Easter and the Passover
A matter of life and death
Over the coming weekend, starting on Friday the 30th of March, the Easter Weekend will once again be the focal point of hundreds of millions of men and women around the world as they celebrate the festival. It is to be noted that this year the Easter festival will once again – and rightly so – fall on the same weekend as the Passover festival, the Jewish celebration of the Israelites’ exodus from Egypt.
What actually transpired over that Passover weekend (known as the Easter Weekend in the Christian world, and the term Easter has been used in this article as such) all those 2000 years ago? And how does God actually see it in relation to man? We see images and reenactments taking place all over the world regarding the Crucifixion, but many are not really aware of the actual meaning, or significance that it represents. The reader may, or may not find the event that took place interesting, but the in-depth reality and working of it is certainly enlightening – even soul searching! It is actually profound, and is the one, lone event in history that in one swift swoop, reached down to the hopeless, blackened depths of the foulest smelling pit, and up to the glorious, bright heights and sweet aromas of heaven’s hope.
The Apostle Paul understood it to be of first importance, and the centre of the New Covenant and our salvation, for he wrote in 1 Corinthians 15:1 – 4, “Moreover, brethren, I declare unto you the gospel which I preached unto you, which also ye have received, and wherein ye stand; by which also ye are saved, if ye keep in memory what I preached unto you, unless ye have believed in vain. For I delivered unto you first of all that which I also received, how that Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures; and that he was buried, and that he rose again the third day according to the scriptures.” Prior to this he wrote in 1 Corinthians 2:2, “For I determined not to know anything among you, save Jesus Christ, and him crucified.” [emphasis added]. It is clear that Paul understood this event to have been a deep-rooted and profound occurrence upon which salvation rested. To Paul it was glorious and a new covenant established that would last forever (2 Corinthians 3:7 – 11). And he continues in verse 12, “Seeing then that we have such hope, we use great boldness of speech.” Paul obviously felt that there was much to tell, much to offer, and much for man to understand – all emanating from this one event.
So back to the questions asked at the beginning – what actually transpired over that “Easter Weekend” all those 2000 years ago? And how does God actually see man in relation to it? Let’s scratch the surface of what has such profound and unfathomable depth!
Just to bring you up to speed, if you don’t know much about Jewish history and the Bible, the Easter Weekend is actually an event that took place during the festival of Passover. Passover is a Jewish festival that was instituted by God when He brought the Israelites out of Egypt, about 1500 BC. What few tend to realise, and what is often lost as a result of Easter normally being on a different weekend to Passover – not this year though and the Eastern Orthodox actually stick to the Jewish dates – is that there was no coincidence about the Crucifixion taking place on the day that Passover was observed; there was a direct connection. What is also interesting is that during that time, the governor was in the habit of freeing one of the prisoners, a prisoner of the choice of the people. At that specific time, there was a man by the name of Barabbas in prison and Pontius Pilot, the governor, who wanted to set Jesus free, gave the people the choice of selecting either Jesus, or Barabbas. What is interesting is that Barabbas’ first name was Jesus – Jesus Barabbas – and Barabbas actually means son of the father (Bar = son; Abba = father). Coincidence? Some may say so, but I see it as rather significant that the people were actually given the chance to choose between Jesus the son of the father, and Jesus the Son of the Father.
It goes as follows:
(Note: Pharaoh would not let the Israelites depart from their captivity, and what followed, were the Ten Plagues, with the final plague being what is known as the Passover).
Exodus 12:3, 5–8, 12–14, 21–23 says the following, “Tell the whole community of Israel that on the tenth day of this month each man is to take a lamb for his family, one for each household. The animals you choose must be year-old males without defect, and you may take them from the sheep or the goats. Take care of them until the fourteenth day of the month, when all the people of the community of Israel must slaughter them at twilight. Then they are to take some of the blood and put it on the sides and tops of the doorframes of the houses where they eat the lambs. That same night they are to eat the meat roasted over the fires along with bitter herbs, and bread made without yeast. On that same night I will pass through Egypt and strike down every firstborn – both men and animals – and I will bring judgement on all the gods of Egypt. I am the LORD. The blood will be a sign for you on the houses where you are; and when I see the blood, I will pass over you. No destructive plague will touch you when I strike Egypt. This is a day you are to commemorate; for the generations to come you shall celebrate it as a festival to the LORD – a lasting ordinance. Then Moses summoned all the elders of Israel and said to them, ‘Go at once and select the animals for your families and slaughter the Passover lamb. Take a bunch of hyssop, dip it into the blood in the basin and put some of the blood on the top and on both sides of the doorframe. Not one of you shall go out of the door of his house until morning. When the LORD goes through the land to strike down the Egyptians, He will see the blood on the top and sides of the doorframe and will pass over that doorway, and He will not permit the destroyer to enter your houses and strike you down.’” One of the Passover restrictions found further along in this passage is – “Do not break any of the bones [of the lamb].” (Exodus 12:46b).
