PASSOVER … AN ENDURING LEGACY
Try to visualize our state and federal highways built without overpasses found on hundreds of clover leafs and interchanges throughout the country. There would be instant and ongoing traffic gridlock that would make a twisting, turning roller coaster ride at Disneyland seem like a perfectly straight path. And standing in line to get to that ride would seem like only a minute or two. Not to mention the hazardous traffic conditions created, so I won’t mention that. Instead, we are able to enter or exit an Interstate highway bypassing high-speed traffic below or above us. We pass over those obstacles on a path that keeps us moving toward our destination.
One of the greatest events in human history took place when God, himself, passed over the descendants of Abraham while the angel of death traveled through the land of Egypt killing the firstborn son in every Egyptian family. Virtually all Jews know the story, as do hundreds of millions of Gentiles throughout the world. Even Hollywood has told the tale that has survived some 3200 years of human history. You remember, don’t you? The Ten Commandments, featuring Charlton Heston as Moses. The first Passover marked the birth of the Jewish nation.
The Passover plague was the tenth and the most devastating in the line of miracles God performed against the Egyptians, who’s Pharaoh stubbornly refused to free God’s people … ordered by God, through Moses and Aaron. It was the plague to end all plagues. It was the, “what does it take to get your full attention, to fully understand that I am the true and Almighty God and I mean business,” catastrophe. It was, what part of “let my people go” don’t you understand?
The stakes were incredibly high—deliverance from oppression, brutality, deprivation, and often times death at the hands of cruel task masters. Lest you think that the demise of every firstborn Egyptian was too harsh, there were some two million Israelites held in unbearable bondage. It was slave labor for an entire race of people. Would you be willing to continue sixth or seventh generational back-breaking, soul-sapping, poverty-stricken labor for someone else who couldn’t care less whether you lived or died or how much you suffered between birth and death?
In this country, a mere thirteen colonies composed of only a few thousand people revolted against the mighty empire of England. Do you think the American Revolutionary Army would have shamefully given up the fight if they had been ordered to kill the firstborn of every English family to gain their freedom? Though the task would have been grim, they certainly would have done what was necessary for life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Economic, cultural, and political repression by England was no longer tolerable. And this subjugation by “taxation without representation” had gone on for only a few decades; whereas the Israelites had been in submissive enslavement and abject poverty for 430 years! Enough was enough. God heard their desperate cry for help. It was time to return to the land promised to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob; a land given to them by God, himself … time to be the head, and not the tail.
Read with me God’s instructions to Moses and the Hebrews: “On that night I will pass through the land of Egypt and strike down every firstborn son and firstborn male animal in the land of Egypt. I will execute judgment against all the gods of Egypt, for I am the Lord! But the blood on your doorposts will serve as a sign, marking the houses where you are staying. When I see the blood, I will pass over you. This plague of death will not touch you when I strike the land of Egypt. This is a day to remember. Each year, from generation to generation, you must celebrate it as a special festival to the Lord. This is a law for all time” (Exodus 12: 12-14).
Down through the ages, that’s exactly what the Jews have done. The Jewish Passover is still celebrated to this very day. It will be observed next Tuesday, April 15th and continues for one week as the feast of unleavened bread. Somehow, in some inexplicable way, the Jews never forgot how much Passover means to them. Despite being ruthlessly conquered by the Assyrians in 722 BC, by the Babylonians in 586 BC, and finally by the Romans in 70 AD, driven out of their land, and exiled to virtually every nation on the earth for some 2000 years, they faithfully kept Passover. You would think that the Jews, who were no longer a people or a nation (as nations are defined by a people living in a certain land), would have eventually forgotten or dismissed the importance of an observance that, among other things, required a personal journey to Jerusalem every year to celebrate this ordained festival.
Yet, millions of Jews in Israel and millions more throughout the world have already begun their meticulous preparation for Passover Seder. Tens of thousands will travel to Israel, reborn as a nation in 1948; tens of thousands more will fly from Israel to their families in the United States, Russia, France, Germany and countries all over the earth. Many Seders consist of extended families with twenty or thirty in attendance.
