The fourteenth day of the month of Nisan marks the beginning of Passover, one of the most important holidays on the Jewish calendar. It commemorates the time when God delivered His chosen people from slavery in Egypt with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm (Exodus 6:6; Deuteronomy 4:34; Psalm 136:12).
While the date of Passover on the Hebrew calendar is fixed, it fluctuates on the Gregorian calendar, usually falling in late March or early April. The seven-day Feast of Unleavened Bread immediately follows Passover (Leviticus 23:5–6). Today, Jewish people commonly regard the seven days of the Feast of Unleavened Bread and the one day of Passover as part of the same celebration.
The First Passover
In the thirteenth century BCE, God chose Moses—a Hebrew who had been raised by Pharoah’s daughter—to redeem the Jewish people from four hundred years of slavery in Egypt. Moses obeyed God’s call and risked his life to appear before Pharoah and command him to let God’s people go. Pharoah hardened his heart and refused to oblige.
As a result, God sent ten different plagues upon Pharoah and the Egyptians to demonstrate His power and identity as the one true God and convince Pharoah to let the Israelites go. Those plagues included a blood-turned river, frogs, gnats, flies, pestilence on livestock, boils, hail, locusts, and darkness. The final plague was the death of all firstborn sons.
God gave the Jewish people special instructions regarding the last plague (Exodus 7:11). He commanded the Israelites to smear the blood of a lamb or goat on the doorposts of their homes so that the angel of death would pass over their homes and not kill their firstborn sons. He told them to eat the lamb with bitter herbs and unleavened bread (bread made without yeast) that night while fully dressed, demonstrating the urgency with which they were to leave after the last plague.
As God had predicted and planned, the tenth plague broke Pharoah after he lost his firstborn son, and he forcefully commanded the Israelites to leave Egypt. That first Passover night, the children of Israel left slavery in Egypt and embarked on what would become a long journey to the Promised Land.
God commanded the Jewish people to observe Passover every year and to remember this story of His power and redemption: “Now this day will be a memorial to you, and you shall celebrate it as a feast to the Lord; throughout your generations you are to celebrate it as a permanent ordinance” (Exodus 12:14).
Today, the observance of Passover and the Feast of Unleavened Bread includes most of the original commands God gave to the Jewish people—the purging of leaven (yeast) from one’s home, the eating of matzah (unleavened bread) and bitter herbs, and resting on the first and seventh days of the feast—but it also includes many more traditions.
Preparation for Passover includes cleaning the house of all leaven. Jewish families spend several days—and some even spend several weeks—cleaning the entire house of leaven. Most of this time is spent cleaning the kitchen—scrubbing the inside of stoves, fridges, ovens, and the cleaning of all surfaces.
On the evening before Passover begins, Jewish families practice the tradition of searching for leaven, which is called B’dikat Chametz in Hebrew. Before the search begins, the family places ten pieces of leaven throughout the house in easily accessed places, such as windowsills and corners, and the father of the house recites a special blessing: “Blessed are you, O Lord our God, King of the Universe, who has sanctified us by Your commandments and commanded us to remove the leaven.” Then the father traditionally leads his family on a search for the leaven with a candle, feather, and wooden spoon to collect the crumbs. (Many today use a flashlight and dustpan instead.)
The family then burns all of the leaven they found and recites a nullification statement for any leaven remaining in the home that may remain: “All leaven or anything leavened which is in my possession, which I have neither seen nor removed, and about which I am unaware, shall be considered naught and ownerless as the dust of the earth.”
This annual tradition of ridding one’s house of leaven and avoiding its use for seven days demonstrates the haste with which the Israelites left Egypt and serves as a reminder of our need to rid our lives of sin. Leaven (yeast), a fermenting agent, works through decay in the same way that sin brings spiritual decay in our lives. God wanted the Jewish people to see leaven as a picture of sin and as a reminder of the need to be “unleavened,” or holy in His presence.
The Passover Seder (“order”) serves as the main event. It consists of an ordered series of events before and after dinner to remind Jewish families of their redemption story. The father of the family follows the Haggadah to officiate the Seder. The Haggadah is a booklet which contains the order of events for the night. It includes such things as the ceremonial lighting of candles, the drinking of four cups of wine, the washing of hands, the eating of parsley dipped in salt water, the recounting of the Passover story, the recitation of questions and answers, the singing of traditional songs and psalms of praise, the dipping of matzah in bitter herbs (horseradish) and charoset (a sweet apple mixture), and the eating of a scrumptious meal.
The Seder holds great significance for believers in Jesus. It was during His final Passover Seder, known today as the Last Supper, that He instituted communion, also known as the Lord’s Supper. He held up the unleavened matzah bread—with its stripes and pierce marks—and told His disciples, “This is My body which is given for you; do this in remembrance of Me” (Luke 22:19). Then, after He and His disciples finished the dinner portion of the Seder, He held up the third cup, the Cup of Redemption, and said, “This cup which is poured out for you is the new covenant in My blood” (v. 20). Jesus chose the symbol of the Jewish people’s redemption from slavery to reveal their redemption from sin through His blood and the institution of the new covenant (Jeremiah 31:31–33).
The connection between Jesus and the Jewish Seder goes even deeper when one considers the tradition of the matzah tosh, a bag containing three separate compartments with a piece of matzah in each pocket. The father of the house takes the piece of matzah out of the middle compartment, breaks it in half, wraps it, and hides it for the children to find. After dinner, the children embark on a hunt to find the hidden matzah, called the afikomen. Whoever finds it wins a prize.
Believers in Jesus can find deep significance in the tradition of the hidden afikomen. If we view the matzah tosh as a symbol of the unity of God—one being, three persons, as the matzah tosh is one bag with three compartments—we can see the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus hidden in the tradition of the afikomen. Just as the afikomen is broken, wrapped, hidden, and found, Messiah’s body was likewise broken for our sins, wrapped in a burial cloth, buried, and then resurrected. What a powerful picture of the gospel!
During Passover, may we remember the Lamb of God who was slain for the sins of the world and pray for our Jewish friends to likewise find peace with God through the ultimate Passover sacrifice, Yeshua—Jesus— the Messiah.
by Jennifer Miles
 “Passover—Pesach: History & Overview,” Jewish Virtual Library, accessed March 17, 2021, https://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/passover-history-and-overview.