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The Passover

The Passover

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The Passover

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Passover is the first of God’s seven annual festivals listed in Leviticus 23, immediately followed by the seven-day Feast of Unleavened Bread. As the New Testament instructs, we are to observe the Passover in commemoration of the sacrifice of Jesus Christ.

Revealed to the Israelites at the time of their deliverance from Egypt, as recorded in Exodus 12-13, Passover observance involved each household sacrificing an unblemished lamb on the 14th day of the first month of the Hebrew calendar (Abib or Nisan) and eating it with unleavened bread and bitter herbs. In addition to the meat, herbs and unleavened bread, the Passover also came to traditionally include wine.

The lamb’s blood, placed at that time around the Israelites’ doorways, enabled the people to be “passed over” (spared) when God in just judgment slew the firstborn of Egypt. The lives of the Israelite firstborn were thus redeemed (bought back or ransomed) by the blood of the lamb.

In observing the Passover every year afterward on the same date, the Israelites were to recall this redemption in Egypt (while the Feast of Unleavened Bread that followed memorialized their deliverance from Egyptian slavery in the Exodus).

Yet besides recalling their past redemption, the Old Testament Passover prefigured a much greater redemption—by a much greater sacrifice. “For indeed Christ, our Passover, was sacrificed for us” (1 Corinthians 5:7 1 Corinthians 5:7Purge out therefore the old leaven, that you may be a new lump, as you are unleavened. For even Christ our passover is sacrificed for us:
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). Jesus Christ is referred to as “the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29 John 1:29The next day John sees Jesus coming to him, and said, Behold the Lamb of God, which takes away the sin of the world.
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). We are “redeemed … with the precious blood of Christ, as of a lamb without blemish and without spot” (1 Peter 1:18-19 1 Peter 1:18-19 18 For as much as you know that you were not redeemed with corruptible things, as silver and gold, from your vain conversation received by tradition from your fathers; 19 But with the precious blood of Christ, as of a lamb without blemish and without spot:
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).

Jesus’ death occurred on the afternoon of the 14th of Abib, the date of the Passover. We know this because it was the preparation day for the annual Sabbath that followed on the 15th, the first day of the seven-day Feast of Unleavened Bread (Matthew 27:62 Matthew 27:62Now the next day, that followed the day of the preparation, the chief priests and Pharisees came together to Pilate,
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; Mark 15:42 Mark 15:42And now when the even was come, because it was the preparation, that is, the day before the sabbath,
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; Luke 23:54 Luke 23:54And that day was the preparation, and the sabbath drew on.
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; John 19:14 John 19:14And it was the preparation of the passover, and about the sixth hour: and he said to the Jews, Behold your King!
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; John 19:31 John 19:31The Jews therefore, because it was the preparation, that the bodies should not remain on the cross on the sabbath day, (for that sabbath day was an high day,) sought Pilate that their legs might be broken, and that they might be taken away.
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; John 19:42 John 19:42There laid they Jesus therefore because of the Jews’ preparation day; for the sepulcher was near at hand.
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). 