Why? Is it because God ordained Passover as an annual ritual to be remembered and observed by the Jews? Yes, but that is not the complete picture or reason, as confirmed by the fact that many Jews who celebrate Passover are not observant Jews who practice Judaism on a regular basis … meaning they are secular, or at the most, reformed or liberal in their leanings. It’s ceremonial, but it’s more than a ritual. To better understand the deep meaning and relevance of Passover to even secular Jews in today’s post-modern non-religious or even anti-religious society, we need to identify what really took place in this tenth and final miracle that led to deliverance of the Jews.
Why were Israelite families required to sacrifice a lamb or a goat and then, “take some of the blood and smear it on the sides and top of the door frames of the houses….”? (Exodus 12:7). Then, as we already have read, the Lord would, “see the blood. I will pass over you…” (Verse 13). By now the Hebrews fully understood that their God was the true and living Almighty God. Nine previous miracles attested to God’s omniscience and omnipotence, as well as remembrance that he was the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Wouldn’t it suffice to deal with the Egyptians in one ultimate, miraculous demonstration of power? Why must the Jews participate through a visible display of blood to exempt them from this final devastating plague? And, why must it be repeated as an annual observance forever?
The answer: God’s deliverance of the Jews was more than liberation from corporeal slavery in Egypt. For sure it was physical redemption (akin to the ancient purchase of a slave in order to grant freedom to the slave). Redeem has a twofold meaning: “to buy back … to free from that which distress or harms … to free from captivity” (Webster’s dictionary). But also to: “release from blame or debt.” Biblical redemption, therefore, generates deliverance from external harm or captivity or judgment (whether deserved or not), but also from internal enslavement to selfishness and sin.
In the Exodus, for the first time the redemptive price was the sacrifice of thousands upon thousands of otherwise innocent lambs and goats throughout the land. But even that was not enough. For it was necessary that each Israelite (family) personally apply the blood of this sacrifice to his/her dwelling place. This served as a “sign” that each man, woman, and child would be spared the plague of death that would strike Egypt.
This personal application of the blood would demonstrate and represent individual responsibility of choosing to obey the Lord; to recognize that, without the shedding of blood, there would be no escape from God’s wrath and judgment—which is administered only against those who refuse to acknowledge the true and living God and trust him exclusively for their redemption (salvation). Thus, there was no relief for the Egyptians, as they had made it all too clear that they would not (even after nine horrible plagues) listen to God and let his people go.
Less than two years later, all of God’s laws and decrees were given to the Israelites through Moses, including the extraordinary Levitical sacrificial system that established a relationship to/with God on God’s terms. The bedrock cornerstone of this system: without the shedding of blood, there would be no atonement for sin. There would be no redemption. The high-priced guilt and consequences of sin required an equally high price in order for God to forgive wrongdoing against him and against humanity.
This God-given principle of life (and death) was necessary for God’s chosen people as much or more than the pagan nations who deliberately ignored and even defied the true and living God, choosing instead to worship man-made gods of fertility and prosperity. No different from people today who follow hard after (worship) the gods of money, power, pleasure, prestige, sex, and greed. Thus, the Lord God made it clear that deliverance of the Israelites from slavery was not only liberation from Egyptian bondage, but an ultimate release from the penalty of personal and national sin. Both required a sacrificial offering. Both required trust in God and God alone.
Later, through King David and the prophets, God made known to Israel in more detail that a Messiah would come who would redeem Israel … to the fullest meaning and extent of the very idea of redemption. “The Redeemer will come to Jerusalem to buy back those in Israel who have turned from their sins, says the Lord” (Isaiah 59:20). And, “The Lord has sent this message to every land: Tell the people of Israel, ‘Look, your Savior is coming. See, he brings his reward with him as he comes.’ They will be called, ‘The Holy People’ and ‘The People Redeemed by the Lord’” (Isaiah 62: 11-12).
God wanted the Jews to never forget who it was that rescued them from miserable, hopeless, endless servitude. And, he wanted them to remember what exactly it was that accomplished this delivery from otherwise certain death during the 10th plague… the blood of an innocent lamb. And then to understand that serving the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob would result in true freedom from personal enslavement to sin with all of its ugly consequences.
