Why Observe the Passover?
Good News Magazine
March 1974
Volume: Vol XXIII, No. 3
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Why Observe the Passover?
George L Johnson  

   THE following account is paraphrased from Exodus, chapters 7-13:
   The spring of 1486 B.C. was unlike any previous spring in Egyptian history. Nature seemed to have gone crazy. The Nile, life-giving river of Egypt, turned into a flood of blood. Fish died by the millions. The stench from the river and dying fish filled the land.
   Then swarms of frogs, flies, locusts and lice plagued the land. Terrifying hail and thunder storms destroyed what little of the crops the insects had missed. Millions of cattle died of a mysterious disease.
   Even more remarkable, a strange, eerie darkness blanketed the land for three days. Terror gripped the population. One of the world's most advanced and prosperous nations was in a state of collapse.
   To add to the natural calamities that had seriously weakened Egypt, the slave population was in revolt. A leader for the slaves had mysteriously appeared out of the desert and was demanding that Pharaoh release the Hebrews.
   Indeed that spring was very different!
   Word among the Egyptian population was that the calamities which had befallen their country were caused by the God of the Hebrew slaves. He was angry because Pharaoh would not free them. However, to many Egyptians the thought that some other God was even remotely capable of challenging the gods of Egypt seemed unbelievable.

A Final Ultimatum

   But the worst was yet to come. Moses, leader of the slave revolt, and his brother Aaron, had just returned from giving Pharaoh the final ultimatum from God. If Pharaoh still refused to release the Hebrews, God would kill all the firstborn of Egypt.
   Pharaoh had taken this warning with his usual smugness, even though he had already seen much of his land systematically destroyed by the God of Moses.
   Moses and Aaron returned to the Hebrew slaves in the land of Goshen to warn them of God's plan to destroy all the firstborn of Egypt.
   God had instructed Moses and Aaron to show the Hebrews how to avoid being part of this terrible final plague. Each family was to take an unblemished male lamb of the first year and pen it up on the tenth day of Nisan (first month of the sacred calendar).
   Then on the evening of the fourteenth they were to kill the animal and smear some of its blood on the side posts and lintels of their doors. (The Hebrews counted days from sunset to sunset, therefore the evening of the fourteenth would have been on the night we call the thirteenth — see Lev. 23:32.)
   Moses' instructions probably sounded a little strange to the Hebrews. However, they had seen how God had already plagued the Egyptians and were willing to go along with what Moses had instructed.

A Blood Sacrifice

   The thought of sacrificing an animal was not new. But this particular sacrifice was for the salvation of their physical lives.
   The blood to be put over the doorpost was to indicate to the death angel that this particular house was to be "passed over," and that no harm would come to its firstborn. Egyptian homes which did not have the blood of a lamb smeared over the doorpost that night were to be the target of the death angel.
   Naturally, such strange activities in the camps and homes of the Hebrews caused some curiosity among the Egyptians. Some scoffed. But others, who had been thinking about the past few weeks, were not so sure that it was just another ridiculous Hebraic ritual. They had seen the first plagues affect all of Egypt, including the Hebrew slaves; but the later plagues had struck only the Egyptians.
   It was obvious that the God of the Hebrews was making a separation and a distinction between His people and the Egyptians.
   The more curious began to inquire of the Hebrews. Could they too be protected from this final dreadful plague? The Hebrews, in turn, told them what had to be done.

The First Passover Night

   When the night of the fourteenth arrived, the Hebrews and some few obedient Egyptians sat anxiously around the tables in their homes wondering what was about to happen. Would their sacrifice really save them? Who or what was this death angel about to pass through the land?
   Then they heard the mourning outcries of their unbelieving Egyptian neighbors who had just experienced the full force of this final plague from God. Terror almost impossible to comprehend reigned in Egypt that night.
   Every firstborn child was dead. Every home that the death angel visited, from the palace of the Pharaoh to the hovel of the lowest Egyptian serf, was filled with sorrow. Even the firstborn of their animals were dead.
   All during the following daylight part of the fourteenth, the Hebrews prepared to leave Egypt. In the evening part of the fifteenth, the first day of their eating unleavened bread, they at last got under way. Finally they were free from the terrors of that long Egyptian slavery.
   Needless to say, the celebration of the Passover and Days of Unleavened Bread had great significance to those who kept it in the spring of 1486 B.C. However, the meaning of the Passover is not limited to the Hebrews. It has an even greater meaning for all mankind.

