There are deep connections between Easter and the Jewish festival of the Passover or Seder that is not obvious to many people. The connections are beautiful even from a pure story-telling point of view, so one doesn’t have to be a believer in God to appreciate its nuances. Since this is Easter weekend, I like to share some thoughts on the threads that link Easter with the Passover, and to highlight the rich imageries that the two great stories embody. While studying the connections, I must say I am astounded by the parallels of events recorded in the Old and New Testament – how incidents that happened to the Israelites thousands of years before Christ’s appearance came to pass in the New Testament days, culminating in the momentous events that define Easter. As far as story telling goes, this is not two separate stories; it is one masterpiece of a story, one that I think deserves to be better known.
The Passover (Seder) Tradition
The festival of the Passover or Seder has been celebrated by Jews for thousands of years. It is the retelling of the great story of how God redeemed the Jewish nation from enslavement in Egypt (recounted in the book of Exodus). The celebration itself was given to the Jews while they were still in Egypt (Exodus 12). The original celebration centered around the Passover lamb, which was sacrificed, and its blood put over the doorposts (both straight down and across the lintel in the pattern of a cross; see header illustration). Doing so was a sign of faith that the Lord will pass over the houses of the Jews as He unleashed the final (tenth) plague on the Egyptians – the killing of every firstborn Egyptian but sparing the Isrealites.
Then Moses summoned all the elders of Israel and said to them, “Go at once and select the animals for your families and slaughter the Passover lamb. Take a bunch of hyssop, dip it into the blood in the basin and put some of the blood on the top and on both sides of the doorframe. Not one of you shall go out the door of his house until morning. When the LORD goes through the land to strike down the Egyptians, He will see the blood on the top and sides of the doorframe and will pass over that doorway, and he will not permit the destroyer to enter your houses and strike you down. (Exodus 12: 21-23).
Connections between the Old and the New
The Jewish Passover was the archetype of the sacrifice of Jesus Christ, who is described in the Bible as “the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.”
The next day John saw Jesus coming toward him and said, “Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world! John 1:29.
In the Jewish Passover, the Passover lamb was to be a “male without defect,” (Exodus 12: 5). This is the same description given to Jesus.
For you know that it was not with perishable things such as silver or gold that you were redeemed from the empty way of life handed down to you from your forefathers, but with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect. 1 Peter 1: 18-19.
The Passover lamb was to be roasted and eaten, and none of its bones were to be broken.
It must be eaten inside one house; take none of the meat outside the house. Do not break any of the bones. Exodus 12:46.
This fact was also prophesized for the Messiah, whose bones were not to be broken on the cross.
The soldiers therefore came, and broke the legs of the first man, and of the other man who was crucified with Him; but coming to Jesus, when they saw that He was already dead, they did not break His legs;… For these things came to pass, that the Scripture might be fulfilled, “Not a bone of Him shall be broken. John 19:32,33,36.
“Good Friday” (so named by the early church) was the day of the Passover celebration and the day that the Passover lamb was to be sacrificed. For the previous 1,200 years, the priest would blow the shofar (ram’s horn) at 3 p.m.–the moment the lamb was sacrificed, and all the people would pause to contemplate the sacrifice for sins on behalf of the people of Israel. Remarkably, Jesus was crucified on the day the Passover lamb sacrificed and at the ninth hour (which is 3pm by Jewish clock).
And about the ninth hour [3:00 pm] Jesus cried out with a loud voice, saying, “ELI, ELI, LAMA SABACHTHANI?” that is, “MY GOD, MY GOD, WHY HAST THOU FORSAKEN ME?”… And Jesus cried out again with a loud voice, and yielded up His spirit. Matthew 27: 46, 50; Mark 15:34-37 and Luke 23:44-46.
Continuing the Tradition
To this day, Jews recount the Passover each spring through the Passover (Seder) ritual feast which usually takes place in late March or April and lasts for seven days. The Seder is rich in Christian symbolism. Three matzahs (unleavened bread) are put together (representing the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit). The middle matzah is wrapped in white linen cloth and broken, as Christ said at the Last Supper, “This is My body, broken for you.” The middle matzah is also striped and pierced, as Jesus was during His crucifixion, and also as prophesied several times in the Old Testament, most famously in Isaiah 53:5 where it reads:
But he was pierced through for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and by his stripes we are healed. Isaiah 53:5.
There we have it, the many connections between the Passover and Easter, events separated by more than two thousand years, yet unifying to a grand story of the Jews as well as followers of the Christian faith.