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Passover: A Celebration of Freedom and Redemption

Shabbat Pesach (Passover)
Exodus 12:21–51; Joshua 3:5–7, 5:2–6:1, 27; John 13:1–17:26 
Maftir: Numbers 28:16–25

“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.’”  (Exodus 12:21)

Because this Shabbat falls on the first day of Passover (Nissan 14), it is called Shabbat Pesach (Shabbat Passover), so the regular Torah Reading cycle is suspended.  The Maftir reading from Numbers details the offerings to be made each day of the week-long Feast of Unleavened Bread.

Pesach-Passover-unleavened bread

Jewish children learn to make matzah (unleavened bread) for Passover.  (Photo by Chaim Zvi)

Feast of Unleavened Bread

“Do not eat it with bread made with yeast, but for seven days eat unleavened bread, the bread of affliction, because you left Egypt in haste—so that all the days of your life you may remember the time of your departure from Egypt.” (Deuteronomy 16:3)

When the Hebrews left Egypt, they did so with such haste that they did not have time to make leavened bread.  As a reminder of this time, the Lord made a memorial commandment to eat only unleavened bread for seven days, beginning on the first night of Passover, Nissan 14, which this year begins on the evening of April 3.

Leaven is not just a practical ingredient for bread, it’s a symbol throughout the Bible for sin.  Like leaven, sin spreads throughout the body of a person, a family and even a nation if left unchecked.  The result is decay and death.

This unleavened bread is called matzah or the bread of affliction.

While Biblical law only requires that the bread for the feast be made without leaven, later rabbinical law added that it also be striped and pierced, which is a fitting description of Yeshua (Jesus) who was sinless (unleavened) yet afflicted (striped and pierced) upon his death.

And because Yeshua was sinless and undeserving of death, sin was paid for when He offered His life in our stead.  As a result, new life is offered to all who trust in the saving power of His death.

“Get rid of the old yeast, so that you may be a new unleavened batch—as you really are.  For Messiah, our Passover lamb has been sacrificed.”  (1 Corinthians 5:7)

IDF soldiers eat matzah in the field

Israel Defense Forces soldiers pose with a piece of matzah in the field.  (IDF photo)

Passover Seder: The Symbolism of a New Covenant

“When you come to the land which ADONAI will give you, as He has promised, you are to observe this ceremony.  When your children ask you, ‘What do you mean by this ceremony?’ say, ‘It is the sacrifice of ADONAI’s Pesach [Passover], because [ADONAI] passed over the houses of the people of Israel in Egypt, when he killed the Egyptians but spared our houses.’”  (Exodus 12:25–27)

The Biblical festival of Pesach (פסח / Passover), which begins Friday (April 3, 2015) at sundown will be celebrated by Jewish people (and many Gentiles) all over the world with a traditional meal called a Seder.

At this festive meal, the story of our exodus from Egypt is retold, reminding every generation of how God delivered us from Egypt with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm.


A Jewish man reads from a Haggadah, the Jewish text that sets the order of the Passover Seder.  (Photo by Dan Bruell)

It seems that Yeshua may have gathered His talmidim (disciples) tonight on the evening of Nissan 14 at the Upper Room to have the traditional meal with them—His last Seder.  Yet, this night he would reveal something remarkable.  

Yeshua broke a piece of matzah, perhaps the afikomen (the broken half-matzah that was wrapped and hidden away to be found) and asked His disciples to remember Him when partaking of it according to tradition each year.

“This is My body which is given for you; do this in remembrance of Me.”  (Luke 22:19; 1 Corinthians 11:24)

Yeshua initiated the New Covenant that Jeremiah prophesied (Jeremiah 31:31) by raising one of the traditional cups of wine, likely the Cup of Redemption, saying:

“This cup which is poured out for you is the new covenant in My blood.”  (Luke 22:20; 1 Corinthians 11:25)

Four Cups-Seder-Passover

A Jewish man raises one of the traditional Seder cups and recites the blessing.

This cup that Yeshua shared during the Seder corresponds to the third cup of wine that is drunk at the traditional Seder meal.  The four cups of wine at a Seder are not a Biblical command. They were instituted by rabbinic law.

The third cup is called the Redemption Cup because it signifies the redemption from slavery in Egypt into freedom in Israel.

Likewise, it symbolizes the redemption of our souls from the bondage of sin and spiritual death.

