Appreciating the significance of Passover

Friday, 22 April 2011 04:11

Why is this Night Different Than All Other Nights?

“Get rid of the old yeast that you may be a new batch without yeast-as you really are. For Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed. Therefore let us keep the Festival, not with the old yeast, the yeast of malice and wickedness, but with bread without yeast, the bread of sincerity and truth.” I Corinthians 5:7

The above Scripture was written to Christians in Corinth, Greece. Although many of them were not Jewish, the apostle Paul assumes they were familiar with this imagery from the Passover story. Paul saw a unique application of Passover to a particular situation going on in the church at that time. The problem of the spreading of sinful attitudes and the prideful spirit of the Corinthians was the backdrop for this reference to the practice of removal of yeast, an essential part of the Passover festival.

As we take a moment to reflect on the significance of Passover which began at sundown April 18th, and goes for seven days. Let us consider its relevancy for us as disciples. In its original form, Passover celebrates God’ s miraculous interventions that brought about the liberation of the Israelite people. This event looks back to the power of the blood of a lamb that resulted in the release of millions of Israelite slaves from Egyptian bondage.

As we shall see it also pointed forward to an ultimate liberation for all men brought about by the ultimate lamb, the Messiah, the lamb that God would provide. There are so many powerful, encouraging, and uplifting lessons in Passover awaiting our discovery. While this essay will only scratch the surface, I hope it will provide an exciting introductory study for anyone interested in understanding the Old Testament, its relevancy for today, and its connection to the New Testament.

More than just a Holiday

To many secular Jews, Passover primarily centers around family, food, and traditions. Like most of our festivals it becomes an opportunity to transmit customs, traditions and history to the younger generation. Unfortunately, the deeper significance of Passover is often overlooked. Often times, like many familiar holidays, the deeper meaning and relevancy of the event gets lost in the trappings. The deeper significance is found in its message about God, freedom, deliverance from spiritual slavery and oppression. It’ s a
message about His love, His power, promises, miracles, and His ultimate plan to liberate us through the blood of the Lamb. Prophets, like Isaiah, spoke about a human being who would be man’ s substitute to provide protection from the most destructive element of all – our sin. This essay will provide the Scriptural references that establish this truth.

Passover Basics : A Celebration of Freedom

Passover, also referred to as the “ feast of unleavened bread” or the festival of “ Pesach” is one of the oldest of ancient celebrations known of any group of people. Next to Yom Kippur, it is the most significant holiday of the Jewish people. It’ s one of the three festivals God commanded the Jewish people to observe annually. Regarded as a national birthday of the Jewish people, Passover traces the deliverance of the ancient Israelites from Egyptian bondage thousands of years ago. The holiday's name - Pesach, in Hebrew means "passing over" or "protection", and is derived from the instructions given to Moses by God. As a last resort to move Pharaoh to free the Israelites, God threatened to bring a deadly plague that would kill the first-born of both man and beast. To protect themselves, God told the Israelites to mark their dwellings with lamb's blood and God would "pass over" their homes. Where there was blood on the door frames, the plague
would not come upon that house. It became an annual celebration (lasting seven days) with a special emphasis on eating unleavened bread, lamb, and bitter herbs along with a sacred worship held on the first of the seven days. For thousands of years, Passover has remained a special time for Jewish people to reenact this history.

What happens on Passover? The recounting of the Story

Like most ancient holidays, it’ s an occasion of joy bringing together family and friends for an evening set apart by ancient traditions and the eating of special foods. The primary purpose of the evening with its special food items is to retell a story - the story of how God worked miracles to set the Israelite people free from the tyranny of Pharaoh. It is a story of miracles, of God keeping His promises to His people, of judgment, of leadership, but primarily of redemption. It is a story that God wanted retold each year by His people so they would never forget God’ s hand in bringing about their deliverance. It is a story that is told not only in words but in the eating of foods that symbolize the events of that redemption story.

Today Passover is observed with a variety of food items prepared for a ceremonial meal known as the “ Seder” The meal is combined with special readings from a booklet known as the “ Haggadah” . It takes place around a dinner table, and most often is led by the head of the household. Efforts are made to have every one participate as if they were reenacting the events of the story. Depending on the number of guests, usually everyone attending participates in the Seder by reading from the Hagaddah, joining in the reciting prayers, partaking of several cups of wine, and eating. Since Passover is designed to educate, children have a significant role as well. In fact everything about the Seder was designed to engage the youngsters and arouse their curiosity.

