Jesus as the Fulfillment of the Feast of Pesach (Passover)
In the previous post, Feasts of the Lord: The Feast of Pesach, we explored the scriptural mandate for this observance to include how a typical Passover Seder is conducted today. In this post, we are going to see how the Feast of Pesach was fulfilled by the pure, spotless, unblemished Passover Lamb, our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. We will begin by analyzing each aspect of the Passover Seder noting how this service is replete with signs pointing to Christ and the Renewed Covenant through his blood.
The Feast of Pesach is often described as the Feast of Salvation or the Feast of Freedom. This is not surprising given the fact Pesach was first established as a remembrance of God’s deliverance of Israel from bondage in the land of Egypt (Mitzraim). God saved His people from slavery delivering them to the Land of Promise just as He had covenanted with Abraham. Pesach is to be “a memorial; and you shall keep it as a feast to the LORD throughout your generations. You shall keep it as a feast by an everlasting ordinance.” (Ex. 12:14) As we walk through the Passover Seder identifying each element a bit further, paying special attention to how each aspect points to Christ and his sacrifice, we shall begin to see why Passover was to be an everlasting ordinance. It was to be celebrated in perpetuity and whether we realize it or not, we will be celebrating throughout eternity the sacrifice of the Passover Lamb and the penal substation provided through the cross. This eternal celebration can be seen in Revelation 5:12 which declares “Worthy is the Lamb, who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and strength and honor and glory and praise!”
As noted earlier, Passover is largely a celebration of salvation, redemption, and freedom. For Israel, that salvation from was slavery and the sacrifice of the lamb represented the price that was paid to redeem and free them from bondage. Thus, each aspect of the Passover Seder brings to the mind of the celebrant what God did for His people long ago. Additionally, the promise of the Messiah can also be seen in the Passover Seder, One who would come in the spirit of Elijah to for all time bring peace to the land and to forever save God’s people. To properly understand the significance of Pesach requires one to understand Pesach as a time of remembrance and a time of longing. For the Jew who does not believe Jesus was the Messiah, it is a time of remembrance and a time of longing as they are still longing for his coming. For those who affirm Jesus is the Passover Lamb, it is a time of remembrance of the deliverance provided through the cross from sin and death and a time of longing for the return of the spotless Lamb who will one day return for His people to deliver them for all eternity from sin, death, and the grave. With that as a background, let’s begin to examine the Passover Seder observance in more detail.
Interesting, Pesach marked the beginning of the Jewish spiritual calendar. Those who accept the sacrifice of the Passover Lamb, Jesus Christ, find a new (renewed) covenant relationship with God through that sacrifice. “Passover is the first of the feasts. Likewise, repenting of our sins (teshuvah) and believing in the shed blood of Yeshua is our first step in our walk with God.” So the very feast itself represents renewal of relationship between God and man through Christ.
The Pesach Seder begins with the lighting of the holiday candles, the Erev Pesach blessing. This is a reminder of the Passover Lamb being the light to the world, the Or Ha’olam amiti. Furthermore, given the Passover Seder ultimately points to Jesus being the Passover Lamb, recognizing the presence of the Lamb, the light of the world at the outset of the ceremony is rather appropriate. A traditional part of the Erev Pesach blessing is the inclusion of a special cup known as “Miriam’s Cup” placed on the Seder table to honor Miriam, the sister of Moses, in particular her role in the Exodus from Egypt and the wilderness wandering. The significance of this cup can be observed in the symbolism of what is known as the “Well of Miriam” that is recognized by the water in this particular cup. In the wilderness wandering of Israel, there were two events mentioned in the Pentateuch concerning Israel complaining about water. Such a complaint is not surprising given the relative dearth of water in a desert environment. The Israelites thirsted for physical water. Water in Scripture is also symbolic of spiritual nourishment. Jesus described himself as such to the Samaritan woman at the well in John 4:10 where Jesus told the woman “If you knew the gift of God and who it is that asks you for a drink, you would have asked him and he would have given you living water.” The Apostle Paul also notes drinking from the spiritual Rock in I Corinthians 10:4, “they drank from the spiritual rock that accompanied them, and that rock was Christ.” Miriam’s Cup thus represents the water provided by God to Israel in the wilderness as well as the well of living water that can be found through faith in the Passover Lamb, Jesus.
