“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.” (I Corinthians 5:7)
The Passover was one of three mandatory, historical annual festivals of the Jews (Exodus 23:14-19: Leviticus). It was kept in remembrance of the Lord’s passing over the houses of the Israelites (Exodus 12:1-51) when the first born of all the Egyptians were destroyed. It is also called the “feast of unleavened bread” (Exodus 13:3-10; 23:15; Mark 14:1; Acts 12:1-3), because during the seven day feast no leavened bread was to be eaten or even kept in the household (Exodus 12:15).
Passover is celebrated on the 14th day of the first Jewish Month known as Abib (later called Nisan). The observance is incorporated within the narrative of the Exodus story when the LORD (Yahweh) brought plagues of increasing severity against Egypt. This was to demonstrate Yahweh’s power and to deliver the Israelites from Egyptian slavery (Exodus 1–12).
The tenth and final plague was the death of all the firstborn—human and animal—in Egypt (Exodus 11:4–6). God punished all of Egypt, but spared the firstborn of Israel, only because the Hebrews properly followed Moses’ instructions which God gave him. On the night of the tenth plague, the Israelites were instructed to stay in their homes after slaughtering a lamb and placing its blood on the lintel and doorposts of their houses (Exodus 12:7, 21–22). The blood would be a sign that distinguished the Israelites and separated them from the victims of the plague (Exodus 12:13, 23). Since the people were to be ready to depart Egypt at a moment’s notice. They were to quickly eat the lamb while being dressed to travel and with their staffs in hand (Exodus 12:11).
The Israelites followed Moses’ instructions. At midnight, Yahweh struck down the firstborn of Egypt. “At midnight the LORD struck down all the firstborn in the land of Egypt, from the firstborn of Pharaoh who sat on his throne to the firstborn of the captive who was in the dungeon, and all the firstborn of the livestock.” (Exodus 12:29).
Pharaoh then summoned Moses, and his older brother Aaron in the middle of the night and ordered them to take all the Israelites and depart Egypt (Exodus 12:31–32). The Israelites left quickly, taking their bread dough before it was leavened (Exodus 12:34). The LORD instructed the Jews to annually observe the Passover on the 14th of the first month to commemorate that night when God delivered them from Egypt (Exodus 12:14, 24–27).
However, the formal ritual observance of the Passover is mentioned only a few times in the Old Testament (Numbers 9; Joshua 5:10–12; 2 Kings 23:21–23; 2 Chronicles 30:1–27; 35:1–19; Ezra 6:19–22). In spite of the significance to observe the Passover “as a lasting statute” for all future generations (Exodus 12:14; Leviticus 23:5; Numbers 9:1–5; 28:16), the Scriptures emphasize how unusual the observance of the Passover actually was in Israel’s history.
By the time of the New Testament, the Passover became a time of commerce, rather than a solemn opportunity to remember God and His deliverance of His people. As one commentator explains, “The city itself and the neighborhood became more and more crowded as the feast approached, the narrow streets and dark arched bazaars showing the same throng of men of all nations as when Jesus had first visited Jerusalem as a boy. Even the temple offered a strange sight at this season, for in parts of the outer courts a wide space was covered with pens for sheep, goats, and cattle to be used for offerings. Sellers shouted the merits of their beasts, sheep bleated, and oxen lowed. Sellers of doves also had a place set apart for them. Potters offered a choice from huge stacks of clay dishes and ovens for roasting and eating the Passover lamb. Booths for wine, oil, salt, and all else needed for sacrifices invited customers. Persons going to and from the city shortened their journey by crossing the temple grounds, often carrying burdens … Stalls to change foreign money into the shekel of the temple, which alone could be paid to the priests, were numerous, the whole confusion making the sanctuary like a noisy market”
The slain lamb of the Passover came to be so closely associated with the feast that at various times in the Scriptures, the mention of the Passover refers to the lamb.
- Exodus 12:21 – “Then Moses called all the elders of Israel and said to them, “Go and select lambs for yourselves according to your clans, and kill the Passover lamb.”
- 2 Chronicles 30:17 – “For there were many in the assembly who had not consecrated themselves. Therefore the Levites had to slaughter the Passover lamb for everyone who was not clean, to consecrate it to the LORD.”
- Matthew 26:17 – “Now on the first day of Unleavened Bread the disciples came to Jesus, saying, “Where will you have us prepare for you to eat the Passover?”
- Mark 14:12 – “And on the first day of Unleavened Bread, when they sacrificed the Passover lamb, his disciples said to him, “Where will you have us go and prepare for you to eat the Passover?”
- Mark 14:13-14 – “And he sent two of his disciples and said to them, “Go into the city, and a man carrying a jar of water will meet you. Follow him, and wherever he enters, say to the master of the house, ‘The Teacher says, where is my guest room, where I may eat the Passover with my disciples?’
- Luke 22:1 – “Now the Feast of Unleavened Bread drew near, which is called the Passover.”
- Luke 22:8 – “So Jesus sent Peter and John, saying, “Go and prepare the Passover for us, that we may eat it.”
- Luke 22:15 – “And he said to them, “I have earnestly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer.”
As today’s text from I Corinthians 5:7 illustrates, the Passover served as a type, or prefiguring, of the deliverance Jesus Christ provides for all His people. The deliverance is not from political enslavement, but rather from the penalty, power and presence of sin. Bondage to sin is far greater than Israel’s bondage to Egypt. It is therefore appropriate for students of Scripture to think of the Passover Lamb when they consider the following Scriptures.
John 1:29 – “The next day he saw Jesus coming toward him, and said, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!”
John 19:32-36 – “So the soldiers came and broke the legs of the first, and of the other who had been crucified with him. But when they came to Jesus and saw that he was already dead, they did not break his legs. But one of the soldiers pierced his side with a spear, and at once there came out blood and water. He who saw it has borne witness—his testimony is true, and he knows that he is telling the truth—that you also may believe. For these things took place that the Scripture might be fulfilled: “Not one of his bones will be broken.”
Galatians 4:4-5 – “But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons.”
I Peter 1:19 – “knowing that you were ransomed from the futile ways inherited from your forefathers, not with perishable things such as silver or gold, but with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without blemish or spot.”
May each of us who God has justified by grace alone, through faith alone in the person and work of Jesus Christ alone take the opportunity to remember the sacrifice of our Passover Lamb. You may consider reading about the Passover as you prepare your heart and mind for this year’s Easter celebration.
May God’s truth and grace reside here.
Soli deo Gloria!