The Atonement and the Passover: Exodus 12 by Matt Capps
The Passover Event
The Pharaoh-god refused to let Israel go free from slavery despite the Living God's demands through Moses. Pharaoh wanted to keep Israel under his power. God's response to Pharaoh's obstinate defiance in Exodus 7-10 is breathtaking. The one true God of the universe unleashes His power in acts of un-doing creation throughout Pharaoh's land. Order turns into chaos. Light is consumed by darkness. The water becomes a source of death rather than life. The beasts swarm the people and their crops rather than serve them. Finally, just as Pharaoh attempted to destroy God's firstborn son (Ex. 4:22), God now destroys Egypt's with a final plague.
None of the earlier plagues had touched God's people, as they were separated from the Egyptians. Now, the Israelites and the Egyptians are drawn into God's final plague together (Ex. 11:4-5). Israel's involvement in the last plague is significant. If the Israelites did not trust in God's word and follow His instructions; their firstborn would also die. The need for salvation is made clear and the atoning sacrifice is provided on Israel's behalf (Ex. 12). The conditions for redemption are laid out, but Israel must respond in faith.
The Passover Ritual
The Israelites were instructed to take a young male lamb without defect into their household, and after four days it was to be killed. The blood of the lamb was to be spread over the doorposts of the home, and the people were to feast on the lamb's roasted flesh with herbs and unleavened bread. During the feast, the Israelites were to be dressed and ready to journey at a moment's notice.
On the night of the Passover, if blood were spread on the doorpost when the Lord passed over; death would not plague the household. In other words, God's judgment would fall on the Passover lamb and not the Israelites (Ex. 12). Following the Passover, the Israelites were to exit Egypt, liberated from slavery and delivered from death. This event marked the beginning of Israel's new life as God's redeemed people.
The Passover Imagery
The movement of the Israelites from slaves of Pharaoh to servants of the Lord involves divine redemption; it also involves the obedient response of God's people to His word. The Passover is both bloody and beautiful. God's judgment and salvation are clearly displayed in God's actions and in the symbolism of the Passover ritual.
- Atonement: The slaughtered lamb redeemed the people by becoming a substitute for the Israelite firstborn. The lamb died in their place (Ex. 12:27).
- Purification: The smearing of the blood purified those within the house. The application of the blood with hyssop is significant here (Ex. 12:22). All throughout the Old Testament hyssop is associated with ritual purification (Lev. 14:4,6,4,9,51,52; Num. 19:6,18).
- Sanctification: The feasting on the meat signified the sanctification of God's people. The Israelites were consecrated as they consumed the sacrifice (Ex. 12:46-48).
Through the Passover God consecrated the Israelites as His atoned for, purified, and sanctified people (Ex. 19:6). This event marked the beginning of Israel's new life as they headed for Mount Sinai and eventually the promised land. The Passover is not only a powerful act of God to be remembered, but the powerful imagery pointed forward to the Passover Lamb to come.
Jesus Christ and the Passover
The Passover is an event both meaningful to the Israelites in its immediate context and for Christians in its canonical context. The New Testament writers make the connection between Jesus' crucifixion and the Passover explicit in order to highlight the redemptive nature of His atonement. In the New Testament we see that Jesus is the Lamb of God (John 1:29,36; 1 Cor. 5:7) whose 'once for all' sacrifice sanctifies God's people (Heb. 10:12-14). Jesus' death atones for the sins of the people (1 John 2:2), His blood purifies and cleanses (Rev. 7:14), and partaking of His body sanctifies (John 6:53-56). Because the Last Supper is overtly linked to the Passover (Matt. 26:17-29; Mark 14:12-25; Luke 22:7-20), we understand that Christ's death and resurrection inaugurate a new exodus.
The Passover event profoundly shaped the memory and identity of the Israelites. As Christians, our deliverance from sin and death through Christ our Passover Lamb has the same effect. For this reason, the Lord's Supper functions much like the Passover meal as an act of remembrance, renewal, and response (1 Cor. 11:23-26). Redemption in Christ is an act of re-creation, the beginning of new life.
The Lord's Supper is not only a commemorative ritual looking back at our re-creation, but it is also an act of expectation as we look forward to our consummation. At a moment's notice the church's exodus will be complete. One day God's people will gather around another table to celebrate their once and for all entrance into the true and greater promised land (Rev. 19:9). All of this purchased by Christ our Passover Lamb (Rev. 13:8). The atonement of Christ is both bloody and beautiful.