Leviticus 23:4-5, ‘These are the appointed times of the Lord, holy convocation which you shall proclaim at the times appointed them. In the first month on the fourteenth day of the month at twilight is the Lord’s Passover.’
The celebration of Easter is really the Jewish feast of Passover which was instituted by God in the Bible and it was to commemorate the deliverance by God of His people from Egyptian slavery. The account of their slavery can be found in Exodus 1-15 and the specifics of Passover are detailed in Exodus 11-13.
There are no references to Easter in the Bible or in the Apostolic first church, it was introduced after the death of the Apostle John by some Gentile churches that had spread outside of Asia Minor and Polycarp, who was directly discipled by the Apostle contested the alternate dates for celebrating the death and resurrection of Christ but all parties agreed it was not really something they should all break fellowship over.
Those who maintained the celebration falling on 14 Nisan according to the Bible and the Jewish calendar came to be known as the Quartodecimans, which is just a fancy latin word for fourteen.
By the 3rd & 4th centuries, anti-Semitism was becoming dangerously common place within the official church and in 325 at the Council of Nicea, the First Ecumenical Council declared that ‘Easter’ was never allowed to fall on the same date as the Jewish Feast of Passover, on the 14th of Nisan, but had to fall on the first Sunday afterward.
The result was the excommunication of individual and whole church communities, specifically isolating any Jewish believers that were still part of the Christian community, some Quartodecimans were executed because they wanted to remain faithful to the dates laid out in Scripture and for not falling in with church dogma and official policy.
Emperor Constantine said that all those in attendance had decided to adopt a uniform date, because the eastern orthodox church celebrated Easter on a different date but primarily, this decision was made in order to sever any semblance of Jewish connection, blaming them for Yeshua’s death. Following is an excerpt…
“It was resolved by the united judgment of all present, that this feast ought to be kept by all and in every place on one and the same day. For what can be more becoming or honourable to us that that this feast, from which we date our hopes of immortality, should be observed unfailingly by all alike, according to one ascertained order and arrangement?
And first of all, it appeared an unworthy thing that in the celebration of this most holy feast we should follow the practice of the Jews, who have impiously defiled their hands with enormous sin, and are, therefore, deservedly afflicted with blindness of soul. For we have it in our power, if we abandon their custom, to prolong the due observance of this ordnance to future ages, by a truer order, which we have preserved from the very day of the passion until the present time.
Let us then have nothing in common with the detestable Jewish crowd; for we have received from our Saviour a different way. A course at once legitimate and honourable lies upon to our most holy religion. Beloved brethren, let us with one consent, adopt this course, and withdraw ourselves from all participation in their baseness…being altogether ignorant of the true adjustment of this question, they sometimes celebrate Easter twice in the same year. Why then should we follow those who are confessedly in grievous error?
Surely we shall never consent to keep this feast a second time in the same year…and let your holinesses sagacity reflect how grievous and scandalous it is that on the self-same days some should be engaged in fasting, others in festive enjoyment; and again, that after the days of Easter, some should be present at banquets and amusements, while others are fulfilling the appointed fasts.
It is then, Divine providence (as I suppose you all clearly see), that this usage should receive fitting correction, and be reduced to one uniform rule.”
Over the past 50 years however, there has been a concerted effort by Christians to learn about the Jewish foundations of the Christian faith and this has brought considerable understanding and significance to all that we believe and all that Yeshua did for us, amplifying and explaining the prophetic implications.
Basically, the story of Passover is that God brought 10 plagues upon the Egyptians for refusing to let the Hebrews go free, and the final plague was absolutely the most tragic of all. The plague would result in the death of every firstborn male of every family throughout the land of Egypt from Pharaoh’s own household to the poorest household, even the firstborn of the animals died.
In order for the Hebrews to escape this plague, they were required to take a first born male lamb from their flocks, it had to be flawless…perfect and without blemish of any kind. At a specific time they were to kill the lamb and drain all the blood from its body and paint the blood on the doorpost and top beam of the doorframe of their homes so that when the angel of death made its way through the land, it would see the blood and ‘pass over’ that home leaving everyone inside alive.
They had to remove every trace of leaven from their homes, they had to roast the lamb and leave none of it till morning, they were to eat unleavened bread and bitter herbs along with the lamb and they were to eat it in haste, with their travelling clothes on, their shoes on their feet as though they were in a hurry to leave.
There is a great deal more to the story but that is a basic overview.
Every year, Jewish families around the world celebrate the feast of Passover because Scripture commands them to. God said that the Feasts of the Lord, of which there are seven, Passover being the first, are compulsory celebrations and are ‘appointed’ times.
The way the Passover is celebrated today is very different from Bible times because they no longer have a Temple and for the past 2,000 years, the Jews have been living in the Diaspora in very hostile situations much of the time. The Passover celebration has undergone a lot of change but the elements are still incredibly significant. In traditional Jewish homes there are 15 steps in the Passover feast, however in Messianic homes, there are usually a few less.
