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Keeping the Festival of Passover

“This is a day to remember.  Each year, from generation to generation, you must celebrate it as a special festival to the LORD.  This is a law for all time.”  (Exodus 12:14)

Pesach (Passover) is one of the most widely kept Jewish holidays.


Passover at the Western (Wailing) Wall in Jerusalem.

In homes and synagogues in Israel and around the world, the Jewish People will celebrate the Exodus of the Israelites from ancient Egypt over 3300 years ago.

With family and friends gathered around the table, God’s miraculous, divine rescue operation to deliver the ancient Israelites from oppression, bondage and slavery will be told at the Passover Seder, a special ritual meal held on the first two nights of Passover.

The traditions of retelling the Passover story originate in this Biblical command:

“When you enter the land that the Lord will give you as He promised, observe this ceremony.  And when your children ask you, ‘What does this ceremony mean to you?’ then tell them, ‘It is the Passover sacrifice to the Lord, who passed over the houses of the Israelites in Egypt and spared our homes when He struck down the Egyptians.’”  (Exodus 12:25–27)

That story will be recounted using a special book called the Haggadah (telling).

Everyone present will once again hear how God confronted Pharaoh through Moses, telling him, “Let My people go, so that they may worship Me.”  (Exodus 8:1) 


A Jewish man reads from the Passover Haggadah during the Seder.

Passover: The Feast of Unleavened Bread

The name “Passover” is derived from the tenth plague—the Death of the Firstborn—that fell on Egypt when Pharaoh refused to let the Israelites go.

For the tenth plague to skip the Jewish People, God told them to slaughter a lamb and mark their doorposts with its blood so that the destroyer would know to “pass over” that home.

“When I see the blood, I will pass over you.”  (Exodus 12:13)

In this tenth and final plague, Jewish (and Egyptian) firstborns were only spared by the blood of the lamb when it was applied to the doorposts of their homes in obedience to God’s instruction.

“The blood shall be a sign for you on the houses where you live; and 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)

Foreseeing their speedy deliverance after this final plague, God also instructed them to prepare unleavened bread as there was no time for the bread to rise, which is why this weeklong feast is also called the Festival of Unleavened Bread.  (Exodus 12:15)

“Celebrate the Festival of Unleavened Bread, because it was on this very day that I brought your divisions out of Egypt.  Celebrate this day as a lasting ordinance for the generations to come.”  (Exodus 12:17) 


Karnak Temple in Luxor, Egypt: the avenue of ram-headed sphinxes, a symbol of the god Amun.  Each one is holding a statue of the Rameses II in its paws.  Because sheep were associated with several Egyptian deities, the sacrifice of a lamb at the First Passover would have been interpreted as a humiliation of these false gods.

Judgment Through Plague

God determined that He would deliver His people from bondage in Egypt and judged those who stood in the way of His plan.

“So I will stretch out my hand and strike the Egyptians with all the wonders that I will perform among them.  After that, he will let you go.”  (Exodus 3:20)

God poured out His wrath upon Pharaoh and the Egyptians in the form of the Ten Plagues (Eser Hamakot).

Each of the Ten Plagues proved the supremacy of YHVH, the one true God, over all the false “gods” of Egypt.

Death of Pharaoh's Firstborn Son-Lawrence Alma Tadema

Death of Pharaoh’s Firstborn Son, by Lawrence Alma Tadema

The first plague, for example, was Dam (Blood).

When God commanded Moses to lift up his rod over the Nile River and all the water turned to blood, He humiliated the many gods of the Nile that the Egyptians worshiped, such as Osiris, god of the underworld; Sobek, the crocodile god; and Khnum, guardian of the Nile.

Likewise, each one of the plagues dramatically demonstrated the power of the living God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, over Egypt’s false gods and the deceptive demons of darkness behind them.  (Revelation 16:13–14)

Interestingly, in the end-time battle, when the world is caught up in worshiping the anti-Messiah, some of the same plagues that were poured out on Egypt will be repeated as God pours out His judgment: blood, hail, darkness, and painful sores.

“The first angel went and poured out his bowl on the land.  Ugly and painful sores broke out on the people who had the mark of the beast and worshiped his statue.  The second angel poured out his bowl on the sea.  It turned into blood like the blood of a dead person.  Every living thing in the sea died….”  (Revelation 16:2–4) 

Orthodox Jewish-Matzah-Passover

An Orthodox Jewish boy eats a piece of matzah.

