The Feast of Passover
This is part 4 of a series of articles on the Biblical Feasts of the Lord (sometimes called the “Jewish Feasts”) and how they were designed by God to reveal both the first and second coming of his Messiah, Jesus. If you haven’t read the articles preceding this one, I highly recommend you start here.
Passover seems to be the only feast in Christian culture where the dots are more or less connected for us with regard to the crucifixion; where its meaning is explained according to the fulfillment of Jesus’ death. I remember having those dots connected for me when I was a child. Every Easter, and occasionally in a Sunday School lesson, we would be taught how the sacrifice of the Passover lamb foreshadowed the death of Jesus. Unfortunately, most churches stop there and fail to teach the remaining six feasts and how they tell the rest of Jesus’ story. Your experience may have been similar.
In the Feast of Passover we see that God in his sovereignty determined, “I’m going to decide not only what day my son dies, but also the exact time of day. I’m also going to determine what songs are sung at his funeral.” You may remember where it says that they sang a hymn on the night that Jesus was betrayed (Matthew 26:30). In this study, we will look at the very words of that hymn.
You may or may not be familiar with the biblical event that this first feast commemorates. Passover is an ancient and sacred remembrance of how God rescued the children of Israel from Egyptian captivity. We’ll recount these events in greater detail later in this article. For your reference, the events are recorded in Exodus 12:3-14.
Passover is the oldest continuously observed festival in existence today. It’s been observed by Jews for roughly the last 3,500 years. And for many, that observance stops with the events of Exodus 12. But, as I will attempt to prove throughout this series, those events were merely a dress rehearsal. The main performance wouldn’t take place for another 1,500 years. In this article we are going to see how each of the elements of Passover were symbols designed by God to foretell of Christ’s death.
In my previous article I proposed that when we study the Feasts of the Lord, we should concern ourselves with 4 things:
- When? On what day in God’s calendar does the Feast occur?
- Why? Why is this festival celebrated? What event does it commemorate in the Old Testament?
- What? What are the symbols and offerings connected with this feast?
- How? How did Jesus fulfill this feast in the New Testament?
So, applying these four questions, let’s familiarize ourselves with the main features of Passover.
WHEN IS PASSOVER?
Because ours is a completely different calendar from the one God established in Exodus 12:2, Passover does not fall on the same day for us each year. God’s calendar is known as the Jewish sacred calendar, which I’ve outlined in Discovering the Feasts #2. God placed Passover on the 14th day of Nisan, the first month of his sacred calendar. This correlates roughly to our March/April.
In Exodus 12: 3-6, the nation of Israel was instructed by God to select a lamb 4 days before Passover, on the 10th of the first month, and keep it until the 14th, at which time they were to kill the lamb and eat it as the Passover meal. During the 4 days between the 10th and the 14th, the lamb was to be inspected to ensure that was without any defects, like dark spots in its wool, lame appendages, etc. In other words, it had to be as “perfect,” as an animal like this could be.
WHY IS PASSOVER CELEBRATED?
Passover celebrates how the Almighty God, Yahweh, single-handedly rescued the nation of Israel out of 400+ years of Egyptian captivity. After Moses pleaded with the king of Egypt multiple times, and after God had sent nine catastrophic plagues as punishments upon the Egyptians and their king for his stubborn enslavement of the descendants of Israel, God delivered the final and most severe punishment of all by killing the firstborn males of every human and animal in the land of Egypt in one night.
Only the Israelites, who had followed God’s command to apply the blood of the Passover lambs to the doorposts and lintels of their homes, were spared (Exodus 12: 21-24). In his anguish and grief, the king of Egypt, Pharaoh, at last released the Israelites to worship Yahweh, the Living God, in the wilderness of Sinai.
After regretting his decision and pursuing the Israelites with a host of chariots, Pharaoh and his army were destroyed as the Red Sea crashed down upon them after miraculously parting and allowing the nation of Israel to pass through it on dry ground.
From that time on, God’s divine deliverance of his chosen people through those spectacular events is celebrated each year on the 14th day of the month of Nisan, the anniversary of the day that God “passed over” the homes of the Israelites and spared them from the tenth and final plague of Egypt – death.
WHAT ARE THE SYMBOLS OF PASSOVER?
Several centuries before Jesus, a standardized observance of Passover emerged, called a “Seder” (pronounced SAY-der). The name comes from the Hebrew word, meaning “order.”
The modern religious observance of the Passover Seder is an entire evening (sometimes lasting until midnight or later) devoted to recounting the Exodus story through prayers, songs, and readings out of the Haggadah, the traditional Jewish Passover text which tells how God delivered Israel out of Egypt.
The ceremony is packed with observances like the ritual washing of hands, four separate cups of wine, boiled potatoes, matzah (bread baked without any yeast), bitter herbs, eggs, the recitation of four questions, and the shank bone of a lamb!
It is beyond the scope of this article to unpack the robust symbolism found in the various elements of the modern Seder. Although I am not Jewish, I have participated in two Seders and can tell you that it is a joy to experience. Each part of this ancient and sacred ceremony is richly packed with history and deep meaning. If you are not familiar with the Seder, I encourage you to research it for yourself. The internet has no shortage of information on the subject.
God commanded in Exodus 12:14 that Passover be observed as a memorial forever, and that it be kept by a service in Exodus 12:25. He also commanded in Exodus 12:26-27 that questions be raised in the minds of children so that the Exodus story would be passed on from generation to generation. Only three symbolic foods were prescribed by Yahweh for the observance of this feast. The Passover lamb, unleavened bread, and bitter herbs (Exodus 12:8).
The symbolism of the lamb will be outlined in greater detail in the next article of this series; sufficed to say Yeshua, Jesus is the innocent sacrifice the lamb is meant to represent. The unleavened bread represents the sinless and broken body of Jesus. Again, I’ll attempt to make my case for this argument in the next article, as well as in the upcoming article on the Feast of Unleavened Bread.
The bitter herbs are traditionally said to represent the pain and bitter tears shed by the Israelites during their slavery. This is very true and appropriate. However, I believe God had an even further fulfillment in mind in the bitter tears and anguish of his son, Jesus, up to and during his excruciating death on a wooden cross.
This connection of “bitterness” was played out in Matthew 26:20-25, where it says, “The one who has dipped his hand into the bowl with Me will betray Me.” Jesus was speaking of Judas Iscariot, who would betray him that very night. Many bible readers don’t know that the “bowl” Jesus referred to was the bowl of the traditional bitter-herb sauce.
TO BE CONTINUED – HOW JESUS FULFILLS PASSOVER?
In the next article, we’ll answer the fourth question and explore the obvious and not-so-obvious correlations given in scripture that show how the events leading up to Jesus’ death were a perfect fulfillment of God’s prescribed observances of Passover in the Old Testament.
Until next time.