American Journal of Biblical Theology, www.biblicaltheology.com
It has always been God's plan that man, the height of His creation on earth, would have a faith- and respect-based relationship with Him. Though God speaks through many means, including creation itself, God openly initiated that relationship by communicating with mankind as He spoke directly to the early patriarchs such as Adam, Enoch, and Noah. He communicated a plan of salvation that simply promised His protection and His eternal provision for those who would place their trust in Him. However, God also gave man a free choice in their decision of faith, and the self-centeredness of natural man has always led him to first reject God. God also spoke to a man named Abram, a wealthy resident of the ancient city of Ur of the Chaldees, located in modern-day Iraq. God made the same promise to Abram: because of Abram's faith, God would provide Abram a land, God would then sustain him and his descendants in that land, Abram would father a great nation of faith, and through that nation the entire world would be blessed. Abram's name was changed to Abraham, which carried the meaning "father of many nations."
Abraham took his family and followed God's call to that promised land, the land of Canaan, modern-day Israel. His son Isaac and his grandson Jacob (Israel) raised their families in that land. However, through circumstances of intrigue and famine, Israel and his sons fled to Egypt where the Pharaoh gave them prime bottom-land in the land of Goshen, located on the delta of the Nile river. The twelve sons of Jacob raised their families in relative respect, comfort and security. The nation forgot God's promise to Abraham, and lost interest in any thought of return to the promised land of Canaan. They had turned their backs on God, choosing to enjoy their peaceful and secure life in Egypt. However, this was not God's plan for His people.
For nearly four hundred years, approximately fourteen generations, the nation of Israel grew to number nearly two million, a number that was so large that the new Pharaoh sought to control the threat that their numbers represented by killing all of their newborn sons and placing the entire Israelite people into slavery. It was from this murderous decree of the Pharaoh that Moses was saved, and it was in the household of this Pharaoh that Moses was raised.
Moses fled Egypt when he was about forty years old and lived as a shepherd in the land of Midian for another forty years, working with Jethro, a priest of the Midianites. During this time the continued brutality of the Pharaoh led the people of Israel to cry out to the LORD who they had previously rejected. It was in response to their cry for salvation from bondage that God called out Moses to return to Egypt and proclaim to the Pharaoh God's demand for the release of the nation.
Most of us know of the hardness of Pharaoh's heart, one that would not listen to Moses' pleas, a heart that was hardened both by God and by Pharaoh. One by one, God brought a series of plagues on the land, each plague graphically illustrating the impotence of one of Egypt's revered pagan gods. Exodus, chapter 12, describes the circumstances surrounding the last of these plagues when God would take the life of every first-born male, both man and animal throughout the land of Egypt, a plague that illustrated to all Egypt the impotence of the Egyptian god of life and death: the Pharaoh himself.
Exodus 12:1-2. And the LORD spake unto Moses and Aaron in the land of Egypt, saying, 2This month shall be unto you the beginning of months: it shall be the first month of the year to you.
The event that was to take place was of such significance that God commanded of Moses and Aaron to establish this month, the month of Abib, as the first month of the year. This would be the first full-moon following the spring Solstice that takes place in late March or early April. This would, indeed, mark the commencement of Israel as an independent nation that, fulfilling God’s promise to Abraham, would spread throughout the entire world, and would be preserved until the end of the age.
Exodus 12:3-4. Speak ye unto all the congregation of Israel, saying, In the tenth day of this month they shall take to them every man a lamb, according to the house of their fathers, a lamb for an house: 4And if the household be too little for the lamb, let him and his neighbour next unto his house take it according to the number of the souls; every man according to his eating shall make your count for the lamb.
As the death angel of God would pass through the land of Egypt the first-born male of each family would die. However, whenever God executes his judgment for sin, He always provides a way of salvation, a way that is found in simple obedience to His command, a way that one follows simply by faith and trust in His promise. God commanded the leader of each household to select a lamb. One lamb would be selected for each family group. However, since each member of the family group would eat a portion of the lamb, small families could share a lamb. It was important that every family member of each family group of Israel would be able to partake of the sacrifice. The opportunity for obedience to God's command would be extended to every person in the nation of Israel. Note that the lamb would be taken into the household on the tenth day of the month.
