The Old Testament Passover and Christ, OUR Passover

“Christ, our Passover, is sacrificed for us.” — I Corinthians 5:7b

As Jesus and His disciples were returning to Judea from the province of Perea “beyond Jordan” (Matthew 19:1) and had come as far as Jericho, the Savior specially took them aside from the multitudes and explained to them in detail what lay ahead for Him in the city of Jerusalem.  The sacred prophecies concerning His suffering and death were about to be fulfilled, Jesus told them; and His vicarious atonement for the sins of the world would soon be accomplished.  We find this poignant and detailed description in the Gospel accounts of Matthew (20:1719), Mark (10:3234), and Luke (18:3134).  We also know, particularly from Luke’s account (v. 34), that the disciples did not truly understand and appreciate this advance notice of what was to come, even though they had been well aware for some time of the hatred of the Jewish leaders for Jesus and of their ongoing plot against Him (John 5:16 and 18; 11:8).  But then neither did the real significance of Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem dawn on them until much later (John 12:16).  Indeed the shouts of “Hosanna!” and the words “Blessed is He that cometh in the name of the Lord!” from the last part of the Hallel [hah • layl], the song of praise from Psalm 118 that was sung at the butchering of the Paschal lamb and in the eating of the Passover meal, were prophetic in and of themselves; for the “Lamb of God” (John 1:29) was about to be offered, of which the Old Testament sacrifice was only a type.  And Jesus’ words, though their true meaning had been “hid from them” (Luke 18:34), cast a pall of impending tragedy upon the mood of the disciples as they looked forward to the otherwise festive Passover observance just ahead.

On the first day of the “Feast of Unleavened Bread,” as the Passover festival was also called (Exodus 12:17, Matthew 26:17, etc.), the 14th day of the month of Nisan, Jesus sent Peter and John into Jerusalem to make preparations for the Passover meal, which He intended to celebrate one last time with His disciples.  The Lord, according to His divine omniscience and providence, had already seen to it that a suitable location would be available, “the guestchamber” in a certain house, which was “a large upper room, furnished and prepared” (Mark 14:1216) for the purpose.  The furnishings no doubt included the traditional Passover table surrounded by low couches on which dinner guests traditionally reclined, all the necessary dishes for the setting of the table, and perhaps even the staple foods that were to be served (with the exception of the Passover lamb itself); and the room had been“prepared” in advance of their arrival, with the search for and removal of any stray “leaven” or leavened bread (Exodus 12:19) already having been completed, presumably by the host, the night before or at least by noon on the 14th.  The two disciples then had to fight the crowds in and around the Temple to procure a properly selected and Levitically inspected lamb that met the requirements of the Lord in Exodus 12:35, and they had to slaughter this lamb publicly in the Temple early “in the evening” (v. 6), aided by the priests, who caught the blood in basins and deposited it on the great Altar of Burnt Offerings.  During the ongoing slaughter of hundreds and even thousands of such lambs, the “Hallel” was sung by the Levites, with certain lines repeated by the worshipers as a kind of refrain.  After the lamb had been dressed and cleansed, and the inedible parts had been removed to the altar for burning, Peter and John brought the carcass down from the Temple Mount to the house where Jesus and the rest of the disciples met them later that evening.  There the lamb was roasted according to the Lord’s regulation in Exodus 12, and the table was spread also with the other specified ingredients of the supper:  Unleavened loaves (flat “boards”) of bread [mazoth], signifying the haste with which the Children of Israel left Egypt in the Exodus; bitter herbs [mahrohr] reminiscent of the bitter bondage they served under Pharaoh; and a sauce of finelychopped apples, raisins, nuts and cinnamon [charoseth] symbolizing the mortar used in the building of Pharaoh’s cities.  There was also a ceremonial wine goblet on the table which was filled and passed around on three specific occasions during the service [seder], or there were three separate cups serving the same purpose without one having to be refilled.  (A fourth cup seems to have been added somewhat later in the history of the Passover seder.)  Grape wine was used, made from “the fruit of the vine” (Luke 22:18); and it was commonly mixed twotoone with water.

