For good little Jewish children who sit nicely through the Passover meal, there is a fun tradition that involves a piece of matzah bread. Before the supper part – which takes place in the middle of the ceremony – the middle piece of the three pieces of matzah is taken, broken into two pieces, and the larger piece, called the afikomen, is hidden in a small cloth or bag somewhere in the room. After the supper, the children get to hunt for it, and the one who finds it gets a prize, usually a piece of candy or a coin or small trinket. It’s a nice tradition that involves the children and makes the Passover a little more fun for them.
But as I’m sure you’ve guessed, there is a lot more to the tradition than just fun for the kids. Read any contemporary Jewish Passover guide, and what you’ll read about the afikomen will be about the same as what I wrote above. Modern Jews have lost sight of the meaning and purpose behind this tradition, and have brought it down to the level of a children’s game. I am guessing it is because there is unmistakable symbolism tying this tradition to Jesus Christ.
It is not clear when the tradition of hiding the afikomen came into being, but the current tradition was formalized some time around 150 AD. We can assume, therefore, that the tradition existed prior to that in some form. Long before Jesus’ time the Passover had established the use of three loaves or circles of matzah bread, and the oldest traditions link these three pieces to the three persons of the Trinity, which were a part of Jewish belief prior to the New Testament (despite what many anti-Trinitarian critics like to claim). The middle piece, from which the afikomen was broken, represented the second person of the Trinity, and the afikomen itself was tied to the coming Messiah. While the ceremony talks of the afikomen being “buried” (put in the cloth and hidden) and “resurrected” (brought back after the supper), it is probably safe to say few Jews really understood the significance of that prior to Jesus’ death and resurrection.
However, the afikomen had all kinds of Messianic tie-ins. It was brought out shortly after the supper, or while the eating of the supper was concluding. Traditionally the last dish to be served in the supper was the lamb, representing the lamb of sacrifice by which God redeems his people. Eating the afikomen with the taste of the lamb still fresh in the mouth would certainly impress on the participant a connection between these two things. The afikomen also represents expectation of the future, of blessings to come, and – in reference to it being “resurrected” – a life eternal at God’s side. The word itself – afikomen – comes from the Greek word “afikomenos”, which means “He has come.”
Do you see the Messiah, Jesus, in all of this? “Look the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world,” cried John on the banks of the Jordan. “I am the resurrection and the life,” said Jesus only moments before bringing his friend Lazarus back from death. “You are the Messiah, the Son of the Living God,” said Peter, and Jesus’ reply was that he would build his church on that confession.
But here’s where Jesus blows the symbolism and tie-ins right out of the water. In John Lawrenz’s Passover Haggadah, he notes that based on Matthew’s and Mark’s Gospels (“while they were eating, Jesus took bread,”), the bread Jesus used to institute the Lord’s Supper would have been the piece of afikomen. He went way beyond simply connecting himself symbolically to that piece of bread. He went the extra – the extraordinary – step of miraculously giving his body in, with, and under that piece of bread.
“This [piece of bread that you have always seen as a symbol of the coming Messiah and a representation of your hope of resurrection] is my body, which is for you.”
There are no accidents when it comes to God’s fulfillment of his Gospel promises. If he uses something already loaded with meaning, you can bet it is on purpose. Here we see God’s purpose in patiently crafting that meaning through the years, so that on that night, as Jesus celebrated with his disciples, he could show them just how important he is, and how he is truly the Messiah, the Son of the Living God.
“These are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name” (John 20:31)
**Information about the use of the afikomen, both traditional and current, is pulled from Dr. John Lawrenz’s Behold the Lamb of God Passover haggadah, as well as the following websites: