Rabbis claim: Jesus didn’t eat a Seder Meal

I was a little surprised that Christianity Today published an article written by two rabbis, Yehiel Poupko and David Sandmel, who reject Yeshua as the Messiah, claiming that Yeshua did not eat a Passover Seder with his disciples. Furthermore, they exhorted Christians to stop hosting Passover Seders. I want to respond their arguments, because I strongly disagree with both points. But first, let me share where I agree with them—and maybe this is the reason that Christianity Today allowed them the platform.

Where I Agree

Something has changed

About 25 years ago, when I began to travel as a Messianic Jewish teacher/evangelist, I never felt any animosity against me because I continued to live as a Jew or because I didn’t connect to Christian holidays, like Christmas and Easter (but also don’t condemn those who do!). However, over the past several years, I see more and more confusion over Messianic Judaism. Most of the confusion stems from non-Jewish believers feeling compelled to live as Jews or as ritually Torah observant—and then seek to ‘confront and convert’ friends and family members, often with a less than humble attitude, to the point of alienation. I have received so many emails from wounded family members over the years.

The Hebrew Roots and One Law/Torah movements (click here to learn more about these movements) have stained the reputation of Messianic Judaism because the average Christian assumes we are one in the same. The main difference between Messianic Judaism and these other groups is this—Messianic Judaism encourages:

  1. Jewish people to embrace Yeshua.

  2. Jewish believers to continue to live as Jews, as the disciples did.

  3. Non-Jewish believers to feel free to worship with us as equals in the kingdom, without having to embrace Jewishness (Acts 15).

The Hebrew Roots and One Law/Torah movements seek to compel non-Jews to forsake all extra-biblical traditions and embrace Torah, meaning, to keep the Sabbath on the seventh day, celebrate Jewish feasts and holy days, keep kosher (Mosaic dietary laws), celebrate New Moons and to understand the Scriptures from a Hebraic mindset. I do agree with the last point, that the church would do well to have a more Jewish understanding of Yeshua (that is why I wrote Identity Theft), but I don’t believe that non-Jewish believers are to be compelled to live as Jews.

The influence of this movement is working its way into our churches and seminaries. It’s dangerous in its implication that keeping the Old Covenant law is walking a “higher path” and is the only way to please God and receive His blessings. Nowhere in the Bible do we find Gentile believers being instructed to follow Levitical laws or Jewish customs. (source)

While I agree with quote, it does seem Paul is encouraging the Corinthians to celebrate Passover (1 Cor. 5:7-8) and when Yeshua returns all nations will celebrate the Feast of Tabernacles (Zech. 14:16). It is not my place to tell people what they can and cannot celebrate. Non-Jews are free to embrace Jewish holidays, but should not be coerced. At the same time, I do understand the rabbis’ concern.

Misusing the Symbols of Another

The rabbis wrote, “adopting another’s ritual shows a lack of respect. Even when pursued with the best of intentions, taking another faith’s sacred ritual and transforming it into an expression of one’s own tradition displays a misunderstanding of the complex nature of faith traditions.” I recorded a video a few years back called, “Shofar Abuse” to express concern that many were not treating the sacred symbols of Judaism with proper respect.

For example, when I walk into a church and see a woman wearing a Jewish prayer shawl, I tremble inside, understanding that for an Orthodox Jew, this is extremely disrespectful. I am sure that the woman loves Israel and the Jewish people, and has no idea she is being a stumbling block. However A prayer shawl or tallit is given to a Jewish boy at his Bar Mitzvah. It should not touch the ground and must be treated with respect. In orthodox synagogues a woman would not wear one.

Can you see why the rabbis who wrote this article might have a point?

Where I disagree

Was the most famous Passover meal a Seder?

It is ironic that while rabbis admit there is no Passover meal more famous than the Last Supper, they claim it was not a Seder—that the Seder, as we know it today, only came about after the destruction of the Temple. It is true that Judaism went through a massive post-Temple reform in the years following 70 CE.

Yochanan Ben Zakai led the movement to recreate Judaism in a way that the Temple would not be essential, as it was destroyed. Over time, the oral traditions were codified and put into writing. The rabbis correctly state, “The Seder ritual, as it is practiced today, did not exist at the time of Jesus. It was only fully developed by the rabbis in the years following the destruction of the Temple in 70 C.E.”

However, their conclusion that this means Yeshua did not participate in a Seder is absurd. This was just 40 years before 70 CE—where do they think these customs came from? They were not all simply invented in the years following the Temple’s demise. We see in Yeshua’s Seder many of the same things we see in a modern Seder. Apologist Michael Rydelnik agrees:

Some examples include ritual hand washing, the breaking of bread or matzah, the use of red wine, reciting the Hallel psalms (they sang a hymn after the meal), the anticipation of the messianic kingdom (Jesus said I won’t drink of this cup until I drink it with you in the kingdom), eating ground up bitter herbs (called the sop that Jesus passed to Judas). The great scholar, Joachim Jeremias, in the Eucharistic Words of Christ, notes 14 of these clear associations with the Passover Seder. So, even if the Last Supper was not a Seder as practiced today, it certainly was an incipient