As we move into the Easter weekend, we take time to contemplate the sacrifice Jesus made on our behalf. The Apostle Paul puts it simply and beautifully in his letter to the Romans:
" But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. " -Romans 5:8
The Easter holiday coincides with the Jewish celebration of Passover, which includes the Feast of Unleavened Bread and First Fruits. Though most Christians don't celebrate the Passover, these feast days offer a wealth of rich symbolism, symbolism that Jesus and his disciples clearly recognized in the Gospels. The Apostle Paul, a Pharisee and Rabbi himself, also understood Jesus' death and resurrection inside the Jewish context. Paul taught that regardless of what holidays we celebrate, we should give thanks to the Lord for what he's done for us.
"Therefore do not let anyone judge you by what you eat or drink, or with regard to a religious festival, a New Moon celebration or a Sabbath day. These are a shadow of the things that were to come; the reality, however, is found in Christ."- Colossians 2:16-17
So I prepared this piece on the Christian significance of the Passover celebration. Whether we celebrate Easter or Passover is irrelevant, so long as we do it unto the Lord. I hope this piece helps you come to a deeper understanding of both holidays, and I pray blessings over your household as you celebrate them.
PASSOVER (Feast of Unleavened Bread)
"On that same night I will pass through Egypt and strike down every firstborn of both people and animals, and I will bring judgment on all the gods of Egypt. I am the Lord. The blood will be a sign for you on the houses where you are, and when I see the blood, I will pass over you. No destructive plague will touch you when I strike Egypt." -Exodus 12:12-13
"The Lord's Passover begins at twilight on the fourteenth day of the first month. On the fifteenth day of that month the Lord's Festival of Unleavened Bread begins; for seven days you must eat bread made without yeast. On the first day hold a sacred assembly and do no regular work. For seven days present a food offering to the Lord. And on the seventh day hold a sacred assembly and do no regular work."-Leviticus 23:5-8
During the first Passover, the obedient Israelites who smeared the lambs blood over their doorframes were spared from death. Throughout the Old Testament, blood was required for the atonement of sin. Leaven, or yeast, represented sin. Preparing and eating bread without yeast was symbolic of searching out, and eliminating, sin in one's life. Every year, as the Feast of Unleavened Bread began the Passover week, it was customary for each Jewish family to sacrifice one unblemished lamb for Passover. This sacrifice was to commemorate God's protection of his people as the death angel claimed the first born of the Egyptians, and lambs blood was offered as atonement for sin. As Christians, we understand that Jesus, the unblemished lamb, was sent to die on the cross as the sacrifice for us, his shed blood was the atonement for our sins. Paul put Jesus' sacrifice in the context of Passover and Unleavened Bread like this:
"Your boasting is not good. Don't you know that a little yeast leavens the whole batch of dough? Get rid of the old yeast, so that you may be a new unleavened batch—as you really are. For Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed. Therefore let us keep the Festival, not with the old bread leavened with malice and wickedness, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth."
-1 Corinthians 5:6-8
So with this knowledge, we come to a perfect understanding of Jesus' message to his disciples as they gathered, during Passover, in the upper room for the last supper. The tools of Jesus' object lesson would have carried so much significance; the cup of wine, signifying the blood, and the unleavened bread, signifying his sinless body.
"When the hour came, Jesus and his apostles reclined at the table. And he said to them, "I have eagerly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer. For I tell you, I will not eat it again until it finds fulfillment in the kingdom of God." After taking the cup, he gave thanks and said, "Take this and divide it among you. For I tell you I will not drink again from the fruit of the vine until the kingdom of God comes." And he took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to them, saying, "This is my body given for you; do this in remembrance of me." In the same way, after the supper he took the cup, saying, "This cup is the new covenant in my blood, which is poured out for you."-Luke 22:14-20
Less than forty years after Jesus' death and resurrection, Roman troops sacked and destroyed the Temple in Jerusalem, just as Jesus foretold (Matthew 24:2). The destruction of the Temple forever ended the Jewish sacrificial system. With no Temple for sacrifices, the Pharisees met at Yavneh, and came up with modern day Rabbinic Judaism. Christians realized that the last, and ultimate sacrifice had already been by Jesus on the cross. In 325 AD, the Council at Nicea decided that Christians would no longer celebrate the Jewish feast days. Jesus' resurrection would be celebrated on Easter Sunday, which had been a pagan feast day to the fertility goddess Ishtar. Bunnies and eggs are symbols of fertility. As Judaism and Christianity drifted apart, Christians abandoned the Jewish holidays and adopted new ones, along with the Julian, then the Gregorian Calendar.
PASSOVER (First Fruits)
"The Lord said to Moses, "Speak to the Israelites and say to them: 'When you enter the land I am going to give you and you reap its harvest, bring to the priest a sheaf of the first grain you harvest. He is to wave the sheaf before the Lord so it will be accepted on your behalf; the priest is to wave it on the day after the Sabbath."-Leviticus 23:9-11
First Fruits is traditionally celebrated on the first day of the week after the Passover Sabbath. A sheaf of the first mature grains of Spring, usually barley, is offered in thanksgiving to God for what will be a plentiful harvest in early Fall. This feast day is also rich with symbolism for Christianity. Again Paul, the Rabbi, explains the significance:
"But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. For since death came through a man, the resurrection of the dead comes also through a man. For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive. But each in turn: Christ, the firstfruits; then, when he comes, those who belong to him." -1 Corinthians 15:20-23
Just like the Israelite farmers offered their first sheaves in thanksgiving, assured of the harvest to come; so we also give thanks for the resurrection of our Lord, assured that we too will someday be resurrected. From the Passover lamb, slain for the sins of the world; to the first fruits of late Spring, who conquered death to guarantee us new life in him. From life to death, death to life again; Jesus was truly Messiah, Savior of the world!
The Jewish feast days of Passover are a beautiful celebration of what God did not only for the people of Israel, but for the whole world through the sacrifice of Yeshua, Jesus Christ, on the cross of Calvary. The feast days show us that from the Torah to the Gospels, from Old Testament to New, all of history points to one final and perfect sacrifice for the salvation of the world. Jesus was that sacrifice.
So happy Easter....or Passover. Whichever way you celebrate the resurrection of our Lord, do it with awe and thanksgiving. We should all be humbled by the sacrifice made on our behalf; for "while we were still sinners, Christ died for us."