The purpose of the first Passover was indeed salutary, in that the blood of the Paschal lamb painted upon the doorposts of their houses saved the Children of Israel from the angel of death in the Tenth Plague upon Egypt.  It was the Godappointed seal of His gracious protection toward them, with His own promise of deliverance attached to it.  And the benefit was received by faith, by confidence in the surety of God’s promise, which faith the people showed by displaying the blood on their houses.  And the perpetuation of that festival was ordained by the Lord Himself through Moses in Exodus12:14, namely, that “this day shall be unto you for a memorial; and ye shall keep it a feast to the Lord throughout your generations” —not merely for the purpose of “remembering” a historical occurrence, but for the purpose of “telling” (Haggadah) or proclaiming the grace of God sealed to Israel in that great deliverance and of remaining in the grace of God by faith in His mercy.

The sacrifice of the Paschal lamb was also (and primarily) “a shadow of things to come, …the body [being] of Christ (Colossians 2:17).  The Old Testament Scriptures are full of images which refer to the sacrificial lambs offered by God’s people as types or pictures of “the Lamb of God” (John 1:29), whose holy, precious blood, “painted,” as it were, on the doorposts of the believer’s heart, saves him from the angel of eternal death (Hebrews 2:14; Romans 5:89), “for even Christ, our Passover, is sacrificed for US” (1 Corinthians 5:7).  The inseparable connection between the Paschal lambs of the Old Testament and Christ, the “Passover” of the New Testament, is established beyond any doubt, not only by that statement of the Apostle Paul “in the words…which the Holy Ghost teacheth” (I Corinthians 2:13), but even by the description of the lamb to be used in the Passover, a lamb “…without blemish, a male of the first year, …neither shall ye break a bone thereof” (Exodus 12:5 and 46) and the revelation of its antitype by the Apostle Peter (I Peter 1:1819): “Forasmuch as ye know that ye were not redeemed with corruptible things… but with the precious blood of Christ, as of a Lamb without blemish and without spot, who verily was foreordained before the foundation of the world, but was manifest in these last times for you who by Him do believe in God.”

Therefore our Lord Jesus Christ, in perfect obedience to the Law for our sakes (Romans 5:19, etc.) celebrated the Old Testament Passover for the last time “the same night in which He was betrayed” because that symbolic imagery was now to give way to the true, and there would no longer be any need for “a shadow of things to come” since “the body is of Christ,” God’s Messiah, the Anointed One, “whom God hath set forth to be a propitiation through faith in HIS blood” (Romans 3:25).

On the Passover table had been three loaves or sheets of unleavened bread at the outset.  The sheet in the center had been divided in half, according to the Passover liturgy; and half had been set aside as a kind of dessert or “afterdish” [Aphikomen] to be eaten at the end of the meal, after which nothing else was to be eaten.  The rest of the bread was consumed during the meal itself.  Having “fulfilled the Law” by completing the Passover meal as it had been instituted, the Lord Jesus “took bread” —presumably of the Aphikomen left over from the Paschal supper— “and gave thanks, and brake it, and gave unto them, saying: ‘This is My body which is given for you.  This do in remembrance of Me.”  Note that the roasted meat which they had consumed before had not been “symbolic” of a lamb’s body; it was of a lamb’s true body.  Likewise Jesus gave to His disciples not bread “symbolic” of HIS body, but bread which He Himself said “IS My body.”  [The ridiculous claim that Jesus did not use the word “is” in the Aramaic of the Hebrew language—which He no doubt spoke in the presence of His disciples— is of no consequence to us, since the Greek word “is” constitutes an undisputed part of the text and, as the word which the Holy Ghost Himself gave to the writers, it indicates not only what Jesus meant, but what He said, even though the word in Aramaic is only “understood.”] This do,” as the replacement of the old ordinance, “in remembrance,” not of the Paschal lamb of the Exodus from physical bondage to Pharaoh, but “of ME,” the Paschal Lamb of fulfillment, who “through death …destroy[ed] him that had the power of death, that is, the devil [the angel of eternal death], and deliver[ed] them who through fear of death were all their lifetime subject to [spiritual] bondage” (Hebrews 2:1415).