Moreover, on the night before His death, Jesus observed a memorial ceremony with His disciples that He specifically identified as the Passover (Matthew 26:17-30 Matthew 26:17-30 17 Now the first day of the feast of unleavened bread the disciples came to Jesus, saying to him, Where will you that we prepare for you to eat the passover? 18 And he said, Go into the city to such a man, and say to him, The Master said, My time is at hand; I will keep the passover at your house with my disciples. 19 And the disciples did as Jesus had appointed them; and they made ready the passover. 20 Now when the even was come, he sat down with the twelve. 21 And as they did eat, he said, Truly I say to you, that one of you shall betray me. 22 And they were exceeding sorrowful, and began every one of them to say to him, Lord, is it I? 23 And he answered and said, He that dips his hand with me in the dish, the same shall betray me. 24 The Son of man goes as it is written of him: but woe to that man by whom the Son of man is betrayed! it had been good for that man if he had not been born. 25 Then Judas, which betrayed him, answered and said, Master, is it I? He said to him, You have said. 26 And as they were eating, Jesus took bread, and blessed it, and broke it, and gave it to the disciples, and said, Take, eat; this is my body. 27 And he took the cup, and gave thanks, and gave it to them, saying, Drink you all of it; 28 For this is my blood of the new testament, which is shed for many for the remission of sins. 29 But I say to you, I will not drink from now on of this fruit of the vine, until that day when I drink it new with you in my Father’s kingdom. 30 And when they had sung an hymn, they went out into the mount of Olives.
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; Mark 14:12-26 Mark 14:12-26 12 And the first day of unleavened bread, when they killed the passover, his disciples said to him, Where will you that we go and prepare that you may eat the passover? 13 And he sends forth two of his disciples, and said to them, Go you into the city, and there shall meet you a man bearing a pitcher of water: follow him. 14 And wherever he shall go in, say you to the manager of the house, The Master said, Where is the guest room, where I shall eat the passover with my disciples? 15 And he will show you a large upper room furnished and prepared: there make ready for us. 16 And his disciples went forth, and came into the city, and found as he had said to them: and they made ready the passover. 17 And in the evening he comes with the twelve. 18 And as they sat and did eat, Jesus said, Truly I say to you, One of you which eats with me shall betray me. 19 And they began to be sorrowful, and to say to him one by one, Is it I? and another said, Is it I? 20 And he answered and said to them, It is one of the twelve, that dips with me in the dish. 21 The Son of man indeed goes, as it is written of him: but woe to that man by whom the Son of man is betrayed! good were it for that man if he had never been born. 22 And as they did eat, Jesus took bread, and blessed, and broke it, and gave to them, and said, Take, eat: this is my body. 23 And he took the cup, and when he had given thanks, he gave it to them: and they all drank of it. 24 And he said to them, This is my blood of the new testament, which is shed for many. 25 Truly I say to you, I will drink no more of the fruit of the vine, until that day that I drink it new in the kingdom of God. 26 And when they had sung an hymn, they went out into the mount of Olives.
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; Luke 22:7-20 Luke 22:7-20 7 Then came the day of unleavened bread, when the passover must be killed. 8 And he sent Peter and John, saying, Go and prepare us the passover, that we may eat. 9 And they said to him, Where will you that we prepare? 10 And he said to them, Behold, when you are entered into the city, there shall a man meet you, bearing a pitcher of water; follow him into the house where he enters in. 11 And you shall say to the manager of the house, The Master said to you, Where is the guest room, where I shall eat the passover with my disciples? 12 And he shall show you a large upper room furnished: there make ready. 13 And they went, and found as he had said to them: and they made ready the passover. 14 And when the hour was come, he sat down, and the twelve apostles with him. 15 And he said to them, With desire I have desired to eat this passover with you before I suffer: 16 For I say to you, I will not any more eat thereof, until it be fulfilled in the kingdom of God. 17 And he took the cup, and gave thanks, and said, Take this, and divide it among yourselves: 18 For I say to you, I will not drink of the fruit of the vine, until the kingdom of God shall come. 19 And he took bread, and gave thanks, and broke it, and gave to them, saying, This is my body which is given for you: this do in remembrance of me. 20 Likewise also the cup after supper, saying, This cup is the new testament in my blood, which is shed for you.
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). This was the beginning of the 14th of Abib, as biblical days are reckoned from sunset to sunset. 

Jesus commanded that from then on the Passover was to be observed by His followers in remembrance of Him , and He declared that the symbols of unleavened bread and wine were to be considered as representative of His body and His blood given in sacrifice. Jesus said of the wine, “This is My blood of the new covenant” (Matthew 26:28 Matthew 26:28For this is my blood of the new testament, which is shed for many for the remission of sins.
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; Mark 14:24 Mark 14:24And he said to them, This is my blood of the new testament, which is shed for many.
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), instituting a New Covenant observance for Christians today—consistent with His role as “the Mediator of the new covenant” (Hebrews 12:24 Hebrews 12:24And to Jesus the mediator of the new covenant, and to the blood of sprinkling, that speaks better things that that of Abel.
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).

Jesus also said His blood was “poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins” (Matthew 26:28 Matthew 26:28For this is my blood of the new testament, which is shed for many for the remission of sins.
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), revealing that His sacrificial death would pay for sin’s penalty of death (Romans 6:23 Romans 6:23For the wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.
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; see Hebrews 9:15 Hebrews 9:15And for this cause he is the mediator of the new testament, that by means of death, for the redemption of the transgressions that were under the first testament, they which are called might receive the promise of eternal inheritance.
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).

