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Killing the Passover

The how, when, were, and why of killing the Passover.

Whenever I tell someone that we keep Passover as a Christian, I expect them to ask if I sacrifice a lamb. Sometimes, they actually do ask. Other times, I think I can see them wanting to ask, even if they don’t. Let me put your mind at ease.

No, I don’t sacrifice a lamb. I don’t even kill one.

Technically speaking, that means we don’t really keep Passover, because in Biblical usage, the lamb is the Passover. What we really do is a memorial of Passover, called a seder, which itself is a memorial of the original Passover in Egypt. We usually gather with several other families and read an abbreviated Passover Hagaddah that has been modified to emphasize the prophetic and messianic symbolism of Passover. We have a large meal, including most of the traditional Passover foods (matzah, horseradish, charoset, etc), in addition to lamb and other dishes.

Even though we usually have lamb at our seder, it’s not a real Passover because the lamb wasn’t killed specifically for that purpose. It’s just grocery store lamb. If we were in Jerusalem, we might do things differently.

Let me tell you why that might make a difference, and as I do, please keep in mind that, although everything I write is based in Scripture, it is my own interpretation and I am not always correct. I always reserve the right to be wrong and to change my mind at a later date. 😉

The Victim

In this manner you shall eat [the lamb]: with your belt fastened, your sandals on your feet, and your staff in your hand. And you shall eat it in haste. It is the LORD’s Passover.
Exodus 12:11

Throughout the Old Testament, the term “Passover” (pesach in Hebrew) refers to the lamb, not to the day, the week, nor any other part of the meal.

Your lamb shall be without blemish, a male a year old. You may take it from the sheep or from the goats…
Exodus 12:5

The Passover must be an unblemished, male yearling, either a sheep or a goat.

A goat?

Yep. We almost always speak of a Passover lamb, but the Passover can also be a goat.

“Without blemish” means that it must have no scars, no injuries or past broken bones, no defective parts, and no illnesses. Rabbinic tradition has a long list of characteristics that qualify as blemishes, many of which I’m sure would be familiar to judges in best-of-breed contests at dog shows and county fairs.

“A year old” probably doesn’t mean what you think. The ancient Hebrews counted their days and years differently than we do. The Hebrew for “a year old” is ben shanah, which literally means “son of a year”, and really means that it must be within the first year of life. We usually count our age by the years we have passed, but the Biblical pattern is to count age by the year you are in. A Passover must have been born sometime after the previous year’s Passover. I believe the rabbinical standard is that the lamb must be at least a few weeks old and preferably already weened.

The Scene

And you shall kill the Passover to YHWH your God, from the flock or the herd, at the place that YHWH will choose, to make his name dwell there.
Deuteronomy 16:2

‘Since the day that I brought my people out of the land of Egypt, I chose no city out of all the tribes of Israel in which to build a house, that my name might be there, and I chose no man as prince over my people Israel; but I have chosen Jerusalem that my name may be there, and I have chosen David to be over my people Israel.’
2 Chronicles 6:5-6

Once the Tabernacle had been completed in the Wilderness, God told the Israelites that they must stop slaughtering animals anywhere except at the Tabernacle (Leviticus 17:3-4) to get them out of the habit of performing their own sacrifices independently of the priests whom God had appointed. However, he also told them that, once they were in the land, they could resume slaughtering animals for meat wherever they lived, but they had to bring all sacrifices to one specific place where he would “make his name to dwell” (Deuteronomy 12:13-15).

In Jerusalem, Not Just at the Temple

It took a few centuries, but eventually God designated Jerusalem as that place. Since the time that King David brought the Ark of the Covenant to the Holy City, it has been the only place on earth that God allows sacrifices.

Unlike other sacrifices, though, and contrary to popular opinion, the Passover does not need to be killed at the Temple. Deuteronomy 16:5-6 says that the Passover may only be killed “at the place that YHWH your God will choose”, which sounds like it’s talking about the Temple. However, verse 7 says that it may also only be cooked and eaten at the same place.

According to Josephus, more than 250,000 Passovers were killed in Jerusalem within a few hours in one afternoon. I suspect that number might be an exaggeration, but it seems nearly impossible for even half that many to be killed so quickly at the Temple. How much greater would be the difficulties in all the people remaining there on the grounds to cook and eat their Passovers! So much greater, in fact, that it would be completely impossible. There is simply no way to fit potentially millions of people into the Temple grounds at the same time, which is what would be required if “the place that YHWH chooses” is limited to the Temple.

