Verses 2, 4, and 5 of Leviticus 23 (the Festivals Chapter) tell us that the Passover is in the first month of the Hebrew calendar, which falls in either March or April. The Passover had an important meaning for the Israelites of the Old Testament, and it has an even deeper significance for Christians.
OLD TESTAMENT PASSOVER
The instructions for the Old Testament Passover are given in Exodus 12. In verse 6 we learn that the Passover lamb was to be killed on the evening of the fourteenth day of the first month of the sacred calendar. In Leviticus 23:32 we read, “’from evening to evening, you shall celebrate your Sabbath.’” In Genesis 1:5, 8, 13, 19, 23, and 31 each day is described as “the evening and the morning.” These verses show that a Biblical day begins in the evening, and lasts until the next evening. The Passover lamb was to be killed at the beginning of the fourteenth day.
Read Exodus 12:22-23 for more instructions. The meaning of the Old Testament Passover is summed up in verse 27: “It is the Passover service of the Lord, who passed over the houses of the children of Israel in Egypt when He struck the Egyptians and delivered our households.”
Verse 48 contains a limitation as to who could keep the Passover: it was for the Israelites. An outsider, if a male, could only keep it if he was circumcised; this was symbolic of making a covenant with God.
NEW TESTAMENT PASSOVER
Jesus Christ taught a new way to observe the Passover. Instead of a lamb, there were new symbols: washing of feet, the bread, and the wine.
In ancient times, people wore sandals on their feet, and their feet would get quite dusty. When a person visited the house of a wealthy man, a servant would wash his feet. In John 13:1-12, we read of Christ washing the feet of the apostles at the Passover before He died. Christ demonstrated the humbleness of mind that we should have toward God and toward each other. We should realize that we are small compared to the Creator and owner of the universe. We must understand that we are not superior to other humans, and we must put their needs above our own.
Verses 13 through 16 give us another reason why He washed their feet: “’You call Me Teacher and Lord, and you say well, for so I am. If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have given you an example, that you should do as I have done to you. Most assuredly, I say to you, a servant is not greater than his master; nor is he who is sent greater than he who sent him.’” If Christ had to serve, His servants would have to serve, too. Christ lived a life of service, providing an example of how we are to live, and then He died for us in an ultimate act of service. Verse 17: “’If you know these things, happy are you if you do them.’” Happiness comes of following example of service, starting with foot washing on Passover and continuing with acts of outgoing concern every day of our lives.
If there is any doubt as to whether Christ was truly keeping the Passover, read Matthew 26:18-21. He told the disciples to say that He would keep the Passover at a certain house, He told them to prepare the Passover, and at evening they ate it.
Notice in verse 20 that only the twelve apostles were there with Christ. Putting verse 20 together with Exodus 12:48 about who could eat the Old Testament Passover, we see that only persons who have made a covenant with God should participate in the New Testament Passover. That covenant would be made at baptism after which one receives the Holy Spirit. However, the Bible does not prohibit other persons from attending the Passover service as non-participants.
Verse 26 of Matthew 26 shows the meaning of the Passover bread: “And as they were eating, Jesus took bread, blessed it and broke it, and gave it to the disciples and said, ‘Take, eat; this is My body.’” The bread represents the body of Christ.
The gospels tell us that He was beaten and scourged (whipped). That was a fulfillment of the prophesy in Isaiah 53:3-5. In verse 5 we read the reason: “by His stripes we are healed.” We can understand this verse better if we read Matthew 8:16-17: “and healed all who were sick, that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by Isaiah the prophet, saying: ‘He Himself took our infirmities and bore our sicknesses.’” Here we see Isaiah 53 applied in the context of physical healing. When we are sick or injured, it is because we or someone else broke a physical law. Christ paid the penalty for the breaking of those physical laws. He was beaten in order that we could be healed, and the bread represents His physical body.
There is also a spiritual meaning for the Passover bread. 1 Corinthians 10:16-17: “The bread which we break, is it not the communion of the body of Christ? For we, being many, are one bread and one body; for we all partake of that one bread.” Here and elsewhere in the New Testament, the Church is called the body of Christ. The bread then represents the Church. In John 17:11, 20-22 Christ prayed that the Church, His spiritual body, would be in unity. He repeated, “that they may be one” three times. However the Church is currently scattered in disunity. The Church, also called a spiritual temple, is in need of spiritual cleansing.
Going back to Matthew 26, the meaning of the wine is explained in verses 27 through 29: “’For this is My blood of the new covenant, which is shed for many for the remission of sins.’” The word “remission” is also translated “forgiveness.” The Passover wine represents Christ’s blood which was shed for our forgiveness.
We must admit that Romans 3:23 applies to us: “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” Look at verses 24 and 25: “whom God set forth to be a propitiation by His blood.” Propitiation is number 2435 in Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance. It means an expiatory thing or atoning victim. To expiate is to reconcile or make payment. Christ paid the penalty for our sins by His blood and reconciled us to God the Father. He could do that because, as our Creator, His life was worth more than the lives of all humans put together. Going back to verse 25, “in His forbearance God had passed over the sins that were previously committed.” God passed over our sins as He passed over the Israelites in Egypt. The King James Version reads this as “sins that are past.” This is important because we must understand that we are not to continue sinning.
We were redeemed “with the precious blood of Christ, as of a lamb without blemish and without spot” (1 Peter 1:18-19). To be redeemed is to be bought back. Here and elsewhere Jesus is called a Lamb, and the lambs of the Old Testament pictured Jesus Christ the Lamb dying for our sins. It is a beautiful thought of God that “He indeed was foreordained before the foundation of the world” (verse 20). God the Father and Jesus Christ had planned this for a long time. Christ is called the Passover in 1 Corinthians 5:7: “For indeed Christ, our Passover, was sacrificed for us.” As the ancient Israelites were protected from physical death by the blood of lambs, we are protected from eternal death by the blood of the Lamb of God, Jesus Christ. The apostle Paul wrote about the Passover in 1 Corinthians 11:23-26. When he wrote, “as often as,” he did not say to observe it often. Leviticus 23 told us how often to observe the Passover: once a year on the fourteenth day of the first month. 1 Corinthians 11:26 summarizes why we keep the New Testament Passover: “you proclaim the Lord’s death till He comes.”
Let’s remember this beautiful thought of God that the meaning of the Passover is that Jesus paid the penalty for our sins, reconciling us to God.