“Messiah is the mediator of a new covenant, that those who are called may receive the promised eternal inheritance—now that He has died as a ransom to set them free from the sins committed under the first covenant.”  (Hebrews 9:15)

The Sacrificial Lamb-Josefa de Obidos-Josefa de Ayala

The Sacrificial Lamb, by Josefa de Obidos

Passover Offering: Freedom from the Kingdom of Darkness

“Give thanks to the LORD, for He is good…. to him who struck down the firstborn of Egypt… and brought Israel out from among them … with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm; His love endures forever.”  (Psalm 136:10–12)

Passover is not only a great celebration of freedom and deliverance for the Jewish people; it is also the foundation of the Christian faith.

In Temple times, the Passover lambs were slaughtered during the day of Nissan 14.  At the same time they were being slaughtered, Yeshua (Jesus) was slain as the Passover Lamb of God so that we may be set free from the bondage of sin and redeemed from the power of the Kingdom of darkness.

For that reason, it is not only the Israelites who rejoice at being rescued from slavery at this special time of the year or the firstborn who celebrate their escape from death.

Those of us who have received forgiveness through the atoning work of the Jewish Messiah may also celebrate our freedom and redemption on Passover.

“For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Messiah Yeshua from the law of sin and death.”  (Romans 8:2)

The Israelites Eat the Passover

The Israelites Eat the Passover

As we celebrate Passover this year, may we remember that the Passover lamb of old foreshadowed Yeshua the Messiah, the Lamb of God (John 1:29), who gave His own sinless life as an offering in order that we could be spared the wrath of God and have the hope of eternal life.

He gave that life the same day that the Passover lamb gave its life at the Temple—on Nissan 14.

All of those who have experienced the new birth in Yeshua HaMashiach can proclaim that we are symbolically covered with the sacrificial “blood of the lamb” and, therefore, God’s wrath will pass over us. 

Passover Plague of the Firstborn: Celebration of Mercy

“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.”  (Exodus 12:13)

The Israelite firstborns were spared during the last of the Ten Plagues upon Egypt—the Plague of the Firstborn.

After the blood of the Passover lamb was placed on Jewish and even Egyptian doorposts, the angel of death passed over the homes that were marked with it, leaving those inside untouched by the plague.

To commemorate this merciful act of God, Jewish firstborns traditionally fast on Nissan 14, which begins at sunset tonight and ends at sunset tomorrow.  The fast, however begins at dawn and usually ends at the completion the Torah reading in the morning.

This Jewish custom, which is called Ta’anit Bechorot (Fast of the Firstborn), is almost universally observed in the Orthodox Ashkenazi communities.  Eastern Sephardic communities are less likely to observe the custom, and its practice was even discouraged by the now deceased Sephardic Chief Rabbi of Haifa, R. Yosef Messas.

counting the omer-Leviticus 23:15-16-offering

“From the day after the Sabbath, the day you brought the sheaf of the wave offering, count off seven full weeks.  Count off fifty days up to the day after the seventh Sabbath, and then present an offering of new grain to the Lord.”  (Leviticus 23:15–16)

Passover Firstfruits: Resurrection from the Dead

On Nissan 16, the high priest would wave a sheaf (omer) of barley from the first ripened crop.  He waved it in front of the Lord to signify the first day of the 50-day countdown to the Feast of Shavuot (Pentecost).

On that same day, Yeshua rose from the grave, signifying the beginning of a 50-day spiritual countdown to the outpouring of the Ruach HaKodesh (Holy Spirit) on His talmidim.

The apostle Paul also links the ceremony during Passover with the Resurrection of Yeshua:

“But now Messiah has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who are asleep.  For since by a man came death, by a man also came the resurrection of the dead.  For as in Adam all die, so also in Messiah all will be made alive.  But each in his own order: Messiah the first fruits, after that those who are Messiah’s at His coming.”  (1 Corinthians 15:20–23)

Even the grave will not have the power to hold us; for like the Messiah we too shall be raised to resurrection life.

“Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Adoneinu Yeshua HaMashiach!  In His great mercy, He has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Yeshua the Messiah from the dead.”  (1 Peter 1:3)

Pilgrims visit the Garden Tomb in Jerusalem.  Many believe this is the garden and sepulcher of Joseph of Arimathea, and therefore a possible site of the resurrection of Yeshua.  (Israel Tourism photo)

Pilgrims visit the Garden Tomb in Jerusalem.  Many believe this is the garden and sepulcher of Joseph of Arimathea, and therefore a possible site of the resurrection of Yeshua.  (Israel Tourism photo)

The Blood Moon of Passover

“Then God said, ‘Let there be lights in the expanse of the heavens to separate the day from the night, and let them be for signs and for seasons and for days and years.’”  (Genesis 1:14)

This year, a rare celestial occurrence marks Passover and Firstfruits, which is the first day of the Jewish practice of counting the Omer—the countdown to Shavuot (Pentecost).

It also occurs the day before the celebration of the resurrection of Yeshua this weekend.

Although the day called Easter has known pagan roots originating in the worship of Eshtar, the pagan goddess of fertility, a decision was made by the early Christian church to set this day as a day of remembrance of the resurrection of the Messiah, which occurred during Passover.  Previous to this, they kept Passover, essentially commemorating His death and resurrection alongside the Jewish community.

“But now The Messiah is risen from among the dead and is the first fruits of those who sleep.”  (1 Corinthians 15:20)


A Passover seder

On Saturday morning (April 4 from 9:01 a.m. until 2:59 p.m. UTC), coinciding with the first day of Passover, and before counting the omer in the evening, the sky will once again glow red with the third full lunar eclipse of the Blood Moon Tetrad.  This tetrad, a series of four lunar eclipses with no partial eclipses in between, coincides with Passover and Sukkot in 2014 and 2015.

A full lunar eclipse is called a blood moon because the moon appears red in color as it reflects the sum of simultaneous sunrises and sunsets on the Earth.  And just a couple of weeks ago, on the first day of the month of Nissan, which is the month of Passover, an exceedingly rare full solar eclipse occurred (so rare in fact that it has never occurred before in human history).

This phenomenon of a full solar eclipse combined with a blood moon is connected with end-time Scriptures from the book of Joel:

“And I will show wonders in the heavens and in the earth: blood, and fire, and pillars of smoke. The sun shall be turned into darkness, and the moon into blood, before the great and terrible day of the LORD comes.”  (Joel 2:30–31)

Three of the moons of the present Blood Moon Tetrad occur during the Shemitah (Sabbatical) year for Israel when the land must rest from planting and harvesting, which is currently underway.

Blood Mood Tetrad

The current Blood Moon Tetrad involves four Blood Moons coinciding with Passover and Sukkot in 2014 and 2015.  They are separated by a full solar eclipse, which just passed on March 20, 2015.  As well, the final Blood Moon during Sukkot (September 28, 2015) will be a supermoon, since the moon will be at its closest approach to the earth, making the moon appear extraordinarily large as it turns blood red.  (YouTube capture)

Blood Moon Tetrads over the last 500 years have happened in times of significant events for Israel and the Jewish People.

The Blood Moon Tetrad of 1493–1494 occurred just after an Edict of Expulsion on March 31, 1492, issued by King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella, that ordered the Jews of Spain to leave the country by the last day of July.  That day was one day before Tisha B’Av—the commemoration day of the destruction of both Holy Temples in Jerusalem.

Of course, 1492 marked Columbus’ discovery of America, which led to the founding of a safe haven not only for the exiled Jews of Spain, but for persecuted Jewish people around the globe.

The Blood Moon Tetrad of 1949–1950 marked a new era of independence for the reborn Jewish nation, which the United Nations approved in 1948.  In 1949, Israel fought and won the War of Independence, signing armistice agreements with several Arab nations that had attacked the fledging nation.  This was Israel’s costliest war with over 6,000 Israelis killed and 15,000 wounded in the initial battle for Israel’s survival.

The Blood Moon Tetrad of 1967–1968 arrived soon after the historic 1967 Six Day War, in which the Israelis reunited the divided city of Jerusalem, as well as the West Bank, the Golan Heights and the Sinai in a dramatic military victory.

This current Tetrad has already seen many significant events in Israel, including the failure of peace talks, a unity government by the terrorist group Hamas and the Palestinian Authority, a war with Gaza, and the Palestinian Authority joining the International Criminal Court in violation of agreements with Israel.  As well, Iran is in negotiations with world powers for a nuclear agreement, while at the same time actively involved in aggression and terrorism in the Middle East.

Some Biblical scholars are predicting that the Blood Moon Tetrad in this year of Shemitah may even be a sign of a soon-coming end-time climax of the ages!  Let us be in prayer!

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