“This day must serve as a memorial for you, and you must celebrate it as a festival to Jehovah.”—EX. 12:14.
1, 2. What anniversary should be of particular interest to all Christians, and why?
WHEN you think of anniversaries, which one readily comes to your mind? “My wedding anniversary,” a married person might say. For others, it might be the date of a widely celebrated historic event, such as when their homeland became independent. But do you know of a national anniversary that has been commemorated for over 3,500 years?
2 There is such an event—the Passover. It marked the liberation of ancient Israel from slavery in Egypt. That event should be important to you. Why? Because it relates to some very significant aspects of your life. ‘But,’ you might think, ‘though Jews celebrate Passover, I am not a practicing Jew. Why should I be interested in that anniversary?’ The answer can be found in this profound statement: “Christ our passover has been sacrificed.” (1 Cor. 5:7) To grasp the import of that truth, we need to know about the Jewish Passover and to consider it in the light of a command given to all Christians.
3, 4. What is the background of the first Passover?
3 Hundreds of millions of people around the globe who are not Jewish have some knowledge of the event behind what might be called the first Passover. They may have read about it in the Bible book of Exodus, heard the story told, or seen a movie that was based on the event.
4 When the Israelites had been slaves in Egypt for many years, Jehovah sent Moses and his brother, Aaron, to Pharaoh to ask him to liberate His people. That haughty Egyptian ruler would not let the Israelites go, so Jehovah struck the land with a series of devastating plagues. Finally, God sent a tenth plague, the death of Egypt’s firstborn, which did move Pharaoh to release them.—Ex. 1:11; 3:9, 10; 5:1, 2; 11:1, 5.
5. The Israelites were to do what in preparation for being set free? (See opening image.)
5 But what were the Israelites to do before being set free? It was about the time of the spring equinox in 1513 B.C.E., in the Hebrew month of Abib, later called Nisan.* God said that on the tenth day of that month, the Israelites were to start getting ready to follow certain steps on Nisan 14. That day began at sunset because the Hebrew days ran from sunset to sunset. On Nisan 14, each household was to slaughter a male sheep (or goat) and splash some of its blood on the doorposts and lintel of the house. (Ex. 12:3-7, 22, 23) The family was to have a meal of roasted lamb along with unleavened bread and some herbs. God’s angel would pass over the land and slay Egypt’s firstborn, but the obedient Israelites would be protected, and then they could go free.—Ex. 12:8-13, 29-32.
6. How were God’s people in later times to view the Passover?
6 That is what happened, and the Israelites were to remember their liberation in the years to come. God told them: “This day must serve as a memorial for you, and you must celebrate it as a festival to Jehovah throughout your generations. As a statute to time indefinite you should celebrate it.” The celebration on the 14th was to be followed by a seven-day festival. Nisan 14 was the day of the actual Passover, but the name Passover could be applied to all eight days of the festival. (Ex. 12:14-17; Luke 22:1; John 18:28; 19:14) The Passover was one of the appointed festivals (“anniversaries,” The Bible in Living English) that the Hebrews were to celebrate each year.—2 Chron. 8:13.
7. What did Jesus institute on the last valid Passover?
7 As Jews under the Mosaic Law, Jesus and his apostles shared in the annual Passover. (Matt. 26:17-19) The last time they did so, Jesus instituted a new event that his followers thereafter were to keep annually—the Lord’s Evening Meal. But on what day were they to observe it?
THE LORD’S EVENING MEAL—WHAT DAY?
8. In considering the Passover and the Lord’s Evening Meal, what question arises?
8 Given that Jesus instituted the Lord’s Evening Meal right after the last valid Passover, this new event would coincide with the day of the Passover. You may have observed, though, that the date of the Jewish Passover shown on some modern calendars may differ one or more days from the date when we commemorate Christ’s death. Why the difference? The answer, in part, involves God’s command to the Israelites. After saying that “the whole congregation of the assembly of Israel must slaughter” the lamb, Moses specified when on Nisan 14 they were to do so.—Read Exodus 12:5, 6.
