Christ Our Passover

Purge out the old leaven, that ye may be a new lump, even as ye are unleavened. For our passover also hath been sacrificed, even Christ (1 Corinthians 5:7).

When we think about Jesus’ death on the cross, we often think of His death in terms of atonement. The Hebrew author makes the parallel in Hebrews 7-10: the old covenant had high priests offering the blood of bulls and goats for sin, and the new covenant has the superior sacrifice based in better promises– Jesus, the High Priest in the order of Melchizedek, who offered Himself up for our atonement.

While that is true, it is interesting to note that the Israelite Day of Atonement, also known as Yom Kippur, on the tenth day of the seventh month of the Israelite calendar (Leviticus 23:27). That was the day when the high priest would offer a bull, a ram, and two goats for his own sin and for the sin of the people (Leviticus 16:1-34). But Jesus does not die anywhere near the Day of Atonement. He also is not described as the “Bull of God” or the “Goat of God.” Instead, He dies and is raised again during Passover and the Feast of the Unleavened Bread (Mark 14:1, Luke 22:1; cf. Mark 14-16, Luke 22-24). He is also known as the “Lamb of God” (John 1:29). What’s going on here? Is there any symbolism in the timing of Jesus’ death and resurrection? And if bulls and goats were the standard sacrificial animals for atonement, why is Jesus known as the Lamb?

Paul makes it clear that there is symbolism in the timing of Jesus’ death, and he also shows us why Jesus is called the Lamb, when he describes Jesus as “Christ our Passover” in 1 Corinthians 5:7.

The Passover festival takes us back in time to Exodus 11-12 and to the deliverance of the Israelites from the hand of Pharaoh. Pharaoh had been oppressing the Israelites and subjected them to hard, forced labor (Exodus 1). YHWH, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, called Moses to be His representative before Pharaoh to deliver Israel out of bondage to fulfill the promise He made to their forefathers (Exodus 2-6). Pharaoh resisted YHWH’s call for Israel’s release, and he and the Egyptians suffered under plagues of the Nile turning to blood, frogs, gnats, flies, death of livestock, boils, hail, locusts, and darkness (Exodus 7-10). Pharaoh still refused to release the Israelites. And then God promised one final plague, and Pharaoh’s hand would then be forced.

The action in the story comes to a screeching halt as God explains what He is about to do and commissions Israel to observe the Passover. It was to be the beginning of the Israelite year– the first month (Exodus 12:1-2). They are to slaughter a male, unblemished lamb a year old on the fourteenth day of the first month, and place the blood on the side-posts and lintel of the doors (Exodus 12:3-7). They are to eat the lamb with unleavened bread and bitter herbs, dressed and ready to depart immediately (Exodus 12:7-11). That night YHWH would strike down the firstborn of all of the Egyptians, man and beast, but when His angel would see the blood on the doors of the Israelites, he would pass over those houses and those inside would be spared (Exodus 12:13). Israel would then eat unleavened bread for seven days (Exodus 12:15-20).

This would be a perpetual statute in Israel– they were to annually observe the Passover and the Feast of the Unleavened Bread (Exodus 12:14). The reason why would become evident: this was the time when YHWH delivered Israel out of bondage, bringing them out of Egypt, redeeming them from their captors (Exodus 12:26-27). The Passover and Feast of the Unleavened Bread served as the “Independence Day” of Israel for generations.

So how is it that Jesus is our Passover Lamb? While it is true that Jesus’ death leads to our atonement, that is not the only dimension to His death. Through His death believers are able to be delivered from the bondage of sin and death to become the people of God traveling toward the “promised land” of the resurrection and eternity with God (Romans 8:1-2, 1 Corinthians 6:20, Philippians 3:12-14, Revelation 21:1-22:6). On account of the blood of the Lamb, God passes over the sin of believers, while those who are unbelievers risk suffering condemnation (Romans 5:6-11, 6:20-23, 2 Thessalonians 1:6-10). Through Jesus’ death and resurrection, believers are able to celebrate their “independence day”!

Jesus’ death and resurrection represent the fulfillment of the story of Israel, taking place within the context of the liberation of Israel from bondage. Let us praise God for Christ our Passover Lamb and the redemption, Kingdom, and glory that come through Him!

Ethan R. Longhenry

The Lamb

On the morrow he seeth Jesus coming unto him, and saith, “Behold, the Lamb of God, that taketh away the sin of the world!” (John 1:29).

Generally, when we think about lambs, we are not filled with fear or respect. We would perhaps consider them “cute” or something of the sort. We would think of a young and vulnerable animal, perhaps not the smartest, yet, above all things, harmless and innocent.

Therefore, there are good reasons why you do not see many high schools or colleges whose mascot is a lamb. The designation would be either ironic or all too appropriate. It is also a term that is generally not used to describe another person. You rarely hear someone who has been given the nickname “Lamb.” Even if such a one were to exist, he would not be someone whom you would fear!

Yet John the Baptist, on seeing Jesus, speaks of Him as the “Lamb.” Why would John say such a thing? Is it an insult? What is he trying to communicate?

