When Jesus gathered his disciples in the Upper Room just before he died, he did something the Jewish people had been doing for roughly 1,300 years. “I have earnestly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer,” Jesus said (Luke 22:15). He was referring to the carefully choreographed liturgy of food, prayer, and testimony that marks the beginning of Passover. During his final observance with his disciples, Jesus told them he would not partake of this meal again until “it finds fulfillment in the kingdom of God” (Luke 22:16).
Soon, Christians will celebrate Easter right in the middle of Passover week (the Feast of Unleavened Bread). The calendar doesn’t always line up this way due to the differences between the Gregorian calendar used by the Christian church and the lunar calendar used by the Jewish people. But this year, the alignment spotlights the relationship between Passover and Easter, seen most clearly in the crucial role of Jesus’ resurrection in the “fulfillment” he foreshadowed.
This same calendar coincidence happened in 1995 when Passover observance began two days before Easter. That was also the year that a young Jewish boy, Ari Hoffman, found himself covered in bits of stale matzo (unleavened bread), from years gone by, upon opening his father’s Haggadah, the guidebook for the Seder meal.
Hoffman grew up in a Messianic Jewish family, a term describing Jewish people who believe Jesus is the Messiah. Hoffman’s father’s Haggadah was printed by the Maxwell House coffee company—a marketing strategy started in the 1930s that continues to this day. The Hoffman’s Haggadah had a blue paper cover with white Hebrew letters.
Growing up, it was Hoffman’s job to prepare the Haggadah for the guests at his family’s Seders. “There were always [matzo] crumbs in the books,” he remembers. “I used to say they must have fallen out of my dad’s beard the year before.”
When the Hoffmans opened their Haggadah each year, they became like courtroom lawyers. Page by page, they made the case for one of the most implausible, supernatural miracles on record. Because God told them to do so in the Book of Exodus, the family, and millions of others, retold the story of the Israelites’ escape from slavery in Egypt to each other.
“This day shall be for you a memorial day, and you shall keep it as a feast to the Lord; throughout your generations, as a statute forever,” says Exodus 12:14. In other words: Never forget what God has done for us.
Throughout Scripture, God told the Jewish people to remember his faithfulness. He instructed them to write his commandments “on their hearts,” to teach them to their children, and to think about them when they “sit in their house” and “walk by the way” (Deut. 6:6). Even now, religious or observant Jewish people all over the world wake up each morning, face east toward Jerusalem, and recite the words found in Deuteronomy 6:4, which read, “Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is One.” As they make this proclamation, they are reminding themselves of who they are—and Whose they are.
Jesus, the ‘Passover Lamb’
God wasn’t only calling the Jewish people to remember his past deeds in their meticulous observation of the Passover “as a statute forever” (Ex. 12:14). The feast, which begins with the Seder meal and continues with seven days of abstaining from all forms of leven, doesn’t only point backward to the time of Moses. It also points forward.
Through Passover, God invited the Jewish people to imprint the memory of deliverance from Egypt on their minds and heart. In doing so, he was preparing them to recognize the pattern of deliverance in the arrival of Jesus the Messiah. God desired that the people would recognize Jesus as the true Passover Lamb (1 Cor. 5:7), the eternal deliverance to whom the temporal deliverance of the original Passover pointed.
When, like the Hoffmans, Messianic Jewish families celebrate Passover each year, they look both backward and forward. The dry, unleavened matzo bread reminds them of the bread the Israelites hurried to make as they prepared to flee. It also brings to mind the words of Jesus during the Last Supper, when he said the matzo also represents his body. The wine points to the blood of the lamb, spread on the doorposts of Jewish homes, protecting their firstborn sons from the Angel of Death as it smote Egypt. It’s also the blood of Jesus, just as he said in Luke 22.
In making these claims at the Seder meal, Jesus clearly identified himself as the Passover Lamb. He invited the disciples to apply the sacrifice of his body and blood by faith to the doorposts of their hearts so they would be protected from death. And his resurrection just days later would point to the ultimate fulfillment in the kingdom to come.
Jesus said and did all these things in order to prove to his Jewish kinsmen that he was the Messiah. But not all believed him; they were waiting for a conquering king rather than a lamb who had to be slain. Even today, the majority of the worldwide Jewish community rejects Jesus either as the “God of the Christians” or as a Jewish teacher who because of his death was disqualified from being the Messiah. But the Passover story urges us to reconsider..
Jewish Voice Ministries International (JVMI) carries on Jesus’s mission by bringing the Good News of His Messiahship to Jewish people all around the world. JVMI also helps Christians better understand the Jewish roots of their faith—a faith made possible by the Jewish Exodus from Egypt and built upon the death and resurrection of a Jewish Messiah.
We Still Remember
Through his declaration at the Last Supper, Jesus introduced a new element for his disciples to include in their observances. He asked them to remember him during this feast that beautifully foreshadows his role as the Passover Lamb. In a pantomime of Jesus’s last meal, Christians remind themselves of his redemption every time they take communion.
Jewish believers like the Hoffmans—and many Christians around the world—continue Passover with a Messianic mindset. For them, there are great treasures to be found in observing this ancient feast similar to how our Messiah, the one “in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge” (Col. 2:3), observed Passover in his time.
The Exodus story holds deep meaning for all believers in Jesus, whether ethnically Jewish or not. To help Christians discover the profound beauty of this chapter in the story of God’s world, JVMI has created a Passover text devotional experience that walks through the Exodus story and the tradition of the Passover Seder, illuminating how it all points to Jesus as the Passover lamb and the ultimate Deliverer of both Israel and the Nations. Sign up for this free devotional today.