|Replica of the original temple in the desert.|
|Continually pray for the peace of Jerusalem.|
What is Passover?
|The desert in Israel.|
(I encourage you to read the full story in the book of Exodus and if you don't have time to read, watch 'The Prince of Egypt' because it's a cartoon and it's really great)
I realize if you actually spend time making your way through this, you might come to the end and say 'so what? that doesn't change anything' and you're right. I don't want to change anything. I just want to explain why Passover is important to me. You might say 'wow, this is super legalistic' and I'll say 'no, this is a passionate love of God the Jewish people have.' You might say 'why does this matter?' and I'll say 'it doesn't really matter, but if it helps me understand who Jesus is and how every single detail of His life is a fulfillment of every single detail in the Old Testament and God's promises, then I want to at least have the knowledge of it.' So here we go, piece by piece, my opinion on ancient Passover and Jesus.
It consists of several parts, and is celebrated on the14th of Nissan. It represents the beginning of the harvest time in Israel. It lasts for a week. Yeast is not to be any part of Passover because it represents sin and must be removed from the household, so anything that can ferment must be removed. (If you want, you can play a game with your kids and hide bread around your house that they can find with a flashlight and throw into a fire pit...it's always good to associate pictures with stories so it is easier to understand). Yeast also represents the haste in which the Israelites fled Egypt and didn't have time for their bread to rise.
Did you read the story in Exodus yet?
Because the Israelites had to put the blood of a spotless lamb over their doorposts in order to be 'passed over', a Passover sacrifice was vitally important during the time of Christ. The Hebrew Bible (old testament) tells us it was a requirement to participate in it, if you did not, you would be cut off from God's people all-together. (Exodus 12) There were TWO sacrifices for Passover. One was the Family sacrifice. This is a time of celebration, a joyous occasion, often when a son who had recently entered his bar-mitzvah would be privileged to kill the lamb after the priest inspected it for imperfections and took the parts for the sacrifice and gave the rest of the lamb back to the family to roast for their meal. The second was the National sacrifice. This was the sacrifice done at the temple for the entire nation of Israel. During the time of Jesus, this was a HUGE deal. Josephus says there were millions of people gathered in the city. Have you been to Jerusalem? It's not exactly the size of Houston.
I want to add a foot-note here. The Israelites did not believe the sacrifice removed their sin or saved their souls. They are God's chosen people, part of God's promise and the daily sacrifice is to remind God of this promise to redeem them through His blood. God walked through the covenant bloodbath on Abraham's behalf and is therefore responsible for the redemption of His chosen people, the animal sacrifice is a reminder of that, for the people to remember to be obedient, repent of their ways and be glad they live in God's promise as children of Abraham.
What's the significance?
People get all bent out of shape trying to figure out when Christ died, when He was buried, when He rose. It's super simple actually, if you follow Jewish custom and understand there were two Passover sacrifices, it doesn't have to be complicated, or even deep. It is a picture for everyone to understand.
Lamb Selection Day-the tenth day, or 4 days before Passover. A cute, flawless, little lamb was selected by the family and raised with the family for four days before the sacrifice. During these days, every member of the extended family would take a little time to get to know the lamb for this was for their deliverance, all of them. This might seem cruel to children, however, think of the amazing picture it shows to young kids of how painful, sad and meaningful a sacrifice is...sin costs us something dear, tears are shed over it, sin is only redeemed by death and blood. What is interesting about this day too, is where the lambs came from. You were always welcome to raise your own and bring it to Jerusalem, however, if a priest found a flaw on it that you missed, you could be in danger of not having a lamb. Also, let's not forget people are people, if there is a business and money to be made, there is someone willing to make it. There was a flock of lambs sold by the Sadducees at the temple for Passover that were deemed clean and could be purchased without fear of defect, this flock (literally, the lambs of God) was from Bethlehem.
What's the significance?
We call this Palm Sunday and the Triumphal Entry. It was the same day. The very day the entire nation of Israel was searching for their spotless lamb who would represent their redemption of sin. This same day, the 'lamb of God' who was 'born in Bethlehem' came into the city, wanting everyone to recognize him as our saving messiah, our blood sacrifice. Many missed it and turned it into something completely opposite, waving palm branches and causing Jesus to weep. (we can talk about our mis-guidedness regarding the 'Triumphal Entry' next Easter)
Family Sacrifice Day-This was the day before Passover. Here's where you really have to put yourself in Eastern thought. Remember, a day BEGINS in the evening. Thus, what we call 'Friday night' is really 'Saturday night' followed by Saturday day leading into Sunday night, followed by Sunday day...confusing, I know. (although the Greeks are the ones who changed this to what we know, it was this way because in Genesis God said 'there was evening and there was morning...') So this is why Sabbath begins on Saturday night after sunset (our Friday night) and continues through Saturday day. This is important because the lambs were brought to be slain for the family sacrifice during the day and then that night was Passover when the lambs were roasted and eaten for the Seder celebration meal and then Passover occurred after the night during the next day.