The Kadesh marks the actual beginning of the Seder. As a reminder, the word kadesh means sanctification or to set apart something as holy unto God. When the Seder leader cries out “Kadesh”, everyone fills their cups with wine. What relevance does this have to Jesus? We see Jesus partaking of a cup with his disciples prior to his death, stating “This is my blood of the covenant” (Matt. 10:28). What is a covenant again? It is the cutting of something in order to establish a contractual agreement between two parties. Often in the Ancient Near East (ANE), this involved the sacrifice of an animal. In the case of the covenant made between God and man through the cross, the renewed covenant, this involved the sacrifice and shedding of blood of Jesus, the Passover Lamb. Through the shed blood of Jesus, we are made qadosh or holy. Furthermore, when we accept Christ’s sacrifice on our behalf, we are betrothed to him. In the betrothal ceremony, the bridegroom and bride partook of a cup of wine to signify their acceptance of the terms of the marriage contract. As you can see, the Kadesh cup has great significance when it comes to the concept of sanctification. It signifies Christ’s blood, the acceptance of the marriage contract as well as signifying the penal substitutionary atonement discussed by Paul in Romans 5.
Washing of the hands, known as the urchatz is the next element of the Passover Seder. Ritual washing or cleansing of oneself was a requirement established in the Pentateuch in order for the priests or anyone for that matter to come near the tabernacle. Being clean was vitally important and failure to properly cleanse yourself resulted in being cut off from among the people if not death. The symbolism of washing is replete throughout Scripture. As the bride of Christ, we are commanded to wash ourselves daily in the word of God. This is a reference to the betrothal marriage ceremony where the bride would, after the Kiddushin ceremony, immerse herself completely in water to signify being set apart and holy for her bridegroom. We can also see the urchatz being conducted by Jesus when he washed the disciple’s feet, perhaps also signifying them being set apart and cleansed for a purpose.
The Karpas signifies the rather common roots the Jews with the salt water that trickles off the parsley representing tears that reminded them of their years in slavery. It is believe the parsley that is typically used for the karpas represents the hyssop that was used to spread the blood of the Passover lamb on the doorposts and lintels during the first Passover. Hyssop was also required as a means to cleanse the home as outlined in Leviticus 14:49. Psalm 51:7 declares “Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean; Wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow.” John 19:29 notes in relation to Jesus on the cross, “Now a vessel full of sour wine was sitting there; and they filled a sponge with sour wine, put [it] on hyssop, and put [it] to His mouth.” As you can see, hyssop shows up in quite a few different passages, all relating to the idea of cleansing.
The Yachatz or the breaking of the matzah also has deep symbolic significance. The matzah itself has a striped pattern with holes throughout it. This is representative of the broken and pierced body of Jesus as noted in Isaiah 53:5, “But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was on him, and by his wounds we are healed.” There is speculation as to why there are three matzah included in the Seder. Some Jewish rabbis have indicated the three maztah represent Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. This begs the question then as to who the middle matzah represents, the maztah that is broken in half. What does that represent? Even if it can be stated the middle matzah represents Isaac, there is a foreshadowing of the sacrifice of Jesus by his Father than can be related to the command by God for Abraham to sacrifice his only son. While Abraham was provided a lamb to sacrifice instead of Isaac, Jesus offered himself up as the sacrificial lamb whose broken and pierced body paid the price for our sins. Furthermore, just as the afikoman is hidden in a linen and then found later in the Seder service, so also Christ’s broken body was placed in linen cloths where he later rose from the dead.
Reading of the exodus from Egypt consists of the retelling of the story of Passover, the asking of the Four Questions, the Parable of the Four Sons, the recounting of the ten plagues, and the partaking of the second cup (Deliverance). An interesting element of this part of the Seder is the B’Choi dor vador, the call to make Passover your own. The exodus of the children of Israel from Egypt is not just a nice story to remember of how God acted on behalf of His people long ago. Passover is a time of remembrance of our own deliverance, namely our deliverance from the bondage of sin through the sacrifice of the Passover Lamb, Jesus Christ. As believers in Jesus, “we too must recall that the salvation obtained by Seh Elohim hagadol – the great Lamb of God – is not something abstract, but is intensely personal, and were it not for His personal love and sacrifice for us, we likewise would still be enslaved to sin. The second up, that of deliverance, is a clear reminder of the deliverance provided by the blood of the Passover Lamb. Just as the placing of the blood of the lamb on the doorposts caused the Angel of Death to Passover the homes of the Israelites thus providing them deliverance from that final plague of death, so too does the blood of the Passover Lamb provide deliverance from death for those who are covered by that blood, those whose names are written in the Lamb’s Book of Life.
