Passover, Unleavened Bread & First Fruits
Introduction & Context
The Tower of Babel was a major turning point in mankind’s history and must be interpreted as more than a pagan rebellion against God, it was designed to raise man to the heavens, to replace the eternal God with the worship of man. God dealt with the rebellion by giving the people different languages, the confusion resulted in mankind being scattered throughout the earth. By then choosing Abraham, God was preparing to establish His seed, the righteousness of God in the hearts of man. Satan would have his representatives, and God would have His light shining in the midst of the darkness. God determined to call out a holy people for Himself, and through those special people, He would bless the whole world. The descendants of Abraham became the nation of Israel, and it would be through them that God’s plan would unfold.
In Yahweh’s establishment of His covenant bond with Israel, He gave requirements for that relationship, which includes the seven feasts. Speaking to Moses God said, “These are the designated times (moadim) of the Lord that you are to proclaim as holy convocations (feasts/ appointed times) and bring an offering made of fire to the Lord – a burnt offer, a grain offering, a sacrifice and drink offerings, each on its own day” (Lev. 23:37). The Hebrew word for “feasts” (moadim) means “appointed times” (Lev. 23:4) and constitute Yahweh’s agenda with His covenant people.
In Bible numerics, the number seven is the seal of God and represents completeness. Just as a week is a seven-day cycle, so too are the seven feasts over a period of seven months. So, what are these feasts and how do they outline God’s redemptive program? God’s seven annual appointed times, as we have seen are laid out in Leviticus 23. The first three feasts—Passover, Feast of Unleavened Bread, and First Fruits are celebrated in the springtime (the early rain). These feasts illustrate the redemption accomplished in Yeshua’s (Jesus) first coming, when He became the “Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world,” (John 1:29b) and through His resurrection, our “First Fruits of those who have fallen asleep” (1 Cor. 15:20b). Shavuot (Pentecost) occurs seven weeks after First Fruits and celebrates the early wheat harvest and the giving of the Torah on Mount Sinai. The final three feasts come in the fall (the latter rain), during the seventh month of the Hebrew calendar. As the biblically significant number seven indicates, the fall feasts point to a time of completion and paint a prophetic picture of the coming fulfillment of God’s plan and purpose for mankind.
The fact that Judaism and Christianity are inseparable is wonderfully revealed in the feasts of Israel, they constitute God’s agenda with His redeemed people and the feasts ultimately provide a Biblical and historical foundation for faith in Yeshua. Messiah Yeshua was to be the fulfillment of the feasts; indeed, He is the purpose for their existence. “These (Feasts, Sabbath day…) are a shadow of the things to come, but the substance belongs to Messiah” (Col. 2:17). Even as all Scripture is inspired and profitable, these “shadows” are relevant for followers of Yeshua today, because they never stop pointing to Him!
Although it is not a requirement for the Church to celebrate the feats, it is most unfortunate that most Christians don’t. It would be of great benefit to celebrate these days, as it leads one to a greater understanding and appreciation for Christ’s death and resurrection and the future promise of His coming. If we choose to celebrate these special days, we should put Yeshua in the center of the celebration, as the One who came to fulfill the prophetic significance of each of them.
The Passover feast was given as a memorial for the deliverance of Israel from their captivity as slaves in Egypt. The Passover is not only a celebration of deliverance but also a reminder of the first encounter the nation had with Yahweh (Exodus 12:1-14; 43-48). Working through Moses, God inflicted ten plagues on Egypt revealing to both Hebrew and Egyptian nations that He was the all-powerful God. Each time God sent a plague, Pharaoh hardened his heart until the sixth plague of boils (Exodus 9:12) after which God handed him over to a reprobate mind. Paul warns in 2 Thessalonians 2:11 that in the last days because of the hardness of the hearts of mankind in their rejection of Jesus, God will further harden their hearts and then send mankind the delusion of the Antichrist – the false messiah. The people will accept him because of the hardness of their hearts, having developed reprobate minds, God will ultimately give mankind what they want – a humanistic god.
The tenth and last plague God sent upon Egypt was the death of the firstborn son. God then gave specific instructions for the Hebrews to follow to avoid the consequences of this plague. The instructions were as follows:
- Each man was to select a lamb without blemish from their flocks on the tenth day of the month of Nisan (Exodus 12:3). •
- Then the man was to observe the lamb for five days to ensure there was nothing wrong with the it. During this time the family would have the lamb in the home and they would identify with it, even grow attached to it. This was so that when the lamb was slaughtered on the day of preparation, there was a sense of loss an understanding that the little lamb had given up it’s life for them.
