The Bible Insights Weekly e-letter is freely available upon request.

Yes! Please Subscribe Me

Bible Insights Weekly

Enrich your spiritual thinking.

UCGia Bible Insights Thursday, April 18 2024

How should Christians celebrate the Passover?

Passover customs at the time of Christ included formal temple ceremonies as well as a meal. The "Last Supper" recorded in the three Synoptic Gospels is a Passover celebration, but Christ's practices on that night opened up a whole new dimension for Christians.

With the reality of Christ fulfilling the Passover sacrifice, it was no longer essential to sacrifice a lamb as a type of the sacrifice of Christ. On the night before He died, Jesus instituted bread and wine as symbols of His body and blood. Christians should gather on the anniversary of the night before Christ's sacrifice, as a celebration of the profound reality of Christ's sacrifice and their deliverance from spiritual bondage.

Eusebius (A.D. 263-339) in The History of the Church, documents that in the early second century a bishop from Asia Minor named Polycarp confronted the bishop of Rome over the issue of observing the Passover on Abib 14 instead of celebrating Easter. Polycarp claimed to have been a disciple of the Apostle John and taught that the annual Passover observance was the practice of the Apostles.

In the latter half of the second century the Passover controversy became critical and divided the churches in Asia Minor. Those who maintained the Passover should be observed and not Easter, were led by Polycrates, and known as Quartodecimans. In a letter to the bishop in Rome, Polycrates wrote, "We for our part keep the day scrupulously, without addition or subtraction. For in Asia great luminaries sleep who shall rise again on the day of the Lord's advent, when He is coming in glory from heaven and shall search out all the saints... All of these kept the fourteenth day of the month as the beginning of the Paschal festival, in accordance with the Gospel, not deviating in the least but following the rule of the Faith" (The History of the Church, Eusebius, pages 230-231).

In the resulting conflict the churches in Asia Minor who observed the Passover on Abib 14, in accordance with the Gospel account, were excommunicated by the bishop of Rome. Henry Chadwick sums up the dilemma in The Early Church: "It was impossible in so weighty a practical question for diversity to be allowed, but there can be little doubt that the Quartodecimans were right in thinking that they had preserved the most ancient and apostolic custom." (1985, page 85).

Christ leaves us a clear example of how the New Covenant Passover is to be observed. As Paul wrote, "For I received from the Lord that which I also delivered to you: that the Lord Jesus on the same night in which He was betrayed took bread; and when He had given thanks, He broke it and said, 'Take, eat; this is My body which is broken for you; do this in remembrance of Me.' In the same manner He also took the cup after supper, saying, 'This cup is the new covenant in My blood. This do, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of Me.' For as often as you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord's death till He comes" (1 Corinthians 11:23-26).

The Apostles Paul and Peter understood the slain Old Testament Passover lamb foreshadowed the death of Jesus Christ as our sacrifice for sin, as I Corinthians 5:7 states: "For indeed Christ, our Passover, was sacrificed for us…". The Apostle Peter also explains: "For you know that it was not with perishable things such as silver or gold that you were redeemed from the empty way of life handed down to you from your forefathers, but with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect. He was chosen before the creation of the world, but was revealed in these last times for your sake" (1 Peter 1:18-20, NIV). Also notice the reaction of John the Baptist to Jesus: "... John saw Jesus coming toward him, and said, 'Behold! The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!'" (John 1:29).

God's plan for the redemption of mankind begins with our acceptance of Christ's sacrifice for our sins. Jesus was very aware of the relationship between His crucifixion and the Passover and on the night before His death He instituted the New Testament Passover service. "While they were eating, Jesus took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to his disciples, saying, 'Take and eat; this is my body.' Then he took the cup, gave thanks and offered it to them, saying, 'Drink from it, all of you. This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins'" (Matthew 26:26-28, NIV).

This God-given event should be observed only once every year as God has commanded (Numbers 9:2-3)—not at our discretion nor on some weekly or monthly schedule. The Passover should be observed on the exact annual date that is the anniversary of Christ's death for our sins, and in the proper manner as described in the previous paragraph. The Passover in 2024 will be observed on the evening of April 21 after sunset (For the correct dates for all of God's festivals see the Holy Day Calendar).

Christ's supreme sacrifice by means of His crucifixion — which occurred precisely on the biblically commanded Passover date— reflects the all-encompassing love God has for His creation and His concern for the ultimate well-being of every human being (John 3:16). On the night He was betrayed, Christians are to gather together to conduct a foot-washing ceremony (See the next article The Lesson Of Footwashing) and take bread and wine as symbols of His sacrifice. They are to celebrate this special annual occasion as a reminder of Christ's sacrifice, our present relationship with God through the resurrected Christ and the future establishment of Christ's rule on earth at His return.