How Should Christians Celebrate the Passover?

Most professing Christians see the Passover as an aspect of the Old Covenant that is unnecessary for New Covenant Christians. But Jesus instituted a new administration of the Passover service for His followers that has deep meaning for us today.

How Should Christians Celebrate the Passover?
Source: Shaun Venish

Every year, towards the end of Abib 14 of the Hebrew calendar, many in the Jewish community gather for the Passover seder. This special meal includes a shank of lamb, herbs, wine and an egg. A place is set for Elijah and during the ceremony children formally ask why this night is observed.

Passover customs at the time of Christ included formal temple ceremonies as well as a meal. The "Last Supper" recorded in the three Synoptic Gospels is a Passover celebration. But Christ's practices on that night opened a whole new dimension for Christians.

God's Covenant With Abraham

Understanding the history and theology of the Passover begins with God's dealings with Abraham. Genesis 15 records God's recommitment to an earlier covenant promising Abram that his descendants would be numerous and prosperous (Genesis:12:1-4). In Genesis:15:2-3 Abram reminds God that because he has no natural heir, the promises remain unfulfilled. God then instructs Abram to present animals suited for sacrifice.

The unusual rituals found in Genesis 15 are not explained in the Bible but are found in ancient Middle Eastern covenant rites. The Kiel &amp Delitzsch Commentary on the Old Testament states: "The transaction itself was not a real sacrifice, since there was neither sprinkling of blood nor offering upon an altar, and no mention is made of the pieces being burned. The proceeding corresponded rather to the custom, prevalent in many ancient nations, of slaughtering animals when concluding a covenant, and after dividing them into pieces, of laying the pieces opposite to one another, that the persons making the covenant might pass between them" (Vol. 1, 1996, pages 136-137).

God, as the initiator of the covenant, is represented by the "smoking oven" and "burning torch" of Abram's vision. (Fire and smoke are common manifestations of God's presence.) It is interesting that Abram didn't pass between the cut animals as was customary in a covenant between equals but was incapacitated. The covenant ultimately includes a promise of the land of Canaan (Genesis:15:18-21).

Genesis:15:13-14 contains a prophecy concerning Abram's descendants spanning over four centuries: "Then He said to Abram, 'Know certainly that your descendants will be strangers in a land that is not theirs, and will serve them, and they will afflict them four hundred years. And also the nation whom they serve I will judge; afterward they shall come out with great possessions."

The rest of the book of Genesis details the lives of Isaac (including the near sacrifice of Isaac with its foreshadowing of Christ's sacrifice—Genesis 22), Jacob and Joseph and how Abraham's descendants migrated to Egypt. The book of Exodus begins hundreds of years later when Israel is enslaved just as God predicted.

The Exodus Passover

The 400-year prophecy of Genesis 15 is fulfilled during the life of Moses as Israel's deliverer, making the Passover of the Exodus a prophesied event of the Abrahamic covenant. Exodus chapters 1 through 11 outline God's judgment on Egypt leading to the 10th plague of killing the firstborn. In Exodus 12 God institutes the Passover sacrifice:

• Verses 1-6: A lamb, without blemish, to be selected on the 10th day of Abib and held until the 14th when it is to be killed.

• Verse 7: The blood of the lamb to be spread on the doorposts of the houses.

• Verses 8-9: The Israelites are to roast the lamb.

• Verses 10-11: The Israelites are to eat it with sandals on their feet and staff in hands.

• Verses 12-14: This is to be a memorial of when God passed over them in Egypt.

• Verse 21: The lamb itself is called the Passover.

• Verses 22-28: The Israelites trusted God and obeyed Him.

Instructions in Exodus:12:43-49 specify that the Passover could only be eaten in households where the males were circumcised. No one could participate in the Passover without entering into God's covenant and accepting the sign of that covenant.

Since the Sinai covenant, or what is often called the Old Covenant, hadn't yet been instituted, the reference here is to the Abrahamic covenant (Genesis:17:21-27). To be a participant in the Egyptian Passover, a person had to be a participant of the Abrahamic covenant. The death angel "passed over" those who placed the lamb's blood on their doorposts, and the Israelites left Egypt for the Promised Land as God had prophesied.