1. Removal of all leaven from the home
All Jewish homes use the preceding days to thoroughly clean their homes and remove all forms of leaven because during Passover, leaven symbolises sin and its removal symbolises repentant hearts that are determined to expel anything sinful or displeasing to God from their lives. Typically, small leavened pieces of bread are hidden in obvious places in the home and the children or the youngest members of the family are commissioned to find them and dispose of them. It’s a bit of a ‘hide and seek’ type game with is meant to be fun.
1 Corinthians 5:6-7, ‘Clean out the old leaven so that you may be a new lump, just as you are in fact unleavened. For Messiah our Passover also has been sacrificed. Therefore, let us celebrate the feast, not with old leaven, nor with the leaven of malice and wickedness, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth.’
2. Lighting the Passover candles
This is typically done by the woman or mother of the family, just as she is the one to light the Shabbat candles each week as well. The lighting of the candles during Passover is a serious part of the celebration because they symbolise the presence of God among them and that in and of itself is both serious and sacred. As believers in Yeshua, we recognise that He is the Light of the World come to bring light and life to those living in darkness.
John 8:12, 9:5, ‘Then Yeshua again spoke to them, saying, “I am the Light of the world; he who follows Me will not walk in the darkness, but will have the Light of life.”…..”While I am in the world, I am the Light of the world.”‘
3. The First Cup: The cup of Sanctification
The four cups during Passover come from Exodus 6:6-7, ‘Say therefore to the sons of Israel, “I am the Lord and I will bring you out from under the burden of the Egyptians, and I will deliver you from their bondage. I will also redeem you with an outstretched arm and with great judgments. Then I will take you for My people, and I will be your God; and you shall know that I am the Lord your God, who brought you out from under the burden of the Egyptians.”
1 – I will bring you out from under the burden of the Egyptians.
2 – I will deliver you from their bondage.
3 – I will redeem you with an outstretched arm and with great judgments.
4 – I will take you for My people and I will be your God.
The first cup is called the cup of Sanctification in which God makes His people holy unto Himself. In Yeshua we recognise that His sacrifice is what makes us holy, it’s His sacrifice that washes us clean from the filth and depravity of our sins.
4. Hand Washing
This is not about hygiene, it’s a symbolic hand washing that because of what God has done we are made clean. Again, we see Yeshua doing this with His own disciples but He showed incredible humility by washing their feet, something only the lowest of slaves would do. Being washed by Him makes us clean.
Hebrews 10:19-22, ‘Therefore brethren, since we have confidence to enter the holy place by the blood of Yeshua, by a new and living way which He inaugurated for us through the veil, that is His flesh, and since we have a great High Priest over the house of God, let us draw near with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water.’
5. Karpas – the green vegetable (parsley)
The parsley is dipped into salt water; the parsley represents the bitter herbs the Hebrews were required to eat and the salt represents tears; bitterness for all the bitter slavery they endured for hundreds of years and salt representing their tears shed while waiting for redemption.
This portion of the Seder is also taken from the Song of Solomon which is typically a song between the man and a woman but in various places in the Old Covenant, God referred to Israel as His wife and he as her Husband. God wanted to see His relationship restored to His people and He wanted their love for Him to be rekindled. Yeshua is called the Bridegroom and those who believe in Him are His bride. The typology is stunning.
6. The breaking of the Matza Bread (Afikomen)
Three pieces of Matza bread are placed into a special bag, this is called the Afikomen which is a Greek word and it means ‘That which comes after’ or ‘That which is coming’. The middle piece of Matza is removed and broken in half; one half is returned to the bag and the other half is wrapped and hidden in the house somewhere. many Jews think that the second Matza symbolises their affliction in Egypt but cannot explain why the second piece is selected. Some believe they represent Abraham, Isaac and Jacob but have no explanation for why the second piece – Isaac – has to be broken because even though Abraham was willing to sacrifice him according to God’s word, Isaac wasn’t in fact harmed in any way. For believer’s in Yeshua, we see these Matza as being the Trinity: Father, Son and Holy Spirit with the second – the Son – being broken on our behalf, with His body being buried (hidden away) and risen (found). The fact that Afikomen actually means ‘That which is coming’ could also refer to His second coming.
7. The story of Passover
This is the part of the Seder where the story is relayed and four questions are asked:
1. Why is this night different than all other nights?
2. Why on all other nights do we eat bread with leaven, but on this nig we only eat leavened bread?
3. Why on all other nights do we eat of all kinds of herbs, but on this night we eat bitter herbs?
4. Why on all other nights do we eat in the normal way, but on this night we eat with special ceremony?
As all four questions are answered the story of Passover is recalled; they were slaves to harsh Egyptian slave masters who make their lives miserable with unbearable burdens; they eat unleavened bread to remove sin from their lives and have repentant hearts before God and they seek His mercy; they eat only bitter herbs so they remember the bitterness of their slavery so they never forget; and they eat this meal with great ceremony because God provided for them incredible miracles of deliverance from their oppressive enemy.
