The Sacrifice of the LORD’s Passover
The Passover in Exodus is one of the clearest pictures of substitutionary atonement in the Hebrew Scriptures, specifically of the substitutionary atonement provided for you and me through Messiah Yeshua on the cross. Please journey through this with me to see (or to be reminded of) how Jesus is our Passover Lamb. It is amazing!
They had come to be in Egypt during a severe famine…Joseph was God’s chosen agent to preserve His people. Through remarkable suffering, he had walked in faithful obedience to God and God had accomplished His purposes through Joseph. God had lifted him to Pharaoh’s second in command and used him to provide food not only for those starving in Egypt but for His chosen family, Israel, the very ones who had sold Joseph into slavery many years earlier.
Speaking of slavery…fast forward a generation. “But the people of Israel were fruitful and increased greatly;” (see the fulfillment of God’s promise to Abraham? 1 ) “they multiplied and grew exceedingly strong, so that the land was filled with them” (Exodus 1:7). Joseph had been forgotten and the new Pharaoh, being afraid of their vastness and might, subjected them to slavery. Ruthless, oppressive slavery which “made their lives bitter” (Ex. 1:13-14).
Skip over another generation and a horrific episode of infanticide. The people of Israel were desperately crying out to God for freedom and “God heard their groaning, and God remembered his covenant with Abraham, with Isaac, and with Jacob. God saw the people of Israel–and God knew” (Ex. 2:24-25). He had already chosen and preserved the man for the mission, the man you would least expect. Moses was a murderer who was living in hiding. Though God miraculously appeared to him and promised that He would be with Moses to bring His people out of Egypt, Moses made argument after argument until God finally agreed to use Aaron as Moses’ mouthpiece.
So, Moses and Aaron did what God told them to do and God inflicted the Egyptians with nine horrible plagues, none of which softened Pharaoh’s hard heart. 2
God had already told Moses the plan for how He would rescue His people from slavery before Moses had even arrived in Egypt. He had told him of the miracles he would perform and how Pharaoh would have a hard heart and how Moses would warn him saying, “Thus says the LORD, Israel is my firstborn son, and I say to you, ‘Let my son go that he may serve me.’ If you refuse to let him go, behold, I will kill your firstborn son” (Ex. 4:22-23). 3 At this point, God was ready for this final spectacular and devastating display of His power. So He prepared Moses who gave the final warning to Pharaoh, knowing that Pharaoh would not heed it. 4
Then God began giving Moses the instructions for the Passover. They were to select a lamb without blemish for each household on the tenth day of the month. On the fourteenth day, they were all to slaughter the lambs. Then they were to put the lambs’ blood on their doorposts. With belts fastened and sandals strapped, they were to eat the lamb with unleavened bread and bitter herbs, leaving none until the morning. God was going to “pass through the land of Egypt that night” and “strike all the firstborn in the land of Egypt, both man and beast; and on all the gods of Egypt…execute judgments” (Ex. 12:12). Then God explained why He had given them the strange command to sprinkle the lambs’ blood on their doorframes: “The blood shall be a sign for you, on the houses where you are. And when I see the blood, I will pass over you, and no plague will befall you to destroy you, when I strike the land of Egypt” (Ex. 12:13). God then gave Moses and Aaron instructions for the annual celebration of the Feast of Unleavened Bread before these events had even happened. This must have been reassuring that God was surely about to redeem them!
Moses then passed these instructions on to the elders of Israel. He told them, “And when you come to the land that the Lord will give you, as he has promised, you shall keep this service…’It is the sacrifice of the LORDS’s Passover'” (Ex. 12:25-27). 5 And the people’s response was worship and obedience. Then, of course, everything came to pass as God had said it would and the Israelites were finally freed from their 430 year bondage. They even found favor with the Egyptians such that they were given “silver and gold jewelry and clothing” (Ex. 12:35-36). 6
What was commanded? Blood sacrifice.
Why was it commanded? For Israel’s redemption.
How would it be accomplished? Through substitutionary atonement.
What resulted from obedience to the command? life and freedom.
The prophetic symbols in the Passover that are fulfilled in Jesus are bountiful, remarkable and profound. Those who have participated in a Messianic Passover Seder know that it is one of the richest expressions of the Gospel. The dinner is full of symbolism of our redemption that one can see, smell and taste–our redemption from sin through the blood of Messiah Jesus, our Passover Lamb. We will explore some of these symbols here but if you ever have the chance to attend a Messianic Seder, I highly encourage you to do so. And to do so every year. It is powerful.
Each Jewish household was to select a lamb from the flock without blemish on the tenth day of the month. However, they weren’t to kill it until the fourteenth day (both during the first Passover and every year thereafter). It is recognized that the reason for this was in order to inspect the lamb thoroughly for any blemish because it had to be without any blemish. Sam Nadler, in a wonderfully insightful book called Messiah in the Feasts of Israel, poignantly notes that,
Yeshua entered Jerusalem on the tenth of the month as a Passover lamb was being selected for each family. During this time Yeshua was inspected, questioned, interrogated…On the fourteenth of the month the head of the Roman government declared, ‘I find no fault in Him’ (Luke 23:4).” 7
Though found innocent, Jesus was then placed on the cross to die a sinner’s death. But it is because he was innocent that he was a sufficient substitute for sinners. Jesus is the perfect, spotless Lamb that was sacrificed for our redemption. Paul states this parallel clearly by saying, “For Christ, our Passover Lamb, has been sacrificed” (1 Cor. 5:7). Peter also uses this imagery: “knowing that you were ransomed…not with perishable things…but with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without blemish or spot.” (1 Peter 1:18-19).
