Meaning of God's Holy Days/Passover

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Passover has a deep and rich meaning for the Christian in our time.

The word "Passover" literally comes from combining the two words "pass" and "over", and it refers to the last plague in Egypt where the death angel went out to strike the firstborn of Egypt. The Hebrews were commanded to paint the doorposts and mantles with the blood of a lamb, and when the death angel saw the blood, he would "pass over" that house and not strike them within with the plague.

The Hebrew term for Passover is Pesach, and it comes from the root word Pei-Samekh-Cheit which also means "pass over".

Feast day, not a holy day

Strictly speaking, Passover is not a "holy day", but it is a feast day (Lev 23:4-5). It is listed as a feast day, but there are no restrictions against work as there are on other days such as Atonement, Trumpets or even the weekly Sabbath.

The difference can be confusing to someone who encounters this for the first time. However, even in the world, there are "holidays" in which people take off of work, such as Thanksgiving or Christmas, and there are days of observance, such as Valentine's Day or St Patrick's Day, in which most people still work. Note: This is an example, not a sanctioning of the world's holidays.

Importance of Passover

Notice, though, that this does not by any measure mean that it is not important. It is the only feast day in which an alternative day is designated just in case travel, illness or some other event prevents one from observing it (Nu 9:9-13).

However, this does not excuse anyone from keeping the Passover for frivolous reasons (v13). In fact, the establishment of the Second Passover should instead reinforce how important it is in God's plan. More to the point, anyone who does not keep it but should "bears his sin"! That should be a frightening thought.

Passover and Days of Unleavened Bread are separate

It should be noted, however, that modern-day Jews keep "Passover" as a seven-day celebration, mixing the two celebrations of Passover and the Days/Feast of Unleavened Bread together. However, the Bible makes it clear that they are two separate celebrations.

16 And in the fourteenth day of the first month is the passover of the Lord.

17 And in the fifteenth day of this month is the feast: seven days shall unleavened bread be eaten.

~ Nu 28:16-17

It is obvious that these are two separate celebrations, culminating in an eight-day period of time when viewed together. While it is beyond the scope of this article to prove this, it should noted that at the time of Christ, the Jews had already altered their celebration of Passover, with some keeping it in the afternoon of the fourteenth and even some killing the lamb on the fourteenth but eating it on the fifteenth:

28 Then led they Jesus from Caiaphas unto the hall of judgment: and it was early; and they themselves went not into the judgment hall, lest they should be defiled; but that they might eat the passover.

~ Jn 18:28

This occurred after Jesus and His disciples had already partaken of the Passover.

Jesus had criticized the Jews for eroding the meaning of many of points of the Law over and over again, so it should not be surprising that this too was being eroded during His day. We need to keep His example (Jn 13:15; 1Pe 2:21; et al).

Before the world began

While the OT observance concentrated upon leaving behind Pharaoh and Egypt, the NT observance concentrates more upon the sacrifice of Jesus Christ, the "Lamb of God" (Jn 1:29, 36). Having said that, Pharaoh and Egypt still are important symbols that cannot be ignored, else the deep meaning of Passover becomes lost.

First, however, note that:

  1. The Passover lamb was picked out four days ahead of time (Ex 12:3).
  2. Passover precedes a seven-day period of a separate yet connected feast.
  3. The holy days provide a symmetry with eight days at the beginning and eight days at the end, but with the spring beginning with the one day observance and the fall ending with a one day observance.

What does this mean in regards to Passover?

As stated earlier in this treatise, seven is the number of completeness. Seven points back to Creation week, and it is symbolic of the seven thousand year plan of God. In order to enforce this notion, seven becomes a subtheme throughout the observances of the weekly Sabbath and holy days.

The seven days of Unleavened Bread, then, are representative of how God will act during this seven thousand year period, which will be brought out in more detail in the section covering the Meaning of God's Holy Days/Days of Unleavened Bread.

What of Passover, then? Is it somehow outside of this seven thousand year plan! Indeed it is!

24 Father, I will that they also, whom thou hast given me, be with me where I am; that they may behold my glory, which thou hast given me: for thou lovedst me before the foundation of the world.

~ Jn 17:24

19 But with the precious blood of Christ, as of a lamb without blemish and without spot:

20 Who verily was foreordained before the foundation of the world, but was manifest in these last times for you,

~ 1Pe 1:19-20

8 And all that dwell upon the earth shall worship him, whose names are not written in the book of life of the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world.

~ Rev 13:8

Notice as well that the lamb was selected even four days before Passover. Five is a number that represents first and foremost grace. Abram became Abraham by the addition of the letter that represented 5. However, the same could be said of changing his wife's name Sarai to Sarah. When God changed their names, He also blessed them.