But the New Testament Passover is not just about the death of Jesus as the Lamb of God. It is also about His suffering (Luke 22:15 Luke 22:15And he said to them, With desire I have desired to eat this passover with you before I suffer:
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). We are to remember the entire sacrifice He made—both His suffering and His death. His suffering, death and burial all occurred on the 14th of Abib. The symbols of the unleavened bread and the wine represent His total sacrifice—again, His suffering and His death.

Jesus’ death occurred, as mentioned, on the afternoon of the 14th of Abib, but His period of intense suffering began the night before His death while He was still with His disciples: “And He took with Him Peter and the two sons of Zebedee, and He began to be sorrowful and deeply distressed. Then He said to them, ‘My soul is exceedingly sorrowful, even to death’ ” (Matthew 26:37-38 Matthew 26:37-38 37 And he took with him Peter and the two sons of Zebedee, and began to be sorrowful and very heavy. 38 Then said he to them, My soul is exceeding sorrowful, even to death: tarry you here, and watch with me.
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).

In His sacrifice, Jesus took on Himself the penalty for all mankind’s sins (1 Peter 3:18 1 Peter 3:18For Christ also has once suffered for sins, the just for the unjust, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh, but quickened by the Spirit:
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). When we partake of the bread and wine, we recognize that He offered His body and blood to cover our sins. Through faith in the sacrifice of Jesus Christ we are reconciled to God the Father.

Reconciliation grants us access to the Father, making it possible for us to come boldly before His throne of grace to find help in time of need (Hebrews 4:16 Hebrews 4:16Let us therefore come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need.
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). It is because of Christ’s sacrifice that we can be healed spiritually, physically, mentally and emotionally (Isaiah 53:4-5 Isaiah 53:4-5 4 Surely he has borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows: yet we did esteem him stricken, smitten of God, and afflicted. 5 But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was on him; and with his stripes we are healed.
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; James 5:14 James 5:14Is any sick among you? let him call for the elders of the church; and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord:
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). 

When we eat the unleavened bread at Passover, we symbolize partaking of the benefit of Christ’s sacrifice as well as Christ living in us (John 6:53-54 John 6:53-54 53 Then Jesus said to them, Truly, truly, I say to you, Except you eat the flesh of the Son of man, and drink his blood, you have no life in you. 54 Whoever eats my flesh, and drinks my blood, has eternal life; and I will raise him up at the last day.
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). We also show our unity with Christ and with each member of the Body of Christ, the Church (1 Corinthians 10:16 1 Corinthians 10:16The cup of blessing which we bless, is it not the communion of the blood of Christ? The bread which we break, is it not the communion of the body of Christ?
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), as well as our willingness to live by the Word of God.

Paul explains in 1 Corinthians 11:20-26 1 Corinthians 11:20-26 20 When you come together therefore into one place, this is not to eat the Lord’s supper. 21 For in eating every one takes before other his own supper: and one is hungry, and another is drunken. 22 What? have you not houses to eat and to drink in? or despise you the church of God, and shame them that have not? What shall I say to you? shall I praise you in this? I praise you not. 23 For I have received of the Lord that which also I delivered to you, That the Lord Jesus the same night in which he was betrayed took bread: 24 And when he had given thanks, he broke it, and said, Take, eat: this is my body, which is broken for you: this do in remembrance of me. 25 After the same manner also he took the cup, when he had supped, saying, This cup is the new testament in my blood: this do you, as oft as you drink it, in remembrance of me. 26 For as often as you eat this bread, and drink this cup, you do show the Lord’s death till he come.
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that by this ceremony “we proclaim the Lord’s death till He comes”—representing the only way mankind can be reconciled to God. In fact, Passover ultimately looks forward to the future. While Christ’s sacrifice was the fulfillment of the slaying of the lamb, He said that the Passover would be “fulfilled in the kingdom of God” (Luke 22:15-16 Luke 22:15-16 15 And he said to them, With desire I have desired to eat this passover with you before I suffer: 16 For I say to you, I will not any more eat thereof, until it be fulfilled in the kingdom of God.
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). That is when the process of redemption will be complete.

