Meaning of Christian Passover Samuel Bacchiocchi

Except from God’s Festivals in Scripture and History: Part 1 – The Spring Festivals (p. 28-29) by Samuel Bacchiocchi available for download here.

The Meaning of the Christian Passover

At His Last Supper, Jesus instituted a simple but profoundly meaningful ceremony to celebrate His atoning sacrifice for sin. He instructed His disciples to celebrate Passover henceforth by partaking of unleavened bread and wine in remembrance of His body and blood. The four texts that give us the account of the institution of the Lord’s Supper (Mark 14:22-25; Matt 26:26-29; Luke 22:15-20, 27-30; 1 Cor 11:23-26) suggest three theological meanings.

The Christian Passover looks back at what has already happened. It is a proclamation of the death of Jesus (1 Cor 11:26), a death which took place for all participants. The fruit of salvation wrought by Christ’s death is granted to all who symbolically partake of His broken body and shed blood. Through the emblems of the bread and wine, we appropriate the benefits of Christ’s death as a death suffered for us. It is a memorial feast of the Person and substitutionary work of the Messiah.

The remembrance goes beyond historical events and becomes a proclamation and appropriation by the believer of the benefits of Christ’s death. In many ways this was true also of the Israelite Passover. Through the feast, the people reenacted and reexperiened the events on which their existence as an independent nation was based. Year-by-year, Israel called out of the past into the present the experience of the Exodus deliverance and reentered into the covenant with its blessings and obligations. Parents were to take time during the Passover meal to recount to their children the events of the Exodus deliverance, so that the original meaning and potency of the event would remain continually active (Ex 12:24-27).

In the same way the Christian Passover is an act of remembrance: “Do this in remembrance of me” (Luke 22:19; cf. 1 Cor 11:24). We remember Jesus as the Paschal Lamb who was sacrificed for us by partaking of the emblems of His broken body and shed blood. This simple and yet dramatic ritual enables the believer not only to conceptualize but also to internalize and appropriate the reality of Christ’s vicarious death.

This truth can be understood best through the typology of the substitutionary sacrifice of the paschal lamb, in particular, and of the sin-offerings, in general. Through the vicarious death of sacrificial animals, the Israelite accepted the provision of forgiveness and salvation. Similarly, through the vicarious death of Christ, the Christian accepts the provision of His redemption. As the blood of the Passover lamb kept God from killing the firstborn of the Hebrews, so the blood of Jesus shed on the Cross keeps God from punishing with death the penitent sinner.

The Christian Passover points to the present. Each celebration is a new confirmation of God’s covenant with His church. “This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many” (Mark 14:24). The covenant is God’s commitment to love and save His people: “The Lord your God is God; He is the faithful God, keeping His covenant of love to a thousand generations of those who love him and keep his commands” (Deut 7:7-9). The covenant is at the core of the Passover account. On the eve of the Exodus, God revealed Himself as the God who remembered His Covenant to the Fathers (Ex 2:24; 3:15). The Passover lamb whose blood was struck with a bunch of hyssop over the lintel and doorposts of the houses (Ex 12:7, 22) represented the outworking of God’s covenant to protect and deliver the Israelites.

Similarly, on the eve of His Crucifixion, Christ reaffirmed His covenant by His willingness to shed His blood. 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 benefits of Christ’s atoning death are mediated to believers in the present when they partake of the emblems of His blood and body. Thus the Christian Passover reaffirms the eternal Covenant that God promised to the fathers (Jer 32:40; 50:5; cf. Is 55:3; Ez 16:60) and seals it in the blood of the Messiah (Heb 13:20).

The Christian Passover looks toward the future. It is an anticipation of the future messianic banquet. This eschatological expectation is expressed in the Gospels by Christ’s words: “I shall not drink again of the fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it anew in the kingdom of God” (Mark 14:25; cf. Matt 26:29; Luke 22:16, 18).[1] In Paul’s letter to the Corinthians the eschatological expectation is expressed by the phrase “you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes” (1 Cor 11:26).[2] This expectation gives a sense of joy and jubilation to the Christian Passover and is reflected even in the daily breaking of the bread in the homes of the early Christians, who “partook of food with glad and generous hearts” (Acts 2:46).

As Christians we joyfully partake of the Lord’s Supper, because for us it represents the redemption that Christ has already provided. While for Jews the deliverance from Egypt foreshadows the final Messianic redemption,[3] for Christians Messianic redemption is already an accomplished fact. Furthermore, while the historic Exodus was limited to the experiences of one people; the Christian Exodus is open to all the peoples of the world. The Christian Passover is the beginning of a joyful journey leading to a happy reunion with the Savior at the celebration of the marriage supper of the Lamb (Rev 19:9).

 

Endnotes:

[1] Emphasis supplied.

[2] Emphasis supplied.

[3] D. Daube, The New Testament and Rabbinic Judaism (Grand Rapids, Michigan, 1956), p. 191.

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