In 1 Corinthians 5:7 Paul says, that Jesus is our Passover that was sacrificed for us. Passover is the Biblical feast that remembers the night of the Exodus from Egypt, when the Israelites slaughtered and ate the Passover lamb and put its blood at their doorposts. This Passover lamb and its blood point to the true Lamb of God that was to come – Jesus.
In Leviticus 23, God commanded the Jewish people to keep the Passover each year. It was in remembrance to the last night they spent in slavery in Egypt but also an image that pointed to the future Lamb of God – Jesus our Passover.
Jesus is our Passover
Have you ever wondered why Jesus is called the “Lamb of God”? Or why the New Testaments puts such an emphasis on the blood that Jesus shed on the cross?
“For you know that God paid a ransom to save you from the empty life you inherited from your ancestors. And it was not paid with mere gold or silver, which lose their value. It was the precious blood of Christ, the sinless, spotless Lamb of God.” (1 Peter 1:18-19, NLT)
The writers of the New Testament didn’t come up with a new theological concept. They looked at what God had revealed to Israel in the past and proved how Jesus fulfilled all the Old Testament prophecies.
If we want to fully understand what Jesus has done for us, we must go back to the roots: the Old Testament. In John 5:46 Jesus said “If you really believed Moses, you would believe me, because he wrote about me.“ (NLT) In this context, Moses is used synonymously for the Torah, the Pentateuch (Moses was its author). (Read also: Moses: A type of Christ)
Where does the Torah or the Old Testament speak of Jesus? One instance is through the Biblical feasts that God had commanded to be kept annually for all generations (Leviticus 23). All of them pointed to Jesus and to God’s plan of salvation.
The Biblical feasts can be divided into the spring feasts and autumn feasts. All of the spring feasts Jesus fulfilled at his First Coming, one of them was Passover.
The Passover lamb in Exodus
In Exodus 12, in the night when God delivered Israel out of slavery, Moses warned that the destroyer would go through Egypt and kill every first born male. But God had provided an unusual and unprecedented means of salvation so that everyone had the chance to be saved: The Passover lamb (Exodus 12:3-10).
The Passover lamb in Exodus had to be selected very carefully:
- It had to be one year old.
- The Israelites had to examine the Passover lamb for four days, to make sure it was be flawless, without any fault (Exodus 12:5-6).
- The legs of the Passover lamb were not allowed to be broken (Exodus 12:46).
Then, on the night of the Exodus, they had to slaughter the Passover lamb and put its blood on their door posts. While the destroyer went through Egypt, the Israelites were ordered to stay inside their house, under the protection of the lamb’s blood. They also had to eat the lamb and leave nothing of it till morning.
When the destroyer saw the blood of the lamb at their door posts, he would pass over their house and spare those “covered” by the blood (Exodus 12:13). Egypt’s first-born sons died that night. But the Passover lamb died in the place of Israel’s first born sons, so they could live.
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Symbolism of the Passover lamb
Jesus our Passover lamb
The lamb the Israelites slaughtered and ate was an image pointing to the true Lamb that was to come – Jesus our Passover. In John 1:29, at the beginning of Jesus’ public ministry, we read John the Baptist introducing him: “Behold! The Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1:29, NKJV)
When Jesus died on the cross, he not only took our sins on himself. He also took our place, just like the Passover lamb that had taken the place of Israel’s firstborn. This is why Paul says in 1 Corinthians 5:7 that Jesus became our Passover lamb.
Jesus also fulfilled the requirements of the Passover lamb:
- Just as a one year old lamb is in the prime of its life, Jesus was in the prime of his earthly life when he gave himself as a sacrifice.
- For three years, Jesus ministered all across Judaea and Galilee. He ministered publicly, in the synagogues and in the Jewish Temple. Although Jesus’ teaching and life were thoroughly examined by the teachers of the Law, they could find no fault with him. Jesus was our blameless Passover lamb!
- The Passover lamb died as a substitute to the firstborn sons of the Israelites. In the same way, Jesus became our substitute, so that we might live.
- To be a perfect and pleasing sacrifice, Jesus’ legs were not broken (John 19:36).
