Passover precedes the Exodus

Passover commemorates events connected with the Exodus of the Israelites from Egypt. They arrived to settle in Egypt when their forefather Joseph (son of Jacob) was advisor to the Pharaoh. However, as time passed, their influential position was lost, and for generations they were enslaved by the Egyptians. Eventually, God raised up Moses as their leader, and he led them out of Egypt in what was known as the Exodus.

Passover is an important Jewish festival, celebrated today as Pesach. Jewish people celebrate with a family festival meal, the Seder, a tradition first instituted in Exodus chapters 12-15, ‘You must celebrate this day as a religious festival to remind you of what I, the Lord, have done. Celebrate it for all time to come' (Exodus 12:14).

Pesach begins on the 15th day of the Jewish month of Nissan and lasts for seven days. The word Pesach means ‘to pass over'. It recalls the time when the Israelites were slaves in Egypt. Pharaoh refused to answer Moses' request to ‘let my people go'. To put pressure on the Egyptians, God sent plagues on their country and people. After nine dreadful plagues, Pharaoh was still refusing to let them go. Moses warned him that if he continued to refuse, there would be a terrible punishment.

Before the final plague, God instructed the Israelites to sacrifice a lamb and smear the lintels and doorposts of their houses with the blood.

‘On that same night I will pass through Egypt and strike down every firstborn — both men and animals — and I will bring judgement on all the gods of Egypt. I am the LORD. The blood will be a sign for you on the houses where you are; and when I see the blood, I will pass over you' (Exodus 12:12-13).

PassoverThat night, the angel of death passed over Egypt, and all the first born were killed, just as God had said would happen. Those in the Israelite households were saved by the sign of the lamb's blood on their doorposts, as the angel of death ‘passed over' their houses.

See Big ideas: Angels; Blood; Jews, Hebrews, Children of Israel; Journey of faith, Exodus, pilgrims and sojourners; Judgement; Moses; Redemption, salvation; Slavery

Unleavened Bread

Pesach is sometimes also called ‘the Festival of Unleavened Bread', because it also commemorates what happened immediately after the deaths of the Egyptian firstborn were discovered:

‘The Egyptians urged the people to hurry and leave the country. “For otherwise,” they said, “we will all die!” So the people took their dough before the yeast was added, and carried it on their shoulders in kneading troughs wrapped in clothing' (Exodus 12:33-34).

One of the most significant observances related to Pesach is that, prior to the festival, Jews remove leaven or yeast from their homes. Only Matzos or unleavened bread are eaten at the Seder. Symbolically, removing the leaven represents getting rid of sin, particularly the sin of pride, which puffs people up. See Big ideas: Sin; Bread.

Paul, in a letter to Christian converts recorded in the New Testament, likens Jesus to the original Passover lamb, comparing the blood Jesus shed when he died on the cross to the lamb's blood smeared on the doorposts in Egypt, protecting people from death. Paul says:

‘Your boasting is not good. Don't you know that a little yeast works through the whole batch of dough? Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed. Therefore let us keep the Festival, not with the old yeast, the yeast of malice and wickedness, but with bread without yeast, the bread of sincerity and truth' (1 Corinthians 5:6-8).

See Big ideas: Last Supper, communion, eucharist, mass; Atonement and sacrifice; Cross, crucifixion.

Celebrating the Passover in Jerusalem

Since the building of the first temple in Jerusalem, it is important to Jews to be in Jerusalem to celebrate the Passover. The Seder closes with the words ‘Next year in Jerusalem.' See Big ideas: Temple, tabernacle

Jesus and the Passover

Jesus found in the templeLuke tells how Jesus was first taken by his parents to Jerusalem for the Passover when he was twelve; his parents probably went every year. On that occasion, Jesus found his way to the temple and his family group left without him. ‘After three days they found him in the temple courts, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions' (Luke 2:41-51).

It is likely that Jesus continued to go to Jerusalem regularly for Passover during the years before, at the age of 30, he began teaching in public. The next time the Bible records Jesus being there for Passover, he drove out the stall holders and sellers of sheep and pigeons and the money-changers who packed the temple courts. Jesus was clearly very angry; he upset their tables shouting, ‘Get these out of here! Stop turning my Father's house into a market!' (John 2:13-16).

A few years later, as Passover time approached, ‘Jesus resolutely set out for Jerusalem' (Luke 9:51), knowing he would be crucified. Luke describes how Jesus carefully planned to celebrate the feast with his disciples.

‘Then came the day of Unleavened Bread on which the Passover lamb had to be sacrificed. Jesus sent Peter and John, saying, “Go and make preparations for us to eat the Passover … As you enter the city, a man carrying a jar of water will meet you. Follow him to the house that he enters … The owner of the house … will show you a large room upstairs, all furnished. Make preparations there.” … When the hour came, Jesus … said to (the disciples), “I have eagerly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer. For I tell you, I will not eat it again until it finds fulfilment in the kingdom of God.”' (Luke 22:7-16).

See Big ideas: Last Supper, communion, eucharist, mass; Atonement and sacrifice; Cross, crucifixion.

Related topics

Big ideas: Angels; Blood; Jews, Hebrews, Children of Israel; Journey of faith, Exodus, pilgrims and sojourners; Judgement; Moses; Redemption, salvation; Sin; Bread; Last Supper, communion, eucharist, mass; Atonement and sacrifice; Cross, crucifixion; Temple, tabernacle

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