The First Passover
Dr. S. Lewis Johnson, Jr. is a gifted Bible teacher at Believers Chapel, Dallas, Texas.
This instructive and edifying article is the first of four studies on the Lord’s Supper.
Scripture Reading: Exodus 12:1-13
The Lord Jesus left the Church two ordinances to observe until He comes again. First, He left the church baptism in water, which emphasizes one’s entrance into the church, the body of Christ (cf. 1 Cor. 12:12-13). Second, He left the church the Lord’s Supper, which emphasizes one’s continuance in the body, or life in it.
An ordinance is a symbolic rite that sets forth primary facts of the Christian truth and is universally obligatory among believers, for they could not be understood by others. If one who had never believed were to come upon a baptism in water, particularly one in a river or similar body of water, it would be difficult for him to see it as anything other than a swimming party, or perhaps a game. And if one were to come into an observance of the Lord’s Supper with no knowledge of the Christian faith, it would seem to him to be nothing more than a common meal, although he might marvel at how little the individuals ate and drank! Ordinances are understood in their spiritual meaning by those who have some conception of Christian truth, usually believers. Full understanding could only be the possession of believers.
The Roman Catholic Church claims that there are five other ordinances: ordination, confirmation, matrimony, extreme unction, and penance, but Protestants have refused to accept these rites as ordinances, since they lack Biblical support.
In the New Testament and in common practice various terms are used for the Lord’s Supper, such as the “communion” (cf. 1 Cor. 10:16), the “Lord’s Table” (10:21), the Eucharist (11:24; the term refers to the thanksgiving that accompanied and characterized it), used the “breaking of bread” (cf. Acts 2:42). Perhaps the most commonly used term is the Lord’s Supper,” a term that stresses that He is the host, and we believers are His guests.
The Lord’s Supper should be the highlight of the corporate worship of the church. In the description of the meeting at Troas on Paul’s Third Missionary Journey Luke wrote, “And upon the first day of the week, when the disciples came together to BREAK BREAD, Paul preached unto them, ready to depart the next day, and continued his speech until midnight” (Acts 20:7). From this passage it seems clear that the primary purpose of the meeting was not Paul’s preaching, although that was important, but the observance of the ordinance of the Lord’s Supper. In our day we are inclined to reverse the matter and make the sermon the pre-eminent thing in our meetings. It should also be noted that Paul and his friends waited for seven days in Troas to observe the Supper with the saints. Evidently he considered it important. That, too, is contrary to quite a bit of contemporary church practice, the Supper being observed generally on a monthly or quarterly schedule. It is, however, the only act of worship for which the Lord gave special direction.He regards it seriously, and one can only deplore the neglect of the ordinance in our churches.
The roots of the Supper extend back into the Old Testament to its parallel, the Passover Feast. The Passover was a memorial of a physical deliverance through sacrifice, the deliverance being from Egypt’s bondage by means of the slain Passover lambs, whose blood was put on the doorposts and lintels of the houses of the children of Israel to escape the death of their firstborn sons by the destroying angel. The Lord’s Supper corresponds in a real way to the Passover, for it is the memorial of a spiritual deliverance from the bondage of sin through the slain Lamb of God, the Lord Jesus Christ, who suffered on the cross at Calvary. The Passover was an anticipation of the future fulfillment in the coming of the Lamb of God, the Lord Jesus. It was observed “till He should come.” The Lord’s Supper is also an anticipation of a future fulfillment in the second coming and kingdom of the Lord Jesus Christ. It, too, is observed “till He should come.” The parallel is clear, and one sees how fitting it is to begin the study of the Lord’s Supper with a review of the Passover Feast of Israel. And we begin with a review of the background.
The Preparation of a Deliverer
The birth of Moses: supernatural preservation (cf. Exod. 2:1-10). The parallel of Moses’ life with our Lord’s is set out by Stephen in his great speech before the Sanhedrin (cf. Acts 7:35-37). The two were deliverers, and Stephen sees clearly that Moses adumbrates the greatest of the deliverers, the Lord Himself.