Furthermore, Christ’s presentation of wine as symbolic of His blood of the New Covenant was, in further symbolism, a type of wedding proposal to His people—looking forward to the “marriage of the Lamb,” which will follow His return (Revelation 19:7 Revelation 19:7Let us be glad and rejoice, and give honor to him: for the marriage of the Lamb is come, and his wife has made herself ready.
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, 9). 

As for observing the Passover today, Paul said in the same passage in 1 Corinthians 11 that the Church is to “come together” to “eat this bread and drink this cup.” And he confirmed here that we are to observe this memorial when Jesus did with His disciples, “on the same night in which He was betrayed” (1 Corinthians 11:23 1 Corinthians 11:23For I have received of the Lord that which also I delivered to you, That the Lord Jesus the same night in which he was betrayed took bread:
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)—the beginning of the 14th of Abib.

The annual service is to also include the ordinance of foot-washing, as established by Jesus at the same Passover observance. After setting an example of being a servant by washing His disciples’ feet, He stated: “You also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have given you an example, that you should do as I have done to you … If you know these things, blessed are you if you do them” (John 13:14-17 John 13:14-17 14 If I then, your Lord and Master, have washed your feet; you also ought to wash one another’s feet. 15 For I have given you an example, that you should do as I have done to you. 16 Truly, truly, I say to you, The servant is not greater than his lord; neither he that is sent greater than he that sent him. 17 If you know these things, happy are you if you do them.
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).

All three elements—the foot-washing, the unleavened bread and the wine—are to be part of the annual observance of the Passover. It should be observed only once a year after sunset at the beginning of the 14th day of the first month of the Hebrew calendar, as established by the Word of God.

This observance is so important in God’s sight that He gave a provision in Numbers 9:1-14 Numbers 9:1-14 1 And the LORD spoke to Moses in the wilderness of Sinai, in the first month of the second year after they were come out of the land of Egypt, saying, 2 Let the children of Israel also keep the passover at his appointed season. 3 In the fourteenth day of this month, at even, you shall keep it in his appointed season: according to all the rites of it, and according to all the ceremonies thereof, shall you keep it. 4 And Moses spoke to the children of Israel, that they should keep the passover. 5 And they kept the passover on the fourteenth day of the first month at even in the wilderness of Sinai: according to all that the LORD commanded Moses, so did the children of Israel. 6 And there were certain men, who were defiled by the dead body of a man, that they could not keep the passover on that day: and they came before Moses and before Aaron on that day: 7 And those men said to him, We are defiled by the dead body of a man: why are we kept back, that we may not offer an offering of the LORD in his appointed season among the children of Israel? 8 And Moses said to them, Stand still, and I will hear what the LORD will command concerning you. 9 And the LORD spoke to Moses, saying, 10 Speak to the children of Israel, saying, If any man of you or of your posterity shall be unclean by reason of a dead body, or be in a journey afar off, yet he shall keep the passover to the LORD. 11 The fourteenth day of the second month at even they shall keep it, and eat it with unleavened bread and bitter herbs. 12 They shall leave none of it to the morning, nor break any bone of it: according to all the ordinances of the passover they shall keep it. 13 But the man that is clean, and is not in a journey, and declines to keep the passover, even the same soul shall be cut off from among his people: because he brought not the offering of the LORD in his appointed season, that man shall bear his sin. 14 And if a stranger shall sojourn among you, and will keep the passover to the LORD; according to the ordinance of the passover, and according to the manner thereof, so shall he do: you shall have one ordinance, both for the stranger, and for him that was born in the land.
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that if a person is prevented by unavoidable circumstances from keeping the Passover on the 14th day of the first month, he may observe it one month later on the 14th day of the second month. The United Church of God continues this practice today.

Finally, it should be stated that Passover represents an important step in God’s plan of salvation. For while Christ’s sacrificial death, as memorialized in the Passover, reconciles us to God, we are actually saved by Christ’s life (Romans 5:9-10 Romans 5:9-10 9 Much more then, being now justified by his blood, we shall be saved from wrath through him. 10 For if, when we were enemies, we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, being reconciled, we shall be saved by his life.
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). As described in the next chapter, this deliverance is portrayed in the Feast of Unleavened Bread and the other festivals of God that follow.

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