Passover and Easter: A Divine Connection
The Christian Broadcast Network Israel asked me to write a booklet which they published last year on March 9, 2020. “Passover & Easter: A Divine Connection: Enriching your Easter Celebrations with Passover Parallels.” The text is below and I also created a Power Point. Easter and Passover Divine Connection 2019 Power Point .pptx I welcome you to share it in your celebrations and social media with attribution to Arlene Bridges Samuels, CBN ISRAEL Weekly Columnist and THE BLOGS, Times of Israel. www.ArleneBridgesSamuels.com And here's a song the Lord imparted to me in 1999, “Under Your Tallit.” https://1drv.ms/u/s!AvqwSKMJT7QcsQVt1N1yvo4npUV0
Judaism rocked the ancient cradle of Christianity two thousand years ago when God sent His beloved Son into our world as The Living Torah, The Living Word. Jesus fulfilled the prophetic announcements of the Older Testament, then Jewish scribes regaled His magnificent earthly life throughout the New Testament. Jesus fastened the Older and New Testaments into one story in the history of humankind. Passover is one of three primary Jewish festivals, the festival of freedom celebrating God’s deliverance of the Jewish slaves from Egypt. Passover is intimately connected with Holy Week, Jesus’ last days on earth.
Born into a Jewish family and culture, Jesus lived His 33-year journey on earth fully engaged in the Jewish customs and religious observances of His day. Today, many Christians are fascinated by the Jewish roots of Christianity and want to learn more. This discovery adds a rich dimension to our Christian faith. Passover’s freedom celebration vividly informs Easter’s solemn observance of Jesus’ sacrificial death. Then in His resurrection, His victory over death liberated us- not from a Pharaoh’s cruelty - but from sin’s dark enslavement opening the door to eternal life.
Before sharing an easy-to-use guide highlighting several significant connections between our ancient faiths, here are a few contextual facts. Passover and Easter appear on two different calendars. Israel’s calendar is lunar using the moon’s cycle and Christians use the Gregorian calendar based on the sun. These towering festivals annually occur near each other. In both faiths worldwide, the cultures, customs, and denominations vary in countless details, yet each faith retains its quintessential themes. Like Christians, the Jewish community also has varying branches. Recognizing the variegated tapestry of multiple Jewish and Christian offshoots, I've curated a guide based on basics. I pray that your Holy Week will grow richer by adding Passover’s ancient meaning into your modern Easter observances.
The Day of Lambs and Palm Sunday Jewish and Christian communities commemorate Passover and Easter for a week. Our Holy Week begins on Palm Sunday, Jesus’ last week on earth. By the time of His Triumphal Entry into Jerusalem, Jesus’ reputation for teaching and miracles drew a swelling crowd to welcome Him. They threw down their coats and waved palm branches thinking He was their hoped-for King to liberate them from their Roman oppressors. In Jewish custom, the day we call Palm Sunday is the Day of Lambs.
Jesus rode into Jerusalem five days before the Jewish Passover. Estimates are hard to come by, but the historian Josephus estimates a million or more Passover pilgrims were already flowing into the capitol. Look in history’s rearview mirror for a moment. At the very first Passover in Egypt, God instructed each Israelite to choose an unblemished, perfect lamb to kill not only for food, but to apply its blood to the doorposts of each home. God promised that when the Angel of Death swept over Egypt and saw the blood, death would not come to the Israelites’ first-born. This was God’s final plague on the Egyptians to un-harden the Pharaoh’s heart to free His people. The blood of lambs saved lives.
When Jesus rode a donkey into Jerusalem on our Palm Sunday, it occurred on the same day when shepherds annually herded huge flocks of Passover lambs into Jerusalem, the Day of Lambs! Divine context at its finest!
The Sadducees owned these lambs and required them to be born in Bethlehem. Bethlehem …Jesus birthplace! Only these lambs could be sacrificed during Passover in The Temple in Jerusalem. The Sadducees’ custom was like a “lamb beauty contest.” The priests stood outside the Lamb’s Gate and inspected each one making sure none were blemished. Perfection was the rule. When Jesus rode by on the donkey, the priests saw The Perfect Lamb yet felt threatened among the adoring crowd since their bureaucratic system had grown into out-of-control corruption. The Sadducees controlled every step of the sacrificial process including selling the lambs to the Passover pilgrims. You can now understand why later, on the Day of Lambs, Jesus walked up the Temple’s southern steps in a display of righteous anger. Using a whip to drive them out, He overthrew the money changers’ tables and coins saying in Matthew 21:12-13, “‘My house will be called a house of prayer, but you are making it a den of robbers.”
