PASSOVER was of God’s making and doing, not man’s! It was the first festival that God instituted in the already long history of mankind. Thus, we can expect it to be loaded with great significance. Exodus 12:14—
This is a day you are to commemorate; for the generations to come you shall celebrate it as a festival to the LORD—a lasting ordinance.
Passover is a FEAST—the first of five annual feasts instituted by God during the Mosaic era. Second, it is a LASTING ORDINANCE.
ORDINANCE denotes MEMORIAL, REMINDER, and REMEMBRANCE. As memorial festival, it was designed of God to exhibit extensive symbolism.
For seven days you are to eat bread made without yeast. On the first day remove the yeast from your houses, for whoever eats anything with yeast in it from the first day until the seventh must be cut off from Israel. On the first day hold a sacred assembly, and another one on the seventh day. Do no work at all on these days, except to prepare food for everyone to eat—that is all you may do.
What is the significance of BREAD MADE WITHOUT YEAST? UNLEAVENED BREAD served as a symbol of Israel’s holy separation from natural corruption as well as the hastiness of their departure from Egypt. Verse 11 also reflects the hastiness of their departure—
This is how you are to eat it: with your cloak tucked into your belt, your sandals on your feet and your staff in your hand. Eat it in haste; it is the LORD’s Passover.
According to 12:8, they were to eat the meat roasted over the fire, along with bitter herbs, and bread made without yeast. The BITTER HERBS reflected the bitterness of their bondage to the Egyptians.
The fact they ate the meal by family groups and that no one was allowed to leave his home that night was in itself indicative of the communal nature of Israel’s salvation. The seven days added emphasis and completeness to these symbolical lessons.
Future celebration would not be optional. Exodus 12:18-20—
Celebrate the Feast of Unleavened Bread, because it was on this very day that I brought
your divisions out of Egypt. Celebrate this day as a lasting ordinance for the generations to come. In the first month you are to eat bread made without yeast, from the evening of the fourteenth day until the evening of the twenty-first day. For seven days no yeast is to be found in your houses. And whoever eats anything with yeast in it must be cut off from the community of Israel, whether he is an alien or native-born. Eat nothing made with yeast. Wherever you live, you must eat unleavened bread.
The PASSOVER and FEAST OF UNLEAVENED BREAD were to be celebrated by Israel for all practical purposes as ONE FEAST. Those who did not observe the seven days without eating yeast were to be CUT OFF—which usually means executed!
The people of Israel were to commemorate it, celebrate it, obey its instructions, observe it, remind their children of its meaning, keep it on their minds and lips, in their thoughts and hands, and remember it for all future generations. Passover would forever commemorate Israel’s deliverance from Egypt, and Unleavened Bread would remind them of hardships of their hasty flight.
The most significant parts of the Passover ceremony, however, consisted of the slaying of the Passover lamb, the marking of the two side-posts and the lintels on their doorways, the preparation of the body of the slain animal, and the final eating of its flesh. Exodus 12:21-23—
Then Moses summoned all the elders of Israel and said to them, “Go at once and select the
animals for your families and slaughter the Passover lamb. Take a bunch of hyssop, dip it
into the blood in the basin and put some of the blood on the top and on both sides of the
doorframe. Not one of you shall go out of the door of his house until morning. When the
LORD goes through the land to strike down the Egyptians, he will see the blood on the top
and sides of the doorframe and will pass over that doorway, and he will not permit the
destroyer to enter your houses and strike you down.
The significance of the PASSOVER LAMB is that of a redemptive substitute. When Adam and Eve sinned in the Garden of Eden, God killed animals and clothed them. Thus, God’s grace was marked by the death of animals, symbolically anticipatory of God’s ultimate sacrifice.
Later, God supplied to Abraham a ram as a substitute for his firstborn son Isaac in Genesis 22. This demonstrated two things. First, that God has the unquestioned right to claim the life of fallen men and second, that He will not allow human sacrifice, however appropriate it might seem, until He gives His own Son. Rather, the death of an animal without blemish is decreed to take the place of that of the sinful man until Christ’s death.
Now, in place of the firstborn of His own people, a lamb was to be substituted. Specifically, the ransom price of redemption consisted of the life of the lamb as this was represented by the lamb’s blood. The blood around the door of house served, therefore, to exempt that house’s occupants from the fatal visitation of the Destroyer.
