Why should we, as consecrated Christians living near the close of the Gospel age, be interested in examining the details behind the Passover ceremony which commemorates the escape of the Israelites from the land of Egypt more than 3500 years ago?
Because we believe the event is also of great significance to the followers of Jesus, particularly in a symbolic manner, and that it relates intimately to our Lord’s death and our walk with him.
As a Jew, Jesus faithfully kept the Passover. In the closing scenes of his earthly ministry he gathered together with his disciples in the upper room for this very purpose. “When the evening had come,” Matthew tells us, “he sat down with the twelve” (Matt. 26:20) and commenced to eat the Passover meal.
According to Jewish reckoning, it was the start of the fourteenth day of Nisan, the first month of the religious year.
This day was to be a crucial one in the life of Jesus, and a day that was to become a turning point in the history of the world.
“With desire have I desired to eat this Passover with you,” Jesus said (Luke 22:15).
WHY might Jesus have expressed such a desire?
Jesus realized it would be the last occasion he would have to be together with his disciples before his death. And Jesus had carefully planned to use the occasion of the Passover to institute an entirely new thing, a ceremony that would become especially precious and dear to the hearts of his followers down through the age.
Hidden in the details of this Passover “type” is a lovely and instructive picture that portrays the method God will use to bring salvation and blessing to the human family. Thus it is really a preview of the grand deliverance God has in store for the whole world of mankind.
When we think of the original Passover, two aspects come to mind:
- The escape of the Israelites from their bondage in Egypt across the Red Sea.
Natural Israel — may here represent the whole people of God, who shall ultimately become God’s people;
Egyptians — represent the opponents of God, both men and fallen angels;
Pharaoh — may represent Satan, the prince of evil and the arch enemy of God.
Moses — may here represent Christ, both head and body, the great deliverer;
Red Sea — represents second death.
- The sparing or passing over of the firstborn from the tenth and final phase of plagues, the plague of death. Only the firstborn were subjected to the possibility of death in advance of their brethren. By passing over them and sparing their lives, God reckoned them as his own hallowed possession. Later, during the wilderness wanderings, God exchanged these for the tribe of Levi. They were separated from their brethren, gave up all inheritance in the land, and became priests and teachers. How fittingly they picture the Royal Priesthood class, who are also subject to death in advance of their brethren—during the Gospel age. They are the “church of the first born,” whose names are written in heaven (Hebrews 12:23). These give up their earthly inheritance also, accepting in its place the great prize of the high calling in Christ Jesus.
The account of the Passover lamb is described in Exodus 12. Exodus 12:3 explains that “on the tenth day of this month (Nisan) every man shall take a lamb according to their fathers’ houses, a lamb for a household.”
The Gospel of John clearly details the time sequence of Jesus’ last days. Our Lord, six days before the feast of the Passover, came to Bethany and stayed at the home of Mary and Martha (John 12:1). That would have made it the ninth day of Nisan. The next day, Jesus presented himself to the people (John 12:12-14). Thus it was on the tenth day of Nisan that the sacrificial lamb was brought into the Jewish households, and Jesus of Nazareth was hailed “king” by the national Jewish house, symbolized by the people of Jerusalem.
In Exodus 12:5 we are told that the paschal lamb was without blemish and a one-year-old male. The position of the New Testament in regard to the nature of Jesus is that he was “holy, harmless, undefiled, separate from sinners” (Hebrews 7:26).
Our Lord Jesus was born into the world as a perfect human being untainted with sin.
How was this possible?
Our Lord’s human life was begotten by Jehovah God, thus bypassing the detrimental hereditary effects of birth to sinful, fallen parents. Only by such miraculous birth was it possible for a human being to appear entirely free from any blemish or evidence of imperfection. Thus we see our Lord, a male of the first year—that is, in the prime of his life—just thirty three and a half years old, brought as a lamb to the slaughter. Yet, as Isaiah tells us, “he had done no violence, neither was any deceit in his mouth” (Isaiah 53:9).
In Exodus 12:6 we read that the typical lamb was to be kept until the fourteenth day of Nisan, slaughtered “between the two evenings,” as the margin and literal Hebrew expresses it. (Leeser and the Septuagint version translate this, “toward evening.”)
The New Testament informs us that the heavenly Father so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son to become the ransom (John 3:16). Upon our Lord Jesus was to be laid “the iniquity of us all” and “with his stripes we are [to be] healed.” He would become “the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only, but also for the sins of the whole world” (Isaiah 53:5, 6; 1 John 2:2).
It was on the fourteenth day of Nisan in the year AD 33 when our Lord was arraigned before the authorities, subjected to a mock and illegal trial, and crucified by Roman soldiers to appease the wrath of the Jewish hierarchy. This was the day of preparation, when the lambs were slain in the temple preparatory to the feast.
