In addition to the regular weekly sabbath of the seventh day, God set down other specific days as sabbaths to be observed by His people in celebration of certain prophetic events. These sabbaths were celebrated on the days upon which they fell in the lunar calendar, rather than on the seventh day of the week as for the regular weekly sabbath. The first of these sabbaths in each year according to the lunar calendar was Passover, which was celebrated on the 14th day of Nisan, the first month of the Jewish calendar.
“These are the set feasts of Jehovah, even holy convocations, which you shall proclaim in their appointed season. In the first month, on the fourteenth day of the month at even, is Jehovah’s Passover”. (Leviticus 23:4-5).
The Passover was celebrated as a feast in its own right, distinct from the Feast of Unleavened Bread and the Feast of First Fruits, although one ran into the other and they were celebrated in successive days from 14th to 21st of Nisan. Although they were celebrated as individual feasts in Old Testament times, after the destruction of the second temple when the Passover could no longer be celebrated according to the Jewish tradition, they became absorbed into the one week long feast which has taken the name Passover.
The Passover, as revealed by God to Moses, is both a prophecy of the redemption of Israel from bondage to Egypt and a prophetic type of the redemption of mankind from bondage to sin.
The Prophecy – Historical and Typical
The principal scriptural passages in the Pentateuch that relate to the Passover are to be found in Exodus 12:1-14 although it is mentioned frequently by Moses in other passages, including in Numbers, Leviticus, and Deuteronomy. The essential historical aspects of the Passover are;
- On the tenth day of the month, the head of each family was to select a perfect lamb, without spot or blemish, a male of the first year, that is, in the prime of life. If his family was too small to eat the lamb he was permitted to invite his nearest neighbour to share the meal.
- On the fourteenth day of the month he was to kill the lamb while the sun was setting and take the blood in a bowl and with a sprig of hyssop sprinkle it on the two sides and lintel of the door of the house. Not, however, on the threshold.
- The whole lamb was then to be roasted with fire in one piece, it being expressly forbidden that it should be boiled or that a bone of it should be broken.
- The lamb was to be eaten – in haste – with unleavened bread and bitter herbs (Hebrew merowr – bitterness, bitter thing) and each one eating was to have his loins girt, to have his feet shod and to hold a staff in his hand indicating, perhaps, that it was to be eaten while standing. No uncircumcised male was permitted to eat of this meal. All of the lamb was to be eaten and if any were left over, the remains were to be burned in the morning. No morsel was to be carried out of the house.
- That very night the angel of death smote every first born male who was not covered by the blood and the next day, the fifteenth of the month Israel departed from Egypt with a “high hand” or exultantly, in the sight of all the Egyptians.
The Jews celebrated Passover as a memorial of their deliverance from Egypt but even before these events had taken place, there was a prophetic aspect to Passover. The promises of God predated the Egyptian bondage and can be traced back to the faithful Abraham, with whom God made a covenant promise to deliver His people even before they went to Egypt. Thus the Psalmist could sing of Israel departing from Egypt with “a high hand”; “For he remembered His holy word, And Abraham His servant. And he brought forth His people with joy, And His chosen with singing” (Psalm 105:42-43).
While Passover was celebrated as a history of the redemption of God’s people, Israel, it has other applications to believers of the New Covenant; it was both a prophecy of the coming Lamb of God which we see fulfilled in the life of Christ and a prophetic promise of the ultimate redemption from sin for all of those called by His name and who take upon themselves the covering and sanctifying of the Blood.
Though the history of the redemption of God’s people begins with the typical or historical Passover, there was also a prelude to that beginning; the typical redemption of Israel (God’s typical people) from Egypt (a type of the sinful world) was preceded by the tyrannical hostility of the Pharaoh (a type of Satan, the ruler of this world).
In the antitypical redemption too, the fulfilment of the type, there was a prelude. Sin was introduced into the world by the great adversary, Satan, the fulfilment of the Pharaonic type. The fall brought man to ruin and wretchedness but just as Israel’s deliverance was promised to Abraham before they even dreamt of venturing to Egypt, so too before sin came into the world, God’s covenant of peace was planned; “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who hath blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ: even as he chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blemish before Him; in love having foreordained us unto adoption as sons through Jesus Christ unto Himself, according to the good pleasure of His wish, to the praise of the glory of His grace, which He freely bestowed on us in the Beloved: in Whom we have our redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of His grace, which He made to abound toward us in all wisdom and prudence” (Ephesians 1:3-8).