However, grace is something that God offers to mankind. It sums up God's dealings with mankind. The lamb is chosen on the tenth, 2 x 5, which implies a totality. The lamb is chosen 4 days before the ultimate sacrifice, showing who the grace is directed towards (four is the number of the weakness of man). It is chosen 5 days before the plan of God begins to physically unfold.

The Ten Commandments are a type of grace. Ten = 2 x 5. Yet, the OT Law never did really dispense grace, did it? Rather, it gave a series of ritualistic sacrifices that symbolized the atoning of and for sin. While grace was at the heart of God's dealings with Israel, it was never really extended to the ultimate sense until Jesus Christ provided the ultimate atonement for sin.

OK, so it means grace, but what type of grace? Jesus died for our sins (Heb 9:22; Col 1:22; Heb 10:10; et al).

The picking of the lamb well before Passover symbolizes that Christ was determined to be the Ultimate Sacrifice for all well before Creation Week took place. In a very real sense, the decision was made at a time before time existed.

Our sins "passed over"

By substituting Himself as the Lamb of God for our sins, then, our death is "passed over" by the sign of His blood.

17 But of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, thou shalt not eat of it: for in the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die.

~ Ge 2:17

Ever since sin separated mankind from God in the Garden of Eden, there has been the need for an atoning sacrifice. All of the descendants of Adam and Eve were placed under a curse because of their disobedience. Being cut off from God meant that mankind had to find its own way (experience good and evil and learn that knowledge the hard way). Without God's grace, we are a doomed species on a doomed planet.

Christ's sacrifice paid for that sin. That really is the differentiating cornerstone of Christianity. We are given a new lease on life -- eternal life -- in His Kingdom forever.

Leaving Egypt

However, we must first repent, be willing to leave Egypt. Think about that. If it is sin that is the problem, if it is sin that Christ's death atoned for, then leaving Egypt represents coming out of sin.

23 For the wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.

~ Ro 6:23

Sin, then, is the ultimate bondage.

2 For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus hath made me free from the law of sin and death.

~ Ro 8:2

34 Jesus answered, “I tell you the truth, everyone who lives in sin is a slave to sin.

~ Jn 8:34 (NCV)

20 In the past you were slaves to sin, and goodness did not control you.

~ Ro 6:20 (NCV)

However, Egypt does not just represent sin. Egypt was a nation with a specific way of life. It had laws and mores like any other nation, not to mention an entire culture. Egypt, then, represented a way of life in a sinful manner. In short, the NT calls this way of life "the world".

15 Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world. If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him.

~ 1Jn 2:15

2 And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God.

~ Ro 12:2

17 Wherefore come out from among them, and be ye separate, saith the Lord, and touch not the unclean thing; and I will receive you.

~ 2Co 6:17

4 Who gave himself for our sins, that he might deliver us from this present evil world, according to the will of God and our Father:

~ Gal 1:4

14 I have given them thy word; and the world hath hated them, because they are not of the world, even as I am not of the world.

~ Jn 17:14

And, if "the world" is organized, then it is a given that it has a leader.

31 Now is the judgment of this world: now shall the prince of this world be cast out.

~ Jn 12:31

4 In whom the god of this world hath blinded the minds of them which believe not, lest the light of the glorious gospel of Christ, who is the image of God, should shine unto them.

~ 2Co 4:4

The temptation of Christ in the wilderness was nothing less than a spiritual confrontation between the king of this evil world and God's anointed, just as there was a confrontation between Pharaoh and Moses.

It is important to think about who is in control at this time of this world. When we say "come out of this world", we often concentrate upon the effects. We really need to be mindful of whose world it is and why those effects are so evil.

The bread and the wine

The Jews keep Passover to look back at when they left the bondage of Egypt, but Christians keep the Passover to look back at when Christ died in our place and freed us from sin. Therefore, it should be no surprise that He Himself changed the symbols.

It is important to note that He did not change the date of Passover, nor did He do away with any of the holy days. Rather, He changed the symbols because we are now keeping it because it now has a different meaning.

26 And as they were eating, Jesus took bread, and blessed it, and brake it, and gave it to the disciples, and said, Take, eat; this is my body.

~ Mt 26:26

Jesus broke the bread and passed it to His disciples, representing His broken body.

Now, I should mention that the modern matzo is a rather new invention. Great care goes into making matzos, and modern technology makes it easier to duplicate the exact effect that the Jewish rabbis desire.

This brings up a couple of interesting points. First, it is contradictory that some matzos in grocery stores have leavening in them! Some even claim to be suitable for Passover! Simply amazing! It pays to read food labels at all times.

It should be obvious that Jesus and His disciples were celebrating Passover, so the bread would have been unleavened. Leavened bread would have been unacceptable. The instructions for Passover were quite clear that unleavened bread was to be used (Ex 12:8). False teachers have arisen amongst us that would teach us to do otherwise against the clear teaching of Scripture, and they do so by demanding specific definitions for specific words (1Ti 6:3-5 (NLT)).

