Yesterday I opened up this series-within-a-series by talking about the fact that God instituted 3 major festivals in the life of the nation of Israel. The first of these festivals was that of Passover. Today’s post attempts to look at what Passover was all about and how the feast itself relates to New Testament figures or events.
Deuteronomy 16 outlines exactly what this feast entails and also discusses why God wanted the Israelites to participate:
Observe the month of Abib and celebrate the Passover of the LORD your God, because in the month of Abib he brought you out of Egypt by night. Sacrifice as the Passover to the LORD your God an animal from your flock or herd at the place the LORD will choose as a dwelling for his Name. Do not eat it with bread made with yeast, but for seven days eat unleavened bread, the bread of affliction, because you left Egypt in haste—so that all the days of your life you may remember the time of your departure from Egypt. Let no yeast be found in your possession in all your land for seven days. Do not let any of the meat you sacrifice on the evening of the first day remain until morning.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 anniversaryof your departure from Egypt. Roast it and eat it at the place the LORD your God will choose. Then in the morning return to your tents.For six days eat unleavened bread and on the seventh day hold an assembly to the LORD your God and do no work. (v. 1-8)
As you can see, the purpose of the Feast in the lives of the Israelites at that time was to celebrate their deliverance from slavery in Egypt. When they were still in Egypt, the Lord had Moses go before Pharaoh and demand to release the Jewish people. When Pharaoh refused, God judged the Egyptians by sending several terrible plagues, the last of which was to send the angel of death over the land to kill the firstborn of every living thing. The Jews were protected from this judgment by following specific instructions:
The LORD said to Moses and Aaron in Egypt, “This month is to be for you the first month, the first month of your year. Tell the whole community of Israel that on the tenth day of this month each man is to take a lambfor his family, one for each household. If any household is too small for a whole lamb, they must share one with their nearest neighbor, having taken into account the number of people there are. You are to determine the amount of lamb needed in accordance with what each person will eat. The animals you choose must be year-old males without defect, and you may take them from the sheep or the goats. Take care of them until the fourteenth day of the month, when all the people of the community of Israel must slaughter them at twilight. Then they are to take some of the blood and put it on the sides and tops of the doorframes of the houses where they eat the lambs. That same night they are to eat the meat roasted over the fire, along with bitter herbs, and bread made without yeast. Do not eat the meat raw or cooked in water, but roast it over the fire—head, legs and inner parts. Do not leave any of it till morning; if some is left till morning, you must burn it. 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. On that same night I will pass through Egypt and strike down every firstborn—both men and animals—and I will bring judgment on all the gods of Egypt. I am the LORD. The blood will be a sign for you on the houses where you are; and when I see the blood, I will pass over you. No destructive plague will touch you when I strike Egypt. (Exodus 12:1-13)
As you can see, the Passover festival aligned almost exactly with the actual Passover that occurred as the Jews left Egypt. The order of events in the feast went like this (in the first month of the year):
Day 10 – Choose an animal for sacrifice
Day 14 – Animal is killed; Passover meal is eaten
Day 15 – Feast of Unleavened Bread begins (High Sabbath – do no work)
Day 17 – Sheaf of Firstfruits waved before the Lord
Day 21 – The feast ends (another High Sabbath – do no work)
Beyond just the major sacrifice made on the day of Passover, the feast included the Feast of Unleavened Bread and the Sheaf of Firstfruits. The Feast of Unleavened Bread started on the 15th day, and lasted a full week. The Jews were commanded to bake bread without yeast (leaven), which served as a reminder of the quick departure they had to make out of Egypt (see Exodus 12:39). The first and last days of this week were special sabbaths, where no work was allowed. The Sheaf of Firstfruits was a separate celebration inside of the Feast of Unleavened Bread. Passover marked the beginning of the barley harvest, and this celebration required the Jews to choose one sheaf of their harvest prior to reaping, and to lift it before God as a “wave-offering.”
The Passover, including the Feast of Unleavened Bread and the Sheaf of Firstfruits, served as a beautiful picture of deliverance for the Jewish people, but interestingly, it serves as an even more beautiful picture of deliverance for us today. The Bible is clear that the Passover served as a rich prophetic picture of the sacrifice of Jesus upon the Cross (“Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed” 1 Corinthians 5:7). Incredibly, Jesus was crucified on the literal day of Passover! As my lesson put it, “At the precise time that families all over Israel were slaying their Passover lamb, Jesus died on the Cross!” If you look closely at the order of events in the last week of Jesus’ life, prior to His crucifixion, you’ll see several similarities (keep in mind that the Jewish day went from evening to evening):
Day 10 (Sunday) – Jesus enters Jerusalem on the back of a donkey (Palm Sunday)
Day 14 (Wednesday evening) – The Last Supper; Day 14 (Thursday) – Jesus is crucified
Day 15 (Friday) – High Sabbath
Day 17 (Sunday) – Jesus rises from the grave!
It’s not hard to see the similarities here. Jesus, our Passover lamb, entered Jerusalem on the same day that the Jews chose their Passover lambs. Jesus models the Passover meal with his disciples on the day of Passover, and is then killed on that same day. Again, recall that this is possible because the Jewish day starts the night before at sunset. Remember in the story of Jesus’ death, they were in a hurry to get him taken off the cross because the next day was the sabbath. This has caused a lot of people to think that He was killed on a Friday (since Saturday is the normal Jewish sabbath day) – and is probably what caused Good Friday to come about – but Jesus was actually killed on Thursday, the 14th day of the month. The sabbath they were worried about was not the normal sabbath, but the special sabbath that started on day 15, as prescribed by God as a part of the Passover feast.
Another interesting parallel between Jesus and this festival is the Sheaf of Firstfruits and Jesus’ resurrection. Jesus rose from the grave on the 17th day, the same day the Jews waved the Sheaf of Firstfruits before God. Paul wrote about this parallel in 1 Corinthians 15:
But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. For since death came through a man, the resurrection of the dead comes also through a man. For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive. But each in his own turn: Christ, the firstfruits; then, when he comes, those who belong to him.
As my lesson put it, “What an incredible picture of the resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ! And most incredible of all is how God timed everything. At the precise moment the high priest was standing in the court of the Temple, waving the sheaf of firstfruits before the Lord, this type was being fulfilled in Christ! The Lord Jesus was being raised from the dead!”
To conclude, the typology of the Passover feast as a whole and Jesus’ death and resurrection is rich, to say the least. In fact, there is much more that we could look at (for instance, the relationship of the absence of yeast in the unleavened bread to sin), but for the sake of keeping this below 2000 words, I’ll stop here. In the end, though, what a great catalyst for our faith to see how God was working toward the fulfillment of all things in Christ when He put into place this festival in the life of the Jewish people many, many years beforehand. I’d like to leave you with a quote from my lesson that sums everything up quite nicely:
The Passover tradition was established as a point of remembrance for the people of Israel – that they would remember the great deliverance that took place in the original Passover of Exodus. When Jesus instituted the Communion, he said: “…do this in remembrance of me” (Luke 22:19). A new Passover celebration had been established – a new remembrance meal for a new deliverance. Christ was declaring that the Passover had found its complete fulfillment in him!