Exodus 12:5. Your lamb shall be without blemish, a male of the first year: ye shall take it out from the sheep, or from the goats:
Since the death of the lamb would serve as a substitution for the first-born male of each family, a male lamb would be selected, and that lamb would be a yearling. Also, in recognition of the purity of God and to honor His holiness, the lamb that is selected must be without blemish. That is, it would be free of physical or visible genetic defects. This would be the best breeding lamb, the one that had the most promise for pure wool in the sheep that it would produce. It would also be the strongest, passing that strength on to its progeny. Often when we bring our sacrifice to the LORD, we bring our leftovers, and the things that we do not really want or need. God always demands that our sacrifice come from that which we consider of the most value. Anything less is not sacrifice.
Exodus 12:6. And ye shall keep it up until the fourteenth day of the same month: and the whole assembly of the congregation of Israel shall kill it in the evening.
The time period from the 10th to the 14th day would be an unusual one for the family. The lamb would be kept in the household so that its purity can be affirmed. The lamb, separated from its flock, would have to be cared for: fed, cleaned up after, etc. This task would likely fall to the least members of the family: the children. By the time of the evening of the 14th day the lamb would have become part of the family. The children would have given the cute little lamb a name as they began to love it. The command given to Moses and Aaron is that all of the members of the household would be present for the sacrifice, and this includes the children. Not only would this lamb be perfect: it would be loved. There would be the presence of grief at its slaughter.
Exodus 12:7. And they shall take of the blood, and strike it on the two side posts and on the upper door post of the houses, wherein they shall eat it.
The next command given to Moses and Aaron is rather curious. During the slaughter of the lamb, the blood is to be gathered and liberally splashed on specific locations of the outside door of each household where the sacrifice is to be taking place. Blood was to be applied to the top and sides of the doorsill. Later references refer to the running of the blood down into the basin, the trough at the threshold of the door. Because of the heat of the day, doors were typically small, and one would stoop to enter. Consequently, once the blood is splashed on the door, if one were to approach the doorway and stretch out their hands they would find blood on their head, their hands, and their feet.
Exodus 12:8. And they shall eat the flesh in that night, roast with fire, and unleavened bread; and with bitter herbs they shall eat it.
Once the blood is applied to the doorpost, the supper is to be prepared and eaten. Associated with purity, fire was to be the only form of preparation for the meat. The bread was to be unleavened, or baked without yeast. The leaven, or yeast, was used as a metaphor for sin in ancient Jewish culture. The eating of unleavened bread would be a reminder that one is rejecting the leaven that is sin. It would be a time of repentance and a time to recognize the mercy of God who is free to fulfill His right to take the lives of all of the people because of their sinful nature. They were also instructed to include the eating of bitter herbs in the meal as a reminder of the bitterness of their bondage, the bitterness that they experienced because of their disobedience to God.
Exodus 12:9-10. Eat not of it raw, nor sodden at all with water, but roast with fire; his head with his legs, and with the purtenance thereof. 10And ye shall let nothing of it remain until the morning; and that which remaineth of it until the morning ye shall burn with fire.
When an animal is consumed for food, various parts of the animal would be prepared a variety of ways. As commanded in verse 8, only fire would be used to prepare this meal. Rather than butchering the lamb, the entire lamb was to be roasted, including the head, the legs, and the cleaned internal organs. Not a single bone was to be broken. Each person would consume a portion of its meat, and in order that no part of the sacrifice be used for any other purpose, any portion of the lamb that is left over would be burned completely with fire. The consumption of the lamb was to be complete.
Exodus 12:11-12. And thus shall ye eat it; with your loins girded, your shoes on your feet, and your staff in your hand; and ye shall eat it in haste: it is the LORD’S Passover. 12For I will pass through the land of Egypt this night, and will smite all the firstborn in the land of Egypt, both man and beast; and against all the gods of Egypt I will execute judgment: I am the LORD.
The typical Hebrew clothing included a long robe that protected the body from the sun and blowing sand. To gird one's "loins" meant to reach down between the knees, take hold of the rear hem of the robe and pull it up, tucking it in the front of the belt, changing the robe into a pair of short, baggy pants, making it possible to run. They were to put on their shoes and place their traveling staff near at hand. Also, the meal is to be eaten quickly. The whole idea is that the people are to be expectant. They are to be ready to move on God's command without hesitation. This night would bring sorrow and death down on Egypt. The powerlessness of the pagan gods that were worshipped both by Egyptians and Hebrews would be fully revealed, and the ability of God to fulfill His promises would be fully affirmed. The people had cried out to God for deliverance, and they were about to witness the power of that deliverance. They would be waiting through this night with dread and expectancy. There would be no sleeping tonight.