Whatever the Jews were actually doing in the first century, God’s instructions for Passover requires the lamb to be killed at Jerusalem, but not necessarily at the Temple.

Has the Place of God’s Name Changed?

I have heard the argument that the place where God would put his name has changed since Yeshua’s resurrection, namely that the place is now in us, so that the Passover can be killed wherever we are. However, if the place has become purely metaphorical and not an actual place, then I think the Passover and all other sacrifices must also become purely metaphorical.

There is some truth in that. We have no Temple, no altar, and no Levitical priesthood, but we do have a Tabernacle and Altar in Heaven, where Yeshua is the High and only Priest. Whatever sacrifices that we once would have made at the altar in Jerusalem, we now make solely through worship and good deeds rather than blood. However, no altar or priest is required for the Passover, and as I have demonstrated, the place of God’s name was never at the Temple, but all of Jerusalem.

The Killing

If you have never participated in the slaughter and butchering of an animal, you should find a way to make that happen. Not because it’s pleasant in any way, but because everyone should know what is involved, what happens when the life leaves one living creature so that another–you and me–can live.

The principles of God’s Law require that the animal be killed as humanely as possible, and it’s blood must be drained out. Fortunately, both requirements can be completed by a quick cut across the throat with a very sharp knife. A lamb won’t necessarily cooperate with you, but if it is held firmly, it will stand relatively still, and allow you to kill it and drain the blood in just a couple of minutes.

Although most English translations say something like “you shall offer the Passover sacrifice to the LORD”, there is only a single Hebrew word behind “you shall offer…sacrifice”, zavach. Technically, the word only means “kill”; “offer a sacrifice” is the translator’s interpolation. It’s an understandable rendering, though, because the word is frequently used in the context of holy sacrifices, and Deuteronomy 16:2 says the Passover is to be killed “to YHWH”.

The Passover is very similar to a peace offering (aka thanksgiving offering or zevach shelamim), but unlike the peace offering and the other four kinds of offerings made at the Temple, no part of the Passover or its blood ever touches the altar. At least, not according to God’s instructions. This is yet more evidence that it does not need to be killed at the Temple.

Once the Passover is dead, it is skinned, cleaned inside and out, and prepared for roasting over a fire whole. The simplest method is to put it on a spit with the legs bound up against the body.

The Timeline

Nisan 10

For the first Passover in Egypt, the lamb (or goat) was to be selected on Nisan 10 (Exodus 12:3) and kept by the family until Nisan 14 when it was to be killed. I don’t know what the ancient Jews did in later centuries, but Yeshua–whom we knew did it correctly–and his disciples don’t appear to have selected a lamb until just hours before it was to be killed. \

And on the first day of Unleavened Bread, when they sacrificed the Passover lamb, his disciples said to him, “Where will you have us go and prepare for you to eat the Passover?”
Mark 14:12

I can’t be absolutely certain, because the Scriptures don’t say one way or another, but I doubt that they had been leading a lamb about with them for the prior four days.

Nisan 14

We do know, however, that they killed a Passover on Nisan 14. Mark tells us so just a few verses down.

And the disciples set out and went to the city and found it just as he had told them, and they prepared the Passover.
Mark 14:16

See the section below on The Last Supper for more on that.

Terminology surrounding Passover and Unleavened Bread in the New Testament is a little fuzzy. Matthew, Mark, and Luke all say that the Passover was killed “on the first day of Unleavened Bread”, but the first day of the Feast of Unleavened Bread is on Nisan 15, while the Passover is to be killed on Nisan 14. There are two possible explanations for this apparent discrepancy.

  1. The terms “Passover” and “Unleavened Bread” were used idiomatically for the the entire holiday season, just as today’s Christians use “Christmas” and today’s Jews use “Passover”. The days leading up to the official start of the ceremonies could be referred to as “the days of” the feast, even though the feast hadn’t technically started yet.
  2. Although the Feast of Unleavened Bread begins on Nisan 15, the eating of unleavened bread begins on Nisan 14, with the slaughtering of the Passovers.

I favor the second explanation, and so I dive into what is probably the most controversial part of this essay.

Between the Sunsets

…and you shall keep it until the fourteenth day of this month, when the whole assembly of the congregation of Israel shall kill their lambs at twilight.
Exodus 12:6

The phrase “at twilight” is curious. In Hebrew, it is ben ha’erevim, which literally translates to “between/among/at the sunsets”. Note that it is plural. In most cases, where Torah says to do something at or near sunset, it says b’erev, at evening.

