Jerusalem was filled to capacity with thousands of travelers from far and wide. The city came alive as the observance of the Passover and Days of Unleavened Bread approached.
The streets bustled with pilgrims preparing for the meal—buying various herbs and other ingredients to make cakes of unleavened bread. Men hauled flayed lambs over their shoulders while women made sure there would be adequate amounts of water and wine for the often 10 or more guests they would host.
At the Temple, priests in white robes prepared the daily evening sacrifice.
“For the previous month [Passover] had been the subject of discussion in the Academies, and, for the last two Sabbaths at least, that of discourse in the Synagogues,” Alfred Edersheim wrote in his 1883 book The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah. “Everyone was going to Jerusalem, or had those near and dear to them there, or at least watched the festive processions to the Metropolis of Judaism. It was…when friends from afar would meet, and new friends be made; when offerings long due would be brought, and purification long needed be obtained…National and religious feelings were alike stirred in what reached far back to the first, and pointed far forward to the final Deliverance.”
As the sun set and the first stars in the night sky became visible, three blasts by a silver trumpet announced the Passover had commenced. The smoke of the burnt offering rose from the Temple.
After spending the morning preparing for Passover by removing leaven from homes (Ex. 12:15), people across Jerusalem welcomed the delicious meal and ceremonial remembrance of their ancestors’ flight from Egypt.
During Jesus’ physical life, this was the way the Jews ordinarily kept the spring Holy Days.
Yet the Days of Unleavened Bread observed after Christ’s crucifixion were anything but ordinary. During the busyness of physical preparation, the vast majority missed what was actually occurring.
As Passover approaches today, we in God’s Church can find ourselves in a similar situation. The cleaning, dusting and vacuuming—and bending, stretching and contorting of ourselves—to remove leaven from our homes within a short time, all while perhaps preparing to travel great distances to meet with brethren for feast days, can be fatiguing. If we do not take action now to examine the significance of the Passover symbols—and what they mean in our lives—we can lose sight of what our real focus should be.
Leading up to the Passover, Jesus sent Peter and John to Jerusalem to prepare for the meal. He directed them to a certain home, where a private upper-level room had been furnished with everything they would need to observe the Passover: wine, bitter herbs, vinegar, salt, water, unleavened bread, and a wooden spit to roast the paschal lamb. In addition, reclining couches, which circled a table, had been provided.
Meanwhile, Jesus and the rest of the disciples traveled from the town of Bethany, crossed over the Mount of Olives, and entered Jerusalem.
At sunset, Christ and His disciples gathered in the chamber where they were to partake of what would become the most significant—and somber—Passover of all time.
(Understand that Jesus correctly kept the Passover on Abib 14, while the Jews of His time mistakenly observed it the following day.)
Christ had greatly anticipated this night for some time. Luke 22:15 records His words: “With desire I have desired to eat this passover with you before I suffer.”
The meaning of the Greek word translated desired has much more significance than meets the eye. It can be defined as “to set the heart upon, that is, long for” (Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible).
For millennia, Jesus had been waiting for this Passover to occur. Similar to many other details of His life, the events of this night had been foretold (Matt. 27:9; Zech. 11:12-13).
Christ used this opportunity to demonstrate how His Church should observe Passover from that time forward. Notice the account recorded by John: “Supper being ended…[Christ] rose from supper, and laid aside His garments; and took a towel, and girded Himself. After that He poured water into a basin, and began to wash the disciples’ feet, and to wipe them with the towel wherewith He was girded” (John 13:2-5).
This was something quite different from what had been done by the Jews during Passover for centuries up to that point!
During Christ’s time, foot washing was a duty performed by servants. Since walking on dusty roads and trails with sandals or bare feet was one of the primary modes of transportation, the lowest point of the body became very dirty. Therefore, as a guest entered someone’s home, a servant or sometimes the wife of the host would take off his sandals and wash his feet.
Jesus wanted to make an important point to His disciples. He—as a servant—performed this lowly service on the night of what would become His final Passover.
