From Captivity to Freedom: The Lesson of the Feast of Unleavened Bread

You are here

From Captivity to Freedom

The Lesson of the Feast of Unleavened Bread

Login or Create an Account

With a account you will be able to save items to read and study later!

Sign In | Sign Up


The Mossad, Israel's secret service, captured one of the most notorious Nazi war criminals, Adolf Eichmann, on May 11, 1960.

Eichmann, head of the Nazi concentration-camp system, was "the man whose crimes set the standards of Nazi barbarism," wrote Peter Malkin (Reader's Digest, February 1991).

"He was the one the survivors talked about, more than Himmler or Göring, more even than Hitler. Newspaper articles appeared. Eyewitness accounts were recorded. In the public mind, he soon took on mythic proportions of evil; a contemporary Satan, the one who had organized it all."

Eichmann was the organizer and executor of the final solution-the extermination of the Jewish populace. Millions died, carrying their unspeakable pain and suffering with them to the grave. Survivors recounted the hell they had endured. We have heard the stories from those who lived to tell the tale.

This is not the first time history has recorded man's inhumanity to man. Yet, in sheer numbers alone, these atrocities have seldom been paralleled in the annals of history.

In the Bible, we see similar heinous acts perpetrated by men against other humans. In Exodus, we read that the Israelites were persecuted, brutalized and killed by the Egyptians (Exodus 1-6). God had to soften Pharaoh's cruel heart through several miserable plagues, finally taking the lives of the firstborn in Egypt, both man and beast. Only then was Pharaoh temporarily convinced to give the Israelites leave to go to the desert to worship their God.

The time of Israel's departure was the Feast of Unleavened Bread. This was no coincidence. It was divinely planned, for the meanings of this special feast are inseparably linked with deliverance from bondage. God's deliverance of an enslaved Israel out of a powerful, domineering Egypt serves as the prototype of our supernatural deliverance from sin today. This is the dramatic essence and meaning of the Feast of Unleavened Bread.

Bondage and sin

The Bible speaks of sin's hold on people. Sin holds its captives-human beings-in its grip until they can be delivered by God through Christ.

Paul described sin's hold on the human mind and heart as a kind of slavery: "For you did not receive the spirit of bondage again to fear..." (Romans 8:15). The Christians Paul addressed were once captive to a spirit of bondage that caused them to live in doubt and fear.

Then Paul foretold events that are guaranteed to happen, in time, and will affect all humanity. The creation itself, he said, "also will be delivered from bondage of corruption..." (Romans 8:21). This is the condition of humanity today, under the bondage of corrupting sin. But Jesus Christ will release everyone from this bondage at His return, when He incarcerates Satan (Revelation 20:1-3).

To the Galatians, Paul explained that "we, when we were children, were in bondage under the elements of the world" (Galatians 4:3). Here Paul linked a childish perspective to the rudimentary and captivating traditions of the world, which, as we mature and gain wisdom, we are able to leave as we abandon our former worldly outlook.

Returning to captivity

Paul then chided the Galatians: "How is it that you turn again to the weak and beggarly elements, to which you desire again to be in bondage?" (Galatians 4:9). Paul spoke plainly. He told his friends not to turn back to the disreputable ways of the world, warning them that they would then think and act as they had before they knew God's truth, as destitute, cringing beggars.

The point is clear. Before God freed us to follow Christ, we were in bondage to sin, just as Israel had been to the Egyptians.

Israel's enslavement was physical and ended in physical death. Our captivity to sin can end in a far worse fate, an everlasting death, with no hope of any future. Spiritual slavery brings an infinitely more negative effect.

Responsibility to avoid sin

Paul explained our responsibility to avoid sin, which reflects our part of God's conditional covenant with us: We must do all we can to remain free from our former sinful habits.

"Therefore," Paul clearly stated, "do not let sin reign in your mortal body, that you should obey it in its lusts. And do not present your members as instruments of unrighteousness to sin" (Romans 6:12-13).