Again, we see the parallel is striking: we were slaves to sin bearing unbearable burdens that we could not free ourselves from; we are to come before God with repentant hearts with true remorse for our sin seeking His forgiveness and cleansing; we remember through our communion ceremony the price Yeshua paid for our redemption, we remember because he is worthy to be honoured and adored for His sacrificial love toward us.
8. The second cup: the Cup of Deliverance
This cup is drunk in celebration of the deliverance as the people were lead out of Egypt, finally free of their slavery. We celebrate for the same reason as just answered in the four questions – deliverance was given because God granted it in His mercy.
9. The meal
This is where the full meal is eaten, but all the elements on the Seder plate are systematically gone through. The full meal is served and everyone enjoys their food and each other’s company. This is a meal of joy and great celebration.
10. The third cup: The Cup of Redemption
At the Passover Seder a place is always set that remains empty, it is set for the prophet Elijah beccause Malachi 4:50 brings the expectation that Elijah the prophet will be the forerunner of Messiah and of course Messiah is the One who will bring about ultimate redemption. Typically it’s at this point in the Seder that the children are sent to find the hidden Afikomen and the third cup of redemption is drunk. The Jews celebrate their redemption from Egyptian slavery but they are also earnestly waiting for their Messiah to come with their ultimate redemption and therefore, the sooner Elijah comes the sooner Messiah comes and it’s for this reason Elijah has been incorporated into the Passover celebration.
We know that John the Baptist came in the spirit of Elijah and was the forerunner of Messiah, a voice in the wilderness making the way straight for Yeshua when He came on the scene. When the children find the Afikomen there is great rejoicing because ‘that which is coming’ has finally come. Everyone takes a piece of the Afikomen and proceeds to eat it along with drinking the cup of redemption.
Often the youngest child will run to the door and open it in the hope that Elijah is waiting there ready to be welcomed in by the family in anticipation of the imminent arrival of Messiah.
During the ‘Last Supper’ Yeshua instituted this part of the Seder to be about remembering His sacrifice of shed blood and broken body requiring His disciples (all of us included) to eat and drink as often as we come together.
Matthew 26:26-28, ‘While they were eating, Yeshua took some bread, and after a blessing, He broke it and gave it to the disciples, and said, “Take, eat; this is My body.” And when He had taken a cup and given thanks, He gave it to them, saying, “Drink from it, all of you; for this is My blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for forgiveness of sins.”‘
11. The fouth cup: the Cup of Thanksgiving and Hope
This cup closes the Seder stating that the Seder is complete just as our redemption is complete even though we are still awaiting the Messiah. It’s a cup of thanksgiving and hope, knowing that what God has promised He will do, He will most assuredly do.
It’s believed that it was this last cup of the Passover Seder that Yeshua did not drink, and He said he would not drink it again until He drinks it in His Father’s kingdom which will be when He returns and is welcomed by His own people.
Matthew 26:29, “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.”
We as believers can be absolutely assured that our redemption is complete, we cannot add a single thing to it and we don’t need to, Yeshua’s work on the cross was absolutely complete. It’s in this knowledge that we should demonstrate intense gratitude and thankfulness to Him for what He has done and knowing that our hope is not in vain; we don’t waste our hope when we put our faith and trust in Him.
Because Messiah hasn’t come by the end of the Seder, everybody says together…
“Next year in Jerusalem!”
This has been the cry of every Jewish heart since the Diaspora of the Jewish people around the world and they’ve repeated this every year for the past 2,000 years and it carries the hope not only of restoration for the people and their nation, but also for the coming of Messiah.
We as believers long also for the return of Yeshua our Messiah, that He would come and right all things and establish His kingdom in His righteousness and His throne will be in Jerusalem, the throne of His father David.
Gabriel said to Mary in Luke 1:31-32, “Behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a Son, and you shall name Him Yeshua. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High; and the Lord God will give Him the throne of His father David.”
At this point in the Seder, the candles are extinguished and the Seder is complete.
The elements of the Seder plate are:
Maror and chazeret: bitter herbs symbolising the bitterness and harshness of slaver in Egypt. Sometimes horseradish or romaine lettuce is used.
Charoset: a sweet brown mixture representing the mortar used by the Hebrew slaves to build for the Egyptians.
Karpas: Generally parsley which is used for dipping in the salt water.
Salt Water: this symbolises the tears shed by the Hebrews during their years of slavery.
Seroah: the shankbone of a lamb to represent the lamb that was sacrificed, who’s blood assured the Hebrews that the angel of death would ‘passover’ them.
Beitzah: a hardboiled egg which symbolises the korban chagigah, which was a festival sacrifice that was offered in the Temple in Jerusalem. The egg symbolises mourning and is the first food served to mourners after a funeral in Hebrew culture.
Matza bread: unleavened bread symbolising the bread of life completely without sin. Today, it’s the representation of the lamb itself that assures them of life.