Remember that we’ve already discussed the etymological transition of the word matzah from “to suck out,” “to drain out,” and “to remove,” to “without sin” after the first Passover (glance back to the “Practice” subhead for reference if needed). One fact that will pop up several times in this section is that Jesus is the ultimate Matzah. He was, is, and always will be “without sin” (1 Peter 1:19, 2:22; Hebrews 4:15, 9:14; 2 Corinthians 5:21; 1 John 3:5; Isaiah 53:9). Therefore, His nature is identical to the very post-Passover definition of the word matzah. It describes Him, and He describes it; the two are inseparable as early as the Israelites’ rushed exit from Egypt. However, because our Redeemer and Savior allowed His own blood to be spilled and His own body to be broken for our sins to be taken away, He also fulfills the “removing” angle of what the Hebrew matzah or matzoh meant eons before the plague or the feasts. He is absent of sin; He removes sin: It’s a literal fulfillment of the word from before and after matzah adapted a new meaning…yet this was foretold far in advance of His birth.
This can be a lot to take in for those reading these facts for the first time, so let’s reiterate that the word matzah, itself: 1) originally described the removal of something, which was unrelated to any Messiah; 2) came to represent both the absence and removal of sin hundreds of years before the Messiah; and then 3) eventually became a precise descriptor of both who the Messiah would be to us (the “sinless One”) and what He would accomplish for us (the “Remover of our sins”). This is similar to how pesach originally had nothing to do with any feasts or angel of death, then became the “sounds-like” descriptor of the angel’s actions, as well as the precise definition of the threshold covenant with Yahweh and later the New Covenant through Christ as the ultimate Threshold and Door.
Another tier of beauty is added to the Communion sacrament: Jesus instructed us to “take, eat,” as His body was the bread. Remember that He said this as He was handing the disciples literal chunks of matzah? (Whether He was celebrating Passover on the correct day or not—discussed in the last section—is not a concern here. He called together His disciples for a meal, referring personally to it as a “Passover,” and therefore, unleavened matzah would have been the only kind of bread the sinless, Jewish Son of God would have passed to them at this time, regardless of that fluffy, soft bread depicted in many faith films and stage plays about Jesus at the Last Supper.) Here again, just like with the threshold covenant, Jesus is calling Himself the very central element of the feast. He is our Unleavened Bread. That much is clear, and that much, by itself, would be enough to call Christ a “fulfillment” of this feast.
But the Last Supper wasn’t the first time a parallel between Jesus and bread had been brought up. In the Gospel of John, chapter 6, we see that Jesus was making a name for Himself far before the crucifixion. In this portion of Scripture, He has quite the crowd of eyewitnesses to the miracles He was performing for the sick. These were men, women, and children pilgrims who were near Jerusalem for the Passover, and their curiosity about the Healer was so strong that they were willing to wander as a great multitude away from any readily available food source. One small boy had immense faith, which led to what appeared to be a tremendously insufficient donation of food for the gathering: five loaves of barley bread and two fish. Jesus took these petite offerings and multiplied them, feeding thousands of people (the five thousand men recorded, plus the unnumbered women and children present) as much as they wanted until they were completely full, and then watched as His disciples gathered up twelve full baskets of the excess. This miracle, according to verse 14, proved to the crowd that Jesus was the Messiah—the Prophet they had been told would come in Deuteronomy 18:15–18.
The next day, when the enormous assembly continued to trail after Jesus, He challenged them not to set their appetites for perishable foods, but upon that which lasts forever. They couldn’t comprehend what Jesus was telling them, and proved as much by asking for further signs, citing the “manna from heaven” events in Exodus 16:4–36 as justification. If the Israelites had manna in the wilderness, surely Jesus, if He were sent and sealed by God (as Jesus just claimed to be in verse 27), was capable of cranking out more miraculous food for His followers. Jesus, seeing the truly superficial motive behind those in the crowd who requested a repeat of the events of the day before, offered a gentle correction, leading to the moment He explicitly and unequivocally refers to Himself as the “Bread of Life”:
“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 God is he which cometh down from heaven, and giveth life unto the world [Christ].”
