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#4. The Passover Lamb of Whom We Partake (1 Cor. 5:7; Ex. 12:3-14; Mt. 26:26-30)by Dr. Ralph F. Wilson
Part of JesusWalk -- Behold the Lamb of God
1 Corinthians 5:7
"Get rid of the old yeast that you may be a new batch without yeast -- as you really are. For Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed."
The Apostle Paul writes, "Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed" (1 Corinthians 5:7), echoing the early church's belief that Christ was a fulfillment of the Passover or Paschal lamb (from Hebrew pesach, "passover").
As I study the New Testament, I am becoming more and more convinced that Jesus, too, saw himself in this role, and implies as much in his words at the Last Supper -- which, it turns out, were shared in the context of an actual Passover meal. Let's explore this aspect of Christ's ministry of atonement as the Passover Lamb. To do this, we need to go back thirteen or fourteen centuries before Christ to the people of Israel when they were slaves in Egypt.
The Plague on the Firstborn
As God begins to deliver Israel from Egypt, he sends Moses to Pharaoh with the demand, "Let my people go!" Pharaoh refuses. Following each refusal, God sends plagues of increasing severity upon Egypt, culminating with God's decree that each firstborn son in Egypt would be slain (Exodus 11:5). But when Moses declares God's words to Pharaoh, Pharaoh refuses to believe them.
To protect from this plague the Israelites who lived in Egypt, God instructs Moses that each household should select a yearling male lamb and slaughter it at dusk on the 14th day of Abib (the Hebrew month that corresponds with March-April).
"Then they are to take some of the blood and put it on the sides and tops of the doorframes of the houses where they eat the lambs" (Exodus 12:7).
During the night the angel of death passes through Egypt slaying the firstborn of both men and animals to bring judgment on Pharaoh and the gods of Egypt.
"The blood will be a sign for you on the houses where you are; and when I see the blood, I will pass over (pasach) you. No destructive plague will touch you when I strike Egypt" (Exodus 12:13).
"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 (pasach) that doorway, and he will not permit the destroyer to enter your houses and strike you down" (Exodus 12:23)
The Hebrew verb used in these verses is pāsach. While there are several theories about the meaning of this verb, two seem most plausible. The traditional etymology is the meaning "to pass (over),"1 that is, the merciful passing over of a destructive power. Some interpret pāsach as meaning "to defend, protect," that is, "the Lord will protectively cover the houses of the Israelites and will not allow the destroyer to enter."2 In either case, the blood is a sign to the Lord that the house that bears it should be exempted from the judgment on the firstborn.
The Sacrifice of the Passover Lamb
Just what kind of sacrifice is the initial Paschal lamb offered at the Exodus? It is not like the scapegoat on the Day of Atonement (Leviticus 16) or one of the morning and evening offerings (Exodus 29:38-43; Numbers 28:1-8). Most of these offerings were to atone for sin in some sense, while the commemorative sacrifice of Passover lambs in the temple each year was not considered as an atonement for sin.3
But what was the significance of the initial sacrifice of Passover lambs at the first Passover? Five offerings were performed in the tabernacle and, later, in the temple.4 Of these, Old Testament scholar Richard Averbeck observes that the sacrifice of the Passover lamb bears some resemblance to the peace or fellowship offering. In this type of offering, a representative piece of meat is offered before the Lord and to the priests. The rest is eaten by the offerer and his family as a kind of celebration meal -- similar to the celebration meal of the Passover. Averbeck also notes similarities between the original Passover act of placing blood on the doorpost and lintel and the ordination of priests, where blood is placed on the priest's ear, right thumb, and right big toe as an act of consecration (Leviticus 8:23-24). He sees the initial Passover offering as a consecration or setting apart of the people within each household who partook of the sacrifice.5
Israel's sin doesn't seem to be in the forefront; rather, the lamb seems to be a kind of substitute or interposition for the firstborn males and animals in the household. However, there may be some idea of expiation or purification present since hyssop is used to smear the blood. Elsewhere hyssop is associated with expiation and purification.6 In addition, some Rabbinical writings refer to the redemptive effect of the blood of the Passover lamb.7
|Q1. (Exodus 12) In what way did the lambs
on the first Passover protect the families of God's people?
