Praise God for the Broken Piece
The Mystery of the Afikomen
By Kevin Howard & Marvin Rosenthal
Around the same time that Christians will be celebrating the Resurrection of Jesus, Jewish people around the world will be commemorating the Passover -- the time when God delivered them out of Egyptian bondage some 3,400 years ago. By biblical definition, Passover is a one-day feast (holiday) that God actually commanded to be observed as a memorial forever (Exodus 12:14). He also declared that it was to be kept by a special service (Exodus 12:25).
Since the beginning of the Passover observance, the celebration has revolved around a traditional ceremonial dinner known as the Seder. The Seder dinner is highly symbolic through the foods that are served, prayers that are offered, stories that are told and blessings and praises offered up to God.
Three symbolic foods were to be eaten: 1. Lamb, representing the innocent lamb that was sacrificed the night of the Passover [so that its blood could be put on the door posts and lintel of the home as a sign for the angel of death to pass by or over the home], 2. Matzah (unleavened bread), which symbolizes the purity of the sacrificial lamb, and 3. Bitter herbs which are served as a reminder of the suffering of the lamb. This article will focus on one portion of the Seder dinner, which is a mystery to most Jews.
At a certain point during the dinner the leader of the Seder picks up a linen bag from the table which contains three pieces of matzah. The leader then removes the second or middle matzah and breaks it in half. Half is placed back into the bag and the other half is carefully wrapped in a linen napkin and then hidden someplace in the home. The piece that is hidden is known as the ‘afikomen’ and reappears later in the service.
After the meal, the children are sent out to find the hidden afikomen. The child who finds it receives a reward. Rabbinic law then requires that a small piece of the retrieved afikomen be eaten by everyone present at the service as a reminder of the Passover Lamb.
Since the entire Passover service is woven with rich symbolism, it must be asked: “Why three matzahs?” One rabbinic tradition holds that they represent the three groups of Jewish people: the priests, the Levites, and the Israelites. Another tradition holds that they represent the three patriarchs: Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. However, there is no biblical basis for either of these explanations and neither fit the symbolism behind this breaking of the bread ceremony. Rabbinic tradition is at a loss to explain why the middle matzah must be broken. Why must the Levites be broken and not the other groups? Or, why must Isaac be broken and not Abraham nor Jacob? Rabbinic tradition is silent on this important issue.
In reality, the triunity of the Godhead is being symbolized – three persons within the oneness of God, just as three matzahs are in the oneness of the linen bag. The second person of the Godhead, the Son, came to Earth as the Messiah. He was broken (died), wrapped in linen, and hidden away (buried).
At first glance, this assertion may appear to be a fanciful attempt to Christianize the Jewish Passover, but the evidence overwhelmingly argues to the contrary.
First, the afikomen was not present in the day of Jesus. It was a later addition to the Passover celebration. The last solid food taken in that day was the lamb at the dinner. Rabbinic tradition holds that the afikomen now represents the lamb, and therefore everyone must eat of it.
Second, there is much debate among rabbis concerning the meaning of the word afikomen. The problem is compounded since afikomen does not exist in the Hebrew language. It is just not there! Rabbinic consensus usually explains that it means dessert since it is eaten after the meal when a dessert would normally be eaten.
Amazingly, afikomen is the only Greek word (the common language of Jesus’ day) in the Passover Seder. Everything else is Hebrew. It is the second aorist form (completion of an action, without reference to length of action) of the Greek verb “ikneomai.” The translation is electrifying. The word simply means – ‘HE CAME.’
Many traditions have developed around the afikomen. Moroccan Jews save a piece of the afikomen for use when traveling at sea throughout the year. They believe that if a piece of the afikomen is tossed into the stormy waves, it will still the waters. It is easy to see the origin of this tradition as Jesus spoke and calmed the stormy Sea of Galilee.
It must be asked, “How could the afikomen, if it speaks of Jesus, make its way into the Jewish Passover when the majority of Jewish people today do not accept Jesus as the Messiah?” The situation in the first century must be examined to shed light on this question.
Jewish believers had already broken away from the sacrificial system, believing that the Messiah had made a once-and-for-all sacrifice upon the cross. They were already celebrating Passover without the lamb, choosing to incorporate the broken matzah (afikomen) into the service at the precise point at which the Lord had said, “This do in remembrance of me.” It is not difficult to imagine this tradition being borrowed by others seeking to switch to a lambless Passover without their even realizing the full significance behind the ceremony.
Ultimately, Passover foreshadowed the Jewish Messiah as the true Passover Lamb. The Hebrew prophet Isaiah spoke of the Messiah in terms of the Passover Lamb and of the greater redemption that He would bring (Isaiah 53). He would be the innocent, pure Lamb upon whom the judgment of God would fall in place of the people. He would be the One who, with great bitterness of suffering and death, would shed His blood to provide the greater deliverance from sin.
How tragic that in millions of Jewish homes today the most obscure ceremony in the Passover (the afikomen) is the one that gives it its greatest and most powerful meaning. The afikomen (the ‘He came’) is an annual reminder that the Messiah, the true Passover Lamb, has already come.
And so, year after year, the small voices of children drift through the night: “Why is this night different?” And the testimony of the afikomen echoes back in reply, “He came,” for it was on this holiday that the true Passover Lamb was crucified, buried, and on the third day rose again to provide the greater redemption, the deliverance from sin. It is only in Him that the Passover message finds its fullness. The Lamb still cannot be separated from the holiday.
There is no question that Jesus is the Passover Lamb. Scripture records it. History echoes it. Yet, one final Passover question remains, and it is the most important of all: “Is Jesus your Passover Lamb? Have you placed your trust in the Messiah and His sacrifice as your only hope of Heaven?” Even as the ancient Israelite was required to individually apply the blood to his door, so, too, today men and women must individually make a decision concerning the Lamb of God. There is still no deliverance without the Lamb.
Note: Hilary and I found this excellent article as we studied the promise of the Father spoken of as the disciples were about to engage in Pentecost (Feast of Weeks). Years ago we had heard that there was a particular promise wrapped up in the "afikomen".