What does this have to do with Jesus and the Crucifixion?
The answer is – everything! You see, it was the lamb’s blood that was placed on the house as a covering; it was the lamb’s blood that was put at three places on the doorframe, which would have dripped down onto the ground like what would have been the case on the Cross; it was the lamb’s blood that spared their lives; and it was the acceptance of the sacrificial lamb that led the people out of bondage and into the promised land, the land of abundance and freedom. It was to be a celebration that marked a new beginning, a new chapter, a new life for the Israelites, and it was to be a lasting ordinance for every generation to come.
John 1:26–27, 29–36 tells us the following, ‘“I baptise with water,” John [the Baptist] replied, “but among you stands one you do not know. He is the one who comes after me, the thongs of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie.” The next day John saw Jesus coming towards him and said, “Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world! This is the one I meant when I said, ‘A man who comes after me has surpassed me because he was before me.’ I myself did not know him but the reason I came baptising with water was that he might be revealed to Israel.” Then John [the Baptist] gave this testimony: “I saw the Spirit come down from heaven as a dove and remain on him. I would not have known him, except that the one who sent me to baptise with water told me, ‘The man on whom you see the Spirit come down and remain is He who will baptise with the Holy Spirit.’ I have seen and I testify that this is the Son of God.” The next day John [the Baptist] was there again with two of his disciples. When he saw Jesus passing by, he said, “Look, the Lamb of God!”’
Matthew 26:17–19, 26–29 says the following, “On the first day of the Feast of Unleavened Bread, the disciples came to Jesus and asked, ‘Where do you want us to make preparations for you to eat the Passover?’ 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.”’ So the disciples did as Jesus had directed them and prepared the Passover. While they were eating, Jesus took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to his disciples, saying, “Take and eat; this is my body.” Then He took the cup, gave thanks and offered it to them, saying, “Drink from it, all of you. This is my blood of the new covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.” Luke 22:19, 20 puts it in a slightly different way when it says, “And He took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to them saying, ‘This is my body given for you; do this in remembrance of me.’ In the same way, after the supper He took the cup, saying, ‘This cup is the new covenant in my blood, which is poured out for you.’”
In parts of Revelation (chapter 5:1–6a, 7, 9, 11a, 12–13) the following is recorded, “Then I saw in the right hand of Him who sat on the throne a scroll with writing on both sides and sealed with seven seals. And I saw a mighty angel proclaiming in a loud voice, ‘Who is worthy to break the seals and open the scroll?’ But no-one in heaven or on earth or under the earth could open the scroll or even look inside it. I wept and wept because no-one was found who was worthy to open the scroll or look inside. Then one of the elders said to me, ‘Do not weep! See, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has triumphed. He is able to open the scroll and its seven seals.’ Then I saw a Lamb, looking as if it had been slain, standing in the centre of the throne. He came and took the scroll from the right hand of Him who sat on the throne. And they sang a new song: ‘You are worthy to take the scroll and to open the seals, because you were slain, and with your blood you purchased men for God from every tribe and language and people and nation.’ Then I looked and heard the voice of many angels, numbering thousands upon thousands, and ten thousand times ten thousand. In a loud voice they sang: ‘Worthy is the Lamb, who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and strength and honour and glory and praise!’ Then I heard every creature in heaven and earth and under the earth and on the sea, and all that is in them, singing: ‘To Him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb be praise and honour and glory and power, for ever and ever!’”
Not one of the lamb’s bones were to be broken (Passover restriction) and John 19:31–34, 36 tells us the following, “Now it was the day of Preparation, and the next day was to be a special Sabbath. Because the Jews did not want the bodies left on the crosses during the Sabbath, they asked Pilate to have the legs broken and the bodies taken down. The soldiers therefore came and broke the legs of the first man who had been crucified with Jesus, and then those of the other. But when they came to Jesus and found that he was already dead, they did not break his legs. Instead, one of the soldiers pierced Jesus’ side with a spear, bringing a sudden flow of blood and water. These things happened so that the Scripture would be fulfilled, ‘Not one of his bones will be broken’ and, as another Scripture [Zechariah 12:10] says, ‘They will look on the one they have pierced.’”