Then the apostle warned the disciples who were already freed from sin through Christ by asking them: "Do you not know that to whom you present yourselves slaves to obey, you are that one's slaves whom you obey, whether of sin leading to death, or of obedience leading to righteousness?" (Romans 6:16).

Even though God the Father releases us from sin through Christ's sacrifice, His plan to keep us free from sin requires our constant, vigilant efforts to remain free. We are expected to avoid sin and the temptation that can lead to wrongdoing (James 1:14-15).

Paul equated our daily resistance to sin to a life-and-death struggle. First he stated the ultimate result of continuing, habitual, unrepented-of sin: "What fruit did you have then in the things of which you are now ashamed? For the end of those things is [eternal] death" (Romans 6:21).

Later he warned, "For if you live according to the flesh you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live" (Romans 8:13). Only by God's Spirit and with Christ's help can we terminate those old sinful habits so firmly ingrained in our minds and hearts.

Paul doesn't forget that Christ freed us from eternal death through His perfect sacrifice. "Likewise you also, reckon yourselves to be dead indeed to sin" (Romans 6:11). But with that thought in mind, notice that we are reminded to continue to act on that gift: "Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body, that you should obey it in its lusts" (Romans 6:12).

Clearly, we have a direct hand in keeping ourselves free from the bondage of sin. We are told to turn from "sin which so easily ensnares us" (Hebrews 12:1), because, if we don't, then our sins will work in our lives as yeast or leaven does in bread dough: It will eventually take us over and again hold us in bondage. This is another lesson of the Feast of Unleavened Bread.

Two kinds of bread

Jesus used an everyday food, bread, to teach us important spiritual lessons. Bread smells good, tastes great and can sustain life. But we need more than bread. Jesus said, "Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God" (Matthew 4:4). He compared God's Word to spiritual bread and nourishment, which we also need to sustain us and give us spiritual life.

The bread we most often eat is leavened. Years ago, when I helped my mother bake bread, the one ingredient we invariably used was yeast. Today virtually everyone knows that yeast makes bread dough rise. Certainly the people in Christ's day understood that unusual property of the leavening ingredient, yeast.

Little wonder, then, that Jesus likened leaven in bread dough to the fermenting or corrupting process of sin. His listeners could identify with yeast as a leavening agent; they knew it would spread to puff up bread dough.

Lesson from leavening

Jesus said: "'Take heed and beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and the Sadducees.' And they reasoned among themselves, saying, 'It is because we have taken no bread.'" (Matthew 16:6-7). Jesus' followers failed to realize that Jesus wasn't talking about physical bread, but the unacknowledged sins-pride, arrogance and false doctrines-of the Pharisees and Sadducees.

"Then they understood that He did not tell them to beware of the leaven of bread, but of the doctrine of the Pharisees and Sadducees" (Matthew 16:12). Jesus used physical leaven to teach a spiritual lesson: how to avoid certain kinds of sin.

The apostle Paul carried this lesson further. He told members of the Corinthian church that they were "puffed up" (1 Corinthians 5:2). "Your glorying is not good," he wrote them. "Do you not know that a little leaven leavens the whole lump? Therefore purge out the old leaven, that you may be a new lump, since you truly are unleavened" (1 Corinthians 5:6-7).

Paul used the analogy of leaven's effect on dough to illustrate the effect of sin within a congregation of God's Church. One Corinthian member was involved in a sinful relationship (1 Corinthians 5:1). The others had grown tolerant of this sin, much to Paul's dismay. He commanded them to remove the sinner (1 Corinthians 5:3-7) so that unrighteousness would not spread to affect other members, who were to become "a new lump" of dough-unleavened and free of sin.

The sin-free state that Paul referred to is made possible because "Christ, our Passover, was sacrificed for us," Paul explained (1 Corinthians 5:7). That sacrifice cleanses the Christian and removes his sin (1 John 1:7).

Understanding the spiritual

Continuing in 1 Corinthians, Paul then encouraged the Corinthians to keep the Feast of Unleavened Bread with a better understanding of its spiritual intent. "Let us keep the feast, not with old leaven, nor with the leaven of malice and wickedness, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth" (1 Corinthians 5:8).