The birth and supernatural preservation of Moses is described in Exodus 2:1-10, a passage that underlines the faith of his parents (cf. Heb. 11:23). It is an encouraging story of how insignificant Hebrew slaves become significant (cf. Exod. 6:20; 1 Cor. 12:12-27). Divine favor rests upon the child Moses, and he is remarkably preserved and, in fact, providentially brought up in the household of the great world ruler himself, the Pharaoh. By this he was given invaluable training in preparation for his life’s work. What an illustration of divine providence that Moses should be raised in the home of the rich and powerful, where he could obtain the finest of education and experience in leadership! And that he should be nursed by his own mother, contrary to the expressed will of the ruler of the land is truly a miracle of divine power (cf. Exod. 1:22).
The preparation of Moses (Exod. 2:11-25). There were two stages in the preparation of Moses for his talk of deliverance. The first might be called the Egyptian preparation, for Moses was brought up in the house of Pharaoh. As Stephen says in his famous sermon, “And Moses was learned in all wisdom of the Egyptians, and was mighty in words and in deeds” (Acts 7:22). It would seem from this that Moses attained to great heights in philosophy, in statesmanship, and in leadership. In fact, there is some tradition to the effect that the expression, “mighty in deeds,” refers to military prowess. Josephus says that, while Moses was still a relatively young man, the Ethiopians invaded Egypt and routed the army sent against them. They then threatened Memphis, and in the panic that followed the leaders consulted the oracles, and on their recommendation Moses was given command of the royal troops. He went into combat, surprised the Ethiopians, defeated them and conquered their principal city, Meroe. He returned to Egypt a hero, burdened with the spoils of the victory.
But all of this Moses abandoned for identification with the people of God. As the writer of Hebrews puts it, “By faith Moses, when he was come to years, refused to be called the son of Pharoh’s daughter, choosing rather to suffer affliction with the people of God than to enjoy the pleasures of sin for a season, esteeming the reproach of Christ greater riches than the treasures in Egypt; for he had respect unto the recompense of the reward” (Heb. 11:24-26). It was renunciation far greater and more significant than our worldly ones, such as Edward’s VIII’s for “the woman I love.”
The second stage of Moses’ preparation may be called the desert preparation, for he found it necessary later to flee to the backside of the desert and remain there for forty years, before he began his work of deliverance. Bible teachers have often called attention to the three periods of Moses’ life of one hundred and twenty years. In the first forty years spent in Egypt it is said that we learn that God can do nothing with a man trying to be somebody. In the second forty years, spent in the desert, we learn that He can do nothing for a man trying to be nobody. While in the last forty years we learn what God can do with a man who has learned the first two lessons.
The commission of Moses (cf. Exod. 3:1 — 4:31). The story of the commissioning of Moses by Yahweh at His theophany is well-known. He is told, “Go, and gather the elders of Israel together, and say unto them, The Lord God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, of Isaac, and of Jacob, appeared unto me, saying, I have surely visited you, and seen that which is done to you in Egypt. And I have said, I will bring you up out of the affliction of Egypt unto the land of the Canaanites, and Hittites, and the Amorites, and the Perizzites, and the Hivites, and the Jebusites, unto a land flowing with milk and honey. And they shall hearken to thy voice; and thou shalt come, thou and the elders of Israel, unto the king of Egypt, and ye shall say unto him, The Lord God of the Hebrews hath met with us: and now let us go, we beseech thee, three days’ journey into the wilderness, that we may sacrifice to the Lord our God” (Exodus 3:16-18).
The Contest With Pharaoh
Thus, the contest began. We do not have the time or space in this study to recount the struggle with Pharaoh waged by Moses for the Israelites. We know that Moses overcame the reluctant king by performing by the power of God thirteen miracles. The miracles were in the form of judgments upon the Egyptians.
The struggle is a Biblical illustration of the overthrow of the Satanic kingdom by our Lord Jesus Christ, with Pharaoh an example of the opposition of Satan to the will of God to deliver His people. One thinks of all the great New Testament passages that deal with the struggle between our Lord Jesus Christ and the devil (cf. Col. 2:15; Heb. 2:14-15; 1 John 3:8; Mark 12:29). Our Lord by His death on the cross overcame the hold of the devil over man through sin. There the strong man was bound, and the people of God have gone free.
