by Rich Deem
The festival of the Passover has been celebrated by Jews for thousands of years. It is the retelling of the great story of how God redeemed the Jewish nation from enslavement in Egypt.1 The celebration itself was given to the Jews while they were still in Egypt.2 The original celebration centered around the Passover lamb, which was sacrificed and its blood put over the doorposts as a sign of faith, so that the Lord passed over the houses of the Jews during the last plague poured out on the Egyptians – the killing of every firstborn.3 To a large degree, the Passover lamb has been eliminated from the Passover festival (with the only remnant being the roasted lamb shank bone).4 The New Testament says that Jesus is our sacrificial Lamb.5 The Passover lamb was to be a “male without defect,”6 which is the same description given to Jesus.7 In addition, when the lamb was roasted and eaten, none of its bones were to be broken.8 This fact was also prophesized for the Messiah, whose bones were not to be broken.9 It was customary during crucifixion to break the leg bones of the person after a few hours in order to hasten their death. The only way a person could breathe when hanging on a cross was to push up with his legs, which was very exhausting. By breaking the legs, death followed soon by asphyxiation. However, in the case of Jesus, they broke the legs of the other two men, but did not break His, since He was already dead.10
Much of the symbolism of Jesus’ last Passover week is lost to us because we are unaware of the customs of the time. For example, Jesus came into the city of Jerusalem five days before the lamb was killed in the temple as the Passover sacrifice for the sins of the people of Israel. Five days before the lamb was to be sacrificed, it was chosen. Therefore, Jesus entered Jerusalem on lamb selection day as the lamb of God.11 The people did not understand the significance of this, since they greeted Him with palm branches12 and hailed Him as King,13 shouting “Hosanna,”14 which means “save us.” However, they were not looking for a spiritual Savior, but a political savior. Palm branches were a symbol of freedom and defiance, since Simon Maccabeus had entered Jerusalem with that symbolism.15 Jesus’ reaction was to weep,16 since He realized that they did not understand the Messiah’s purpose in coming.
The day Jesus was crucified was the day of the Passover celebration and the day that the Passover lamb was to be sacrificed. For the previous 1,200 years, the priest would blow the shophar (ram’s horn) at 3:00 p.m. – the moment the lamb was sacrificed, and all the people would pause to contemplate the sacrifice for sins on behalf of the people of Israel. At 3:00,17 when Jesus was being crucified, He said, “It is finished”18 – at the moment that the Passover lamb was sacrificed and the shophar was blown from the Temple. The sacrifice of the lamb of God was fulfilled at the hour that the symbolic animal sacrifice usually took place. At the same time, the veil of the Temple (a three-inch thick, several story high cloth that demarked the Holy of Holies19) tore from top to bottom20 – representing a removal of the separation between God and man. Fifty days later, on the anniversary of the giving of the law (Pentecost), God left the earthly temple to inhabit those who call on the name of Jesus through His Holy Spirit.21
The festival of unleavened bread began Friday evening (at sunset). As part of the festival, the Jews would take some of the grain – the “first fruits” of their harvest – to the Temple to offer as a sacrifice. In so doing, they were offering God all they had and trusting Him to proved the rest of the harvest. It was at this point that Jesus was buried – planted in the ground – as He said right before His death.22 Paul refers to Jesus as the first fruits of those raised from the dead in 1 Corinthians.23 As such, Jesus represents the fulfillment of God’s promise to provide the rest of the harvest – resurrection of those who follow the Messiah.
Christian symbolism in the Passover occurs early in the Seder (the Passover dinner). Three matzahs are put together (representing the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit). The middle matzah is broken,24 wrapped in a white cloth, and hidden, representing the death and burial of Jesus.25 The matzah itself is designed to represent Jesus, since it is striped and pierced, which was prophesized by Isaiah, 26 David,27 and Zechariah.28 Following the Seder meal, the “buried” matzah is “resurrected,” which was foretold in the prophecies of David.29
It was during a Passover seder30 that Jesus proclaimed that the meal represented Himself and that He was instituting the New Covenant, which was foretold by Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and Isaiah.31 The celebration of this covenant has become the ordinance of communion in the Christian Church. At the end of the meal, Jesus took the unleavened bread, broke it, and said that it represented His body.32 Then He took the cup of wine, which would have been the third cup of the Seder – the cup of redemption. He said that it was the new covenant in His blood “poured out for you.”33 It is through the sacrificial death and resurrection of Jesus Christ that we are declared clean before God, allowing those of us who choose to accept the pardon, to commune with Him – both now and forevermore through the eternal life He offers.
If you are a Christian, I encourage you to celebrate the Passover with your friends and neighbors. Our family has been doing this for the last six years and have used the celebration as a way of sharing the gospel of Christ in a fun and non-threatening manner. For more information on how you can celebrate your own Passover Seder, see the related pages below.
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