The Deuteronomy Passover

Months later, as Israel camped before Mount Sinai, God instituted a new covenant with them that was an extension and fulfillment of promises made under the Abrahamic covenant. The Sinai covenant eventually involved a formalized priesthood and tabernacle, which necessitated some changes in the Passover administration as recorded in Deuteronomy:16:1-7:

• Verses 1-4: These instructions encompass the sacrifices of the Passover and Feast of Unleavened Bread (notice verse 2 mentions both flocks and herds or cattle, while cattle were not to be slain as the Passover), but also seem to specifically deal with changes in the administration of the Passover.

•Verses 5-7: Under the Deuteronomy administration the Passover lamb was to be slain at a central place, which later became Jerusalem, the site of the temple.

The Torah also emphasizes that events of Abib 14, specifically the killing of the Passover, are distinct from events of Abib 15 (Leviticus:23:4-8; Numbers:28:16-17).

Jesus Institutes a New Covenant

Biblical scholars debate on whether the "Last Supper" was a traditional seder. The Gospels contain very specific language signifying that these events were in fact, if not a seder, a Passover meal. Notice Luke's account in Luke:22:7-23:

• Verse 7: The Passover was to be killed on Abib 14. Jesus' instructions are on the 13th because the next day was the 14th. Since biblical days begin at sunset, the meal and ceremonies that night would be after sundown and occur on the 14th.

• Verse 8-13: The wording here is definite in declaring that Jesus and the disciples are participating in a Passover service.

• Verses 14-16: Jesus says that He has desired to eat this Passover with His disciples before His "suffering." Jesus clearly calls this meal with His disciples a Passover.

• Verses 17-23: Jesus now institutes a new Passover observance. The administrative elements of the Passover were to take on a new meaning because a new covenant was being established.

The New Covenant Passover

It is important to notice the profound administrative differences in the Exodus, Deuteronomy and New Covenant Passovers.

The Exodus Passover entailed a slaying of a lamb on the 14th of Abib so that the death angel would pass over the Israelites. The Deuteronomy Passover entailed sacrificing lambs as a memorial of the Exodus Passover. In Israel's history it was also seen as a means of sanctification. Hezekiah's Passover included sprinkling the lamb's blood on those present (2 Chronicles:30:15-17). The New Covenant Passover entails the reality of the sacrifice of Jesus Christ as the Lamb of God (1 Corinthians:5:7).

The Exodus and Deuteronomy Passovers entailed eating a meal including a lamb. The New Covenant Passover entails eating bread and drinking wine as symbols of Christ as the Lamb of God. With the reality of Christ fulfilling the Passover sacrifice, it was necessary to change the symbols of the Passover service. It was no longer essential to sacrifice a lamb as a type of a future event.

On the night before He died, Jesus instituted bread and wine as symbols of His body and blood. Neither the Exodus nor Deuteronomy Passovers contain any instructions about drinking wine. The Jewish seder contains wine, but the seder is a Jewish tradition, not a scriptural injunction. Notice Paul's instructions to the Corinthians in 1 Corinthians:11:17-26:

• Verses 17-22: Paul instructs the Corinthian church not to have a meal during this communal ceremony.

• Verses 23-25: Paul instructs the Church to follow Christ's example of taking the bread and wine on the same night He was betrayed.

The Exodus Passover involved the painting of the lamb's blood on the doorposts. The Deuteronomy Passover involved the sacrificial blood of a lamb. The New Covenant Passover involves its participants being "washed" in the blood of Christ (Revelation:1:4-6).

The Exodus and Deuteronomy Passovers contain no instructions for foot-washing. The New Covenant Passover contains instructions for foot-washing (John:13:1-17).

The Exodus and Deuteronomy Passovers entailed sacrificing lambs as a memorial of the Egyptian deliverance. The New Covenant Passover is a memorial to Christ's deliverance of Christians from the slavery of sin (Romans 6).

Participation in the Exodus and Deuteronomy Passovers was limited to families whose males were physically circumcised. The New Covenant Passover is only for those who have been spiritually circumcised symbolized by baptism (Romans:2:28-29; Colossians:2:11-12).

The Exodus and Deuteronomy Passovers involved the quick killing of the lamb. The New Covenant Passover involves the suffering of the Lamb of God (Isaiah:52:13-53:12; 2 Corinthians:1:3-7). Christ's sacrifice was more than the act of a Roman soldier stabbing Him around 3 in the afternoon of Abib 14. It included all the events that began the night before.