So you have God instituting the celebration of a new beginning, a new freedom; a new life through the sacrifice of a lamb. You have John the Baptist proclaiming the true Lamb of God. You have Jesus revealing to His disciples the purpose of what He was to be, and you have the angels in heaven praising the glory of the risen Lamb, His work and accomplishment, and equality with God on the throne. What we have to ask is – would God give his glory to another, and would angels dare to bow down and worship him who was not God, or proclaim that which was false? Indeed not, on all accounts! So the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David – the Messiah, is also revealed as the Lamb who was slain.
So how does it all fit in, and what does God think of us in light of the Crucifixion?
Crucifixion of Jesus
Mark 15:15–20 says the following, “Wanting to satisfy the crowd, Pilate released Barabbas to them. He had Jesus flogged, and handed Him over to be crucified. The soldiers led Jesus away into the palace (that is the Praetorium) and called together the whole company of soldiers. They put a purple robe on Him, then wove a crown of thorns and set it on Him. And they began to call out to Him, ‘Hail, King of the Jews!’ Again and again they struck Him on the head with a staff and spat on Him. Falling on their knees, they worshipped Him. And when they had mocked Him, they took off the purple robe and put his own clothes on Him. Then they led Him out to crucify Him.” This is not a pretty spectacle, and who was Barabbas? Barabbas was an insurrectionist, a murderer. The people chose an insurrectionist, a murderer, over the Messiah, the Saviour.
So, how does God see us in the light of this? If you had to appear before God the Father, what would you say to Him if He asked you why He should let you into Heaven?
- “God,” you may say, “have you seen my morals and all my community and social standing? I am well looked up to by everyone.” In light of the Crucifixion, God would tell you the following: “Next to you I’d rather have Barabbas! Your conduct before me is so disgraceful that My Son had to be crucified, and Barabbas, an insurrectionist, a murderer, remained behind.”
- “What about my dominion, God? My authority, my kingship, my sphere of activity?” you may ask. In light of the Crucifixion, God would tell you the following: “You are a fallen king, spit on him, slap him in the face with an open palm.” (It is an absolute insult to be so slapped). “Put a reed in his hand; you’re a mockery of a king.”
- “What about the burden I carry for my family, my work, my country?” you may say. In light of the Crucifixion, God would tell you the following: “Flog him!”
- “What about my physical beauty, God? I’m a pure work of art.” you may ask and say. In light of the Crucifixion, God would tell you the following: “Just as there were many who were appalled at Him – His appearance was so disfigured beyond that of any man and His form marred beyond human likeness.” (taken from Isaiah 52:14. This was what Jesus looked like when they had finished beating him up!) “Your beauty will not stand.”
- “What about my college and university degrees, God? What about my intellect? Don’t you think I’m brilliant? Don’t you think I’m smart?” you may ask and say. In light of the Crucifixion, God would tell you the following: “A crown of thorns for him, pressed down over his mind so that the blood gushes out. Thorns are a judgement, and the carnal mind is under my judgement.” (We need to remember that thorns were a curse that God pronounced upon the earth, because of Adam’s sin, and Jesus took upon his head that very curse of sin).
- “What about the good works of my hands, God?” you may ask. In light of the Crucifixion, God would tell you the following: “Nail his hands to the cross!”
- “What about my walk before man and you, God?” you may continue to plea and ask. In light of the Crucifixion, God would tell you the following: “Nail his feet to the cross?”
- “What about my modesty, God? I’m really a humble person.” you ask and claim. In light of the Crucifixion, God would tell you the following: “Strip him naked and divide his garment, until all that is really in him is revealed.”
- “What about my emotions, my affections, God? I have in a way loved you.” you ask and claim further. In light of the Crucifixion, God would tell you the following: “The words of Jeremiah are true – ‘The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it?’ (Jeremiah 17:9). I the LORD search the heart and examine the mind, to reward a man according to his conduct, according to what his deeds deserve (Jeremiah 17:10). Take the spear and pierce his side.” Note: The sword pierced Jesus’ pericardium, which is the membranous sac enclosing the heart.
- As a last resort, you may appeal to God’s love as the world so impressively does. “How am I to be accepted in your presence then, God? Do you not love me?” you ask. In light of the Crucifixion, God would tell you the following: “Take him away! Take him away! Crucify him!” (the very words spoken by the people; taken from John 19:15).
Praise God, we have a hope. Romans 6:23 tells us that the wages of sin is death, but that the gift of God is eternal life through Christ Jesus our Lord. Romans 10:9, 10 qualifies and says, “That if you confess with your mouth, ‘Jesus is Lord’ and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved. For it is with the heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you confess and are saved.” Please note, this is not just a once-off declaration, it’s a way of life – the outward words and working of what the heart inwardly believes. And the apostle Peter tells us in Acts 3:19 to repent and turn to God, so that our sins may be wiped out.
