Jesus Reinterprets Reality
Matthew 26:30 – “And when they had sung a hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives.” (NKJV)
An ancient tradition filled with new meaning—that’s what this Passover meal was. At the conclusion of his public ministry, Jesus sent his disciples ahead of him into Jerusalem to prepare the meal in the time-honored manner that they had all grown up knowing (Matt. 26:17–19). Yet when he arrived to celebrate Passover with them, events began to take an unexpected turn. The same holds true whenever Jesus enters a scene, whether in the biblical narrative or in our lives today.
The Passover commemorated God’s decisive act of delivering Israel out of slavery in Egypt. It was Israel’s miraculous Independence Day! The Book of Exodus recorded the history of the original Passover. After hammering Egypt with plagues over Pharaoh’s refusal to let the Israelites go free, God announced that there would be just one more plague: all firstborn males in the land would die. At Moses’ instructions, each Israelite family sacrificed a lamb and put its blood on the doorframe of their homes to ward off the destroying angel. That angel brought judgment on the firstborn in every household in Egypt where the blood of the Passover lamb had not been applied. Even Pharaoh’s son was not spared. In the aftermath of the angel’s punishment of Egypt, Pharaoh’s pride was broken and he agreed to release his Israelite slaves. Now they were free—free to leave their lifelong drudgery of slavery and venture forth to the Promised Land that God had waiting for them! At that time the Lord had commanded that every generation of Israelites was to celebrate the Passover every year in order to recall that their identity was based on God’s grace in saving them. It was a time of joy, a reminder that God had seen their desperate need and had stepped in to rescue them.
As Jesus and his disciples ate the Passover meal together, though, he forewarned them that, just like the Passover lamb, he would be handed over to death. The one who would betray him was there at the table eating with him, he said (Matt. 26:20–25). This was not the usual dinner conversation! Instead of the typical joy of the Passover festival, the disciples now felt bewildered and grieved. Then Jesus proceeded to reinterpret key parts of that already symbolic meal. He took up a piece of the unleavened bread that represented Israel’s consecration to God’s saving purpose. This, he explained, was his body. The traditional cup of wine meant to recall Israel’s salvation from Egypt became in Jesus’ telling his own “blood of the new covenant, which is shed for many for the remission of sins” (Matt. 26:28 NKJV). Just as the blood on Israel’s doorposts in Egypt had shielded them from the angel of death and freed them from slavery to Pharaoh, so now Jesus’ blood would provide protection and spiritual liberation. As he passed around the reinterpreted bread and cup for the disciples to eat and drink, the old covenant of the past and the new covenant of the future mingled together in their awareness.
The Passover meal ended with the singing of a hymn (Matt. 26:30). In Jesus’ day, this hymn was likely taken from the collection of psalms known as the Egyptian Hallel (Psalms 113–118 in our Bibles). Psalms 113 and 114 already would have been sung at the beginning of the Passover meal, while the remaining four psalms were sung at the end. Together these psalms proclaimed Israel’s gratitude for the Lord’s faithfulness to his people across their history. Because Jesus had already reinterpreted the Passover meal to be about himself and his work of salvation, we must also reread these psalms in light of his sacrifice. Over the next several days we will do just that, tracing how the Egyptian Hallel finds its final fulfillment in Christ.
When Jesus arrives, everything takes on new meaning—the Scriptures we read, the company we keep, the meals we eat, the songs we sing, the lives we lead. He makes all things new simply by being present. As we move through this Lenten season, let him reinterpret your reality.