Did we Jews in the time of Yahshua celebrate the Passover the same way as they do today? Substantially yes, for Jews preserve their traditions tenaciously and faithfully.
Passover and Christianity’s Easter whose basis in rooted in paganism, generally coincide in time (usually March or early April). In the first 200 years or more Easter was not celebrated independently. And in the Greek the word is always Passover incorrectly translated as Easter. It was the institution of the apostate church, which instituted a different day from that which G-d Almighty instituted on the 15th of Nissan. We should be warned for we read in Mark 7:7, “Howbeit in vain do they worship me, teaching for doctrines the commandments of men.” As with all Hellenistic pagan rituals we can find a spiritual interdependence and unity between them. But behind this replace of the date G-d commanded is the premise that man’s traditions or “legalism” supercedes G-d’s commandments.
Wherever there is a city with a major Jewish population we may observe the feverish preparations for the Passover. It is a joyful and solemn occasion, officially designated the “Season of Liberation” and also the “Season of Joy”.
The deliverance of Israel from Egypt is the central point in Jewish history and worship, even as Calvary is the central point in the Christian faith. For on Calvary the work of redemption was accomplished for every believer as was the redemption of Israel from slavery in Egypt.
On the eve before the day of Passover, Jewish homes are cleansed of all leaven, in accordance with the command of G-d in Exodus 12:15 “Seven days shall ye eat unleavened bread; even the first day ye shall put away leaven out of your houses; for whosoever eateth leaven bread from the first day until the seventh, that soul shall be cut off from Israel.”
The youngest son of the Jewish household has a hand in helping the father perform the Mitzvah (a good deed). Obligingly the little boy probably has scattered a few crumbs in the corners of the house so that the father might be able to sweep them away and pronounce the traditional benediction for the occasion.
“Blessed art thou, Lord our G-d, King of the universe who has sanctified us with thy commandments and commanded us to remove all leaven from our household.”
For days and weeks the mother would have been busy cleaning, in preparation for that great season of Pesach, the Passover. All the pots and pans have had to be cleansed in boiling water from all vestige of leaven that might possibly cling to them, before they could be used for the feast of the “Unleavened Bread.”
Only then could the “matzos,” the unleavened bread, be brought into the house.
In the evening after the service at the synagogue the father returns to a festively decorated house. The family is dressed in holiday finery assembled around the table. Now the father is ready to preside, reclining in kingly manner, and to conduct the celebration. The traditional symbols of the Passover are spread on the table. The house is well lit even as were the Hebrew homes when darkness descended in Egypt.
A special place of honor is reserved for Elijah, the herald of Messiah, in case he comes on this most solemn night and announce the joyful news that the Messiah has at last come, for the rabbis say Messiah is most likely to come the night of Passover. And so a place at the table is set for Elijah, the traditional cup of Elijah is filled with wine, and empty chair awaits the heavenly guest. Will he come? Will he sip the wine? These are the secret questions of every heart. What high hopes that cup symbolizes and what dreams are shattered at the sight of it remaining untouched.
On the Passover table we see a glass of salt water, symbolic of the Red Sea through which G-d led His people, and also reminiscent of the tears of the Hebrew ancestors shed during their enslavement.
Also the unleavened bread, or the matzos, three of them, are covered with a white napkin. theses matzos are descendants in a straight line from the original unleavened cakes which Jews hastily prepared when Pharaoh at last decreed that the Jews might leave-immediately.
Prominent among the Passover symbols is the shank bone in place of the lamb which G-d commanded be eaten in every Jewish house hold on the night of Passover.
In Exodus 12:3 it states: “In the tenth day of the month they shall take to them every man a lamb, according to the house of their fathers, a lamb for an house”
This is the eternal reminder that it was the blood of the lamb, sprinkled on the doorposts of every Jewish home, which stood between them and the death on that Passover night when G-d brought his wrath upon the firstborn of Egypt.
The four cups of red wine are symbols of the blood of the lamb, and the hard boiled egg is symbolic of the second sacrifice for the Passover day. The bitter herbs, usually horseradish, bring tears to the eyes of the participants and remind them of the bitterness and the sorrow of slavery of their forefathers under Pharaoh.
Then there is charoseth. It is a claylike substance made of apples and nuts which typifies the clay from which the Israelites were forced to fashion bricks to build the mighty cities and fortresses of the Pharaohs, Pithom and Raamses.
It was probably at this point that Yahshua, our Savior washed His hands and girded Himself with a towel and stooped to wash the feet of the disciples.
John 13:4,5 says: “He took a towel, and girded himself…and began to wash the disciples’ feet.”
And now the father of this Jewish household washes his hands and pronounces the benediction over the wine and all drink of it, even as our Lord and His disciples did.
Then begins the long recital in sonorous chanting voice of the story of G-d’s deliverance of His people from Egypt.
“We were slaves of Pharaoh in Egypt”…
For two hours he relates in detail the events preceding the Passover, enlarging on every point, for it is a good and meritorious deed to make much of G-d’s mighty exploits. At one point all the symbols on the table are explained. The poor and hungry are invited to come in and to partake.
When counting the ten plagues which G-d sent on Pharaoh and his people, the father dips his finger in the cup, causing one drop of wine to fall for each plague, and counts: Daam, tsefardea, kinim – blood, frogs, vermin.
Today only one thing, the essence of Passover is missing-the Lamb, ordained to be sacrificed and consumed by every Jewish family. Passover without the Lamb is like a wedding without the bride. what modern Jews celebrate today is not the Passover but the Feast of Unleavened Bread. Could it be that G-d has arranged history in such a way that the Passover Lamb of G-d once sacrificed has been removed from the Jewish Passover for He should not be crucified again as He said “It is finished!”
Year by year with unfailing regularity Jews have been repeating the Passover story drawing renewed hope and strength to carry them through whatever suffering and persecution the years might bring along. G-d delivered his people from Pharaoh, Haman, the Hitlers, the Stalins and He will not fail His people in the future as the Bible records.
Passover is the story of deliverance the type of a greater redemption yet to come, the vehicle of the undying Messianic hope.
When I was in Israel I stood on the Mount of Olives overlooking the ancient city of Jerusalem with Gethsemane, Calvary on the near horizon. Close by is an ancient house with one room called the “Coenaculum.” This is the “Upper Room” where the Lord Yahshua and His twelve disciples reportedly ate the Passover meal and celebrated the Feast of Unleavened Bread and where Yahshua revealed the end purpose of this festival: His death, resurrection, and coming again.
It was here in this Upper Room that Passover at last obtained its real meaning and deepest significance.
He said: “With desire I have desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer” (Luke 22:15).
Here they sat together observing the Passover as ordered by G-d in Exodus 12. But this time there was new life infused into this ancient observance by the One who was the final reality of the Passover story. Here was the “Lamb of G-d.” So that is why the Lamb is not found in the Passover now. He has already come in the person of the Messiah Himself, about to shed His blood upon the tree, that all men who believe in and obey Him may be set free from the Egypt of sin and darkness and enabled to begin a new life as children of G-d!
Among the many symbolic actions of the Passover there is the eating of the “Afikomen.” Early in the meal the father takes the middle matzo of the three unleavened cakes, breaks it, and after pronouncing a benediction, distributes half among the members of the family, while the second half is hidden away and brought forth at the end of the meal.
Even so the Yahshua HaMashiach sat down with His disciples and took the bread, blessed it, broke it, and passed it around to His disciples, saying,
“Take, eat: this is my body, which is broken for you: this do in remembrance of me” (1 Cor. 11:24)
How strange the hidden half of the unleavened middle cake should be preserved as a symbol and rite even to the present day-a wonderful testimony to the broken body of Yahshua the Messiah and His resurrection. The middle piece is broken, hidden or buried, found and each Passover participant eats of it. And what of the two other unleavened cakes on either side is this not reminiscence of the two lawbreakers that hung with Him on either side.
The red wine on the Passover table brings to memory the blood of the lamb whereby the children of Israel were saved from death. Our Savior too drank of that red wine after blessing it and dividing it among our disciples saying,
“This cup is the renewed covenant in my blood; this do ye, as often as ye drink it, in remembrance of me” (1 Cor. 11:25)
He Himself was the final reality of what the Passover lamb sought to convey originally. It is His blood that saves Jew and Gentile alike from the death of sin and eternal condemnation and makes the believer a child of G-d.
At the end of the Passover celebration the Hallel or Psalms 113-118 are sung. In Psalm 118:21-24 we find these words:
I will praise thee, for thou has heard me, and art become my salvation.
The stone which the builders refused is become the head stone of the corner.
This is the Lord’s doing; it is marvelous in our eyes.
This is the day which the Lord hath made; we will rejoice and be glad in it.
Those were the very words that our Yahshua and His disciples sang after the Passover feast. As we read: “when they had sung a hymn, they went out into the Mount of Olives” (Matthew 26:30)
In the mouth of our Adonai the words of the Psalm take on a remarkable significance. He Himself was the stone, which the builders rejected.
And so the Passover and that which is known as the Lord’s supper merge into one complete story of deliverance and salvation. Every time a Jew partakes of the Passover, unconsciously he bears witness to the Messiah. Every time a Believer partakes of Passover he remembers Him of whom the Passover lamb was a portrayal. The messiah who died for him and by whose blood we are cleansed and forgiven.
The story of Passover and the Feast of Unleavened Bread or more commonly known as the Lord’s supper to Christians would be incomplete without the resurrection of our Lord. The story of Yahshua does not end with His death upon the execution stake and the burial in a borrowed grave. If this were the end the execution stake would only signify a beautiful but tragic life. But Yahshua arose the victor over death, raised up by the power of G-d according to His Word, that He would not suffer His Holy One to see corruption as read in Psalm 16:10.
Yahshua arose, the first fruits of resurrection which is the next festival G-d ordained. Because you see all the festivals are a prefigured type of the Plan of G-d for humankind.
Today on Mount Zion in the Old City of Jerusalem is a shrine dear to the hearts of Jews throughout the world. It holds the tomb of David, beloved King of the Jews, upon which is engraved with golden Hebrew letters are the words, David the King of Israel lives for evermore.”
I am sure the Apostle Peter must have known this tomb for he speaks about it quite clearly in the Acts of the Apostles, when on the Day of Pentecost he addressed a large number of Jews in Jerusalem, saying:
“Men and brethren, let me freely speak unto you of the patriarch David, that he is both dead and buried, and his sepulcher is with us unto this day.
Therefore being a prophet, and knowing that G-d had sworn with an oath to him, that of the fruit of his lions, according to the flesh, he would raise up The Messiah to sit on his throne;
He seeing this before spake of the resurrection of Yahshua Ha Mashiach, that his soul was not left in hell, neither his flesh did see corruption.
This Yahshua hath G-d raised up, wherefore we all are witnesses” (Acts 2:29-32)
As a result of this sermon 3,000 Jews became believers.
The Apostle Paul, writing by the Holy Spirit, summed up the significance of this Passover for every child of G-d, when he wrote:
“Yahshua our Passover is sacrificed for us: therefore let us keep the feast, not with old leaven, neither with the leaven of malice and wickedness; but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth” (1 Cor. 5: 7,8)