From Seder to Salvation
“The cup of grand salvation I shall take up, and on the name of Jehovah I shall call.”—PSALM 116:13.
1. What all-time favorite song may affect your future?
HOW would you enjoy a song dealing with your having a long, happy future? Actually, such a song is an all-time favorite. Yet, you are in a better position than most to understand and to enjoy this meaningful song. Jews call it Hallel (Praise). Composed of Psalms 113 to 118, it urges us to sing “Hallelujah,” or “Praise Jah.”
2. How is this song used, and how is it related to the Seder?
2 Jews sing the Hallel in their Passover service, which singing evidently dates back to when God had a temple where animals were sacrificed. Today, it is sung in Jewish homes during the Passover service and meal called the Seder. But few who sing it in their Seder get the real import of Psalm 116:13: “The cup of grand salvation I shall take up, and on the name of Jehovah I shall call.” Why, though, is salvation linked with the Passover, and could it be that your salvation is involved?
Passover—Festival of Salvation
3. What is the background of the Seder?
3 Recall that the Israelites were slaves in Egypt under an oppressive Pharaoh. Finally, Jehovah raised up Moses to lead His people to freedom. After God brought nine plagues on Egypt, Moses announced the tenth. Jehovah would strike down the firstborn in every Egyptian household. (Exodus 11:1-10) The Israelites could be spared, though. How? They had to slaughter a sheep, put its blood on the doorposts and lintel, and stay inside eating a meal of lamb, unleavened bread, and bitter greens. During that Seder, God would “pass over” without slaying their firstborn.—Exodus 12:1-13.
4, 5. How did the Passover lead to salvation for many? (Psalm 106:7-10)
4 In response to this tenth plague, Pharaoh told Moses: “Get up, get out from the midst of my people, both you and the other sons of Israel, and go, serve Jehovah.” (Exodus 12:29-32) After the Hebrews and “a vast mixed company” of sympathizers left, Pharaoh changed his mind and chased after them. God then miraculously helped his people to escape through the Red Sea, where Pharaoh and his pursuing army died.—Exodus 12:38; 14:5-28; Psalm 78:51-53; 136:13-15.
5 Moses told Israel at the Red Sea: “Do not be afraid. Stand firm and see the salvation of Jehovah, which he will perform for you today.” Later they sang: “My strength and my might is Jah, since he serves for my salvation. This is my God, and I shall laud him.” (Exodus 14:13; 15:2) Yes, Israel’s deliverance, both from the tenth plague and from the Red Sea, was a salvation. Well could the psalmist describe Jehovah as a God “performing grand salvation in the midst of the earth.”—Psalm 68:6, 20; 74:12-14; 78:12, 13, 22.
6, 7. Why was the Passover instituted, yet why is it now kept with differences from the first Passover?
6 The Hebrews were to keep the Passover as a salvation memorial. God said: “This day must serve as a memorial for you, and you must celebrate it as a festival to Jehovah throughout your generations.” (Exodus 12:14) At each Passover meal, or Seder, the father was to remind his family of that salvation. Jehovah directed: “When your sons say to you, ‘What does this service mean to you?’ then you must say, ‘It is the sacrifice of the passover to Jehovah, who passed over the houses of the sons of Israel in Egypt when he plagued the Egyptians, but he delivered our houses.’”—Exodus 12:25-27.
7 That Jews to this day hold the Passover Seder confirms the historicity of that account. Some of their practices, though, differ from what God directed. The Origins of the Seder says: “The Bible includes extensive discussions of Passover and the Festival of the Unleavened Bread; however, these descriptions do not correspond with later observances of the holiday. In particular, the biblical ritual focuses on the passover sacrifice, which in post-biblical literature no longer holds a central position.” A major reason is that Jews lack a temple for animal sacrifices.
8. What special reason do we have for considering the Passover?
8 Christians can profitably study all the festivals that God gave to ancient Israel,a but for now certain aspects of the Passover merit our special attention. Jesus, a Jew, kept the Passover. On the last occasion that he did so, he outlined the only divine celebration for Christians—the Lord’s Evening Meal, the memorial of Jesus’ death. So this Christian celebration is linked to the Passover.
More Than a Passover Lamb
9, 10. How was the Passover lamb a special, or unique, sacrifice?
9 Hebrews 10:1 tells us that ‘the Law was a shadow of the good things to come.’ The Cyclopædia of Biblical, Theological, and Ecclesiastical Literature, by M’Clintock and Strong, says: “No other shadow of good things to come contained in the law can vie with the festival of the Passover.” In particular did the Passover lamb have a meaning that extended beyond the ceremony memorializing how God saved the firstborn and then all the Hebrews out of Egypt.
10 That lamb was unique in a number of respects. For instance, many animal sacrifices of the Mosaic Law were presented by a single individual in connection with personal sins or guilt, and parts of the animals were burned on the altar. (Leviticus 4:22-35) Some meat from the communion offering was given to the officiating priest or to other priests. (Leviticus 7:11-38) However, the paschal, or Passover, lamb was not used on the altar, and it was offered by a group of people, usually a family, who were the ones to eat it.—Exodus 12:4, 8-11.
