Tonight begins Passover, probably the most significant Jewish feast in the Bible. It’s immediately followed by the week-long Feast of Unleavened Bread. Most Christians don’t celebrate these feasts, as they’re considered Jewish holidays, not Christian ones. And that’s fine. While God told Moses,
This is a day you are to commemorate; for the generations to come you shall celebrate it as a festival to the Lord—a lasting ordinance” (Exodus 12:14),
Paul’s letter to the Colossians states,
Don’t let anyone tell you what you must eat or drink. Don’t let them say that you must celebrate the New Moon festival, the Sabbath, or any other festival. These things are only a shadow of what was to come. But Christ is real! (Colossians 2:16-17)
So no, we don’t have to celebrate Passover. Yet, God’s purpose in instituting it has never changed. How is it a “shadow of what was to come”? Perhaps we need to take a closer look. We can learn a lot from a shadow.
The concept of a sacrificial lamb doesn’t begin with the Exodus. Lamb sacrifice goes all the way back to Cain and Abel, when Abel “killed the first-born lamb from one of his sheep and gave the Lord the best parts of it.” (Genesis 4:3-4) And lambs were sacrificed from then on.
If Christians think about Passover at all, it’s usually in the context of this sacrificial lamb. The New Testament clearly equates this lamb with Jesus”
- “The next day John saw Jesus coming toward him and said, “Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” John 1:29
- “When he saw Jesus passing by, he said, ‘Look, the Lamb of God!’” John 1:36
- For Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed. 1 Corinthians 5:7
- “For you know that it was not with perishable things such as silver or gold that you were redeemed … but with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect.” 1 Peter 1:18-19
Revelation repeatedly describes Jesus as a Lamb. For example,
- “Then I saw a Lamb, looking as if it had been slain, standing at the center of the throne, encircled by the four living creatures and the elders.. …[and] the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb.” Revelation 5:6a,8
- “For the Lamb at the center of the throne will be their shepherd; ‘he will lead them to springs of living water.’” Revelation 7:17a
So how does the lamb in Passover foreshadow Jesus? When the Passover was initiated (see Exodus 12), God laid out specific instructions for how it was to be done. These weren’t random suggestions, but commandments enforceable by excommunication. Consider…
The sacrifice must be made on a specific day and in a specific place:
- “The Lord said to Moses and Aaron in Egypt,‘This month is to be for you the first month, the first month of your year.Tell the whole community of Israel that on the tenth day of this month… .’” (Exodus 12:1-3)
- “You must not sacrifice the Passover in any town the Lord your God gives you except in the place he will choose as a dwelling for his Name. There you must sacrifice the Passover in the evening, when the sun goes down, on the anniversary of your departure from Egypt.” (Deuteronomy 16:5-6)
- The ancient Hebrews considered “twilight” to begin when the sun starts to go down and finish when it is completely set. In Jerusalem at that time of year, that translates to the period between three and six in the afternoon. Jesus died at the same time of day that the Passover lambs were slain (see Mark 15:34-37).
- Jesus died in Jerusalem, where God chose to be worshiped, at Passover.
(I was astonished to learn that, for the most part, contemporary Jews do not include lamb in a Seder meal. That’s because, with the destruction of the second temple in 70 AD, the lamb can no longer be sacrificed according to God’s instructions—at the temple.)
Sacrificial blood saves us from death:
- “Then they are to take some of the blood and put it on the sides and tops of the doorframes of the houses where they eat the lambs. … On that same night I will pass through Egypt and strike down every firstborn of both people 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.” (Exodus 12:6-7,12-13)
- “Then he took a cup, and when he had given thanks, he gave it to them, saying, ‘Drink from it, all of you.This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.’” (Matthew 26:27)
The sacrifice must be perfect:
- “The animals you choose must be year-old males without defect.” (Exodus 12:5)
- “He committed no sin, and no deceit was found in his mouth.”( 1 Peter 2:22)
- “And in him is no sin.” (1 John 3:5)
The lamb’s bones must not be broken:
- “No bones of the Passover lamb may be broken.” Exodus 12:46
- “Because the Jewish leaders did not want the bodies left on the crosses during the Sabbath, they asked Pilate to have the legs broken and the bodies taken down.The soldiers therefore came and broke the legs of the first man who had been crucified with Jesus, and then those of the other. But when they came to Jesus and found that he was already dead, they did not break his legs.” (John 19:31-36)
Only those who have dedicated themselves to God can share in the sacrifice:
- “A foreigner residing among you who wants to celebrate the Lord’s Passover must have all the males in his household circumcised; then he may take part like one born in the land. No uncircumcised male may eat it.” (Exodus 12:48)
- “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name and in your name drive out demons and in your name perform many miracles?’ Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’” (Matthew 7:20-21-23)
The priest(s) examined the sacrifice and proclaimed it acceptable.
- Last Sunday, our missions pastor pointed out that the lamb to be sacrificed had to be inspected by the priests, who would decide if it was suitable. While I couldn’t find this as a rule in Scripture, it became the practice over the centuries. I did note that there are numerous references to the priests doing the slaughtering, as they were ceremonially clean whereas the general populace was not. It’s interesting that God uses even these rules added by men to teach us His truth.
- “Meanwhile, the high priest questioned Jesus about his disciples and his teaching.” (John 18:19)
This is far from a complete list, as I didn’t grow up in a Jewish home, and certainly not a first century Jewish home. But just these few examples remind me that everything recorded in the Bible has a purpose. If we look deeply enough, the entirety of scripture points us to Jesus, the Lamb of God who takes away my sin.