Just three years earlier at the Jordan River John the Baptist proclaimed in John 1:29, “Behold the Lamb of God Who takes away the sin of the world." John was speaking from the context of the ancient Jewish sacrificial system which was such a significant part of their Passover freedom narrative. The bible mentions lambs and sheep 500 times! 1 Peter 1:18-19 says it this way, “Knowing that you were not redeemed with perishable things like silver or gold from your futile way of life inherited from your forefathers, but with precious blood, as of a lamb unblemished and spotless, the blood of Christ.”
Allow this realization to sink deeply into your soul: That Jesus, the Perfect Lamb of God rode into Jerusalem on the Day of Lambs. The picture is exquisite. The Perfect Lamb with thousands of bleating, scampering perfect lambs parading into the holy city on Holy Week herded by shepherds from Bethlehem, Jesus birthplace, for the Temple sacrifices.
The Passover Seder & The Last Supper Jewish custom tells us that that Jesus celebrated Passover every year of His earthly life. It’s still the zenith of the Jewish year. Imagine Jesus’ thoughts when He instructed Peter and John in Luke 22:8 to “Go and make preparations for us to eat the Passover.” He knew what was ahead. He knew it was His last Passover on earth. And later in Luke 22:12 Jesus expresses His heart and intense emotion in the Upper Room while reclining at the table with His disciples, “I have earnestly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer.”
The Day of Lambs-Palm Sunday-had already taken place. The dramatic events of Jesus’ last Passover, the Last Supper, swiftly moved forward culminating in The Perfect Lamb of God hung on the cross beams of the tree splattered with His blood.
Ancient Passover meals are described in historical, yet limited texts but Passover at least consisted of lamb, unleavened bread, and wine. The modern Jewish Passover meal is called a Seder, meaning “order.” It lasts for hours with prayers, the feast, and recounting the Exodus stories of freedom. Jewish families use the Passover Haggadah, a teaching tool, a script developed over hundreds of years.
From generation to generation, the Passover Seder recounts the theme of freedom from slavery. In the Christian community we celebrate the redemptive freedom Jesus won for us on the cross and in His resurrection 2,000 years ago. When we partake of The Last Supper, we are reenacting Jesus’ instructive words at His last Passover. We eat the bread to honor Him, the Bread of Life which sustains us. We drink the juice/wine in thankfulness for the shed blood of our Perfect Lamb.
The ancient Passover in Egypt 3,000 years ago is the setting for the Christian Last Supper a thousand years later through Jesus at His last Passover. When we invite our Lord Jesus into our lives, His sacrificial shed blood covers the doorposts of our life. Now when our holy God the Father looks at us, He sees the Perfect Lamb’s blood saving us from the death Angel and giving us the gift of eternal life. The Seder is an opportunity to once again recall the miracle of the Exodus from Egypt. And in the same way, the Christian community rejoices in Jesus’ liberation of our lives from sin!
Seder plate symbolism Remember, Jewish custom has its Passover differences just as we do in Christian denominations for Easter. First, how wonderful to know that the Jewish apostle Paul included Christians in the Feast of Unleavened Bread and by association, the Passover which he himself annually celebrated as a Jew! In 1 Corinthians 5:7 Paul says, “Get rid of the old yeast, so that you may be a new unleavened batch—as you really are. For Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed.”
Shankbone- Zeroa A lamb bone representing the first Passover lambs in Egypt. For Christians, the shankbone represents our Paschal Lamb, Jesus.
Egg- Bei’ah, A roasted hard-boiled egg symbolizing either the spring season or grieving Jerusalem's destruction and The Temple. For Christians we celebrate the newness of life.
Bitter herbs (Maror) A reminder of the bitterness of slavery in Egypt. Horseradish is often used. For Christians, it reminds us of sin's bitterness.