Traditionally the youngest are called upon to recite “ the four questions.” These are questions that set the stage for the leader to explain the significance of the evening. For example, “ Why is this night different from all other nights? Why on this night do we only eat unleavened bread? And why we dip into the bitter herbs?”.

The leader answers by explaining the importance of the night and the reason for the unique food and traditions.. All aspects of the night are designed to relive and remember the events leading to the deliverance of the Israelites from Egyptian slavery.

The story of Passover
The historical background of this holiday is found in the first twelve chapters of Exodus, the second book of the Bible which takes us back to the ancient Egyptian world. However, in order to fully appreciate the events described there, one must go back even further to the early portions of Genesis and read about the promises that God made to Abraham. The promises included:
1) The building of a mighty nation from his descendants,
2) The giving of a special land for these descendants to live.
3) The coming of a promised seed to bless all nations. (Genesis 12:1-3)

An interesting prophecy was made to Abraham in regard to his descendants. In fact this prophecy actually foretells the Passover story:

“Then the Lord said to him (Abraham), “ Know for certain that
your descendants will be strangers in a country not their own,
and they will be enslaved and mistreated four hundred years.
But I will punish the nation they serve as slaves, and afterward
they will come out with great possessions.” (Genesis 15:13)

This prediction is a historical capsule of what actually occurred. Genesis closes with the story of Joseph and the moving of Jacob’ s family (70 individuals) from Canaan down to Egypt. Having been invited by a Joseph, they left their home in Canaan to avoid a severe famine. They settled in Egypt as guests and prospered there. Their moving to Egypt was
actually the only way they could survive as a people. They were leaving the promised land but this was God’ s plan.

The Book of Exodus

Exodus opens up approximately four hundred years later. During that time the Israelites remained in Egypt (they were known as Israelites because they were descendants of Jacob whose name was changed to Israel). However they had grown in population to be a people numbering in the millions and due to changes in the political climate of Egypt, they were forced into becoming slaves. This is where the drama of Passover begins.

The Israelites were enslaved by the Egyptians under the rule of the Pharaoh Ramses II. According to the Book of Exodus and history we know that Egypt was a world of pharaohs, pyramids and polytheism. For those not acquainted with the Bible, films like “ The Ten Commandments” and more recently “ The Prince of Egypt” , may give some familiarity to the events surrounding the story. However, keep in mind the events are rooted in history, not legend or some Hollywood screen play. The cry of the Israelite
people for deliverance from the cruel tyranny of Pharaoh and their anguish as slaves was heard by God. His plan was to raise up Moses as the deliverer of the people. However, it was necessary for Moses to go through a training program. Forty years he was raised in Egypt and then the next 40 years he was trained as a shepherd. At 80 years old he received his calling to be God’ s representative to Pharaoh. Moses, a simple shepherd, was
instructed by God to go to Pharaoh and demand the freedom of his people. Moses went from the palace to the desert and then returned to the palace as a prophet. God equipped Moses with supernatural powers in order to demonstrate that, in fact, God had sent him. So Moses came down from a mountain with the message to “ Let God’ s people go.” Moses' plea of let my people go was ignored. Pharaoh refused to listen and agree to Moses' demand that the Israelites be allowed to leave Egypt. Moses warned the
Pharaoh that God would send severe punishments to the people of Egypt if the Israelites were not freed. Again the Pharaoh ignored Moses' request of freedom. Then began a contest of power and judgments upon Egypt, Pharaoh and the religion of the Egyptians. In response, God unleashed a series of ten terrible plagues upon the people of Egypt.

The catastrophic plagues came only upon Pharaoh, his people, and his false gods. These plagues included:
3.Lice (vermin)
4.Wild Beasts(flies)
5.Blight (Cattle Disease)
10. Slaying of the First Born

The gods of Egypt were judged by the God of Moses. For example, the Nile god was turned into blood, the sun god RA was turned into darkness. The frog god of the Egyptians would become one of the plagues. In spite of the devastation and terror created by the plagues Pharaoh was unconvinced and stubbornly refused to free the Jewish slaves- Until the last plague- the most devastating plague of all which was a direct attack against Pharaoh himself - the death of the firstborn including Pharaoh’ s first born. The mystery of that last plague and the events it would set in place make up the substance of Passover night. It is described in depth in Exodus 12:

"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 12:12-13) Read the entire 12th chapter of Exodus.