Then said they unto him, “Lord, evermore give us this bread.”
And Jesus 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.… All that the Father giveth me shall come to me; and him that cometh to me I will in no wise cast out. For I came down from heaven, not to do mine own will, but the will of him that sent me. And this is the Father’s will which hath sent me…that every one which seeth the Son, and believeth on him, may have everlasting life: and I will raise him up at the last day.… I am that bread of life. Your fathers did eat manna in the wilderness, and are dead. This [referring to Himself] is the bread which cometh down from heaven, that a man may eat thereof, and not die [but inherit eternal life].… The bread that I will give is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world.…
[Once again, in words that would have been familiar to them but sound odd to us today, Jesus summarizes His own sacrifice in that Communion language:] “Verily, verily, I say unto you, Except ye eat the flesh of the Son of man, and drink his blood, ye have no life in you. Whoso eateth my flesh, and drinketh my blood, hath eternal life; and I will raise him up at the last day. For my flesh is meat indeed, and my blood is drink indeed. He that eateth my flesh, and drinketh my blood, dwelleth in me, and I in him.” (John 6:32–56; emphasis added)
Follow this rundown: a) Leavened bread is a symbol for sin; b) the New Testament clearly teaches that sin equals death (Romans 6:23); and c) symbolically and spiritually partaking of the leavened bread (engaging in or tolerating sin) leads to death. As a symbol, unleavened bread could be called the “bread of death.” The Feast of Unleavened Bread was established to remove this deathly bread (sin) from the lives and homes of God’s people. Now, Jesus is the Unleavened Bread, or, the Bread of Life. In this teaching, it is clear that Jesus positioned Himself as a direct replacement of the matzah—a fulfillment of the Feast of Unleavened Bread. Believing in and following Christ and making an effort to be forgiven, sanctified Christians in our homes and lives is the replacement/fulfillment of the “Search for Chametz” ceremony.
But there is another physical-resemblance angle on the bread. We glanced before at the extraordinary resemblance between the Seder lamb’s spilled blood and “crucifixion”-style roasting spit, as well as the Eastern understanding of blood as the essence of life, and that explained a lot where “blood” was concerned. Here, we can comprehend not only the symbolism of Jesus referring to His body as the “bread” that the Hebrews’ sin-free matzah foreshadowed…but we can literally see the symbolism.
The matzah, when the baking rules are strictly followed, is striped and pierced, just like Jesus’ flesh on the cross. This regulation was decreed by the Jewish leaders as the mandatory preparation method during the intertestamental age, well before the birth of the Messiah, prophetically pointing to His sacrifice.
Why stripes and holes?
Yeast feeds on sugar, creating carbon dioxide gases and, through fermentation, ethyl alcohol. In sugar water, these excretions release bubbles outward into a foamy, carbonation-like froth that rises to the top of the water in a yellowy-brown slurry. (It’s quite unappealing to look at in liquid.) In dough, however, the flour and yeast enzymes immediately begin to interact to make the existing starch molecules break down into sugars, which the yeast metabolizes and converts to gas and alcohol. The bubble gum-like elasticity of the “viscoelastic matrix” (basically, that’s the early protein combinations leading eventually and collectively to “gluten”), especially after sufficient hand-kneading, traps the bubbles within the bread dough like tiny balloons. These balloons, or air bubbles, when exposed to the heat from the oven, maintain their shape and harden, producing a bread that is soft, fluffy, airy, and delicious.
When unleavened bread is made for the feast, the baker has eighteen minutes from the moment the ingredients are mixed to the time the bread is extracted from the oven. If the baker tarries at all beyond that timing, there is risk of fermentation and, therefore, some rising of the bread. So, the entire process is done in a hurry. To allow the air to escape from the matzah dough in the oven, and therefore avoid any yeast-rising, the Jews would (and still do) line their matzah with stripes and pierce it with holes.
But Jews don’t put any yeast in their bread, anyway… These authors can hear our non-Jewish readers thinking that. So if unleavened bread doesn’t have yeast, why would it ferment and rise? Wouldn’t unleavened bread be as simple as not putting in the expanding agent?
