Matthew 26:17-30; Exodus 12:1-14.
Christ in the Passover

American Journal of Biblical Theology, www.biblicaltheology.com
Copyright © 2017, Dr. John W. (Jack) Carter     Scripture quotes from KJV


It has always been God's plan that man, the height of His creation on earth, would have a relationship with Him.  God initiated that relationship by communicating with mankind as he spoke directly to the early patriarchs such as Adam and Noah.  He communicated a plan of salvation that simply promised His eternal protection and His 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 reject God. 

God also spoke to a man named Abram, a wealthy resident of the city of Ur of the Chaldees, an ancient city that was 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, 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 political 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 fertile delta of the Nile river.  The twelve sons of Jacob raised their families in relative respect, comfort and security.  However, over the changes of generations, the new nation of Israel forgot God's promise to Abraham, and lost interest in returning to the arid and hostile promised land of Canaan.  They had turned their backs on God and on His promises, choosing to enjoy their life in Egypt.  However, this was not God's plan for His people.

For nearly four hundred years, approximately 14 generations, the nation of Israel grew to number nearly two million, a number that was so large that the new Egyptian Pharaoh sought to control them and their numbers by killing all their newborn sons and placing them 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.  During this period, 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 Egyptian bondage that God called out Moses to return to Egypt and proclaim to him 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.  One by one, God brought a series of plagues on the land, each plague dramatically illustrating the utter impotence of one of Egypt's revered, but mythical, 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 who lived under the reign of this Pharaoh, both man and animal throughout the land of Egypt. 

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 PASSOVER

The event that was to take place was of such significance that God commanded Moses and Aaron to make this month, the month of Abib, the first month of the year.  This would start on the first full-moon following the spring Solstice that takes place in late March or early April.

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 means 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 eventually produce.  It would also be the strongest, also 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 truly a 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.  

This period of time 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.  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 as they cared for it.  The command given to Moses and Aaron is that all 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, a grief filled with many questions.

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 lintel and the side sills of the entry door to the home.  Other biblical 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, step on the threshold, 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 also 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 the people because of their sinful nature.  They were also instructed to include very bitter herbs in the meal as a reminder of the bitterness of their bondage, the bitterness that they had 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.  The inedible entrails would be burned in the fire.  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 following the meal 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 LORDíS 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.    

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 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 utter powerlessness of the pagan gods that were worshipped both by Egyptians and many of the 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 on this night.

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 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 indication of the godly obedience of the family within those walls, 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, the first-born child of every household fell dead.  Every mother and father would have their attention fully focused on their first-born, probably in the tight embrace of protection, praying to their gods that the child would not be taken, only to experience their death.

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.[1] 

Over the years, the children of Israel would again wander away from God, but when they returned to Him they would always continue the Passover meal celebration.  Firm and stable traditions around the meal were 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 an important traditional ritual that served to define them, but failed in its purpose to draw the people to faith in God.

The Preparation

Matthew 26:17-20.  Now the first day of the feast of unleavened bread the disciples came to Jesus, saying unto him, Where wilt thou that we prepare for thee to eat the passover? 18And he said, Go into the city to such a man, and say unto him, The Master saith, My time is at hand; I will keep the passover at thy house with my disciples. 19And the disciples did as Jesus had appointed them; and they made ready the passover. 20Now when the even was come, he sat down with the twelve.

On the night that Jesus was betrayed, he led his Apostles in the Passover meal.  He had instructed them to prepare the meal according to tradition, so that no course would be omitted.  All the elements of the Passover meal would be experienced by the Apostles with Jesus serving as its host.  Tradition held that the head of the household would present each course of the meal, and each course was preceded by a word of explanation and blessing.  However, this night, Jesus broke with the tradition, and as each course was presented, He replaced the traditional explanations and 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.  The New Testament records much of what Jesus taught as the courses of the meal were presented.

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 disciplesí feet, and to wipe them with the towel wherewith he was girded.

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 first cup of wine was shared.  Then the food was then removed from the table as a symbol of expectancy.  The second cup of wine would be poured and ritual questions would be answered.  The table of food is returned, and the explanation of the lamb, bitter herbs, and unleavened bread is given.  At this point, Jesus broke from the traditional explanation and described how each of these elements were prophesies of Himself and His purpose.

The Maror, the Bitter Herbs.

Matthew 26:21-25.  And as they did eat, he said, Verily I say unto you, that one of you shall betray me. 22And they were exceeding sorrowful, and began every one of them to say unto him, Lord, is it I? 23And he answered and said, He that dippeth his hand with me in the dish, the same shall betray me. 24The Son of man goeth as it is written of him: but woe unto that man by whom the Son of man is betrayed! it had been good for that man if he had not been born. 25Then Judas, which betrayed him, answered and said, Master, is it I? He said unto him, Thou hast said.

