On a positive note, more and more Christians are searching Scripture in an effort to orient themselves towards a more Hebraic understanding. Non-Jews are celebrating biblical festivals, taking up dietary rules prescribed in the Torah, abandoning their previously learned antinomian beliefs, learning Hebrew, and returning to the Hebraic roots of their faith. These people are good and sincere souls seeking deliverance from nearly two thousand years of spiritual slavery, during which, false religious teachers have held them captive and oppressed them. A modern-day Moses might well go forth today with a message to modern day pharaohs saying “Let my people KNOW!” No doubt there will be those who do not wish to leave the comfort of their Egypt, desiring the onions and leeks served daily in the only home they have known, but others are willing to endure the hardships of a new Exodus. It is for those who seek deliverance that the present article is written. Christians have inherited lies, vanity, and things wherein there is no profit when it comes to a true and biblical understanding of Passover.
In a text attributed to the apostle Paul, we learn that Christians are encouraged to participate in Passover. “Your boasting is not good. Do you not know that a little leaven leavens the whole lump? Cleanse out the old leaven that you may be a new lump, as you really are unleavened. For Christ, our Passover lamb has been sacrificed. Let us, therefore, celebrate the festival, not with the old leaven, the leaven of malice and evil, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth (I Corinthians 5:6-8).
Based on this text and the gospel accounts associated with what is referred to as the passion narrative, Christians have come to certain conclusions that support their theology. The Messiah, or Christ as the Greek puts it, becomes a sort of symbolic Passover lamb. The Passover lamb is then presented as merely a shadow of things to come, finding its real meaning in the death of Jesus. The writer of John’s gospel, in fact, lends support to this comparison when John the baptizer sees an approaching Jesus and is made to say, “Behold, the lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29b).
Searching for more similarities, Christians often point out that according to the gospel narratives, Jesus arrives in Jerusalem four days before Passover and is examined by the priests. This they argue fulfills the Torah’s obligation to “take a lamb” on the tenth day of the first month, and “keep watch over it until the fourteenth day” (Exodus 12:3-6). The purpose? Leaving aside the age of the lamb, and the fact that it can be taken “from the sheep or the goats,” it is to prove whether or not the lamb is “without blemish” (Exodus 12:5). Jesus was killed on the day of preparation, between the evenings, and yet despite the horrors of crucifixion, not a bone was broken (John 19:14, 32, 33, 36). So too, these reports seem to fulfill certain requirements for the Passover lamb (Exodus 12:46, Numbers 9:12, cf. Psalm 34:20).
Participants in messianic circles will likely learn that every aspect of the Seder also points to Jesus. They are often shown the matzoh and told that this bread, with piercings and stripes, represents the body of Jesus that was wounded for them, though the manufactured and boxed up bread today probably looks far different than the unleavened bread of antiquity. Further, they may be taught that the 3 matzos known as the afikomen represent a triune God and that the symbolic meaning of taking the middle piece, wrapping it in linen, hiding it, and bringing it back also point to the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus. The meal then is presented as a teaching tool to share the deeper meaning of an ancient Hebrew Festival, which sadly and evidently has been kept from the ones who were charged to “keep” it in the first place!
So what’s so wrong with a Seder such as is taught by Messianic Jews? Just about everything. Much of what is taught has no connection with the first Passover described in the book of Exodus. Many of the teaching points are based upon traditional Passover meals, some of which find no direct support in the biblical texts. When it comes to making Jesus the Passover lamb, there are some difficulties as well.
One difficulty is sorting out the last supper. Was it a Seder as is commonly taught, or a meal eaten the prior day? The original Passover meal was eaten AFTER the lamb was killed since the lamb was one of the key components to the meal. In other words, if Jesus is representative of the Passover lamb, he must be killed before the meal. The writer of John’s gospel suggests that this meal took place on the day of preparation, BEFORE the Passover (John 13:1; 18:28; 19:14, 42).