Exodus 12:13. And the blood shall be to you for a token upon the houses where ye are: and when I see the blood, I will pass over you, and the plague shall not be upon you to destroy you, when I smite the land of Egypt.
God is about to bring judgment down upon all Egypt for their sin. All of the people of the land deserve judgment, and this includes the Hebrews. However, God promised that when the angel of death would see the blood on the doors, the members of that household would be delivered. One can only imagine the sounds of screaming and grief that night as, from house to house, through every community in the nation of Egypt that was not covered by the blood of the lamb, the first-born child fell dead. Every mother and father would have their attention fully on their first-born, probably in the tight embrace of protection, praying to God that the child would not be taken.
Exodus 12:14. And this day shall be unto you for a memorial; and ye shall keep it a feast to the LORD throughout your generations; ye shall keep it a feast by an ordinance for ever.
God commanded that this Passover meal would be repeated on the 14th day of the month of Abib every year, serving as a remembrance of the deliverance from bondage and death that God had provided to those who were protected by the blood of the lamb.
Over the years the children of Israel would again wander away from God and neglect the memorial meals, but when they returned to Him they would always continue the Passover meal celebration. Traditions around the meal developed. Hebrews grew to desire to celebrate the Passover in Jerusalem, where they held that God tabernacled with them. The different parts of the meal and the manner of their preparation and presentation were well-established. The rite had been unchanged for generations by the time of Jesus' ministry, and much (if not all) of the meaning behind the courses of the meal had been long ago forgotten. Passover became a traditional ritual, a reason to gather together for a party, a time of entertainment and fellowship.
On the night that Jesus was betrayed, He led His Apostles in the Passover meal. He had instructed them to prepare it according to tradition, so that no course would be omitted. All of the elements of the Passover meal would be there. Tradition held that the head of the household would present each course of the meal, and each included words of explanation accompanied with a blessing.
However, this night, Jesus broke with the tradition, and as each course was presented, He replaced the traditional blessings with what could have only astonished the Apostles: Jesus took each element of the Passover meal and explained how every portion was a prophesy of God's plan of salvation, not from Egyptian bondage, but from the bondage to sin that is known by all people, a plan that included His own torture and crucifixion that would be witnessed only a few hours after the meal. The New Testament records much of what Jesus taught as the courses of the meal were presented.
Luke 22:17-18. And he took the cup, and gave thanks, and said, Take this, and divide it among yourselves: For I say unto you, I will not drink of the fruit of the vine, until the kingdom of God shall come.
This is the first cup of the Passover. Where Jewish tradition held to the permanent repetition of this Passover and a blessing of future repeated celebration, Jesus replaced the blessing of the first cup with the announcement that this would be His last Passover until the kingdom of God would come.
The Washing of Hands.
John 13:3-5. He riseth from supper, and laid aside his garments; and took a towel, and girded himself. After that he poureth water into a basin, and began to wash the disciples’ feet, and to wipe them with the towel wherewith he was girded.
Many may not realize that the washing of the disciple’s feet took place at the meal, and not before it as would usually have been done. Jesus used the ceremonial washing of hands to illustrate the servant nature of God's plan for the head of the Passover as He washed the feet of the Apostles, a task that was always reserved for the person in the household who held the lowest esteem.
After this, the table of food was brought, the bitter herbs were dipped in salt, and the food was then removed as a symbol of expectancy. The second cup of wine would be poured and ritual questions would be answered. The content of the teaching and questioning that took place at this point is not fully recorded, though this is the time when Jesus spoke of the coming betrayal and the disciples questioned the identity of the guilty party.
Once the period of teaching has ended, the table of food is returned, and the explanation of the lamb, bitter herbs, and unleavened bread is given. At this point Jesus again broke from the traditional explanation and described how each of these elements were prophecies of Himself and His purpose, and were originally established by the LORD so that He would be recognized when He came to bring salvation. The lamb, whose blood was shed and used to cover the Hebrew families was an image of Jesus’ identical purpose as His shed blood would cover all who would come to God in faith, both within the nation of Israel, and without. He would have explained the bitterness of the herbs and the use of unleavened bread so that its original intent as a prophecy of the coming Messiah would be understood, and Jesus would be recognized.