The death penalty was paid by proxy. The ransom price of the redemption was the blood of the Passover lamb, which was sprinkled on the doorframes with a hyssop.
HYSSOP is a pleasant smelling plant of the mint family, with a straight stalk. A humble plant even today grows out of walls. The hairy surface of its leaves and branches hold liquids well and makes it suitable as a sprinkling device for purification rituals.
THE DESTROYER brought the Tenth Plague on the firstborn in Egypt. Destructive judgments were often brought through angels sent by God in biblical times.
Exodus 12:24-27 make explicit the meaning of the word PASSOVER—
Obey these instructions as a lasting ordinance for you and your descendants. When you
enter the land that the LORD will give you as he promised, observe this ceremony. And when your children ask you, `What does this ceremony mean to you?’ then tell them, `It is the Passover sacrifice to the LORD, who passed over the houses of the Israelites in Egypt and spared our homes when he struck down the Egyptians.'”
Passover is a LASTING ORDINANCE, CEREMONY and SACRIFICE to be repeated according to God’s instructions. It is for teaching children also.
Israel’s response to God’s instructions is faith. Exodus 12:27-29—
Then the people bowed down and worshiped. The Israelites did just what the LORD commanded Moses and Aaron.
At the conclusion of these instructions, the people bow their heads and worship. They had exhibited this same faith response when Moses first told them of God’s plan for their redemption. They are apparently convinced that God will deliver them, for they do as they are instructed.
During the period of Israel’s kings, it does not appear that the Passover was celebrated with any regularity by the nation of Israel. In fact, 2 Kings 23:21-23 records this shocking commentary—
The king [Josiah] gave this order to all the people: “Celebrate the Passover to the LORD your God, as it is written in this Book of the Covenant.” Not since the days of the judges who led Israel, nor throughout the days of the kings of Israel and the kings of Judah, had [any such] Passover been observed. But in the eighteenth year of King Josiah, this Passover was celebrated to the LORD in Jerusalem.
2 Chronicles 30 records King Hezekiah keeping one Passover during this period. Passover had not been celebrated in full accord with the Mosaic Law since early days in Canaan. If David or Solomon observed Passover, along with Hezekiah, they had not kept it according to the God’s instructions.
Ironically, Passover, which has been made obsolete by the death of Christ, is symbolically kept by most Jewish families today. Every such family conducts a SEDER (order of service) annually on the evenings of the fourteenth and fifteenth of Nisan. Before the first of the two SEDERS, the house is systematically (often only symbolically) searched to make sure not a crumb of leavened bread is present.
The ceremony of KIDDUSH (sanctification), which begins SEDER itself, proclaims the holiness of the day by pronouncing a benediction over wine. The person conducting the SEDER, usually the father of the household, then has water ritually poured over his hands.
Next, the official dips a sprig of parsley or other plant in salt water to symbolize the meager diet and tears of the Israelites under Egyptian oppression. He then breaks one of the three pieces of MATZAH (unleavened bread) earlier placed under cover on the table. The larger part of the broken piece is wrapped in a napkin and hidden for later use. Next, is the recital of the Passover story, which includes answers to four questions asked by the youngest child, who is present. Then everyone performs the ritual washing of the hands and recites the usual blessing customary before every meal. The traditional benediction is recited, followed by a special blessing for the MATZAH.
Next, each person eats two pieces of MATZAH broken off from two of three pieces under cover. Then everyone eats bitter herbs, a reminder of the bitterness of their ancestors’ slavery. The herbs are first dipped in HAROSETH, a mixture of apples, nuts, raisins, cinnamon, and wine, to symbolize the mortar used in building store cities for the Pharaoh.
That is followed by the festive holiday meal itself, which usually begins with an egg dipped in salt water as a symbolic reminder of the destruction of Herod’s Temple. The practice of dipping eggs in food coloring during the Easter season is believed to originate from this ritual, which has pagan origins. The hidden half MATZAH is then eaten. Finally, the SEDER concludes with prayers and songs of thanksgiving, praise, and rejoicing.
Although one of the items in their holiday meal is a roasted shank bone, reminiscent of eating of the Passover lamb, all Jewish sacrifices ended in A.D. 70 when the Roman army destroyed Herod’s Temple, demolished the sacrificial altar, and dispersed the Jews of Jerusalem throughout the then-know world.