I’m not an expert in Biblical Hebrew–someday I’d like to rectify that, but I have a fairly demanding day job–but the only other place in Torah I could find that uses this same phrase is concerning the morning and evening sacrifices in Exodus 29:39 and Numbers 28:4. In both cases, every day’s sunset is intended, not mid-afternoon. I believe it means the same thing here in Exodus 12:6.

The Passover is to be killed “at the sunsets”, not between 3 and 6 PM.

I realize that the Jewish tradition during the second Temple period appears to have been to kill the Passovers at the Temple between 3 and 6 in the afternoon, but if that’s they way they did it, I believe the did it incorrectly.

I used to enjoy stirring the pot, so to speak, but for the last decade, I much prefer to resolve controversy than create it. So I don’t casually say that the entire Jewish religious system and almost everyone since the first century got something this major wrong.

Besides the unusual phrase in Exodus 12:6, I offer you two other proofs.

First, Deuteronomy 16:6 specifies that the Passover must be killed “in the evening at the going in of the sun”. (Young’s Literal Translation is especially helpful.) Not just in the evening (afternoon), but in that part of the evening during which the sun is passing below the horizon.

The Last Supper

Second–and far more importantly–three of the four Gospels say that the disciples “prepared the Passover” at the beginning of Nisan 14, not at the end when Josephus and the Talmud say it was done. Remember that the Passover is not a day, but the lamb itself. In the first century, the day might have been sometimes referred to as Passover, but there is only one thing that Matthew 26:19, Mark 14:16, and Luke 22:13 could mean when it says that the disciples “prepared the Passover”, they mean that they killed and cooked it.

I don’t think there’s any other reasonable interpretation of that phrase. All of the usual protestations of “that’s not how the Jews did it” are irrelevant if that’s the way that Yeshua did it. The Passover wouldn’t be the only doctrine that he corrected.

Two Sunsets

Having said all that, I don’t really think the Jewish establishment had the timing of the Passover completely wrong. I have explained why I believe that the phrase ben ha’everim refers to the time at which the sun crosses the horizon, but recall that it is also plural, as in two or more sunsets, just as the daily evening sacrifices also occur ben ha’everim, day after day.

Recall also that the biblical day begins at sunset, not at midnight or sunrise. (See the section entitled “In the Face of the Sabbath” in the article Will the Real Sabbath Please Stand Up.) At the moment that the sun is partly below the horizon and partly above, the day itself is half between one date and the next. The significance, I believe, is that the Passover must be killed while the sun is crossing the horizon on the 14 of Nisan, but it might not matter whether it is crossing the horizon into Nisan 14 or out of it.

Yeshua and his disciples were right to kill their Passover at sunset at the end of Nisan 13 going into Nisan 14, and those who killed their Passovers at the Temple in the final moments as the sun was setting at the end of Nisan 14 were also right. Those who killed it while the sun was still up were not so right.

A Twilight Sacrifice

The Passover doesn’t fit neatly into either category of holy sacrifice or common meat. In some ways the Passover is like the sacrifices made at the altar:

  • It is killed at the command of God and eaten under strict conditions.
  • It must be unblemished (Exodus 12:5).
  • It can be killed and eaten only in Jerusalem (Deuteronomy 16:2).
  • It appears to be related to the peace offering, and the rules of the peace offering concerning who may touch or eat it apply (Leviticus 7:19-20, Numbers 9:6, 2 Chronicles 30:17).

But it is also like any other animal slaughtered for food:

  • It can be killed by any ritually clean person, not just a priest, a Levite, nor even the person who provided or selected the animal as with other sacrifices (Exodus 12:6, 2 Chronicles 30:17).
  • Neither the Passover nor the blood ever touch the altar.
  • It must be killed in Jerusalem, but not necessarily at the Temple (Deuteronomy 16:5-7).

Eating the Passover is a community event. No one is allowed to eat it alone. If your family is too small to eat a whole lamb, you are to join with some other family, eating the Passover under one roof, even if it isn’t your own. No part of the Passover may be kept past the morning. If there are leftovers, they are to be burned up. And as you eat, you are to maintain a physical and spiritual attitude of readiness to leave Egypt, whatever Egypt you are in.

The Motive

This day shall be for you a memorial day, and you shall keep it as a feast to YHWH; throughout your generations, as a statute forever, you shall keep it as a feast.
Exodus 12:14

God said to keep the Passover as a memorial. In the context of Exodus 12, that means a memorial of that night in Egypt when all the firstborn of Israel who were covered by the blood of the lambs were spared, while the firstborn of Egypt died.