After washing the disciples’ feet, Jesus said to them, “Know you what I have done to you? You call Me Master and Lord: and you say well; for so I am. If I then, your Lord and Master, have washed your feet; you also ought to wash one another’s feet” (John 13:12-14).
Foot washing was an act of humility that Christ required them to imitate. John 13:8 indicates that Jesus’ act of washing the disciples’ feet was essential if they were to inherit God’s kingdom. As He stated, “If I wash you not, you have no part with Me.”
Yet when it was time for Christ to wash Peter’s feet, the strong-willed disciple argued. He did not want Jesus to wash his feet. Jesus patiently explained to Peter the importance of what He was doing. He told him that those who acknowledge Him as Master and Lord ought to also wash one another’s feet.
“For I have given you an example, that you should do as I have done to you,” He stated in John 13:15-17. “Truly, truly, I say unto you, The servant is not greater than his lord; neither He that is sent greater than He that sent Him. If you know these things, happy are you if you do them.”
Profound blessings are attached to performing the foot-washing ordinance. The Greek word makarios, from which “happy” in verse 17 is translated, means “supremely blest.” This is a promised blessing for keeping the ordinance that Christ instituted on His final Passover.
When the disciples sat down to eat the Passover lamb, Christ introduced another new ordinance that would affect how the Passover would be kept.
“As they were eating, Jesus took bread, and blessed it, and broke it, and gave it to the disciples, and said, Take, eat; this is My body” (Matt. 26:26).
Unleavened bread was always eaten during the Passover meal. It represents being pure from sin and pride, both of which are symbolized by leaven. Sin exalts the self in the same way that leaven puffs up bread. A sinner exalts himself rather than allowing God to rule him (Psa. 10:3-4). And like leaven, sin spreads rapidly.
The apostle Paul explained that leaven is a symbol for sin. A certain Church member was committing a serious sin and made no attempt to repent. Paul said this member was like a little leaven that would affect the whole lump (other members of the Church in Corinth) with his sinful way of life.
The first-century congregation at Corinth was observing the Days of Unleavened Bread when Paul’s letter arrived, so they understood the apostle’s words. They had already put physical leaven out of their homes, but now Paul encouraged them to put spiritual leaven out of their lives—the leaven of malice and wickedness. He then told them to replace it with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth—righteousness. (Read I Corinthians 5:1-8.)
Paul said that the sinning person had to be put out of the Church so that the sin did not spread. Likewise, true Christians must continually put leavening—sin—out of their lives.
The second symbol Christ introduced at Passover was wine: “He took the cup, and gave thanks, and gave it to them, saying, Drink you all of it; for this is My blood of the new testament, which is shed for many for the remission of sins. But I say unto you, I will not drink henceforth of this fruit of the vine, until that day when I drink it new with you in My Father’s kingdom” (Matt. 26:27-29).
Imagine the disciples’ reactions as Jesus instituted the new ordinances. They had all kept the Passover their entire lives. Yet He was changing everything they had always known.
Christ instructed this symbolism for a specific purpose, as Paul explained in I Corinthians 11:23-30. As you read, think about the meaning the bread and the wine has for you: “For I have received of the Lord that which also I delivered unto you, that the Lord Jesus the same night in which He was betrayed took bread: and when He had given thanks, He broke it, and said, Take, eat: this is My body, which is broken for you: this do in remembrance of Me.
“After the same manner also He took the cup, when He had supped, saying, This cup is the new testament in My blood: this do you, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of Me. For as often as you eat this bread, and drink this cup [two separate symbols], you do show the Lord’s death till He come.
“Wherefore whosoever shall eat this bread, and drink this cup [both] of the Lord, unworthily, shall be guilty of the body and blood [both] of the Lord. But let a man examine himself, and so let him eat of that bread, and drink of that cup. For he that eats and drinks unworthily, eats and drinks damnation [judgment] to himself, not discerning the Lord’s body. For this cause many are weak and sickly among you, and many sleep [have died].”