After the Exodus, the Passover was never allowed to be killed anywhere except in the place God chosen. This is abundantly clear from Deuteronomy 16:5-6—
You must not sacrifice the Passover in any town the LORD your God gives you except in the place he will choose as a dwelling for his Name. There you must sacrifice the Passover in the evening, when the sun goes down, on the anniversary of your departure from Egypt.
Of course, God chose as dwelling for His Name—the Temple in Jerusalem. God made certain that the Jews could not celebrate Passover as prescribed by the Law. Therefore, it is that Jews who have rejected Christ down through the centuries have changed and elaborated upon the simple ceremony outlined by the LORD in Exodus 12.
One small group of people, known as the Samaritans and numbering just a few hundred, still celebrate Passover, essentially, as it was observed in Exodus. Living for the most part in Nablus in the shadow of Mount Gerizim in central Israel, they claim to be the surviving remnant of the ancient Israelites. Each spring they keep the Passover on the fourteenth of Nisan and observe the details in Exodus 12 virtually to the letter, including the sacrifice of lambs.
Jesus, an observant Jew Himself, celebrated Passover annually in Jerusalem. The accounts of the Last Supper in the NT indicate that Jesus and His disciples ate the Passover lamb that was sacrificed on the first day of the Feast according to the Galilean reckoning of the day. The Judean Jews celebrated Passover the next day when Christ was crucified.
The Gospel narratives mention dipping food into a bowl or dish. The bread that Jesus broke might have been the hidden half MATZAH eaten near the end of the meal.
Four cups were incorporated into the Passover ritual by the time of Christ. The CUPS of WINE symbolically represented the blood placed on the doorframes. The HALLEL (Psalms 113-118)were sung at appropriate places in the Passover meal. As for the cup that Jesus passed around to His disciples, an additional bit of information related to current practice provides the clue for understanding it.
Jews who celebrate the Passover today always reserve a place of honor at the table for the possible coming of Elijah (which they claim will fulfill Malachi 4:5). A special cup, or chalice, also reserved for him, is filled with wine at a particular time during the meal. No one drinks it, and it is disposed of after the ceremony. Both Luke and Paul tell us that it was after Supper that Jesus gave the Cup to drink. 1 Corinthians 11:25 states—
AFTER SUPPER he took the cup, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood; do this, whenever you drink it, in remembrance of me.”
AFTER SUPPER—by that time all other cups were empty, so Jesus must have passed to His disciples the cup filled and reserved for Elijah—the cup from which no one ever drank. Jesus was therefore proclaiming that He Himself was the long-awaited Messiah and that this Cup represented the New Covenant in His blood. The wine was symbolic of blood, not blood. As the Cup symbolized the Passover lamb’s blood sprinkled on the doorframes, making possible the Old Covenant. The Cup would now symbolize the Lamb of God’s shed blood sprinkled on the Cross, making possible the New Covenant.
By breaking the bread and sharing the cup, and by telling the disciples what both acts symbolized, Jesus transformed the Last Supper into the Lord’s Supper. As observant Jews still celebrate the Passover as a reminder of their national deliverance from Egyptian bondage, so Christians celebrate Communion as a reminder of their spiritual redemption from bondage to sin—a redemption that was purchased by the broken body and shed blood of Jesus Christ.
Before the Jewish SEDER can begin, the home must be cleansed of all its old breadcrumbs. Before Holy Communion can begin for us, we must examine ourselves according to 1 Corinthians 11:28—
A man ought to examine himself before he eats of the bread and drinks of the cup.
1 Corinthians 5:7 exhorts—
Get rid of the old yeast that you may be a new batch without yeast—as you really are. For Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed.
Christ, our Passover Lamb, was a once-for-all sacrifice according to Hebrews 7:27—
He sacrificed for their sins once for all when he offered himself.
Here lies the vast difference between Passover and Communion. The Passover lamb was sacramental. It was necessary for making the Exodus redemption real and effective at the time of the Exodus. But what about for subsequent generations? Does the celebration of Passover work salvation initially, and even anew, in the lives of the participants in future generations?
In one sense, it was a memorial to be celebrated unto the LORD by people, who have been redeemed already. The Israelites could not go back to Egypt and be delivered again. Once delivered from Egyptian bondage, they were delivered. Passover stressed the saving power of the original event and that worshipers in every celebration are actual participants in God’s saving deed—God brought us out of Egypt.