What's the significance?
Jesus participated in the family sacrifice day by sending his disciples to Jerusalem to prepare a room. An 'upper room' was a room located in the 'upper city' of Jerusalem, and they would have first gone to the temple to get their lamb, then gone to the room to prepare the meal. It was common for rabbis and their disciples to celebrate together, they were their own family. ('who is my mother and who are my brothers?' Matthew 12:48).
Seder Supper Evening-This is Passover, because Passover begins in the evening. This meal is where family gathered together to remember the Exodus and the promises of God for messiah. It was viewed as an anticipatory messianic banquet for what we'll have in heaven, a joyful celebration. They ate the roasted lamb and participated in the Seder traditions. They would recline, the youngest family member would sit next to the oldest and is allowed, for the first time, to ask the questions. The head of the family broke bread (without yeast, matzoh) in half and would lay the other half aside in white cloth to represent the desert. After the meal was finished, the other piece of the matzoh would be broken and eaten again, to remember the taste of freedom as the evening came to a close.
Many details of the Passover Seder are relevant and symbolic of the events of Christ in the New Testament, Jewish people reading the New Testament would instantly recognize all these details, we try to take it away from the simplicity that it is and give multiple theological debate and meaning to it. I'll be touching on just the wine aspect to give you a sample of what I'm talking about. There are 5 cups of wine and each are significant and represent the promises from Exodus 6. By drinking out of the cup, you were entering into a promise and agreement with the one offering the cup. (this was and is practiced today for marriage engagements)
1st Cup represents God's promise to bring us out of Egypt in Ex 6:6. This is called the cup of Sanctification (all the names of the cups may vary slightly depending on your source, but the meaning is the same).
After this cup, everyone washes before the meal (Psalm 24:3-4). Today, they wash their hands, in the first century, they washed their feet. If servants were not there, the person sitting in the lowliest seat would be the one to wash the feet...through the picture of what the Seder looked like and through the gospels, we know Peter was sitting in the lowliest seat.
2nd Cup represents God's promise to free us from our slavery. This is called the cup of Praise/Thanks. One would 'give thanks' before drinking this cup or eating the bread that was broken in half. After drinking this cup, the story of the passover is recited and the plate is discussed and participated. One aspect of the meal is a large bowl of bitter herb (horse-radish today) that you would 'dip' in together as it was passed along to remember the bitterness of being a slave. Think of the face of a 2-3 year old child eating a spoonful of horse-radish. Tears would be shed, they wouldn't understand why it was in their mouth, it would be an awful experience...that is the picture of how God wants us to remember what it is like to be a slave and what He is here to save us from.
3rd Cup represents God's promise to redeem us with His power. It is called the cup of Blessing and was drunk after the Seder plate ritual. Here, the blessing would thank God for giving bread from the earth and the second half of bread would be passed around and this cup represented a renewal of covenant with God.
4th Cup represents God's promise to be His own people forever. This is called the cup of Redemption.
Families would sing and take time to remember after this cup.
5th Cup is called the cup of Elijah. It is not drunk by the people, but reserved by the empty chair set out for Elijah who is believed to visit the Passover Seder to tell of when Messiah is coming. This cup symbolizes the redemption for all of humanity that will come through Messiah.
What's the significance? They had the meal in the upper room and this was the Seder Meal, what we call the Last Supper where they reclined (as tradition required). John (the youngest) asked the questions and rested against Jesus (the oldest) who washed the disciples feet, presented the cup for his disciples to drink, gave thanks, Jesus broke the passover matzoh Luke 22:19, Jesus renewed the covenant, they sang hymns...all the traditions were upheld, these were Jewish people, the Passover traditions would all be upheld or Jesus could not call himself a rabbi. The first 4 cups were each part of the Last Supper. We then find ourselves reading about Christ in Gethsemane, asking God '“My Father, if it is not possible for this cup to be taken away unless I drink it, may your will be done." So here we see the 5th Cup of Passover, the cup promising redemption for all of humanity through messiah, being revealed through Christ's own prayer. The entire purpose of this meal was for Jesus to show we're all part of His family, this is a participatory event, not something to just observe, a feast, a celebration. It was to bring union and community with Christ revealing himself as Messiah and our Passover redemption. I think He would weep to find denominations have split over communion. That defeats the entire purpose of it!
