What is the Feast of the Passover (a.k.a. Pesach)?
The Feast of the Passover (Hebrew: Pesach) is the first of seven annual appointed times which God has commanded His congregation (i.e. Hebrew: miqra; Greek: ecclesia) to keep. Pesach is celebrated on the 14th of Nissan and unlike most of the other feasts, is not an annual (or High) Sabbath. Nevertheless, it is the first and most significant of all the Lord’s feasts. Pesach is one of three feasts of YHWH that occur in the spring.
The Spring Feasts:
- The Feast of Passover (Pesach – Leviticus 23:5, Numbers 28:16, Exodus 12:18) foreshadowed the shedding of Christ’s blood, the Passover Lamb of God (1 Corinthians 5:7) and the power of that blood to avert God’s wrath at Calvary as it did in Egypt on the 14th of Nissan. The Passover Lamb was a wrath-spearer not a wrath-bearer.
- The Feast of Unleavened Bread (Chag HaMatzot – Leviticus 23:6-8, Numbers 28:17-25, Exodus 23:15) foreshadowed Christ’s condemnation of the sin in our flesh which puffs us up like leaven (Romans 8:3; 1 Corinthians 5:6-8) and the final removal of sin at Calvary (1 Corinthians 5:8).
- The Feast of Firstfruits (HaBikkurim or Reishit Katzir – Leviticus 23:9-14, Numbers 28:26-31) foreshadowed Christ’s resurrection (1 Corinthians 15:20-23) as Jesus was resurrected on this very day.
- The Feast of Weeks (Shavu’ot or Pentecost – Leviticus 23:15-22) foreshadows the giving of the Spirit to the church (Acts 2:1-4).
The Fall Feasts:
- The Feast of Trumpets (Yom Teruah – Leviticus 23:23-25, Numbers 29:1-6) foreshadows the trumpet-announced gathering of Christ’s congregation at the Rapture (Numbers 10:1-8, 1 Thessalonians 4:16; 1 Corinthians 15:52) and the 2nd Coming (Matthew 24:31; Revelation 11:15).
- The Day of Atonement (Yom Kippur – Leviticus 23:26-32, Numbers 29:7-11) foreshadows elements of Christ’s crucifixion (i.e. the day of the world’s atonement) but also the fountain that will be opened to Israel for her future cleansing from sin and uncleanness at Christ’s Second Coming (Zechariah 13:1; 12:10)
- The Feast of Tabernacles (Sukkot – Leviticus 23:33-43, Numbers 29:12-39) foreshadows Christ’s Millennial reign when He comes back to earth to tabernacle among men (Zechariah 14:16-19, Revelation 21:3).
In Leviticus 23:2-3 God designates the weekly Sabbath (Exodus 20:11) as His appointed time. However, in addition to the required weekly Sabbath observance, God (in Leviticus 23) also revealed seven of His yearly Sabbaths which He has commanded His congregation to keep. These seven annual Sabbaths coincide with five of the seven appointed times or feast days which He has commanded His congregation to observe. Though two of these seven annual feast days are not Sabbaths (i.e. Passover & the Feast of Firstfruits), the other five annual feast days express themselves as seven annual Sabbaths because two of these five feasts (i.e. Unleavened Bread & Tabernacles) each begin and end with an annual Sabbath day. Though Passover is not an annual Sabbath day, it can fall on a weekly Sabbath day which would make it a celebration of the Passover and the weekly Sabbath.
As mentioned earlier, Pesach’s celebration occurs on the 14th day of the first Jewish month of Nissan (a.k.a. Aviv or Abib). Pesach (through its connection to the Feast of Unleavened Bread) is one of the three pilgrimage feasts (the other two being Shavuot and Tabernacles) where all Jewish males are required to appear in Jerusalem for the celebration of those feasts (Exodus 23:14-17; Deuteronomy 16:16).
There are four main passages in Scripture (i.e. Leviticus 23:5, Exodus 12:3-10,14,18; 13:4; 23:15, Numbers 28:16, Deuteronomy 16:1-7) which detail the Lord’s declarations as it pertains to Pesach:
In the fourteenth day of the first month at even is the LORD’S passover.