What is the primary point of comparison between the first
Passover lambs and what Christ did for us as our Passover
The Last Supper as a Passover Meal
Jews were instructed to partake of the Passover annually to celebrate and commemorate God redeeming them from slavery in Egypt. By Jesus' day, Passover was to be celebrated only within the precincts of Jerusalem, so the city was jam-packed with pilgrims during this season.
There is some question whether the Last Supper Jesus held with his disciples was a Passover meal or a special meal the day before Passover. The Synoptic Gospels are pretty clear that the Last Supper was a Passover meal (Mark 14:12; Luke 22:13-15), but the chronology of John's Gospel seems to indicate that Jesus was crucified just before Passover began (John 18:28). These can probably be harmonized by assuming the use of different calendars among the Jews.8 However, I'm convinced that the Last Supper was indeed held on Passover as part of the Passover meal.
Let's look at some of the elements of the Passover meal as it might have been held in Jesus' day:9 Each element of the meal was blessed and then commented upon (the haggadah) by the head of the household, in this case, Jesus.
- Unleavened bread was a symbol of past misery and the speed with which the Israelites had to pack and leave before the bread had risen (Exodus 12:34).
- Bitter herbs represented the bitterness of slavery (Exodus 12:8).
- Fruit purée was reminiscent of the clay the Israelites used to make bricks in their captivity as slaves in Egypt.
- Passover lamb was a reminder of God's merciful "passing over."
This was a very special meal, since neither wine nor meat were common as everyday fare. Here is a reconstruction of the meal based on the research of New Testament scholar Joachim Jeremias.10
- Preliminary Course
- Blessing of the festival day (Kiddush) spoken over the First Cup of wine.
- Preliminary dish of green herbs, bitter herbs, and fruit sauce.
- Serving of the meal proper (but not yet eating it) and mixing the Second Cup of wine.
- Passover Liturgy
- The head of the family says the Passover narrative (the haggadah).
- Singing of Psalm 113 (called the "little hallel").
- Drinking the Second Cup of wine.
- Main Meal
- A blessing is spoken over bread by the head of the family, who broke it and distributed it to those at the table. Here is where Jesus would have blessed the bread, broken it, and distributed to his disciples. Here he forever made the bread special and set it apart with these unique words, "This is my body given for you. Do this in remembrance of me."
- Eating the meal of lamb, unleavened bread, bitter herbs.
- Blessing spoken over Third Cup of wine, called the Cup of Blessing (see 1 Corinthians 10:16). Here, before the concluding "hymn," that is, the great hallel, Jesus would have blessed the cup and said, "This cup is a new covenant in my blood, poured out for many (for the forgiveness of sins). Drink of it -- all of you."
Bread and Wine in Light of the Passover Lamb
If this outline of the Passover meal at the Last Supper is accurate, then Jesus' words about the bread being his body and the cup being his blood are immediately adjacent to eating the Passover lamb. I can't escape the conclusion that Jesus' words were interpreted by his disciples -- and probably intended by Jesus -- to be understood in relation to the Passover and the Passover lamb.11 Clearly the early church thought of Jesus as the Passover or Paschal Lamb that had been sacrificed (1 Corinthians 5:7). Perhaps the analogy is: Jesus interposes himself to redeem his people from their bondage to sin, just as the Passover lamb was interposed to redeem the people of Israel from slavery in Egypt.
|Q2. Compare the annual Jewish Passover
celebration meal in Jesus' day with the Christian's
celebration of the Lord's Supper. Where are the similarities?
Where are the differences?
