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A Mishnaic Commentary on Matthew 26.29 and 39

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N.B. This is the third installment in a short series of Mishnaic commentaries. These essays were completed over twenty years ago, and have not been revised. It should be painfully obvious that I am a very slow typist!

Matthew 26.29 reads, λέγω δὲ ὑμῖν, οὐ μὴ πίω ἀπ ᾿ ἄρτι ἐκ τούτου τοῦ γενήματος τῆς ἀμπέλου ἕως τῆς ἡμέρας ἐκείνης ὅταν αὐτὸ πίνω μεθ ᾿ ὑμῶν καινὸν ἐν τῇ βασιλείᾳ τοῦ πατρός μου. In v 39 the Lord petitions the Father: πάτερ μου, εἰ δυνατόν ἐστιν, παρελθάτω ἀπ ᾿ ἐμοῦ τὸ ποτήριον τοῦτο· πλὴν οὐχ ὡς ἐγὼ θέλω ἀλλ᾿ ὡς σύ. There may be a conceptual link between these two verses (cf. γενήματος τῆς ἀμπέλου in v 29 with τὸ ποτήριον τοῦτο in v 39), and the Mishnah seems to have information which might help in determining the relation.

The Mishnah prescribes four symbolic cups of wine to be drunk at the Passover (see Pesachim 10.1, 2, 4, 7). On Pesachim 10.1 Blackman notes that these four cups correspond “to the four terms וְהוֹצֵאתִי= and I will bring out, וְהִצַּלְתִּי= and I will deliver, וְגָאַלְתִּי = and I will redeem, וְלָקַחְתִּי =and I will take. (Exodus 6, 6.7).” Apparently, since Pesachim 10 seems to be giving the chronological order of the Passover, the breaking of bread came between the first and second cups (cf. Pesachim 10.2, 3, 4). The third cup is at the conclusion of the meal, when grace is recited

(מברה על מזובו in Pesachim 10.7). Luke 22.20 makes it explicit that the cup of the new covenant was offered after the meal. Thus, the cup in view in Matt 26.29 is most likely the third cup of the Passover.

Sometime after the meal the fourth cup is drunk and the Hallel psalms are completed (i.e., Psalms 115-118 are recited; cf. Pesachim 10.7. Earlier in the ceremony, before the third cup, either Psalm 113 or both Psalm 113 and 114 are recited. Cf. debate over this by Hillel and Shammai in Pesachim 10.6). However, in the Lord’s Passover apparently this last cup was not drunk, though the Hallel psalms were completed (cf. Matt 26.30).

What is the significance of our Lord declaring that he would not drink wine again until he was with his disciples in the kingdom (Matt 26.29)? First, Pesachim 10.7 declares: “Over the fourth [cup] he concludes the Hallel… Between these cups [i.e., between the second and third cups] he may drink [other, non-symbolic wine].” Thus the Lord seems to be implying that he would not drink of the fourth cup until the kingdom age was begun (for had he drunk any wine after the third cup it would be interpreted as the fourth cup since the Mishnah prohibited non-symbolic wine to be drunk between these two cups). Second, when we relate these cups back to what they symbolized, i.e., the four verbs in Exod 6.6-7, we may better understand why the Lord did not now drink the fourth cup.

The third cup was drunk in connection with Exod 6.6c: “I will also redeem you with an outstretched arm and with great judgments.” Thus, it symbolized redemption by judgment. The fourth cup was drunk in connection with Exod 6.7: “Then I will take you for my people, and I will be your God, and you shall know that I am the Lord your God…” Such language foreshadows the new covenant, particularly the words recorded in Jer 31.33-34. Ultimately its fulfillment will not be realized until the millennium.

It seems, then, that just as the Passover as a whole was a prefigurement, a foreshadowing, a type of Christ’s death, so even such minute portions as the third and fourth cups were symbolic of all he would accomplish in his first and second advents. He drank the third cup, then, to symbolize his death on the cross for that, too, was redemption by judgment. And he did not yet drink the fourth cup because the redemption via the Lamb of God was not yet accomplished in reality. And since the fourth cup pictured ultimately Christ’s earthly reign he postponed the symbol to correspond with his postponing the reality.

How does all this relate to v 39? It might be possible to see τοῦτο as anaphoric in the expression ποτήριον τοῦτο, thus referring back to the third cup of the Passover mentioned in v 29. However, even if this is not granted, there is a sufficient conceptual link to see some correspondence between the two. It is suggested here that in v 39 our Lord had moved the symbol to the reality. In other words, the third cup represented redemption by judgment and in v 39 our Lord was speaking of the reality, i.e., his impending death on the cross. His prayer to let the reality of the third cup pass from him seems to imply that he wanted to move on to the reality of the fourth cup, the earthly reign. Of course he quickly adds, “yet not what I want but what you want.” He knew the cross was absolutely necessary if the fourth cup were to become a reality—if there would be a people to populate the kingdom.

Substantiation of this view is found in the narratives of Jesus’ death. It is significant that he was offered wine twice while on the cross. Matthew 27.34 records that he refused to drink wine the first time it was offered. That wine was mixed with a numbing drug; but Jesus refused to become desensitized to the full weight of God’s wrath. He had not yet fully undergone the judgment of God which was to bring about our redemption. However, John 19.30 tells us about the second offering of wine. This time Jesus received it and immediately declared, “It is finished.” This wine was sour, the typical drink of the Roman soldier. As he drank this wine he was indicating that the redemption had been accomplished, that the judgment was over. His final utterance on the cross made clear what he did symbolically. Thus, symbol and reality came together at the moment the sour wine touched Jesus’ lips; the third cup “redemption by judgment and by an outstretched arm” was concluded.

Such a view of Matt 26.29, 39 seems best able to explain what would otherwise be very difficult to explain—viz., that Jesus declared in v 29 that he would not drink wine again until the kingdom age. Lest we attribute deception to our Lord or mere human weakness, for he did drink wine again according to John 19.30, we should see his statement as symbolic of his suffering in which he died in our stead, undergoing the judgment of God that we might be redeemed.

Related Topics: Christology