- The lamb was killed at 15:00 on the 14th of Nisan, by the door step of the home (the day of preparation), so the lamb could be prepared for the that evenings Passover supper, after 18:00, which was the start of a new day. The blood of the lamb was collected in a bowl at the doorstep. That blood was then brushed on the sides of the doorpost and on the lintel using a cluster of hyssop (symbol of purification). Some believe that this action actually points to the cross.
- The entire lamb was to be roasted and consumed, nothing was to be left over for the next day. In the preparation of the meal they were to ensure that not one bone was to be broken. This instruction required that the lamb was roasted on a spit shaped like a cross bar so that the lamb could be spread open.
- Although the meal and the evening was spent inside the home, and the blood covering was not visible, the family was to have faith that they were safe, and that the angel of death would pass over their home. If there was no blood on the entrance to the home, judgement would come upon the home and the first born son would die. The blood of the lamb was their covering and protection.
Historical Background of Passover
The etymology of the word Pesach means “pass over,” however, there is a deeper meaning in the word Pesach.
It is clear that Pesach is connected to the verb pasach (פסח), to which there are three main uses in scripture – “to have compassion”, “to protect” or “to skip over.”
- To skip over (לדלג): This is the most commonly known definition as the first Biblical translations (William Tyndale) interpreted the word as “pass over.”
- To have compassion (לחוס): This is the oldest use of the word as it was the interpretation that the Jews used. Rabbis believed that it would not be respectful to describe God as “jumping”.
- To protect (להציל, להגן): This explanation is supported by its use in Isaiah 31:5:
“Like the birds that fly, even so will the Lord of Hosts shield Jerusalem, shielding and saving, protecting (pasach) and rescuing.” – Isaiah 31:5
The full understanding of the word must be seen in the connection of all three. There is a strong connection between to protect and to have compassion. God has compassion upon His people, protects them, and has the Judgement pass over them.
In Isaiah 53 the prophet spoke of a man who would suffer and die for the sins of others. He would come to replace the sacrificial lamb and become “The Lamb of God”. The last of all the Old Testament prophets was John the Baptist, his duty was to point out to the nation of Israel the promised Messiah. He did this by not saying “Behold the Son of David”, rather he said “Behold the Lamb of God” (John 1:29). Jesus was the true Passover Lamb, the fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecy because He would take away “the sins of the world!” The climax of the life of Jesus was to become the Passover Lamb.
The timing and personal activities of Jesus were purposely arranged by God to make clear to the Jews, who Jesus was and what His purpose was.
Let us examine the events of the last days of Jesus and how they coincided with the Passover:
Hebrew day 18:00 to 18:00
Gentile day 0:00 to 0:00
Events of the Passover
In John 12:1 we are told that Jesus arrived in Bethany at the home of Lazarus, six days before the Passover which is celebrated on the 14th of Nisan. This would suggest He arrived at Bethany on the 9th of Nisan. The triumphant entry of Jesus into Jerusalem took place the next day (Sabbath), so that would be the 10th day of Nisan. This was the day the Passover lamb was picked from the flock to be taken to the home. Jesus entered Jerusalem after 18:00, at the end of the Sabbath. The crowds were shouting “Hosanna” (which means save us [John 12:12-13]), they believed He was making His way to the Fort of Antonio to take over the rule of Israel from Pilate, but instead Jesus turned towards the Temple, the Lamb of God was going to the House of God. On arrival at the Temple, Mark writes that Jesus observes what was happening, but does nothing because it is late (Mark 11:11). The next day (Sunday) Jesus clears the Temple of all the traders.
The lamb chosen by the High Priest for his family, would have to be made available for inspection on the Temple Mount, for the five day proceeding Pesach. This was so all visitors to the Temple at this time, would be able to confirm that the High Priests sacrifice was without blemish. Yeshua was present on the Temple Mount over the four days after the triumphant entry. During that time He was continually questioned and tested by the religious elite of His day (the Pharisees, Sadducees, Essenes, Herodians, and Scribes) and no fault could be found in Him. Right up to His death on the cross Jesus was inspected and found to be without fault:
- Caiaphas (Jn. 11:49-53) and the religious elite of the Sanhedrin found that no blame could be attributed against him, save His claim to be the Son of God.
- Herod the king could find no fault in Him (Lk. 23:8-12).
- Pilate the Roman Procurator washed his hands in an act of ceremonial cleansing to dramatic depict his belief in the innocence of Jesus (Matt. 27:24 ).
