This article is about the Biblically commanded feast from a general and Christian perspective; for Passover in Judaism see Pesach
Passover (Hebrew פֶּסַח pesach "to pass through, to pass over, to exempt or to spare") is a Biblical festival, one of seven of God's commanded Holy Days. Its name is derived from the night of the Tenth Plague, when the Angel of Death saw the blood of the lamb on the doorposts of the houses of Israel and "passed over" them and did not kill their firstborn. "Pesach" is also the name of the sacrificial offering (a lamb) that was made in the Temple on this holiday. Passover is the oldest continually observed feast in existence today, celebrated for some 3,500 years. Even today, more Jewish people observe Passover than any other high holy day, and according to the 1990 National Jewish Population Survey (NJPS), more than 80% of Jews have attended a Passover celebration.
The Passover story
The original Passover marked the Exodus of the Israelites from Egypt (Exodus 12). They were each instructed to set aside a young lamb without spot or blemish, and to slaughter it in the evening, four days later. The lambs' blood was to be placed on their doorposts immediately, and the carcass roasted and eaten with unleavened bread and bitter herbs, in preparation for the imminent journey. The Angel of Death passed through Egypt at midnight, striking dead the firstborn of all families not under the blood of the lamb.
God declared that this day would be a memorial: "And this day shall be unto you for a memorial; and ye shall keep it a feast to the LORD throughout your generations; ye shall keep it a feast by an ordinance for ever." (Exodus 12:14). The apostles later explained that observing the Passover symbolized Christ: Paul described Christ as "our Passover" (1 Corinthians 5:7), and John wrote that John the Baptist recognized Him as "the Lamb of God which taketh away the sin of the world." (John 1:29).
Jesus Christ and the Passover
Throughout His life and ministry Jesus observed the Passover. He also knew it depicted His suffering and death and told His disciples this. On the night of the 14th He sat down with His disciples to observe the Passover meal. During this supper He said to His disciples, "This do in remembrance of me."(Luke 22:19)
Jesus and the Passover has been at the root of many serious misunderstandings between Christianity and Judaism. By the second century "both Judaism and Christianity were trying to distinguish each from the other in the eyes of Rome, as both had unique political concerns." Towards the end of the fourth century, the emphasis on the Hebraic tradition had diminished to the point that the Church Council of Laodicea removed all connections between Jesus and the celebration of Passover. For their part, Judaism rarely, if ever, acknowledges the most famous and influential Jew who ever lived. For many centuries Jews observed Passover in secret, as many Christians and anti-Semites believed that Jews used the blood of Christian babies in the making of unleavened bread, and Jews were fearful of possible retaliation.
Matthew Henry's Bible Commentary notes about the sacrificial lamb and Jesus Christ:
- Christ is our Passover - Cor.5:7
- It was to be a lamb; and Christ is the lamb of God (John 1:29).
- It was to be a male of the first year in its prime (Exodus 12:5). Christ offered up Himself in the midst of His days.
- It was to be without blemish (Exodus 12:5) denoting the purity of the Lord Jesus - a Lamb without spot (1 Peter 1:19).
- It was to be set apart four days before (Exodus 12:3,6). It is very observable that, as Christ was crucified at the Passover, so He solemnly entered into Jerusalem four days before (commemorated by Christians as Palm Sunday) on the very day the paschal lamb was set apart.
- It was to be slain, and roasted with fire (Exodus 12:6,9), denoting the extreme sufferings of Jesus. The wrath of God is as fire, and Christ was made a curse for us.
- It was to be killed by the whole congregation between the two evenings. Christ suffered at the end of the world (Hebrews 9:26) by the hand of the multitude (Luke 23:18) and for all His spiritual Israel.
- Not a bone of it must be broken (Exodus 12:46) - which is expressly said to be fulfilled in Christ (John 19:33,36)
On the 14th of Nisan, at the third hour of the morning (9 a.m. by Biblical reckoning), the high priest took the lamb and ascended the altar so he could tie the lamb in place. At the same time on that day, Jesus was crucified (Mark 15:25). At the time of the evening sacrifice (3 p.m.) for Passover, the high priest ascended the altar, cut the throat of the lamb with a knife, and said the words, "It is finished." (These are the words said after giving a peace offering to God.) At this same time, Jesus died (the ninth hour, 3:00 p.m., Matthew 27:46), saying "It is finished." (John 19:30)
The sacrifice of Jesus Christ
Christ's shed blood makes possible mankind's access to the throne of God the Father. Originally, only the high priest could enter the area of the tabernacle known as the "Holiest of All" (Hebrews 9:6-10). The "mercy seat" positioned there represented God's throne. Leviticus 16 describes the ceremony that took place each year on another Holy Day, the Day of Atonement. At that time the high priest took the blood of a goat, representing the future sacrifice of Jesus Christ, and sprinkled it on the mercy seat so the Israelites could be symbolically cleansed of all their sins (verses 15-16). Because the blood of Jesus Christ removes sin, making us pure before God, mankind can enjoy direct access to the Father (Hebrews 9:24).