John 13:26, 30. And when he had dipped the sop, he gave it to Judas Iscariot, the son of Simon. He then having received the sop went immediately out:
During the ceremony, the leader of the Passover would dip the unleavened bread into the bitter herbs and then distribute them to all of those in attendance. The discussion concerning the betrayal took place earlier, prior to the return of the food to the table, giving Judas some time to consider his own guilt. Judas immediately and abruptly left the Passover meal, deliberately placing himself in ceremonial apostasy, for failing to partake of the Passover was considered by the Hebrews to be a rejection of Judaism and of God.
At this point the lamb is consumed. This is the end of the meal. Nothing other than the final cup was to be consumed following the lamb, emphasizing the importance of the lamb that took their place when God's judgment was at hand.
1 Corinthians 11:23-24. That the Lord Jesus the same night in which he was betrayed took bread: And when he had given thanks, he brake it, and said, Take, eat: this is my body, which is broken for you: this do in remembrance of me.
In distributing this bread at this time, Jesus again broke with tradition, dramatically and clearly replacing the importance of the lamb with the importance of the bread. The bread was unleavened, again representing a state of sinlessness. Tradition held that the “sinless” bread was broken and pierced, and Jesus explained that this is a prophecy of Himself, as He would be broken and pierced for them in the same manner that the Passover lamb was sacrificed for the children of Israel in Egypt. Jesus commanded that this new course be added to the meal as a remembrance of what He was going to do for them.
The Cup of Redemption.
1 Corinthians 11:25. After the same manner also he took the cup, when he had supped, saying, This cup is the new testament in my blood: this do ye, as oft as ye drink it, in remembrance of me.
The last course of the Passover meal was the cup of redemption, and the blessing that accompanied this cup reminded them of how God had forgiven them of their sin of apostasy in Egypt and delivered them. Jesus pointed out that when they were taking this cup they were now to be reminded of the new covenant that would be sealed by Jesus' own blood. The disciples would not completely understand the meaning of these symbols until after the crucifixion and resurrection of Christ.
The Closing Hymn.
Matthew 26:30. And when they had sung an hymn, they went out into the mount of Olives.
The importance of Jesus’ presentation of the Passover meal to the Apostles cannot be understated. It was through the Passover that God established His covenant (Old Testament) with Israel, and it was through this Passover that Jesus established His covenant (New Testament) with the New Jerusalem, the New Israel that would be numbered by all who placed their faith and trust in God.
The modern observance of the Lord's Supper includes only those last three observances that came after the eating of the Paschal lamb. This is because what Jesus has done for us is the complete fulfillment of what the lamb did for the Hebrews so many years ago. The Hebrews deserved judgment because they turned their back on God. The blood of the Paschal lamb was shed in order to cover the sins of the ancient Hebrews, providing a way of salvation from the penalty of those sins. However, Jesus taught us that the Passover meal was a prophesy of God's plan of salvation for all people. The ancients placed their trust in the blood of the lamb and found forgiveness. Likewise, Jesus shed his blood so that all who would place their faith and trust in Him would find forgiveness.
When we partake of the Lord's Supper, we have an opportunity to examine ourselves. Consider Paul's instruction to the church in Corinth:
1 Corinthians 11:26-28. For as often as ye eat this bread, and drink this cup, ye do show the Lord’s death till he come. 27Wherefore whosoever shall eat this bread, and drink this cup of the Lord, unworthily, shall be guilty of the body and blood of the Lord. 28But let a man examine himself, and so let him eat of that bread, and drink of that cup.
The Old Testament Passover meal was reserved for the children of Israel alone as it served as a remembrance of their salvation from Egyptian bondage. Likewise, the New Passover meal, the Lord's Supper is given to all who have placed their faith and trust in God. The Lord's Supper does not bring salvation. We observe the Lord's Supper in obedience to Jesus' command to do so. We observe the Lord's Supper as a vivid reminder of what Jesus has done for us.
As we observe the Lord's Supper let us not come to the table unworthily. We come to the table in self-examination as we take a true look at our own need for forgiveness. We come to the table with a spirit of repentance, a true desire to turn from our sin. We come to the table with love for God and the unconditional agape love for one another.Let us each examine ourselves. If we have not yet placed our faith and trust in God, now is the opportunity to do so.
 Psalm 8:3-4; Psalm 19:1-6; Romans 1:18-21.
 The declaration of April as the beginning of the year became a tradition in many different cultures that lasted for many years. It was by the adoption of the Gregorian calendar that established January as the beginning of the year that those who held to the earlier tradition were sometimes called, “April fools.”
 Exodus 12:22.
 A modern example of a bitter herb is horseradish.
 1 Corinthians 11:23.