The only true Passover occurred when the Angel of the Lord passed over the land of Egypt in judgment more than 3,500 years ago. Since then, every yearly Passover observance on the fourteenth day of Nissan (Hebrew month of March or April) has been a memorial, commanded of God (cf. Exodus 12:1–14).
Passover (Pesach in Hebrew) is the oldest continuously observed feast in existence and is the first of the seven feasts that the Lord commanded in Leviticus 23:1–44. This one-day feast and the following seven-day Feast of Unleavened Bread combine into an eight-day feast: Passover. Deliverance and redemption are the themes throughout this Festival of Liberty.
Requirements for the lamb
The sacrificial lamb was to be a one-year-old male, perfect, without flaw or defect, and taken out of the flock on the tenth day of Nissan. For four days the lamb was kept in the family’s home like a pet.
The nature of the sacrifice was costly: the lamb would be taken out on the fourteenth day of Nissan and killed. No bones were to be broken—the innocent would die for the guilty (cf. Isaiah 53). The blood of the lamb was to be applied to the doorposts and lintels. The Lord’s judgment would “pass over” the house, whether Hebrew or Gentile, where the blood had been applied. The firstborn would die where no blood was seen.
Messiah Jesus in Passover
“ ‘Behold! The Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world’ ” is how John the Baptist presented Jesus (John 1:29). He was the sinless sacrificial lamb, called “Christ, our Passover” in 1 Corinthians 5:7.
Messiah kept all of the Feasts, including Passover. In the upper room Jesus was partaking of unleavened bread (matzah) and the fruit of the vine, commanding His disciples to do the same in remembrance of Him (Luke 22:19, 20). Today’s ordinance of the Lord’s Supper originated from the Passover Feast. In Heaven Jesus will commemorate Passover again with all believers (Matthew 26:29).
Preparation for the seder
Today’s Passover seder (a ceremonial festival dinner) symbolizes salvation. Prior to celebrating a modern observance of Passover, the participants, like the Hebrews of old, cleaned their homes of all leaven (sin). Knowing that yeast is equivalent to leaven, the mother rids her house of all bread products. “Papa” will search out any crumb containing yeast; and when he finds the crumbs “Mama” left for him, he takes a feather, brushes them into a wooden spoon, places them in a white napkin, and carries the napkin outside to be burned.
The father in the Jewish household wears white, symbolizing the High Priest and purity. A pillow provided represents freedom because, as slaves, the Hebrews were never permitted leisure. An extra chair and a cup of wine are provided for Elijah in hope of his arrival to announce the Messiah.
At sunset Mama will cover her head with a scarf and light the candles, reciting a Hebrew blessing. The rabbis have taught that through the woman darkness came into the world, so a woman must rekindle the light. By the seed of a woman came Messiah, the Light of the World.
The first of four cups and other elements
On the table, covered in white linen, will be set four cups of red wine (or grape juice) for each member of the family. In order, the four cups represent sanctification, deliverance, redemption, and praise.
A seder tray with six circular indentations for the symbolic Passover foods is the central item on the table. The six foods are bietzah, a roasted egg (its round shape representing eternity), charoset (a sweet mixture of finely chopped apple, nuts, cinnamon, and wine), chazeret (typically romaine lettuce, which has bitter roots), karpas (a vegetable other than bitter herbs, usually parsley), maror (bitter herbs, usually ground or whole horseradish), and z’roa, the shank bone of a lamb. Salt water is on the table to represent the Jewish tears shed during Egyptian bondage and God’s parting of the Red Sea.
The first cup of wine, the Cup of Sanctification, is lifted toward Heaven as Papa recites the Kiddush, a prayer of sanctification. Everyone drinks. Papa, wearing a white linen yarmulka (head covering) and a tallas—(prayer shawl) has begun the seder.
