What events recorded in the Book of Exodus concerning the Passover period are still relevant to Christians?
The importance of this period relates to the covenants God made with Abraham—which included God’s promise to deliver Abraham’s future descendants from slavery:
“Then He said to Abram: ‘Know certainly that your descendants will be strangers in a land that is not theirs, and will serve them, and they will afflict them four hundred years. And also the nation whom they serve I will judge; afterward they shall come out with great possessions’” (Genesis 15:13-14).
The time did come when God began to fulfill His promise to save the people of Israel, and God chose Moses to lead the nation out of Egypt:
“And the LORD said: ‘I have surely seen the oppression of My people who are in Egypt, and have heard their cry because of their taskmasters, for I know their sorrows. So I have come down to deliver them out of the hand of the Egyptians, and to bring them up from that land to a good and large land, to a land flowing with milk and honey, to the place of the Canaanites and the Hittites and the Amorites and the Perizzites and the Hivites and the Jebusites. Now therefore, behold, the cry of the children of Israel has come to Me, and I have also seen the oppression with which the Egyptians oppress them. Come now, therefore, and I will send you to Pharaoh that you may bring My people, the children of Israel, out of Egypt’” (Exodus 3:7-10).
God revealed Himself to Moses, saying, “‘I am the God of your father—the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob’” (Exodus 3:6). Likewise, God told Moses to tell the children of Israel about God and what He was going to do:
“‘Go and gather the elders of Israel together, and say to them, “The LORD God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, of Isaac, and of Jacob, appeared to me, saying, ‘I have surely visited you and seen what is done to you in Egypt; and I have said I will bring you up out of the affliction of Egypt to the land of the Canaanites and the Hittites and the Amorites and the Perizzites and the Hivites and the Jebusites, to a land flowing with milk and honey’”’” (Exodus 3:16-17).
That the Israelites of that time were anticipating help from God—especially the “elders of Israel”—seems apparent based on their traditional knowledge of God’s relationship with Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and Joseph. For Joseph had left instructions for his bones to be carried to the land God had promised (Genesis 50:24-25). Also, Stephen spoke of how Moses, before God revealed Himself to him, considered himself as one who might save Israel from Egyptian slavery:
“For he supposed that his brethren would have understood that God would deliver them by his hand, but they did not understand” (Acts 7:25).
But God did deliver the people out of slavery, and He did use those whom He chose for this responsibility. This is important to understand, and we will see how the events of the Passover were enacted through God’s instructions and followed by Moses and the people. Also, consider how God memorializes His actions in delivering Israel, as noted in Micah 6:4, “‘For I brought you up from the land of Egypt, I redeemed you from the house of bondage; And I sent before you Moses, Aaron, and Miriam’”; and Psalm 103:7, “He made known His ways to Moses, His acts to the children of Israel.”
With great power God brought terrible destruction to the nation of Egypt. In a series of relentless plagues, Egypt was so decimated that even Pharaoh’s servants said to him, “‘Do you not yet know that Egypt is destroyed?’” (Exodus 10:7).
Yet, a final plague, the tenth, did cause Pharaoh to free the Israelites, but Egypt paid a bitter price:
“Then Moses said, ‘Thus says the LORD: “About midnight I will go out into the midst of Egypt; and all the firstborn in the land of Egypt shall die, from the firstborn of Pharaoh who sits on his throne, even to the firstborn of the female servant who is behind the handmill, and all the firstborn of the animals. Then there shall be a great cry throughout all the land of Egypt, such as was not like it before, nor shall be like it again. But against none of the children of Israel shall a dog move its tongue, against man or beast, that you may know that the LORD does make a difference between the Egyptians and Israel”’” (Exodus 11:4-7).
Just as God warned through Moses, so the firstborn of Egypt died:
“And it came to pass at midnight that the LORD struck all the firstborn in the land of Egypt, from the firstborn of Pharaoh who sat on his throne to the firstborn of the captive who was in the dungeon, and all the firstborn of livestock” (Exodus 12:29).
God gave very specific and detailed instructions to Moses and Aaron regarding the observance of the Passover, calling it “‘the Passover sacrifice of the LORD’” (Exodus 12:27). This included the institution of His calendar, insofar as the order of the months are concerned, with instructions of when and how to observe the Passover and the Feast of Unleavened Bread (Note chapters 12 and 13 in this regard).
While both the Passover and the Feast of Unleavened Bread had specific meaning for the Israelites of that time, their observance was instituted as part of God’s choosing them to be His nation with implications for successive generations, as well. In fact, God specifically commanded that the observance of these holy times to be continued:
“‘So you shall observe the Feast of Unleavened Bread, for on this same day [the first Day of Unleavened Bread] I will have brought [or better: “I brought,” compare NIV, RSV] your armies out of the land of Egypt. Therefore you shall observe this day throughout your generations as an everlasting ordinance’” (Exodus 12:17).
“‘And you shall observe this thing as an ordinance for you and your sons forever. It will come to pass when you come to the land which the LORD will give you, just as He promised, that you shall keep this [Passover] service [of eating the Passover lamb]. And it shall be, when your children say to you, “What do you mean by this service?” that you shall say, “It is the Passover sacrifice of the LORD, who passed over the houses of the children of Israel in Egypt when He struck the Egyptians and delivered our households”’” (Exodus 12:24-27).
