In Luke 22 it records Jesus’ last Passover meal with his disciples:
“14 And when the hour was come, he sat down, and the apostles with him. 15 And he said unto them, With desire I have desired to eat this passover with you before I suffer: 16 for I say unto you, I shall not eat it, until it be fulfilled in the kingdom of God. 17 And he received a cup, and when he had given thanks, he said, Take this, and divide it among yourselves: 18 for I say unto you, I shall not drink from henceforth of the fruit of the vine, until the kingdom of God shall come. 19 And he took bread, and when he had given thanks, he brake it, and gave to them, saying, This is my body which is given for you: this do in remembrance of me. 20 And the cup in like manner after supper, saying, This cup is the new covenant in my blood, even that which is poured out for you.”
During the Passover meal there is a ritual in which 4 cups of wine are drank – each with a symbolic meaning; a fifth cup is poured and ushers in the Age of Messiah. This is often called the Elijah Cup, poured in anticipation of the prophet’s return bringing in that age. While the ceremony has changed over the centuries, certain elements date to the Second Temple era as attested to in the Mishnah Pesahim which mentions variations in the ceremony between the Schools of Shammai and Hillel.
That several cups were drank in Jesus day is clear in Luke’s account as wine is consumed before the bread and after. Of these various cups a Jewish source relates that:
“the four cups [are] the “Four Expressions of Redemption” in G‑d‘s promise to Moses (Exodus 6:2-8): “I will take you out,” “I will deliver you,” “I will redeem you,” and “I will acquire you.” These are not merely four synonyms, for each represents a distinct stage and level of Redemption. “I will take you out” refers to physical exit from the land of Egypt. “I will deliver you from their bondage” means delivery from servitude and “I will redeem you” is the Divine guarantee that we remain a free people. “I will acquire you as My nation” to be your G‑d’s chosen at Mount Sinai — the goal of the Exodus. (The Silent Cup: What is Elijah’s Cup All About? Israel Rubin). He continues: ” In addition to these four expressions, the Torah also uses a fifth expression of Redemption . . . [one that is poured but not yet consumed].” Rubin’s article turns to awaiting redemption (a future hope within Jewish thought).
In the Gospels, this final redemption is explained to the gathered disciples,as being fulfilled there and then:
“19 And he took bread, and when he had given thanks, he brake it, and gave to them, saying, This is my body which is given for you: this do in remembrance of me. 20 And the cup in like manner after supper, saying, This cup is the new covenant in my blood, even that which is poured out for you.”
While it is a point of speculation, it is interesting that the text says that Jesus took the cup, “When the supper was ended.” Could this have been the Elijah Cup? Was He saying symbolically, that the age of Messiah has come?
Jewish commentators would might argue that the Mishnah notes that during Passover:
“After they poured for him the third cup, he blesses over his food [Grace after the meal]. The fourth [cup of wine], he completes over it the Hallel, (Mishnah Pesahim, chapter 10).”
This would suggest that Jesus might have been using the third cup. But the Gospel indicates the supper was ended, not just the eating, so the possibility of the 5th as yet un-drunken cup was indeed used, as the ceremony was finished. Jesus uses it as He gives a new covenant in His blood.
What a powerful way to say the Time of Messiah is now, not in some distant future.
Some food (and drink) for thought.