Today begins the Jewish Feast of Unleavened Bread, more commonly known as Passover. For Christians, today is observed as Good Friday, a less conspicuous counterpart to Resurrection Sunday which follows. However, while Christians don’t celebrate Passover, the chief festival of the Old Covenant is rich with symbolism of Christ. Why else would Paul, “A Hebrew of Hebrews” (Phil. 3:5), proclaim, “Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed” (1 Cor. 5:7)?
To understand the significance of Passover for Christians, let’s look back to Exodus 12, where God ordained the first Passover. In nine plagues, God has devastated Egypt, displaying his power over the Pharoah and all the nation’s idols, but the Israelites were still in slavery. God had promised that a tenth and final plague would kill every firstborn in Egypt and compel Pharoah to finally let them go. To prepare for the tenth plague and the exodus, God gave the people instructions to observe the Feast of Passover—a strange setting for a feast. They were to “eat it in haste” (Ex. 12:11), ready to begin their journey at any moment. They were to eat unleavened bread, and even purge all leaven out of their houses (Ex. 12:15). And they were to kill a yearling lamb to eat and sprinkle its blood on their doorframes (Ex 12:6-8).
The command to sprinkle a lamb’s blood may initially seem strange, but it was not without a purpose. God explained, “The blood shall be a sign for you, on the houses where you are. And when I see the blood, I will pass over you, and no plague will befall you to destroy you, when I strike the land of Egypt” (Ex. 12:13). When God’s angel saw the blood, he literally passed over those Israelite houses, sparing them from judgment. They were to stay inside all night (Ex. 12:22), so that the blood-marked doorway would stand literally between them and death. It was an act of obedience and faith; they stained their doors not because the blood had magical properties, but because God had commanded it. They had to believe God’s word that he would pass over houses sprinkled with blood.
Significantly, the sign of the blood was for the people of Israel, not for God. God knows everything, including the hearts who trust in him. He needs no physical symbols to guide him. No, this sign visibly represented for the people the distinction God was making between those who believed and obeyed him, and those who did not. The form of this sign was the blood of a sacrificial lamb.
The blood also served to teach the people of Israel that God did not spare them because of their inherent goodness. Abraham had asked God, “Will you indeed sweep away the righteous with the wicked?” (Gen. 18:23). The answer to the rhetorical question is, of course not, because “God is a righteous judge” (Ps. 7:11). If the Israelites were righteous, they would not have needed blood to protect them from God’s judgment.
In fact, “none is righteous, no not one” (Rom. 3:10). We, too, are guilty of sin against a holy God. We, like the Israelites, need forgiveness, and “without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins” (Heb. 9:22). So, like them, we need the blood of another to stand between us and God’s just wrath. The Bible teaches clearly and repeatedly (because we are naturally inclined to deny) that we are helpless to atone for our own sins.
But there is good news! “God will provide for himself the lamb,” said Abraham (Gen. 22:8)—and God provided a lamb, both for Abraham (Gen. 22:13-14) and for us. God sent John the Baptist to testify to his Lamb. When John saw Jesus, he proclaimed, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” (Jn. 1:29).
The inspired writers of the Bible leave no doubt concerning how Jesus is like the Passover lamb. Just as the blood of a lamb “without blemish” (Ex. 12:5) stood between the Israelites and death, so Christians are “ransomed… with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without blemish or spot” (1 Pet. 1:18-19). Jesus was crucified on “the day of Preparation of the Passover” (Jn. 19:14), the very day the Passover lamb was killed. Even Jesus’ silence before his accusers (Mat 26:63, 27:14) fulfilled the type of the Passover lamb, as Isaiah prophesied, “like a lamb that is led to the slaughter, and like a sheep that before its shearers is silent, so he opened not his mouth” (Isa. 53:7). This is the passage the Ethiopian eunuch was studying when the Holy Spirit providentially guided Philip to his chariot, where we read, “Beginning with this Scripture he told him the good news about Jesus” (Acts 8:35). Jesus’ meekness, his perfection, and even the day of his death prove that he really is “the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world.”
Jesus fulfilled the type of the Passover lamb in his death (Mat. 5:17), but, before he died, he transformed the Passover into something new. At his last supper with his disciples, which was a Passover meal (Lk. 22:15), Jesus “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 also he took the cup, after supper, saying, ‘This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me’” (1 Cor. 11:23-25). Just as the Passover served as a perpetual memorial of God delivering his people from Egypt (Ex. 12:14,17), so the Lord’s Supper is a perpetual remembrance for Christians of Jesus Christ delivering us from sin.
Thus, for Christians, the Lord’s Supper has replaced the Passover; the substance has replaced the symbol; the reality has replaced the shadow (Heb. 10:1). Jesus did away with the yearly calendar of sacrifices when he “offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins” (Heb. 10:12). Through God’s deliverance, the people of Israel left their bondage in Egypt and sojourned in the wilderness on their way to the promised land of rest. Through’s Christ’s deliverance, the people of God now leave their bondage to sin (Rom 6:18) and live in the world as sojourners (1 Pet. 2:11) until they reach God’s promised, final rest (Heb. 4:6-10).
This is our hope: to see our precious Lord Jesus with uncorrupted eyes, and to rejoice in his glorious presence for all eternity. There he is in heaven, “a Lamb standing, as though it had been slain” (Rev. 5:6). Although a Lamb, he is also “the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David,” who “has conquered” (Rev. 5:5). Our hope in him is sure, without any tinge of wavering. He will be victorious over all his enemies. As Paul reminds us, “If God is for us, who can be against us” (Rom. 8:31)?
How does seeing Christ in Passover apply to a Christian’s daily life? You may remember that one feature of the Passover meal was removing leaven from the house and eating unleavened bread. The reason Moses gives for this instruction is the urgency of their exodus, “because they were thrust out of Egypt and could not wait” (Ex. 12:39). To this reason Paul adds another, lasting one:
Cleanse out the old leaven that you may be a new lump, as you really are unleavened. For Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed. Let us therefore celebrate the festival, not with the old leaven, the leaven of malice and evil, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth (1 Cor. 5:7-8).
In the passage’s context, Paul is rebuking the Corinthian church for tolerating incestual adultery in the church and not expelling the unrepentant sinner. Now that we are bought with the blood of Christ, we belong to him and ought to be holy as he is holy. The “old leaven” is our old sinful passions and habits, which can work through all our life, spoiling our witness. Throwing out the old leaven represents making a clean break with our old nature and living to God alone. Quoting from the Levitical law, Paul exhorts the Corinthian congregation to “purge the evil person from among you” (1 Cor. 5:13). And purge the evil from your heart, too.
Christ has died. Christ has risen. Christ will come again. Christ rose from the dead as the “firstfruits” (1 Cor. 15:20), God’s guarantee that those who trust in him will also rise when Christ returns and live with him forever. Because that is certain, we must all consider this question: is there anything in your life that you would be ashamed to do in the presence of a holy God? Now is the time to repent. Those who harden their hearts (like Pharoah) will mourn when Christ returns. Those who repent now will rejoice when Christ returns. Risen Lord Jesus, come quickly!