Shortly after leaving Egypt, God revealed the weekly Sabbath day (Exodus 16) to Israel. Even though the Sabbath was in force and effect since the creation of the first man, it seems that Israel had forgotten about it, while in Egyptian slavery. Three months following their departure from Egypt, God spoke His commandments from Mount Sinai and made a covenant with the children of Israel. We see that God was accomplishing much more than freeing the Israelites from captivity:
“And Moses went up to God, and the LORD called to him from the mountain, saying, ‘Thus you shall say to the house of Jacob, and tell the children of Israel: “You have seen what I did to the Egyptians, and how I bore you on eagles’ wings and brought you to Myself. Now therefore, if you will indeed obey My voice and keep My covenant, then you shall be a special treasure to Me above all people; for all the earth is Mine. And you shall be to Me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.” These are the words which you shall speak to the children of Israel’” (Exodus 19:3-6).
After forty years and just before his death, Moses once again reminded Israel of God’s purpose in saving them from captivity in Egypt and making them His chosen people:
“‘For you are a holy people to the LORD your God; the LORD your God has chosen you to be a people for Himself, a special treasure above all the peoples on the face of the earth. The LORD did not set His love on you nor choose you because you were more in number than any other people, for you were the least of all peoples; but because the LORD loves you, and because He would keep the oath which He swore to your fathers, the LORD has brought you out with a mighty hand, and redeemed you from the house of bondage, from the hand of Pharaoh king of Egypt. Therefore know that the LORD your God, He is God, the faithful God who keeps covenant and mercy for a thousand generations with those who love Him and keep His commandments’” (Deuteronomy 7:6-9).
Returning to the events in Exodus 12 and 13, we find a remarkable testimony about how the children of Israel responded to God’s instructions about the Passover through Moses and Aaron:
“Then the children of Israel went away and did so; just as the LORD had commanded Moses and Aaron, so they did” (Exodus 12:28); and, “Thus all the children of Israel did; as the LORD commanded Moses and Aaron, so they did” (Exodus 12:50).
That remarkable attitude of careful obedience to God on Israel’s part serves as an example for Christians, today. However, they left another, regretful example, because the thankfulness for God’s mighty intervention on their behalf soon waned into outright rebellion. Moses confronted Israel about this, and it is left as a warning we should heed:
“Remember! Do not forget how you provoked the LORD your God to wrath in the wilderness. From the day that you departed from the land of Egypt until you came to this place, you have been rebellious against the LORD” (Deuteronomy 9:7).
The Passover and the annual Holy Days of God, along with the weekly Sabbath, have been observed throughout the generations but only rarely with the commitment and zeal that God has commanded. Following the reigns of David and Solomon over all Israel, the Holy Days of God lost their place in the lives of the now divided kingdoms of Judah and Israel.
Israel in particular, under the rule of Jeroboam, was led into idolatry and rejected God’s rule over them. From that state of rebellion, the ten-tribe nation of Israel never recovered and was eventually driven into national captivity (2 Kings 17).
Judah, on the other hand, experienced times when a righteous king arose and restored national obedience to God. In particular, both King Hezekiah (2 Chronicles 30) and King Josiah (2 Kings 23) restored true worship of God in Judah. That restoration centered on re-establishing observance of the annual Holy Days of God—especially, the Passover and the Feast of Unleavened Bread.
Following their return from Babylonian captivity, the Jews once again observed the Passover and the Feast of Unleavened Bread (Ezra 6:19-22); also, the Feast of Tabernacles was kept again (Nehemiah 8). Weekly Sabbath observance was strictly practiced under the strong leadership of Nehemiah (Nehemiah 13).
That brings us to the New Testament times of Jesus. It is not within the scope of this Q&A to review all the references about Jesus and His disciples observing the weekly Sabbath and annual Holy Days, but note carefully that they indeed kept what God had commanded.
Jesus Christ observed and brought full meaning to “the Passover sacrifice of the LORD” as mentioned in Exodus 12:27. He instituted a different way for His followers—those who are baptized members of the Church of God—to keep this Feast. Here are Paul’s instructions—just as He received from Jesus:
“For I received from the Lord that which I also delivered to you: that the Lord Jesus on the same night in which He was betrayed took bread; 24 and when He had given thanks, He broke it and said, ‘Take, eat; this is My body which is broken for you; do this in remembrance of Me.’ In the same manner He also took the cup after supper, saying, ‘This cup is the new covenant in My blood. This do, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of Me.’ For as often as you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death till He comes” (1 Corinthians 11:23-26).
It should be more than obvious that we, as Christians, must keep the Passover just as Christ has commanded.
It is important to consider what Jesus said to His disciples during this Passover service. He referred to the future in God’s Kingdom, when the elect of God would be with Him:
“‘But I say to you, I will not drink of this fruit of the vine from now on until that day when I drink it new with you in My Father’s kingdom’” (Matthew 26:29).
The events surrounding the first Passover are absolutely and profoundly relevant to true Christians, today! The knowledge and observance of all that God has commanded separates us from this world—a world held captive to sin through the powerful deception of Satan the Devil (1 John 5:19).
“But God be thanked that though you were slaves of sin, yet you obeyed from the heart that form of doctrine to which you were delivered” (Romans 6:17).
Like Israel of old, God has chosen us, but our calling from God is to enter His Family and to be given eternal life in the Kingdom of God. Let’s never lose sight of this incomparable opportunity:
“But you are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, His own special people, that you may proclaim the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light; who once were not a people but are now the people of God, who had not obtained mercy but now have obtained mercy” (1 Peter 2:9-10).
Lead Writer: Dave Harris