Typology of the Passover

Many of the types of the Exodus or Deuteronomy Passovers are celebrated in the reality of the New Covenant Passover.

The Exodus or Deuteronomy slaying of a lamb were types of Christ's sacrifice. Israel's leaving of Egypt is a type of the Christian leaving spiritual Egypt. Christians should gather on the anniversary of the night before Christ's sacrifice, not as a type of Israel's experience, but as a celebration of the profound reality of Christ's sacrifice and their deliverance from spiritual bondage.

It is important for Christians not to base their Passover observance on the Exodus or Deuteronomy administrations, but to follow Christ's instructions as the Passover Lamb and High Priest of a better covenant.

Controversy in the Early Church

Eusebius (A.D. 263-339) gives us a glimpse into the early church in The History of the Church. He records that in the early second century a bishop from Asia Minor named Polycarp confronted the bishop of Rome over the issue of observing the Passover on Abib 14 instead of celebrating Easter. Polycarp claimed to have been a disciple of the apostle John and taught that the Passover was the true observance of the apostles.

In the latter half of the second century the Passover controversy became critical and divided the churches in Asia Minor from those who observed Easter in the West. The Passover contingent, known as Quartodecimans, were led by Polycrates. In a letter to the bishop in Rome, Polycrates wrote, "We for our part keep the day scrupulously, without addition or subtraction. For in Asia great luminaries sleep who shall rise again on the day of the Lord's advent, when He is coming in glory from heaven and shall search out all the saints... All of these kept the fourteenth day of the month as the beginning of the Paschal festival, in accordance with the Gospel, not deviating in the least but following the rule of the Faith" ( The History of the Church, Eusebius, pages 230-231).

In the resulting conflict the churches in Asia Minor who observed the Passover on Abib 14 in accordance with the Gospel accounts were excommunicated by the bishop of Rome.

Henry Chadwick sums up the dilemma in The Early Church: "It was impossible in so weighty a practical question for diversity to be allowed, but there can be little doubt that the Quartodecimans were right in thinking that they had preserved the most ancient and apostolic custom. They had become heretics simply by being behind the times" (1985, page 85).

The Exodus, Deuteronomy and New Covenant Passovers all reflect God working out His plan of salvation. Each administration involves different ways of celebrating both the temporary realities of the people of those times and the future reality when Jesus Christ would become the Passover and administer the New Covenant as the High Priest of God.

Christ leaves a clear example of how the New Covenant Passover is to be observed. As Paul wrote, "For I received from the Lord that which I also delivered to you: that the Lord Jesus on the same night in which He was betrayed took bread; and when He had given thanks, He broke it and said, 'Take, eat; this is My body which is broken for you; do this in remembrance of Me.' In the same manner He also took the cup after supper, saying, 'This cup is the new covenant in My blood. This do, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of Me.' For as often as you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord's death till He comes" (1 Corinthians:11:23-26).

On the night He was betrayed, Christians are to gather together to conduct a foot-washing ceremony and take bread and wine as symbols of His sacrifice. Christians are to celebrate this special occasion as a reminder of Christ's sacrifice, our present relationship with God through the resurrected Christ and the future establishment of Christ's priesthood at His return.

meadow mcateer

meadow mcateer's picture

I am a little confused about the passover meal. Should we fast from dinner except for the bread and wine? Should we eat earlier in the day normally. Then later do bread, wine and footwashing ceremonially? Is it unacceptable to eat anything else when you are doing these things. I also need to know what things besides breads have leavening in them. Somebody please help!

Joy Porter

Joy Porter's picture

Hi Meadow,

Those are great questions. What I do for Passover is eat dinner at home. Then I meet with the other baptized members of my church for a special service with bible readings and a message from the minister. Then we all take a very small glass of wine and a very small piece of unleavened bread. We also have the ladies wash one another's feet in pairs in one room and the gentlemen wash one another's feet in another room.

As far as leavening, you are right that there are many other things besides bread that have leavening. Below is an excerpt from this page:

I hope this will be helpful to you!

Look for Leavening

During Unleavened Bread we are to have no leaven or leavened products in our home (Exodus 12:15; Exodus 12:19; Exodus 13:7).

