The parallels between the Old Testament Passover and the work of Christ are striking (as I’ve noted here). Christ timed His death to coincide with the death of the Passover lambs in Jerusalem (John 19:14-16). Jesus died once, in history, to deliver us from sin, just as lambs died at the original Passover to deliver Israel from Egypt. He died a propitiatory death, allowing God’s wrath to pass the believer, also like the original Passover (Ex 12:13; Heb 11:28). In both cases, deliverance was from God, not just from Egypt or sin. That’s remarkable. In yet another parallel, Christ established a new Passover feast, the Lord’s Table, to commemorate His delivering death, just as Israel observed the Passover feast to commemorate God’s initial deliverance (Mat 26:17-19, 26-29). Both the Passover event and the Passover remembrance have been fulfilled and replaced by Christ.
However, there are still more parallels between the Passovers of the two Testaments, and they are richly described by Leon Morris in The Atonement: It’s Meaning and Significance. In addition to the “deliverance” parallels, there are positive “assembly” parallels. God wasn’t just breaking Egyptian bonds; He was gathering a people for Himself (Ex 6:7; 19:6), collecting a nation to serve Him (Ex 8:20; 9:1; 10:3). Redemption has both doxological and corporate purposes. Morris explains:
“The Passover commemorated not simply a deliverance, but that deliverance which made a nation out of the slave rabble into which the descendants of the great patriarchs had degenerated in Egypt…. In a very real sense the Passover commemorated the birth of a nation and that nation the people of God.” (p. 91)
Morris goes on to note that just as the initial Passover event had a corporate, assembly-making purpose, so later observances celebrated community. The entire nation was required to travel to Jerusalem, and “the gathering at the temple when the sacrifice was offered gave the necessary emphasis to national unity” (p. 99). Beyond that national observance, even the individual meals were corporate affairs:
“Passover was a time when the idea of community was very prominent. Jews gathered from all the world to keep the feast, a fact which was significant in itself. Passover was not a purely individual affair to be observed according to individual taste. While the most important part of the celebration took placed in homes with small companies of people, the occasion was corporate, not individual…. Passover was a time for the collective joy of the nation, not the private happiness of individuals.” (p. 98)
Christ is the church’s Passover (1 Cor 5:7). He has delivered us from spiritual bondage by His propitiatory death. We remember that by observing the Lord’s Table, the new Passover meal. But He has also gathered us into a spiritual nation by that deliverance (1 Pet 2:9), claiming us for Himself and uniting us with one another. And we remember that by observing the Lord’s Table, as well. We are delivered from sin, unto God, into the church—all for God’s glory. Grace!
(Note: Some of these themes are contained in the hymn “Gaze on the Christ,” where I allude to the Passover theme in relation to Christ.)