By Dr. Doug Redford
Many people become rather squeamish at the sight of blood. Some even faint when they see it. Any scene on a television show or in a movie in which a character happens upon a trail of blood or a bloodstain on the floor or the wall usually does not end well. Often one hears ominous, foreboding music in the background as the scene unfolds.
For the Israelites of the Old Testament, blood became one of the most hopeful symbols of their faith. Blood on the doorframes of their houses was not foreboding; it was foretelling that their years of bondage in Egypt were about to end. The Israelites could have sung an old hymn with great enthusiasm: “There is power, power, wonder-working power in the precious blood of the lamb” (lowercase lamb). For this was God’s promise: “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” (Exodus 12:13). Thus the name of the first and perhaps most well-known of the Jewish feasts mentioned in the Bible: Passover.
Passover Then & Now
Included in the first Passover instructions were other requirements concerning the preparation of the meat of the animal whose blood had been used to mark the Israelites’ houses (Exodus 12:8-10). Their clothing was also to reflect preparations for a hasty departure (v. 11). Once the Egyptians became aware of the disaster that had befallen them with the tenth and final plague (the death of the firstborn), they were all too eager for the Israelites to leave their land.
Passover also ushered in a weeklong festival known as the Feast of Unleavened Bread. During that week no yeast whatsoever was to be present in the food or anywhere in the homes of the Israelites (Exodus 12:15). The absence of yeast reflected the haste in which the Israelites fled from Egypt; they did not have time to add yeast to their bread dough as they would normally have done (Exodus 12:39).
Passover and the Feast of Unleavened Bread are still observed by Jews today. In fact they will celebrate those occasions during this week and a portion of next week, April 10-18. Since the Jewish day begins at sundown, Passover officially begins Monday evening April 10, and ends Tuesday evening April 18. The main ritual of the modern Passover is called the Seder, which occurs on the first two nights of the festival (in Israel this is observed on only the first night). The Seder is a meal which includes matzah, or unleavened bread, and bitter herbs known as maror. At the Seder the exodus account is told through both story and song. Most of the time the celebration of Passover coincides with the observance of Easter.
Timing & Teaching
The importance of Passover for the Israelites in the Old Testament is seen in two meaningful ways. First, its observance created a new calendar for the Israelites. Before the Lord gave to Moses and Aaron the details of how the Passover was to be observed in Exodus 12, he told them, “This month is to be for you the first month, the first month of your year” (v. 2). The Israelites measured time in terms of B.P. (Before Passover) and A.P. (After Passover).
Second, Passover’s importance is clear from the emphasis upon using it as a teaching tool in Israel’s families. As Moses concluded his directions to the people in Exodus 12 (vv. 25-27), he looked ahead to the time when the people would be residing in the promised land. He pictured a scenario in which the children in the Israelite families would witness the various stages of the Passover observance and inquire as to what they all mean. That would initiate a prime teaching moment for the parents to instill within their children an understanding of the historical foundation upon which their faith rested. Passover was more than just a “good story.” As Paul would later affirm regarding other events recorded in the Old Testament, “These things happened” (1 Corinthians 10:11). So did Passover.
Look, the Lamb!
By the time of Jesus, the observance of Passover had undergone certain changes. A typical Passover meal included four cups of the fruit of the vine, two that the participants drank before the meal and two that they drank following the meal. Luke described two cups that Jesus took during the Passover that he observed with his disciples in the upper room. One cup was shared before breaking and sharing the bread, and the other was taken after the meal (Luke 22:17, 20). Many believe that the cup of verse 20 was the one known as the Cup of Redemption, which celebrated God’s redemption of Israel from bondage in Egypt. In using this cup to institute the Lord’s Supper, Jesus was signifying that he had come to accomplish a redemption that was on a far grander scale than that achieved in the exodus. He was about to fulfill the words of his forerunner, John the Baptist: “Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1:29).
The remainder of the New Testament expands upon the meaning of the two most significant details from the Old Testament Passover: the presence of blood and the absence of yeast. With the tenth plague (the death of the firstborn), the firstborn of all the Israelites were spared. It is certainly of note that the term firstborn is applied to Jesus in the New Testament (Colossians 1:15; Hebrews 1:6). But with Jesus, God’s firstborn was not spared from death. He became the sinless, spotless Lamb who died as the substitute for every human being. That Lamb’s blood marked the cross as the lamb’s blood marked the doorframes of the Israelite houses. God still says, “When I see the blood, I will pass over you”—only now the “precious blood of the Lamb” (uppercase Lamb) is what he sees. Thus did Paul declare that “Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed” (1 Corinthians 5:7).
The larger context in which Paul stated this of Jesus should not be overlooked. Paul had confronted the Corinthian church with its failure to address a situation involving the ongoing sin of unrepentant individuals within the church. Paul was adamant in his demand that the man who had instigated this defiant act be “excommunicated” from the Corinthian fellowship. In doing so Paul employed the Passover’s absence-of-yeast requirement as the pattern the Corinthians should follow. Just as one’s house was to be swept thoroughly in order to remove all traces of yeast, so the Corinthians’ house (the body of believers) needed to be cleansed of any influence of persistent, defiant sin. Paul told the Corinthians: “Therefore let us keep the Festival, not with the old bread leavened with malice and wickedness, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth” (1 Corinthians 5:8).
Thus followers of Jesus in every era are to “keep the Festival” of Passover on a daily basis by their passion for holiness. We cannot repeat the once-for-all blood sacrifice of Jesus as the Lamb of God on the cross, but we must repeat the commitment to holiness day after day.
The image of the Lamb becomes especially significant in the Bible’s grand finale in the book of Revelation. Out of the 38 times that the word lamb occurs in the New Testament, 31 of those occur in Revelation. The first time the word is used is in Revelation 5:6, where the Lamb is described as “looking as if it had been slain, standing at the center of the throne” in Heaven. Never could the typical Passover lamb be described as “slain, standing”; that animal was slain, never to stand again. This Passover Lamb stands because he lives.
Such powerful imagery is no doubt meant to encourage the persecuted church, both in John’s time and in ours. No Passover lamb could ever achieve what this one has: he triumphs over all opposition (Revelation 17:14), he hosts the great wedding supper (19:7-9), and it is his book of life which contains the names of those who will be allowed access into the heavenly city (21:27). There no “yeast,” no wickedness of any kind, will be present.
The last time the Lamb is mentioned is in Revelation 22:3: “The throne of God and of the Lamb will be in the city, and his servants will serve him.” Let us faithfully serve him now and keep the Passover through holy living until we look upon the Lamb in the Holy City.
Dr. Doug Redford serves as minister with Highview Christian Church in Cincinnati, Ohio.