The climactic miracle and judgment is that of the Passover rite and the resulting death of the firstborn sons in the homes that were not protected by the Lord from the destroying angel on account of the blood on the two side posts and the lintel of the doors of the houses. As a result of the judgment the Egyptians finally determined to let the children of Israel go, Pharaoh saying, “Rise up, and get you forth among my people, both ye and the children of Israel; and go, serve the Lord, as ye have said. Also take your flocks and your herds, as ye have said, and be gone; and bless me also.” And Moses, in writing about it later, adds, “And the Egyptians were urgent upon the people, that they might send them out of the land in haste; for they said, We are all dead men!” (Exod. 12:31-33).
The Ceremony of Israel’s Deliverance
The description of the lamb (Exodus 12:1-10). The account of the Passover lamb is a beautiful picture of the Lord Jesus Christ as the Lamb of God who taketh away the sin of the world. As Paul puts it, “For even Christ, our passover, is sacrificed for us” (cf. 1 Cor. 5:7). The ceremony was for Israel the beginning of the year, for what it pictures, divine redemption, is the beginning of life for us. It is out of this great type of the sufferings of the Messiah and His consequent salvation that all the following Biblical pictures of the lamb as the animal of sacrificial deliverance come (cf. Isa. 52:13 —53:12; John 1:29; 1 Pet. 1:18-19; Rev. 5:1-14, etc.).
We shall only comment on a few of the leading features of the illustration. In the first place, the lamb of sacrifice was to be one “without blemish,” a phrase that ultimately marks the sinlessness of the Lord Jesus Christ (cf. 1 Pet. 1:18-19). Only a sinless Son of God can be an effectual sacrifice for other men. Otherwise He must die for his own sins. Jesus, however, was without sin and, thus, qualified on the human level to be our sacrifice. Of course, His sacrifice must also have infinite value, and that infinite value flows from the fact that He was not only fully man, but also completely God.
The lamb was to be kept from the day of its choice, the tenth day, to the fourteenth day, evidently that they might be sure that it was, indeed, without blemish. The delay suggests to us the time of our Lord’s earthly life, by which He demonstrated His sinlessness and qualifications for His saving work. He was at His baptism approved by God in the voice from heaven, which said, “This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased” (cf. Matt. 3:17). Further, men approved His character as one that was without spot. Pilate said of Him, “I find in Him no fault at all” (cf. John 18:38). The dying thief said of Him, speaking to his companion, “Dost not thou fear God, seeing thou art in the same condemnation? And we, indeed, justly; for we receive the due reward of our deeds. But this man hath done nothing amiss” (cf. Luke 23:40-41). Even Judas said, “I have sinned in that I betrayed innocent blood” (cf. Matt. 27:4). And, to cap it off, the demons cried out, “What have we to do with thee, thou Jesus of Nazareth? Art thou come to destroy us? I know thee, who thou art, the Holy One of God” (Mark 1:24).
And finally, let us just note this point. The children of Israel were told to “kill” the passover lamb in the evening (cf. Matt. 16:21). It was not the life that Jesus lived that saves men; it is the death that He died. Thus, the passover sacrifice must be slain. There is no spiritual life available for men apart from the shedding of blood (cf. Heb. 9:22).
The deliverance of the Lord (Exod. 12:12-13). In the twelfth and thirteenth verses the Lord gives Moses instruction concerning His actions in the deliverance of Israel from the Egyptian bondage. He informs Moses that He intends to “pass through” Egypt and smite the firstborn in the land, both of man and of beast. It will be an execution of judgment against all the gods of Egypt and their people. There will be death in every house (cf. v. 30), either the death of the firstborn or the death of a lamb. What a meaningful fact! The spiritual counterpart of the event is clear. All must die because of sin. And all do die, either in their sins under the judgment of God personally, or in the person of their Representative, the Lord Jesus Christ. The unsaved die in their sins; the saved die in their Substitute. And further, having died in their Substitute, heaven has no further claims against them. They are free forever. What a magnificent salvation we have through the Substitute provided through grace! Oh! may He have our gratitude and loving service forever.
