Maybe you are hoping to learn more about the Old Testament celebration of Passover. You know that it’s a historical Jewish celebration but maybe want to find out if Christians should observe it too. Well, if that’s the case you are in the right place.
Today we’ll take a look at how Passover is celebrated in the Bible, How Jesus celebrated Passover, and how to properly celebrate Passover as a follower of Christ.
What does the Bible say about Passover?
The first Passover as mentioned in the book of Exodus is not just a story about the first month of the year and eating unleavened bread. It is an important religious festival that focuses on God’s deliverance.
The feast of unleavened bread is a commemoration of how God meted out harsh punishment on the firstborn of the Egyptians while passing over the Israelites and how He delivered them from the land of Egypt.
Deuteronomy 16:3 states, “Do not eat it with bread made with yeast, but for seven days eat unleavened bread, the bread of affliction, because you left Egypt in haste—so that all the days of your life you may remember the time of your departure from Egypt”.
How is Passover celebrated in the Bible?
The celebration of Passover in the Bible has to do with following detailed specifications outlined by the Lord. The following verses look at the menu, who shouldn’t eat the Passover meal, a timeline, and being ceremonially clean.
That same night they are to eat the meat roasted over the fire, along with bitter herbs, and bread made without yeast. Exodus 12:8 NIV
The Lord gave detailed specifications of what the children of Israel were expected to eat and how they should prepare it. Roasted meat, bitter herbs, and bread without any raising agent were to be eaten.
Additionally, this meal was not enjoyed in luxury but was eaten just before the journey from Egypt hence the Lord commanded that they ate while anticipating their departure.
Verse eleven of the same chapter states, “This is how you are to eat it: with your cloak tucked into your belt, your sandals on your feet and your staff in your hand. Eat it in haste; it is the Lord’s Passover”.
When you enter the land that the Lord will give you as he promised, observe this ceremony. ²⁶ And when your children ask you, ‘What does this ceremony mean to you?’ ²⁷ then tell them, ‘It is the Passover sacrifice to the Lord, who passed over the houses of the Israelites in Egypt and spared our homes when he struck down the Egyptians.’” Then the people bowed down and worshiped. Exodus 12:25-27 NIV
When the children of Israel sacrificed the animal, marked their doorpost, and ate unleavened bread for the first time they were actively participating in their escape plan from Egypt.
However, thereafter the festival was a commemoration of the Lord rescuing them from captivity, claiming them as His own, and setting in motion the covenant He made to Abraham. It was a way to remind future generations of God’s goodness, love, and guidance in their lives.
The Lord said to Moses and Aaron, “These are the regulations for the Passover meal: “No foreigner may eat it. ⁴⁴ Any slave you have bought may eat it after you have circumcised him, ⁴⁵ but a temporary resident or a hired worker may not eat it. Exodus 12:43-45 NIV
The Lord did not only specify what should be eaten and how it should be prepared. He also gave Moses and Aaron regulations for the Passover meal. Slaves who have not been circumcised, temporary residents, and hired workers were not to participate in this appointed festival.
It was only to be eaten by God’s covenant people.
Exodus 12:46 also gave further instructions of where the meal should be eaten. “It must be eaten inside the house; take none of the meat outside the house. Do not break any of the bones.”
“Celebrate the Festival of Unleavened Bread; for seven days eat bread made without yeast, as I commanded you. Do this at the appointed time in the month of Aviv, for in that month you came out of Egypt. “No one is to appear before me empty-handed. Exodus 23:15 NIV
The festival of unleavened bread is a time specific celebration. The Lord not only chose this festival to mark the beginning of the year but tells the day, month, and duration of time that should be set aside for its observance.
“‘These are the Lord’s appointed festivals, the sacred assemblies you are to proclaim at their appointed times: ⁵ The Lord’s Passover begins at twilight on the fourteenth day of the first month. ⁶ On the fifteenth day of that month the Lord’s Festival of Unleavened Bread begins; for seven days you must eat bread made without yeast. ⁷ On the first day hold a sacred assembly and do no regular work. ⁸ For seven days present a food offering to the Lord. And on the seventh day hold a sacred assembly and do no regular work.’” Leviticus 23:4-8 NIV
Leviticus chapter twenty-three lists a number of festivals that the children of Israel were to observe. The Sabbath, Passover, Festival of unleavened bread, and the Day of Atonement are included in these festivals.
This text goes into detail to provide the order of what should happen and how they should happen. Passover begins at twilight on the fourteenth day, the festival of unleavened bread begins on the fifteenth day and continues for seven days.
There are two sacred assemblies where no regular work is done and food offerings are presented for seven days during the celebration.
