These are the Lord’s appointed festivals, the sacred assemblies you are to proclaim at their appointed times: The Lord’s Passover begins at twilight on the fourteenth day of the first month. On the fifteenth day of that month the Lord’s Festival of Unleavened Bread begins; for seven days you must eat bread made without yeast. On the first day hold a sacred assembly and do no regular work. For seven days present a food offering to the Lord. And on the seventh day hold a sacred assembly and do no regular work.’ ”Lev.23:4-8
The first Passover
For the ancient Israelites, the Passover meal consisted of roasted lamb and bitter herbs. The lamb for the sacrifice was selected and set apart from the other animals a few days before the actual slaughter. The lamb was to be a yearling male sheep or goat and without blemish. It was to be killed and roasted with the head and internal organs intact during the twilight period of the fourteenth day of the first month. They smeared some of its blood on the door frame of the house where the ceremony was to conducted. They were instructed to eat the roasted lamb along with bitter herbs and unleavened bread the same night (Exodus 12:1-11). The lamb’s blood on the door frames protected the houses’ occupants from having their firstborn executed during the night when the angel was sent to kill the firstborn in homes where the blood was missing.
Days of Unleavened Bread
Immediately following the Passover was a seven-day festival called the Days of Unleavened Bread. The Israelites were commanded to rid their premises of all leaven, eat unleavened bread for the seven days duration and to have an assembly on the first and seventh days.
On the Sunday during this seven-day feast, the people brought a sheaf of the first grain to the priest. The job of the priest was to wave it before the Lord on behalf of the people. Animal sacrifice, grain and drink offerings followed the wave sheaf offering (Lev.23:10-13).On the Sunday during this seven-day feast, the people brought a sheaf of the first grain to the priest. The job of the priest was to wave it before the Lord on behalf of the people. Animal sacrifice, grain and drink offerings followed the wave sheaf offering (Lev.23:10-13).
Festivals the shadow, Jesus the reality
Jesus ushered in the new covenant with his first coming, his earthly ministry, death and resurrection. Under the new contract, these rituals and festivals take on deep spiritual meaning for the believer. Jesus and the apostles reveal that these old covenant festivals and sacrifices were shadows of things to come. They were not the realities; the reality is Jesus (Col.2:16-17; Heb.10:1).
Jesus Our Passover
Throughout the Scriptures, we see the biblical writers plainly proclaiming that Jesus is the real Passover lamb.
Jesus is our Passover 1Cor.5:7
Jesus is the lamb of God. John 1:29
Jesus is the lamb without blemish. 1Pet.1:19
Jesus is the slain lamb. Rev. 5:6
Jesus is the sacrificial Passover lamb. Mark 14:12
The blood of Jesus applied to the sinner brings life. Heb.9:12,14
The Lord’s Supper
The night before the crucifixion, Jesus took the time to institute a practice that he wanted his church to continue in remembrance of him. Not only did Jesus want the church to continue the tradition but most of all, we wanted them to understand the spiritual significance of the new institution.
While Jesus and his disciples were having the Seder meal, Jesus took bread, “… gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to them, saying, “This is my body given for you; do this in remembrance of me” (Luke 22:19). Then he took a cup, and when he had given thanks, he gave it to them, saying, “Drink from it, all of you. This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins” (Matt.26:27-28). The real Passover transpired the following day. Jesus suffered a horrific crucifixion on our behalf.
Christians the world over, remember the finished work of Jesus Christ on the cross by regularly participating in the Lord’s supper also known as the Eucharist. The apostle Paul reminds believers that whenever they observe the Lord’s supper, they proclaim Jesus’ death until he returns 1Cor.11:26)
The Passover given to Israel focused on their deliverance from Egypt’s slavery. The Eucharist which Christians celebrate fixes our attention on Jesus Christ and his work on the cross that gave us life eternal. The Old Testament Passover lamb is now a shadow of the final and consummate Passover Lamb Jesus Christ.
Jesus the Sinless (Unleavened) Bread
As students at primary school, we recited prayers before and after lunch. In one of those prayers, there was a reference to “Jesus the bread of life sent from heaven.” At that time, I recited the prayer but had no idea what it meant. Jesus himself explained that he was the bread of life that came from heaven (John 6:33-35). He is the bread which satisfies the hunger of men. Jesus is that perfect bread sent to us by the Father. He provides the spiritual nutrients needed by every child of God to affect spiritual growth and development. The Christian is required to “eat” the body of Christ and “drink” his blood to have life (John 6:53-58). This eating and drinking is a reference to becoming Christ-like, allowing the life of Jesus to permeate every part of our being. Our focus should be on imitating Christ, abiding in him, walking by the Spirit thus allowing him to bear much fruit in our lives. Jesus Christ is our Unleavened Bread, not matzos or “lead pipes”.
The Hebrews were commanded to eat unleavened bread for seven or eight days every year, and after that, they were allowed to returns to leavened products. (Sin is one of the meanings given to leaven in the Bible Lk.12:1). But we are called to be holy as God is holy (1Pet.1:15-16; Heb.12:14). Sin is not to have control of the life of a Christian. Instead, the Spirit of God empowers the believer to live by the gospel he has received.
When the Christian slips and falls into sin (leaven), he has an advocate with the Father. Confessing and forsaking that sin keeps him abiding in Christ. In 1Cor. 5 Paul dealt decisively with fornication in the church. He ordered them to excommunicate the offender. The reason he did this was that they would remain unleavened as Christ through his atoning death and resurrection had made them.
Jesus the Wave Sheaf Offering
The first day of the week during the Days of Unleavened Bread a ceremony was observed in ancient Israel. It was a waving of a sample of the first harvest called the wave sheaf offering. “But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep” (1Cor. 15:20). Jesus fulfilled this offering when he rose from the dead that resurrection Sunday. Easter is the Christians’ celebration of this gloriously joyful event in the history of the our faith and it clearly was not borrowed from pagans as some ignorantly suggest.
Christians rightly celebrate the resurrection as the most crucial occurrence in Christianity because on it hangs the authenticity of the Christian faith (1Cor.15:14), The resurrection of Jesus points us to a future that is beyond our wildest dreams. A future that allows us to be with him to behold his glory. He has for us a reward that will never tarnish, fade or become corrupted.
The book of Hebrews describes the role of our resurrected Lord as he performs his heavenly duties as the perfect High priest on our behalf. He continuously makes intercession for us. He hears our cries, feels our pain, understands our difficulties and answers our prayers. He is the one who keeps from falling and intends to present us to his Father faultless and with great joy (Jude 24).
The resurrected Christ has sent the Holy Spirit as he promised, to be alive in the heart of every believer; enabling the believer to live a life that has the victory over sin.
Conducting a Passover ceremony like what ancient Israel did is totally irrelevant today. So too is the meticulous, ceremonial removal of leaven from dwelling places as well as the ritual of eating unleavened bread for seven days. Passover, days of unleavened bread and wave sheaf offering (feasts in ancient Israel) are not only shadows of Christ, his atoning sacrifice and his resurrection but also a shadow of the Gospel. They are a shadow of the Holy Spirit at work in believers to make us holy and to finally bring us to the glorious kingdom of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.