The Centurion at the cross (Matt. 27:54) and the penitent thief (Luke 23:39-43), both believed Jesus to be the Son of God.
The Passover lamb was slaughtered at 15:00 on the Temple Mount, so as to prepare the lamb for the evening Passover meal; at the same time Jesus cried out “it is finished,” gave up His spirit and died.
Strict instructions from God required that no bones were to be broken in the eating of the Passover lamb (Ex. 12:46), Jesus died before the Roman soldiers broke the legs of the two thieves so the bodies could be taken down before the Passover which started at 18:00.
Only those who were circumcised were to eat the Passover (Ex. 12:48) – only those who are circumcised of heart are to eat the Lord’s supper (1 Cor. 11:29).
The feast of Unleavened Bread
The feast of Unleavened Bread, a part of the Passover feast, lasted for seven days (Exodus 23:14-15). The feast required the home to be swept clean of leavened bread. Leaven is a bit of sourdough, which when placed in the new dough, the leaven spores multiply rapidly contaminating the whole lump. Because of this action leaven in scripture is symbolic of sin and decay. A little leaven leavened the whole lump; any sin allowed into our lives contaminates the whole being. Leaven produces fermentation within the bread which is the natural process of decay. So bread baked during this period – called matzahs – was baked without leaven, and would be the only bread that could be eaten. Leaven is symbolic of sin which points to the holiness, purity and sinlessness of Yeshua. His life and sacrifice were unleavened, without the curse of sin.
- Unleavened bread is called “the bread of affliction (Lechem oni) – literally the bread of humiliation, [Deut. 16:3-4; 8]),” Jesus humbled Himself and was afflicted for us, so as to become the bread of life (Isaiah 53:4; Jn. 6:30-35).
- The body of Jesus who died without sin was in the tomb, for the three last days of the feast and saw no decay (Acts 2:31).
The New Testament clarifies the spiritual significance of leaven in five different ways:
- The leaven of Herod (Mk. 8:15; 6:14-28) – the spirit of worldliness.
- The leaven of the Sadducees (Matt.16:6-12) – the modernism of the church, miracles do not occur.
- The leaven of the Pharisees (Matt. 16:6-12; Lk. 12:1) – Hypocrisy.
- The leaven of Corinth (1 Cor. 5:1-13) – Sensuality and pride.
- The leaven of Galatia (Gal. 5:9; 3:1-5) – Legalism
So to keep the feast of Unleavened Bread the believer needs to put away all evil doctrine and all evil practices and live a sanctified life. They are to live an unleavened life and draw close to the Passover Lamb, Jesus. During this time the believer takes part in the Lord’s Supper, the Holy Communion, in remembrance of our Lord’s sacrificial love for us. So by keeping themselves from sin and taking part in the Lord’s Table in “sincerity and truth,” they are keeping the feast.
“For Israel, the keeping of the feasts meant a complete separation from Egypt’s gods, religion, bondage, food, works, and slavery, as well as its (worldly) glory, wisdom and might. The putting away of the leaven, therefore, is the practical separation from all known evil, and all that has a corrupting influence in the life of the believer (Kevin Conner 1980).”
For the Christian we need to separate ourselves from the sins of the world, to become a new lump of unleavened dough in the Lord’s hands.
Comparison between the Passover and the Lord’s supper
While the Feast of Unleavened Bread teaches us about separation, the feast of First Fruits teaches us about consecration. Farming is labor-intensive and involves hard work daily. Our daily work can cause us to focus on the physical and forget the spiritual. The Lord instituted this feast to ensure the farmer remained conscious of the fact that their harvest was provided by God. By offering the first fruits of his harvest to the lord, the farmer was acknowledging his total dependence on God.
The feast of First Fruits took place on the first day of the new week, the day after the Sabbath – the 18th day of Nisan, God gives instruction regarding the feast in Leviticus 23:9-14. First Fruits was the feast that signaled the start of the Barley harvest. According to Alfred Edersheim in his book, The Temple, the sheaves were cut in the late afternoon, just before sunset. When the time for the cutting of the sheaf had arrived the High Priest would walk down to the Kidron Valley, to a plot of ground especially set apart to grow this first fruit offering. Then with his sickle, he cut a sheaf of Barley, which he then took up to the Temple and waved it before the Lord (Lev. 23:9-11). The High priest would be followed by a large crowd, who would sing and rejoice at the goodness of the Lord. No one could eat of their barley harvest until their sheaf from their fields had likewise been presented to the Lord.