However, God’s memorials never memorialize just one thing.

All of God’s appointed times are prophetic of events past and future, like stones thrown into a pond, sending ripples across time. There are, for example, hints of the Passover in the story of the three angels who visited Abraham and Lot in Genesis 18-19:

  • God meets a prophet in the wilderness
  • A meal prepared in haste with unleavened bread
  • The righteous in the house are saved, while the wicked outside are struck down.
  • Escape from the place of oppression
  • Doubt and rebellion in the wilderness

The Passover pattern also shows up in the binding and near sacrifice of Isaac in Genesis 22 and Peter’s escape from jail in Acts 12. If you pay attention as you read the Bible, I’m sure you’ll see more connections.

The Plot Twist

The lamb itself has numerous thematic connections with Yeshua himself.

For Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed.
1 Corinthians 5:7b

Consider these parallels:

  • The original Passover was selected on Nisan 10. Yeshua entered Jerusalem just before the 10th of Nisan and went to the Temple where he was examined by the priests, religious teachers, and common people.
  • The Passover must be unblemished. Yeshua is the only man who ever lived a sinless life.
  • No bones may be broken on the Passover during preparation or the feast. None of Yeshua’s bones were broken despite the severe beating and crucifixion.

Those aren’t minor things. They contribute to the prophetic confirmation of Yeshua’s identity as Messiah and the Son of God. They aren’t the most important parallels, though.

The Passover’s blood was painted on the doors of the Hebrew homes so that God would see that covering, that atonement, and withhold his judgment from those houses. The next morning, the Hebrews walked through those blood stained doors into freedom and God’s presence in the wilderness. Yeshua’s blood washes away our sins so that when God looks at us, he doesn’t see our sinfulness, but Yeshua’s perfect righteousness. He became the door that we can walk through to escape from slavery to sin into freedom in the presence of the Father.

The Passover in Egypt died so that the firstborn sons of Israel could live, even as the firstborn sons of Egypt died. Yeshua died so that we could all live, and then he became the firstborn of the resurrection of the righteous dead into eternal life.

Without Yeshua voluntarily giving his life, we would have no hope of true freedom. We would be bound in Egypt, living short, meaningless lives, enslaved to sin until we die, when we would be condemned to the second, eternal death of the Lake of Fire. No advocate and no defense.

If you trust him enough to believe his words and follow his instructions, he has become your Passover and your Salvation.

Yeshua, the High Priest of Heaven

Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world. Abraham, Isaac, the angel, and the ram in the thicket.

The next day [John] saw Jesus coming toward him, and said, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!”
John 1:29

[Yeshua] has appeared once for all at the end of the ages to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself.
Hebrews 9:26

Every male among the priests may eat of it; it is most holy.
Leviticus 6:29

Every male among the priests may eat of it. It shall be eaten in a holy place. It is most holy.
Leviticus 7:6

Why have you not eaten the sin offering in the place of the sanctuary, since it is a thing most holy and has been given to you that you may bear the iniquity of the congregation, to make atonement for them before YHVH?
Leviticus 10:17

YHVH has sworn and will not change his mind, “You are a priest forever after the order of Melchizedek.”
Psalms 110:4

It is a time honored principle that a leader bears some responsibility for the behavior of his subordinates and also in atoning for their trespasses. In eating the sin and guilt offerings, the priests symbolically (and possibly in some real, tangible way) took the sins of the penitent into themselves. They took responsibility before God so that the people could be reconciled to him.

Yeshua is a priest of a higher order than Aaron’s, and his blood is more potent than that of any shed solely on earth. His sacrifice was an order of magnitude greater than any animal sacrifice, and being offered on the altar in Heaven, opened the door for all of us to surrender our guilt to him. We have but to trust in God and make our allegiance to him.

Every blood sacrifice must be perfect. Yeshua, the Son of God, is a King-Priest like Melchizedek, and he is perfect and sinless, and he gave up his life willingly. No mere human death would have been sufficient, yet neither would the death of anything not human and therefore unable to bear the responsibility of human sins. Any other person’s death would have been ineffective for the purpose of eternal atonement for the sins of all mankind. It would have been murder and nothing else.

Yeshua’s death on the cross was certainly murder, but it enabled our salvation. He went to his execution willingly, holding that torment to be nothing compared to the greater reconciliation of man to God. By allowing himself to be killed, he enabled life for billions. In shedding his perfect blood, he took our imperfections, all of our sins, whether intentional or not, upon himself.