Charoset A sweet mixture of apples, pears, nuts and wine. This fruit paste is likened to the mortar and bricks made by the Jews in Egypt.
Karpas is a vegetable such as parsley or celery. It is dipped into salt water and eaten to represent the tears shed by the enslaved Israelites.
Matzo -three pieces of Unleavened bread in a pouch or napkin. For Christians it may symbolize the Trinity, God the Father, God the Son, and God, the Holy Spirit. Yet, the Matzo holds more secrets for Christian community.
The Secrets Hidden in the Matzo-Unleavened Bread In their escape from Egypt, the Israelites left in a hurry, taking their bread dough with them; with no time to rise, thus Unleavened Bread. Try to imagine Moses, more than 80 years old, waving his staff rushing possibly 600,000 thousand or more Israelites to flee for their lives. They shouldered their children, their bread dough, and valuable objects thrown at them by the Egyptians. Complete chaos reigned amidst the loud wailing and weeping of Egyptians crying over their dead first-born sons in the Tenth Plague. Thus, at Passover the matzo, a flat cracker bread, is prominent in its meaning.
One of the secrets of the Matzo appears when looking closely at a piece of matzo. You will quickly notice that the cracker is pierced and striped. For Christians, the Matzo is a visual representation of nails piercing Jesus’ body on the cross and the stripes inflicted by Roman whips in the hours before arriving at Golgotha.
Matzo, also called the Afikomen, holds another inspiring meaning during the Seder. The definition of Matzo is "that which comes after," "dessert," or “the coming one.” Early in the Seder the head of the household reaches for the middle matzo in a stack of three. The middle matzo is broken in two. The larger half is hidden in a napkin or pouch for a “dessert” shared by all after the meal. (After the Romans destroyed the Second Temple in AD70 Jews as a custom, eat a piece of matzo- afikomen- at the end of the meal in remembrance.)
At the end of the meal, children go on a treasure hunt to find the hidden Afikomen. When the children find it, they run to the head of household for a reward, looking for a redemption where they receive candy or a coin. The Matzo is then broken and passed around. Communion! Eucharist! In the Christian culture the Afikomen represents Christ wrapped in a burial cloth and hidden in the tomb and then His third day resurrection. Once again, a Passover pattern is found in the Seder celebrating Easter, and our Paschal-Passover-Lamb named 29 times in the bible.
I’m touching only on the use of four cups of wine, or grape juice- at the Seder each with prayers and symbols. Of note though, when Jesus handed the disciples the third cup, “the Cup of Redemption” He said in Luke 22:20 …” after the supper He took the cup, saying, ‘This cup is the new covenant in My blood, which is poured out for you.’”
When we take Communion/Eucharist, we honor His redemptive blood!
After Jesus shared the Passover meal and His extraordinary last teaching, He and His-now eleven disciples-left the Upper Room. (If you wish, read John 17 for Jesus’ intercessory prayer at His last Passover) In the darkness the group walked about a mile to the Mount of Olives, familiar to all Jerusalemites since it was an important manufacturing area which produced olive oil. Jesus and His disciples frequently visited Gethsemane for prayer at the foot of the Mount of Olives. The English word “Gethsemane” is the combination of two Hebrew words, Gat and Shmanim defined as “the place where olive oil is pressed.” The Garden of the Olive Press was a popular, well-known gathering place.
Crushed in Gethsemane Among the Olive Presses The geographical location of Gethsemane on the Mount of Olives is rich with physical and spiritual symbolism. In Isaiah 53:5 we read this compelling verse, “He was crushed for our iniquities.” Like the wooden beams holding the stones, our Savior Jesus bore the wooden beams of the crucifixion tree crushed under the weight of our sins. Knowing some of the mechanics of olive presses it’s easier to visualize the crushing emotions Jesus experienced.
During Roman rule, olive presses numbered in the thousands in olive groves scattered all over Israel and the Roman Empire. Large and small olive presses made of stone crushed the harvested olives. The larger presses included stones suspended with ropes from wooden beams which weighed up to a ton for the crushing. The pulp eventually underwent enough crushing so that the precious commodity emptied into clay jars. The refined oil was used in cooking, anointing oil, and Temple lights.