The Haggadah and the karpas
A prescribed order of service for the seder is set forth in the Haggadah (or book, meaning “showing forth”). Papa washes his hands with a bowl and pitcher of water provided at the table, signifying the act of purification. Then he instructs his family to dip the karpas (vegetable) into the salt water twice. The karpas is a reminder that the Passover occurred in the springtime. Twice dipping the karpas into the salt water symbolizes going down into the Red Sea and coming up, then the Egyptians going down into the Red Sea and not coming up.
The middle matzah
Three pieces of “striped and pierced” matzah (unleavened bread) are placed in a separate pocket of a matzah tash (linen bag). Messianic believers teach that these three pieces represent unity: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Papa removes the middle piece of matzah from the linen bag and breaks it in half and places half back into the bag. He takes the other half, wraps it in a cloth, and hides what is called in Greek the Afikoman.
The four questions
The youngest child present recites the four questions of Passover: Why is this night different from all other nights? Why on all other nights:
1. do we eat either leavened or unleavened bread, but on this night, only unleavened bread?
2. do we eat all kinds of herbs, but on this night only bitter herbs?
3. do we do not dip our herbs even once, but on this night we dip twice?
4. do we eat either sitting or reclining, but on this night we eat reclining?
The second cup
Traditionally the familiar account of Joseph’s being sold into slavery by his jealous brothers is read from the Haggadah. Four hundred years later, when the Egyptian pharaoh refused to let God’s people go, God sent ten plagues, the last being the death of the firstborn.
The second cup of wine, the Cup of Deliverance, is poured. The ten plagues are then described. Everyone dips his or her finger into the wine and shakes out ten drops onto the plate for each of the plagues as they are named: blood, frogs, lice, flies, grievous murrain (death of livestock), boils, hail, locusts, darkness, and slaying of the firstborn. Everyone drinks, and Papa washes his hands a second time for the ceremonial cleansing.
After dinner, a child is sent to find the broken half of the hidden matzah, or the Afikoman, the “dessert.” Afikoman is the only Greek word found in the Passover seder, and its use began after Jesus. The word means, “He came.” When the child finds the Afikoman, he or she is rewarded with silver coins. Likewise, when a person comes to God as a little child, his or her faith is rewarded with “sweet” Jesus and life eternal.
The third and fourth cups
The third cup of wine, the Cup of Redemption, is poured and lifted up, just as Messiah, our High Priest, in the Upper Room at Passover, took the cup and gave thanks: “Do this in remembrance of me.” Next, a child is sent to the door in hope that Elijah will come. As Elijah, John the Baptist has already come and announced the Messiah, “the Lamb of God.”
The fourth cup of wine, the Cup of Praise, is poured. It was the cup that Messiah Jesus said He would not drink until the kingdom, when He would be accepted by the Jewish nation (cf. Matthew 26:26–29). After the last cup is taken, the seder concludes with the Hallel (“praise” reading from Psalm 115—118) and a closing hymn. Everyone says, “Next year in Jerusalem!”
Why observe Passover?
Passover was commanded to be kept forever, to reveal Messiah Jesus. He is the One Who delivers from the bondage and slavery of sin—from death. The Lamb of God shed His blood to pay the price for sin. Jesus’ atoning sacrifice delivers sinful mankind so they can have a relationship with a holy God.
Even though Jewish participants fast before Passover every year and set the traditional table with all the symbolic elements, most fail to see Messiah Jesus because a veil yet remains over their hearts (2 Corinthians 3:12–18). Pray for the day of liberty when Jewish people stop looking for Messiah’s first coming and start looking for Jesus’ second coming: “Next year in the New Jerusalem!”
Behold the Lamb! Praise the Lamb!
The Christian Jew Foundation (www.cjf.org)
The Messianic Jewish Movement International (www.Messiah.net)
Messiah in the Passover, a video on this subject. Available from the Christian Jew Foundation (see below).
Effie-Alean Gross is a freelance writer. She has participated in more than ten messianic Passover seders in the Phoenix area—each of them with more than five hundred in attendance—conducted by Jewish believer Barry Berger, missionary for the Christian Jew Foundation, P.O. Box 345, San Antonio, TX 78292-0345, 1-800-926-5397.