Questions and Answers About the Passover
Most of Christianity doesn’t keep the Passover, believing it to be an observance only for Jews. Is this true? This post covers this and other questions about this ancient festival.
If you look at your calendar for March or April, you will probably see “Passover” marked. Most people think of the Passover as simply a Jewish national holiday commemorating Israel’s departure from Egypt as found in the book of Exodus. Around this season, network television usually airs The Ten Commandments, the epic 1956 film recounting the Exodus starring Charlton Heston and Yul Brynner.
This may be the extent of your knowledge about the Passover. It is largely ignored in Christianity, which observes other spring holidays (such as Easter, Lent and Good Friday).
But did you know that the Passover is found throughout the Bible—both in the Old Testament and New Testament? Is it possible that Christianity is ignoring an observance that is actually very much Christian?
This post will answer some common questions about the Passover.
Question 1: Doesn’t the Passover commemorate the Israelites being “passed over” and protected from the 10th plague in Egypt?
Yes, the Passover was introduced as a commemoration of the night God performed the 10th and final plague against ancient Egypt. God caused the firstborn of Egypt to die—a plague that probably took millions of lives throughout the land. God would spare the Israelites from this plague only if they painted lamb’s blood on the doorposts of their dwellings (Exodus 12:7, 12-13).
The Passover is found throughout the Bible—both in the Old Testament and New Testament. Is it possible that Christianity is ignoring an observance that is actually very much Christian?That evening, the Israelites were also instructed to prepare a special meal and get ready to leave Egypt the next day (verses 8-11). God declared this observance was “the LORD’S Passover” (verse 11). He commanded them to observe it as “a memorial,” “feast to the LORD throughout your generations” and “an everlasting ordinance” (verse 14).
This was the original meaning of the observance. Jews around the world understood and observed this. These events are also meaningful for Christians who are called “the Israel of God” (Galatians 6:16). But, as we will see, the Passover holds even deeper significance for Christians today.
Question 2: Is there any connection between the Passover and Jesus Christ?
Yes, the Bible makes a strong link between the Passover and Jesus Christ. Putting the scriptures together, we see that the events of the first Passover foreshadowed Jesus Christ’s sacrifice. Notice the following parallels:
- The Israelites were in bondage to Egypt (Exodus 1:14). All human beings are in slavery to sin (Romans 6:16-17, 20; 7:23; 2 Peter 2:19).
- The Israelites were only spared from death that night through the sign of the lamb’s blood on their door posts (Exodus 12:22-23). Christians are only free from the penalty of death through Christ’s shed blood as the “Lamb of God” (John 1:29; Ephesians 1:7; 2:13; Hebrews 9:14, 22; 1 Peter 1:19).
- As a result of the plague against Egypt and the Israelites’ being spared through the lamb’s blood, Israel was freed from slavery and started a new life by coming out of Egypt (Exodus 12:31-41). As a result of Jesus Christ’s sacrifice, Christians can have freedom from the captivity of sin and live a new way of life (Romans 6:4, 6, 18, 22; Ephesians 4:24).
These are just a few of the parallels between the Exodus Passover and Jesus Christ. It is also important to remember that Jesus observed the Passover on the evening before His crucifixion and that His sacrifice occurred on the daylight portion of the Feast of Passover (Matthew 26:18-19). But perhaps no scripture proves the link better than 1 Corinthians 5:7: “For indeed Christ, our Passover, was sacrificed for us.”
Question 3: Does the New Testament say early Christians kept the Passover?
Yes, the New Testament is very clear that early Christians observed the Passover.
We must first understand that they didn’t observe it in the same way Israel observed it in the past. At His last Passover, Jesus Christ instituted new symbols for New Covenant Christians to reflect His sacrifice for sins.
We read about the institution of the New Covenant Passover in Matthew 26.
- Unleavened bread now symbolized the “body” of Jesus Christ (verse 26).
- Wine now symbolized Christ’s “blood” (verse 28).
Jesus commanded His disciples to “do this in remembrance of Me” (Luke 22:19). He also instituted a foot-washing ceremony to teach His people the importance of humility and service (John 13:3-15).
The fact that early Christians observed the Passover on the 14th of Nisan is a generally recognized historical fact. Unfortunately, the Roman Church eventually substituted Good Friday and Easter Sunday for the biblical Passover—a change that is still accepted and practiced by the majority of mainstream Christianity today.
To learn more about the change from Passover to Easter, read our article “Christian Festivals.”
Question 4: Isn’t the Christian ceremony of bread and wine called the Lord’s Supper?
This name, “The Lord’s Supper,” is a common title given to partaking of bread and wine in the Protestant community. Some denominations call this ceremony Eucharist (Greek for “give thanks”) or Communion (Latin for “fellowship” or “sharing”). There is much variance in how these ceremonies are kept. Some keep these ceremonies weekly; some, monthly; some, quarterly; and others, annually.
But none of these names are the biblical name for the ceremony Jesus instituted on the last evening of His life. The Gospels are very clear that He was observing the Passover (Matthew 26:18; Mark 14:14; Luke 22:8). If you read through each Gospel record of this evening, you will notice that Jesus specifically said He was changing the symbols of the bread and wine—but He never said He was changing the name of the observance from Passover to anything else!
If you search the Bible, you will find the phrase “The Lord’s Supper” is only used once in 1 Corinthians 11:20. But when you actually read the verse, you may be surprised that the verse is actually saying not to use that title for the observance. “Therefore when you come together in one place, it is not to eat the Lord’s Supper” (verse 20, emphasis added).
The apostle Paul was correcting the Corinthian congregation for not properly keeping the Passover ceremony with reverence and solemnity. These Christians were coming to the Passover and selfishly eating their own food while others went hungry. Some were even getting drunk (verse 21). So, instead of calling this observance “the Lord’s Supper,” Paul was actually reminding them that it wasn’t! They were to come together to solemnly partake of the bread and wine symbols—not to eat supper (verses 27-29).
The title “Communion” is taken from 1 Corinthians 10:16: “The cup of blessing which we bless, is it not the communion of the blood of Christ?” This is not a designation of a title for the event, but a statement that the symbols of bread and wine are necessary to have a relationship, or fellowship, with Jesus Christ. The Passover is necessary to truly knowing and having a relationship with Jesus Christ.
Finding more answers
If you are just learning about the Passover, we hope these answers have been helpful and informative. We encourage you to continue studying the origins of the popular holidays celebrated in the spring and the deep meaning of the spring festivals found in the Bible.