We have only to let them go, to trust the Father’s grace to forgive, and to submit ourselves to our new King’s reign. Yeshua, our salvation.

The Secret of the Passover Water-Bearer

The secret of the Passover water-bearer is revealed in the unnamed servant and the woman at the well.

And on the first day of Unleavened Bread, when they sacrificed the Passover lamb, his disciples said to him, “Where will you have us go and prepare for you to eat the Passover?” And he sent two of his disciples and said to them, “Go into the city, and a man carrying a jar of water will meet you. Follow him, and wherever he enters, say to the master of the house, ‘The Teacher says, Where is my guest room, where I may eat the Passover with my disciples?’ And he will show you a large upper room furnished and ready; there prepare for us.” And the disciples set out and went to the city and found it just as he had told them, and they prepared the Passover.
(Mark 14:12-16 ESV. See also Matthew 26:17-19 and Luke 22:7-13.)

This passage reads almost like something from a spy novel with undercover agents and secret codes. What was going on? Who was this man they met? And who was the master of the house who was apparently expecting Yeshua and his disciples?

Two theories dominate most commentaries:

  1. Yeshua was giving another demonstration of his divinity. By knowing exactly who would be where in Jerusalem and which house still had a room available at the height of tourist season, the disciples could see that he had knowledge that only one with powerful spiritual connections could have.
  2. Yeshua wanted to eat the Passover in peace with his disciples. He had secretly made arrangements ahead of time and sent only two of his disciples to a clandestine meeting to secure and prepare the Passover so that they wouldn’t draw attention. In this way, they could celebrate Passover without being disturbed by worshipers, miracle seekers, or detractors.

I don’t have any strong feelings against either of those ideas–they both have merit–but I think there is something more going on. Passover involves washing, cooking, and baking, so surely there was more than one man in Jerusalem porting water in preparation for the coming festivities. There must have been thousands! Why did Yeshua single out that characteristic and not another, like the color of his turban or the style of his cloak?

Although these ideas are plausible, and might even be true, I’m going to give you two additional, interconnected, more significant ideas.

In Mark 14, an unnamed servant, who carries a pitcher of water, leads two of the disciples to the master’s house, where they will prepare to share the Passover with their friends.

Why a pitcher of water? Who was the man and how did he know they were coming?

Whenever you see something inexplicably odd in Scripture, it’s a sign that you should stop and take a closer look. I think a good place to start looking is in other places where we see pitchers of water and unnamed servants.

  • Genesis 24 – Abraham’s servant recognizes God’s intended bride for Isaac because of her pitcher of water.
  • Numbers 5:11-31 – A clay pitcher is used to mix holy water and dust from holy ground to wash away the curses written against the woman accused of adultery.
  • John 4:1-43 – The woman at the well abandons her water jar to tell her neighbors about Yeshua.
  • 2 Corinthians 4 – We are clay jars into which the life and death of Yeshua have been poured.

There are others, of course, but I think this sampling is sufficient to learn something significant.

An unnamed servant is often a metaphor of the Holy Spirit, for example in Genesis 24 when Abraham sends his servant to find a bride for Isaac. How does the servant know which of the many young women of the town is the right one to bring back for Isaac? She is the one who is carrying a pitcher of water from which she will give a drink to him and all of his camels. Abraham is God, the Father, while the servant is the Holy Spirit, Isaac is the Son, and Rebekah is Israel, the Messiah’s bride.

So the servant in Mark 14 may be an image of the Holy Spirit, but what does the pitcher of water mean?

Bear with me for a bit.

By calling the servant–and the whole situation–a metaphor, I don’t mean to say that the events of Genesis 24 and Mark 14 didn’t actually happen as described. I mean that real events are often orchestrated by God to be prophetic metaphors of future events or of greater truths. In Mark, the man leads the two disciples to the Master’s house. Who is the Master? As in the Genesis story, He is God, the Father, and the house is the Kingdom of Heaven. No one can know the way to the Father unless the Spirit opens his eyes.

But having one’s eyes opened to the way is not enough. Yeshua said that he is the door and no one comes to the Father except through him. So where is Yeshua in this story? He is there at the beginning, in the middle, and at the end.

Bear with me a while longer, if you will.

Water is often a metaphor of spirit. Depending on the context, it can be the Holy Spirit or the spirit of a person or even of a people.

The water in this story is held in a clay pitcher.