The Order of the Passover Seder

The Passover Seder (Order) is a 15-step process with some highly symbolic essentials.

The Seder’s 15 steps and its elements are prescribed by the Haggadah (telling).  We will spotlight several of these steps.

Each Seder starts with Kadesh (Sanctification), which is the reciting of the blessing over the first cup of wine:

We sanctify the name of God and proclaim the holiness of this festival of Passover.  With a blessing over wine, we lift our wine, our symbol of joy; let us welcome the festival of Passover.

In unison, we say…

Our God and God of our ancestors, we thank You for enabling us to gather in friendship, to observe the Festival of Freedom.  Just as for many centuries the Passover Seder has brought together families and friends to retell the events that led to our freedom, so may we be at one with Jews everywhere who perform this ancient ritual linking us with our historic past.  As we relive each event in our people’s ancient struggle, and celebrate their emergence from slavery to freedom, we pray that all of us may keep alive in our hearts the love of liberty.  May we dedicate our lives to the abolition of all forms of tyranny and injustice.  (Haggadot) 

four cups-shmura-matzah

The Four Cups and handmade Shmurah (guarded) matzah, which is made from grain that has remained under strict supervision since harvesting to ensure that no fermentation has taken place.

There are four cups of wine during the Seder, one for each of the four promises of God in Exodus 6:6–7:

Therefore, say to the Israelites:  ‘I am the Lord, and I will bring you out [the cup of sanctification] from under the yoke of the Egyptians.  I will free you from being slaves to them [the cup of judgment], and I will redeem you with an outstretched arm and with mighty acts of judgment [the cup of redemption].  I will take you as my own people [the cup of praise], and I will be your God.

Here in Israel, we drink a fifth cup of wine to commemorate the fulfillment of God’s final promise to bring us back into our own land.

“And I will bring you to the land I swore with uplifted hand to give to Abraham, to Isaac and to Jacob.  I will give it to you as a possession.  I am YHVH [the LORD].’”  (Exodus 6:8) 

Passover-Western Wall

Jewish people gather at the Western (Wailing) Wall on Passover.

The Seder Plate

At the head of every Passover table is a Seder plate arranged with symbolic foods.  The Seder plate and its foods symbolize the Passover story.

Karpas (Raw Vegetable):  The karpas is generally a green vegetable such as parsley, which is commonly understood to represent rebirth and regeneration.  This vegetable is dipped into salt water, representing the tears of the Israelite slaves.  This dipping is the third step of the Seder, and it reminds us that life sometimes comes with tears.

Maror (Bitter Herbs):  The bitter herbs on the Seder plate represent the bitterness and harshness of the slavery that the Israelites suffered in Egypt.  Horseradish is commonly used.  Eating the Maror is step nine.

Chazeret (Bitter Vegetable):  Chazeret is yet another representation of the bitterness of slavery in Egypt, and a leaf of romaine lettuce is placed on the Seder plate to symbolize this.  Both the Maror and the Chazeret remind us also of the bitterness of those oppressed even today through injustice or persecution.  Many Jewish Believers suffer for their faith in Yeshua.

Passover-Seder-Plate-Holy Temple

The Passover Seder plate displays foods that symbolize Passover and the Holy Temple sacrifices.

Charoset (Clay):  Charoset is a brownish, sweet mixture of grated apples, walnuts, cinnamon and sweet wine or grape juice that is meant to resemble the mortar used by the Israelite slaves to build the Egyptian storehouses.  It represents hard labor.

In step ten of the Seder, the Charoset and the Maror are eaten together as a sandwich between two pieces of matzah.  When we eat the Maror side first and then the Charoset side, we are reminded that though slavery was bitter, our redemption was sweet.

Zeroah (Shank Bone): The Zeroah is a piece of roasted meat or chicken neck that represents the Passover Sacrifice (Korban Pesach) which was offered in the Temple and then eaten at the Passover meal during Temple times.

Beitzah (Egg):  The hard boiled and slightly scorched egg on the Seder plate symbolizes the festival sacrifice (Korban hagigah).  It also reminds us of the destruction of the Temple.


A family sitting at a traditional Passover Seder table.  (Photo taken by Jorge Novominsky for the Israeli Ministry of Tourism)

Seven-Day Fast from Leavened Bread

Just prior to the start of Passover, all leaven is removed from the home, and it is thoroughly cleaned to remove all traces of leaven.