It was at around 3 pm of this day, (the 9th hour according to the prevailing time reckoning), between the lesser and the greater of the two so-called evenings of Jewish custom, that our Lord gave his supreme sacrifice. By the grace of God and in accordance with his great plan of the ages, Jesus Christ tasted death for every man.
So primarily, the Passover pictures Jesus Christ as “the Lamb of God which taketh away the sin of the world,” and points forward to the costly sacrifice which he would make (John 1:29).
Role of the Household
As soon as the Passover lamb was slain, its blood was used to cover the two side posts and upper post (or lintel) of the doorway of each house. This was done to deter the death angel from entering that household and to cause him to pass over the firstborn ones residing there (Exodus 12:13, 22). What a powerful illustration we have here of the efficacy of Christ’s blood! By exercising faith in the redeeming work of Jesus, all believers during the night time of the present evil world are passed over and rescued from death–from the plague of the Adamic condemnation which rests on all others. Oh, they may appear to die like other men; but their demise is actually a sacrificial offering in God’s sight, which is far different from Adamic death.
“Having a high priest over the house of God, let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience” (Hebrews 10:21, 22).
What an interesting use of language here, suggesting that the door posts of our hearts are to be sprinkled with Christ’s blood. As we are justified in the Father’s sight, we are to do all in our power to lay aside the evil and sinful tendencies that would hinder us.
Note also that the blood was not to be sprinkled on the threshold or entry way into the house. No, that which was represented by the blood was far too precious to be stepped upon. The Apostle Paul speaks in somber terms of those who “tread under foot the Son of God and count the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified an unholy thing.” He says these have “affronted the grace [or unmerited favor] of God’s spirit” (Hebrews 10:29).
Strength for the Journey
The members of the household were to eat the paschal lamb and unleavened bread that night (Exodus 12:8). The strength received from this meal was to carry them through the initial stages of the arduous exodus as they journeyed across the Red Sea and escaped from Egypt. Today, all the footstep followers of the Master ‘feed’ upon the Lamb of God. It is still dark outside. The reign of Satan, sin, sickness, and death still abound.
All through the night, by faith the church class has been feeding upon the anti-typical Lamb, partaking of Jesus’ sacrifice and appropriating it to themselves. It is because we thus feed on Jesus, by faith partake of his sacrifice and wholly trust in him as our Redeemer, that we receive a standing of justification in the Father’s sight. “There is therefore no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit” (Romans 8:1).
We must also eat of the unleavened bread of truth to become strong and fortified for our pilgrim journey. The precious promises of God’s Word and the complete message of present truth now available in the harvest period are all needed. We want to be fully prepared for our deliverance in the morning for the work of blessing to follow.
There was yet another ingredient in that Passover meal. What was it? The bitter herbs!
What true follower of the Master has not tasted of the bitterness of persecution or trial or difficulty; who has not suffered for the cause of righteousness?
“All that live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution” (2 Timothy 3:12).
“Now for a season … ye are in heaviness through manifold temptations: that the trial of your faith, being much more precious than of gold that perisheth, though it be tried with fire, might be found unto praise and honor and glory at the appearing of Jesus Christ” (1 Peter 1:6, 7).
But these bitter herbs serve only to whet our appetites all the more for the lamb and for the unleavened bread. The Lord is calling us for a high and lofty purpose; we need to be adequately tested for the positions of responsibility and honor that await the overcomers.
Therefore, let us bear with patience and acceptance those experiences that our heavenly Father permits in our lives (Romans 5:3, 4).
Not a Leisurely Meal
Were the Israelites to recline in their chair dressed in carefree clothes, with slippers on their feet while eating their Passover meal? No. All members of this household were to have “no continuing city” (Hebrews 13:14)—no resting place. Their loins were girded, their shoes were on their feet, and their staff was in their hands (Exodus 12:11). They were to eat the meal in haste.
So too, we, as the anti-typical firstborn, are pilgrims and strangers in the world (1 Peter 2:11), and we are working as ambassadors for Christ, witnessing to the world regarding his kingdom and holding forth the Word of life (2 Corinthians 5:20; Philippians 2:15, 16).
We are not to become involved in the affairs of this world, or entangled in seeking pleasure, wealth, and status. We must focus on our goal and be disciplined, knowing that we are enrolled in strict training for a future office as Kings and Priests who desire to be part of the Body of Christ. Nothing must be permitted to allure us from our goal or to detour us from the pathway that we are on. We have girded ourselves for our journey and we look for the heavenly Canaan. By and by, IF faithful, we WILL receive those glorious things God has in reservation for them which love him.
What beautiful lessons we have found in the Passover type! None who recognize Christ as the Passover Lamb could any longer with propriety carry out the typical ceremony. It is the reality of these things in which we are interested and their chief fulfilment in Christ. The Passover connection, is a strong reminder of our heritage, providing the colorful and instructive backdrop to the introduction of the Lord’s supper, with its even more profound understanding. How grateful we can be that our eyes have been opened to grasp these marvelous truths!