Earthenware vessels take a prominent role in the sacrificial system. If a sin offering (Hebrew: khatat, which literally means just “sin”) is boiled in a clay pot, the pot had to be broken afterward (Leviticus 6:28), much like Yeshua’s body was broken for us as he took our sin upon himself. The clay pot is his body, the sin offering is our sin, and the water is his spirit, which transforms the sin offering into an atonement for sin.

There is another transformation–and another earthenware vessel–described in the trial of the woman suspected of adultery in Numbers 5. The woman undergoes an elaborate ordeal in which curses against her are written on a scroll and washed off into a vessel containing sanctified water and dirt from the holy ground of the Tabernacle. She then drinks the mixture. If she is guilty, she’ll die of a wasting disease. If she is innocent, the curses are erased by the water and dirt from the pitcher, not just physically from the scroll, but also spiritually from her soul.

In this procedure, we are the accused woman and Yeshua is, again, the vessel. His life was poured out on the cross in order to “blot out the handwriting of ordinances that were against us” (Colossians 2:14). We too are clay vessels, and into us, God has poured “the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ”, as well as his very life and death so that we can, in turn, give his light to the world while standing firm beneath the hardships and persecutions that the world throws against us for the sake of our faith in Yeshua. (2 Corinthians 4)

In John 4, there is yet another woman and an earthenware vessel. Yeshua and his disciples encounter a Samaritan woman drawing water from a well–Why does that sound familiar?–and when she realizes that he is the prophesied Messiah, she abandons her pitcher there at the well. She exchanges her pitcher of mundane water that must be replenished daily in order to continue sustaining life for another, Yeshua, that gives eternal life and never runs out. She runs home to tell all of her friends and family about the man who gave her living water, and they all believe in him too.

What has all this to do with the Passover water-bearer? Here is the meaning:

As in the story of Rebekah, the unnamed servant (the Holy Spirit) has gone to the well in search of a bride for the Master’s son. At the well he finds Peter and John who are two witnesses standing in for the twelve disciples, as well as for the two houses of Israel. They are the Bride of Messiah.

The servant doesn’t speak to them directly or on his own behalf, but carries his water pitcher on his shoulder, lifting up Messiah Yeshua so that they are able to follow him through the throngs that fill the streets for the coming festivities to the Master’s house, to the Kingdom of Heaven and the wedding feast of the Lamb.

God’s graphic prophecies are multidimensional, and if you turn them to look at them from a slightly new angle, you can often see another layer.

The servant is also you and me.

We are the woman at the well who has abandoned her old, empty life at the feet our Messiah and exchanged it for another, full of eternal life in Him. Our task, our Great Commission, is to lift Yeshua up high, like she did, so that all those who are called can see him in us. The world must be able to watch us walk among the world’s billions and see the life and death of Yeshua in our every word and deed. Our walk must be righteous to match the innocence which has been imputed to us by his shed blood, so that those who are ready and seeking him will find him.

The worthy servant of God goes out into the world with the Spirit and the Word to guide the broken, the sorrowful, the meek, and the hungry to the freedom from sin and death that is only found in our Passover lamb, Yeshua.

So, go, and live worthy lives that “draw all men unto” Him (John 12:32) and “be ready in season and out of season” (2 Timothy 4:2) to tell others of the living water that has redeemed and animated us.


Additional info from Dr. Eli Lizorkin-Eyzenberg at Israel Bible Weekly: Jesus and the Essenes.

Peter’s Passover

As prophecy, Passover has ripples forwards and backwards in time.

Over many years in Sunday School, in church, and at school (I went to a Christian school.), I remember hearing the story of Peter’s miraculous escape from prison (Acts 12) many times, almost as often as I heard about the non-escape of Paul and Silas in Acts 16. But in all that time, I don’t recall ever hearing that God orchestrated–and Luke portrayed–this escape to be a mirror image of the Hebrews’ escape from Egypt.