For more than 1500 years from the time of the exodus from Egypt up until the time of Jesus, the Israelites were practising the Passover festival. God had given them a practical explanation of what was to come, what was going to be done, and the spiritual salvation He would bring to them and the world. The anniversary date of when the Israelites went into captivity, the very anniversary date of when the Israelites came out of captivity, and the very anniversary date on which the Lamb of God was slain for the redemption of man are the same. Had the Israelites not accepted the sacrificial lamb and had they not applied the blood of the lamb to their doorframes, they would not have been spared by God.
God requires us in the same way to accept the sacrificial Lamb of God and to come under the covering of His blood, otherwise we will not be spared by God. Romans 5:12 tells us that sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all men, because all sinned. Later verses from the same chapter (verses 18, 19) say the following, “Consequently, just as the result of one trespass was condemnation for all men, so also the result of one act of righteousness was justification that brings life for all men. For just as through the disobedience of the one man the many were made sinners, so also through the obedience of the one man the many will be made righteous.”
No man on the face of this earth, from Adam to the present, could have paid the price or made the sacrifice, except Jesus Christ. Why not? Because there has never been a man on the face of this earth (nor will be) who has been sinless, except Jesus Christ. Death entered the world though sin, so how could a sinful man bring about life? He could not, but Jesus was sinless, so the curse of death could not rule over Him. Romans 3:23 tells us that all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. The preceding verse (3:22) says the following, “This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe.” Jesus himself said, “I am the way the truth and the life. No-one comes to the Father except through me.” (John 14:6).
A man who was in hospital for a check-up was speaking to a nurse about the issue of salvation. She asked the man the following question, “What have I done that is so bad that God will send me to hell?” The point is that it is not just an issue of bad, but an issue of righteousness. Isaiah 64:6 tells us that all of us have become like one who is unclean, and that all our righteous acts are like filthy rags. Before God, we cannot stand on our own, no matter what we have or have not done, how much money we have or give, or how clever or educated we are. Before God, we are like one who is unclean and our righteous acts are like filthy rags. The biggest problem is that the world measures it all by its own yardstick, not by God’s, and this leaves man in a dangerous place of false security – we dare not do it!
The New Covenant
As a result of the shed blood of the Passover lamb, the Israelites were spared, brought out of Egypt by God’s mighty hand of deliverance, and the Covenant of the letter (the Ten Commandments) was established. As a result of the shed blood of the Lamb of God, the New Covenant (of the Spirit) was established. Both were glorious, but the New Covenant most glorious as it is an everlasting covenant that brings life. In 2 Corinthians 3:4 – 11 Paul explains it thus: “Such confidence as this is ours through Christ before God. Not that we are competent to claim anything for ourselves, but our competence comes from God. He has made us competent as ministers of a new covenant – not of the letter but of the Spirit; for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life. Now if the ministry that brought death, which was engraved in letters on stone, came with glory, so that the Israelites could not look steadily at the face of Moses because of its glory, fading though it was, will not the ministry of the Spirit be even more glorious? If the ministry that condemns men is glorious, how much more glorious is the ministry that brings righteousness! For what was glorious has no glory now in comparison with the surpassing glory. And if what was fading away came with glory, how much greater is the glory of that which lasts!”
On the day Moses came down from Mount Sinai with the two tablets of stone, about 3000 Israelites died as a result of their disobedience. Moses threw down and smashed into pieces the two tablets, because of the great sin of the people (Exodus 32:19, 28). But on the day the Spirit was poured out, following the resurrection of Jesus, about 3000 Jews from every nation under heaven were added to the church, for they accepted Peter’s message and repented (Acts 2:41). This is significant, but as 2 Corinthians 3:6 says, “the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life.”
Matthew 27:50, 51 tells us, “Jesus, when he had cried again with a loud voice, yielded up the ghost. And, behold, the veil of the temple was rent in twain from the top to the bottom; and the earth did quake, and the rocks rent.” In the temple there was a special curtain, a veil, that separated the holy place from the Holy of Holies (the Most Holy Place) – the place where God dwelt. Only the high priest could go in to the Holy of Holies, and that being only once a year, and never without blood, which he offered for himself and for the sins the people had committed in ignorance (Hebrews 9:7; Leviticus 16:11 – 17). The veil separated man from God, just as sin had separated man from God. However, when Jesus had paid the price for our sins, the veil was rent. It was rent from the top to the bottom, not from the bottom to the top. This is very significant as it reveals two aspects: a) that it could not have been done by human hands, as the veil was very high, and man would have torn it from the bottom up, and b) the veil was rent from the Top (from above) – the separation between man and God was removed by a sovereign work that God alone had done, not by a work that man had done. The veil that separated had been rent, severed forever by the eternal working of the eternal God, once for all (Romans 6:10), and for all eternity. As Jesus said with his dying breath, “It is finished.” (John 19:30). And as Psalm 22:31 says, “They will proclaim his righteousness to a people yet unborn – for he has done it.”