Did you also catch the revelation? When Christ says 'this bread is my body given for you' he wasn't just saying to use him for nourishment and salvation. He was telling these Jewish people who memorize the blessing 'Blessed are you, oh Lord our G-d, King of the universe, for bringing us bread out of the ground' that HE himself is this bread they've been talking about every year since the first Passover (and every time they eat bread at a meal) and it is His body that will be coming out of the ground.
The National Sacrifice-there was a daily sacrifice at 9am and 3pm every single day, rain or shine, holiday or regular work day. When a holiday fell, the sacrifices still took place and the 3pm sacrifice was deemed the holiday sacrifice, (in this case the Passover sacrifice) because it was considered the national sacrifice. It was the same time, the same place, yet it was just referred to as the Passover sacrifice. The national Passover sacrifice occurred at 3pm on Friday, which is technically the same day as the Seder meal (Friday night came before Friday day).
What's the Significance?
When Jesus partook in the family Passover sacrifice, it was all about community, remembering God's promise, being together as a family, revealing his plan for redemption of humanity, telling us he is the bread we've been praying for. When Jesus partook of the national Passover sacrifice, he died. He was crucified at the 9am sacrifice and died at the 3pm sacrifice on Friday. At the exact moment the shofar horn blew across the city and the blood was thrown against the alter, and millions of Jews were gathered in silence at the temple, Jesus forgave the world and finished the promise. It is finished, my sins have been redeemed because of this final sacrifice of God in flesh, the fulfilment of prophesy, the completion of the covenant with Abraham, my messiah came and died and that is why I have to remember Passover, as it was fulfilled by my Jewish Messiah and we are told to remember.
As you know, the story isn't finished...we'll go into detail at another time for the next two, but rejoice! These festivals have also been fulfilled! The year Jesus was crucified was the year they fell exactly three days in a row. My God is not a God of coincidence, but of purpose.
Jesus died on Passover as the passover lamb.
Jesus was buried on Unleavened Bread as the bread of heaven.
Jesus rose on First Fruits as the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep.
These three feasts fall in what is known as 'the holiday season' and sometimes just referred to as Passover season (similar to our Christmas Eve/Christmas Day/Boxing Day/New Years), and rarely did they fall three days in a row.
Feast of Unleavened Bread (Ex. 12, Lev. 23)-Always occurred on the 15th of Nissan, the day after Passover. Because Passover fell on Friday this time, this holiday began on Saturday night (our Friday evening at sunset, just hours after the crucifixion) and Saturday Day. No yeast is found in the nation, as it represents sin and decay...even animals are put on special diets. This holiday, every single Jewish person is praying (worshipping) by thanking God and asking God for bread/food/life out of the earth, representing the first crop of the year that was coming up and also remembering life (Adam) comes from the ground. This day is when they had 'burried' and rid their lives of leaven/yeast/sin, acknowledging in prayer/worship that their sins were buried through the blood of the Passover lamb and the redemption of the promise of God through Abraham. The time Unleavened Bread begins, with the theme of 'life out of the ground' Jesus was buried/planted and his body did not decay as he was the 'sinless bread of heaven.'
Feast of First Fruits-(what we call Easter-Easter is presumed to be named after the Babylonian goddess, Ishtra, a pagan goddess of fertility, whose symbols of fertility are used in celebrating with rabbits, eggs, new costumes, etc which symbolize Spring in the beginning of the growing season...I'm not saying this is bad, I'm just saying God can use all things for His purpose and Glory, I love Easter and hide eggs/candy for Ben every year)
First Fruits occurred the first Sunday after Unleavened Bread (could be next day or up to 7 days later) and was a celebration of the barley harvest, acknowledging and crediting God for his gift of fertility in the land, it was a faith promise. This specific year, it would have begun Sunday night immediately following Unleavened Bread (our Saturday evening at sunset) and lasted through Sunday day. It was when every single Jewish person was praying and begging God to bring them life and sustenance out of the ground...they had given an offering of their first crop (first fruit), even though they had nothing else. It is a time to tell God you trust Him with your life, your family and your future by giving Him everything you have. Jesus was raised from the dead on this day as the 'first fruit of those who have fallen asleep' as literal life and sustenance from the ground. Maybe He even rose at sunset when the holiday first begins, we don't know because the women don't find the empty tomb until morning...a possibility.
1 Cor. 15:20
I know it's all over the place, so feel free to check it out yourself and write your own conclusion, I would love to hear another interpretation! Also, check out online Jewish sources for practices of Passover that you can do with your own family. If you want more scripture to reference, just ask!