Exodus 12:3-10,14,18; 13:4; 23:15
(12:3-10) Speak ye unto all the congregation of Israel, saying, In the tenth day of this month they shall take to them every man a lamb, according to the house of their fathers, a lamb for an house: And if the household be too little for the lamb, let him and his neighbour next unto his house take it according to the number of the souls; every man according to his eating shall make your count for the lamb. Your lamb shall be without blemish, a male of the first year: ye shall take it out from the sheep, or from the goats: And ye shall keep it up until the fourteenth day of the same month: and the whole assembly of the congregation of Israel shall kill it in the evening. And they shall take of the blood, and strike it on the two side posts and on the upper door post of the houses, wherein they shall eat it. And they shall eat the flesh in that night, roast with fire, and unleavened bread; and with bitter herbs they shall eat it. Eat not of it raw, nor sodden at all with water, but roast with fire; his head with his legs, and with the purtenance thereof. And ye shall let nothing of it remain until the morning; and that which remaineth of it until the morning ye shall burn with fire.
(12:14) And this day shall be unto you for a memorial; and ye shall keep it a feast to the LORD throughout your generations; ye shall keep it a feast by an ordinance for ever.
(12:18) In the first month, on the fourteenth day of the month at even, ye shall eat unleavened bread, until the one and twentieth day of the month at even.
(13:4) This day [i.e. Passover] came ye out in the month Abib.
Numbers 9:2-3,10-14; 28:16
(9:2-3) Let the children of Israel also keep the passover at his appointed season. In the fourteenth day of this month, at even, ye shall keep it in his appointed season: according to all the rites of it, and according to all the ceremonies thereof, shall ye keep it.
(9:10-14) Speak unto the children of Israel, saying, If any man of you or of your posterity shall be unclean by reason of a dead body, or be in a journey afar off, yet he shall keep the passover unto the LORD. The fourteenth day of the second month at even they shall keep it, and eat it with unleavened bread and bitter herbs. They shall leave none of it unto the morning, nor break any bone of it: according to all the ordinances of the passover they shall keep it. But the man that is clean, and is not in a journey, and forbeareth to keep the passover, even the same soul shall be cut off from among his people: because he brought not the offering of the LORD in his appointed season, that man shall bear his sin. And if a stranger shall sojourn among you, and will keep the passover unto the LORD; according to the ordinance of the passover, and according to the manner thereof, so shall he do: ye shall have one ordinance, both for the stranger, and for him that was born in the land.
(28:16) And in the fourteenth day of the first month is the passover of the LORD.
Observe the month of Abib, and keep the passover unto the LORD thy God: for in the month of Abib the LORD thy God brought thee forth out of Egypt by night. Thou shalt therefore sacrifice the passover unto the LORD thy God, of the flock and the herd, in the place which the LORD shall choose to place his name there. Thou shalt eat no leavened bread with it; seven days shalt thou eat unleavened bread therewith, even the bread of affliction; for thou camest forth out of the land of Egypt in haste: that thou mayest remember the day when thou camest forth out of the land of Egypt all the days of thy life. And there shall be no leavened bread seen with thee in all thy coast seven days; neither shall there any thing of the flesh, which thou sacrificedst the first day at even, remain all night until the morning. Thou mayest not sacrifice the passover within any of thy gates, which the LORD thy God giveth thee: But at the place which the LORD thy God shall choose to place his name in, there thou shalt sacrifice the passover at even, at the going down of the sun, at the season that thou camest forth out of Egypt. And thou shalt roast and eat it in the place which the LORD thy God shall choose: and thou shalt turn in the morning, and go unto thy tents.
The Term “Passover” Requires Disambiguation
In Leviticus 23:5-8, the Passover (or Paschal Supper) and the Feast of Unleavened Bread are plainly spoken of as two distinct feasts (Exodus 12:6, Exodus 12:15, Exodus 12:17; Numbers 28:16-17, Mark 14:1). Yet, because of verses such as Exodus 12:18 which treat both feasts as one contiguous feast, it became idiomatic for the Jews to often speak of both feasts as being one in the same (Mark 14:1; Luke 22:1; John 18:39 vs. John 19:14). Therefore, the phrase “first day of unleavened bread” can idiomatically (and hence legitimately) either refer to the 14th of Nissan (c.f. Matthew 26:17; Mark 14:12; Luke 22:7) or literally to the 15th of Nissan (c.f. Leviticus 23:6; Numbers 28:17).
Likewise, the term Passover was used idiomatically. Because the terms “Passover” and the “feast of Unleavened Bread” are at times used interchangeably in certain parts of the Bible, this has led many readers to reach conclusions which are almost certainly in error. For instance, some of the confusion about whether or not Christ ate Pesach on the 14th or the 15th has to do with the interchangeability of the terms Passover and Unleavened Bread.