When Pharaoh finally agreed to allow the Israelites freedom, the people left their homes so quickly that there wasn't even time to bake their breads. So they packed the raw dough to take with them on their journey. As they fled through the desert the dough baked in the hot sun into hard crackers called matzohs. Today to commemorate this event, Jews eat matzah in place of bread during Passover. This is considered the “ bread of affliction.”

Though the Jews were now free, their liberation was incomplete. Pharaoh's army chased them through the desert towards the Red Sea. When the Jews reached the sea they were trapped, since the sea blocked their escape. It was then that a miracle occurred. The waves of the Red Sea parted and the Israelites were able to cross to the other side. As soon as they all reached the other side the sea closed, trapping the Pharaoh's army as the waves closed upon them. Then as the Israelites watched the waters of the Red Sea sweep away the Pharaoh's army they realized they were finally free. Passover celebrates this history.

How Jewish people traditionally observe Passover today

Passover is observed for seven days in which Jews abstain from eating bread with leaven. The holiday begins with a special worship service and the ceremonial meal known as the “ Seder” . most often is led by the head of the congregation or household. The Seder is the most important event in the Passover celebration. Usually gathering the whole family and friends together, the Seder is steeped in long held traditions and customs.

Introducing the Messianic connection - How Disciples can View Passover

While Passover is a special time for Jewish families to come together, most Jews tend to view Passover primarily as a time for a family reunion and eating both the Seder and a big meal. many attend services and attempt more spiritual reflections. Because the time of Passover often overlaps Easter, most gentiles (non Jewish people) have not given Passover much thought and even those who are familiar with the Old and New Testament have not truly grasped the significance of this holiday. Others have come to realize that Passover contains some of the richest symbols and types found in the Old Testament that foreshadow the work of Messiah. They see Passover as one of the most awesome of all holidays providing deep reflection and appreciation of the price paid for our deliverance. They understand that the communion has its roots in a Jewish Passover and derives its true meaning from the way Jesus used it to teach about himself and his sacrifice.

Jesus’ observance Passover with his disciples was actually “The Last ‘Seder” The four gospels record that Jesus planned to observe a Passover Seder with his disciples. Hundreds of years later this would later be referred to as Jesus’ “ last supper” . It was this very meal almost 2000 years ago that Jesus had with his disciples that resulted in what Christians refer to as the Lords Supper (but in actuality was a Jewish Passover Seder.) It
set in motion the events just prior to his arrest and trial and subsequent crucifixion. Jesus ate the Passover meal with eleven of His disciples. He then died on Passover to fulfill the Scriptures (Isaiah 53) and become mans sin offering. With this background we will now look at the Messianic themes in the Passover: Within the symbol and story is a beautiful thread of prophecy foreshadowing the true Lamb, whose sacrifice makes God able to pass over our sins today. With these thoughts in mind we will now look at some Messianic Themes found in the Passover

Some Themes and Lessons found in the Passover:

1. The bitterness of bondage, slavery to sins The hardship brought about by sin is pictured in the bitter herbs: The bitterness that is caused by our slavery to selfishness, pride, jealousy, lust, and other addictions is
analogous to the Israelite slavery to Egypt.

2. God’s personal concern. Passover is about God’ s personal intervention and involvement with his people. He is truly at work behind the scenes. Just like God rescued the midwives and Moses, the deliverance of the Israelites was always in His plan. When the time was right, deliverance became a reality. He hears our cries and prayers but His timing is not necessarily the same as ours.

3. God is above all other gods. God’ s show down with Egyptian gods was a merciful attempt on the part of God to demonstrate that He is the one and only awesome God.

4. Freedom from slavery In the same way He acted to provide physical freedom through the means of a sacrifice, He acted again providing spiritual freedom. Though we are not slaves, as God's people in Egypt, we are slaves to our sin, our own wants and desires. Sin was our master until Jesus, the Passover Lamb, delivered us from our Egypt. (John 8:31-36)

5. Remembering the Old Life. - Never forget Egypt. When we forget what we have been saved from we become ungrateful and blind (2 Peter 1:5-11).

6. Cleaning out the old leaven. This commemorates the fact that the Jews leaving Egypt were in a hurry, and did not have time to let their bread rise. It is also a symbolic way of removing the "puffiness" (arrogance, pride) from our souls.( I Cor. 5:7)

The word “ leaven” stands for yeast (in Hebrew the word is “ chametz” – the bacteria in air that causes fermentation. The element in milk that causes it to go sour and in bread – it causes the dough to rise. Probably the most significant observance related to Pesach involves the calculated and diligent removal of chametz from Jewish homes just prior to Passover.