Observance in the early Church
The New Testament records Christians continuing to observe the annual festivals at the times commanded by God. As a youth, Christ kept the Passover annually on the specified day (Luke 2:41), and He continued the practice with His disciples. The early Church as well continued to observe the other Holy Days at their specified times. For example, Acts records that Jesus' followers met to observe the Feast of Pentecost: "And when the day of Pentecost was fully come, they were all with one accord in one place." (Acts 2:1)." Keeping the Passover each year reminds us that God is the forgiver of sin who grants us eternal life in His Kingdom through the sacrifice of Jesus Christ, our Passover. This observance is a memorial of our Creator's continuing role in humanity's salvation.
Passover and Easter
See also Easter
The word "easter" appears nowhere in the early bible, and its use in later translations is a mistranslation or substitution of the Greek word pascha ("passover"). Easter was established later in church history by the Roman Catholic Church, which does not claim these days as biblical, but rather that the Church had the authority to establish them. The church in Rome had begun to distance itself from relating the death of Jesus Christ to the Jewish Passover and instead began to time the celebration of the Resurrection of Jesus to coincide with the first day of the week closest to the full moon of Passover as a memorial of the dawn of the very day of the week when Christ arose from the dead, the day following the Sabbath, according to the Gospels. That the early Church continued to keep Passover as a memorial to the death of Jesus Christ on the 14th of Nisan is confirmed by the writers of the second century. Polycarp, a disciple of John the apostle, travelled to Rome to try to persuade the bishop of Rome to observe the 14th of Nisan as opposed to celebrating a feast of the resurrection several days later. Polycrates later in the 2nd century also contended with the Roman church in favor of the 14th of the first month, Jewish calendar. This controversy became known in Church History as the "Quartodeciman controversy."
At the end of the second century, Victor, the bishop of Rome began to threaten other Church leaders in an attempt to get them to abandon Passover completely in favor of the Roman Easter celebration. Polycrates, the bishop of Ephesus, wrote to Victor:
We for our part keep the day [14th of Nisan = Passover] scrupulously, without addition or subtraction. For in Asia great luminaries sleep who shall rise again on the day of the Lord's advent, when He is coming with glory from heaven and shall search out all His saints – such as Philip... there is John, who lent back on the Lord's breast… there is Polycarp, bishop and martyr... All these kept the fourteenth day of the month as the beginning of the Paschal Festival [Passover], in accordance with the Gospel, not deviating in the least but following the rule of the Faith. Last of all, I too, Polycrates, the least of you a... and my family has always kept the day when the people put away the leaven [Feast of Unleavened Bread]. So I, my friends, after spending sixty-five years in the Lord's service and conversing with Christians from all parts of the world, and going carefully through all Holy Scripture, and not scared of threats. Better people than I have said: "We must obey God rather than men".The dispute continued until the Council of Nicea in 325 AD, ordered by the (pagan) Emperor Constantine to resolve various controversies that existed in the Church – including whether the Passover or Easter should be celebrated. In his order from the Council of Nicea he said:
Constantine, August, to the churches… When the question arose concerning the most holy day of Easter, it was decreed by common consent to be expedient, that this festival should be celebrated on the same day by all, in every place... it seemed to every one a most unworthy thing that we should follow the custom of the Jews in the celebration of this most holy solemnity, who, polluted wretches having stained their hands with a nefarious crime, are justly blinded in their minds. It is fit, therefore, that, rejecting the practice of this people, we should perpetuate to all future ages the celebration of this rite, in a more legitimate order, which we have kept from the first day of the Lord’s passion even to the present times. Let us then have nothing in common with the most hostile rabble of the Jews.
The first Sunday after the first Full Moon after the Spring Equinox
The Orthodox Churches, the Catholic Church, and the majority of the Protestant churches observe the Feast of the Resurrection, commonly called Easter Sunday, on the First Sunday after the first Full Moon on or after the Spring Equinox (the Vernal Equinox). This Equinox corresponds to the immediate point from which the first day of Nisan in the lunar calendar of Judaism is calculated. The first sighting of the first New Moon on or after the Vernal Equinox is the first day of Nisan. The first Full Moon follows fourteen days later, fourteen Nisan.
Because the Resurrection of Jesus occurred at dawn on the First Day of the week, on Sunday , observance of the celebration of the Lord's Resurrection on Sunday, rather than on any other day of the week, and of the immediately preceding Friday as Good Friday in commemoration of his Crucifixion and entombment as the Sacrifice of Atonement for the sins of the world, became the norm as determined by the Ecumenical council of bishops and legislated by Emperor Constantine as the norm of Christian communion of faith and unity of common ecclesiastical practice throughout the Empire. By this means he sought to end the devastating rioting and loss of life from the feuding of Christian groups who accused each other of polluting the faith with heterodox customs offensive to God.
