Passover is the season of redemption. It invites thoughts of a seder meal complete with crumbly matzah, spicy horseradish, parsley dipped in salt water, sweet kiddush wine, joyous singing, and of course a lengthy, grand, drawn-out retelling of the story of the exodus from Egypt: “We were slaves in Egypt, but now we are free!”
The Hebrew word pesach literally means “to pass over.” This is precisely what happened. Pharaoh hardened his heart against Moses’ warnings to let the Hebrew people leave Egypt to worship God. After the LORD meted out nine horrible plagues, the Angel of the LORD struck down all the firstborn of Egypt while the children of Israel ate their Passover meals safely under the protection of the sign of the blood on their doorposts.
In Jewish homes, the Passover Seder has been repeated year after year since that time, transmitting our hope for redemption from generation to generation. The Bible commands the Jewish people to sacrifice and eat the Passover lamb with unleavened bread and bitter herbs on the first night of Passover. It’s a remembrance of the night that God passed over Egypt, striking down the firstborn of Egypt but sparing the firstborn of Israel. Each year we fulfill the biblical commandment, “You shall tell your son on that day, saying, ‘It is because of what the LORD did for me when I came out of Egypt’” (Exodus 13:8). A Passover Haggadah helps us tell the story and stay on track through the four- or five-hour seder meal.
Passover and Yeshua
Fascinatingly, the oldest description of a Passover Seder is found in the New Testament. According to the Synoptic Gospels, the Last Supper our Master shared with his disciples on that fateful night was a Passover Seder. Yeshua shared a cup with his disciples before the meal and another after the meal, and he broke unleavened bread with them. He instructed them to do these things in the future in his remembrance.
Yeshua has therefore invited us to partake in a seder meal like the one he shared with his disciples the night before his death. This adds depth and meaning to our walk of faith with our Messiah. Yeshua began his seder by looking with hope to the ultimate redemption, as he said, “I have earnestly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer. For I tell you I will not eat it until it is fulfilled in the kingdom of God” (Luke 22:15-16). He also told them, “I will not drink of the fruit of the vine until the kingdom of God comes” (Luke 22:18).
That night, he shared not only the matzah and wine but also each of the elements of the seder meal with his closest disciples. As he did so, he entrusted them with his memory, charging them with his instruction: “Do this in remembrance of me” (Luke 22:19). A Passover Seder not only replays the events that led to God’s redemption of his people from Egypt but also paints a picture of the whole world’s future redemption in the coming Messianic Age.
The Days of Unleavened Bread
Passover is much more than the seder meal. The Festival of Passover includes seven days of Unleavened Bread, including two extra holy days:
On the first day you shall hold a holy assembly, and on the seventh day a holy assembly. No work shall be done on those days. (Exodus 12:16)
The “first day” of Passover falls on a full moon because Passover always begins on the fifteenth of the Hebrew month of Nisan—two weeks after the new moon that inaugurates the month. That was the night that God passed through Egypt and struck down the firstborn. By morning the Hebrews were already on their way out of Egypt.
A week later, on the “seventh day,” the children of Israel reached the Red Sea. Pharaoh and his armies were pursuing them with furious vengeance. God miraculously split the sea, and the children of Israel escaped while Pharaoh and his armies were drowned.
The seven days of Unleavened Bread teach us that there are two phases of redemption. God’s redemption of his people from Egypt began on the first day of Passover, but it was not completed until the seventh day, when the people escaped across the sea and God destroyed the Egyptian army.
The Time(s) of Redemption
The final redemption through Yeshua, our Messiah, also consists of two phases. The first of these has already been accomplished. The story of the exodus from Egypt foreshadows Yeshua’s ministry on earth. The Passover story contains the basic theological themes of salvation: bondage in slavery, sin, the kingdom of darkness, God’s covenant faithfulness, sacrifice, blood atonement, propitiation, faith, confession, redemption, freedom,
Yeshua came the first time to die for sins like a sacrificial lamb. He died at Passover, and the redemption began, but it will not be complete until Yeshua comes again, defeats the enemies of God, and saves his people. Perhaps that’s why he told his disciples he would not eat the Passover meal or drink wine again until he does so with his disciples in his Father’s kingdom. He gave them a glimpse of the future by alluding to the final redemption at the end of this age.
Our Master’s death and resurrection occurred during Passover to underscore the relationship between the redemption from Egypt and the final messianic redemption. The sages teach that the redemption from Egypt set the pattern for the final redemption. The servitude of the children of Israel in Egypt corresponds to Israel’s exile among the nations. Just as God needed to rescue Israel from Egypt, so he will redeem his people from exile among the nations in the future.
The Prophet Jeremiah also sees a connection between Egypt and the coming of the Messiah at the end of this age:
Therefore, behold, the days are coming, declares the LORD, when they will no longer say, “As the LORD lives, who brought up the people of Israel out of the land of Egypt,” but “As the LORD lives, who brought up and led the offspring of the house of Israel out of the north country and out of all the countries where he had driven them.” (Jeremiah 23:7-8)
The final redemption will be like a new Passover. The Messiah will bring the exiles of Israel “out of all the countries,” just as Moses brought the children of Israel up from Egypt, but the scope and splendor of the final redemption will eclipse that of the redemption from Egypt.
Passover and the days of Unleavened Bread are important to disciples of Yeshua because they commemorate the first phase of the messianic redemption, including the last seder of Yeshua and his death and resurrection, all of which took place at Passover. Passover also looks forward to the second phase of the messianic redemption, when Messiah comes again. The Bible says that in those days, there will be signs in the heavens and tribulations on earth and cataclysms like the ones that came upon Egypt in the days of Moses. Then the Messiah will bring the final redemption.
Passover for All
Passover has a universal message about the redemption of the whole world. Of course, we Jewish believers will continue to keep Passover with our people as the Bible commands, but the message of Passover is good news for Gentiles too. It might seem strange to imagine people who are not Jewish honoring Passover, but it’s equally hard to imagine being a disciple of Yeshua and ignoring it.
As a body of believers, we look forward to that day when Yeshua returns and summons us to recline at his table again. The Passover meal is not only a remembrance of things past; it’s also a foretaste of the coming kingdom, when the mighty and outstretched arm of the LORD will redeem the entire world.
All disciples of Yeshua can take Yeshua’s instruction seriously to “do this in remembrance of me,” even if they're not Jewish, because Passover is an essential part of discipleship to the Messiah. The seder itself can be a time for Yeshua’s disciples to participate in the celebration of the exodus from Egypt in solidarity with the Jewish people. It’s also an opportunity to remember the Master’s suffering and sacrifice and that his second coming will bring the Messianic Era.