Words of Institution Contain Explicit Sacrificial Terms (Matthew 26:26-28)
It's pretty clear that what we call Jesus' "words of institution" use clear sacrificial language.
"While they were eating, Jesus took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to his disciples, saying, 'Take and eat; this is my body.' Then he took the cup, gave thanks and offered 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.'" (Matthew 26:26-28)
The words of institution are found with some variations in Matthew 26:26-28, Mark 14:22-24; Luke 22:19-20; and 1 Corinthians 11:24-25. While I can't be exhaustive, let's briefly examine Matthew's account. Most striking to me in this passage are Jesus words: "This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins."
1. Jesus associates the red wine with his own blood and then asks the disciples to drink it.
This would be startling to anyone, especially to Jews who were prohibited from drinking blood (Leviticus 17:10-11). In John 6:53-57 such offensive words caused some disciples to leave Jesus and no longer follow him (John 6:66). Coupled with Jesus asking the disciples to eat bread that he identified as his body, we have a remarkable and powerful image. Jesus is asking his disciples to feed on him (John 6:57) and unite themselves to him and to his death using a very intimate and powerful figure. How could the disciples forget such a vivid idea? They couldn't. Jesus intended that they remember.
2. Jesus identifies his blood with the institution of a new covenant.
Though the original manuscripts of Matthew's Gospel may have omitted the word "new," the concept of a new covenant was surely in his mind. The concept of the "blood of the covenant" is found in Exodus 27:7-8, where blood is sprinkled over the people of Israel when they agree to the original covenant they were making with Yahweh at the foot of Mt. Sinai. But the Prophet Jeremiah heralded the coming of a new covenant of forgiveness of sins replacing the Mosaic covenant:
"'The time is coming,' declares the LORD,
'when I will make a new covenant
with the house of Israel
and with the house of Judah...
This is the covenant I will make with the house of Israel
after that time,' declares the LORD.
'... they will all know me,
from the least of them to the greatest,' declares the LORD.
'For I will forgive their wickedness
and will remember their sins no more.'" (Jeremiah 31:31-34)
|Q3. (Matthew 26:28) Why should the words,
"This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for
many for the forgiveness of sins" fill us with sorrow? Why
should they fill us with joy?
3. Jesus links his death with the Suffering Servant's sacrifice for the sins of many.
As mentioned in Lesson 2 of this series, the phrase "for many" points back to Isaiah 53:11-12, where the Servant "bore the sin of many." Jesus uses the phrase "poured out for many for the forgiveness of sin."
To pour out blood in order to obtain forgiveness for another is clearly the concept of a blood sacrifice. In our day, some who are offended by this concept seek to reinterpret the meaning of the Lord's Supper, but it's pretty hard to hide the truth that Jesus intended it to remember his death as a sacrifice for sins.
|Q4. Why is it so important to forgive
those who have offended us before partaking of the
Lord's Supper? In what sense are the Lord's Supper and
unforgiveness incompatible? (Consider Matthew 26:28; 1
Corinthians 11:27; Matthew 6:14-15; 5:23-24; James 5:16.)
4. Jesus looks forward to the ultimate Passover in the Kingdom of God.
"I tell you, I will not drink of this fruit of the vine from now on until that day when I drink it anew with you in my Father's kingdom." (Matthew 26:29)
Here Jesus is referring to the Great Banquet alluded to in both the Old and New Testaments. The Jews of Jesus' day saw this as a final or eschatological Passover celebration with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob and the other patriarchs and prophets (Luke 13:28-29; 14:15; 22:30; Revelation 19:9)
|Q5. In what way does each celebration of
the Lord's Supper anticipate a future Passover meal? (Matthew
26:29; Luke 13:28-29; 14:15; 22:30; Revelation 19:9; 1
Five-week Bible study for the Lent or Easter season, Lamb of God, is available in PDF, Kindle, and paperback. Videos are available on YouTube.
"Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed" (1 Corinthians 5:7), and in the Lord's Supper we are invited to partake not only of the sacrifice (see 1 Corinthians 10:16-18), but to celebrate both our redemption through Christ's atonement and his coming again. The next time you have the privilege of partaking of the Lord's Supper, remember and be thankful.
Just as the Passover lamb was interposed to redeem the people of Israel from slavery in Egypt, so Jesus interposes himself to redeem his people from their bondage to sin. Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.
Father, thank you for the rich imagery of Christ as our Passover lamb. Thank you for his willingness to be sacrificed on our behalf. Thank you for the comfort and hope that we find in the Lord's Supper. And thank you for the expectation we have of the final Banquet with you. In Jesus' name, we pray. Amen.
"Get rid of the old yeast that you may be a new batch without yeast -- as you really are. For Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed." (1 Corinthians 5:7)
- Pāsach , BDB 820. Joachim Jeremias, "pascha," TDNT 5:896-904; M.R. Wilson, "Passover," ISBE 3:675-678.
- Victor P. Hamilton, pāsach, TWOT #1786.
- Joachim Jeremias, The Eucharistic Words of Jesus (A. Ehrhardt (trans.); Basic Blackwell, 1955), pp. 146-147.
- Richard E. Averbeck, "Sacrifices and Offerings," DOTP 706-773.
- Richard Averbeck, telephone conversation, 3/5/03. R. Alan Cole refers to it as "apotropaic" in the sense of averting God's "stroke." R. Alan Cole, Exodus (Tyndale Old Testament Commentaries; InterVarsity Press, 1974), p. 106. "Apotropaic" means "designed to avert evil." Cole notes, "Although, strictly speaking, there is no thought of 'atonement' here, the rationale of the blood ritual is the same: it represents a life laid down (Leviticus 17:11). The term "passover sacrifice" occurs in Exodus 12:27, with similar references in Exodus 23:18 and 34:25. The Hebrew noun zebach, "sacrifice" is a generic noun often linked with offerings or burnt offerings. The verb zābach is mainly used of killing animals for sacrifice (Herbert Wolf, zābach, TWOT #525a).
- Keil and Delitzsch, Commentary on the Old Testament: Pentateuch, 2:13-14, concludes that "by the smearing of the door-posts and lintel with blood, the house was expiated and consecrated on an altar." He bases this conclusion on the fact that the hyssop-bush is used, and "sprinkling with hyssop is never prescribed in the law, except in connection with purification in the sense of expiation (Leviticus 14:4, 6, 49, 51; Numbers 19:18-19; cf. Psalm 51:7)."
- Jeremias, Eucharistic Words, p. 146, n. 4, quotes Pirqe R. 'Eli'ezer 29 (14d): "For the merit of the blood of the covenant of the circumcision and the Passover blood, I have redeemed you out of Egypt, and for their merit you will be redeemed at the end of the fourth (Roman) universal empire (i.e., in the days of the Messiah)," cited by P. Billerbeck 4.40. Pesahim 10:6 reads: "May we eat there of the sacrifices and of the Passover-offerings whose blood has reached with acceptance the wall of thy Altar, and let us praise thee for our redemption and for the ransoming of our soul." (Attributed to Rabbi Akiba, early second century, quoted in Marshall, Last Supper, p. 168, fn. 2)
- Marshall, Last Supper, pp. 57-75; Jeremias, Eucharistic Words, pp. 1-60.
- Marshall, Last Supper, p. 179, Table 1, copied essentially from Jeremias, Eucharistic Words, pp. 58-59.
- Jeremias, Eucharistic Words, p. 60.
- Jeremias, Eucharistic Words, pp. 144-145.
Copyright © 2023, Ralph F. Wilson. <pastorjoyfulheart.com> All rights reserved. A single copy of this article is free. Do not put this on a website. See legal, copyright, and reprint information.
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