I don’t think there was any grand conspiracy of silence involved. Maybe it was taught, and I missed it, but I think it’s more likely that most of my teachers were unaware of the parallels themselves. But once you become very familiar with the story of the first Passover in Exodus, the connections are very difficult to miss. Check out this startling list:

Peter’s Passover Israel’s Passover
Herod persecuted Yeshua’s followers. Pharaoh persecuted the Hebrews.
Herod killed James (“Jacob” in Hebrew). Pharaoh killed the infant sons of Jacob.
Peter was arrested and imprisoned during Passover. Passover commemorates the enslavement and redemption of the Hebrews.
The congregation of believers prayed for Peter’s deliverance. The Hebrews cried out to God for their deliverance.
There were sentries outside Peter’s cell door. The Egyptians were outside the blood-marked doors of the Hebrews.
An angel, who lit up Peter’s cell, appeared to lead him out of prison. An angel in the form of a pillar of fire led the Hebrews out of Egypt.
The angel woke Peter and told him to get up quickly. God told the Hebrews to be prepared to leave Egypt quickly.
Peter’s chains were removed by a miracle. The Hebrews’ chains were removed by a series of miraculous plagues.
The angel told Peter to dress and put on his sandals. The Hebrews were told to eat the Passover with their sandals on and staffs in hand
The angel and Peter walked out past the guards with no resistance. The Hebrews walked out of Egypt with the full cooperation of the Egyptian people.
God caused the gates into the city to open to let Peter pass. God caused the Red Sea to part to let the Hebrews pass.
Peter said, “Now I am sure the Lord sent his angel and rescued me from Herod and all that the Jewish people were expecting.” Jethro heard all that God had done in rescuing Israel from Egypt.
Peter went to the house of Mary (“Miriam” in Hebrew) where there was a prayer meeting in progress. Miriam led worship and prayer after the Hebrews crossed the Red Sea.
There was a disturbance in Herod’s court when Peter’s absence was discovered. Pharaoh was angry and regreted that he had let the Hebrews go.
Herod killed the guards who allowed Peter to escape. God killed Pharaoh’s charioteers in the Red Sea.
The neighboring kingdoms depended on Herod for food. The neighboring kingdoms depended on Pharaoh for food during the famine of Joseph’s time.
The people who heard Herod’s speech praised him as a god. The Egyptians worshiped Pharaoh as a god.
An Angel of the Lord killed Herod. God drowned Pharaoh in the Sea.

We usually think of the Passover as a one-time event (God delivered the Hebrews from Egypt) that prophesied another one-time event (the death and resurrection of Yeshua). Done and done. But that’s not really the way that God works. He builds everything around themes, applying the same patterns over and over, almost like ripples across the surface of time.

Passover also appears in the destruction of Sodom:

  • Abraham washed the feet of his guests and offered a meal with unleavened bread.
  • Lot offered a meal of unleavened bread to the angels.
  • Lot and his family sheltered in his house while angels caused mayhem in Sodom.
  • The angels lead Lot and his family to safety while God destroyed Sodom.

In the binding of Isaac:

  • God led Abraham on a three day journey into the wilderness.
  • Father Abraham left his servants (his disciples) behind while he and his son go on ahead to the altar.
  • Isaac carried the wood for his own death.
  • The near death and subsequent resurrection of Isaac.

And in John’s Revelation:

  • A series of plagues devastate the world (Egypt).
  • Those covered in the blood of the lamb are saved from or through the plagues.
  • The redemption of the 144,000.
  • The saints sing the song of Moses and the song of the Lamb.

There are probably other echoes of Passover in Scripture that I haven’t seen yet or can’t remember right now. My point is that it is a mistake to call one of God’s feasts “fulfilled” as if it’s no longer relevant. God wasn’t done with Passover when the Red Sea closed over the Egyptians. In fact, He was only just getting started. Nor was He done with it when Yeshua rose from the grave, as we can see in Peter’s escape from prison and in Paul’s use of Passover themes to teach holy living.

Yeshua’s death and resurrection wasn’t an echo of the Passover in Egypt, but the other way around. Egypt was an echo of Calvary, and it wasn’t the only one, either before or after. We can expect another Passover and another Exodus at the Day of the Lord described by the prophets.

Just as the plagues and the march out of Egypt weren’t a walk in the park for anyone, not even the Hebrews, so the Exodus to come won’t be pleasant. And like all great events and disasters, thorough preparation can make things much easier. We keep Passover every year as a memorial of what has already happened and so that we will be able to recognize God’s patterns when we see them in the world around us.

God’s feasts aren’t arbitrary, nor are they only historical. They are ongoing training that we can use to better understand His character and His plan, and to be better prepared for the future. If we are taken off guard at how events unfold, there’s no real excuse. God showed us what will happen, and then He told us and showed us again, and commanded us to learn it and rehearse it.

If you’ve never kept Passover before, it’s not too late. You can start this year, and don’t worry about getting all the details right. God doesn’t expect anyone to get it perfect or else He wouldn’t have told us to keep doing it year after year. But you do have to start somewhere.

