by Victor Knowles
The Book of Leviticus is to many Christians what garden vegetables are to young children: unappreciated, yet vital to one’s health. Yet only in Leviticus do we discover—in chronological order no less—”the seven feasts of the Lord.” The Hebrew word for “feast” means “appointed times.” The feasts were “holy convocations” (Leviticus 23:2, New King James Version) that God appointed for the Jewish people to meet with him. In chronological order, they are:
The Passover (23:4, 5).
The Feast of Unleavened Bread (vv. 6-8).
The Feast of Firstfruits (vv. 9-14).
The Feast of Weeks (vv. 15-22).
The Feast of Trumpets (vv. 23-25).
The Day of Atonement (vv. 26-32).
The Feast of Tabernacles (vv. 33-44).
The LORD’s Passover
Passover is the oldest continuously observed feast in the history of the world. It goes back more than 3,500 years to the time when the Jewish people were slaves in Egypt. For 430 long years they had lived in slavery (Exodus 12:40). America is only 235 years old. The Hebrew people had lived that long—plus another 195 years—as slaves in Egypt! Morris Joseph, author of The Ideal in Judaism (General Books, 2009), who preached from 1893-1930 at the West London Synagogue of British Jews, said, “Passover has a message for the conscience and the heart of all mankind. For what does it commemorate? It commemorates the deliverance of a people from degrading slavery, from most foul and cruel tyranny. And so, it is Israel’s—nay, God’s protest against unrighteousness, whether individual or national.”
The institution of the Passover is described in detail in the 12th chapter of Exodus. God had sent nine devastating plagues thundering across the land of Egypt. One more was to fall, the death of the firstborn of every family in Egypt (Exodus 12:12).
But before that happened, God spoke to Moses and Aaron and instituted what would come to be known as the “LORD’s Passover” (v. 11). It was so important that it would henceforth mark the first month of the Jewish calendar (vv. 1, 2; Numbers 9:5). The day would be known as Passover because at midnight God would pass through the land of Egypt, killing the firstborn in the land (both man and beast) as punishment against the gods of Egypt (Exodus 12:12). Only houses that were sprinkled with the blood of a lamb would be spared. God promised, “And when I see the blood, I will pass over you; and the plague shall not be on you to destroy you when I strike the land of Egypt. So this day shall be to you a memorial; and you shall keep it as a feast by an everlasting ordinance” (vv. 13, 14).
A lamb was central to the Passover. Think of it. Is there anything more gentle or innocent than a lamb? Yet the lamb was going to have to die in order for its blood to be sprinkled on the houses where the Hebrews lived. Each Jewish family was instructed to select a year-old male lamb on the 10th day of the Hebrew month Nisan (v. 3). Nisan corresponds to our March/April. The lamb had to be without blemish, perfect for sacrifice (v. 5). Families were to keep the lamb in their home for four days, until the 14th of Nisan (v. 6). Don’t you suppose that at least the children in each family became attached to the lamb? How very hard it must have been for them to hear the news that their little household pet had to be killed! “Why, father, why? Why must our little lamb die?” The death of the Passover lamb no doubt became a “teachable moment” for all devout Hebrew parents (vv. 26, 27). Something very dear and innocent had to die in their place.
The entire assembly of the congregation participated in the killing of the lambs at twilight on the 14th of Nisan (v. 6). One can only imagine the emotions this stirred in the hearts of the observers. The blood of the lamb then had to be placed on the two doorposts and on the lintel of the houses where the lamb would be eaten (v. 7). This act of faith would protect them when God passed through Egypt (vv. 12, 13).
The remains of the lamb were to be cooked in a special way and eaten with bitter herbs and unleavened bread (vv. 8-10). The bitter herbs were to remind them of the suffering of the innocent lamb while the unleavened bread represented the purity of the sacrifice. (A seven-day Feast of Unleavened Bread would follow the one-day Feast of Passover, vv. 15-20.) Each family was to eat the meal dressed and ready to go, with staff in hand (v. 11). The faithful nation did as they were told and when the 10th and final plague struck Egypt they began the magnificent Exodus, “journeying from Rameses to Succoth, about six hundred thousand men on foot, besides children” (Exodus 12:37).