Other problems exist in making the Passover about the death of Jesus. The lamb had nothing at all to do with sin. The fact that the bones were unbroken aside, the year-old lamb was to be taken from “the sheep or the goats,” roasted and eaten. What about the blood? The blood of the sacrifice was to be applied to the doorways of the Israelites for one reason and one reason only. “For when YHVH goes through to smite the Egyptians, He will see the blood on the lintel and the two doorposts, and YHVH will pass over the door and not let the destroyer enter and smite your home” (Exodus 12:23). This leads to perhaps the biggest error in associating the death of Jesus with the redemption brought about through the Festival of Passover as taught in the Torah.
While Christians teach that the Passover is a picture of the death of God’s son, the Torah teaches the exact opposite! The Hebrew Bible recognizes that God has a son and this is an essential part of the authentic Passover message. The story of Passover, however, is not about God’s son dying, but about God’s son NOT dying while the sons of the oppressing nation are killed. As Moses prepares to go before Pharaoh the first time, we read the message that he is charged to deliver. “Thus says YHVH, Israel is my firstborn son. I have said to you, ‘Let my son go, that he may worship me, yet you refuse to let him go. Now I will slay your firstborn son’” (Exodus 4:22-23)! A careful reading of the narrative of Passover affirms this in several places (Exodus 12:12, 27, 29; 13:15).
While Christianity teaches that “in Christ Jesus, neither circumcision nor uncircumcision counts for anything” (Galatians 5:6), the Torah says the opposite. Circumcision is required of any male that will eat the Passover. It’s not enough, as Paul would have us believe to be circumcised inwardly (Romans 2:28). As far as a matter of the heart, the Hebrew Bible would agree (Deuteronomy 10:12-16; 30:1-6; Jeremiah 4:1-4), but this does not negate the clear language concerning the requirement for a circumcision “of the flesh” (Exodus 12:43-49).
As a faithful Jew, the historical Jesus likely kept the Passover Festival every year of his life (Luke 2:41). We do believe that Jesus was killed at the precise time and day that the lambs were killed. This finds support in the gospel narratives as well as a reference in the Talmud, which says, “On the eve of Passover, they hanged Yeshu” (Sanhedrin 43a). If truth be told, it is improbable that the hateful Pontius Pilate had the custom to release any Jew at any time, let alone during Israel’s festival of freedom. It is more probable that in some way he was pleased to put one of Jacob’s sons to death at the very time when they would be speaking of their deliverance from oppression.
The prophesied salvation of Israel is what must have been on the mind of Jesus on the final day of his life, Passover day in year 30 of the Common Era. Perhaps his cryptic answer about one coming on the clouds, clearly a reference from Daniel chapter 7, was intended to declare his unwavering faith in the ancient prophecies of his people. This passage though understood to be a prophecy about a messiah that would come on the clouds of heaven, is about restoring the kingdom to the people for which it was intended. If it is messianic at all, it has to do with a corporate messiah represented by the people of Israel (Psalm 105:12-15).
Passover is indeed a story of salvation and deliverance. It is meant to symbolize forever the redemption of God’s son, who does not die but is preserved alive. This is the only meaning that any child of Israel, including Jesus of Nazareth, has ever known. Let us, therefore, celebrate the festival, not with the old leaven, the leaven of malice and evil, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth.
References and Further Reading
Passages from the Hebrew Bible related to Passover
Exodus 12-13; 23:15; 34:18; Leviticus 23:4-8; Numbers 9:1-15, 28:16-25, 33:3; Deuteronomy 16:1-8; Joshua 5:10-15; 2 Kings 23:10-14; Ezekiel 45:2; Ezra 6:19-22; 2 Chronicles 30:1-27, 35:1-9
Passages from the New Testament related to Passover and Jesus
Mark 14:1-57; Matthew 26:1-46; Luke 2:41, 22:1-53; John 11:55, 12:1; 13:1-38, 18:28; I Corinthians 5:7-8