One of my favorite passages in all of Scripture records God’s amazing guarantee to King David that concludes with, “Your house and your kingdom will continue before me for all time, and your throne will be secure forever” (II Samuel 7:16). Because the succession of Israel’s kings ended with the Babylonian destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple in 586 BC, it’s all too obvious that this everlasting promise could only be fulfilled by the coming Messiah, a descendant of David who would one day rule and reign forever.
I love King David’s reaction to God’s remarkable promise. The very heart of that response focuses on his keen remembrance of and tribute to Israel’s spectacular emancipation from what (at the time) seemed to be perpetual slavery. Listen to David’s stirring prayer of gratitude: “How great you are, O Sovereign Lord! There is no one like you. We have never even heard of another God like you! What other nation on earth is like your people Israel? You made a great name for yourself when you redeemed your people from Egypt. You performed awesome miracles and drove out the nations and gods that stood in their way. You made Israel your very own people forever, and you, O Lord, became their God” (II Samuel 7: 22-24, italics for emphasis).
But David knew, as did many of Israel’s prophets, that God’s Passover redemption of Israel would (later) also include a “people that were not God’s people” in God’s majestic plan of salvation. That it would be God’s Messiah who would accomplish this purpose.
Another Celebration of Passover
Christians also celebrate Passover every year, in a different way; but with the same emphasis of applying blood to the doorposts of our hearts and minds. We call it Easter, although I personally prefer Resurrection Day or Resurrection Sunday, as it really has nothing to do with bunnies and a search for eggs! How on earth did we ever go from, “Hallelujah, He is Risen,” to “Happy Easter.” Oh, I know the story of Easter and all that … I’m just lamenting the change in name, prominence, and meaning of a magnificent Holy Day in which our Great God and Savior, Jesus Christ, arose from the dead; to one where we hide eggs for our children to find, without telling them that they can find the greatest treasure of all time in Jesus, who loves them and died for them. But, I digress!
The difference is that true born-again Christians believe that God’s chosen Redeemer has, indeed, come to this earth. That Jesus of Nazareth is the very Messiah predicted by the prophets, as proclaimed by the first prophet to have come to Israel in over 400 hundred years (since the last prophet, Malachi), John the Baptist: “Look! The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world! He is the one I was talking about when I said, ‘A man is coming after me who is far greater that I am, for he existed long before me. I did not recognize him as the Messiah, but I have been baptizing with water so that he might be revealed to Israel” (John 1:29-31).
Indeed, Jesus was revealed to Israel, and to the whole world as God’s Messiah, the very Son of God. He proved this beyond any doubt by willingly dying an excruciating death on a cruel cross for the sins of the whole world and then rising from the dead! But to be forgiven, to pass from death (eternal separation from God) to life, to live forever with God and the host of heaven, each person must apply the shed blood of Christ to the threshold of their heart. How is this done? According to Scripture, it’s really very simple: “For God presented Jesus as the sacrifice for sin. People are made right with God when they believe that Jesus sacrificed his life, shedding his blood…” (Romans 3:25). But this universal truth must be personalized.
Before Christ miraculously raised Lazarus from the grave, Jesus and Lazarus sister, Martha, had one of the most poignant, but powerful and precious conversations ever recorded in the Bible. “Jesus told her, ‘I am the resurrection and the life. Anyone who believes in me will live, even after dying. Everyone who lives in me and believes in me will never ever die. Do you believe this, Martha?’” (John 11:25-26). Can and will we reply with Martha, “Yes, Lord, she told him. I have always believed you are the Messiah, the Son of God, the one who has come into the world from God” (John 11:27).
Passover is to be celebrated each year on the 14th day of the Hebrew month of Nisan (our months of March or April). On precisely that day in 32 AD Jesus was crucified on a Roman cross. That was beyond mere coincidence. God deliberately chose that day to sacrifice his beloved Son, as the final atonement for every man, woman, and child who has ever lived. Nor was it a coincidence that the Temple curtain that enclosed the Holy of Holies (the place where the annual sacrifice took place) was inexplicably torn down. Nor was it mere happenstance that the Temple itself was destroyed 40 years later just as Jesus predicted. Each of these remarkable events took place to demonstrate that Jesus was the supreme sacrifice once and for all time and for all people. It was no longer necessary to sacrifice animals. Sins were no longer just covered, they were completely removed from all who believe in so great a salvation.