The Lord spoke to Moses in the Desert of Sinai in the first month of the second year after they came out of Egypt. He said, ² “Have the Israelites celebrate the Passover at the appointed time. ³ Celebrate it at the appointed time, at twilight on the fourteenth day of this month, in accordance with all its rules and regulations.” ⁴ So Moses told the Israelites to celebrate the Passover, ⁵ and they did so in the Desert of Sinai at twilight on the fourteenth day of the first month. The Israelites did everything just as the Lord commanded Moses. Numbers 9:1-5 NIV
This is another text that provides time specific instructions as it relates to celebrating Passover. It was to be observed at twilight on the fourteenth day of the first month, which is Aviv.
The Lord was also careful to remind Moses that the observance should be conducted in the strictest manner. He advised, ‘celebrate it at twilight on the fourteenth day of this month, in accordance with all its rules and regulations’.
On the evening of the fourteenth day of the month, while camped at Gilgal on the plains of Jericho, the Israelites celebrated the Passover. Joshua 5:10 NIV
Joshua chapter five not only mentions the observance of this appointed celebration but outlines the preparation of Joshua and the Israelites. This celebration was a part of a covenant and to claim that covenant circumcision and being identified as a member of Abraham’s lineage was very important.
While at Gilgal they became circumcised, remained there until they were healed, then they celebrated the Passover at the appointed time.
But if anyone who is ceremonially clean and not on a journey fails to celebrate the Passover, they must be cut off from their people for not presenting the Lord’s offering at the appointed time. They will bear the consequences of their sin. Numbers 9:13 NIV
A requirement for participating in the Passover is to be ceremonially clean. In fact, special arrangements were made for anyone who is ceremonially unclean. Numbers 9:11 instructs that, “but they are to do it on the fourteenth day of the second month at twilight.
They are to eat the lamb, together with unleavened bread and bitter herbs”. This verse not only points out the importance of observing this special celebration but outlines the consequences for those who refuse to observe it without a valid reason.
Being cut off from the congregation of Israel and bearing the consequences of their sins are the end results for non-compliance.
When it was almost time for the Jewish Passover, many went up from the country to Jerusalem for their ceremonial cleansing before the Passover. John 11:55 NIV
This text shows that even in the New Testament time, ceremonial cleansing and observing the Passover were very significant components of Jewish tradition.
Two important reasons why this tradition was kept alive may be related to the consequences mentioned in the previous text and the fact that the Passover story was told to children to remind them of their history and God’s deliverance.
How did Jesus celebrate Passover?
There are many instances in the New Testament that show how Jesus celebrated the Passover. He celebrated with His family, He made preparation, He expressed eagerness, it was integral to His ministry, and in fulfilling the role of the Passover lamb He instituted the ordinance of humility and Last Supper as a memorial.
Every year Jesus’ parents went to Jerusalem for the Festival of the Passover. ⁴² When he was twelve years old, they went up to the festival, according to the custom. Luke 2:41-42 NIV
As a boy, Jesus celebrated the Passover festival with His family. This included making the journey to and from Jerusalem. It’s quite remarkable how this Jewish tradition had passed down from the time the children of Israel left Egypt and kept going until the time of Jesus.
On the first day of the Festival of Unleavened Bread, the disciples came to Jesus and asked, “Where do you want us to make preparations for you to eat the Passover?” ¹⁸ He replied, “Go into the city to a certain man and tell him, ‘The Teacher says: My appointed time is near. I am going to celebrate the Passover with my disciples at your house.’” ¹⁹ So the disciples did as Jesus had directed them and prepared the Passover. Matthew 26:17-19 NIV
The lesson in this text points to a critical thing-preparation. The people of Israel had to make the necessary arrangements in order to be spared when God struck the firstborn of Egypt. Jesus and His disciples were not ill-prepared for the celebration because they took the needed steps to ensure that everything was in place.
It is just as important to make the necessary mental, physical, and spiritual preparations before partaking in the Lord’s Supper.
And he said to them, “I have eagerly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer. Luke 22:15 NIV
This text highlights the fact that the Passover feast was something that Jesus looked forward to. He knew the future, He was anticipating facing trial, being wrongly accused, then being crucified on a cross as the punishment yet He eagerly desired to eat the Passover before He suffered.
There is a profound lesson here for each of us. Despite the challenges and trials that we may face we can eagerly look to the Lord to fortify and sustain us.
Now while he was in Jerusalem at the Passover Festival, many people saw the signs he was performing and believed in his name. John 2:23 NIV
Before the congregation of Israel celebrated the first Passover God had performed nine signs in Egypt to display His power and mercy. On the night of the Passover, He released the final plague and when the firstborn of pharaoh died, he finally decided to let the children of Israel go free.
Jesus throughout His ministry performed many miracles and the festival of Passover at Jerusalem was no exception. His ministry was about meeting the physical and spiritual needs of the people.