The Orthodox Churches retained the celebration of the Resurrection according to the dating of the Julian Calendar authorized by Julius Caesar; the Catholic Church according to the Gregorian Calendar authorized by Pope Gregory XIII, which is the standard calendar used throughout most of the inhabited world to the present day. A minority of Christian sects quietly hold to the calculation of the 14th day after the first New Moon on or after the Vernal Equinox in harmony with the Jewish observance of Passover, some of them including as an integral part of the celebration the eating together of the traditional foods of Passover as recorded in Exodus 20:8-9.
The date of the observance of the Resurrection varies yearly in accordance with the timing of the first Full Moon on or immediately after the Equinox, and for this reason the observance is not fixed in the civil calendar annually as one particular date or Sunday of any one particular month of the year.
The Christian Passover in the present day
There has been increasing interest among Christians in the Passover festival, for various reasons including:
- a growing movement away from man-made tradition towards God-given instruction
- an increasing sensitivity to cultural and societal problems and a corresponding desire to learn about others
- a renewed awareness of the importance of the Old Testament Scriptures as Christian Scripture
- a desire to recover a sense of the sacred through liturgy and sacrament
- the enjoyment that comes from acknowledging the continuity with a 3,500 year old community of faith.
Although it was the Roman Catholic Church which had, centuries before, widened the schism between Judaism and Christianity, it was Vatican II's "Declaration on the Relationship of the Church to Non-Christian Religions" in 1965 which gave impetus to the growing renewal of these teachings:
Thus the Church of Christ acknowledges that, according to God's saving design, the beginnings of her faith and election go back as far as the days of the patriarchs, of Moses and the prophets She affirms that all who believe in Christ - Abraham's sons according to faith (cf. Gal. 3,7) are included in the call of this patriarch - she also affirms that her salvation is mysteriously prefigured in the Exodus of the chosen people from the land of bondage. The Church, therefore, cannot forget that she received the revelation of the Old Testament through the people with whom God, in that loving-kindness words cannot express, deigned to conclude the Ancient covenant... For the Church believes that by His cross Christ, who is our Peace, reconciled Jews and Gentiles, making the two one in Himself (cf. Eph. 2, 14-16)
- Boshart, David Holt "Passover". Accessed 18 February 2008
- Rich, Tracey R. "Pesach: Passover" Judaism 101. Accessed 18 February 2008
- The 14th day of Nisan, the first month in the Jewish calendar
- Luke 2:41-42; John 2:13,23; 6:4; Mat.26:1-2, 17-20 King James Version BibleGateway
- Mat.26:1-2 King James Version BibleGateway
- The night of the 14th beginning at sunset was the beginning of the 14th according to the Jewish reckoning of the days, followed by the dawn and morning of the day of the 14th.
- Classical and Christian Anti-Semitism The Holocaust: A Guide for Pennsylvania Teachers. Remember.org. Retrieved 28 July 2008.
- Cowen, Rabbi Jaimie Jesus and Passover Faith & Values. Accessed 18 February 2008
- The Blood Libel Myth "Blood libel, host desecration, ritual murder, & other largely anti-semitic fables" Religious Tolerance. Accessed 18 February 2008
- Commentary on Exodus 12:1-20 "Matthew Henry’s Concise Commentary" Hosted at Christ Notes. Accessed 18 February 2008
- Blank, Wayne Hours Of The Day Daily Bible Study. Accessed 18 February 2008
- Access to the Father "The Passover: Why Did Jesus Christ Have to Die?" UCG. Accessed 18 February 2008
- Geierman, Peter Question: Which is the Sabbath day? Answer: Saturday is the Sabbath day. Question: Why do we observe Sunday instead of Saturday? Answer: We observe Sunday instead of Saturday because the Catholic Church, in the Council of Laodicea (A.D. 336) transferred the solemnity from Saturday to Sunday. "The Convert’s Catechism of Catholic Doctrine" (B. Herder Book Co., St. Louis; 1930) ISBN 0-8955-5029-6
- Hunt, Keith How often should the Christian Passover (Lord's Supper) be taken? BibleStudy.org. Accessed 18 February 2008
- Eusebius (c.324 AD) "The History of the Church from Christ to Constantine" (transl. G. A. Williamson; reprint; Hippocrene Books; 1983) ISBN 0-8802-9022-6
- Boyle, Isaac "A Historical View of The Council of Nicea" (T Mason and G Lane, New York; 1839)
- Matthew 28:1-7; Mark 16:2-6; Luke 24:1-5; John 20:1-9; Malachi 4:2
- Bratcher, Dennis Recovering Passover for Christians The Voice. Accessed 18 February 2008