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THE PASSOVER
by: The Good News Magazine United Church of God

What annual festivals occur early in the spring?

"On the fourteenth day of the first month [of the Hebrew calendar] at twilight is the LORD's Passover. And on the fifteenth day of the same month is the Feast of Unleavened Bread to the LORD; seven days you must eat unleavened bread. On the first day you shall have a holy convocation; you shall do no customary work on it ... The seventh day shall be a holy convocation; you shall do no customary work on it" (Leviticus 23:5-8).

The two early-spring festivals are the Passover and the Feast of Unleavened Bread. The sacrificial lamb was slain on the Passover (the 14th of Nisan), and the Days of Unleavened Bread were observed for seven days from the beginning of the 15th of Nisan to the end of the 21st day. It was during these days that ancient Israel marched out of the land of Egypt toward Mount Sinai.

What did the Passover service mean to the ancient Israelites?

"And when your children ask you, 'What does this ceremony mean to you?' then tell them, 'It is the Passover sacrifice to the LORD, who passed over the houses of the Israelites in Egypt and spared our homes when he struck down the Egyptians'" (Exodus 12:26-27, NIV).

"Then Moses called for all the elders of Israel and said to them, 'Pick out and take lambs for yourselves according to your families, and kill the Passover lamb. And you shall take a bunch of hyssop, dip it in the blood that is in the basin, and strike the lintel and the two doorposts with the blood that is in the basin. And none of you shall go out of the door of his house until morning. For the LORD will pass through to strike the Egyptians; and when He sees the blood on the lintel and on the two doorposts, the LORD will pass over the door and not allow the destroyer to come into your houses to strike you'" (Exodus 12:21-23).

The ancient Israelites knew that the firstborn in each family was spared from death only because God could see the blood of sacrificed lambs at the entrances to their houses. Throughout Egypt all those living in houses not having their entrances smeared with the blood of these sacrificed lambs lost their firstborn. But the families of Israel, being obedient to God's command to sacrifice a lamb, were delivered from death. Their firstborn did not perish.

The apostles Paul and Peter understood that the slain Old Testament Passover lamb foreshadowed the death of Jesus Christ as our sacrifice for sin.
Does God still expect us to observe the Passover?
"And you shall observe this thing as an ordinance for you and your sons forever" (Exodus 12:24).
God instituted the Passover, and all His other festivals, as continual, enduring and permanent observances (compare Leviticus 23:14; 21, 31, 41). The word translated "forever" in these verses usually means perpetual rather than eternal. In other words, these festivals were given as permanent festivals, observances we should keep throughout our physical existence. God never intended them to be mere temporary observances that we would discard at a later date, as is commonly taught today (be sure to read "What Did Paul Really Say in Colossians 2:16?," page 12).

What meaning does the Passover have for Christians?

"For indeed Christ, our Passover, was sacrificed for us" (1 Corinthians 5:7).

"For you know that it was not with perishable things such as silver or gold that you were redeemed from the empty way of life handed down to you from your forefathers, but with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect. He was chosen before the creation of the world, but was revealed in these last times for your sake" (1 Peter 1:18-20, NIV; compare Exodus 12:3-6).

The apostles Paul and Peter understood that the slain Old Testament Passover lamb foreshadowed the death of Jesus Christ as our sacrifice for sin.
Notice the reaction of John the Baptist to Jesus: "... John saw Jesus coming toward him, and said, 'Behold! The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!'" (John 1:29). John also understood the symbolic and prophetic relationship of the Old Testament Passover to the work and mission of Jesus the Messiah.

God's plan for the redemption of mankind begins with Christ's sacrifice for our sins. Amazing as it may seem, this first step in God's master plan of salvation has been observed since the days of Moses in the Passover festival (Hebrews 11:24-28). Through the observance of His sacred festivals, God had ancient Israel act out, every year, the major steps in His plan of human redemption. Our redemption begins with our accepting Christ's sacrifice for our sins.

Was Jesus aware of the relationship between His crucifixion and the Passover?

"Now it came to pass, when Jesus had finished all these sayings, that He said to His disciples, 'You know that after two days is the Passover, and the Son of Man will be delivered up to be crucified'" (Matthew 26:1-2).

"Now before the feast of the Passover, when Jesus knew that His hour had come that He should depart from this world to the Father, having loved His own who were in the world, He loved them to the end" (John 13:1).

Did Jesus look forward to participating in the Passover service with His disciples?

"Then came the day ... on which the Passover lamb had to be sacrificed. Jesus sent Peter and John, saying, 'Go and make preparations for us to eat the Passover'" (Luke 22:7-8, NIV).

"When the hour had come, He sat down, and the twelve apostles with Him. Then He said to them, 'With fervent desire I have desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer'" (verses 14-15).

"While they were eating, Jesus took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to his disciples, saying, 'Take and eat; this is my body." Then he took the cup, gave thanks and offered it to them, saying, "Drink from it, all of you. This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins" (Matthew 26:26-28, NIV).

On the night before His death Jesus instituted the New Testament Passover service. Anciently, lambs were sacrificed as forerunners of Christ's sacrificial death on the Passover. But Jesus instituted new symbols of His suffering and death-unleavened bread and wine.

Should Christians continue observing the New Testament Passover service?


"For I received from the Lord what I also passed on to you: The Lord Jesus, on the night he was betrayed, took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, 'This is my body, which is for you; do this in remembrance of me.' In the same way, after supper he took the cup, saying, 'This cup is the new covenant in my blood; do this, whenever you drink it, in remembrance of me.' For whenever you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord's death until he comes. Therefore, whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy [irreverent] manner will be guilty of sinning against the body and blood of the Lord" (1 Corinthians 11:23-27, NIV).

 
Paul shows that the earliest Christians not only observed this festival annually-with its new symbols of bread and wine that Christ instituted to represent His suffering and death-but also that all Christians should continue observing it until Christ returns. Even then Jesus indicates it will continue in His Kingdom (Matthew 26:29).

Since it is a memorial, this God-given event should be observed only once every year as God has commanded (Numbers 9:2-3)-not at our discretion nor on some weekly or monthly schedule. This festival should be observed on the exact annual date that is the anniversary of Christ's death for our sins-the annual Passover festival in the spring of each year-and in the proper manner as described above...

Christ's supreme sacrifice by means of His crucifixion -which occurred precisely on the biblically commanded Passover date-is the foundation of the Christian faith. It reflects the all-encompassing love God has for His creation and His concern for the ultimate well-being of every human being (John 3:16).

United Church of God



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