So just as there was a prelude to the type, God’s redemption of Israel from bondage to Egypt, so there is a prelude to the antitype, God’s redemption of mankind from bondage to sin and Satan. In both the type and the antitype, the paschal lamb is the foundation stone and centrepiece. The central object of the Jewish Passover was the pure and undefiled lamb which spoke of the coming Christ, the pure and undefiled Lamb of God upon Whom the Lord lays the iniquity of us all and Who, in extending to man the offer of salvation, was led as “a lamb to the slaughter” and Who, to fulfil the prophetic picture of the type, went to the cross silently, for “as a sheep before her shearers is dumb so He opened not His mouth” (Isaiah 53-7).
Prophetic Type Fulfilled in Christ
The Passover lamb is one of the most perfect types to be found in scripture and beautifully sets forth the person and atoning work of Messiah. But apart from the obvious connection, there are several more subtle aspects to the fulfilment of the type by Jesus.
For example, Exodus gives instructions as to the carrying out of the ordinance as given by God to Moses; “in the tenth day of this month they shall take to them every man a lamb, according to their fathers’ houses, a lamb for a household” (Exodus 12:3). “And you shall keep it until the fourteenth day of the same month; and the whole assembly of the congregation of Israel shall kill it in the evening” (Exodus 12:6). This interval between the setting aside of the lamb without spot or blemish and its sacrifice for Passover corresponds to the period between the day of Jesus’ public arrival in Jerusalem and the day of His crucifixion, thus fulfilling the type as set down in the scriptures. Moreover, of course, it was the “whole assembly of the congregation of Israel” who were responsible for crucifying their Messiah, choosing to liberate, in preference to Jesus, the bandit Barabbas, a name meaning “son of the father”.
All of this was part of God’s perfect plan for our redemption, as Peter points out; “you were redeemed, not with corruptible things, with silver or gold, from your vain manner of life handed down from your fathers; but with precious blood, as of a lamb without spot, even the blood of Christ who was foreordained indeed before the foundation of the world, but was manifested at the end of times for your sake” (1 Peter 1:18-20).
In the light of the preplanning of these events by God it can be no mere chance that Christ, the true Lamb of God, who was “foreordained from before the foundation of the world”, was actually “manifested” and slain for us at the end of four millennial days, as calculated from the first promise of a Redeemer, given after the Fall in the Garden of Eden. Thus in the timing of these events, the paschal lamb was slain after four days measured in human time, and Christ, the Lamb of God, after four millennial days, reckoned according to God’s calendar, where “one day with the Lord is as a thousand years” (2 Peter 3:8).
Yet another example of Christ as the antitype, or fulfillment, of the type of the Passover lamb was in His saving of His people who eat His flesh and drink His blood. Concerning the Passover lamb, God told Moses; “And they shall take of the blood, and put it on the two side-posts and on the lintel, upon the houses wherein they shall eat it. And they shall eat the flesh in that night, roast with fire, and unleavened bread; with bitters they shall eat it. Eat not of it raw, nor boiled at all with water, but roast with fire; its head with its legs and with the inwards thereof” (Exodus 12:7-9).
Observe that the whole of the lamb was to be eaten; nothing was to be left unused. It is in this whole way that Jesus gives Himself to His people and we need every morsel of Him that we can get; we need the all of Him. Too many settle for a bit of Jesus, taking what they think they need; but He must be taken in whole if the taking is to be effective and meet the exigency of our soul. The express command of God to Moses was that the whole should be eaten, not one particle was to be left. So it must be with us.
Note too that the entire lamb was to be “roast with fire” which foreshadowed the suffering of our Saviour as He took upon Himself our sins and therefore the anger of the One whose holy presence is described thus; “our God is a consuming fire” (Hebrews 12:29).
Jesus transformed this paschal supper into a communion feast which His people are to observe throughout their wilderness experience; this is the table that He has prepared for us in the presence of our enemies. He made the connection between the Passover meal and His own sacrifice, clearly identifying Himself as the Lamb of God, when He taught in the synagogue at Capernaum; “He that eats My flesh and drinks My blood has eternal life: and I will raise him up at the last day”. (John 6:54).