Listen now to the words of the apostle Paul, formerly known as Saul—a once devout Jewish Pharisee steeped in the Mosaic Law—who persecuted the followers of Christ, “Can we boast, then, that we have done anything to be accepted by God? No, because our acquittal is not based on obeying the law. It is based on faith. So we are made right with God through faith and not by obeying the law” (Romans 3:27-28).
When God delivered the Hebrews from captivity in Egypt, there was no Mosaic law. That came later and primarily for the purpose of educating the Jews to the fact that no one is capable of keeping the whole law. The law was given as a written record, written proof of what the human conscience already knew (the difference between right and wrong). It also served as a tutor, pointing the way to the coming Messiah … training them to fully grasp the God-given spiritual law, “…without the shedding of blood, there is no forgiveness” (Hebrews 9:22). When God passed over the Hebrews, he didn’t just pass over the entire populace at once. Rather, the angel of death passed over each and every house where the blood had been applied.
Israel’s Fervent Longing for Messiah
The Passover Seder is still the most widely celebrated Jewish festival in today’s world, eclipsing even Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement. Most Jews reenact the fateful hours of that night long ago. And, as indicated in several past Eye of Prophecy articles, there is a growing awareness and increasing expectancy that Moshiach (Hebrew for Messiah) will come at any time. To varying degrees, non-religious and religious Jews alike believe the time is very short for Messiah’s triumphant arrival. They refer to this time simply as The Redemption that will take place in the Messianic Era.
As noted by reporter, Ahuva Balofsky in a Breaking Israel News article, “In fact, the 12th century sage, Maimonides, listed belief in his (Messiah’s) imminent arrival as one of the thirteen Principles of Faith that separate true believers from heretics. When he comes, tradition dictates, all Jews will be gathered back to the land of Israel and an era of peace, prosperity, and understanding for all mankind will be ushered in. It is precisely for this reason that some individuals outside the country (Israel) own and maintain property there.”
What is Ms. Balofsky referring to? She is explaining a unique condition that many Jerusalem homeowners have inserted into rental contracts … the Moshiach clause! This clause stipulates that when Messiah arrives renters must vacate the home to allow the landlord to return and live there. In other words, these absentee landlords want to guarantee themselves a place to live in Jerusalem when Messiah appears in Israel. Some landlords will rigidly enforce this clause; however, others will apparently work with their tenants depending on the language of the contract. For example, one renter who didn’t like the contract (“Where would we go? What would we do?” the renter said), persuaded the owner to provide one room of the two-room apartment for the tenant to live, with the landlord occupying the second room!
This is nothing short of astonishing! Because it demonstrates both the ideal and the practical longing and expectancy held by many Jews that Messiah is soon to come. For the Christian, it will be the return of Yeshua ha Mashiach. (Jesus the Messiah).
Jews and Gentiles who have been redeemed (passed over) by the Lamb of God, will not experience the wrath of God during the Great Tribulation. (See I Thessalonians 5:9). We will be taken in the Rapture and spared from the greatest calamity ever experienced by mankind, much like Noah and his family escaped the Great Flood, and just like the Hebrews were passed over by the angel of death.
Meanwhile we all remember: Without the shedding of blood, there would be no Passover. There would be no forgiveness of sin and no protection from God’s judgment, which includes eternal separation from God after death.
The first Passover led the Jews to the Promised Land of Israel. Though exiled, they have returned in great numbers. For hundreds of years the Passover Seder has included the utterance by Jews all over the world, “Next year in Jerusalem.” Today, millions of Jews have seen that dream come true.
The last Passover (sacrifice) was made by a prophet greater even than Moses. None other than a man from Galilee willingly laid down his life and shed his blood to deliver us from our trespasses. He made us right with God. Do you believe that?
Hallelujah to the Lamb of God! Great glory and power to the Lion from the tribe of Judah!
Things to Ponder
What is meant by the last Passover? Does that mean it’s no longer important to celebrate Passover? Or does it mean that blood sacrifices are no longer necessary? Or both?