How did Christ Jesus Fulfill the Feast of Passover? (Feasts, #3)

The Feast of Passover. The first major feast of the Hebrew calendar is Passover which occurs in the spring on the fourteenth day of Nisan.[1] The Hebrew word translated as Passover (פֶּסַח – pesaḥ) is derived from the verb פָּסַח (pāsaḥ), meaning “skip by” or “spare.”[2] Thus, pāsaḥ is traditionally understood to refer to the Exodus event where Yahweh “passed over” those Israelites whose doorposts were marked with lamb’s blood:

12For I will pass through the land of Egypt that night, and I will strike all the firstborn in the land of Egypt, both man and beast; and on all the gods of Egypt I will execute judgments: I am the LORD. 13The blood shall be a sign for you, on the houses where you are. And when I see the blood, I will pass over (וּפָסַחְתִּי – ûpāsaḥtî) you, and no plague will befall you to destroy you, when I strike the land of Egypt (Exodus 12:12-13).

In Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament, R. Laird Harris, Gleason L. Archer, and Bruce K. Waltke write that pāsaḥ also likely means to defend or protect: “The Lord will protectively cover the houses of the Israelites and will not suffer the destroyer to enter.”[3] In other words, Yahweh “passed over” the Israelites by not allowing the destroying plague to harm them.

Passover in the Old Testament. Of all the feasts, Passover is most closely linked to Israel’s beginnings as a nation. Prior to its celebration, every Israelite household, provided it was not too small, was to take for itself a male lamb without blemish on the tenth day of Nisan (Exod. 12:1-5). The lamb was to remain with them until the fourteenth day, when it would be killed at twilight (Exod. 12:6). Each household was to subsequently “take some of the blood and put it on the two doorposts and the lintel of the houses in which they eat it” (Exod. 12:7). The lamb itself was to be “roasted on the fire” (Exod. 12:8), and none of its bones were to be broken (Exod. 12:46). Its flesh was to be eaten “with unleavened bread and bitter herbs” (Exod. 12:7-9), and any leftovers were to be destroyed with fire so that nothing would remain until morning (Exod. 12:10). Furthermore, since the Passover occurred in conjunction with Israel’s exodus from Egypt, the Israelites were commanded to eat the Passover meal “in haste” with staff in hand, sandals on their feet, and belts fastened (Exod. 12:11). Passover was immediately followed by the seven-day Feast of Unleavened Bread, which served to commemorate, among other things, Israel’s haste in leaving Egypt.

So it happened that on the night that the destroyer struck down all the firstborn of Egypt Yahweh led Israel out of Egyptian bondage. On the fourteenth night of Nisan, Yahweh passed “through the land of Egypt,” struck “all the firstborn in the land of Egypt, both man and beast,” and executed judgment “on all the gods of Egypt” (Exod. 12:12). Only those Israelite houses which were marked with the blood of the Passover lamb were spared from this final plague (Exod. 12:13). McFall writes: “In future commemorations of Passover the original model was slightly modified; for example, the blood of the lamb/goat was no longer smeared on the door-posts of the house.”[4] Deuteronomy 16:2 also declares that the Israelites were to celebrate the Passover “at the place that the LORD” would choose to have “His name dwell” (cf. Deut. 16:7). Eventually, Jerusalem would be designated by Yahweh as the place to observe of the Passover feast.

Christ: Our Passover Lamb. Passover’s ultimate significance is realized only in the Lord Jesus Christ and the New Testament Scriptures. Consider 1 Corinthians 5:7: “For Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed.” Scott rightly states, “Of all the feasts of Israel, none foreshadows our redemption in Jesus Christ in such beautiful detail as the festival of Passover.”[5] The Gospel of John hails the Lord Jesus as the Lamb of God, a title which clearly indicates that Christ is “the ultimate fulfillment of the yearly Passover lamb.”[6] For example, John the Baptist remarked of Jesus: “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1:29; cf. 1:36). In his first epistle, Peter describes Christ as “a lamb without blemish or spot” (1 Pet. 1:18), and John portrays Jesus in the Apocalypse as “a Lamb standing, as though it had been slain, with seven horns and with seven eyes” (Rev 5:6; cf. 5:9). In what ways did the Passover typify Christ?