Hebrew for Christians has a lot of good information on Passover at their website here. Don’t get overwhelmed. Take it one piece at a time and progress as you can. Find some believers near you who are hosting a Passover seder and ask if you can join them. Who would say no?

You Will Go Out in Joy

You will go out in joy
and be led forth in peace;
the mountains and hills
will burst into song before you,
and all the trees of the field
will clap their hands.
Instead of the thornbush will grow the juniper,
and instead of briers the myrtle will grow.
This will be for the Lord’s renown,
for an everlasting sign,
that will endure forever.

Isaiah 55:12-13

There is no escaping pain. To one degree or another, everyone hurts, everyone suffers. No one can say why one person suffers in one way and another suffers in some other way, but pain and trouble are part of living. Without strain, our bones and muscles would never grow strong. Without sickness, our immune systems would never learn. Without conflict, our hearts would never learn what it means to love.

In the midst of our struggle, it can be easy to forget that God still sees us, but never believe that He has abandoned you. Your pain is real. Your scars might never fade. But God has promised that He will reward those who remain faithful and that reward will be greater than anything you might have lost. He will exchange your thorns for firs, your iron for silver, your bronze for gold. (Is 55 & 60)

And He will do this because fulfillment of promises and rewards for faithfulness are an intrinsic part of His name. It is simply who He is.

Pining for Easter

I can’t remember for certain where I first heard this allegorical story of Christmas–probably on Mark Call‘s radio show–but I have never forgotten its message. It involves a recently married couple. The wife has a sordid past, and her husband gave up nearly everything to help her put it behind her and heal from her many emotional, spiritual, and physical wounds. I have embellished it somewhat from the original. Here, we overhear them discussing his birthday.

W: “Dear, what would you like to do for your birthday this year? Anything you want!”

H: “More than anything else, I’d like to spend some time with you. Let’s go camping for a week where we can really be together.”

W: “But it’s so uncomfortable out there sleeping on the ground. Mosquitoes, flies…yuck! And no air conditioning! I have a better idea. Why don’t we stay home and throw a party? We’ll put up lights and decorations, and we’ll give presents to everyone! I know how much you like the wilderness, so we’ll put a tree up in the living room and make it up all fancy with lights and silver and gold! Oh! Won’t it be beautiful?”

H: “I’m sure it would be, but that’s not what I want. Besides, didn’t you used to do all these things with one of your ex boyfriends?”

W: “I know you didn’t really ask for anything this fancy, but I know you’ll love it. It will give me and all our friends a chance to show you just how much we love you! We’ll even change the date to make sure it’s convenient for everyone. How does December 25th sound?”

H: “That’s your ex boyfriend’s birthday, not mine! Those are the things he wanted you to do!  How could you possibly think I would appreciate that?”

W: “I know, but we already have this tradition. We’ve been doing it every year for so long now. It will be so much easier if we just keep using that same date and holding the same party. We’ll change the name! It’s OK because everyone will know we’re doing it for you now, not for Sol. Nor for old Satty, even if that’s where I got most of my ideas. Nor for Mithras, because hardly anybody remembers him anyway. See? It’s OK because I’m doing it all for you!”

H: “I already told you what I want.”

W: “Thor and I used to have a fire every year on his birthday. Let’s do that too! Oh! One more thing. You’ll love this! Can you dress up like Odin? He looked so cute, and the children will love it!”

H: “I am not Odin!”

It gets worse. Here is another conversation at a later date.

H: “I want you to always remember how much I sacrificed to rescue you from the cruel bondage of your former lovers. I want you to remember how I bled and suffered for you.”

W: “Oh! I will. How could I ever forget? To commemorate what you’ve done for me and to show you how much I love you, I’m going to bake a ham and invite everyone over for dinner.”

H: “You know ham disgusts me! I told you to roast a lamb.”

W: “We’ll color eggs and decorate with cute little bunnies.”

H: “Isn’t that what your ex lesbian lover, the one who murdered your children, used to make you do?”

W: “Well, yes, but that doesn’t matter anymore. I’m doing it all for you, and you know how much I love you. We’ll celebrate this day in your honor every year, and we’ll call it Easter!”

H: “That’s your lover’s name!”

God specifically told us not to adopt the religious customs of pagans. He told us not to join in their feasts. Yet we do it anyway, year after year after year, and we say it’s all good because God knows our hearts. He does indeed. Do you? What would you think of a wife who continued to celebrate the birthdays and deeds of horribly abusive ex lovers while claiming she did it for her husband who told her not to? How pure can your heart be if you still pine after your slavery and fornication?