Leaven is a food additive, which causes bread or bread products to rise. The apostle Paul used this property of leaven to teach Christians that a "puffed up" attitude is sin (compare 1 Corinthians 5:2 with 1 Corinthians 5:6-7).

Leaven includes yeast, a biological leavening agent that produces fermentation, and chemical leavening agents such as baking powder, baking soda (sodium bicarbonate), and potassium bicarbonate.

Items such as bread, cake, crackers, cookies and prepared cereals and pies that contain leavening must be put out. Doing this is symbolic of putting both the visible and hidden sins out of our lives.

Homemade cream puffs, angel food cake, popovers and sponge cake, while light and fluffy, need not contain any of the above ingredients. Most pie crust recipes (except for graham cracker crusts) are unleavened. However, these products, when purchased from stores or bakeries, frequently do include leavening. Check the ingredient list.

Even though pita bread, flour tortillas and graham crackers are flat, they do contain leavening. Even some brands of matzos marked "kosher for Passover" can also list baking soda or baking powder in the ingredients! So be careful.

Although the following ingredients are associated with leavening products; they are not, by themselves, leavening agents: brewer's yeast, yeast extract (a flavoring), cornstarch and cream of tartar (a dry acid). Cream of tartar, being an acid, merely neutralizes the alkaline nature of baking soda and does not, by itself, cause dough to rise.

Steven Britt

Steven Britt's picture

Hi meadow,

1 Corinthians 11 gives some guidance on this issue which makes it clear that the gathering to take the bread and wine for Passover should not be made into a congregational meal. On the other hand, it does say clearly in 1 Corinthians 11:33-34 that it's fine to eat at home on the Passover, either before or after.

The following article gives more detail, with special emphasis on the often misunderstood meaning of the phrase "Lord's Supper:"

Also, here's a quick guide on what leaven is:

As a general rule, the important characteristic of leaven that God wants us to key in on is that it causes food to be puffed up. Typically I go through everything in the kitchen to check for leavening agents on the ingredient labels, such as yeast and baking soda, and either use them up quickly or throw them out.

I hope this helps! And, since it seems that this is the first time you're keeping the Passover and Days of Unleavened Bread, CONGRATULATIONS! There is so much to learn from God's Holy Days - you will be amazed, just as I once was and still am, to discover how deep their meaning goes.

meadow mcateer

meadow mcateer's picture

Thanks for the help guys! I have been trying to understand all of these holy days for years but didnt. I am beginning to now and I know that my eyes are open because I am willing to change my life. Until I was willing to do that, I never got anywhere in my search. I have always known the truth but never was willing to let God's will for my life be the top priority. Now that I seek God I see Him in everything I do. I now always have the help I need and am very eager to serve the Lord.


Leia's picture

I've only just discovered UCG and my question continues the Unleavened bread post. I'm the only one in my home doing this and I can't remove their food. Is it ok if I just refrain from eating the leavened things?

Heather Disher

Heather Disher's picture

Hi, Leia!
When I lived with roommates in college, I was also the only one that kept the Feast of Unleavened Bread in my apartment. My first recommendation would be to pray about it, that it would not cause conflict for you, and to give you wisdom in your interactions with your family/roommates.

Personally, when I observed the Feast, I went through my own food, and the areas that were "mine" (my own pantry cabinet, my bedroom, desk, etc.)and did not disturb the food of my roommates. And of course, refrained from eating any leavening at home or anywhere else. After all, it's only yourself that you are responsible to change! Hope this is helpful to you, congrats on your first Feast of Unleavened Bread!!


triciabrown's picture

This was suppose to be my first passover celebration, but we failed miserably!! I have only realized the truth about holidays vs. holy days this past year and we wanted so bad to do this but it seemed everything that could go wrong went wrong. My failings have made me depressed the past couple of days for now I feel like I failed God. I understand that I may not have done that because I attempted it and in the past I never even thought about passover because I was raised to believe this was a jewish celebration and not a christians. I will def keep learning and keep seeking the Lord and hopefully next year will go better then this year did.

