One of the ways God ordered Israel’s life so that it would point to Him as their true God and away from foreign gods (who are not gods at all), was to arrange their weeks and months around spiritually significant events. So the sabbath (Saturday) was a remembrance of creation and the setting aside of a day of rest to reflect God’s ceasing from creating. It would remind Israelites that they can depend on God to take care of them even if they cease from work one day a week.
The festivals or feasts of Israel accomplished the same thing. They commemorated spiritually significant events and meanings in Israel’s history to remind them of God’s great salvation. Passover is the first of these feasts and reminds them of the deliverance from bondage in Egypt. Exodus 12 is the key passage for this festival, but it is also discussed in Leviticus 23 and Numbers 28.
This feast was established while Israel was still in Egypt. After God had sent nine plagues on Egypt and Pharaoh had still refused to let the people go into the wilderness to worship Yahweh, Yahweh told the Israelites to consider the seventh month they were in, Nisan, to be the first month of their spiritual calendar year. He told them to take an unblemished lamb or goat on the 10th of the month and hold it for four days (presumably to make sure it is healthy and without blemish) and then slaughter it on the 14th of Nisan at twilight, spread its blood on their doorposts, and then eat the entire animal that night in preparation to leave Egypt the next day.
The feast is called Passover because on this night Yahweh was going to visit death upon the firstborn of every household except those with the sacrificed animal’s blood on them. These He would “pass over” and spare. The 14th-21st of Nisan were to be sabbath days, the only work allowed being preparing and cooking the sacrifice. They were to be observed by the elimination of leaven or yeast from the bread dough. Hence it was called the Feast of Unleavened Bread and immediately followed the Passover feast.
This perpetual celebration was an opportunity annually to instruct each other, especially one’s children, concerning Yahweh’s deliverance of Israel from slavery and the power and justice of God in bringing punishment on Israel’s enemy. Special instructions were given to observe this feast and all who were able were to come to the place Yahweh picked to observe the feast each year. The place He eventually picked was Jerusalem.
John the Baptist later shows part of the anticipation this feast was expected to generate when he identifies Jesus as the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world (John 1:29), and Paul does the same when he calls him “Christ, our Passover lamb” (1 Corinthians 5:7). The animal whose blood had to be shed to deliver the Israelites from Yahweh’s wrath on their firstborn foreshadowed the only sacrifice that could take away our guilt and satisfy God’s wrath, Jesus the eternal God who added a human nature. He too was spotless and His blood has kept us from death as we trusted in His sacrifice to cover our guilt.
Many Jews have used Passover as a time of prayer for the coming of the Messiah. We believe that He has indeed already come and is coming again. It is the passover meal which Jesus celebrated with his disciples the night he was arrested. He told them he would not eat it with them again until he returned in his kingdom. Passover represents our initial redemption from the bondage of our sin and of Satan. We are in a perpetual experience of the benefits of this salvation purchased in Christ and are in a spiritual sense now observing the Feast of Unleavened Bread as we live in the world but don’t become influenced by its mindset of self-redemption. We celebrate now not the freedom from Egypt but the freedom purchased at the cross by the resurrected Jesus.
[See this article on the history of Passover observance]
- Are we wrong not to celebrate Passover and Succoth? (askthepastors.wordpress.com)