New Testament Passover

   The following account is paraphrased from Matthew 26, Mark 14, Luke 22 and John 12-19:
   Passover season in A.D. 31 began much as it had in previous years. Thousands of Jewish pilgrims from all over the civilized world crowded into Roman-occupied Jerusalem. All were concerned with preparing for the Passover, not knowing that it would become the most important Passover in the history of mankind.
   At the appointed time on the evening of the fourteenth, thirteen men sat around a table in a small upper room in Jerusalem. They were eating the Passover meal with a mixture of joy and apprehension. With joy because of what the Passover meant to them historically. With apprehension because their leader seemed overly sober and thoughtful.
   After the meal was finished, the leader of the group, Jesus, rose and took off His outer garment. He then took a basin of water and a towel and began to wash the feet of His astonished followers. This act of humility further illustrated His sober and thoughtful mood.
   When He had finished washing their feet, Jesus began to say things that seemed unusual to them. Even though they had been His companions for over three years, His disciples had never seen Him like this. He began to tell His followers that one of them would betray Him into the hands of enemies that very night.

The New Testament Symbols

   Jesus did something else that seemed strange to His disciples. He took some of the unleavened bread from the supper table and broke it into small pieces. He blessed the bread and gave a piece to each one of them.
   Then He took a cup of wine from the table, blessed it, passed it to His disciples and told them to drink of it.
   He explained that the bread was the symbol of His body to be broken for mankind, and the wine symbolized His blood now to be shed for all mankind.
   At the moment they received these precious symbols, they did not fully realize what they meant. Later that same evening and the following day, they would begin to understand their symbolic meaning.
   After giving His disciples final instructions, Jesus went out into a garden to pray about the trial He was about to enter. When He had finished praying, He returned to His disciples who were sleeping nearby. By the time He got them on their feet, Judas the traitor had arrived with the chief priests, some of the elders and a group of vigilantes with swords and staves.
   At first the disciples tried to prevent them from apprehending Jesus. Peter even went so far as to cut off the High Priest's servant's ear. But Jesus quickly healed the servant and rebuked Peter.
   The mob led Jesus away. The horror of the night that Jesus spent in the hands of His captors is almost impossible to describe. By early morning the strong, muscular carpenter of Nazareth was reduced to a bleeding chunk of flesh. In this condition He was made to carry a heavy wooden beam to a place outside the city where He was then nailed to it.
   At three p.m., the fourteenth of Nisan, A.D. 31, Jesus Christ died after being pierced with a Roman spear.

The Significance of the Passover

   The Lamb of God, as John the Baptist had called Him (John 1:29), was dead. His commission of taking away the sins of the world was completed. Jesus Christ, the Lamb without blemish (I Pet. 1:19), was sacrificed for the world (John 3:16).
   The significance of the Passover for Christians today is clear. The parallels between the physical salvation of the Hebrews in Egypt through the blood of a physical lamb, and the spiritual salvation of all mankind through the blood of Jesus Christ, are absolute.
   If the Passover lamb of 1486 B.C. could spare the physical lives of obedient Hebrews and was important enough to be kept for generations as a memorial, how much more important should the keeping of the Passover be for Christians today? For by the death of Jesus Christ, Christians have access to eternal life, from which there can be no more death.
   (Editor's note: If you would like additional information about this sacred Passover ordinance, please read our free booklet How Often Should We Partake Of The Lord's Supper?) The Apostle Paul summed up the significance of the Passover and the equally meaningful Days of Unleavened Bread (read our free booklet Pagan Holidays - or God's Holy Days - Which?) when he wrote this to the Gentile Christians at Corinth: "... Christ our passover is sacrificed for us: Therefore let us keep the feast..." (I Cor. 5:7, 8).

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Good News MagazineMarch 1974Vol XXIII, No. 3