Second, since matzos are rather new in the history of Passover, I am amazed at the time some will spend on giving messages that relate this or that aspect of a matzo to the meaning of Passover. It might be an interesting exercise, it might even be entertaining, but it is not the word of God.

27 And he took the cup, and gave thanks, and gave it to them, saying, Drink ye all of it;

28 For this is my blood of the new testament, which is shed for many for the remission of sins.

~ vv 27-28

Jesus then passed around a cup of wine, which represents His blood that was spilled for us. Obviously, the implication is that Passover wine must be red wine, else the symbolism is greatly weakened.

A third symbol is the washing of the disciples' feet. Over and over, we see the disciples fighting over who was the greatest, even at Jesus' last Passover! In fact, they were disputing this even while Jesus was explaining one of them would betray Him (Lk 22:23-24).

Order of Passover service

Another thing people love to fight over is the order of the Passover service.

The Bible is not an instruction manual that gives us step-by-step instructions on a whole variety of things. It is more like a jigsaw puzzle that must be put together. The order of events for the Passover is spread among all four Gospel accounts, and each gives a different perspective.

There are several problems, in fact just a few might be:

  1. One account gives Jesus sharing a cup during supper, whereas another has Him sharing it after supper.
  2. Only one of the Gospels has the foot-washing ceremony.
  3. There would have been a regular meal for this Passover, and then Jesus would have introduced the new symbols.

Part of the problem is that Passover would have had a few rounds, each with a different "cup" used in part of the ceremony. Jewish weddings have similar uses of different "cups" of wine during the ceremony, which hearkens back to the wedding between God and Israel on Mt Sinai. Here, Jesus was in effect proposing marriage to the Church.

However, He changed the symbols, so now we have the solitary cup. We also don't have the lamb and bitter herbs that they were required to eat.

So, when He arose from "supper", which did He arise from? The traditional meal or the new symbols?

The foot-washing ceremony is often disputed about whether it is before or after the meal as well. One problem might be a mistranslation in the KJV that is fixed in the RSV for Jn 13:2.

The GiveShare website gives a good defense of the traditional order of the service in "The Order and Meaning of Passover" as well as some significant background information.

Remember, normally, foot-washing would have been done by the lowest servant shortly after the guests had arrived. It simply makes sense in that regard. Jesus came first and foremost as a servant, so putting that first is a reminder of that.

In addition, this was Jesus' answer as to who was the greatest? Their lust for power had to be quenched before they could accept His sacrifice. As long as we have the judgmental spirit that we are better than others, it will only be through great difficulty that we will enter the Kingdom of God.

Humility is perhaps the paramount requirement for a Christian. It is required to even repent, let alone love God. Pride and arrogance are the attitudes of Satan, and his church organizations display those characteristics as well.

Having said that, can I prove it beyond a shadow of doubt? No, I don't think so. Some things will continue to be ambiguous until Christ returns. This is why church governance exists, though. It settles the ambiguous issues, at least until Christ returns.

Ironically, many are not humble enough to submit to proper church authority, and especially when things are disputable.

Parallel fall feast day

As you can see on Meaning of God's Holy Days/Parallels between spring and fall holy days, there is a parallel between the spring and fall holy day seasons. The first of the spring feast days is Passover, and the first of the fall holy days is the Feast of Trumpets. For Passover, Christ came the first time as the Passover lamb, but when He returns again, it will be to establish His Kingdom in the Millennium.

In the spring, we see the workings of God on the individual level. God starts small, but His workings grow great and large. The individual Christian must have his or her sins forgiven, but this requires the intervention of Christ.

In the fall, we see the workings of God on a corporate level, that is, the entire earth. His second return is also an intervention, but this time to keep the sins of humanity from destroying the planet.


The traditional meaning of the Passover holds up. Christ died for our sins, and eternal death "passes over" us because of the shedding of His blood.

The traditional view that it is the first necessary step in God's plan holds up as well, as it is the first feast day in the year. However, even though we acknowledge that He and the Father chose to do this before the world began, the timing of it and especially in relation to the seven day period following thereafter are rarely addressed.

However, those who claim that the traditional teaching is that seven days equals a thousand years are found to be liars. No one in their right mind would make such a claim about Passover, and no one who is consistent would then turn around and say so about the Feast of Tabernacles.

The order of the first Christian Passover is ambiguous at best. Ironically, those who would rail about it have missed the entire point of the foot-washing ceremony. In practice, each organization (or small group if there is no parent organization attached to it) should let their conscience guide them, but individuals should practice the foot-washing attitude of humility and submit to proper church governance.

Most of all, humility is required before Christ's sacrifice can even have any meaning at all.