„Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” John 1:19
For you know that it was not with perishable things such as silver or gold that you were redeemed from the empty way of life you inherited from your forefathers, but with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or spot. 1 Peter 1:18-19
The blood of the Passover lamb
In the night that God delivered Israel out of Egypt, Moses warned of the Destroyer visiting Egypt and slaying every first born male. To escape from His judgement, God provided an unusual and unprecedented means of salvation: the blood of a 1 year old lamb had to be applied around the door frame. Special emphasis was laid on the fact that the lamb had to be flawless, without any blemish (Exodus 12:3-6) and for that it had to undergo a 4 day long examination.
For their lives to be spared, the Israelites had to stay inside their house, under the protection of the lamb’s blood. Furthermore, they were commanded to eat the lamb, which was from then on called the Pesach, or Passover.
If these two conditions were met, the Destroyer, the Angel of Death, would pass over and spare those “covered” by the blood. While Egypt’s first born males died that night, the lamb died in the place of Israel’s first born males, and they were spared.
An unusual means of salvation
God gave no explanation to these detailed instructions, why it had to be so and not otherwise. There was no precedent, and no alternative. The Israelites had to believe, obey and put their trust in the lamb and its blood. It was not until the Destroyer had actually passed over, that they knew for sure they had escaped. How could they have known this would work? They could not. But they could choose to believe God’s promise and his faithfulness, and trust the blood of the lamb would be sufficient.
In Exodus 12:43 we read that the eating of the Passover lamb was an exclusive right to the people of God, Israel, and those Gentiles who had joined God’s covenant people and received the sign of circumcision. No one outside God’s covenant was allowed to partake in it.
Jesus, the Passover lamb
The lamb the Israelites slaughtered and ate was an image foreshadowing of the true Lamb that was to come – Jesus, the true Passover. In John 1:19, at the beginning of Jesus’ public ministry, we read John the Baptist introducing him as “the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world”.
Jesus fulfilled the requirements of the Passover lamb: he ministered all across Judaea and the Galilee publicly, in the synagogues, in the Temple. His teaching and his life was thoroughly examined, and despite countless occasions of testing him, the experts of the Mosaic Law could find now fault with him.
Just as a one year old lamb is in the prime of its life, Jesus was in the prime of his earthly life when he gave himself as a sacrifice and as our substitute, so that we might live.
It is his blood that protects us from God’s wrath and judgement (Romans 3:24-25). Just as applying blood on a doorframe may appear an odd means of protection to the sceptic, so would trusting the blood of Christ. Furthermore, God provided no alternative means of salvation: the Israelites needed and could do nothing but trust the blood’s sufficiency. And we cannot save ourselves by good works. Jesus accomplished it all and we can only surrender and trust in the sufficiency of his death on Calvary.
Partaking in Jesus’ flesh and blood
Our identification with our substitute goes a step further. We also partake in the Passover lamb by eating it. In John 6:53+56 Jesus said “unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you no life in you. He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him.” We do this every time we take communion. Partaking in Jesus’ flesh and blood is exclusively reserved for God’s covenant people, be it Israelites or Gentiles, who have first received the sign of circumcision of the heart.
A once and for all sacrifice
The Passover lamb foreshadows Jesus also in its unique one-time sacrifice. The Passover lamb was sacrificed once; there was never a need for a second one. Israel was free! The feast of Passover was celebrated each year as a remembrance, but it never again became a means of another salvation.
Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross of Calvary was a once and for all act of deliverance. As we put our trust in this true Passover lamb, we are free from bondage to sin, freed from Satan’s dominion and conveyed into the Kingdom of God. We remember this as we take communion. We remember of what has already been accomplished for us.
NB: The Pesach must not be confused with the sacrificial system of Sinai. This was given because of the Israelites’ disobedience as a means to atone for sins committed, not for the deliverance out of Pharaoh’s hand. Atonement for sin, and how Jesus atoned for our sin, is discussed in the blog post on Yom Kippur.