One of the biggest holidays surrounding Jesus’ sacrifice and resurrection is polarizing people.
Whether you’re settling in to watch Ten Commandments or Prince of Egypt with the family to kick off this pre-Easter weekend, the part of the story most likely to invoke questions among children or just generally inquisitive viewers is the angel of death and the Passover feast.
What is this ritual of covering the door lintels with blood and eating a very specific meal that one night?
Passover as a Symbol
If you’re a Christian who has had the opportunity to join a Seder meal—the traditional night of celebration on Passover—or a messianic Jew, then you are no doubt well aware of the wealth of symbolism pointing toward Christ and his sacrifice.
In 1 Corinthians 5:7, Paul identifies Jesus as the Passover Lamb, and later in 1 Corinthians 11:23-26, he again brings up the spiritual significance of the Passover meal Jesus celebrated right before his crucifixion for New Covenant believers.
In recent years, a growing contingent of Christians has become interested in learning more about traditional Jewish practices that intersect with Jesus’ teachings, including Seder.
Some Christians have begun observing Seder with family, friends and church community as a symbolic remembrance of God’s work and a part of their preparation for Easter Sunday.
However, this movement has stirred up some controversy surrounding the practice of Passover.
Two years ago, a pair of rabbis objected to the growing Christian practice of adopting the Passover’s Seder meal into their holiday observances.
They argued that the modern Seder ritual is not the same that Jesus observed in the first place. It was developed by later rabbis and therefore is a solidly Jewish ritual with little place in Christian practice.
Additionally, they felt that Christians partaking in Seder, particularly without a Jew to lead the ceremony, was disrespectful. “Even when pursued with the best of intentions, taking another faith’s sacred ritual and transforming it into an expression of one’s own tradition displays a misunderstanding of the complex nature of faith traditions.”
In classic Jewish beliefs, Jesus was a notable prophet and teacher, but he was not the promised Messiah.
Therefore, to make traditional Passover practices about Jesus Christ was not only heretical but also a type of cultural appropriation by Gentiles who were outside of the long Jewish history and religion.
While Gentile believers could be invited to attend Seder at a Jewish household where the ceremony was led by a rabbi, they had no right to take these practices for their own.
This view is very in keeping with Jerusalem’s temple which had an external court for Gentile believers who were not allowed into the outer court or temple court.
The Counter Discussion
Mitch Glaser and Darrell L. Bock—authors of Messiah in the Passover—responded to this article to debate some of the points made.
Jesus himself used the Exodus story to show how Israel’s history had all been pointing forward to this moment, and in doing so he completely recast the meal as a vehicle for describing His coming death as a substitutionary sacrifice.
“Jewish and non-Jewish followers of Jesus believe the Passover is a paradigm for salvation that finds its fulfillment at the Last Supper when Yeshua gave new meaning to what was observed at that time.”
Messianic Jews—those who proclaim Jesus to be God and the fulfillment of Old Testament prophesies—almost always adapt the Haggadah, the book of instructions and tradition for the Passover Seder, to acknowledge Christ’s coming and atoning work.
The one point they didn’t argue is that Gentile believers should be respectful.
Passover is a long and beautiful tradition that should be handled with due consideration.
It’s an opportunity to gain greater appreciation for God’s glorious work throughout the Jewish people’s rich history and culture.
Passover is, at its heart, all about remembering and trusting God’s promises.
David Wilkerson pointed out in a Passover sermon on faith and redemption, “Their part [the Jewish people’s] was to apply the blood of the lamb to their dwelling places, believing God's promise that it had the power to secure them.
“They had not as yet come to the Red Sea, when God admonished Moses and all of Israel. ‘Remember this day, in which ye came out of Egypt, out of the house of bondage: for by strength of hand the Lord brought you out from this place’ (Exodus 13:3).”
Each of us needs frequent reminders of how strong God is and that he has redeemed us to be his people.
The Passover is an opportunity to dwell on our Father’s perfect goodness, his provision of an atoning sacrifice to rescue us from the angel of death and his hand leading us forward.
Editor’s note: Here are some resources for Christians interested in learning more or participating in a Passover celebration.