Christ, our Passover

Today marks the beginning of a new theme. Over the next few days we will discuss “Provisions for the Journey.” Jesus is the New Moses (see Deuteronomy 18:15, 18), coming to lead a New Exodus, it stands to reason that there will be a New Passover. In order for us to understand the “New Passover,” we would do well to review the original Passover Feast. In reading the account of that first Passover, recorded in Exodus 12, it is difficult to miss the typological connections to Jesus and what He would do in the upper room and on Calvary’s Cross!

Read Exodus 12:1-14, 24-28, Numbers 9:13 – The First Passover

As we examine the Passover, we’ll see that it was a focal point of life for the Israelites. Much like Christians look to the cross as the defining saving action of God, the Hebrew people point to the Passover as the central saving act of God on their behalf. The Passover is the first “provision” given by the Lord for the Children of Israel as they escaped their captors in Egypt. What’s more, it became a yearly springtime remembrance of the great Exodus from Pharaoh and 400 years of slavery.

What resulted from the yearly celebration of the Passover Feast? The Israelites remembered and reconnected with their past. It was a remembrance. But this does not mean it was simply to summon fond memories of a past event. This was an active remembrance that helped each generation identify with the Exodus as if they were there.

So, this feast insured that the message and memory were passed down from one generation to the next. Further, in this yearly celebration, the Israelites renewed their covenant with God. When God brought Israel out of Egypt, He called them, “my first born son” (Exodus 4:22).  This sonship was established by covenant. Through sharing the Word and repeating the Sign of the Passover, the covenant relationship was renewed. Finally, in keeping the yearly feast, they obeyed the command of the Lord that the Passover should be a yearly remembrance. And, as Numbers 9:13 indicates, this is not an optional celebration. Those who fail to share in the Passover, “…will bear the consequences of their sin.”

Let’s take a closer look at each step in the ancient meal of remembrance. Step one included the choosing of a lamb. Exodus 12:1-6 gives us the background. No ordinary lamb would suffice for this all important meal. This lamb had to be a male. It had to be one year old, that is, in its prime. And, the lamb had to be unblemished, or “spotless.”

In step two, according to Exodus 12:6, the lamb was sacrificed at twilight.  Verse 46 of Exodus 12 tells us that the sacrificial lamb could have no broken bones. For each family, the father would preside over the meal. Verse 3 tells us that, “…each man is to take a lamb for his family…” Later, after the Golden Calf incident, the fathers were stripped of their priestly roles within their families. The Levites, who remained faithful, were set apart to lead in the sacrifices (Exodus 32:25-29). The Priests (who were all Levites), and the Levites (who were not all priests), carried out the ceremonial killing of the lambs and the application of the blood to the altar (2 Chronicles 30:15-16).

Step three called for the applying of the blood to the doorposts (Exodus 12:7). After the lamb was sacrificed, the blood would be drained into a basin or a bowl. Verses 21-23 instruct us that the blood would be spread with a hyssop branch. The application of the blood was a visible sign of the sacrifice and it was absolutely vital! The Death Angel would “Passover” only if he saw the blood over the doorpost.

In step four, God required that the flesh of the lamb be eaten, along with unleavened bread and bitter herbs (Exodus 12:8-11, Numbers 9:11). The lamb was to be eaten the same day it was sacrificed. God instructed them to roast the lamb and to eat all of it. If some was left over, it had to be burned.

Step five of the Passover was the establishment of this day as a yearly remembrance. God commanded that the Israelites do this as a festival unto the Lord. Passover became a yearly “liturgy.” Each spring on the 14th of Nissan the feast was convened.  It was celebrated as a lasting ordinance, meaning that this yearly remembrance did not have a termination date. After God establishes Israel in the Promised Land, Exodus 13:14 instructs the fathers, “In days to come, when your son asks you, ‘What does this mean?’ say to him, ‘With a mighty hand the Lord brought us out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery.” This meal of remembrance connected each generation with the central saving action of God on behalf of the people. In sharing the Passover Feast, all of the Israelites could “participate” in the sacrifice that initiated the Exodus. And, in a real sense, through the Passover, they could take part in that great pilgrimage to the Promised Land.

As we transition from the Exodus passage to Luke’s account of the Lord’s Supper, we will see how the first Passover lays the foundation for the New Covenant Passover Feast. Paul said in 1 Corinthians 5:7-8, “…Christ, our Passover was sacrificed for us, therefore, let us keep the feast…” As God made provision for the Israelites in the first Exodus, so too, Jesus offers us provisions for the journey of the New Exodus that He leads from Jerusalem to the Heavenly Promised Land.

