“This day must serve as a memorial for you, and you must celebrate it as a festival to Jehovah.”—EXODUS 12:14.
1, 2. What anniversary should Christians especially be interested in, and why?
WHEN you hear the word “anniversary,” what do you think of? If you are married, you might think of your wedding anniversary. Others might think of an important date in history that is celebrated, such as when their country became independent. But do you know which national anniversary has been celebrated for more than 3,500 years?
2 That anniversary is the Passover. It is the celebration of the Israelites’ being freed from slavery in Egypt. The Passover should be important to you. Why? Because it affects your life in some very important ways. You might think: ‘The Passover is a Jewish celebration, but I am a Christian. Why should I be interested in the Passover?’ The answer is found in these important words: “Christ our passover has been sacrificed.” (1 Corinthians 5:7) What exactly does this mean? To find the answer, we need to know more about the Jewish Passover and what this anniversary has to do with a command given to all Christians.
WHY DID THE ISRAELITES CELEBRATE THE PASSOVER?
3, 4. What event happened before the first Passover?
3 Hundreds of millions of people around the world who are not Jewish know about the event that happened before the first Passover. They may have read about this event in the Bible book of Exodus, heard others tell the story, or seen a movie about it. Do you remember what happened?
4 When the Israelites had been slaves in Egypt for many years, Jehovah sent Moses and Aaron to ask Pharaoh to free His people. But Pharaoh was proud and did not let the Israelites go. So Jehovah punished Egypt with ten terrible plagues. During the tenth plague, the firstborn of the Egyptians were killed. After that, Pharaoh decided to let the Israelites go.—Exodus 1:11; 3:9, 10; 5:1, 2; 11:1, 5.
5. What were the Israelites commanded to do before they were set free? (See opening picture.)
5 But before the Israelites were set free, they had to follow some specific instructions. This was in the spring of the year 1513 before Christ, in the month of Abib, later called Nisan.* (See footnote.) God told them to start preparing on Nisan 10 for an event that would happen at sunset on Nisan 14. Why at sunset? Because Hebrew days began and ended at sunset. When Nisan 14 came, each family was to slaughter a male sheep (or goat) and splash some of its blood on the doorframe of the home. (Exodus 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 kill Egypt’s firstborn, but the firstborn of the obedient Israelites would not be killed. Then God’s people would be set free.—Exodus 12:8-13, 29-32.
6. Why would the Israelites continue to celebrate the Passover every year?
6 The Israelites had to remember the day God set them free from Egypt. 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.” After the Passover celebration on Nisan 14, the Israelites would also celebrate a seven-day festival called the Festival of Unfermented Cakes. Together, these eight days also can be called the Passover. (Exodus 12:14-17; Luke 22:1; John 18:28; 19:14) The Passover was one of the festivals, or “anniversaries,” that the Israelites were commanded to celebrate each year.—2 Chronicles 8:13, The Bible in Living English.
7. What new event did Jesus tell his followers to observe?
7 Jesus and the apostles were Jews and obeyed the Mosaic Law, so they celebrated the Passover. (Matthew 26:17-19) At their last Passover together, Jesus said that his followers were to observe a new event each year. This event is called the Lord’s Evening Meal. But on what day were they to observe it?
ON WHAT DAY WAS THE LORD’S EVENING MEAL?
8. What question about the Passover and the Lord’s Evening Meal might some ask?
8 Jesus gave instructions for the Lord’s Evening Meal right after celebrating the Passover with his apostles. So the Lord’s Evening Meal was on the same day as the Passover. You may have noticed, though, that Jews today may not celebrate the Passover on exactly the same day as we observe the Memorial of Christ’s death. Why the difference? God’s command to the Israelites about the start of the Passover helps us to answer this question. God told the people when on Nisan 14 to slaughter the lamb, which is when the Passover would begin.—Read Exodus 12:5, 6.
9 The Jewish publication 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. Other Bibles, including the Jewish Tanakh, translate it “at twilight.” There are also Bibles that say “at dusk,” “during the evening twilight,” or “around sundown.” So the lamb was to be slaughtered at the start of Nisan 14, that is, after the sun had set but while there was still light.
10. Some believe that the Passover lamb was slaughtered when? But what question must we ask?
10 In later times, some Jews felt that it would have taken hours to slaughter all the lambs brought to the temple. So they believed that the expression “between the two evenings” at Exodus 12:6 referred to the end of Nisan 14, between the time the sun started to go down in the afternoon and the time the sun set in the evening. But if the lambs were slaughtered at the end of Nisan 14, when would the Israelites have eaten the Passover meal? According to Professor Jonathan Klawans, it would have been eaten on Nisan 15. But he admits that this is not said directly in the Bible book of Exodus. He also says that the writings of the rabbis do not discuss how the Passover was celebrated before the year 70, which was the year the temple was destroyed.
11. (a) What happened to Jesus on the day of the Passover in the year 33? (b) Why was Nisan 15 in the year 33 called “a great” Sabbath? (See footnote.)
11 On what day, then, was the Passover meal celebrated in the year 33? Well, on the day before the Passover, Nisan 13, Jesus told Peter and John: “Go and get the passover ready for us to eat.” (Luke 22:7, 8) Then, on Nisan 14, which was Thursday evening after sunset, Jesus ate the Passover meal with his apostles. After that meal, he gave them instructions for the Lord’s Evening Meal. (Luke 22:14, 15) That night he was arrested and put on trial. Jesus was hanged on a torture stake close to noon on Nisan 14, and that afternoon he died. (John 19:14) So “Christ our passover” sacrificed his life on the same day as the Passover lamb was slaughtered. (Matthew 26:2; 1 Corinthians 5:7; 11:23) Jesus was buried before the start of the next day, Nisan 15.* (See footnote.)—Leviticus 23:5-7; Luke 23:54.