9 The Pentateuch and Haftorahs points out that Exodus 12:6 says that the lamb was to be slaughtered “between the two evenings.” Some Bible versions use exactly that expression. Others, including the Jewish Tanakh, translate it “at twilight.” Still others, “at dusk,” “during the evening twilight,” or “around sundown.” So the lamb was to be slaughtered after the sun had set but while there was still light, at the start of Nisan 14.
10. According to some, when was the lamb slaughtered, but what question does that raise?
10 In later times, some Jews thought that it would have taken hours to slaughter all the lambs brought to the temple. So Exodus 12:6 was understood to refer to the end of Nisan 14, between the time when the sun started to decline (after noon) and the end of the day at sunset. But if that were the meaning, when would the meal have been eaten? Professor Jonathan Klawans, a specialist in ancient Judaism, noted: “The new day begins with the setting of the sun, so the sacrifice is made on the 14th but the beginning of Passover and the meal are actually on the 15th, although this sequence of dates is not specified in Exodus.” He also wrote: “Rabbinic literature . . . does not even claim to be telling us how the Seder [Passover meal] was performed before the destruction of the Temple” in 70 C.E.—Italics ours.
11. (a) What did Jesus go through on the day of Passover 33 C.E.? (b) Why was Nisan 15 in 33 C.E. called “a great” Sabbath? (See footnote.)
11 We thus have reason to ask, What of the Passover in 33 C.E.? Well, on Nisan 13, as the day drew near ‘on which the passover victim was to be sacrificed,’ Christ told Peter and John: “Go and get the passover ready for us to eat.” (Luke 22:7, 8) “At length . . . the hour came” for the Passover meal, after sunset on Nisan 14, which would be Thursday evening. Jesus ate that meal with his apostles, and then he instituted the Lord’s Evening Meal. (Luke 22:14, 15) That night he was arrested and tried. Jesus was impaled close to noon on Nisan 14, and that afternoon he died. (John 19:14) Thus, “Christ our passover [was] sacrificed” on the same day as the Passover lamb was slaughtered. (1 Cor. 5:7; 11:23; Matt. 26:2) As the end of that Jewish day approached, Jesus was buried—before the start of Nisan 15.*—Lev. 23:5-7; Luke 23:54.
A MEMORIAL WITH MEANING FOR YOU
12, 13. How were Jewish children especially involved in the Passover celebration?
12 But let us go back to the occasion in Egypt. Moses said that in the future, God’s people were to keep the Passover; it was to be a regulation “to time indefinite.” As part of that annual observance, children would ask their parents questions that focused on the meaning of the event. (Read Exodus 12:24-27; Deut. 6:20-23) Hence, the Passover would have meaning as “a memorial” even for children.—Ex. 12:14.
13 As new generations grew up, important lessons would be emphasized, passed on by father to son. One was that Jehovah could protect his worshippers. The children learned that he is not some vague, abstract deity. Jehovah is a real, living God who is interested in his people and who acts in their behalf. He proved this at the time he protected the Israelite firstborn “when he plagued the Egyptians.” He kept the firstborn alive.
14. Christian parents can use the Passover account to help their children appreciate what?
14 Christian parents do not each year recount to their sons and daughters the meaning of that Passover. Do you, however, teach your children this same lesson—that God protects his people? Do you convey to them your deep conviction that Jehovah is still a real Protector of his people? (Ps. 27:11; Isa. 12:2) And do you do that, not in the form of a cold lecture, but in an enjoyable conversation between you and your children? Make an effort to include that lesson to stimulate your family’s spiritual growth.
15, 16. The Passover and the Exodus accounts can be used to emphasize what about Jehovah?