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.  Typically, this is today celebrated with pure, fresh, horseradish.  It is literally impossible to eat this without it bringing tears to oneís eyes.  The purpose of the bitter herbs is to remind the Israelites of the bitterness of Egyptian slavery.  Jesus demonstrated how from this day forward the consumption of bitter herbs will be remembered as a metaphor for the bitterness of betrayal, how all would turn away from Jesus during the coming trials, including the Apostles who hid, Peterís firm denial of his association with Jesus, and more specifically Judasí impending betrayal of Jesus to the Jerusalem elite.

At this point Judas, embarrassed by his exposure, left the Passover meal, placing himself in ceremonial apostasy, for failing to partake of the Passover was considered to be a rejection of Judaism and of God.

At this point the lamb is consumed.  This is literally the end of the meal.  Nothing other than the ceremonial distribution of 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.

The Blessing.

Matthew 26:26.  And as they were eating, Jesus took bread, and blessed it, and brake it, and gave it to the disciples, and said, Take, eat; this is my body.

In distributing this unleavened bread following the consumption of the lamb, Jesus again broke with tradition, replacing the importance of the lamb with the importance of the bread.  The bread, matzo, was unleavened, again representing a state of sinlessness.  Tradition held that the bread was to be pierced prior to baking and it was broken before serving.   Because of the piercing, when baked, the matzo would become striped.[2]  Jesus explained that, from this day forward, this matzo serves as a symbol of Himself, as He would be striped, broken, and pierced for them in the same manner that the Passover lamb was sacrificed for the children of Israel in Egypt now about 1200 years prior.  Jesus commanded that this new course be added to the meal as a remembrance of what He was about to do for them.

The Kiddush, the Cup of Redemption.

Tradition held that the host of the meal would end it with a reminder of the permanent repetition of this Passover as he blessed the final cup of wine.  Jesus replaced this statement in the blessing of the cup with the announcement that this would be His last Passover until the kingdom of God would come.

Matthew 26:27-29.  And he took the cup, and gave thanks, and gave it to them, saying, Drink ye all of it; 28For this is my blood of the new testament, which is shed for many for the remission of sins. 29But I say unto you, I will not drink henceforth of this fruit of the vine, until that day when I drink it new with you in my Fatherís kingdom.

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.[3]  Jesus pointed out that when they were taking this cup they were, from this day forward, to be reminded of the new covenant that would be sealed by Jesus' own blood.  As the lamb served as the sacrifice to atone the sins of obedient Egyptian Hebrews, He would shed His own blood as the final sacrifice to atone of the sins of all who would place their faith and trust in Him.  The disciples would not completely understand the meaning of these symbols until after the crucifixion and resurrection of Christ.  However, they would come to understand them as they taught the early church and established the Lordís Supper for all generations of faithful Christians that would follow.

The Closing Hymn.

Matthew 26:30.  And when they had sung an hymn, they went out into the mount of Olives.

The observance of the Lord's Supper by Gentiles today includes only those two final courses 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 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, not just the ancient Hebrews.  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, the Eternal Paschal Lamb, 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 Lordís 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 Passover meal was reserved for the children of Israel, and them alone, as it served as a remembrance of their miraculous salvation from bondage to a brutal Egyptian Pharaoh.  Likewise, the Lord's Supper is for all of those who have placed their faith and trust in God, the new Israel, the community that includes Jews who have come to faith, and also all Gentiles who have been adopted into Abrahamís family by their sincere faith and trust in God.  The Lord's Supper does not bring salvation.  The supper itself has no power to atone for the sins of the lost.  Faithful Christians 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 and the command of the LORD that we would also forgive all others.  We come to the table with a spirit of repentance, a true desire to turn from our sin and our ungodly lifestyle choices.  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.


[1] Note that the Passover meal is tied to the phase of the moon, causing it to fall on every day of the week as the years progress.  The Passover meal is not tied to the Sabbath.

[2] The Afikomen.  At the beginning of the traditional Passover (Seder) meal, three unbroken matzahs are put together (representing the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit). The middle matzah is broken (1 Corinthians 11:24), wrapped in a white linen, and hidden, representing the death and burial of Jesus (John 19:14). The matzah itself is designed to represent Jesus, since it is placed between two others, striped, and pierced, which was prophesized by Isaiah (Isaiah 53:5), David (Psalm 22:16), and Zechariah (Zechariah 12:10). Following the Seder meal, the "buried" matzah is recovered, often by the youngest member of the household, "resurrected," as foretold in the prophecies of David (Psalm 16:10).  Deem, Rich.  How the Passover Reveals Jesus Christ.  http://www.godandscience.org/apologetics/passover.html.  April, 2017.

[3] The meal also starts with the leader sharing the cup.  Because of this, many hold that this is a reference to the first cup, rather than the last.

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