In the thirteenth verse God says, after reminding Moses that the blood is to be put on the door posts and the lintel, “And the blood shall be to you for a token upon the houses where ye are; and when I see the blood, I will pass over you, and the plague shall not be upon you to destroy you, when I smite the land of Egypt.” The verb translated here by, “pass over,” is not a word of omission, but of protection. It is not that the Lord will skip over the houses with the blood to those that do not have it. The Hebrew word pasach is not easy to define, for its usages are not numerous. It has been given the meaning of to limp (cf. 1 Kings 18:21) or to leap over. I think the clue to its meaning is found in Isaiah 31:5, where it refers to the protection of Jerusalem by Yahweh. He is compared to birds that hover over their young with outspread wings, to protect them. The idea is set out in more detail in verse twenty-three where we read, “For the Lord will pass through to smite the Egyptians; and when he seeth the blood upon the lintel, and on the two side posts, the Lord will pass over the door, and will not suffer the destroyer to come into your houses to smite you.” Since the destroying angel exists under God’s control, he cannot enter the houses under the protecting hand of God. One is reminded of Peter’s words in the same chapter in which he refers to the Lord Jesus as the Lamb without blemish and spot, “who are kept by the power of God through faith unto salvation ready to be revealed in the last time” (cf. 1 Pet. 1:5).1
There are some important spiritual truths illustrated here. In the first place, it is clear that the safety of the Israelites depended upon the blood shed and sprinkled on the doorposts. It did not depend upon their sense of sin (a savior in part, then), nor upon the possession of certain graces, nor upon any spiritual experiences they may have had. It depended upon the blood. With the blood in the proper place they were safe. And our spiritual salvation depends upon the blood of the cross alone. With that sprinkled upon the doorposts of our hearts we are as safe as a prophet or an apostle. It is the blood of the cross that is the foundation of our salvation.
In the second place, the certainty of their salvation depended upon the Word of God. It was he who promised that, if they would put the blood on the door, He would pass over them. So, while their safety depended upon the blood, their certainty, or assurance of safety, depended upon the faithfulness of God to His Word and their confidence in Him. It was entirely possible for some, who had put the blood on the door, to still be in a state of anxiety over their safety. Their safety, however, did not depend upon their state of mind, but simply upon the presence of the blood upon the doorpost. So, in our salvation our safety depends upon the blood of Christ, shed on the cross, but our assurance of safety depends upon our confidence in the Word of God.
The duty of the people (Exod. 12:21-23). The duty of the Israelites is summed up in the words of verse twenty-two, “strike the lintel and the two side posts with the blood that is in the basin.” The act corresponds to the act of faith in New Testament salvation, for that is the means of the application of the blood of Christ to the heart.
This is, then, the root of the Lord’s Supper, for it is out of the Passover Supper that the Lord’s Supper came.
The Passover was the celebration of a great deliverance from Pharaoh and Egypt. The Lord’s Supper is the celebration of a great deliverance from Satan and bondage to sin, its guilt and condemnation.
Two things were essential for deliverance. First, there must be good news from God, and there was that. It was the good news of deliverance by the blood, a means provided by God. That in this age is the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ, based upon the shedding of the blood of redemption.
Then, second, the good news was to be believed and applied. The Israelites had to believe Moses and apply the blood to the doorposts of their houses. It was not the lamb, nor the blood of the lamb, but the shed blood of the lamb sprinkled on the doorposts that brought deliverance. So, in the present age it is possible to believe that Christ is a Saviour, but that does not save. It is possible to believe that His blood has been shed for salvation, but that does not save. Saving knowledge is that which comprises the fact that He is the Lamb of God, that His blood has been shed for sinners, and that His blood has been shed for me. That kind of knowledge rests in the merits of a sacrificial Lamb of God for salvation, and in no human works of any kind. May the Lord enable us to see this and realize that
“There is a fountain filled with blood,
Drawn from Immanuel’s veins,
And sinners plunged beneath that flood
Lose all their guilty stains.”
1 Cf. R. Alan Cole, Exodus: An Introduction and Commentary (London: The Tyndale Press, 1973), pp. 108, 110; Edward J. Young, The Book of Isaiah Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1969), II, 378-79.