He showed the Corinthians the lesson they should have learned from these feast days in the spring: the need to remove their old, habitual sins, as well as sins of malice (evil intent) and wickedness (evil behavior), and to observe the feast with the spiritually unleavened bread of sincerity (pure motives) and truth (right knowledge and understanding).

Paul used leavened and unleavened bread to demonstrate two diametric opposites: sin and righteousness, evil and holiness. Symbolically, the Feast of Unleavened Bread demonstrates these eternal truths to New Testament Christians.

God's holiness in us

Unleavened bread pictures the holiness of God, which must reign in the lives of Christ's disciples. The apostle Peter admonishes us: "Be holy, for I am holy" (1 Peter 1:16). God demands holiness from the sinners and the repentant.

We can see what God wants us to be like by reading about Christ's sinless life while He was alive in the flesh and when He was accepted by His Father as the resurrected Son of God. We see however, that when God resurrected Jesus from the dead, Jesus instructed His disciples not to touch Him before He ascended and was accepted by the Father (John 20:17).

We see what God wants in us when we read that the apostle Paul revealed that we are accepted by the Father only through our holy Savior and High Priest, Jesus Christ (Colossians 3:4).

Finally, we read that the Father doesn't bring heavenly Jerusalem to earth until all human beings are resurrected to spirit (compare 1 Corinthians 15:24-28 and Revelation 21:1-4; Revelation 21:24-27).

Holiness through Jesus Christ

The Scriptures are clear: God demands holiness. However, we couldn't make ourselves righteous or holy through our own efforts, even if we could live a thousand lifetimes. The Word of God shows us that we are made holy and righteous through the death of Jesus and His living in us, as well as through His ministering to us as our High Priest (Colossians 3:3-4; Galatians 2:20; Hebrews 2:17-18).

Paul explains how this transformation is accomplished: "For if when we were enemies we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son, much more, having been reconciled, we shall be saved by His life" (Romans 5:10). Jesus Christ's life is holy, and we are accepted as holy through His life.

Unleavened bread also represents the life-giving and life-sustaining power of Jesus Christ. "I am the bread of life," He said (John 6:48).

Jesus imparts and sustains life in many ways: through His Passover sacrifice for the sins of all humanity; by reliving His life in His followers; with His intercession on our behalf as the ever living Christ; and as the personification of God's written expression to mankind. The Feast of Unleavened Bread represents all these aspects of Christ's life and work on our behalf.

The world is in bondage to Satan, the god of this world (2 Corinthians 4:4, King James Version), and to sin (Ephesians 2:1-3; Romans 6:17-20). Satan and sin once held us captive, but now we have been delivered from this captivity.

God released Israel from the bondage of Egypt. God through Christ has released His begotten sons and daughters from slavery under Satan, just as God freed the Israelites from slavery under Pharaoh. Israel was freed from Egyptian domination, just as Christians are freed from domination by the world. As the Israelites were loosed from serving their Egyptian taskmasters, so are we loosed from the deeply ingrained sins that held us captive and ruled us.

The last thought reminds us of Paul's imagery in Galatians 4:9, which pictures people in bondage to sin as weak, impoverished beggars. We need to thank God that He promises to rescue and deliver us and mankind through Jesus Christ, our Savior.

Rejoice in freedom

Adolf Eichmann and the Nazi concentration camps of World War II help to bring this horrible context closer to home. In 1945 the Allied armies finally freed the camp inmates from their terrible bondage and horrendous sufferings. Those who remained alive in the final days of the war rejoiced at being free from their captors.

New Testament Christians can rejoice in a similar way. We, too, have been set free from captivity, from our merciless and relentless former taskmasters, no longer to serve Satan and sin.

The Feast of Unleavened Bread represents complete freedom from sin and also allows us the privilege to worship our unleavened, pure, perfect, holy Father and His holy Son, Jesus Christ. It depicts for the New Testament Christian a time of fleeing from sin while actively seeking God.

That is why Christians are told to "keep the feast, not with old leaven, nor with the leaven of malice and wickedness, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth" (1 Corinthians 5:8).