Jesus, Judas, and Leaven in 1 Cor 5:6-13

Posted by R. Fowler White

While reading L. Michael Morales’s terrific new book, Exodus Old and New: A Biblical Theology of Redemption (IVP, 2020), a few thoughts came to mind in reaction to his discussion of the feasts of Passover and Unleavened Bread in Exod 12 and of Paul’s linking of our Passover celebration with “leaven removal” by church discipline in 1 Cor 5:6-13. Specifically, I wondered if we could see in the NT how Jesus complied with the feast regulations given by Moses in Exod 12. In this light, I turned to the accounts of the celebrations of those feasts in the book of Exodus and in the Gospels and then back to 1 Cor 5.

Looking through the regulations for observing those feasts in Exod 12, the Passover feast and the Unleavened Bread feast were scheduled back to back, and they were usually regarded as one. To keep the Passover observance, the people of the OT church were called to remove all traces of leaven from their houses. Then, to keep the Unleavened Bread ordinance, they would eat only unleavened bread. Underlining the gravity of these ordinances, the OT church was also to remove from their midst those who did not remove leavened bread from their houses (12:15, 19). In the latter feast in particular, God signified the new life with Him that His people should live after their exodus from Egypt. As Ryken puts it, “In spiritual terms, the last thing He wanted them to do was to take a lump of dough from Egypt that would eventually fill them with the leaven of idolatry. … God wanted to do something more than get His people out of Egypt; He wanted to get Egypt out of His people.” Thus, they were not just to eat unleavened bread; they were to be an unleavened people.

Understandably, in the Apostle’s eyes, these conjoined feasts prefigured the church’s life: the Christian Passover (1 Cor 5:7) and its recurring celebrations (1 Cor 11:26) were to be matched by ongoing celebration of the new Unleavened Bread feast (1 Cor 5:7-8). In other words, in addition to dining at the Lord’s Table, the NT congregation was to be an unleavened people living an unleavened life of purity and integrity. And, significantly, for the NT church to keep the feasts faithfully, Paul points out that their duty is what the OT church’s duty was: as an unleavened people (5:7), they were to clean out the leaven from their midst (5:7), including those who neglected that duty in their own lives (5:11-13).

Formative as the OT was for the NT church’s life, it stands to reason that Jesus’ own (final) celebration of the Passover/Unleavened Bread feasts was an example for His church. From the Gospel accounts, we’re justified in concluding that the Evangelists wished to document not only the institution of the Lord’s Supper but also how Jesus complied with the feast regulations given by Moses. We’re told, for instance, that as Jesus was preparing for His own exodus (Luke 9:31) to go back to His Father (John 13:1, 3), He had sent Peter and John to prepare the feasts to be celebrated (Matt 26:17-19; Mark 14:12-16; Luke 22:7-13). Since we’re told nothing to the contrary, we rightly suppose that the meal and the house with the Upper Room were both prepared as required. In fact, two Evangelists say that they found the room furnished and ready (Mark 14:15; Luke 22:12), and doubtless readiness would include the removal of all leaven and leavened bread. Yet, as Exod 12:15, 19 had alerted us, cleaning out the leaven for the feast would not and could not stop there, but would extend to the feast participants themselves.

Strikingly, as Jesus cleans the Twelve’s feet, He effectively fences the Table, announcing that one of them is unclean (John 13:6-11; cf. John 18:28). The identity of Judas the betrayer was hidden from all but Jesus. When Jesus disclosed the betrayer’s presence at the Table, none of them so much as looked at Judas, much less said, “Lord, is it Judas?” Like his father the devil, he was a deceiver and an accomplice to murder. Knowing His betrayer’s identity, however, Jesus has to comply with God’s requirements and clean out the leaven of hypocrisy, theft, and greed (Mark 8:15; John 12:4-5) from the house. Having exposed him as unfit for the feast, Jesus tells Judas to leave, and in a tragically ironic replay of the first Passover, he goes out quickly, even immediately (John 13:27, 30; cf. Exod 12:11, 33) into the night (John 13:30; cf. Exod 12:12, 31, 42). Exiting as he does, Judas self-identifies as one who walks by night and stumbles because the light is not in him (John 11:10); he is a child “of the night [and] darkness” (1 Thess 5:5). Be that as it may, what Jesus did at His own final feast of Passover and Unleavened Bread was what His Apostle instructs the church to do in 1 Cor 5:6-13. Having removed the leaven of Judas from the fellowship of His Table, Jesus had acted so as not to associate with any so-called brother if he is a sexually immoral person, or a greedy person, or an idolater, or is verbally abusive, or habitually drunk, or a swindler—not even to eat with such a person. Even on the night in which He was betrayed, Jesus acted so that those who ate at His Table would not just eat unleavened bread, but be an unleavened people.

1 Comment

  1. Ryan said,

    December 30, 2020 at 11:09 am

    This book sounds awesome. I really enjoyed his “Who Shall Ascend the Mountain of the Lord?” I’ll have to get this one.


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