Not entirely, and that’s yet another beautiful puzzle piece involving God’s intricately connected design about the Feast of the Unleavened Bread and its fulfillment through Christ.
Obviously, the unleavened bread made by the Hebrews wouldn’t contain “added” yeast or other leavening agents. Symbolically, this would mean that the Jews accomplished not “adding extemporaneous sin” between themselves and Yahweh that they would later nonchalantly expect unending grace for. It essentially means that, through the covenant with God, they have chosen to conscientiously avoid sin (a precursor to Paul’s “die to sin” reflections of Romans 6:1–2) as they conscientiously avoid yeast during Passover.
However, if it stopped here, this “added” yeast/leaven symbolism wouldn’t account for unintentional sin or the inherent sin of human nature after the Fall of man; the no-added-leaven bread dough picture by itself might suggest that humans can be, by their own efforts, sinless, merely by choosing to avoid “added” sin to the recipe of their faith.
Relating to actual yeast and bread, God’s creation and design deepened the parallel when He made sure that spores of wild yeast are already naturally found on grain! (This is also true for many other food-related sources, like milk) This is because yeast develops in and travels through the air, naturally.
Like human nature that is marred by the reality of inherent sin from before we’re born, flour is “marred” by the reality of inherent yeast from before it’s ground. Fermentation is already a factor for all bread-baking processes, which is why Jewish customs and rules require that the matzah goes from start to finish in eighteen minutes.
And if yeast is to the nature of grain as sin is to the nature of man, then, from a technical perspective, there would be no way to completely remove the yeast from bread, regardless of how masterful the baker is. The fermentation of dough will happen, which means, in our symbolism trail, that festering temptation of sin will also happen, and it can never be removed.
It can never be removed, that is, unless you had a yeast remover powerful enough to grant a clean slate. Remember that the Seder lamb could only represent the covering of sin, not the complete removal of it. Now, the matzah can only represent the avoidance of sin, but not the complete removal of it. The striped, pierced matzah, then, like the Seder lamb, would be replaced by the striped, pierced body of Christ. We now “take” and “eat” the bread of Communion as a commemoration of Christ, the Unleavened Bread of Life, the only wholly “without sin,” yeast-free Matzah that, paradoxically, also achieves the first meaning of matzah, which is “to remove [sin].”
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Now, as with the “Astoundingly Prophetic Links” section in the Passover earlier, things are about to get even more amazing as we set our sights on the afikomen. And you may have heard about the Passover afikomen matzah being associated with Jesus before, but, after checking the market at length, these authors cannot find a single book anywhere that digs as deeply into this as we’re about to. So grab yourself a cup of coffee and put Professor Grampy’s thinking cap on. If you’re anything like we were when we first learned about this, that lightbulb above your head might just blow up.
Links of the Afikomen
The Passover Seder meal, itself, involves a custom that is a little too striking and obvious a parallel for most scholars to write off as coincidence. It relates to the final piece of matzah that is eaten the night of Passover. This is, according to Jewish history (and modern scholarly reports), a “search for the future Messiah” symbolism. (But note that it’s more complicated than that, as you will see shortly.)
Three pieces of matzah are brought to the father of the family at or near the beginning of the feast. The middle matzah (now called the afikomen) is broken, hidden until the end of the meal, searched for by the children, found, and traded to the father for a prize. Without a formal title, the hunt is simply referred to in modern Jewish literature as “the hiding of [and later the “search for”] the afikomen.” The Seder cannot be concluded until this ritual is over. Upon its completion, the Seder is officially ended; no food or drink can be taken beyond that point (with obvious exceptions, such as water to wash down medication, etc.).
So rich is the subject of the afikomen that it requires breaking down and organizing subcategories of thought in order to fully address it, lest we end up with a messy, enormous chapter that trips over itself and delivers incomprehensible and seemingly unrelated facts. As such, we have decided to address the origins of the tradition first, followed by some additional layers of mind-blowing symbolism that couldn’t have been planned by anyone other than God to point to a Christ-fulfillment. Finally, as to what the word afikomen really means, there are plentiful reasons why we can’t explain that quickly in any simple terms. For now, suffice to say that it describes “that which comes later.” After readers have gained a fundamental understanding of the tradition, we’ll then tackle the evolution of this rare and bizarre word in a section appropriately called “Etymological Nightmares.”