By drinking wine, Christians symbolically accept Christ’s shed blood—the sacrifice of His life—which He as our High Priest applies to cleanse our sins.
The broken unleavened bread symbolizes the broken body of Christ, and eating the bread is tied to having eternal life. Christ’s broken body is directly related to our physical healing.
Correctly understanding the suffering of Jesus while taking the bread allows us to be healed, as explained in Mr. Pack’s booklet The Truth About Healing: “Christians are instructed to pause—to stop activity—and reflect soberly on what Christ endured. Some in Corinth neglected to do this. They did not appreciate how Christ would have healed them. The result? ‘Many [were] weak and sickly…and many [died]’—needlessly.
“God wants us to understand the forgiveness of sins. This is why Paul wrote of Christ’s ‘body, which is broken for you.’
“Matthew 9, Mark 2 and Luke 5 all contain a parallel account of Christ healing ‘a man sick of the palsy, lying on a bed’ (Matt. 9:2). Luke explains it in the most detail, and it makes absolutely clear how healing directly involves the forgiveness of sin. Carefully read this long passage:
“‘And…as He was teaching, that there were Pharisees and doctors of the law sitting by, which were come out of every town of Galilee, and Judea, and Jerusalem: and the power of the Lord was present to heal them. And, behold, men brought in a bed a man which was taken with a palsy: and they sought means to bring him in, and to lay him before Him. And when they could not find by what way they might bring him in because of the multitude, they went upon the housetop, and let him down through the tiling with his couch into the midst before Jesus. And when He saw their faith, He said unto him, Man, your sins are forgiven you.
“‘And the scribes and the Pharisees began to reason, saying, Who is this which speaks blasphemies? Who can forgive sins, but God alone? But when Jesus perceived their thoughts, He answering said unto them, What reason you in your hearts? Whether is easier, to say, Your sins be forgiven you; or to say, Rise up and walk? But that you may know that the Son of man has power upon earth to forgive sins, (He said unto the sick of the palsy,) I say unto you, Arise, and take up your couch, and go into your house.
“‘And immediately he rose up before them, and took up that whereon he lay, and departed to his own house, glorifying God. And they were all amazed, and they glorified God, and were filled with fear, saying, We have seen strange things today’ (Luke 5:17-26).
“Consider what this account is actually saying. Christ says that telling someone he is healed (‘Rise up and walk’) and forgiving him (‘Your sins be forgiven you’) are one and the same. Of course, the Scribes and Pharisees did not understand this, and considered it blasphemy.”
By keeping the Passover, we demonstrate that Christ alone has the power to heal.
The Passover ordinance is a memorial commanded by God to be kept forever (Ex. 12:14).
Although the time of Passover and the Days of Unleavened Bread can be extremely busy, we must recognize that everything God does has meaning and purpose.
Passover was designed by our Creator in the beginning of a new year—in the spring—when all of Creation bursts forth to new life after the bondage of winter! Likewise, this first of the commanded observances Christians are to keep is a celebration of the release from the bondage of sin to a new way of life! When we observe Passover, we renew our commitment to God for the coming year.
God commands us to keep Passover after the sun sets on the beginning of the 14th of Abib. It was only Christ our Passover who had the authority to change the way the ceremony was to be kept (I Cor. 5:7).
When we partake of these new ordinances and symbols, it shows that we are in God’s Church—the Body of Christ (I Cor. 12:12-13, 17)—and are striving to become part of the begotten Family of God. It also shows we are unified in doctrine, organization, purpose, attitude and spirit (Eph. 4:3-6).
As it states in I Corinthians 11:26, “For as often as you eat this bread, and drink this cup, you do show the Lord’s death till He come.”
All the meaningful symbols connected to Passover—the foot washing, unleavened bread, and wine—show we are committed to Almighty God and His way of life. These should give us hope of Christ’s coming.
By renewing our contract of unconditional surrender to God “with sincerity and truth,” we demonstrate our willingness to suffer as Christ did “till He come.”