In one Sovereign act, righteousness, justice and mercy fused together. Righteousness, because God’s righteous standard could accept no less than a perfect sacrifice. Justice, because God’s justice system demands the retribution for sin, and would not overlook it. And mercy, because God so loved the world that he gave His one and only Son, knowing that we could not pay the high price ourselves.
Derek Prince summed it up concisely in the ten points as titled, The exchange at the Cross.
- Jesus was punished that we might be forgiven. (Isaiah 53:4 – 5)
- Jesus was wounded that we might be healed. (Isaiah 53:10)
- Jesus was made sin with our sinfulness that we might be made righteous with His righteousness. (2 Corinthians 5:21)
- Jesus died our death that we might receive His life. (Hebrews 2:9)
- Jesus was made a curse that we might enter into the blessing. (Galatians 3:13 – 14)
- Jesus endured our poverty that we might share His abundance. (2 Corinthians 8:9; 9:8)
- Jesus bore our shame that we might share His glory. (Matthew 27:46 – 51)
- Jesus endured our rejection that we might have His acceptance with the Father. (Ephesians 1:5,6)
- Jesus was cut off by death that we might be joined to God eternally. (Isaiah 53:8; 1 Corinthians 6:17)
- Our old man was put to death in Him that the new man might come to life in us. (Romans 6:6; Colossians 3:9 – 10)
In the new covenant, through Christ Jesus, our separation from God has been removed, and as Ephesians 3:12 tells us, “In him [Jesus] and through faith in him [Jesus] we may approach God with freedom and confidence.” Paul further tells us in 2 Corinthians 3:12 – 16, “Therefore, since we have such a hope, we are very bold. We are not like Moses, who would put a veil over his face to keep the Israelites from gazing at it while the radiance was fading away. But their minds were made dull, for to this day the same veil remains when the old covenant is read. It has not been removed, because only in Christ is it taken away. Even to this day when Moses is read, a veil covers their hearts. But whenever anyone turns to the Lord, the veil is taken away.”
Praise be to God for, “He has not despised or disdained the suffering of the afflicted one.” (Psalm 22:24), and “The stone the builders rejected has become the capstone; the LORD has done this and it is marvelous in our eyes. This is the day the LORD has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it.” (Psalm 118:22 – 24).
And Paul’s prayer: “That Christ may dwell in your hearts by faith; that ye, being rooted and grounded in love, may be able to comprehend with all saints what is the breadth, and length, and depth, and height; and to know the love of Christ, which passeth knowledge, that ye might be filled with all the fullness of God.” (Ephesians 3:17 – 19).
We often see ourselves as glorified beings, but evidently not in the eyes of God, who sees us as fallible and fallen men. We are always the ones to make our choices, as we have to live with the outcomes and consequences. The danger though, comes in when we do not fully comprehend what the issues are, or what is at stake. Let us not shortchange the effects and consequence of sin – it took the very life of God the Son to make reparation for it!
For the unbeliever (non-Christian):
Barabbas was an insurrectionist and a murderer, but the people wanted him freed. The devil is also an insurrectionist and a murderer. We, today, stand as those people did two thousand years ago and are asked to make the same choice. Who are we embracing? Who are we calling to be crucified? Who are we shouting for? Who do we want to lead us? Are we going to turn our backs on Christ and reject Him as well, or are we going to recognise our need for Jesus as our Saviour, acknowledge the accomplished work of the Cross, and accept and embrace Him, the Gift of God?
For the religious:
Whenever I see the festival scenes at Easter time, I usually wonder how many of those partaking in all the festivities and reenactments are actually cognisant of the above mentioned aspect regarding the implications of the Crucifixion? And do they actually know Christ, and are known by Christ? Or are their celebrations and reenactments just a false hope and a religious deception in the vain attempt to conjure favour with God and pay “penance” for sins? Is it all a false humility that just justifies us in our own eyes?
During the observances and celebrations of Easter and the Passover, may the veil that dulls be removed, and the eyes of as many unbelievers and blinded religious as possible be opened, amongst both Jew and Gentile – that the truth of Christ may be revealed and hearts rent, bringing true repentance and everlasting life.
To God be the glory, honour and praise through Jesus Christ our Lord – for He has done it!