Now the first day of the feast of unleavened bread [i.e. the eight day feast of passover + unleavened bread] the disciples came to Jesus, saying unto him, Where wilt thou that we prepare for thee to eat the passover? (Matthew 26:17)
Now before the feast of the passover [i.e. the seven day feast of unleavened bread], when Jesus knew that his hour was come that he should depart out of this world unto the Father, having loved his own which were in the world, he loved them unto the end. And supper [i.e. passover supper] being ended, the devil having now put into the heart of Judas Iscariot, Simon’s son, to betray him; (John 13:1-2)
Above, Matthew speaks of the feast of Passover and Unleavened Bread as being one contiguous eight-day feast whereas John uses the phrase “the feast of passover” to strictly refer to the seven-day feast of Unleavened Bread. Once, the informal usage of both Pesach and Unleavened Bread is understood and allowed, the reader will see that there is no good reason to think that Christ, in contravention to the law, ate Pesach on the 15th of Nissan.
Was the “Last Supper” a Passover Supper/Seder or not?
Yes. Otherwise, if the Last Supper was not a Passover Supper and if it turns out that Jesus and His disciples ate both leavened and unleavened bread during the “Last Supper” then they would have all been guilty of violating the Exodus 12:18 mandate that called for unleavened bread to be consumed on the 14th of Nissan (a.k.a Aviv). Nearly all depictions of Christ at the last supper that I am familiar with wrongly show Christ partaking of leavened bread. This stunning lack of accuracy betrays either a gross illiteracy or abandonment of the Bible’s teachings. Our churches are complicit in this misinformation campaign that is leading Christ’s flock astray. Terms like Easter and Lent are not only pagan and unbiblical but also diminish what the Bible actually says about this holy period.
[For more information see the debate between Zach Bauer and Lex Myer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IUKNDLmAmtk]
What is the prophetic significance of Passover?
The Passover (like the other six feasts) was a rehearsal of a future event. Each of these feasts of God were called a miqra. The Hebrew term miqra signifies an assembly for the purpose of a rehearsal. The future event that was being rehearsed was the day of Christ’s death. Today when Christians celebrate the Passover, they are not only looking back to the inaugural Passover of Exodus 12, but also to the anti-typical passover of Matthew 26-28 which occurred 2000 years ago when Christ was sacrificed as our Passover.
The Passover lamb was examined on the 10th of Nisan (Exodus 12:3-6; Matthew 21:7-27) and was to be without blemish (Exodus 12:5; 1 Peter 1:19). Pilate confirmed that Christ met this specification when he declared: “I find no fault in him” (John 19:4). As the Passover lamb was offered “between the evenings” (Exodus 12:6) on the 14th of Nisan, so also was Christ.
Regarding the benefits of Christ our Passover lamb, God’s wrath has passed over those who believe in His Son. God’s wrath was not poured out upon the paschal lamb as is commonly taught. The power was in the blood of the lamb to avert God’s wrath as on the prototypical (or inaugural) passover. The popular teaching that Christ was brutalized by God for our sins is a denial of the passover’s theme. The passover lamb was a wrath-spearer not a wrath-bearer.
Was Jesus actually Killed on Passover (i.e. the 14th of Nissan)?
Yes. Verses like Numbers 9:5, Deuteronomy 16:6 & Joshua 5:10 would suggest that the command to kill and eat the Passover was understood to convey an evening sacrifice, however the Hebrew text (of Exodus 12:6) actually states: beyn haarbayim , “between the two evenings.” (Clarke)
And it was the preparation of the passover [i.e. the seven day feast of Unleavened Bread], and about the sixth hour: and he saith unto the Jews, Behold your King!
According to the Bible, Christ died on the 14th of Nissan. Was that on a Wednesday, Thursday or Friday?
Within the umbrella of Christian thought, there are three main theories about when the 14th of Nissan occured on the year that Christ was crucified. The most popular idea—that Christ died on what is commonly referred to as Good Friday—has the least amount of scriptural support and is clearly in error. A Wednesday crucifixion also has some inescapable problems that may not be as evident as the ones which plague the Friday crucifixion. Only a Thursday 14th of Nissan can make sense of all of the clues which the Bible provides regarding Christ’s death. All three views hold that Christ rose on the feast of FirstFruits which occured on the first day of the week but since in Jewish parlance, that one biblical day actually spans two Roman days, this leaves room for either a Saturday night or a Sunday pre-dawn resurrection. In fact, from the Bible alone, to determine which of the two Roman days (i.e. Saturday night or Sunday) that Christ arose seems unresolvable.
Reasons for a Thursday Crucifixion
- The Greek term “Sabbatton” in Matthew 28:1 is a plural noun and requires two Successive Sabbaths (e.g. YLT, ISV). Only a Thursday 14th of Nissan can account for two consecutive Sabbaths and a feast of FirstFruits resurrection. The reason why the women of Luke 23:54-Luke 24:1 had to wait until Sunday to anoint Christ body with the spices they had prepared was because of the 48 prohibitive hours from the two successive Sabbaths in between Christ’s burial and the first day of the week.
