The Meaning of Maundy Thursday

Greetings to you as you celebrate Easter Week! In England, the Thursday of Holy week is known as Maundy Thursday. The word “maundy” is the Latin word for “mandate, or commandment”. The mandate that is being referred to, was given at the Last Supper when Jesus turns to his disciples and says, “A new commandment I give unto you, That ye love one another; as I have loved you, that ye also love one another.” (John 13:34)

In order to understand the significance of Maundy Thursday and this “new mandate”, we have to understand what the “old mandate” was and where it came from and how it was fulfilled so we can have the new mandate Christ was referring to.

To do that, we have to go back 4000 years to Genesis 15:8-18. This passage describes how God told Abraham that He was going to multiply his descendants to be as many as the stars of the sky and that God would give him the Promised Land to inherit. Abraham is between 75-80 years old and it seems rather hard to believe, so he asks God how he can be sure this will happen. Then God tells Abraham to do something that, on the surface, seems rather strange. He told him to take heifer of three years old, and a she goat of three years old, and a ram of three years old, and a turtledove, and a young pigeon. Then Abraham divided the animals in two and set their parts on either side of the path and the birds were also placed on either side. After Abraham did that, a great darkness descended, and God, in the form of a smoking furnace, passed between the cut upon pieces. And the story stops there. Does that seem a little strange to you?

This passage describes a mysterious ritual, which is bewildering to the reader at first glance unless it is looked at from an historical perspective.

During this time, Abraham was living in the city of Hebron (about 19 miles south of Jerusalem, or Salem, where Abraham had just met with Melchizadek). His neighbors were of the tribe of Heth, who was the great grandson of Noah and they were also known as Hittites. They had developed what was known as the Hittite treaty, or covenant. This treaty developed because people desired protection from their enemies. 

During this time in history, people on earth lived in small city-states and were under constant fear of being attacked. There no nations yet, as this took place only a little more than 400 years after the Flood of Noah. The Tower of Babel and the confounding of the languages happened only 200 – 250 years earlier, and people lives in villages according to their language groups. They were small and were in constant fear of being attacked.

The kings of smaller cities (the “vassal” kings) were especially vulnerable, so they would often seek protection with the king of a larger city (or “Suzerain king”). The treaty, or covenant, was designed so that if the weaker city was ever attacked, the greater king’s army would protect the lesser king and fight with them. In return, the smaller king would agree to pay the greater king tribute, or give him fair maidens or whatever they agreed to. Once the terms of the treaty were agreed upon, it would then become a blood covenant. 

They would seal this blood covenant with a ritual; where the lesser king (the vassel) would cut an animal in two, and place the pieces on either side of a path. Then, the vassel king would walk between the cut upon animal and say, “Let this be done to me, and moreso, if I do not fulfill my part in this covenant.” 

This is why it was called a blood covenant; because if the lesser king did not fulfill his obligations of paying his tribute, the greater king could legally cut him in half and kill him, thus fulfilling the covenant. As long as both kings were alive, the covenant was in force. Only when one died could the blood covenant be fulfilled and exist no more. ( BTW, this is a type of blood covenant that marriage refers to when a husband and wife say the words, “until death us do part.”)

What makes the story in Gen 15 so amazing is that Abraham (the lesser king) did not walk between the animals, but the Greater King, God Himself, walked between the cut upon animals and in essence said, “Let this be done to Me and more so if Abraham does not fulfill his part of this covenant.” 

At this moment God took 100% of the responsibility for this covenant and the relationship between Him and Abraham. This is the perfect example of the love of God. God’s responsibility in this covenant was that He would protect Abraham including his yet unborn descendants, multiply them, and give them the land He had promised to them. Abraham’s responsibility was to perfectly serve God, love and obey Him. Abraham’s part of the covenant is summed up when God tells Abraham “be thou perfect”. (Gen 17:1)

How did Abraham and his descendents do with their part of fulfilling the covenant? Did they walk perfectly before God? No, they repeatedly failed and broke the laws God gave to them. They were unable to fulfill the covenant. Abraham and all his descendants should have died and been cut in two. But in this covenant, it was God who walked between the cut upon animals and said that He would suffer the consequences for Abraham breaking it. 

The Covenant was broken. The price must be paid. The King who walked between the cut upon animals had to die. But God is a Spirit, how can He die? In order to pay the penalty and fulfill the blood covenant, God would have to become a man. Only if God became a man, could He die. So in the fullness of time, Jesus, was born, for the purpose of fulfilling this covenant and dying for the sins of the people when they did not obey God’s commands.

Now let’s fast forward to the Maundy Thursday. It’s the Last Supper and we have to be able to visualize what is taking place. The disciples are not sitting around a table like in the Leonardo daVinci painting. Actually, Jesus and all the disciples are laying on their left sides on blankets and pillows on the floor (propped up by their left elbows). They lay around a large bowl of food and their feet go outward from the bowl like spokes on a wheel. They are dipping into the bowl with pieces of unleavened bread similar to a tortilla. This is called a sop. They would eat out of the same bowl and often when they would pick up a particularly succulent morsel out of the pot they would feed it to someone else.