The blood of the Passover lamb
Jesus is our Passover because his blood protects us from God’s wrath and judgement (Romans 3:24-25). Just as applying the blood of the Passover lamb on a (probably wooden) doorframe may seem to be an odd means of protection, so does trusting in the blood of Jesus that was shed on a wooden cross.
In Exodus 12, God offered no alternative means of salvation: the Israelites needed and could do nothing but trust the blood of the lamb. Likewise, we also have only one way to be saved: trusting in the blood that Jesus shed on Calvary.
God gave no explanation to these detailed instructions, why it had to be so and not otherwise. There was no precedent that the Israelites could have looked back to. They had to believe, obey and put their trust in the lamb and its blood.
In a way, the Israelites took a great risk when they listened to Moses. Would the blood of the lamb really protect them? What if…. ?
It was not until the destroyer had actually passed over, that they saw, God had been faithful to his promise. Until then, they chose to believe God’s promise and his faithfulness, and trust the blood of the lamb would be sufficient.
Approximately 40 years later, a Canaanite woman called Rahab put her trust in a scarlet cord, tied to her (wooden) window frame. She had no proof that this cord would save her. All she could rely on, all she could trust in, was God’s promise to spare her. (Read also: Rahab: Courageous faith)
Have you ever thought about how “risky” the Christian faith is? How can we be certain that trusting Jesus’ sacrifice alone will be sufficient to save us? All we can do is believe God and trust that he will keep his word. This is what faith is.
And we do serve a God who keeps his word: “So God has given both his promise and his oath. These two things are unchangeable because it is impossible for God to lie. Therefore, we who have fled to him for refuge can have great confidence as we hold to the hope that lies before us. This hope is a strong and trustworthy anchor for our souls. It leads us through the curtain into God’s inner sanctuary.” (Hebrews 6:16, NLT)
Eating the Passover lamb
In the night of the Exodus, the Israelites also had to eat the Passover lamb (Exodus 12:8-10). Later on, God commanded that eating the Passover lamb in remembrance of their deliverance from Egypt was the exclusive right to the people of God
Only Israel and those Gentiles who had joined God’s covenant people and received the sign of circumcision were allowed to eat the lamb. No one outside God’s covenant was allowed to partake in it (Exodus 12:43)
As believers in Jesus, we also eat our Passover lamb – at the Lord’s Supper (Communion/Eucharist). In John 6:53+56 Jesus said “unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him.” (NKJV)
Partaking in Jesus’ flesh and blood is exclusively reserved for God’s covenant people, be it Israelites or Gentiles, who have first been saved by the blood of the Lamb of God, and then received the sign of circumcision of the heart.
Just as eating the Passover lamb was done in remembrance to the deliverance from slavery in Egypt, we take the Lord’s Supper in remembrance to what Jesus accomplished for us: He freed us from slavery to sin, “rescued us from the kingdom of darkness and transferred us into [his] Kingdom.” (Colossians 1:13, NLT)
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Jesus fulfilled Passover
As we have seen, Jesus fulfilled Passover, in all its many details. God ordered the Passover to be kept annually in order to prepare the Jewish people for Jesus, the Lamb of God.
There are a few more facts about Passover, that Jesus also fulfilled: In Exodus 12:42 God commands that the Passover night to be a “night of watching kept to the LORD for all the sons of Israel”. Until today, the day preceding Passover (Erev Pesach, Passover Eve) is called Ta’anit Behorot”, the fast of the firstborn.
The night before Jesus, the true Passover, was sacrificed, he went into the Garden Gethsemane to pray (Mark 14:32-42). When he found his disciples sleeping, he asked them: “Can’t you keep watch for one hour?”
The Passover lamb in the Exodus story was sacrificed once; there was never a need for a second one. Israel was free! Although Passover was celebrated each year and Jewish families slaughtered a lamb for the Passover supper (the seder meal), it was only in remembrance to, not as a (renewed) means of salvation.
Also this aspect of the Passover Jesus fulfilled: he offered himself on the cross of Calvary once and for all. (Hebrews 7:27)
NB: The Passover lamb is not the same as the animal sacrifices provided by the Mosaic Law at Mt Sinai. These sacrifices were given because the Israelites were disobedient and needed a means to atone for their sins. The Passover lamb was for their redemption from Egypt, not as means to atone for their sin.
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