By Paul Smithson
The Jewish Passover begins on the 15th day of the month of Nisan, which typically falls in our March or April. God commanded the Jews to celebrate Passover as a commemoration of their liberation He provided from Egyptian slavery and their freedom as a nation under the leadership of Moses. God delivered the children of Israel from their Egyptian bondage through a series of ten plagues which came as the result of the Egyptian Pharaoh’s unwillingness to let the Israelites go. The tenth and final plague brought upon Egypt was the death of the firstborn. This plague not only affected the first born of humans, but even the first born of animals as well. God directed that the blood of a lamb was to be put on the lintel and doorposts of the Israelite’s houses that they might be spared from the final plague. When God sent His “destroyer” throughout the land of Egypt, the families whose houses were marked with the blood of the lamb were “passed over,” and thus saved. God commanded that the Israelites commemorate this event each year with the eating of a meal that included unleavened bread and a lamb (see Exodus 12:1-51; 34:18-20; Deut. 16:1-8).
We ask the question, Should Christians observe the Jewish Passover? And should churches organize and provide for a celebration of the Jewish Passover?
Christians live under the New Covenant of Christ, the Old Mosaic Covenant having been replaced at the death of Christ. The apostle Paul, speaking of the Old Covenant, declared that Jesus “canceled out the certificate of debt consisting of decrees against us and which was hostile to us; and He has taken it out of the way, having nailed it to the cross” Col 2:14. The writer of Hebrews explained that the first covenant was taken away and the second covenant established by Christ. “Behold, I have come to do Thy will’ He takes away the first in order to establish the second. By this will we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all (Heb 10:9-10). He also declares that the Old Covenant Law was “only a shadow of the good things to come and not the very form of things” (Heb. 10:1).
Today, God’s people are neither Jew or Gentile, but are a new creation under a New Covenant. “For He Himself is our peace, who made both groups into one, and broke down the barrier of the dividing wall, by abolishing in His flesh the enmity, which is the Law of commandments contained in ordinances, that in Himself He might make the two into one new man, thus establishing peace, and might reconcile them both in one body to God through the cross, by it having put to death the enmity” (Eph 2:14-16). For you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus. For all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free man, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus. And if you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to promise” Gal 3:26-29.
Though the observance of Passover was significant to the Israelites under the Old Covenant, it was only a shadow of the good things to come in Jesus Christ who became the Passover Lamb for all men. The apostle declared, “Clean out the old leaven, that you may be a new lump, just as you are in fact unleavened. For Christ our Passover also has been sacrificed. Let us therefore celebrate the feast, not with old leaven, nor with the leaven of malice and wickedness, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth” 1Co 5:7-9. In fact, the apostle warns Christians, “Therefore let no one act as your judge in regard to food or drink or in respect to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath day– things which are a mere shadow of what is to come; but the substance belongs to Christ” Col 2:16-17. Thus, we find no indication in the Scriptures that the New Testament church observed the Old Jewish Passover, but rather commemorated the death of Christ, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. He is the Passover for all men. It is His blood that provides our salvation and deliverance from the slavery of the fear of death. “Since then the children share in flesh and blood, He Himself likewise also partook of the same, that through death He might render powerless him who had the power of death, that is, the devil; and might deliver those who through fear of death were subject to slavery all their lives” Heb 2:14-15.
Jesus as a Jew, living under the old covenant, observed the Jewish Passover. He and His disciples were observing this feast the night of His betrayal in the upper room. It was there that He took elements from that supper to institute a new memorial of His death, which established a New Covenant and provided, not physical deliverance, but the means of forgiveness of sins. “And while they were eating, Jesus took some bread, and after a blessing, He broke it and gave it to the disciples, and said, “Take, eat; this is My body.’ And when He had taken a cup and given thanks, He gave it to them, saying, “Drink from it, all of you; for this is My blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for forgiveness of sins” Mat 26:26-28. The apostle Paul gives instruction from the Lord that we as Christians are to partake of these emblems chosen by our Lord to commemorate His death until He returns. “For I received from the Lord that which I also delivered to you, that the Lord Jesus in the night in which He was betrayed took bread; and when He had given thanks, He broke it, and said, ‘This is My body, which is for you; do this in remembrance of Me.” In the same way He took the cup also, after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in My blood; do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of Me.’ For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until He comes.” 1Co 11:23-26. We find in the New Testament that the Lord’s Supper (sometimes referred to the “breaking of bread”) was observed by the first century church when they assembled for worship on the first day of the week (Ac. 2:42; 20:7).
Therefore, as significant as the observance of the Passover was to the Jews, the Passover like all other types and shadows of the Old Covenant find their fulfillment in Christ and His New Covenant. There is no New Testament authority for Christians to observe any of the old Jewish feast or festivals, including Passover; nor is there any authority for churches to organize and provide for such celebrations. Let us follow the instruction of our Lord and the example of the first century disciples and commemorate His death on the cross by observing the Lord’s Supper on the first day of the week. Jesus is our Passover.