Similarities and Differences between the Jewish and Christian Passovers

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Artistic Depiction of the Christian Passover

Introduction

Since Passover and Easter fall virtually on the same day this year, I want to discuss the similarities between the Jewish Passover and the Christian Passover, beginning on Easter. In other words, in a spirit of ecumenism, I am going to discuss what the two religions have in common, despite their significant differences.

The word “Passover” is derived from Exodus 12:13. There, the Lord said to the Israelites, “[W]hen I see the blood I will pass over you” (Exodus 12:13). The Israelites ate their last seder or meal before the Lord killed all the first-born in Egypt. The meal consisted of a lamb, unleavened bread and bitter herbs (cf. Exodus 12:5, 8). It was also called “the Lord’s Passover” (Exodus 12:11). The lamb, then, that the Israelites ate was called “the Passover lamb” (Exodus 12:21).

The Jewish Passover: The Passover Lamb’s Blood

The Passover lamb’s blood was the means of deliverance for the Israelites, saving them from death. Moses directed all the elders of Israel: “Go and take for yourselves lambs according to your families, and slay the Passover lamb” (Exodus 12:21). Then the lamb’s blood was applied to the doorposts and lintels of each house (cf. Exodus 12:7, 22). The blood on the houses was a sign that the Israelites resided in them. If the lamb’s blood were not applied to the houses of the Israelites, their first-born, along with the Egyptian first-born, would be killed. As the Lord said to the Israelites,

“[T]he blood shall be a sign for you … and when I see the blood I will pass over you, and no plague will befall you to destroy you” ( Exodus 12:13).

The Christian Passover: The Blood of Jesus

Similarly, the apostle Peter, referring to the death of Jesus, wrote about being “sprinkled with His blood” (I Peter 1:2). Christians, then, believe that Jesus, the Passover Lamb, was slain to save them from spiritual death. In baptism, believers are marked spiritually with Christ’s blood, just as the Israelite houses were marked with the lamb’s blood. The apostle Paul, using Passover language, said, “Christ our Passover also has been sacrificed” (I Corinthians 5:7).

The Jewish Passover: The Exodus from Egypt

In the Greek translation of the Jewish Scriptures, the second book of the Bible is called Exodon, meaning “the way out.” Moses and Aaron said to Pharaoh, the King of Egypt, “Let My people go that they may celebrate a feast to Me in the wilderness.” (Exodus 5:1). Since Pharaoh refused to listen to Moses, the Lord made “a way out” for the Israelites, setting them free from slavery.

The Christian Passover: The Exodus from Sin

Likewise, Jesus spoke of “His departure which He was about to accomplish at Jerusalem” (Luke 9:31). The word “departure” is a translation of the Greek word exodon. In other words, Jesus knew that he was going to Jerusalem to die and, thus, accomplish a spiritual exodus, setting human beings free from spiritual death.

The Passover Lamb’s Bones

In celebrating the Passover, the Lord commanded the Israelites not to break any of the bones of the Passover lamb, which was sacrificed. He said,

“It is to be eaten in a single house; you are not to bring forth any of the flesh outside of the house, nor are you to break any bone of it” ( Exodus 12:46).

Likewise, when the Roman soldiers went to the crucified Jesus and saw that he was already dead, the apostle John wrote, “they did not break His legs” (John 19:33). Instead, they pierced his side (cf. John 19:34). Then John observed,

“[T]hese things came to pass, that the Scripture might be fulfilled, ‘Not a bone of Him shall be broken'” ( John 19:36).

John was referring to the instructions for eating the Passover lamb, namely, “nor are you to break any bone of it” (Exodus 12:46).

A Lamb without Defects

The Passover lamb had to be without any defects, in perfect condition. As the Lord said, “Your lamb shall be an unblemished male” (Exodus 12:5). The Israelites could not sacrifice a lamb with any blemishes or defects. Only the best could be offered, because it was a “Passover sacrifice to the Lord” (Exodus 12:27).

Similarly, Christians believe that they are redeemed or saved by the “precious blood, as of a lamb unblemished and spotless, the blood of Christ” (I Peter 1:19). Jesus, the Lamb, had to be an “unblemished” sacrifice to God. In other words, Jesus had to be in perfect condition, that is, without sin (cf. I Peter 2:22).

Significant Differences between the Religions

There are, to be sure, significant differences between Judaism and Christianity, especially over Christian beliefs in the New Covenant or New Testament, the Trinity, the identity of Jesus of Nazareth and his bodily resurrection from the dead. Nevertheless, the parallels between the Jewish Passover and Easter, the Christian Passover, are unmistakable. In fact, of all the religions in the world, Christianity is most closely related to Judaism.

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