The Passover also serves as important background for the NT presentation of the death of Jesus and understanding the Lord’s Supper. Theologically, the celebration of Passover and the Lord’s Supper reenacts redemption as memory and redemption as hope. Past and future redemptions are celebrated in the present.
The union of Passover and the Feast of Unleavened Bread can be seen in the observance of the Last Supper. Christ breaks the bread and passes the cup of wine—the cup symbolizing the blood of the sacrificed Lamb and the unleavened bread symbolizing the sinlessness of His humanity.
As Jesus death was a sacrifice, so also the Passover lamb was a sacrifice, not just part of a community meal or festival. Yahweh makes this clear in His instructions for celebrating future Passovers in Exodus 34:25—
Do not offer the blood of a sacrifice to me along with anything containing yeast, and do not let any of the sacrifice from the Passover Feast remain until morning.
In the fullness of time, Jesus Christ came and shed His precious blood as the perfect sacrifice. He thereby confirmed the New Covenant and, once for all, replaced its older, anticipatory predecessor, the Old Covenant. Instead of an altar to offer sacrifices, the Christian Church has a Communion Table.
FIRST, the Table represents fulfillment of sacrifice; for the Lord’s Supper was ordained as a memorial of that same redemptive death toward which the sacrifices of the OT pointed in anticipation.
SECOND, the Communion celebration exhibits the continuation of the truth of the grace we have received in Christ. Paul asks in 1 Corinthians 10:16—
Is not the cup of thanksgiving for which we give thanks a participation in the blood of Christ? And is not the bread that we break a participation in the body of Christ?
What does Paul mean by PARTICIPATION? PARTICIPATION denotes intimately sharing in fellowship, association, communion or community.
Communion is a celebration of the intimacy we experience with the living God as well as with other believers in the community of faith. The yearly celebration of Passover pointed back to the Tenth Plague when God’s made the nation of Israel a community by faith. Likewise, the celebration of Communion points back to the act by which God made the Church a community of faith.
Passover was established by God as a memorial—a commemoration—of Israel’s deliverance from Egypt. But its purpose exceeded that of a mere memorial. The reason that the Passover Sacrifice had to be perpetual was that the Israelites stood in constant need of divine redemption. That is the main difference between the Old Covenant and the New Covenant. Ephesians 1:7-8 says—
In [Christ] we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace that he lavished on us with all wisdom and understanding.
WE HAVE REDEMPTION—a present active indicative in the Greek. The indicative mood is a simple statement of fact. The OT saint was constantly in need of redemption. Sacrifices had to be offered morning and evening, on Passover, on the Day of Atonement, for sin, for fellowship, for cleansing, so forth. The OT saint could never say, WE HAVE REDEMPTION. They were always offering sacrifices to be redeemed!
But the divine will, unfulfilled in animal sacrifices, is realized in Christ’s offering of Himself. Therefore, Hebrews 10:10 declares—
And by that will, we have been made holy through the sacrifice of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.
By Christ’s fulfillment of the types and shadows in the Old sacrificial system, He provided the actual atoning that animal blood could only symbolize. Christ giving His body on the Cross completed the work of atonement and rendered unnecessary further sacrifices—It was a ONCE FOR ALL sacrifice—never to be repeated with animals or by any other means again!
WE HAVE BEEN MADE HOLY—we have been set apart from sin and made acceptable to God—by faith in Christ’s blood—His once for all sacrifice according to Romans 3:23-25—
For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus. God presented him as a sacrifice of atonement, through faith in his blood.
THIRD, the Lord’s Supper looked to forward to the kingdom of God. The Israelites in Egypt ate the Lamb, unleavened bread and sprinkled blood on the doorframes in anticipation of departing Egypt and entering the Promised Land. 1 Corinthians 11:26 says—
For whenever you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.
The prophetic significance of the Lord’s Supper looks to the Second Coming of Christ when He will establish the kingdom of God on earth. Jesus taught His disciples in Luke 11:2—
When you pray, say: “`Father, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come.
Celebrating Communion is praying—YOUR KINGDOM COME.
Jesus Christ observed the Passover with His disciples in the Upper Room the night before His sacrifice. This meal thereby became, the same time, history’s last, valid Mosaic Passover and the first Lord’s Supper; for the one was transformed into the other. The redemption that had been anticipated in the Passover is now commemorated in the Supper.
Let us often celebrate together the redemption we have in CHRIST OUR PASSOVER LAMB by partaking of Holy Communion.