The Origin of the Search
Although not every source agrees, the most popularly referenced idea is that an innocent misinterpretation from an ancient teaching launched a new tradition that would be observed by the Jews (evidently without their knowing that they were reenacting Jesus’ redemptive story). In the case of this theory, the afikomen wasn’t even supposed to be what it came to be, making the strong prophetic link to Christ even more authentic and fascinating if this theory is true, because it can’t be manufactured, contrived, or staged when it comes about by accident.
Based on the Talmud, Pesachim 108b–109a, children are to participate in the drinking from the four cups of wine (to remember the four promises of Exodus 6:6–7: “I will bring out,” “I will deliver,” “I will redeem,” and “I will take”). The wine, late evening hours, festivities, stimulation, excitement, etc., can make children tired, so families must do whatever they can to keep the young kiddos from falling asleep before the end of the ceremonies, including the Talmud’s suggestion here of handing out roasted grains and nuts. From this, the Talmud goes on to say: “It was taught in a baraita that Rabbi Eliezer says: One grabs the matzot [plural for matzah] on the nights of Passover…on account of the children, so that…they will not sleep and they will inquire into the meaning of this unusual practice.”[i] Another common translation states: “We snatch matzahs on the night of Passover in order that the children should not fall asleep.”
What’s being described here, based on the context of the original Hebrew chotfin (“grab,” “snatch,” or “steal”), was originally only meant to describe a swift consumption; in other words, the matzah should be eaten before the kids fall asleep. It was that simple. However, some scholars explain that Rabbi Eliezer’s teaching was (quite harmlessly) interpreted to mean that another tradition be implemented—one that keeps young ones alert and excited to the end of the night and involved the act of “grabbing” or “snatching.”
This explanation is the one offered almost everywhere you look. However, the problem with this idea is that it relies on the fact that the hunt for the afikomen tradition began at the circulation of Eliezer’s rabbinical teaching. As we will discuss in the coming pages, there is evidence that, though the tradition’s execution was slightly different, the afikomen’s role in the Passover is far older than that. And of course, that would cancel out any theories suggesting that the hunt started as a result of Rabbi Eliezer wanting children to remain awake. Another fairly major issue that surfaces a lot with the Eliezer-origin trail is how many times Jews associate the word chotfin with “steal” instead of just “grab” or “snatch,” and this has been offered as an explanation for why some modern Jewish families disregard the afikomen, because they are under the impression they would be teaching their children that there are justifiable occasions to commit theft (or mimic the act). If that is a problem today, it would have been back in his day as well, suggesting that a “stealing game” may not have launched into a widely accepted rite at any point in the history of a people whose very Ten Commandments forbid it.
Another afikomen tradition origin theory involves some scholarly mud-flinging between a few passionate men in the 1920s: Robert Eisler, Hans Lietzmann, and Arthur Marmorstein. The lengthier story is quite dramatic and the telling of it honestly only serves to make them all look less intelligent than they all truly were (and all three of them were incredibly well known and respected theologians/scholars). Suffice it to say that Eisler had connected a few dots linking the afikomen-search tradition to ancient Jews prior to the time of Christ and possibly, as far as anyone knows, could have begun in Canaan. After Eisler published his findings and his interpretations in a German scholarly journal,[ii] Lietzmann and Marmorstein wrote their own opposing arguments, which Eisler refuted in another article, and Lietzmann and Marmorstein responded again, and so on. Eventually, lawyers were pulled into the triangle, and Lietzmann, who held certain authority over what the German journal would publish, cut Eisler’s writings from the magazine completely, allowing himself and Marmorstein to have the official last word. Eisler, whose voice had effectively been silenced, composed a list of final responses and arguments for his ideas, but they went unpublished. By presenting evidence his scholarly colleagues didn’t agree with, his name and some of his work fell into obscurity.
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Forty years later, in 1966, Eisler’s work would be revisited and greatly compounded upon by renowned legal analyst and Oxford professor of Jewish law, David Daube. The conclusions of Daube’s research alongside those of his predecessor were so convincing and reputable that the London Diocesan Council for Christian-Jewish Understanding endorsed Daube giving a lecture called “He That Cometh” at St. Paul’s Cathedral.
Daube is correct in pointing out that, at many points in Jewish history (notably that delicate era just before the destruction of the second temple in Jerusalem), the Passover Seder looked to the past (Egypt) as well as the future (the coming Messiah and ultimate redemption). Indeed, this is easily found in variously recorded Seder recitations and in the directives of respected rabbis from the beginning. Even contemporary authorities have no problem linking the afikoman to a forward glance toward a Messiah that has not yet come. In an online article called “Why Do We Hide the Afikoman,” Jewish scholar Yehuda Shurpin explains that the afikomen’s symbolism is linked to the deliverance, and therefore redemption, from Egypt. He goes on to say: “That redemption, however, was not a complete one, as we are still awaiting…the coming of Moshiach [Messiah].… Hiding the larger half of the matzah reminds us that the best, the real redemption, is yet to come, still hidden in the future.”[iii]
It is clear that in some of the oldest Seder traditions, there would have been elements of the meal mentioning, and symbolically reflecting upon, the coming Messiah. What that element was would be, without the afikomen, hard to identify. On the other hand, because of the association between Jews and “poor afflicted bread” from their days in Egypt (in other words, unleavened; cf. Deuteronomy 16:3), the Jews considered poor bread to be a symbol for them as a people. The breaking, hiding, and rediscovery of the “poor bread” afikomen, these scholars explain, were therefore symbolic of Israel as incomplete until that future day when the Messiah is revealed and joined back to her.
The fact that we don’t have reliable literature that specifically identifies the first afikomen ritual, for some, casts doubt on whether the rite existed before the Rabbi Eliezer-origin theory. For others, like Eisler and Daube, the idea that almost all Jewish households would eventually implement the same ritual with the same symbolism because of an obscure passage by a rabbi who ambiguously instructed them to “steal,” “grab,” or “snatch” something to keep kids awake is its own high-speed, one-way street toward doubt. It’s far more logical to admit the likelihood that the ritual immensely predates the Eliezer line from the Talmud. That doesn’t have to mean that every Jewish household practiced it early on, as it could have been a less conventional observation for a time until it was written into the Haggadah later on.
With origin theories behind us, the question of Christ’s involvement comes to the forefront.
To someone who is willing to have an impartial, open mind, the three pieces of matzah given to the father of the household, the search and recovery of the hidden afikomen, the prize—all of it, moment by moment, points to the Messiah and His work on the cross. It’s considerably harder to look at all the layers of the ritual and cut Christ out of the picture than it is to admit it’s all about Him. For many Jewish families today, keeping the kids awake for the prize competition is all the afikomen needs to represent. For some Jewish apologists, the similarities between the afikomen and Jesus is pure coincidence, and they go on to show conflicts in the comparison between Him and the feast custom. However, if these men are wrong—and these authors posit that they are, for many reasons too astonishing to ignore—then it could mean…
Well, it could be an unleavened bread game-changer.
It could even change everything we modern Westerners thought we knew about Communion…
In the next entry, let’s move on to the moment when the afikomen is first brought into the feast observances and take a look at how, from the very moment it enters the room, it takes on a Jesus quality.
UP NEXT: Mystery Of The Three Matzahs
[i] Pesachim 108b–109a, The William Davidson Talmud, last accessed May 13, 2020 from The Sefaria Library, https://www.sefaria.org/Pesachim.108b.8?lang=bi&with=all&lang2=en.
[ii] Eisler, Robert, “Das Letzte Abendmahl,” Zeitschrift für die neutestamentliche Wissenschaft (Vol. 24; 1925), 161–192.
[iii] Shurpin, Yehuda, “Why Do We Hide the Afikoman,” Chabad, last accessed May 20, 2020, https://www.chabad.org/holidays/passover/pesach_cdo/aid/2910434/jewish/Why-Do-We-Hide-the-Afikoman.htm.