It was just before the Passover Festival. Jesus knew that the hour had come for him to leave this world and go to the Father. Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end. ² The evening meal was in progress, and the devil had already prompted Judas, the son of Simon Iscariot, to betray Jesus. ³ Jesus knew that the Father had put all things under his power, and that he had come from God and was returning to God; John 13:1-3 NIV
This text not only mentions the Last Supper but also focuses on important events that had significant spiritual meaning. Judas being prompted by the devil would lead to the fulfillment of Christ being our Passover lamb.
In the verses that follow He gave a demonstration of humility signifying that He humbled Himself to death the same way a lamb would. Isaiah 53:7 puts it this way, “He was oppressed and afflicted, yet he did not open his mouth; he was led like a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before its shearers is silent, so he did not open his mouth”.
How do you properly celebrate Passover?
As a follower of Christ, the word of God and the example set by Jesus Christ provide the guide you need on how to observe the Passover celebration.
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 NIV
John the Baptist makes a very important announcement in this text. He didn’t introduce Jesus as his relative or fellow rabbi but referred to Him as the lamb of God. In verse thirty-six Jesus was again acknowledged as the Lamb of God by John.
Properly celebrating Passover requires Christian faith that acknowledges Jesus as your sacrificial lamb. This means you’ll accept Jesus’ death on the cross as an atoning sacrifice.
His spilt blood is parallel to the blood that was applied to the doorpost of the Israelites houses. When you accept it, it shields you from judgment and facing the wrath of God.
While they were eating, Jesus took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to his disciples, saying, “Take and eat; this is my body.” ²⁷ Then he took a cup, and when he had given thanks, he gave it to them, saying, “Drink from it, all of you. ²⁸ This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins. Matthew 26:26-28 NIV
The Lord’s supper is a meal that has a very solemn meaning. The bread eaten and the drink helps us to focus on Jesus and what He means to us. We embrace His sacrifice as a covenant that allows us to receive forgiveness for our sins.
For whenever you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes. 1 Corinthians 11:26 NIV
According to the Apostle Paul in this text, a proper observation of the Lord’s supper is a way to testify of Jesus’ death. Each time this service is celebrated it’s not just a reminder of the Last Supper Christ had with His disciples but of the events that took place after.
He was betrayed then gave His life so that those who believe in Him could receive everlasting life.
Is not the cup of thanksgiving for which we give thanks a participation in the blood of Christ? And is not the bread that we break a participation in the body of Christ? ¹⁷ Because there is one loaf, we, who are many, are one body, for we all share the one loaf. 1 Corinthians 10:16-17 NIV
In this scripture passage the apostle also highlighted that thanksgiving is an important feature in this celebration. The Passover is not just a historic Jewish tradition that may be found in the book of Exodus.
It’s an extraordinary demonstration of God’s love and deliverance. Through the Passover lamb and the feast of unleavened bread the children of Israel were reminded through the ages of God’s love and mercy.
As followers of Christ, we are also reminded to give thanks for the goodness of God. When we partake in the Lord’s Supper by eating and drinking the holy emblems, we accept Jesus as our Passover lamb and unleavened bread.
He rescues us from the captivity of sin and faith in Him will lead us to the covenant promised land at the time of His second return.
and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, “This is my body, which is for you; do this in remembrance of me.” ²⁵ In the same way, after supper he took the cup, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood; do this, whenever you drink it, in remembrance of me.” 1 Corinthians 11:24-25 NIV
The children of Israel were supposed to observe and tell the Passover story to their children in remembrance of how God passed over the houses of Israelites during the tenth plague on Egypt.
Similarly, followers of Christ are to take part in the Lord’s Supper in remembrance of Him. He offered His body and shed His blood for all of us and it’s an important part of our faith that we can’t afford to forget.
So then, whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of sinning against the body and blood of the Lord. ²⁸ Everyone ought to examine themselves before they eat of the bread and drink from the cup. 1 Corinthians 11:27-28 NIV
Though the symbols of the Exodus Passover have somehow changed in that Jesus has taken the place of the Passover lamb and the unleavened bread, certain things still remain the same.
Before the death of Christ, anyone participating in the Passover festival was required to be ceremonially clean. This principle still exists today. Careful examination should be done to prevent sinning against the body of Christ.
The Bible has outlined many scripture passages that tell how Passover should be celebrated. It also has verses showing how Jesus celebrated the Passover festival and feast of unleavened bread and the New Testament has key verses that shows how to properly observe the Passover as a Christian.
It is an integral part of Jewish history and Christian tradition. It pointed the Israelites to their miraculous rescue and deliverance from Egypt while pointing Christians to Jesus the lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.