- The two expressions: on the “third day” (Matt 17:23) and “after three days” (Mark 8:31) obviously refer to two different conceptions of a day. Only Thursday can account for Matt 12:40’s “three [12 hour] days and three [12 hour] nights” (which does not necessarily require all 72 hours) while at the same time allowing Christ to rise “after three [12 hour] days” (Mark 8:31) and “on the third [24 hour] day”(Matt 17:23).
- Only Thursday allows for Christ to be entombed during three 12 hour Days and three 12 hour Nights: 1. (Day 1 was Nissan 14th’s Morning, Night 1 was Nissan 15th’s Evening) 2. (Day 2 was Nissan 15th’s Morning, Night 2 was Nissan 16th’s Evening) 3. (Day 3 was Nissan 16th’s Morning, Night 3 was Nissan 17th’s Evening when Christ arose!)
Reasons against a Wednesday Crucifixion
- The Greek term “Sabbaton” in Matthew 28:1 is a plural noun and requires two successive Sabbaths (e.g. YLT, ISV). A Wednesday 14th of Nissan can not account for two successive Sabbaths. Though the view allows for two non-contiguous Sabbaths (i.e. Thursday annual Sabbath and a Saturday weekly Sabbath) during that crucifixion week, the preparation day of Friday in between these two Sabbaths would have afforded all interested parties the time needed to anoint Christ’s body with spices on that intervening day without having to wait until the first day of the week (as the women and others did in Luke 23:54-24:1).
- The Wednesday view treats all instances of the term day as referring to 24 hours and therefore maintains that Christ was to be entombed for 72 hours. However, such a view cannot escape the contradiction that arises when one advocates for a 72 hour time period while also having Christ rise on the third day (which by definition is within those 72 hours). If three days and three nights must mean 72 hours then the third day must fall within that time period. Only a Thursday crucifixion can reconcile the criteria of “three days and three nights” (Matt 12:40), on the “third day” (Matt 17:23) and “after three days” (Mark 8:31).
Reasons against a Friday Crucifixion
- The Greek term “Sabbatton” in Matthew 28:1 is a plural noun and requires two Successive Sabbaths (e.g. YLT, ISV). A Friday 14th of Nissan with a FirstFruits resurrection only allows for one Sabbath.
- A Friday crucifixion fails the “three days and three nights” (Matt 12:40) and the “after three days” (Mark 8:31) biblical specifications for Christ’s resurrection. The popular explanation to this is that any part of a 24 hour day can account for a whole day in Hebrew parlance. While there is indeed support for this observation, the saying “three days and three nights” seems quite emphatic of six 12 hour time periods and not three 24 hour periods (as commonly understood).Nor can Friday overcome other insurmountable obstacles (e.g. John 12:1) which prohibit it from answering to the requirements (i.e. the entire corpus of verses that entail the antitypical passover) of the Lord’s death.
- John 12:1’s Ephraim to Bethany 20-mile trip occurring six days earlier (i.e. on a Sabbath) clearly violates the expectations for a Sabbath day’s journey.
For more information see: On Which Day Did Christ Die?
What is Quartodecimanism and what does it have to do with Passover?
Quartodecimanism is a term reminding us that while early (i.e. 4th century and preceding) Gentile Christians celebrated Passover according to the biblical specifications and were persecuted for doing so, modern-day Christians have been led by their ruling establishments to (perhaps) unwittingly eschew or marginalize the true details of Passover under the guise of orthodoxy. The term Quartodecimanism means “Fourteenism,” it is a term derived from Latin. It refers to the practice of fixing the celebration of Passover for Christians on the 14th day of Nisan according to the Old Testament Calendar (Leviticus 23:5). This was the original method of fixing the date of the Passover, and it was to be a “perpetual ordinance” (Exodus 12:14).
Yet, like those relentlessly-biblical members of the early church who were excommunicated for the crime of endeavoring to keep the Sabbath on the 7th day (i.e. Saturday) according to the commandment in Scripture, the Quartodecimans were also excommunicated from the “church” by the establishment claiming to represent Christ’s church on earth for daring to keep Passover on the 14th of Nissan as the Scriptures require.