In the Garden of the Olive Press, Jesus cried out in Mark 14:36 “Abba, (Aramaic for Father) everything is possible for you. Take this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but what You will.” The Christian community is well-versed knowing Jesus’ anguished prayers laced with tears of blood before His arrest. Hematidrosis is the medical name for Jesus’ tears, a rare occurrence where blood is mixed in sweat. Crushing is the method of preserving and getting what’s most valuable, the oil, out of the olive.
Jesus’ crushing in the garden of olive presses produced the precious oil and blood of our redemption. Hallelujah, what a Savior!
The Crucifixion and the Killing of Lambs The ancient Romans executed tens of thousands by crucifixion in their vast empire. By all accounts, crucifixion was a torturous means of death intended to cause its victims maximum suffering and humiliation. While soldiers hammered nails into Jesus body and gambled at the foot of His cross, families and Temple priests were slaughtering the Bethlehem lambs by the thousands. Priests threw lamb’s blood all over the temple court. Expertly wielding their knives, the priests chanted the Hallel, Psalm 113-118. Maybe Jesus could hear snippets of the chants where He hung outside Jerusalem’s walls. Psalm 115:16 “Precious in the sight of the LORD is the death of his faithful servants.” Psalm 116:3 “The cords of death entangled me, the anguish of the grave came over me; I was overcome by distress and sorrow.” Or Psalm 118:2 “The stone which the builders refused is become the head stone of the corner.”
When the skinning, then roasting of lambs for food began, the lambs hung on hooks by their front legs stretched out in the shape of a cross. Like a conveyor belt of killing and cooking, many Temple lambs also died at the ninth hour as Jesus took His last breath. God’s Perfect Lamb perfected John 3:16: “For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life.”
In this era of rising anti-Semitism, we cannot underestimate the importance of crucifixion truth. Over the centuries, Jews have suffered the blame for “killing Jesus.” Yes, many accomplices were involved, including religious leaders, Judas, a Jewish mob, Roman soldiers, Pilate, and others. Yet, this was a redemption plan from the heart of God.
No one could stop God’s plan. Recall once again, Jesus’ words in John 10:18, “No one takes my life. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down and authority to take it up again. This command I received from my Father." And that’s exactly what Jesus did. Walking through Holy Week with its glorious Resurrection conclusion, God’s redemptive plan though His Perfect Lamb bequeathed eternal life and salvation to all who believe! Thanks be to God!
Jesus Sacrificial Death and the Torn Veil In a physical feat only the mighty Hands of God could achieve, He tore the purple, scarlet, and blue veil/curtain in The Temple in two when the Perfect Passover Lamb breathed His last breath on the tree. Matthew 27:51 verifies it. “At that moment the curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom. The earth shook, the rocks split.” Luke 23:44 wrote it this way, “It was now about the sixth hour, and darkness came over the whole land until the ninth hour, for the sun stopped shining. And the curtain of the temple was torn in two.”
Keep in mind, the curtain was 60 feet high, 30 feet wide and four inches thick. The curtain hid the Holy of Holies, God’s Court, containing the Ark of the Covenant and the Mercy Seat. The Jewish community viewed the Holy of Holies as the place of God’s Shekinah glory. Only the High Priest could enter the Holy of Holies and only once a year at the Feast of Atonement-Yom Kippur. Throughout the centuries from the movable Tabernacle in the desert, 369 years in Shiloh, and the First and Second Temples, the Jewish people revered the Holy of Holies with a profound sense of awe, respect, and yes, fear. It is easy to imagine the Priests’ stark fright and screams when they saw the curtain rent in two. It was incomprehensible.
Yet when God tore the veil in two, He welcomed us into the Holy of Holies through the blood of His Perfect Lamb so that we could step inside, both Gentile and Jew! Hebrews 10:20 states, “Just as the veil was torn in two so Jesus’ body was torn to give us access to the Holy of Holies.”
While the physical rending of the curtain was spectacular, Jesus, our sacrificial Substitute bridged the cavernous, impassable gap between Holy God the Father and us. Jesus is now our great High Priest making a forever path to a living, relationship with Him guaranteeing our eternal destination. The Lamb took His place as the Shepherd of our souls.