The Passover and The Law

Last week we began by asking the question about whether the Law matters anymore. As Christians, we believe and tell each other that ‘Jesus’ blood has covered our sins’. But, what does this statement mean? To find the answer, we must look to the Old Testament, and the origins of a festival called the “Passover”.

Exodus 12 describes the first “Passover” and the significance of it. (Feel free to click the link to read the whole chapter on Bible Gateway.) Let me summarize some of the key points to this event:

  1. The Israelites were still in slavery, but Moses was following God’s directions and sending plagues onto the Egyptians for not letting the Israelites go free. The Passover and the final plague against the Egyptians are linked together.
  2. Moses warns both the Egyptians and the Israelites that God will send the “Angel of Death” to kill every first-born son throughout the land, and to avoid this from happening, God gives the instructions the people must follow for observing the Passover.
  3. God also instructs Moses that this will be a permanent annual festival for the people of Israel.

So if God gave this festival as a permanent annual event, why do we not celebrate it today? Does the New Testament give us any clues?

In fact it does, and the key text is in 1 Corinthians 5 –

6 Your boasting about this [a man in the church who is openly living in sin] is terrible. Don’t you realize that this sin is like a little yeast that spreads through the whole batch of dough? 7 Get rid of the old “yeast” by removing this wicked person from among you. Then you will be like a fresh batch of dough made without yeast, which is what you really are. Christ, our Passover Lamb, has been sacrificed for us. 8 So let us celebrate the festival, not with the old bread of wickedness and evil, but with the new bread of sincerity and truth. [emphasis supplied]

Paul makes it clear that Jesus, who died on the cross during the Passover festival, was our Passover Lamb. Many traditions hold (although I don’t believe it is directly in the Bible), that when the curtain was torn from top to bottom in the temple during the earthquake that happened immediately when Jesus died (Matthew 27:51), the Passover lamb that was about to be killed escaped. If this tradition is true, then Jesus completely substituted Himself as that year’s Passover lamb—and our eternal Passover Lamb, as Paul describes.

There are some other things to note about the Passover and how it relates to us today:

  1. Just as the Passover began while the Israelites were still slaves in Egypt, God sent Jesus to be our sacrifice for sin while we were still sinners.
  2. Jews and Gentiles could celebrate the Jewish Passover together if the Gentiles were circumcised. The early church had a heated debate over circumcision as a requirement, and decided that while it wasn’t, the requirement of physical circumcision was foreshadowing the requirement of spiritual circumcision—circumcision of the heart: “So circumcise your uncircumcised hearts, and don’t be impossible to deal with any longer.” (Deuteronomy 10:16 GW). This tells us that Jesus’ sacrifice was for all sinners—both Jews and ‘Gentiles’ (anyone who is not a Jew).
  3. The night of the Passover, God purchased Israel’s first-born children. He uses this event to set the Levites apart for service to Him (Numbers 3). With Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross, “God paid a ransom to save you from the empty life you inherited from your ancestors. And the ransom He paid was not mere gold or silver. It was the precious blood of Christ, the sinless, spotless Lamb of God.” (1 Peter 1:18b-19 NLT).

So is the Passover still a ‘requirement’ for God’s people to keep?

In my life, I will answer both yes and no. The purpose behind the ‘original’ Passover of Exodus was fulfilled in Jesus’ sacrifice. The sacrifice pointed forward to the ultimate sacrifice that Jesus would pay for all of humanity. Keeping the traditional Passover, with a lamb and a literal sacrifice, subtly says that we don’t accept Jesus’ perfect sacrifice, and that is not honoring God.

Just as God saved the Israelites from slavery then set the Passover up as a reminder of their condition and His redemption, we can take time during the Easter week to remember what Jesus did for us, and celebrate that He has saved us out of sin. Remembering that Jesus saved us while we were still sinners helps us keep our focus on Him. When we realize and understand what Jesus did for us—especially when we didn’t deserve it—we can’t help but fall in love with Him.

The traditional Passover requirements have been fulfilled, but that doesn’t replace the rest of the Law. Next week, let’s look at another aspect of the Law and see what we can learn.


P.S. What are your thoughts? Join the conversation!