While we may think of lambs as cute, young, harmless, and the like, an ancient Israelite would have added to all those things “a sacrifice.” Lambs were offered as sacrifices to God even in the days of Abraham (cf. Genesis 22:7-8). In order to mark out Israelite houses, God commanded Israel to sacrifice lambs and use their blood to mark the lintel and the side posts during the Passover (cf. Exodus 12:3-5). Lambs were the perpetual daily sacrifices for atonement (cf. Exodus 29:38-42). Lambs were sufficient sacrifices for sin and trespass offerings (cf. Leviticus 4:32, 5:6).

Yet why the poor lamb? What did it ever do to deserve such a fate? Absolutely nothing– and that was the point. As elaborated in Leviticus 17:11, the life of an animal was in its blood, and animals were offered on the altar in order to atone for the sins of the one sacrificing. The penalty for sin was death (cf. Genesis 3:3, Romans 6:23). For the penalty to be paid, something had to die– and in the old covenant, the innocent lamb was the one who paid the penalty.

This is the background behind John’s statement. By signifying that Jesus is the “Lamb of God,” John forecasts His life and death. Jesus, as the Lamb, would be sinless and innocent (cf. Hebrews 4:15, 1 Peter 2:21-22). Through His death on the cross He was able to take away the sin of the world– to be the sinless, innocent Life that would atone for all the guilty who believed in Him (cf. Matthew 20:25-28, Romans 5:5-11, 2 Corinthians 5:20).

The blood of lambs, in truth, could not take away sin (Hebrews 10:4). God passed over the sins of the righteous of old, looking forward to the propitiation that came through the obedience of Jesus the true Lamb of God (cf. Romans 3:25, Hebrews 5:7-10). In so doing Jesus broke down the barriers between Jew and Gentile and all people, allowing all to be cleansed of sin and reconciled to God through His blood (Ephesians 2:11-18).

We again see Jesus as the Lamb in Revelation 5:6-14, the One worthy to open the seven seals. The Lamb receives power and honor and glory for His life, death, and resurrection.

Therefore it is important for us to remember that Jesus, the Lamb of God, was not just a sacrifice– He was humble, meek, and lowly, One from whom you would not derive a mascot (cf. Matthew 11:28-30). His way is not the way of the world, but the way of love, humility, and service (Matthew 20:25-28). In order to be His disciple we must also become sacrifices, albeit living ones (Romans 12:1), and we must develop the humility and disposition of a servant as did our Lord (cf. John 13:1-17, Philippians 2:1-11).

The Lamb gave His life so that we could have abundant life, both here and in the hereafter. If we seek to obtain that life, we must give up our own lives and follow the ways of the Lamb of God!

Ethan R. Longhenry

Our Waiting Glory

And there came one of the seven angels who had the seven bowls, who were laden with the seven last plagues; and he spake with me, saying, “Come hither, I will show thee the bride, the wife of the Lamb” (Revelation 21:9).

Most people, even if they do not know much about the Bible, have a definite picture in mind of what Heaven is like. Many people think of pearly gates and a city of gold. This view is reinforced by all kinds of spiritual songs that are sung. “We will walk on streets of purest gold,” according to Ira Stanphill’s “Mansions Over the Hilltop.” A lot of people think about Heaven and look forward to being in a large and magnificent city.

These images come from Revelation 21 where John describes the “new Jerusalem.” The city is described as a roughly 1,380 mile cube (Revelation 21:16) with a golden street, a jasper wall having foundations of precious stones (Revelation 21:17-20), and the glory of God shining brightly (Revelation 21:11). There is no night there and no Temple; the Father and the Son dwell there all the time (Revelation 21:22-25). It sounds like a great place to go!

Yet a major aspect of the image– and part of its encouraging message– is lost when we think that the “new Jerusalem” is a city to which God’s people go. The “new Jerusalem” is also “the Bride, the wife of the Lamb,” as we see above, and that Bride is the Church (Ephesians 5:22-32).

And what is the Church? The Church is nothing more than its constituents: people (1 Corinthians 12:12-28, 1 Peter 2:4-6)! Therefore, no one is going to be going to the city described– the redeemed of God will be the city!

No one is going to be walking the golden streets– those who conquer through the Lamb are the golden streets (cf. Revelation 21:7). The large city and the shining wall all represent the glory which God will bestow upon those who trusted in Him!

We ought to recognize that the picture of the “new Jerusalem” represents the best attempt that can be made of describing the indescribable, as is made evident from Romans 8:18 and 2 Corinthians 4:17:

For I reckon that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed to us-ward.

For our light affliction, which is for the moment, worketh for us more and more exceedingly an eternal weight of glory.

How can anyone describe that “eternal weight of glory”? Human language fails. To a small, persecuted, and mostly poor group of believers, the most fantastic image that can be imagined is a large city full of great wealth. For those conversant in the Old Testament, a city of gold with the glory of kings coming into it evokes the days of Solomon and the glory days of Israel (cf. 1 Kings 3-10).

Therefore, when we consider the new Jerusalem of Revelation 21, we ought not think of it as a place to which we are going as much as the glory which God eagerly awaits to bestow upon all those who conquer through the blood of the Lamb and the word of their testimony (cf. Revelation 12:11). It is fantastic, wonderful, exhilarating, breathtaking, and beyond our wildest dreams.

This is, indeed, the call for the perseverance of the saints, and the invitation of Jesus, the Lamb of God. Do not go outside the city or remain outside the city in filth and defilement– obey God in Jesus Christ, be cleansed and purified in the blood of the Lamb, and let us not grow weary in pressing upward to be that city!

Ethan R. Longhenry