Leading up to the first night of Passover, the home is cleaned and cleared of all products containing yeast. All chametz is either eaten before Passover begins or "sold" to non- Jewish neighbors and friends. The process of cleaning the home of all chametz in preparation for Pesach is an enormous task. To do it right, you must prepare for several weeks and spend several days scrubbing everything down, going over the edges of your stove and fridge with a toothpick and a Q-Tip, covering all surfaces that have come in contact with any bread or products with yeast. After the cleaning is completed, the morning before the Seder, a formal search of the house for chametz is undertaken, and any remaining chametz is burned.

Such similar effort is needed in our life in order to deal with the sin that can so easily spread. (I Corinthians 5:7)

7. The sinlessness and suffering of M essiah is pictured in the unleavened bread. The Messiah - as the bread of life. The stripes and markings on the unleavened bread : By His stripes we are healed: (Isaiah 53) . In the Old and New Testament leaven or fermented things often symbolizes sin. Jesus warned against” the leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees.” (Matt. 16:6). Paul wrote, “ the leaven of malice and wickedness” and the “ unleavened bread of sincerity and truth’ (I Cor. 5:8) The Passover bread described in
Exodus was to become a symbol of the sinless life of the one known as the Bread of Life.

8. The deliverance by the blood of the sacrificed lamb The Zorora: the Lamb shank bone that sits on the main seder plate represents the slain
Pesach lamb required to provide the blood that would placed on the door frames of the dwellings to protect from death of the first born. The Zorora is also translated “ the arm of the Lord” (Isaiah 53:1 and stands for Gods salvation as he stretches out his arm to save us. Once again, Ha Shem (God) provided a sacrifice of a male lamb without defect. As it was foretold in Isaiah 53:6-7, the ultimate sacrifice would be a human being.

Passover pronounces redemption. To believers in Messiah, the Passover feast has a special meaning. Several symbolic clues during Passover are fulfilled in Christ. John the Baptist introduced Jesus by saying, "Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world." (John 1:29). The Jews had been celebrating Passover for 1,500 years. They understood the significance of John's statements.

The lamb slain during Passover was a foreshadow of the redemption we find in the Messiah, our Passover lamb. The principle of redemption is the concept of bondage to the slavery of sin and freedom from its domination (John 8:31-36). To be "redeemed" means to be purchased from slavery. Jesus Christ purchased our freedom with His blood as the payment for the redemption (Ps. 34:22; 1 Peter 1:18,19; Gal. 3:13; Eph. 1:7; 1 John 1:7).

To fully understand the connection of Passover and the Cross, we need to look at the theme of sacrifice for sin that begins in Genesis and goes throughout the Bible. From the beginning of time God had been saying, “ There is no way to approach Me except by coming with a lamb.” Sacrifice was ordained by God from the very beginning. Adam and Eve had never seen death. They didn’ t know what it was like. When they disobeyed
God, He sacrificed an animal.” to cover” their sin. “ And the Lord God made garments of skin.and clothed them (Genesis 3:21). He used an innocent lamb to cover their guilt and He does the same today. I saiah 53, written hundreds of years before Yeshua, records the experience of the suffering servant, the human lamb who would suffer on behalf of others.

“He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth: he is brought as a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before her shearers is dumb, so he opened not his mouth. He was taken from prison and from judgment: and who shall declare his generation? for he was cut off out of the land of the living: for the transgression of my people was he stricken. And he made his grave with the wicked, and with the rich in his death; because he had done no violence, neither was any deceit in his mouth. Yet it pleased the LORD to bruise him; he hath put him to grief: when thou shalt make his soul an offering for sin, he shall see his seed, he shall prolong his days, and the pleasure of the LORD shall prosper in his hand."

Isaiah 53:7-10

9. The blood protects from Judgment During the Seder, participants are directed to dip their little finger into their wine glass and sprinkle it while reciting the different plagues. The wine is intended to represents the various judgments/plagues. When God saw the blood He would pass over those home and not bring the plague upon the Israelites. In a similar way the blood of the lamb covers and protects us from the judgment. (Revelation 12:11)

10. The theme of New Life Traditionally Passover include having green herbs on the Seder table serving as an appetizer and as a lesson. The green herbs (the karpas) are a reminder of springtime and the beginning of new life. There are many similar themes found in this holiday: The theme of Freedom, Springtime-new beginnings, new life, hope even in the midst of strife.