The wave offering would be presented before the Lord in the Temple after 18:00 on the Saturday, officially according to the Jewish day, the “morrow after the sabbath” – Sunday, the start of a new week.
The purpose of this special service was to consecrate the harvest to God. The first fruits represented the whole harvest. So, the ceremony reminded the Jews that they were merely stewards of the land and that the harvest belonged to God. Offering the first fruits consecrated the entire harvest to God. If God accepted the first fruits of the harvest, that meant that the entire harvest would be accepted by God.
So, the final stage of the feast of Passover was the Feast of the Sheaf of First Fruits, and the typology of the feast is interpreted by Paul in 1 Corinthians 15:20-23: “But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who have fallen asleep”. The feast is a remarkable type of the resurrection of Jesus to heaven.
To understand the symbolism of this, we need to recognize that in scripture sheaves are symbolic of a person:
- Joseph in his dream saw his brothers 11 sheaves bow down to his sheaf.
- Psalm 126 speaks of the Sower going forth in tears but then harvests his sheaves in Joy.
- The single sheaf of the feast day speaks of Jesus the first resurrected from the dead, who was shown before God in the Holy Place in heaven. Jesus is the first fruits of those to be resurrected (1 Cor. 15:20).
The instructions given to the Jews by the Lord regarding their harvest is a pointer to the harvest that salvation introduced to mankind through the death and resurrection of Jesus. The Jewish harvest was to take place over three phases, the first fruits, being harvested and presented to the Lord in the Temple. Then the main harvest would follow, and finally, the gleaning which was done by the poor and downtrodden. Harvesters were required by God to leave the corners of their fields for the poor and hard-done-by to glean, so they had food for themselves (Lev. 23:22).
The harvest of the first fruits of souls is recorded in Matthew 27:52-53, when on the day Jesus rose from the dead, there was a resurrection of believers who had died prior to the crucifixion of Jesus. These people entered the city of Jerusalem and were seen by many people. The resurrection of these saints proved that Christ’s power over death was not limited to Himself. These people are the first fruits wave offering before God. The resurrection of Jesus is the example of the first fruits, the reality of the feast is seen when the first fruits of the work of the Lord Jesus is seen in heaven.
The consecration of the harvest of souls would have taken place in heaven at some stage after 18:00 on the 17th of Nisan. The first fruits of the resurrection were accepted by God, this means that the whole harvest of souls is consecrated by God. All believers are part of a solemn dedication and are set apart for a special purpose or service to the Lord.
The main harvest will take place at the rapture, which is described in 1 Corinthians 15:51-54 and 1 Thessalonians 4:16-17. At the sound of the trumpet and the shout of the archangel, the dead in Christ will rise first, and then those that are alive and remain will be called up to meet the Lord in the air. During this resurrection, the believers will receive their eternal bodies and will live with Jesus for eternity.
The gleaning will be the believers who die or are martyred during the Tribulation period – the Tribulation saints (Rev. 7:9-17). The great multitude “are those who came out of the Great Tribulation” (Rev. 7:13), dressed in white robes and holding palms, which are symbols of justification, holiness, and victory. They do not have crowns or sit on thrones as promised in Revelation 2 and 3. So these believers are not the Church, but they are the poor and needy who have had to experience the hardships and suffering of the Tribulation period, many being killed for their faith in Jesus, and because of that faith they are included in the harvest.
God established seven annual appointed times, which illustrate the redemption plan God has for mankind. The study of Pesach reveals the first stage was accomplished in Yeshua’s first coming when He became the “Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world,” (John 1:29b). God laid out the first three feasts in detail, as evidence for all that Yeshua is the Son of God who died for the sins of man.
Bearing in mind that God hates the contamination of His word, and that He gave specific instruction for the feasts, which Yeshua completed at great cost. Do you think God is pleased that the Bride of Yeshua celebrates a pagan festival, a festival dedicated to the queen of heaven, which He clearly states in His word is detestable to Him (Jeremiah 7:18-19)? Separating Easter from Pesach was done because of anti-Semitism in the early Church, so as to divorce Christianity from her Jewish roots. The problem is, that the Church has a Jewish Bridegroom! It is my strong conviction that Yeshua is not going to return to collect a Bride that is contaminated by man’s philosophies. For this reason, I believe that the practice of celebrating the feasts, as an acknowledgment of God’s redemptive plan, and the magnificent role our Bridegroom plays within it, should once again become a tradition within the Church. This being done, the Church will draw on the rich sap of the olive tree (Rom. 11;17), and begin to erase the philosophies of man that so stain the Bride of Yeshua.
~ Neil Taylor