A MEMORIAL YOU CAN LEARN FROM
12, 13. How were Israelite children a part of the Passover celebration?
12 At the time of the first Passover in Egypt, God commanded the Israelites to celebrate this event every year “to time indefinite.” Each year at the Passover, children would ask their parents why they were celebrating it. (Read Exodus 12:24-27; Deuteronomy 6:20-23) So the Passover would be “a memorial” that even children could learn lessons from.—Exodus 12:14.
13 From generation to generation, Israelites taught their children important lessons about the Passover. One was that Jehovah could protect his worshippers. Children learned that Jehovah is a real, living God who cares about his people and protects them. He proved this when he kept the Israelites’ firstborn alive during the tenth plague on Egypt.
14. What lesson from the Passover can Christian parents teach their children?
14 As Christian parents, you are not commanded to tell your children the story of the Passover every year. But do you teach them this lesson from the Passover, that God protects his people? Is it obvious to your children that you truly believe that God still protects us today? (Psalm 27:11; Isaiah 12:2) Do you teach this lesson to them during an enjoyable conversation instead of giving them a lecture? This lesson will help your family to trust in Jehovah even more.
15, 16. What can we learn about Jehovah from the Passover and the Exodus accounts?
15 Another important lesson we can learn from the Passover is that Jehovah is able not only to protect his people but also to rescue them. Imagine what it was like for the Israelites when Jehovah rescued them from Egypt. They were guided to the Red Sea by a pillar of cloud and of fire. Then, they saw Jehovah split the sea into two high walls of water. Next, they walked across on dry ground. Once they were safely across, they watched as those waters crashed down on the Egyptian army. The Israelites praised Jehovah for delivering them and sang: “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.”—Exodus 13:14, 21, 22; 15:1, 2; Psalm 136:11-15.
We learn from the Passover that Jehovah protects and delivers his people
16 If you have children, are you helping them to see Jehovah as a powerful God who will deliver his people? When you make decisions or talk to your children, can they see that you trust in Jehovah to deliver you and your family? Perhaps you could discuss together during family worship how Jehovah delivered his people in the accounts found at Exodus chapters 12-15 as well as Acts 7:30-36 or Daniel 3:16-18, 26-28. All of us, young and old, should be certain that just as Jehovah delivered his people in the past, he will deliver us in the future.—Read 1 Thessalonians 1:9, 10.
FOR US TO REMEMBER
17, 18. Why is Jesus’ blood more valuable than the blood of the Passover lamb?
17 True Christians do not celebrate the Passover. That anniversary was part of the Mosaic Law, and we do not follow that Law. (Romans 10:4; Colossians 2:13-16) Instead, we observe another anniversary, the death of God’s Son. But we can learn a lot from the Passover celebration that started in Egypt.
18 The lamb’s blood that the Israelites sprinkled on their doorframes saved the lives of their firstborn. Today, we do not offer the blood of animals to God at Passover or at any other time. But the blood of another sacrifice is far more valuable. The people whom it saves can live forever. The apostle Paul explained that it is Jesus’ blood, “the blood of sprinkling,” that makes it possible for anointed Christians to live forever in heaven. They are “the firstborn who have been enrolled in the heavens.” (Hebrews 12:23, 24) Jesus’ blood also makes it possible for the other sheep to have the hope of living forever on earth. All of us should regularly remind ourselves of the promise: “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.
Jesus’ sacrifice makes it possible for us to live forever
19. How can the way Jesus died strengthen our confidence in Bible prophecy?
19 When the lamb was slaughtered for the Passover meal, the Israelites were not to break any of its bones. (Exodus 12:46; Numbers 9:11, 12) What about the bones of “the Lamb of God,” Jesus, who gave his life as a ransom? (John 1:29) He was hanged on a torture stake with a criminal on each side of him. The Jews asked Pilate to have the bones of Jesus and of the two criminals broken so that they would die quicker. This way, their bodies could be taken off the torture stakes before Nisan 15, a double Sabbath. Soldiers broke the legs of the two criminals, “but on coming to Jesus, as they saw that he was already dead, they did not break his legs.” (John 19:31-34) Just like the bones of the Passover lamb, Jesus’ bones were not broken. So the Passover lamb was like “a shadow” of Jesus’ sacrifice on Nisan 14 of the year 33. (Hebrews 10:1) This fulfilled the words at Psalm 34:20. This should strengthen our confidence in Bible prophecy.
20. What is one difference between the Passover and the Lord’s Evening Meal?
20 There are differences, though, between how the Jews celebrated the Passover and how Jesus told his disciples to observe the Lord’s Evening Meal. For example, the Israelites would eat the lamb’s meat but would not drink its blood. That is different from what Jesus told his disciples to do. He said that those who would rule “in the kingdom of God” should eat the bread and drink the wine, which represented his flesh and his blood. We will learn more about the Memorial of Christ’s death in the next article.—Mark 14:22-25.
21. Why should we know about the Passover?
21 The Passover was an important event in the history of God’s people, and each one of us can learn many lessons from it. So even though the Passover was “a memorial” for the Jews, we as Christians should know about it and learn its valuable lessons, because “all Scripture is inspired of God.”—2 Timothy 3:16.
The first month of the Hebrew calendar was called Abib, but it was later called Nisan when the Israelites returned from exile in Babylon. In this article, we will use the name Nisan.
The day after Passover, Nisan 15, was the first day of the Festival of Unfermented Cakes and was always a sabbath. In the year 33, Nisan 15 was also the beginning of the weekly Sabbath (Saturday). Because both Sabbaths were on the same day in that year, that day was called “a great” Sabbath.—Read John 19:31, 42.