This week we will read about the
incredible plagues God brings upon the Egyptians as Pharaoh refuses to release
the Hebrews from slavery. At their
climax comes the tenth and final plague; on one dreadful night, every firstborn will die. The events of this night are so momentous
that God resets the Hebrew calendar around it.
God provides a means of protection from this plague to his people. He gives them very specific instructions that must be carried out to ensure their deliverance. At the center is the bloody death of a helpless victim. During this one night, in one place, divine judgment is coming down – a temporary, preliminary, and devastating Judgment Day. For the Hebrews, only one thing is going to protect them – a lamb.
Some have said that this is part of a Bible-long story of the lamb, in which there are many chapters. The first we saw a few weeks ago in Genesis 22, where God provided a ram for Abraham to sacrifice instead of Isaac. In Scripture, we see a clear progression where the animal sacrificed serves as a representative for larger and larger groups of people. First, in the case of Abraham and Isaac, God provides one animal for one person. Then, in the Passover account, He provides one lamb for one household. Later, we will read about the Day of Atonement, where one animal represents the sins of the entire nation of Israel. And what comes next?
Centuries later, John the Baptist sees Jesus and exclaims, “Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world!” (John 1:29). John recognizes that here is the Lamb of which all other lambs have only been a picture. So, we see that this first Passover night is a stunning foreshadowing about Christ and his redemption. Paul writes “…Christ, our Passover Lamb has been sacrificed” (1 Cor. 5:7b). Jesus is the true Passover Lamb.
Notice the details God uses. First, at the Passover, each household had to use a lamb that was perfect, without blemish. Moses later warns them, “You shall not offer anything that has a blemish, for it will not be acceptable for you…Animals blind or disabled or mutilated or having a discharge or itch or scabs you shall not offer to the LORD.” (Lev. 22:20, 22). The only sacrifice acceptable to God had to be pure and spotless. For Jesus to be the Passover lamb, he also had to meet God’s standard to perfection. We know from the New Testament writers that Jesus was utterly sinless, morally flawless (I Pet. 2:22, Heb. 4:15).
Another important detail is when Jesus was crucified—during the Passover feast. In fact, the day Jesus made his triumphal entry into Jerusalem was the same day lambs were driven into the city. On the night he is betrayed, Jesus celebrates the Passover meal with his disciples and uses it as a way of explaining his impending death to them. They are in for several big shocks. When he stands up as the presider over the meal (a role usually filled by the father), they expect him to say, “This is the bread of our affliction. Our ancestors suffered in the wilderness so that we could be free.” Instead, he says “This bread is my body.” In other words, “This bread is the bread of my affliction. I’m going to suffer to give you the ultimate freedom, freedom from the bondage of sin and death itself.”
Notice the second big surprise. The Passover meal had three essential elements: the unleavened bread, the cups of wine, and the lamb. Jesus is breaking the bread and pouring the wine, but where is the lamb? In the gospels, we see no reference to a lamb. What kind of Passover meal could there be with no lamb on the table? What if no lamb is on the table because the Lamb is at the table? Jesus is, in essence, saying to them, “Tonight I am the lamb. My death is the central event to which all of history has been moving. This night is really a night unlike all other nights.”
Later, note that Jesus was crucified late in the afternoon. The Passover instructions said lambs would be sacrificed at twilight, the time when Christ was dying. Across Jerusalem, fathers were telling their families “God has provided a lamb for us” as they prepared to make offerings. The high priest was preparing a lamb as an atonement sacrifice for all of Israel’s sin. At the same time, Jesus was hanging on the cross with His blood pouring out. The Lamb of God was taking away the sins of the world. Notice the Passover instructions that the lambs must have no bones broken; John’s gospel even tells us that Jesus had no bones broken upon his death (John 19:33).
Next, on the first Passover night, once the lamb was slaughtered, its blood was to be painted on the door frames. To the Hebrews, the blood signified that they had a substitute, that a lamb had died in the place of their firstborn. Death passed over them because they were under the blood. When they looked up at their doorposts, they saw they had a covering for their sin. When God looked down, he saw the blood and death passed over that household. Paul writes of how Jesus shed his blood for our sins: “In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses” (Eph 1:7). Peter writes, “You were ransomed…with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without blemish or spot” (1 Pet. 1:18-19). And John writes, “The blood of Jesus cleanses us from all unrighteousness” (1 Jn 1:7). When we look up at the cross, we see that payment has been made for our sin. And when God looks down at the cross? He sees it stained with the blood of his very own firstborn Son. Essentially he says, “The price for sin is fully paid. Death will pass over you, and you will be safe evermore.”
The ancient Hebrews were brought out of slavery into redemption and freedom covered by the blood of a sacrificed lamb. Jesus became the sacrificial lamb for all
As we read about the first Passover this week, let’s follow John the Baptist’s admonition and truly behold the Lamb of God. Truly behold — gaze on him, meditate on what he has done for us, and let it transform us. He has covered our sin for all eternity with his sacrificial blood, all out of pure love. What a reason to worship the Lamb!
Click below to access a 6-minute video that gives a modern Messianic Jewish perspective on the Passover:
Yeshua, Our Passover Lamb
Written by: Jennifer Harris
Photo Credit: Francisco de Zurbaran
Sources: Exodus: Saved for God’s Glory, Philip Graham Ryken
“The Story of the Lamb,” Timothy Keller