There are at least seven aspects in which the Passover foreshadowed the sacrifice of the Lord Jesus Christ on the cross. First, just as the Passover lamb was selected on the tenth day of Nisan and inspected to ensure that it was without blemish, the Lord Jesus presented Himself to the Jewish leaders and was thoroughly “inspected” beginning on the tenth of Nisan after His triumphal entry (cf. Matt. 21:1 through 23:39).[7] Second, just as the Passover lamb was to be sacrificed in Jerusalem (Deut. 16:2, 7), Christ was put to death just outside the city of Jerusalem. Third, just as the firstborn of the Egyptian pharaoh (who was worshipped as a god) was killed in the original Passover, the Lord Jesus Christ, the true Son of God was crucified in the eschatological Passover.[8] Fourth, just as none of the Passover lamb’s bones were to be broken, none of Christ’s bones were broken at His crucifixion! John 19:32-36 declares:

32So the soldiers came and broke the legs of the first, and of the other who had been crucified with him. 33But when they came to Jesus and saw that he was already dead, they did not break his legs. 34But 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. 36For these things took place that the Scripture might be fulfilled: “Not one of his bones will be broken.”[9]

Fifth, just as the blood of the Passover lamb protected the Israelites from the destroying angel, Christ’s sinless blood protects His people from God’s wrathful judgment. McFall writes: “Just as the Passover blood functioned as a shield against Yahweh’s wrath, so in the new age (‘the last days’) Jesus’ blood would serve the same purpose.”[10] Sixth, just as nothing of the Passover lamb was to remain until the next morning, the Lord Jesus’ body was expediently buried in a nearby tomb since the Sabbath was quickly approaching (cf. Luke 23:50-54; Deut. 21:22-23). Seventh, just as the original Passover initiated Israel’s exodus from slavery in Egypt, Christ’s crucifixion initiated the elect’s exodus from the dominion of the devil, the slavery of sin (cf. Matt 1:21), and the bondage of the world. Merrill Unger writes: “The Passover (Lev. 23:4-5) speaks of Calvary and of redemption by blood from Egypt, a type of the world; from Pharaoh, a type of Satan; and from Egyptian servitude, a type of sin.”[11] This understanding is further strengthened by Luke 9:31, where Christ’s death, burial, and resurrection is described as “His departure” (ἔξοδον – exodon), that is to say, His exodus. Thus, Luke understands Christ’s “departure” to be the keystone of the eschatological exodus from sin and death.


Footnotes:

[1]Nisan is the first month of the religious reckoning of the Hebrew calendar (Exod 12:1-2) and occurs in late March to late April on the Gregorian calendar.

[2]HALOT, 294. An alternate meaning of pāsaḥ is “be lame, limp.”

[3]R. Laird Harris, Gleason L. Archer, Jr. and Bruce K. Waltke, Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament, Vol. 1 (Chicago, IL: Moody, 1980), 729.

[4]Leslie McFall, “Sacred Meals,” in New Dictionary of Biblical Theology, ed. by T. Desmond Alexander, Brian S. Rosner (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2000), 751.

[5]Bruce Scott, The Feasts of Israel: Seasons of the Messiah (Bellmawr, NJ: The Friends of Israel Gospel Ministry, 1997), 37. See also McFall, “Sacred Meals,” 751.

[6]See Andreas J. Köstenberger, “John” in Gregory K. Beale and Donald A. Carson. The Commentary on the New Testament Use of the Old Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2007), 428.

[7]Elwood McQuaid, The Outpouring: Jesus in the Feasts of Israel (Bellmawr, NJ: Friends of Israel Gospel Ministry, 1990), 41. In Matthew 21:1-23:39, the Jewish religious leaders thoroughly “inspected” Christ Jesus through their questioning of Him.

[8]Kevin Howard and Marvin Rosenthal, The Feasts of the Lord (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1997), 16.

[9]See Köstenberger, “John,” 502. Commenting on John 19:29-36, Köstenberger writes: “An allusion to the Passover may also be in view…consisting of the hyssop (19:29), the unbroken bones (19:33,36), and the mingled blood (19:34).”

[10]McFall, “Sacred Meals,” 751.

[11]Merrill F. Unger, The New Unger’s Bible Dictionary (Chicago: Moody Press, 1988), 422-23. See also Roy E. Ciampa and Brian S. Rosner, “1 Corinthians” in Gregory K. Beale and Donald A. Carson. The Commentary on the New Testament Use of the Old Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2007), 708. The authors comment on 1 Corinthians 5:7: “With the mention of unleavened bread, Paul’s mind turns to Passover, that great founding event for God’s people Israel, and the cross, its even more relevant equivalent as a type for the church. Such events and institutions are regarded by Paul as patterns of God’s work of salvation in the OT that point to their greater analogue of salvation in Christ.”

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