Of all the Jewish holidays we celebrated as I was growing up, Passover was my favorite. I have fond memories of our Passover Seders and recounting the story of the Israelites’ great deliverance from slavery. It was not until years later, however, that I came to understand that Passover was a wondrous foreshadowing of a far greater deliverance to come.
As told in Exodus chapter 12, when the Israelites were to leave Egypt under the leadership of Moses, after nine plagues upon the Egyptians, God instituted the Passover as the tenth and final blow: The Israelites were to kill a lamb, sprinkle the blood of the lamb on the doorposts and lintels of their homes and God would “pass over” those homes marked by the blood on the door. In contrast, it was to be a night of horror and grief for anyone who had foolishly disregarded God’s command. But those who had the blood of the lamb applied would be spared from the plague, protected from the judgment, and finally released from bondage in Egypt.
Passover is a beautiful, yet often mysterious celebration. The amazing parallels between the Passover story in the Hebrew Scriptures and the Christ story in the New Testament are notable. For example, in the Passover story we discover:
— God commanded the Hebrews to take a lamb (Exodus 12:3)
— The lamb had to be spotless and without blemish (Exodus 12:5)
— The lamb had to be tested (Exodus 12:3; 6)
— The lamb had to die (Exodus 12:6)
— No bone of the lamb could be broken (Exodus 12:46)
— The blood had to be applied (Exodus 12:7)
— The Hebrews would be saved by the blood of the lamb (Exodus 12:13)
Was it just coincidence that centuries after this annual memorial was established Jesus died on the Passover? Was it coincidence that the last meal Jesus shared with his disciples before being crucified was the Passover? Knowing the significance of what was about to take place, Jesus declared, “I have eagerly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer” (Luke 22:15). For it was at this Seder that Passover at last obtained its real meaning and deepest significance.
Passover was the memorial of the physical, historical redemption, but only a shadow of the ultimate redemption about to take place. Jesus was about to become the ultimate sacrifice, to die once for all (Hebrews 9:26).
As one reads through the Hebrew Scriptures (or what we know today as the Old Testament) one finds it is an endless revelation of seemingly strange sacrifices. Abel, the son of Adam, offered a lamb to God and God was pleased with that sacrifice. Later Abraham made offerings to God. The children of Israel were also taught to bring certain animals to slay and offer the blood and meat of those animals to God. Many are offended by the fact that the Old Testament is replete with animal sacrifices and of actual blood being spilled. Yet the themes of blood and sacrifice run through the entirety of the Hebrew Scriptures. But nowhere are these sacrifices ever explained. In Leviticus we read, the life of the flesh is in the blood and without the shedding of blood there can be no atonement (Lev 17:11).
But finally, someone would come who would supply that explanation. Now there would be an answer to the cry of Isaac who — as his father Abraham took him up on the mountain to sacrifice his only son — asked, “Father, where is the lamb?” and Abraham replied, “God himself will provide a lamb” (Genesis 22:7-8).
In the New Testament, we read that as John the Baptist sees Jesus coming toward him, knowing who he was, he says to the crowd, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1:29). Here is the one who will fulfill all the promise of the sacrifices of the Old Testament.
The Passover was but a foreshadowing of a far greater deliverance to come. By calling Jesus the Lamb of God, John identified him both as the Passover lamb of Exodus 12 and the Lamb of God in Isaiah 53. Peter too portrayed Jesus as “a lamb without blemish or defect” (1 Peter 1:18-19). The Apostle Paul similarly notes that “Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed” (1 Corinthians 5:7) and Revelation speaks of Christ as “the lamb who was slain” (Revelation 5:12).
The Passover lamb, whose sprinkled blood protected Israel in the Exodus account, points to him whose blood would one day put an end to all sacrifices once and for all. As believers in this Messiah, we not only have the true Passover, but through the true Passover, we also have the true freedom.