Each Jewish household was not only required to sacrifice the lamb, but also to apply the lamb’s blood to the doorframe. Nadler observes that the reason the blood had to be applied was that God wanted “to redeem a people not merely of the flesh, but a people of faith.” 8 It was a declaration that a substitute had died in place of the firstborn in that home and it showed that those living there had faith that the lamb was a substitute sufficient to rescue them from God’s judgment. In other words, the people were redeemed by their faith in the gracious substitutionary atonement provided by God in the lamb.
The way we can be saved from God’s judgment is through faith in the substitutionary death of Christ. The way Jesus made atonement for us was by dying in our place so that we might live. Look at this verse: “He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness; by his wounds you have been healed” (1 Peter 2:24). Not only did Jesus take our sin upon himself, he also offers us the righteousness of the unblemished life he lived. This is the “great exchange” that takes place when we put our trust in Jesus. This is how we are made right before God. Through the blood of Jesus applied by faith in God’s provision of the Lamb.
After the slaughter of the lambs and application of the blood, the people of Israel were commanded to roast and eat the lambs “with unleavened bread and bitter herbs” (Ex. 12:8). Eating these elements each year during the Passover feast would remind the Jews of their redemption in specific ways. Sam Nadler lays out nicely how the symbolism of these three items should be understood by us, now that our Messiah has come. 9 Eating the lamb would be a tangible reminder of “the price of redemption,” the innocent creature that was sacrificed for their deliverance. As we have seen, the fulfillment of this symbol is Jesus–“the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1:29).
The bitter herbs were to be a reminder of the bitterness of their bondage in Egypt (Ex. 1:14) or “the purpose of redemption.” We who have been rescued by the shed blood of Jesus must remember the bitterness of our lives without Him when we were “enslaved to sin” (Rom. 6:6). He suffered bitterly in our place in order to redeem us from this slavery.
Their bread was unleavened due to the haste in which they were to eat this meal, but its symbolism goes far beyond this. The Feast of Unleavened bread was tied directly to Passover, both of which Israel was commanded to celebrate annually. Leaven is later seen as symbolic of sin and purging one’s house of all leaven during this feast is symbolic of cleansing one’s heart of sin 10 So, the unleavened bread would be a reminder of “the results of redemption…the sin-cleansed life that Messiah brings” (Nadler, 36). Believers in Jesus also recognize that during “the last supper” (which was the Passover meal), Jesus used the unleavened bread to symbolize his own sinless life that would be given up for our redemption. 11
Then the people of Israel went and did so; as the LORD had commanded Moses and Aaron, so they did. At midnight the LORD struck down all the firstborn in the land of Egypt…And there was a great cry in Egypt, for there was not a house where someone was not dead.”
God did what He had said He would do and executed judgment on the Egyptians and on “all the gods of Egypt” (Ex. 12:12). Dr. Kevin Zuber remarks that, in this whole event, God was showing Himself to be the one true God and proving that the gods of the Egyptians were powerless. 12 He was showing that disobedience to His commands resulted (after many powerful warnings) in death.
“The only thing that averted the judgment of God,” says Zuber, “was a bloody, substitutionary sacrifice.” It is here that we see God’s mercy. Death passed over every home that was marked by the blood of the sacrifice. Zuber notes that while the phrase “not a house where someone was not dead” referred to the Egyptian homes, in a larger sense, every home experienced a death: “either the death of the firstborn or the death of the Passover lamb.” 13
Romans 6:23 says “For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Just as there literally was a death in every home in Egypt, there is a death for every person, including you and me–either our own or the Messiah’s on our behalf. The eternal life offered to those who trust in Christ is only available because there was a death–the substitutionary death of Christ. All people either experience God’s judgment for their sin or God’s mercy through the blood of Messiah Yeshua, our Passover Lamb.
Now we come to the main point of the Passover, namely freedom from bondage. The ultimate purpose of all the plagues and, finally, the death of the firstborn, was to bring the people of Israel out from slavery in Egypt and into the land God had promised them where they would be free to worship and obey Him. The ultimate purpose of Christ’s death and resurrection is to bring people out from slavery to sin and into a right relationship with God so that we may worship and obey Him. Of course, we experience great joy in this freedom for we are finally doing what we were created to do.
I know this was a long and packed read, so let me summarize the Passover’s fulfillment in Christ Jesus, our Messiah:
Because our sin separates us from God and results in death, God is just in judging us. However, God is incredibly merciful and has provided in His own Son a sinless substitute. When we turn in faith to God, on the basis of the blood of Jesus Christ that is applied to the “door of our hearts,” His judgment passes over us. The Lamb has taken the death we deserve and the benefits we gain in exchange are life and freedom. This is substitutionary atonement. What a glorious Redeemer!
- Genesis 12:1-2 “Now the LORD said to Abram, ‘Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.'” Here we see that God had made of Abraham a great nation. Keep an eye open through the rest of this post to see other ways God was already fulfilling these covenant promises.
- Exodus 7-10, 11:10
- Looks like “I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse,” right? In the same way Israel is being dishonored, God curses the Egyptians.
- Exodus 11:1-10
- Here is the land part of the Abrahamic Covenant about to be fulfilled. God was bringing them out of Egypt in order to place them in their own land–the land He had promised to give them.
- While not one of the primary promises of the Abrahamic Covenant, this does fulfill the promise God made to Abraham in Genesis 15:14: “But I will bring judgment on the nation that they serve, and afterward they shall come out with great possessions.”
- Nadler, 35.
- Messiah in the Feasts of Israel by Sam Nadler, pgs. 37
- Nadler, 36
- See 1 Corinthians 5:6-8
- See Luke 22:7-8, 19
- The Moody Bible Commentary, p. 129
- Zuber, 131.
- Another interesting thing to note is that when the Israelites left Egypt, “A mixed multitude also went up with them” anyone “a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes…” “the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!”