And when he had taken a cup and given thanks, he gave it to them, saying, “Drink from it, all of you; for this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for forgiveness of sins. But I say to you, I will not drink of this fruit of the vine from now on until that day when I drink it new with you in my Father’s kingdom.” (Matt.26:27-29)
In Jewish law, it is a mitzvah (act of fulfilling a commandment) to recite Grace after Meals. The one who recites it fulfills the mitzvah by sharing the cup with the other meal participants after the recitation of the blessing. This cup, the cup of blessing, is also known as the “cup of salvation”, and is certainly the cup which the Lord raised in our opening passage from Matthew. Not only does this reveal that Oral Tradition was both honored and followed by the Master, but when we look at the details of this tradition, it also reveals much concerning the salvation which is accomplished for us in Christ.
The cup of blessing, or cup of salvation, is called in Hebrew the “kos shel berachah”. The person reciting the blessing is to lift the cup with both hands. He then takes the cup in his left hand, which symbolizes God’s justice, and then transfers the cup to his right hand, symbolizing God’s mercy, which is meant to indicate that God’s mercy should overcome His justice. The halacha further states that he is to lift it from the ground at least a handsbreath, which makes the cup represent the cup of salvation, as it is declared in the Psalms:
What shall I render to the LORD for all His benefits toward me? I shall lift the cup of salvation and call upon the name of the LORD. (Ps.116:12-13)
Continuing with the halacha of this mitzvah, the reciter is to focus his eyes upon the cup while reciting the blessing, so as to ensure that the ideas of God’s Attributes of Justice and Mercy will be in his mind as he recites. Finally, he is to send the cup around the table as a gift, sharing it generously, which is a symbolic act displaying the generosity of God’s mercy.
The passage in Psalm 116, in relation to the cup of salvation, is perhaps the inspiration for Peter as he quotes Joel 2 in his great sermon at the Feast of Pentecost in Acts 2:21.
Certainly, the final Passover with the Lord would have been a fresh memory for the great apostle, and a poignant reminder of the work of salvation to which the Lord alluded to at that meal. This Jewish tradition concerning the cup of salvation also gives rich insight concerning the Lord’s answer to the High Priest during his mock trial:
“If you are the Christ, tell us.” But he said to them, “If I tell you, you will not believe; and if I ask a question, you will not answer. But from now on the Son of Man will be seated at the right hand of the power of God.” (Lk.22:67-69)
The right hand represents God’s Attribute of Mercy.
Seated at the right hand of the Father, our Master always represents the flowing forth of grace from the Throne of the Almighty. The Talmud states that the blessing which flows from this cup is a “boundless inheritance” for those blessed by it:
Rabbi Yohanan said: Anyone who recites a blessing over a full cup, they give him a boundless inheritance, as it is stated: “And full of the blessing of the Lord, possess the sea and the south” (Deut.33:23), indicating that one whose cup is full will receive God’s blessing and will inherit from all sides. Rabbi Yosei bar Hanina says: He merits and inherits two worlds, this world and the World to Come….And he sends it as a gift to members of his household, so that his wife will be blessed. (Talmud, Berakhot, 51a-b, Koren Steinsaltz edition)
Israel, the bride of God, and all attached to her through Messiah Yeshua, are thus partakers of the blessing of the mercies of God, through the atoning work of Christ, as represented by the cup of salvation. The Lord himself has attached this symbolic blessing to his own work of atonement, by offering his own blood for the benefit and blessing of all, that we may be with him in his Father’s kingdom.