But there is a second Passover in Scripture.
Christ, Our Passover
One year after the Exodus, the nation of Israel observed Passover (Numbers 9:1-14). The Jewish people have continued this observance from that day to this day. Jesus’ parents went to Jerusalem every year at the Feast of the Passover (Luke 2:41). “And when He was twelve years old, they went up to Jerusalem according to the custom of the feast” (2:42). Every male in Israel 12 years and older was required to attend at least three of the seven feasts. Passover was always at the top of the list. In Jesus’ time as many as two million people came to Jerusalem, nearly four times the population of the great city.
In their book Christ in the Passover (Moody Press, 1978), authors Ceil and Moishe Rosen write, “People then turned their eyes upward to the towering structure high atop Mount Moriah, which dominated the landscape in all directions. They saw the smoke from the sacrifices curling upward against the sky, and they remembered their real purpose for being there: the worship of Jehovah, the true and living God.” What were the thoughts of the 12-year-old Jesus when he saw the lambs being killed for Passover? When the Levitical choir sang the Hallel (Psalm 113-118) while the lambs were being killed, did Jesus understand its significance? “The stone which the builders rejected has become the chief cornerstone. This was the LORD’s doing . . . . Bind the sacrifice with cords to the horns of the altar” (118:22, 23, 27). I believe that he did.
It was John the Baptist who saw Jesus and made the grand announcement: “Behold! The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1:29). In the Revelation of Jesus Christ, Jesus is likened unto a lamb more than 30 times. Isaiah prophesied, “He was led as a lamb to the slaughter” (Isaiah 53:7). The millions of lambs that had been slaughtered from the very first Passover to Christ pointed to the one supreme sacrifice who would “put away sin by the sacrifice of himself” (Hebrews 9:24-28). Our Lord knew that he was “a lamb without blemish and without spot” (1 Peter 1:19), the “Lamb slain from the foundation of the world” (Revelation 13:8). He fully understood his divine purpose: “to give His life a ransom for many” (Matthew 20:28).
The Lord’s Supper
During the last week of his life, Jesus instituted the Lord’s Supper. It was not by accident that he chose the time of Passover to do so (Matthew 26:17-30; Mark 14:12-26; Luke 22:7-23). Jesus began by saying, “With fervent desire I have desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer” (Luke 22:15). He knew full well what was to follow. The disciples had already prepared the Passover. The bitter herbs were there. The unleavened bread was there. The cup of blessing was there. Of course, the Passover lamb, the “core requisite,” was there. But little emphasis is made in the synoptic Gospels of the eating of the Paschal lamb. What is going on here? Staying with Luke’s account, Jesus took the bread, gave thanks, broke it, and gave it to the disciples, saying, “This is My body which is given for you; do this in remembrance of Me” (v. 19). Then he took the cup after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood, which is shed for you” (v. 20).
Watch carefully here. The Rosens write, “Not only the words were shocking. It was a very unusual act, for after supper no other food was to be eaten. Jesus here instituted the new memorial. He was teaching the disciples in cryptic terms that after his death, the Paschal Lamb would no longer have the same significance . . . he was about to become the better sacrifice, to die once, for all (Hebrews 9:14, 15, 23-26) . . . he was telling them, in effect, ‘I am the true Passover Lamb who will be offered up for your redemption.’”
Christ’s Crowning Work
Calvary would be the crowning work of Christ. And so the apostle Paul would write, “For indeed Christ, our Passover, was sacrificed for us” (1 Corinthians 5:7). Christ, our Passover—what wonderful words! Once we were enslaved in sin, but Christ led us out of bondage. We have been redeemed by the precious blood of the Lamb of God.
Through our baptism into his death (Romans 6:3, 4) the blood has been applied and God has passed over our sins—the second Passover.
Victor Knowles is founder and president of POEM (Peace on Earth Ministries), Joplin, MO. www.poeministries.org
As we just read, Passover is a feast! (So food is involved.) As you celebrate Christ as your Passover, perhaps you’d like to expand your palate and try some Passover dishes.
Top 20 Passover recipes as voted on by users:
Traditional food eaten at a Jewish Passover Seder: