A New Passover
By Dr. Paul Knudtson
“For our paschal (Passover) lamb, Christ, has been sacrificed.” – 1 Corinthians 5:7
The Exodus is the central act of salvation in the Old Testament. The “Exodus” is the name given to God’s act of deliverance of his people Israel from slavery in Egypt. On the night of Israel’s redemption (the Exodus), a Passover (paschal in Hebrew) lamb was sacrificed and the animal’s blood was sprinkled on the doorposts and lintel of each home. The LORD says, “when I see the blood, I will pass over you, and no plague shall destroy you when I strike the land of Egypt” (Exodus 12:13). The New Testament tells how God has also acted through his Son, Jesus Christ, to bring about a new exodus, that is, a liberation from sin and death through the death and resurrection of his Son. Christ is the new Passover (paschal) lamb whose blood has been shed in order to save us from destruction and to bring about our freedom. The church’s annual commemoration of Christ’s death and resurrection on Good Friday and Easter reminds us of this new exodus.
The New Testament gospels make repeated references or allusions to the Old Testament Exodus story as a way to explain the meaning of God’s redemptive action in Jesus Christ. God is bringing about a new exodus through a new Passover lamb, Jesus Christ. A few examples can illustrate how the gospels make this connection between Passover and Jesus. In John’s gospel, John the Baptist calls Jesus “the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!” (1:29), a likely reference to Jesus as the Passover lamb. Also in John, a comparison between the Passover lamb and Jesus is made with reference to the manner of Jesus’s death. The Mosaic requirement that the leg bones of the Passover lamb are not to be broken (Exodus 12:46 in John 19:37) is enacted also with Jesus, whose legs are not broken at his death on the cross (John 19:33).
As can be demonstrated with the gospel of Mark, the synoptic gospels (Matthew, Mark, and Luke) make prominent use of the exodus theme in explaining the theological significance of Jesus’s life and death. A few examples may bear this out. It seems clear that reference to Jesus’ baptism in the Jordan river followed by a period of testing in the wilderness for forty days (Mark 1:9-13) is an allusion to Israel’s Old Testament experience of passing through the waters of the Red Sea before enduring a forty year time of testing in the wilderness. In Mark 5 Jesus casts a legion of unclean spirits from a man in the country of the Gerasenes. The word “legion” is a military term that would seem to be an allusion to the Roman occupying troupes (a legion was commonly a division of 5,000-6,000 Roman troupes). The gospel account tells how this “legion” of unclean spirits entering a herd of two thousand swine that “rushed down the steep bank into the sea, and were drowned in the sea” (Mark 5:13) is reminiscent of the drowning of Pharaoh’s army in the Red Sea (Exodus 15:4-5).
And above all in making such connections, it should be noted that Jesus’s death takes place at the annual celebration of the Passover (Mark 14:1, 12, 14). The meaning of Jesus’s death is interpreted in the gospels in terms of the Passover. Jesus’s “last supper” with his disciples is a Passover meal and he reinterprets this meal in terms of himself and of his impending death. The bread of the Passover meal (Exodus 12: 8, 15, 18; 13:6-7) is interpreted by Jesus in terms of himself: “This is my body” (Mark 14:22). Jesus also refers to the wine of the meal in terms of himself and to his blood about to be shed, saying, “This is my blood of the covenant” (Mark 14:24; This recalls the covenant God made with Israel following the exodus at Sinai, Exodus 24:8). Each Good Friday, and indeed, every time Christians celebrate the Lord’s Supper they recall and experience anew their liberation from sin, death, and evil that God has wrought through Christ, the pascal lamb.
Meditation: How have I experienced spiritual liberation through Jesus? In what areas of my life do I need to experience new freedom in Christ?
Prayer: Dear God, thank you for our Passover lamb, Jesus Christ. Help us to always treasure and take to heart all that you have done to make us free. Amen.