A Night to Remember
Preparations for the evening were ready. When the hour had come, Jesus and His disciples went to an upper room, where they reclined around a low, three-sided table. Jesus opened the evening: “With fervent desire I have desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer” (Lk. 22:15). This night would be different from all other nights.
At the first Passover in the days of Moses, only three items were on the table: roasted lamb, unleavened bread, and bitter herbs (Ex. 12:8). Since Israel’s history and observances are viewed in light of the Messiah and His Kingdom (Talmud Sanhedrin 99a), these items have special significance.
The Lamb: A Submissive Messiah
Passover is a time to remember how God, with a mighty arm, redeemed His people. As God prepared to free them from slavery in Egypt, He instructed the Israelites to select one male lamb per household, bring it home, slay it after four days, and apply the blood to the outer doorposts and upper posts of their houses. When God saw the blood, He passed over those dwellings; and the tenth plague, death of the firstborn, did not strike that home (Ex. 12). (See “How It All Began”)
The lamb was a picture of what the Messiah would be like: submissive even while being led to the slaughter. The prophet Isaiah foretold of Him: “He was oppressed and He was afflicted, yet He opened not His mouth; He was led as a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before its shearers is silent, so He opened not His mouth” (Isa. 53:7). Jesus suffered silently before the religious and civil authorities as they interrogated Him (Mt. 26:62–63; 27:12–14; Mk. 14:60–61; 15:3–5; Lk. 23:8–9; Jn. 19:9).
Earlier in Jesus’ ministry, a Levitical priest and chosen forerunner of the Messiah, John the baptizer, saw Jesus and declared, “Behold! The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!” (Jn. 1:29).
The Unleavened Bread: A Sinless Messiah
God also commanded the Israelites to eat unleavened bread. It pointed to what the Messiah would be: sinless—an unblemished, perfect sacrifice. Leaven symbolizes sin and its effect. Unleavened bread symbolizes purity and holiness. Isaiah prophesied,
Yet it pleased the Lᴏʀᴅ to bruise Him; He has put Him to grief. When You make His soul an offering for sin, He shall see His seed, He shall prolong His days, and the pleasure of the Lᴏʀᴅ shall prosper in His hand (Isa. 53:10).
Sin offerings had to be perfect (Lev. 1—5). They could have no defect whatsoever. Likewise, the Passover lamb had to be “without blemish” (Ex. 12:5). The Gospels tell how the religious authorities challenged Jesus with questions, trying to entrap Him and find fault with Him. But they could not.
Pharisees and Herodians probed Jesus about His allegiance. Yet even on the issue of paying taxes, no one could entrap Him. He told them, “Render therefore to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s” (Mt. 22:21).
Next came the Sadducees. They did not believe in the concept of resurrection. Distorting the law, they posed a hypothetical question about a widow marrying seven brothers. They challenged Jesus to tell them whose wife she would be in the resurrection (Mt. 22:23–33; cf. Dt. 25:5–6). Jesus chided them for not knowing Scripture or the power of God and said people will be unmarried after they are resurrected (Mt. 22:29–30).
Finally, a teacher of the Law tested Him by asking, “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the law?” (v. 36).
Jesus replied, quoting from the all-important Shema in Deuteronomy 6 and from Leviticus:
“You shall love the Lᴏʀᴅ your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.” This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like it: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets (Mt. 22:37–40; cf. Lev. 19:18; Dt. 6:5).
The inquisition was over. Unknown to the antagonists, God allowed their questions so that Jesus would be seen as “a lamb without blemish and without spot” (1 Pet. 1:19).
Bitter Herbs: A Suffering Messiah
On the night of the original Passover, all the firstborn in Egypt were under the sentence of death (Ex. 11:4–5). However, if they followed God’s instructions, the lambs became their substitutes. The bitter herbs pointed to what the Messiah would become: the suffering substitute who would die in their place. Seven hundred years before Jesus was born, the prophet Isaiah explained in detail why the Messiah would suffer:
Surely He has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed Him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted. But He was wounded for our transgressions, He was bruised for our iniquities; the chastisement for our peace was upon Him, and by His stripes we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned, every one, to his own way; and the Lᴏʀᴅ has laid on Him the iniquity of us all (Isa. 53:4–6).
After the Passover meal, Jesus entered an olive grove in Jerusalem called Gethsemane. He was soon filled with dread and crushed with sorrow, almost to the point of death (Mk. 14:34). He was then arrested, and His disciples deserted Him (vv. 46–50).
After being falsely charged with blasphemy, Jesus was spit on, blindfolded, and hit repeatedly in the face (vv. 63–65). The Roman prefect, Pontius Pilate, charged Him with treason and had Jesus flogged with a lead-tipped whip. The Romans put a crown of thorns on Him and then beat Him mercilessly on the head with a staff, driving the sharp points into His skull while spitting on Him (Mt. 27:29–30; Mk. 15:19).
Jesus then carried His cross most of the way to Golgotha and was crucified (Jn. 19:17–18).
It was a bitter scene. Yet He was willing to suffer through it all. Why?
The Bible teaches that, like the firstborn in Egypt, everyone born of man is under a sentence of spiritual death (Rom. 3:23; 5:12; cf. Jn. 3:3). The good news of Passover is that Jesus—the submissive, sinless, and suffering Lamb of God—suffered, died, and rose again so that “in Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of His grace” (Eph. 1:7). He became our substitute; and through faith in Him, we have everlasting life.
Rabbi Gamaliel once told the Jewish people, “In every generation, a man must so regard himself as if he came forth himself out of Egypt.” In the same way, individuals must decide for themselves whether to accept Jesus as their Passover Lamb. The apostle Paul, also a Jewish rabbi, wrote, “For indeed Christ, our Passover, was sacrificed for us” (1 Cor. 5:7). Life is in the blood of the Lamb.