Steven Britt

Steven Britt's picture


In Numbers 9:10-11, provisions were given for people who were not able to keep the Passover at the appointed time - if you miss it, then you can keep it one month (that is, biblical month) later from the date of Passover. This is the only Holy Day for which there is a "redo" if you miss it ;)

Heather Disher

Heather Disher's picture

So sorry to hear that, Tricia! Like Steven said, if you contact the local pastor and let him know, he will most certainly accommodate a second Passover service for you! Don't be discouraged, keep your focus positive and on God. Everything works together for good for those that love God and are called according to His purpose. :O)


KARS's picture

Hi Tricia! This is awesome news. This too was my first Passover. I am glad to say that our merciful God has aloud a second Passover for we that have emergencies that come up in the last minute. You never know. Don't be discouraged. Prepare for the second one coming up and continue to celebrate the Feast of Unleavened Bread with joy in your heart.

Even we brethren that have kept the Feast for years can sometimes find leavening in our homes after we thought we throughly cleaned every thing. I found a KitKat one year and didn't even realize it had a cookie inside till someone told me. Oops! I just throw it away and went one from there.

Have a joyous rest of the Feast of Unleavened Bread and pleasant day.
KARS :o)


triciabrown's picture

Thanks Steve and Heather I appreciate the feedback. However we do not have a UCG congregation in my town. The closest one is about a 45 min drive away. Unfortunately we cannot afford the gas to drive that far too and from. We will continue to pray for Gods direction and correction as we follow our path to him. He will lead us in the right direction, hopefully a move closer to his church! I would love to be around more people who believe as I do because around here there is none and my husband and I feel so alone when it comes to the truth of the bible and so lost when it comes to what we are suppose to do.

Joy Porter

Joy Porter's picture

Hi Tricia,

I'm sorry the congregation is so far away! I know that must be frustrating for you. I did think of one thing. You might want to try to call the contact number for the closest congregation. I am pretty sure that even though you are 45 minutes away the minister will be able to help you...maybe visit you if you like, or answer your questions on the phone! They are always happy to help! Also I think that if you could only make it to services once a month or something because of the gas, everyone would understand! You could keep the Sabbath at home the other weeks and continue to pray that God open the door for you to come more often. I think you are right that being around other people would be a big help. It is so encouraging to be with others of like mind. I am going to say a prayer for you to be able to meet together with brethren soon!

Your friend,

Heather Disher

Heather Disher's picture

I would still call whoever is the closest pastor, you never know! An elder may live closer to you or even be able to come to your home. Never hurts to ask!


ally94's picture

can you eat whatever for dinner or do you have to eat the meal that has lamb bitter herbs and the other traditional things?

isnt jesus the lamb? eliminating the need for lamb


Skip's picture

Hello ally 94,

Like Paul the Apostle said in 1 Cor 10: 20
Eat dinner at home! Don't come hungry to Passover Service!

But make sure you attend the correct service!

Read the UCG booklet on God's Holy days and commit to God's way!

Then you will be better prepared to take the Passover.


dpuy's picture

Hello Everyone,

God Bless you all, i am new to the observation of the feast of the passover and will begin to practice it next year with my family as true christians.
I have 4 questions regarding the feast:
1. Is the Feast of Passover to occur on April 14 - 21, 2014?
2. Basing from i read above, should we observed it for one day only or for the whole 7 days durations with the 1st and 7th day to be observed like sabbath where we do not work on that day?
3. Should we get rid of all foods and drinks that contains leavening in our house?
4. what about the red wine, it has been fermented with yeast. What should we used for wines?




Ask_Dr_Hill's picture

Dear Saints of the True and Living God:

The Passover is a very sacred time for Christians because Jesus Himself kept the Passover. Where it may be impossible for the entire church to celebrate together a Passover meal, you can must certainly celebrate in your home with friends and family. The Passover is a time for deliverance.

At our fist Passover we set the table as a traditional Jewish Seder. The Cup for Elijah was replace for a cup welcoming the present of the Holy Spirit. (For Elijah has already come).

During the ceremony and after dinner we used the pillow for each person to lay their head and release any burden they wished to share and offer forgiveness for themselves or others that may have caused their burden. It was awesome. Everyone received a great deliverance. When we opened the door for the Holy Spirit a great wind rushed in we were alive in Christ.

Remembering always that Jesus Christ Himself is the Pascal Lamb, the Passover ends with the communion of Bread and Wine; our Lord's Body and Blood.

Anyone thinking of celebrating the Passover -- Just do it. Deliverance is what the Christian Church is missing and celebrating the Passover brings deliverance.

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