As a Jewish Christian I have often been asked by churches at Easter to speak about the Jewish Passover or to do a demonstration of one. Churches seem fascinated by it. Some Christians think that seeing a Jewish Passover might help them understand more about Jesus’ Last Supper and therefore Jesus’ death.
I think this is quite unlikely.
A modern Jewish Passover does not reveal some deep secret truths that will help Christians better understand their faith. Paul is clear about this in Colossians 2:16-17: “Therefore let no one pass judgment on you in questions of food and drink, or with regard to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath. These are a shadow of the things to come, but the substance belongs to Christ.” The Jewish Passover meal is a shadow of the reality which we already have in Christ.
The Passover commemorates God rescuing his people from Egypt. This was achieved through the tenth plague – the death of the first-born. The Israelites’ first born were spared God’s judgment because God provided atonement for them when they slaughtered the Passover lamb and daubed its blood on the door frames of their houses. When God saw the blood he passed over their houses, and they were spared his judgment. Therefore, in 1 Corinthians 5:7, Paul says that Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed. He is the reality: the animal’s blood in Egypt was merely a symbolic representation of Jesus’ atonement for our sins. When Jesus returns, God’s judgment will come. But it will pass over us, because Jesus’ blood has been shed to atone for our sins.
So what does a present day Jewish Passover meal have to do with all this? Would it help Christians to see one? Does it contain some deep truths that will deepen our understanding of what Christ has done?
Most important of all perhaps is what doesn’t happen at a Passover meal. Since the destruction of the Temple in 70 AD there has been no Passover sacrifice. This point is a huge one and is often overlooked. There has been no Biblical Passover kept since 70 AD. Now it is true that unleavened bread and bitter herbs are eaten on the night, but they are a mere adjunct to the Passover sacrifice. There is no more Passover sacrifice, for Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed.
The modern Jewish Passover meal is a rabbinic Jewish festival. It is based on the Biblical Passover, but is very different. Most Christians are surprised to hear, for instance, that chicken is eaten at a Jewish Passover, not lamb.
Christian Passover demonstrations often take the food symbols used in the modern Jewish Passover meal and spiritualise them to make them ‘Christian’. For example, in a Jewish Passover there are three pieces of unleavened bread placed in a pile on the table. In the service the middle piece is broken in half. This is often explained as follows: the three pieces of unleavened bread represent the Trinity, and the middle piece is Jesus, broken for us. Unleavened bread often has holes in it, and I have even heard this applied to Jesus being pierced for us! The practice explained here is not from the Bible, but the rabbis. The interpretation is arbitrary – for instance anything which had three elements could be said to represent the Trinity. Jesus is portrayed as fulfilling the rabbinic elements of Passover instead of being understood as our Passover lamb who has been sacrificed. The deep truths of Passover are said to be found in a man-made non-Christian practice instead of in the Bible.
We Christians have it all. We have the reality in Jesus Christ. Our sins are forgiven. Our rescue has happened. We have been set free. Those of us who are Jewish might join our family for a Passover meal, just as those who are Chinese might go to a Chinese New Year. But for Gentile Christians there are no deep truths in a Passover meal which will enhance your understanding of Jesus’ death.
Your Bible is sufficient.
You have all the deep truths that you need right there in its pages, and you have the real Passover lamb – the Lord Jesus Christ.