The excuse commonly given for why these atrocities were allowed to become orthodoxy was that the church was determined not to be seen as Judaizers. However, if the establishment church was so worried about the prospect of Judaising that they would knowingly forsake the commandments of God for the “traditions” of men then one wonders why they did not go all the way to the point of forsaking their Jewish Savior for a Roman one. If fact, they already have! For the Christ touted in Catholicism is not the same as the one defined in Scripture. The Christ of Catholicism authored a sacrifice which must be “represented” ad infinitum in order for it to convey any merit to those for whom it was intended. On the other hand, the Christ of Scripture offered one sacrifice, once and for all, that “perfects forever” all those to whom the sacrifice pertains. Of course, there are several other contradictions between Rome’s Christ and that of Scripture, but I digress.
The Quartodecimans were known for celebrating Communion not only as a meal (i.e., the Lord’s ‘Supper’), but more specifically as a Passover meal (Pesach) beginning the Feast of Unleavened Bread (cf. Ex 12; Lev 23.5–8).
Will Believers Observe Passover During Christ’s Millennial Reign?
Yes. In Ezekiel 45:20-25’s commentary on the period of Christ millennial reign, mentioned or implied are four annual appointed times: Passover, Chag HaMatzot (The Feast of Unleavened Bread), HaBikkurim (First fruits) & Sukkot (Tabernacles) which will all continue. In other words, out of the seven annual sabbaths, there is no explicit mention of the following three:
- Yom Teruah
- Yom Kippur
This observation has caused some Bible commentators to speculate that observation of these omitted feast days may cease at the onset of Christ’s millennial reign. This speculation could be an unwarranted argument from silence, or it could very well be an indication that these feasts have served their purpose and are no longer required. However, until believers receive a “cease and desist” edict from God, we are compelled to persist in our obedience to His standing commands to observe all Sabbaths (whether annual or weekly).
Why should Gentiles observe Passover?
- Because on a solemn antitypical Passover more than 2000 years ago, Christ was sacrificed as an unblemished male Passover lamb (1 Peter 1:19-20, John 1:29) in order to save all believers from God’s righteous wrath for sin (John 3:36, Romans 5:8-9). Christ died and rose for everyone, not just the Jews. Therefore, all for whom Christ died should commemorate God’s wrath passing over them because of Christ’s shed blood.
- Because Passover is a divine and perpetual ordinance (Exodus 12:14, 24). The fact that Pesach will still be observed in Christ’s millennial reign which is still yet to come is a powerful confirmation of Pesach’s perpetuity.
- Though uncircumcised Gentiles (i.e. “stranger”) were prohibited from partaking of the Passover meal (Exodus 12:43, 48), Gentiles who became circumcised could celebrate the Passover (Numbers 9:14, Exodus 12:48-49). Hence, it is not surprising that during the Israelite exodus, among their number was a “mixed multitude” (Exodus 12:38).
- All Gentile believers who were formerly “strangers from the covenants of promise“ (Ephesians 2:12-14) are now fellow citizens of the commonwealth of Israel (Ephesians 2:12-14,19) having been grafted into a Jewish olive tree (Romans 11:16-24) and made partakers of a Jewish covenant (Jeremiah 31:31, 32:40, Romans 11:17) through faith in the Gospel. If the Gentile’s membership in the New Covenant makes him a partaker of the “commonwealth of Israel” (Ephesians 2:12-14,19, Romans 11:16-24), it only makes sense that — for the sake of edification — he or she should also adhere to the applicable laws of that commonwealth.
- Because Passover, as with the weekly Sabbath and the other six annual feasts, are not appointments which belong to Israel but to the Lord (Exodus 12:11). The feasts are times appointed by God for rest, worship and the rehearsal of other specific memorials. God’s appointed times are perpetual appointments for His congregation (i.e. Hebrew: miqra; Greek: ecclesia) to observe.
- Israel was “set .. in the midst of the nations and countries that are round about her” to provoke conformance (e.g. Deuteronomy 4:6, Ezekiel 5:5-7, Romans 2:17-20). So that Israel, through the keeping of God’s statutes and judgments, would be an example to the world of holiness in dedication to God. The fact that God wanted the other nations to also join themselves to Him (Isaiah 45:22) and even gave Israel instructions regarding which Gentiles were allowed to join His congregation (Deuteronomy 23) demonstrates that He wanted the other nations to also keep his statutes and judgments. In other words, the Jews were supposed to be a light to the other nations. This implies that their beliefs were supposed to be indicative of the ideal beliefs for all of the world’s inhabitants.
How should Gentile Believers Keep the Feast of Passover?
There are several things that Christians can do to observe Pesach in a reverent and relevant way. Some of these activities might include:
- Reading all of the relevant biblical texts concerning Passover
- Having a Passover Seder to understand the significance of this event
- Partake of communion (of course, using unleavened bread)
- Incorporating the John 13:1-15 tradition of feet washing while discussing the relevance of this event.