The Messiah Would Be the Passover Lamb

The Messiah would be the Passover lamb

Reference: Exodus 12:1–51
Fulfillment: John 1:29, 36; 19:33, 36; 1 Corinthians 5:7–8; 1 Peter 1:19

Passover is the most foundational holiday on the Jewish calendar because it commemorates the freeing of our people from 400 years of slavery to Pharaoh and our beginnings as a nation. So important was the Exodus from Egypt, that it became a theme found throughout the Old and New Testaments.

For example, in Joshua 4:23–24, the parting of the Jordan River is explicitly compared to the parting of the Red Sea: “For the Lord your God dried up the waters of the Jordan for you until you passed over, as the Lord your God did to the Red Sea, which he dried up for us until we passed over, so that all the peoples of the earth may know that the hand of the Lord is mighty, that you may fear the Lord your God forever.” And those verses use the same words: “mighty” and “hand” as found in the stories of the Exodus (such as Exodus 3:19, Deuteronomy 4:34).

Looking to the future, the great prophets of Israel also used the Exodus to speak of a similar deliverance from exile and more. Ezekiel 20:33–34 speaks of God’s future deliverance “with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm,” the exact phrase originally used of the Exodus from Egypt.

Jeremiah 16:14–15 even speaks of a time coming when the future deliverance will outshadow the first Exodus:

“Therefore, behold, the days are coming, declares the Lord, when it shall no longer be said, ‘As the Lord lives who brought up the people of Israel out of the land of Egypt,’ but ‘As the Lord lives who brought up the people of Israel out of the north country and out of all the countries where he had driven them.’ For I will bring them back to their own land that I gave to their fathers.”

Isaiah says much the same thing when he compares the return from exile in Babylon to the first Exodus: “Thus says the Lord, who makes a way in the sea, a path in the mighty waters, who brings forth chariot and horse, army and warrior; they lie down, they cannot rise, they are extinguished, quenched like a wick” (Isaiah 43:16–17). Here, the “way in the sea” and the destruction of the chariots and horses are clear echoes of the Exodus. Then, expressing a thought similar to Jeremiah, Isaiah adds, “Remember not the former things, nor consider the things of old. Behold, I am doing a new thing” (Isaiah 43:18–19).

Jewish tradition saw the first Exodus replayed in “a higher key” in the return of the exiles from Babylon and also in the ultimate coming of the Messiah to deliver Israel. A common sentiment has been, “As the first deliverer, so the last deliverer.” In other words, as Moses was, so the Messiah will be. This idea appears numerous times with variations. For example, the midrash Pirqe de-Rabbi Eliezer says, “Just as the first Deliverer was, so will the last Deliverer be. As Scripture says about the first Deliverer: ‘Moses took his wife and his sons, setting them upon on an ass’ (Exod. 4:20), so also the last Deliverer: ‘Lowly and riding on an ass’ (Zech. 9:9).”[1]

As did Jewish tradition, the New Testament uses the same Exodus imagery to point to its fulfillment in Yeshua the Messiah. The very vocabulary used to talk about Yeshua’s death is drawn right from the Exodus: redemption, deliverance, slavery, freedom, ransom. The power of God seen in the Exodus is seen also in Jesus’ ministry. Luke 11:20 reads, “But if it is by the finger of God that I cast out demons, then the kingdom of God has come upon you.” In Exodus 8:19 (v. 15 in the Hebrew), when the Egyptian magicians could not duplicate the plague of gnats, they said to Pharaoh, “This is the finger of God.” The same power of God seen in the Exodus was seen in the ministry of Jesus.

One of the most pervasive images in the New Testament is that of Jesus as our Passover lamb. Recall the story from the book of Exodus. A perfect lamb had to be selected, set aside for several days, then killed and its blood put on the doorposts of the Israelites’ homes so that they would be spared the tenth plague: death of the firstborn.

John the Baptist twice referred to Jesus as a “lamb”: “The next day he saw Jesus coming toward him, and said, ‘Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!’” (John 1:29) and “He looked at Jesus as he walked by and said, ‘Behold, the Lamb of God!’” (John 1:36).

Later in John’s gospel we read:

When they [the Roman soldiers] came to Jesus and saw that he was already dead, they did not break his legs. But one of the soldiers pierced his side with a spear, and at once there came out blood and water. He who saw it has borne witness – his testimony is true, and he knows that he is telling the truth – that you also may believe. For these things took place that the Scripture might be fulfilled: “Not one of his bones will be broken.” (John 19:33–36)

When Exodus explains the laws of Passover, it includes this stipulation: “You shall not break any of its bones” (Exodus 12:46). This is repeated in Numbers 9:12: “They shall leave none of it until the morning, nor break any of its bones; according to all the statute for the Passover they shall keep it.” In a very direct way, John compares Jesus to the lamb of Passover; his body was treated the same way as that of the Passover lamb – although unintentionally on the part of the Roman soldiers! In addition, John may be alluding to Psalm 34:19–20 (vv. 20–21 in the Hebrew): “Many are the afflictions of the righteous, but the Lord delivers him out of them all. He keeps all his bones; not one of them is broken.” Not only is Jesus the lamb of Passover, but he is righteous – and was delivered from his afflictions of death by his resurrection.

Writing to a gentile congregation, Paul underscores this when he says, “Cleanse out the old leaven that you may be a new lump, as you really are unleavened. For [Messiah], our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed. Let us therefore celebrate the festival, not with the old leaven, the leaven of malice and evil, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth” (1 Corinthians 5:7–8). The greater Exodus that the Messiah accomplishes benefits not only Israel but the nations of the world as well.

Reflect for a moment on the parallels between the lamb of the book of Exodus and Yeshua.

The Passover lamb had to be perfect: “Your lamb shall be without blemish” (Exodus 12:5). Yeshua was perfect because he was sinless: “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin” (Hebrews 4:15).

The Israelites were slaves to Pharaoh. Yeshua says we are all slaves to sin: “Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who practices sin is a slave to sin” (John 8:34).

The tenth plague from which the Passover lamb saved the Israelites was death: “At midnight the Lord struck down all the firstborn in the land of Egypt, from the firstborn of Pharaoh who sat on his throne to the firstborn of the captive who was in the dungeon, and all the firstborn of the livestock” (Exodus 12:29). Paul writes that our sin leads to death: “For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in [Messiah Yeshua] our Lord” (Romans 6:23).

The Israelites who applied the blood of the Passover lamb were spared that death: “When I see the blood, I will pass over you, and no plague will befall you to destroy you, when I strike the land of Egypt” (Exodus 12:13). The blood of Yeshua, the greater Passover lamb, spares us from death: “In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses” (Ephesians 1:7); and “… in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins” (Colossians 1:14).

The original Exodus was the template for the greater Exodus that took place when Yeshua the Messiah became our Passover lamb. Whether you are Jewish or not, you can have a Passover in your own life Through Yeshua, God brings us out of oppression, delivers us from slavery to sin, redeems us with his great power and takes us to be his people (see Exodus 6:6–7: the four verbs associated with the Exodus from Egypt that are emphasized during the annual Passover service).

And so we move from slavery to freedom; from darkness to light; from death to life; and from brokenness to wholeness. That’s some Passover!

[1] Cited in Herbert W. Basser, The Mind Behind the Gospels: A Commentary to Matthew 1–14 (Boston: Academic Studies Press, 2009), 50.

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