Subsequently, He presided at the first celebration of this fulfillment of the Passover lamb prophecy when He served His disciples at supper:
“And He took bread, and when He had given thanks, He broke it, and gave to them, saying, this is My body which is given for you: this do in remembrance of Me. And the cup in like manner after supper, saying, This cup is the new covenant in My blood, even that which is poured out for you” (Luke 22:19-20.
A further fulfillment of the prophetic scriptures relating to the Lamb occurred in the nature of His death upon the cross, a circumstance that must have been significant to those disciples and the faithful few who attended Him as He suffered. One of the specific commandments God gave to Moses in connection with the paschal lamb was that “a bone of it you shall not break” (Exodus 12::46). The history of the New Testament records the following:
“The Jews therefore, because it was the Preparation, that the bodies should not remain on the cross upon the sabbath (for the day of that sabbath was a high day), asked of Pilate that their legs might be broken, and that they might be taken away. The soldiers therefore came, and broke the legs of the first, and of the other that was crucified with him: but when they came to Jesus, and saw that he was dead already, they did not break His legs” (John 19:31-33):
Here is the ancient scripture fulfilled in all its prophetic glory. Moreover, despite observing that Jesus was dead, one of the soldiers pierced His side with a spear and from it “there came blood and water”. On the face of it, it seems a senseless and unnecessary thing to do, but it has vital significance in terms of fulfilling the prophetic scriptures. The blood and water that flowed from Jesus’ side are representative of the entrance into the tabernacle of God; God’s people first approached by the altar of sacrifice where the blood was shed and then went to the brazen laver, where the ceremonial washing and cleansing took place. So we see in this event upon the cross that there is no longer any need for ceremonial sacrifice or cleansing; “He offered one sacrifice for sins for ever” (Hebrews 10:12).
At the same time as the death of Jesus, we are told, the veil of the temple was rent in two from the top to the bottom” (Mark 15:38). Now, finally, there was nothing to stand in the way of man coming before His God in the Holiest Place of all. The sacrifice and cleansing effected by Jesus were once and for all and the veil that separated God from His people was removed forever. Here is the prophetic fulfillment revealed exactly according to God’s Word.
“And these things “became” in order that the scripture might be fulfilled” (John 19:36).
There is a post-script to the Passover story. Israel’s national history began with the exodus from Egypt of which the Passover was the perpetual memorial. But the Jews failed to see in Him the true paschal lamb of God that had been intended all along. The end of Israel’s history is graphically recorded in the prophecies of Zechariah. There we read of Israel’s ultimate repentance; of their sorrow and anguish at the One Whom they rejected and brought forth in travail, when God finally brings Israel into the light of His salvation:
“And I will pour upon the house of David, and upon the inhabitants of Jerusalem, the spirit of grace and of supplication; and they shall look unto Me whom they have pierced; and they shall mourn for Him, as one mourns for his only son, and shall be in bitterness for Him, as one that is in bitterness for his first-born” (Zechariah 12:10).
John the apostle was one of the few who saw the ultimate end of these things at the cross, referring to Zechariah and writing; “And again another scripture says, they shall look on Him Whom they pierced” (John 19:37).
Apart from the prophetic fulfillment of the Passover in the life of Christ, the message of the feast still has personal applications to believers in every age, including today. Like much of Old Testament prophecy, the Passover had a fulfillment in the time of Moses, a further fulfillment in the first coming of Christ and requires a personal fulfillment in the life of every believer. This is what Passover says to believers today:
- There is no salvation except in the Blood of Christ; unless you are covered by the Blood the angel of death will not pass over you, for “apart from shedding of blood there is no remission” (Hebrews 9:22). Moreover, the Blood is not that of a man, but of the Lamb of God, the Son Himself. On this point, many religious groups that describe themselves as Christian reject the notion that Christ is the Son of God and yet claim the salvation that is in Him and in Him alone. This ignores the fact that if Christ is not the divine Son, then they are seeking salvation in the blood of a man. The absolutely critical point of the entire Passover is that it points prophetically to the Son of God as His provision of a sacrificial lamb as a propitiation for our sins. If He were not the Son, then neither is it possible that man’s sins can be forgiven. There is more to salvation than to claim the Blood of Jesus, but it is the Blood that opens the door to salvation. It is the first step on the divine path and except the Blood of Christ the Son is taken and applied, no further step can be taken on that path. Without the Blood, we must rely upon our own flesh, which is an abomination to God. This is what religion has done in the past and does today; it establishes a righteousness that derives from other than the Blood of Christ.