“For seven days you are to eat bread made without yeast.  On the first day remove the yeast from your houses, for whoever eats anything with yeast in it from the first day through the seventh must be cut off from Israel.”  (Exodus 12:15)

In the Bible, leaven represents corrupting influences and sin.  Just as a little leaven makes a loaf of bread rise, a little sin can have a big influence.  Coupled with the removal of leaven is a search of our own heart.

“Search me, God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts.  See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.”  (Psalm 139:23–24)

Unleavened bread (matzah) is eaten for the whole duration of Passover.  Among Jewish Believers in Yeshua, the matzah represents Yeshua who was completely without sin.

Even the appearance of the matzah seems to reveal the Messiah.  It is striped and pierced, just as Yeshua was “pierced for our transgressions and by His stripes we are healed.”  (Isaiah 53:5)


Yachatz (Breaking the matzah) was likely similar in appearance.

Matzah As a Seder Symbol 

A vital element of the Passover Seder is a stack of three matzot (unleavened bread in the plural).

These are placed in a special three-compartment cover called a  matzah tash (unity) that separates the three matzot.

In the fourth step of the Passover Seder, the Yachatz (Breaking the matzah), the middle matzah is removed from this special covering, broken in half and then wrapped in a white, linen cloth to be hidden away until the children search for it and retrieve it after the Shulchan Orech (festive meal), which is step eleven of the Seder.


The matzah tash (unity) has three compartments to separate three pieces of matzah while holding them together at the same time.

Some believe that this obscure custom originates from the early Messianic community of followers of Yeshua, and that the three matzot represent HaShem (Father), HaMashiach Yeshua (Jesus the Messiah) and the Ruach HaKodesh (Holy Spirit).

The middle matzah (the Messiah) is broken, as Yeshua’s body was broken on the execution stake (cross).  Then, just as his body was wrapped in burial linens and hidden in a tomb, so is this piece of matzah wrapped and hidden.

When the children find this matzah, which is called Afikoman (that which comes after), they bring it from its hiding place, which is seen by Messianic Jewish Believers to represent the resurrection of Yeshua.  Halleluyah!

Although this explanation will not be found in the traditional Jewish Passover Seder, it is often a highlight for Messianic Jewish Believers.


An Orthodox Jewish man in Israel hand-harvests wheat for Passover.

The Promise of Passover Fulfilled in Yeshua

At every Passover Seder, a child asks four traditional questions called Mah Nishtana (Why is this night different than all other nights?).

But perhaps the most important question to ask is, “How will Adonai pass over me personally to save me from His wrath and judgment?”

The answer is the same as at the first Passover so long ago—by faithfully and obediently applying the blood of the Lamb.  But how can we do this today when there is no Temple sacrifice?

When we put our faith in Yeshua HaMashiach and the sacrifice He made to make atonement for our sins, then we have assurance that we will be set free from slavery to sin and the Kingdom of darkness so that we may enter into eternal life.

“Yeshua said, ‘I am the resurrection and the life.  He who believes in me will live, even though he dies; and whoever lives and believes in me will never die.’”  (John 11:25–26).

Believers in Yeshua have the assurance that when God judges the world, as He judged ancient Egypt, and sees the blood applied over our lives, He will “pass over” us.

“For He has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son He loves.”  (Colossians 1:13) 


A Jewish father reads the Haggadah with his son.

Each of us has been rescued from the kingdom of darkness and transferred into the Kingdom of Light through the blood of the Passover Lamb, God’s own beloved Son, Yeshua HaMashiach (the Messiah), who was sacrificed for us.

While Believers in Yeshua have the assurance of salvation, Jewish People around the world will celebrate the Festival and still not recognize that Yeshua came in fulfillment of Passover and the prophetic Scriptures.

They will drink the four cups of wine without understanding that Yeshua fulfills the promises of freedom, salvation and redemption.  (Exodus 6:6–7; Acts 13:26–41)

They will look at the pierced matzah without seeing that Yeshua was “pierced for our transgressions.”  (Isaiah 53:5; John 19:34–37)

They will hide the matzah, search for it, and find it but not realize that their Messiah also wants to be found by them.  (Proverbs 30:4; Luke 19:10)