The Last Supper

John is laying on the right side next to Jesus. Jesus begins the supper by saying to all of them, “Verily, verily, I say unto you, that one of you shall betray me.” (Jn 13:21) While the disciples are talking amongst themselves, wondering who is going to betray Jesus, John simply leans back and put his head on Jesus’ chest so his ear was a couple inches from Jesus’ mouth and asked him “Lord, who is it? Jesus answered, (He whispered into John’s ear ) “He it is, to whom I shall give a sop, when I have dipped it. And when he had dipped the sop, he gave it to Judas Iscariot, the son of Simon. And after the sop Satan entered into him. Then said Jesus unto him, That thou doest, do quickly.” Jn 13:25-27)

At that moment Judas left the room to betray Jesus. Now Jesus knew that the wheels were in motion for the Old Covenant to finally be fulfilled. At this moment, Jesus knew the time of His death was at hand. Then He turns to His disciples and gives them the new mandate; (the new covenant), “A new commandment I give unto you, That ye love one another; as I have loved you, that ye also love one another.” (John 13:34)

That’s different from when Jesus said we are to love the Lord our God with all our heart and our neighbor as ourselves. Now, we are to love one another as Christ has loved us.

And how did Jesus love us? He took 100% of the responsibility for Abraham and his descendants breaking the old covenant of Gen 15. Jesus died in our stead and took 100% of the blame for our sins. That’s how Jesus said we are to love one another. We are to take the blame for one another, even if the other party is guilty. Love is more important than being right. Has your husband or wife offended you? Take the blame and choose to love her or him anyway. God knows who is right. That’s all that matters. Take 100% of the responsibility for the relationship. This is the New Covenant, the New Testament, the New Mandate. 

But did Jesus literally fulfill the covenant? Did He actually get cut in half like the animals in Gen 15? It’s true He had a spear thrust in His side and blood and water gushed out. He had a crown of thorns shoved down on His head and blood streamed down His face. He was whipped and the flesh on His back was torn apart. Yes, he was mutilated and horribly tortured, but was he actually cut in half like the animals of the old covenant? … Surprisingly, He was. 

One of the last statements Jesus uttered on the cross was,  “My God, my God why hast thou forsaken me?” (Matt 27:46)

At that moment, for the first time in eternity, God the Father and God the Son were cut in two. They were divided. Jesus took our sin on the cross and because sin cannot be in the presence of a Holy God, God the Father turned His face away from His Son and they were separated. Jesus descended into Hell with the sin of the world on Him. The Godhead was divided asunder. Jesus died.

This is the way the Old Testament Covenant was finally fulfilled and therefore it is no more. We are free from the laws of the Old Covenant and our trying to be perfect people. The Law of trying to do what we are supposed to do, what we ought do, and what we need to do, no longer applies to us. We are dead to trying to obey the Law in our own strength. Now Christ can live in us and He can transform our hearts to where we fulfill the Law without our even being aware that we are. We are so focused on His love for us and our love for Him we are no longer conscious of our Selves. We see others with Christ’s eyes and we love them as He does.

This is the new mandate Christ has given us; to love one another. And we can’t fulfill this new mandate any better than we could fulfill the Old Law. The love we need to love our enemies and bless them that curse us, does not exist within us. We have to find this love outside of ourselves and receive it from Jesus.

On Friday, the moment when Christ died, the most amazing thing happened – the veil in the Temple was torn in two, from the top to the bottom. The curtain, that separated man from God, opened up and gave us access to come into God’s presence, just like Adam had in the Garden. 

Then on Sunday, the greatest miracle in history took place! The Holy Spirit raised up Jesus Christ from the dead and He became again alive and united with the Father. The Trinity was again made whole! We now have access to enter into the Holy of Holies and come into the presence of God and interact with Him and to love Him as a bride loves her husband. And it is only when we are crucified with Christ can we walk through the torn veil and come into the presence of God. “Having therefore, brethren, boldness to enter into the holiest by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way, which he hath consecrated for us, through the veil, that is to say, his flesh” (Hebrews 10:19-20)

Now we are able to love one another as Christ loved us. Through Christ’s love within us, we can take 100% of the responsibility for our relationships. No longer do we have to feel compelled to point our finger at one another’s sins. Now we can demonstrate the love God has for us and take the blame for another’s offenses towards us. Now, we can discover that love is more important than being right. Jesus was perfect yet He took all the blame for our sins and suffered for it. He died instead of us. We can now love one another the same way. 

This is the story of Easter. This is the Gospel.

May you have a blessed Easter celebration as you walk through the veil, into the presence of God and enjoy Him forever.

In Christ,

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