11. The symbolism of the afikomen, - The broken bread and coming back to life During the traditional Seder a third piece of unleavened bread is broken and then hidden away, recovered and then distributed to all. A clear and beautiful symbol of the brokenness of the Messiah, his burial, and resurrection. It was this bread in the Seder that Jesus took and broke it and said, “ do this in remembrance of me.” It was this cup of wine that Jesus said “ drink from it, it is the blood of the covenant shed for forgiveness of sins.” (Matt. 26:26-29)

12. The symbolism of the third cup of wine The third cup of wine is traditionally viewed as the “ Cup of Redemption” . This cup is pictures the ultimate act of God who brings about redemption for all men by the suffering
of His Son on the cross. It seems that this is precisely the understanding that Jesus had in mind when he shared the cup of wine with His disciples. In that last seder he had with them, He said “ do this in remembrance of me, “ for this is my blood of the new covenant” which is shed for the remission of sins.” Recognizing the connection of the Jewish Passover with the Lord's Supper will bring about a deeper meaning and appreciation for the weekly communion.

Passover and Easter

Traditions of Easter unfortunately, have often overshadowed Passover. Easter themes of bunnies and eggs came about from pagan traditions that commemorated rites of Spring. Such themes were blended in with celebrating the resurrection and the themes new life. However, Biblically, there are more reasons to stress the meaning and significance of Passover over Easter. In fact, more and more Christians are observing Seders in
their observances often regarded as the “ holy” week. Especially when they occur close together on the Gregorian and Jewish calendar as they do this year.


In the Passover is a beautiful picture of deliverance from bondage - both physical and spiritual. Passover is rooted in history not in tradition. While the traditions added by the Rabbis are not terrible, they have the potential of clouding the real meaning. There is so much to appreciate from the Biblical story. Unfortunately many typical Jewish Seders and haggadah readings can be somewhat boring and lack heartfelt excitement. There is always a need to go back to the Scriptures to regain its true meaning.

The excitement of observing Passover Biblically comes when you understand how it points backwards to how God intervened in history, how He used the blood of a lamb on beams of wood to protect a people and how it pointed forward to the blood of a human lamb on beams of wood who would redeem all of mankind. This person would later be called “ the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world:” The application to Jesus of Nazareth is more than coincidental When Jesus came into Jerusalem on that palm Sunday he identified himself with the lambs that were being brought into Jerusalem to be sacrificed at the temple. He then sought to have a Passover Seder meal with his disciples that later would be referred to as the last supper. He then was crucified on Passover fulfilling the prophecy that he would be like a lamb slain for our iniquities. (I Peter 1:18)

Understanding the real meaning of Passover and the Jewish roots behind the Lords’ supper brings us nearer to how the first century Christians observed their weekly communion. It will also build more bridges in our efforts to reach out to Jewish friends in sharing our faith in Jesus as Messiah, the lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world (Isaiah 53 / John 1:29)

Don’t Miss the M essiah in the Passover

The Messiah is in the Passover - Just like many Jews missed the recognition of the Messiah when he came (John 1:1-12), Seder celebrations around the world often miss the deeper Messianic implications.

This overview of Passover has sought to highlight those themes that are often not emphasized. In so doing it is my hope that Jewish families and friends will look deeper into the Messianic implications surrounding Passover and that gentile believers will have a deeper understanding of the Jewish roots of their faith. It is through his sacrifice and his blood that we can be set free from our slavery to sin, and through his leadership that we are taken out of Egypt. He leads out of those things that cause our lives to be bitter and frees us from the oppression caused by the false gods in our life.

I hope that this study will help bring about a focus on Jesus and a remembrance of what He has delivered us from... lest we get nearsighted and blind and forget that we have been cleansed from our past sins .(2 Peter 1:1:3-11). In other words, lest we forget (Egypt) what we were set free from (Slavery to sin- Romans 6:4-23). If you get an invitation to go to attend a Seder in the home of a friend, you should go and learn first hand what
it is like. You may even be able to answer the famous four questions that are asked. It will provide an incredible opportunity to share about your connection with the Jewish Messiah. It just might become one of your favorite holidays too.

Shalom/peace in Him (Micah 4:5) Wishing you a very meaningful Passover week

-- Phillip Lester, Bloomfield, NJ April 18, 2011
Read 2238 times Last modified on Friday, 22 April 2011 18:44