15 What can be learned from the Passover is not just Jehovah’s ability to protect his people. He also delivered them, having ‘brought them out of Egypt.’ Think about what that included. They were guided by a pillar of cloud and of fire. They walked on the seabed as the Red Sea towered on the left and on the right. Once safely across, they saw those waters crash over the Egyptian military. Then the delivered Israelites could sound forth: “Let me sing to Jehovah . . . The horse and its rider he has pitched into the sea. My strength and my might is Jah, since he serves for my salvation.”—Ex. 13:14, 21, 22; 15:1, 2; Ps. 136:11-15.
16 If you have children, are you helping them to trust in Jehovah as a Deliverer? Can they see that conviction in you, in your conversations and decisions? You certainly can include in a Family Worship discussion what we read in Exodus chapters 12-15 and stress how Jehovah delivered his people. At other times you might develop that point in a consideration of Acts 7:30-36 or Daniel 3:16-18, 26-28. Yes, young and old alike should be confident that Jehovah was a Deliverer not just in the past. As he delivered his people in Moses’ day, he will deliver us in the future.—Read 1 Thessalonians 1:9, 10.
FOR US TO REMEMBER
17, 18. Thinking about the use of blood at the first Passover should bring what to our mind?
17 True Christians do not memorialize the Jewish Passover. That anniversary was part of the Mosaic Law, and we are not under the Law. (Rom. 10:4; Col. 2:13-16) Rather, we hold dear another event, the death of God’s Son. Still, there are features of the Passover observance that was instituted back in Egypt that have meaning for us.
18 The lamb’s blood sprinkled on the doorposts and lintel was a means to preserve life. Today, we do not offer animal sacrifices to God—neither on the date of the Passover nor at any other time. But there is a better sacrifice that can preserve life permanently. The apostle Paul wrote about “the congregation of the firstborn who have been enrolled in the heavens.” The means of preserving the lives of those anointed Christians is “the blood of sprinkling,” Jesus’ blood. (Heb. 12:23, 24) Christians who hope to live forever on earth depend on that same blood for preservation. They should regularly remind themselves of the assurance: “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.”—Eph. 1:7.
19. How can the treatment of the Passover victim strengthen our confidence in prophecy?
19 When the lamb was slaughtered for the Passover meal, the Israelites were not to break any of its bones. (Ex. 12:46; Num. 9:11, 12) What of “the Lamb of God” who came to provide the ransom? (John 1:29) He was impaled with a criminal on each side. The Jews asked Pilate that the bones of the impaled men be broken. This would hasten their death so that they would not be left on the stakes into Nisan 15, a double Sabbath. Soldiers broke the legs of the two impaled criminals, “but on coming to Jesus, as they saw that he was already dead, they did not break his legs.” (John 19:31-34) That matched what was done with the Passover lamb, so this lamb was in that sense “a shadow” of what was to come on Nisan 14, 33 C.E. (Heb. 10:1) Moreover, the way things worked out fulfilled the words at Psalm 34:20, which should strengthen our confidence in prophecy.
20. What noteworthy difference is there between the Passover and the Lord’s Evening Meal?
20 There are, however, differences between the Passover and the Lord’s Evening Meal. These show that the Passover that the Jews were to memorialize was not to foreshadow what Christ told his followers to do in memory of his death. Back in Egypt, the Israelites partook of the lamb’s flesh but not of its blood. That differs from what Jesus directed his disciples to do. He said that those who would reign “in the kingdom of God” should partake of both the bread and the wine as symbols of his flesh and his blood. We will consider this in more detail in the following article.—Mark 14:22-25.
21. Why is it beneficial to know about the Passover?
21 Still, there is no doubt that the Passover was a major event in God’s dealings with Israel, and it provides instructive lessons for each of us. So while the Passover was ‘to be a memorial for’ Jews, not Christians, we as Christians should know about it and take to heart some of the vivid lessons that it provides as part of ‘all Scripture that is inspired of God.’—2 Tim. 3:16.
Although Nisan was the postexilic name for the Hebrew month, for simplicity we will refer to the first month of the Jewish Hebrew calendar as Nisan.