Q. I’ve been told there are four cups in the Passover ceremony and when Jesus instituted the so-called Lord’s Supper He was actually using the third cup. What are the four cups and what do they mean?
A. The four cups of the Passover are based on the promise God made to Israel when He sent Moses to deliver them from Egypt. He said, “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. 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.” (Exodus 6:6-7)
The first cup is called Sanctification (I will bring you out from under the yoke of the Egyptians), the second is Blessing (I will free you from being slaves to them), the third is Redemption (I will redeem you with an outstretched arm and mighty acts of judgment) and the fourth is Acceptance (I will take you as my people and I will be your God.)
Tradition says that when Jesus said “This cup is the new covenant in my blood which is poured out for you,” He was referring to the 3rd cup of the Passover, the Cup of Redemption. By His shed blood we can be redeemed from our bondage to sin, just as the Israelites were redeemed from their bondage to Egypt. He then said He wouldn’t drink wine again until the Kingdom had come.
The Gospel of John records an event that took place that same day as He hung from the cross.
Later, knowing that all was now completed, and so that the Scripture would be fulfilled, Jesus said, “I am thirsty.” A jar of wine vinegar was there, so they soaked a sponge in it, put the sponge on a stalk of the hyssop plant, and lifted it to Jesus’ lips. When he had received the drink, Jesus said, “It is finished.” With that, he bowed his head and gave up his spirit. (John 19:28-30)
He had given His body and shed His blood. Phase one of the Kingdom, allowing us to receive a full pardon for our sins, had come. To fulfill the Scriptures, He took a final drink of wine. It represented the 4th Cup of the Passover, the Cup of Acceptance. It’s as if He was saying to all who would believe in Him, “I will take you as my people and I will be your God.”