Feast of Passover in the Old and New Testament

Except from God’s Festivals in Scripture and History: Part 1 – The Spring Festivals by Samuel Bacchiocchi available for download here.

Passover in the Old Testament

In the Old Testament, Passover evolved from a private family sacrifice of the paschal lamb to an elaborate and solemn sacrifice at the Temple in Jerusalem. In spite of its evolution, the underlying theme of Passover remained the same: the commemoration of the supernatural deliverance of Israel from Egyptian bondage which brought freedom and new life to the people.

Passover marks the inauguration of Israel’s salvation history: “This month shall be for you the beginning of months; it shall be the first month of the year for you” (Ex 12:2). The Feast of Tabernacles, the last festival of the sacred calendar, points to the consummation of Israel’s salvation history when all the inhabitants of the earth will come year after year “to keep the feast of booths” (Zech 14:16). The salvation history of Israel is a type of the New Testament salvation history of mankind.

Being a memorial of the past deliverance from Egyptian bondage, Passover fittingly could serve to typify the future Messianic deliverance and restoration of Israel. During times of foreign oppression, hope ran high at Passover that soon the Messiah would come to liberate His people, even as the Lord had delivered His people from the Egyptian bondage in days of old. Thus, in Old Testament times, Passover was both commemorative of the past Egyptian deliverance and prefigurative of the future Messianic deliverance.

Passover in the New Testament

The Messianic hope of future deliverance nourished by the Passover celebration helps us to appreciate the antitypical fulfillment of the feast in the New Testament. There Christ is presented as our “Paschal Lamb” (1 Cor 5:7) sacrificed at the Passover season to deliver Jews and Gentiles alike from the bondage of sin. Jesus identified Himself with Passover by eating the Paschal meal the night before the official Passover, because He knew that He would suffer death as the true Paschal Lamb at the time of the slaying of the paschal lamb.

The Passover meal Jesus ate with the disciples was without the paschal lamb because the Savior wanted to institute a new Passover meal commemorative of His redemption from sin through bread and wine, the new symbols of His own body and blood soon to be offered “for the forgiveness of sins” (Matt 26:28).

The meaning of the Christian Passover is both commemorative and prefigurative, just like the Old Testament Passover. On the one hand, it commemorates the past deliverance from the bondage of sin through Christ’s suffering and death. On the other hand, it prefigures the future celebration of the marriage Supper of the Lamb (Rev 19:9) at the establishment of God’s Kingdom. Christ Himself alluded to the eschatological fulfillment of Passover when He said to His disciples that He would not eat Passover again “until it is fulfilled in the kingdom of God” (Luke 22:16).

The benefits of Christ’s atoning death are mediated to believers in the present when they partake of the emblems of His blood and body. At the Lord’s Table, believers enter into fellowship with the exalted Lord. Paul describes this fellowship as “a participation in the blood . . . [and] body of Christ” (1 Cor 10:16).

The earliest Passover documents clearly show that early Christians observed Passover as a night vigil, beginning at sundown on Nisan 14 and continuing until the next morning. They celebrated Passover as their annual commemoration of the suffering and death of Christ. They engaged in prayer, singing, reading of Scripture, and exhortations until dawn, when they broke their fast by partaking of the Lord’s Supper and an agape meal.

As Gentile Christians gained control of the church, they adopted and promoted Easter-Sunday instead of the traditional Passover date. The change was influenced by the repressive policies adopted by Roman emperors against the Jewish people and religion, as well as by the defamatory campaign waged by Jews against Christians. As a result, the Biblical Passover themes were gradually replaced by pagan symbols and myths, which became part of the Easter celebration. In time, Easter became associated with numerous pagan practices and superstitions which are foreign to the redemptive meaning and experience of the Biblical Passover.

In conclusion, Passover is a typical institution which served in the Old Testament to commemorate the inauguration of Israel’s salvation history and to nourish the hope of the future Messianic deliverance and restoration of Israel. The antitypical fulfillment of Passover is manifested in the New Testament in three significant ways.

Christologically, that is, in relation to Christ, Passover was fulfilled at the Cross when Christ was sacrificed as our “Paschal Lamb” (1 Cor 5:7) at the Passover season to deliver us from the bondage of sin. Ecclesiologically, that is, in relation to the church, Passover is fullfilled in the church as believers through the emblems of Christ’s body appropriate the reality of salvation accomplished at the Cross and yet to be consummated in God’s Kingdom. Eschatologically, that is, in relation to the End, Passover will be fulfilled at the Second Advent when the redeemed will celebrate the Paschal Supper of the Lamb (Rev 19:9). The three aspects of the Passover’s fulfillments may be termed, respectively, as the inauguration, appropriation, and consummation of redemption.

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