Read Luke 22:7-15 – The New Passover

On the Mount of Transfiguration, Jesus spoke to Moses about the “Exodus” He would lead from Jerusalem (Luke 9:31). Now, Jesus has arrived in Jerusalem. Events were about to unfold that would lead to the New Exodus. Jesus, the New Moses, instructs His followers to prepare the Passover. They were to make arrangements in an upper room. When the “hour” came, Jesus said, “I have eagerly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer.” On that night, they would share the Passover Feast, but it would be different than any they had ever experienced!

Before we examine the differences, let’s focus on what the Passover would have been like in Jesus’ day. First, recognize that it was 1,500 Years after the original Exodus. Liturgies develop over time. Some elements are retained while others fade away. For instance, applying blood to the doorpost, so central to that first Passover in Egypt, was not done in Jesus’ day. On the other hand, four cups of wine became a central part of the meal as the Passover developed. Rather than families sacrificing their own lambs, they were sacrificed by a priest at the Temple. Also, the feast was celebrated exclusively in Jerusalem. Pilgrims came to Jerusalem to sacrifice their lambs and to celebrate the feast. Josephus, the Hebrew historian claimed that during Passover, some 2.7 million worshipers came to the Holy City, and over 250,000 sacrifices were made. It is also important to realize that Passover was first a sacrifice, and then a meal. After the temple was destroyed in 70 AD by Titus, the sacrifices could no longer be made.

So, on that night, Jesus would have been among the throngs who had gathered in Jerusalem for the feast. But, in the upper room where Jesus met with His disciples, the Passover wouldn’t be subtly developed; it would be radically reinterpreted and transformed! Passover normally focused on the covenant with Abraham, the Exodus from Egypt, the wilderness wandering and entering the Promised Land. That night, Jesus spoke of a New Covenant. Normally the Passover liturgy revolved around the body and blood of the sacrificial Passover lamb. Jesus shifted the focus to His own Body and Blood, as if He was the sacrificial lamb (John 1:29). Normally the lamb’s blood was poured out on the altar.  Jesus says, “This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for…the forgiveness of sins.” This would have reminded any Hebrew of Moses’ words on the mountain when the Sinai Covenant was ratified. Jesus was not only keeping the Passover, He was deliberately altering it thereby instituting a New Passover. This is the New Passover of the Messiah, Who, according to rabbinical tradition, would come on the night of the Passover.

When Jesus took the bread, He said, “This is my Body.” When He took the cup, He said, “This is the New Covenant in my blood.” By placing His own body and blood at the heart of the New Passover, Jesus is stating that He is the new Passover Lamb! Consider these uncanny typological fulfillments. The Passover Lamb had to be a male, in its prime (one year old). Jesus was a 30 year old male – in the prime of his life. The Passover Lamb had to be spotless, or unblemished. Jesus is the only “spotless” or “sinless” man. The Passover Lamb had to be sacrificed. Jesus was sacrificed on the cross. The blood of the Passover Lamb had to be applied. Jesus’ blood has to be applied. “…Without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins”. In the first Passover, they had to eat the lamb. At the Lord’s Table, Jesus offers us a way to “eat” the New Passover Lamb. The first lamb could have no broken bones. When Jesus was on the cross, the soldiers did not have to break His legs because He was already dead. The Passover is a thanksgiving meal. Jesus, “gave thanks,” before sharing the New Passover Feast. Both the original and the New Passover Feasts are covenant establishing meals, and by repeating them, the covenant was/is renewed. Jesus instructed the Apostles to, “Do this in remembrance of me.” In saying this, Jesus instituted the New Passover as a repeated ordinance, just like the first Passover was to be an everlasting ordinance.

Finally, both the Passover and the New Passover are meals of “remembrance.” But, this is far more than just summoning a sad thought about a past event. This is an active remembrance (anamnesis) whereby later generations can experience the power of a past event. In the first Passover, those far removed from the Exodus could say that they came out of Egypt as well. For those on the New Exodus, we can also experience the power of the Passion of Christ even though it was 2000 years ago. Of this, Paul wrote 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?” This “remembrance” far exceeds looking back fondly on a historical occurrence. Here is an example. When the thief was on the cross next to Jesus, he said, Remember me when you come into your kingdom.” He was not asking Jesus to think back to their times on the cross together. He wanted to reconnect with Jesus on the other side! This is the “remembrance” of the first Passover and the New Passover – instituted by the Lord Jesus.

As Jesus leads the New Exodus out of bondage to sin, death and hell, He gives us provisions for the journey. On the night He was betrayed, Jesus offered His disciples a New Passover Meal – the Lord’s Supper. This meal has been called a great mystery. But, by considering the first Passover, we are given a great deal of information to help us understand the New Passover Feast. As we approach Jerusalem on the Pathway to the Passion, may we prepare our hearts for the celebration of the New Passover!