“Likewise He took also the cup after supper” (Luke 22:20) —after He had fulfilled the ordinance of the Passover supper— the third cup on the table, the Kiddush [kid • doosh] cup or “cup of blessing” as St. Paul calls it (I Corinthians 10:16), over which the final “blessing” or thanksgiving of the Passover meal was offered, “saying: ‘This cup is the new testament” —the testament or covenant of fulfillment rather than of prophecy— “in My blood,”  the blood of Christ, who “offered Himself without spot to God” (Hebrews 9:14), the blood “which is shed for you,” and Matthew adds, “for the remission of sins the blood of Him “whom God hath set forth to be a propitiation through faith in HIS blood (Romans 3:25).  This do ye, as oft as ye drink it, in remembrance of Me (I Corinthians 11:25), not in remembrance of a lamb, or a symbol, or a token, or a gesture, but in proclamation of “the Lord’s death, till He come” (v. 26).  Thus we confess with Luther concerning this blessed Sacrament of the Altar: “It is the true body and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ, under the bread and wine, for us Christians to eat and to drink, instituted by Christ Himself.”

Still then to celebrate the Passover of the Old Testament, as if the New Testament of fulfillment had not replaced it, as if the blood of animal sacrifices still pointed ahead to that which had not yet been accomplished, as if “the blood of bulls and of goats,” yea, as if the blood of a Paschal lamb were of any significance whatsoever for our deliverance from slavery to sin, from bondage to Satan, and from the fear of death into the “promised land” of heaven, would be to desecrate the one offering” whereby Christ “perfected forever them that are sanctified” (Hebrews 10:14).

Nay rather, let us rejoice in the victorious cry of “Christ, our Passover…sacrificed for us,” the declaration of the Lamb of God from His cross of agony: “It is finished!” or, more precisely from the Greek of the text for our enduring comfort and assurance: “It stands accomplished!”  For with the flawless prophetic perspective afforded by God’s Holy Spirit, Isaiah saw it, as if it had already occurred —still in the time of the Old Covenant— the “Lamb without blemish and without spot” (I Peter 1:19) having vicariously suffered in our place the wages of sin and having laid His allsufficient atonement before God as paymentinfull for our transgressions:  “Surely He hath borne our griefs and carried our sorrows… He was wounded for our transgressions; He was bruised for our iniquities.  The chastisement of our peace was upon Him, and with His stripes we are healed… For He was cut off out of the land of the living; for the transgression of my people was He stricken. …He had done no violence, neither was any deceit in His mouth; yet it pleased the Lord to bruise Him; He hath put Him to grief… He shall see the travail of His soul and shall be satisfied; by His knowledge shall my righteous Servant justify many; for He shall bear their iniquities” (Isaiah 53).  No wonder the Lord Jesus Himself revealed to His servant, John, in a prophetic vision the joyful song of praise that even the angels of heaven shall sing to the Lamb of God, even though they, as sinless beings, have no personal need of His atoning sacrifice: “Worthy is the Lamb that was slain to receive power, and riches, and wisdom, and strength, and honor, and glory, and blessing!” (Revelation 5 12).

Indeed what a priceless boon we have in the Holy Supper of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Supper of Fulfillment!  For in, with, and under the bread still present in that Holy Sacrament, Christ gives us in a supernatural manner His true body to eat with our very mouths; and in, with, and under the wine still present in the Sacrament, He gives us to drink of His true blood —not as mere symbols of the sacrifice He laid down at the bar of divine justice in our place, but the very body slain and the very blood shed for US “for the remission of sins!”

Here the true Paschal Lamb we see,
whom God so freely gave
us!
He died on the accursed tree —
so strong His love! — to save
us!
See, His blood doth mark
our door!
Faith points to it, death passes o’er,
and Satan cannot harm
us!
Hallelujah!

 (Martin Luther in TLH, 195, 3)

—D. T. M.

(Reprinted from the March-April issue, 2000)