11. What was Jehovah’s view of the Passover lamb, and to what did it point? (Numbers 9:13)
11 Jehovah valued the Passover lamb so highly that he called it “my sacrifice.” (Exodus 23:18; 34:25) Scholars have said that “the paschal sacrifice was the sacrifice of Jehovah par excellence.” This lamb undeniably pointed to, or typified, the sacrifice of Jesus. We know this because the apostle Paul called Jesus “our passover [who] has been sacrificed.” (1 Corinthians 5:7) Jesus was identified as “the Lamb of God” and “the Lamb that was slaughtered.”—John 1:29; Revelation 5:12; Acts 8:32.
12. What role did the lamb’s blood play in the first Passover?
12 Back in Egypt the lamb’s blood was pivotal to salvation. When Jehovah slew the firstborn, He passed over houses where there was blood on the doorposts. Moreover, because the Hebrews were not mourning the death of their firstborn, they were in position to march through the Red Sea to freedom.
13, 14. How is Jesus’ blood lifesaving and necessary for salvation? (Ephesians 1:13)
13 Blood is also involved in salvation today—Jesus’ shed blood. When “the passover, the festival of the Jews, was near” in 32 C.E., Jesus told a large audience: “He that feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood has everlasting life, and I shall resurrect him at the last day; for my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink.” (John 6:4, 54, 55) All his Jewish listeners would have in mind the impending Passover and that a lamb’s blood was used in Egypt.
14 Jesus was not then discussing the emblems used in the Lord’s Evening Meal. That new celebration for Christians was not instituted until a year later, so even the apostles who heard Jesus in 32 C.E. knew nothing of it. Still, Jesus was showing that his blood was essential for everlasting salvation. Paul explained: “By means of him we have the release by ransom through the blood of that one, yes, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his undeserved kindness.” (Ephesians 1:7) Only through forgiveness on the basis of Jesus’ blood can we live forever.
Which Salvation and Where?
15. For the Hebrews in Egypt, what salvation and privileges became possible, and what did not? (1 Corinthians 10:1-5)
15 Just a limited salvation was involved in ancient Egypt. No one who left Egypt expected to be given endless life after the Exodus. True, God appointed the Levites to be priests for the nation, and some of the tribe of Judah became temporal kings, but all of these would die. (Acts 2:29; Hebrews 7:11, 23, 27) While the “vast mixed company” who also left Egypt did not have those privileges, they, along with the Hebrews, could hope to reach the Promised Land and enjoy a normal life worshiping God. Still, Jehovah’s pre-Christian servants had a basis for hoping that, in time, they could enjoy endless life on earth, where God purposed mankind to live. This would be in line with Jesus’ promise at John 6:54.
16. For what sort of salvation could God’s ancient servants hope?
16 God used some of his ancient servants to pen inspiring words about the earth’s having been created to be inhabited and about the upright living forever on it. (Psalm 37:9-11; Proverbs 2:21, 22; Isaiah 45:18) Yet, how could true worshipers gain such salvation if they died? By God’s bringing them back to life on earth. Job, for example, expressed the hope that he would be remembered and called back to life. (Job 14:13-15; Daniel 12:13) Clearly, one form of salvation is to everlasting life on earth.—Matthew 11:11.
17. The Bible shows that others may gain what different salvation?
17 The Bible also speaks of salvation to life in heaven, where Jesus Christ went after his resurrection. “He is at God’s right hand, for he went his way to heaven; and angels and authorities and powers were made subject to him.” (1 Peter 3:18, 22; Ephesians 1:20-22; Hebrews 9:24) But Jesus is not to be the only human taken to heaven. God has determined that he will also take from earth a relatively small number of others. Jesus told the apostles: “In the house of my Father there are many abodes. . . . I am going my way to prepare a place for you. Also, if I go my way and prepare a place for you, I am coming again and will receive you home to myself, that where I am you also may be.”—John 14:2, 3.
18. We now have what reason to focus on salvation to heavenly life?
18 Salvation to heavenly life in union with Jesus is certainly far grander than the limited salvation involved with the first Passover. (2 Timothy 2:10) It was on the evening of the last valid Seder, or Passover meal, that Jesus instituted the new celebration for his followers, which focused on salvation to heavenly life. He told the apostles: “Keep doing this in remembrance of me.” (Luke 22:19) Before we consider how Christians should keep this celebration, let us consider the matter of when we should do so.
An “Appointed Time”
19. Why is it logical to link the Passover and the Lord’s Evening Meal?
19 Jesus had said: “I have greatly desired to eat this passover with you before I suffer.” (Luke 22:15) He thereafter outlined the Lord’s Evening Meal, which his followers were to keep as a memorial of his death. (Luke 22:19, 20) The Passover was held once a year. Hence, it is reasonable that the Lord’s Evening Meal be kept annually. When? Logically, in the spring at Passover time. That would mean when Nisan 14 (Jewish calendar) fell, rather than always holding to Friday because that was the weekday on which Jesus died.
