The gospels of Matthew and Mark mention only one cup that was shared during the Lord’s Supper, and even a second cup mentioned by Luke is perhaps better understood as providing additional information about the cup he mentioned first to emphasize to the new Gentile churches the ordinance’s purpose of looking forward to an even greater fulfillment in the kingdom of God; cf. Luk 22:15-20. However, according to Jewish tradition it is generally believed that participants actually drank four ritual cups of wine during the Passover celebration in Jesus’ day commemorating the four aspects of God’s deliverance of the Jewish people from their bondage in Egypt that are expressed in Exo 6:6-7:
- The cup of sanctification: “I will bring you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians”. After this cup bitter herbs are eaten, the history of Israel from Abraham to Moses is recounted, and the first two of the Hallel Psalms 113-118 are sung.
- The cup of plagues / judgment: “I will deliver you from their bondage”. This cup is served with the meal during which the Passover lamb is eaten and part of the unleavened bread is broken and shared.
- The cup of redemption / blessing: “I will also redeem you with an outstretched arm and with great judgments”. After the meal is eaten, the last of the unleavened bread is blessed, broken and eaten and this cup of blessing is drunk.
- The cup of praise or hallel: “Then I will take you for My people, and I will be your God, and you will know that I am the LORD your God, who brought you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians”. With this cup the celebration is concluded and the remaining Hallel Psalms 115-118 are sung; cf. Psa 116:13, Mat 26:30.
While all four of these cups are significant in view of the salvation provided by Jesus, our Passover Lamb, which of them in particular seems to be the one associated with the institution of the Lord’s Supper? Cf. Luk 22:20, 1Co 10:16, 11:25. Assuming this Jewish tradition was indeed practiced at the time of Jesus and He followed it with His disciples, what is the significance that Jesus referred to the third cup as His blood of the covenant which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins? See again Exo 6:6 and think: upon Whom did God’s judgment fall to accomplish our redemption? Cf. Isa 53:4-6.
Although we assume it to be so, is it necessarily the case that Jesus also drank from the third cup that He blessed and gave to the disciples to institute the Lord’s Supper? See again Mat 26:27-29, Mar 14:23-25, Luk 22:17-18. What cup do we know for sure that Jesus did drink that accomplished our redemption with not just one of God’s outstretched arms, but both, as He bore our judgments? See Psa 75:8, Isa 51:17, Hab 2:16, Mat 20:22-23, 26:39, 27:34, Joh 18:11, 19:28-30.
Assuming again that this Jewish tradition was practiced in the time of Jesus and the third cup was the one that He used to institute the Lord’s Supper as the New Covenant in His blood, what do His words indicate about Him drinking the fourth cup? See again Mat 26:29, Mar 14:25, Luk 22:18. What is the significance that He did not drink the cup of praise at that time, and would not drink it until He could do so anew with them in the kingdom of God? See again Exo 6:7 and Joh 14:1-3 which Jesus also spoke that evening during the Last Supper; cf. 1Th 4:16-17, Heb 9:28.
A fifth cup is poured out today by Jews but not drunk, as the ancient rabbis could not agree if a fifth “I will” in Exo 6:8 should be included with the first four: “I will bring you to the land which I swore to give to Abraham, Isaac, and jacob, and I will give it to you for a possession.” Because they couldn’t resolve the issue, the cup is referred to as Elijah’s Cup because they open the front door of the house at each Passover to welcome him and believe that he will resolve all such disputes when he comes; cf. Mat 27:47-49. What might this cup also indicate about the fullness of our salvation that yet remains to be completed when Jesus comes again? Cf. Mal 4:5-6.