The Rachtzah, the second washing of the hands, once again symbolizes ceremonial cleanliness, a cleanliness that comes from being washing by the blood of the Lamb. The eating of the Matzah, the Motzi Matzah, celebrates the provision of bread by God. Who is the Bread of Life? In John 6:35, Jesus declared “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never go hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.” Later in this same chapter in verse 51, Jesus also stated “I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats this bread will live forever. This bread is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world.” In Matthew 26, Jesus instructed his disciples, “Take and eat; this is my body.” So we have Jesus clearly noting that as the Passover lamb was eaten in days gone by, when we partake of the bread at communion, we are remembering Jesus as the Passover Lamb whose body was broken on our behalf. The Motzi Matzah is followed by the Maror, the eating of the bitter herbs which symbolizes the sorrow of the believers life that resulted from bondage to sin. This is also something believers remember when they partake of communion. We recognize the deliverance provided at the cross from that life of bondage to sin and death.
The eating of the Hillel sandwich or the Korech is a solemn reminder of the bitterness of slavery and the sweetness of redemption. This is due to the Hillel sandwich consisting of matztah, maror, and chaorset. The matzah as we noted symbolizes the broken body of the Passover Lamb Jesus that provides us with redemption, the maror signifies the bitterness of sin and bondage, and the charoset provides the sweetness to the sandwich reminding us once again of the joy of redemption and deliverance.
Eating of the Passover meal, the Shulchan Orech, is preceded by the following blessing:
Barukh attah ‘Adonai eloheynu melekh ha’olam asher kiddeshanu bemitsvotav v’tsivanu ‘al achilat peskah
Blessed are You, Lord our God, King of the universe, Who sanctified us with his commandments and commanded us to eat the Pesach.
The eating of the Passover lamb was a commandment given in Exodus 12. The traditional Pesach meal was a time of celebration and gathering together to remember the exodus from Mitzraim. Furthermore, it is a time to remember, by partaking of the Passover lamb in a physical sense, of the need to partake of the Passover Lamb in a spiritual sense as well. Jesus, as the Passover Lamb was without spot or blemish. His broken body paid the sacrifice for our sins betrothing us to him as his bride. The Shulchan Orech is not just a time of eating; it is a time of remembrance of what the Passover Lamb has done for us.
This constant remembrance of Jesus as the Passover Lamb is also seen in the next event in the Passover Seder, the Tzafun or the eating of the Afikomen. If you remember, the afikomen was hidden earlier in the Seder and was found by a child who searched for where it was hidden at. Jesus is our afikomen who can be found by those who search for him. When the afikomen is eaten, it once again signifies what Jesus stated in Matthew 26:26 and what Paul noted in I Corinthians 11:23-24, something we remember each time we partake of communion. The afikomen is a symbol of Jesus’ body that was sacrificed on our behalf, bruised and broken, to restore our relationship with our Creator. Each time the matzah is eaten, we are doing what Jesus’ commanded, namely remembering the sacrifice of the Passover Lamb whose shed blood atones for our sin.
The third cup of win, the cup of redemption, is a symbol of the shed blood of Christ that initiated the renewed covenant through his blood on our behalf. As we noted earlier, this idea of redemption is not only recognition of salvation through Christ’s blood. It also signifies our marriage relationship with Jesus as his bride with him as our bridegroom. When we partake of the cup of juice or wine at communion or Pesach, we are acknowledging our acceptance and adherence to the terms of the Ketubah, the marriage contract that is the renewed covenant.
The final cup of the Seder, the cup of restoration is once Jesus said he would not partake of until he returned to establish his kingdom. Nevertheless, the expectation of this coming kingdom is a part of Pesach. In partaking of this cup, we declare our longing for the coming of the bridegroom for his bride to once and for all restore our relationship with God and to restore all of creation through the tossing of sin, death, Hades, Satan, his minions, and the wicked into the Lake of Fire for all eternity. This is the restoration of relationship promised in Genesis 3:15. It is that towards which all of history is moving towards and which all believers long for. We look forward to the day noted in I Thessalonians 4:16-17:
“For the Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will be with the Lord forever.”
The conclusion of the Pesach Seder takes place with a shout of Leshanah haba’ah bi-yerushalayim! Next year in Jerusalem! This also signifies the believers longing for the return of the Messiah to establish his kingdom forever.
Hopefully you can see some of the recurring themes in the Pesach Seder that are also recurring themes throughout Scripture. We see the theme of redemption, sanctification, deliverance, and longing for the kingdom. Celebrating Pesach as a feast of the Lord assists the believer in both understanding the grand biblical drama and understanding Jesus as the Passover Lamb. It is a time of great celebration, reflection, and longing.