20. Why are Jehovah’s Witnesses interested in Nisan 14?
20 So Nisan 14 would be the date Paul had in mind when he wrote: “As often as you eat this loaf and drink this cup, you keep proclaiming the death of the Lord, until he arrives.” (1 Corinthians 11:26) For the next two centuries, many Christians held to Nisan 14, they being known as Quartodecimans, from the Latin for “14th.” M’Clintock and Strong report: “The churches of Asia Minor celebrated the death of the Lord on the day corresponding to the 14th of the month Nisan, on which day, according to the opinion of the whole ancient Church, the crucifixion took place.” Today, Jehovah’s Witnesses keep the Lord’s Evening Meal annually on the date corresponding to Nisan 14. Some have noted, though, that this may differ from the date when Jews hold their Passover. Why?
21. When was the Passover lamb to be sacrificed, but what do Jews today do?
21 The Hebrew day ran from sunset (about six o’clock) to the next sunset. God commanded that the Passover lamb be killed on Nisan 14 “between the two evenings.” (Exodus 12:6) When would that be? Modern Jews cling to the rabbinical view that the lamb was to be slaughtered near the end of Nisan 14, between the time when the sun began to descend (about three o’clock) and the actual sunset. As a result, they hold their Seder after sundown, when Nisan 15 has begun.—Mark 1:32.
22. What is a reason why the date for the Memorial may differ from the date when Jews hold their Passover? (Mark 14:17; John 13:30)
22 We have good reason, however, to understand the expression differently. Deuteronomy 16:6 clearly told the Israelites to “slaughter the passover sacrifice, in the evening, at sundown.” (Jewish Tanakh version) This indicates that “between the two evenings” referred to the twilight period, from sunset (which begins Nisan 14) to actual darkness. The ancient Karaite Jewsb understood it this way, as do Samaritansc down to today. Our accepting that the Passover lamb was sacrificed and eaten “at its appointed time” on Nisan 14, not on Nisan 15, is one reason why our Memorial date sometimes differs from the Jewish date.—Numbers 9:2-5.
23. Why are months added to the Hebrew calendar, and how is this handled by modern-day Jews?
23 Another reason why our date may differ from that of the Jews is that they employ a predetermined calendar, which system was not fixed until the fourth century C.E. Using this, they can set dates for Nisan 1 or for festivals decades or centuries beforehand. Moreover, the ancient lunar calendar needed to have a 13th month added occasionally so that the calendar would synchronize with the seasons. The current Jewish calendar adds this month at fixed points; in a 19-year cycle, it is added to years 3, 6, 8, 11, 14, 17, and 19.
24, 25. (a) In Jesus’ time, how were months fixed and the need for extra months determined? (b) How is the date for the Lord’s Evening Meal established by Jehovah’s Witnesses?
24 However, Emil Schürer says that “at the time of Jesus [the Jews] still had no fixed calendar, but on the basis of purely empirical observation, began each new month with the appearance of the new moon, and similarly on the basis of observation” added a month as needed. “If . . . it was noticed towards the end of the year that Passover would fall before the vernal equinox [about March 21], the intercalation of a month before Nisan was decreed.” (The History of the Jewish People in the Age of Jesus Christ, Volume 1) The extra month thus comes in naturally, not being added arbitrarily.
25 The Governing Body of Jehovah’s Witnesses establishes the date for the Lord’s Evening Meal in line with the ancient method. Nisan 1 is determined by when the new moon nearest the spring equinox can likely be observed at sunset in Jerusalem. Counting 14 days from that brings one to Nisan 14, which usually corresponds to the day of the full moon. (See The Watchtower of June 15, 1977, pages 383-4.) On the basis of this Biblical method, Jehovah’s Witnesses around the globe have been advised that the celebration of the Memorial this year will be after sunset on April 10.
26. What additional aspects of the Lord’s Evening Meal merit our attention?
26 This date corresponds to Nisan 14, which was when Jesus held the last valid Passover. However, celebrating the Memorial brings into focus salvation beyond what the Jewish Seder commemorates. All of us need to understand what takes place during the Lord’s Evening Meal, what it means, and how our salvation is involved.
b M’Clintock and Strong describe them as “one of the oldest and most remarkable sects of the Jewish synagogue, whose distinguishing tenet is strict adherence to the letter of the written law.”
c “They slaughter the animal in the evening . . . At midnight each family group eats the meat . . . and then burns the leftover meat and bones before morning . . . Some scholars have suggested that the Samaritan religion may closely resemble biblical religion before rabbinic Judaism reshaped it.”—The Origins of the Seder.
How Would You Answer?
◻ Why is the Passover appropriately linked to salvation?
◻ How can Jesus’ sacrifice accomplish more than did the Passover lamb?
◻ What salvation becomes available through Jesus?
◻ How do Jehovah’s Witnesses establish the proper time for the Lord’s Evening Meal?