions, at which the men reclined; the women and children – if they took part at all – not being considered as among the number present. Wine at the opening and closing of the meal was deemed an indispensable feature; over it the benediction and a blessing of sanctification of the day were offered by the one who presided at the table and broke the bread.”
There are a number of very interesting facts outlined in this article. First, men reclined at such banquets. Notice how the apostle John described his position at the table. “Now there was leaning on Yeshua’s bosom one of his disciples, whom Yeshua loved” (John 13:23). The Greek word translated “leaning” comes from anakeimai (anakeimai, Strong’s #345), which means, “sit at a meal” or “recline at a table.” In other words, John was reclining at the table in such a way, that at that time, he was practically leaning right into Yeshua’s chest. That’s why Peter beckoned to him to get him to ask Yeshua a private question (John 13:24-25).
Second, although women and children were present at such banquets, they were not counted among the number present. This explains why none of the authors of the Gospels indicated the presence of the talmidim’s families and guests.
Third, wine was drunk at the beginning and at the end of the meal. However, not only was wine drunk at the end of the meal, this second cup of wine was treated with a special degree of solemnity. We find out from the article entitled “Cup of Benediction” in the Jewish Encyclopedia, that “The cup of wine taken immediately after grace has been recited at the conclusion of a meal” is known as the “cup of benediction” or “cup of blessing.” Not only that, but if wine comes to those seated at the table “after the meal, one blesses for all of them” – which is exactly what Yeshua did.
But how do we know that the cup of wine over which Yeshua said a blessing at the conclusion of his final meal together with his talmidim was really the “cup of blessing” traditionally drunk by the Jews at the conclusion of Sabbath and Holy Day meals? We know because that is exactly what the apostle Paul called it!
Notice what he wrote in 1 Corinthians 10:16. “The cup of blessing which we bless, is it not the communion of the blood of the Messiah? The bread which we break, is it not the communion of the body of the Messiah?”
On Other Joyous Occasions
Before we may conclude that the bread and wine, broken and drunk that night was the traditional Jewish Kiddush, we have one more question to address. Was it traditional for Jews to observe the Kiddush on other joyous events, including graduation banquets, in addition to the Sabbath and Holy Days? After all, the night in which Yeshua was betrayed was not a Sabbath day nor was it any of the appointed feasts of YHVH. As we have written before, it was the night following the 12th day of Aviv.
In the Jewish Encyclopedia’s article on “Cup of Benediction” that we quoted from earlier, we read the following. “Speaking generally, the cup of benediction is drunk only on Sabbaths or at festivals and other joyous occasions.”
In other words, it was traditional to drink two cups of wine, not only on the weekly Sabbaths, and on the appointed feasts such as Passover, Shavuot, and Sukkot, but also on other festive or joyous occasions. Yeshua’s final meal with his talmidim and friends – in fact, a meal that bears the hallmarks of a graduation meal concluding their years of study under their rabbi (a se’udat mitzvah or se’udat siyyum) – was truly a joyous occasion!
The Kiddush, the breaking of bread and the drinking of wine during a meal, both accompanied by blessings, was a long-standing tradition of the Jews well before Yeshua’s day. The second cup of wine was treated with greater solemnity and became known as the “cup of benediction” or the “cup of blessing.” It was drunk at the close of the meal after grace. This custom was observed on Sabbaths, annual feasts, and other festive occasions.
Contrary to popular belief, as we have seen in The Last Supper: A Se’udat Mitzvah and in this article, the “Last Supper” was not the Passover, nor was it a substitute or “early” Passover. The description of the events of that night harmonize rather well with what we know about ancient Jewish traditional celebratory banquets, including the graduation banquet of a rabbi’s students, complete with the blessing of the Kiddush and the closing cup of blessing.
Yeshua did not add to nor take away from the Torah. He did not change the Passover or create a “New Testament Passover” distinct from the “Old Testament Passover.” He did not substitute one set of symbols for another.
He employed a meaningful Jewish tradition and added even deeper meaning to it. He observed a valid Jewish tradition, he expected his talmidim to continue in that valid Jewish tradition, and he told us to remember him in doing it.
As the apostle Paul also taught his talmidim, “Therefore, brethren, stand fast, and hold the traditions which ye have been taught, whether by word, or our epistle” (2 Thessalonians 2:15).
As we restore the Hebraic roots of our faith, let us put the bread and wine memorial back into its proper context. Let us keep the Kiddush tradition!
Learn traditional blessings for bread and wine!
 Some even trace the tradition back to Melchizedek’s encounter with Abraham (Genesis 14:18-19).
 In other words, as we explained in The Final Week in Yeshua's Life, “I have really desired to eat this upcoming Passover with you before I suffer, but I won’t be able to. My Father has forbidden it. Rather, I will be performing the Passover, and I will not eat of the Passover until it be fulfilled in the kingdom of Elohim.”
 Another example that illustrates that particular cultural approach may be found in John 6:10. Regarding the feeding of the multitudes, John wrote, ”And Yeshua said, Make the men sit down. Now there was much grass in the place. So the men sat down, in number about five thousand.” Other examples may be found in Matthew 14:21, 15:38, Mark 6:44, and Luke 9:14.