- The whole of the Lamb of God must be taken and eaten; the gift cannot be divided; you cannot take what you want and leave the rest; it is a total package. This is an understanding upon which religion has compromised for centuries. Like the Jews, religious Christianity has devised an easier doctrine of righteousness that leaves the flesh largely untouched, but this is to ignore what Paul wrote to the Romans; “Brethren, my heart’s desire and my supplication to God is for them, that they may be saved. For I bear them witness that they have a zeal for God, but not according to knowledge. For being ignorant of God’s righteousness, and seeking to establish their own, they did not subject themselves to the righteousness of God. For Christ is the end of the law unto righteousness to every one that believes” (Romans 10:1-4). Satan’s guile is most effectively directed towards deceiving Christians on this point; that the path of religion, established by men, can lead to salvation. But the righteousness of God comes not from the rules of men, which lead to death, but relationship with Christ, which, alone, will lead to life everlasting.
- The uncircumcised may not eat of the Lamb. What this teaches us is that the Blood will not avail for the uncircumcised of heart. “For he is not a Jew who is one outwardly; neither is that circumcision which is outward in the flesh: but he is a Jew who is one inwardly; and circumcision is that of the heart, in the spirit not in the letter; whose praise is not of men, but of God” (Romans 2:28). God doesn’t listen to professions or protestations about faith; He looks upon the heart and sees what lies therein. The meal was taken with bitters and unleavened bread. The typology of the unleavened bread is dealt with separately in a feast day of its own, but the “bitters”, as it is in Hebrew, was intended not only to remind the Jews of their past afflictions but is emblematic of the sorrow for sin and the bitter trials and conflicts facing the new born believer who has been brought out of “Egypt”. While He spreads a magnificent table before our deadliest enemies, yet we must return into that world of trial, affliction and sore temptation.
- When we take the Blood, we must be ready to follow Him. Moses taught that the meal was to be eaten while clothed and with feet shod and the staff in hand, indicating readiness to depart. For Christians, this speaks of readiness and watchfulness, a willingness to quickly depart upon the new journey opening up before us. Conversion is not an end, it is a beginning; the beginning of a journey in which we are led by the Holy Spirit in a new way and by a narrow path. Too many believe that, having taken hold of Christ and appropriated the Blood, the struggle is now over. But in truth it is only beginning. Jesus warned that we should “Enter in by the narrow gate: for wide is the gate, and broad is the way, that leads to destruction, and many are they that enter in thereby (Matthew 7:13). He was not talking of those of the world being on the broad way, but His own people who are deceived into thinking that the beginning is the end. We must accept the trials and tribulations that come with true faith in Christ. Jesus warned the disciples; “and you will be hated by all on account of My name” (Luke 21:17). This is a warning that is not embraced by a Church that today seeks compromise and co-operation with the world; the Church speaks of converting the world but the world has long ago converted the Church.
- The Passover lamb was to be eaten completely in that night; nothing was to be carried out of the house. If there was anything remaining uneaten it was to be burned up in the morning. The lamb was to be sacrificed only for the day of the feast, not to replenish the larder. This speaks to us in the same way as God’s manna given to the Jews; it would not keep for more than one day except on the sabbath. God’s provision is for the day only; “….therefore have I hope of Jehovah’s lovingkindnesses that we are not consumed, because his compassions fail not. They are new every morning; great is thy faithfulness” (Lamentation 3:21-23). His provision is new every morning and so His Blood – its covering and sprinkling – must also be sought every morning. That is the message of the Passover feast. If Christ Jesus is our Passover lamb – our Lamb of God – then we must come up to the altar each morning to make the sacrifice and seek the propitiating work of His Blood for ourselves for that new day. If we are to “take none from the house”, as Moses said, and we are to burn up any leftovers in the morning, what does this signify? That the Blood is good for that day only and every morning we must avail ourselves of its blessed provision and covering. God knows the hearts of men; if we fail to come to the altar every morning we are choosing to walk in our own strength for that day. Satan relishes the opportunity this gives him.