Everyone loves a good feast. Festivals and feasts bring people together, giving us a reason to pause from everyday life to remember the things that are most important.
Passover. The Feast of Unleavened Bread. The Feast of Firstfruits.
Three very important feasts in the Bible. Each of these feasts had significant meaning to the children of Israel. For centuries they celebrated these feasts, remembering how God delivered their ancestors out of slavery in Egypt, and how He provided for all of their needs. But these feasts point to something more. Someone more.
They point to Jesus.
Jesus is the center point of each of these feasts. Or, to say it another way, these three feasts are shadows of Christ, pointing people to Him.
The children of Israel had been in slavery in Egypt for hundreds of years. God was about to deliver them from their bondage and set them free. Through His servants Moses and Aaron, the LORD had demonstrated His power to the Pharaoh by sending nine plagues upon the land. Each of these plagues showed the LORD’s sovereignty over the false gods of the Egyptians.
- 1st Plague – the Nile river was turned to blood (an Egyptian god was Hapi, the god of the Nile)
- 2nd Plague – the plague of frogs (an Egyptian god was Heket, the god of fertility and water, who had the head of a frog)
- 3rd Plague – lice from the dust (an Egyptian god was Geb, the god of the earth)
- 4th Plague – the plague of flies (an Egyptian god was Khepri, the creator God who they believed controlled the movement of the sun, who had the head of a fly)
- 5th Plague – death of cattle/livestock (an Egyptian god was Hathor, the goddess of love and protection, who had the head of a cow)
- 6th Plague – ashes turned to boils and sores (an Egyptian god was Isis, the god of medicine and peace)
- 7th Plague – hail in the form of fire (an Egyptian god was Nut, the goddess of the sky)
- 8th Plague – locusts from the sky (an Egyptian god was Seth, the god of storms and disorder)
- 9th Plague – plague of darkness (an Egyptian god was Ra, the sun god)
After nine plagues, Pharaoh still refused to let the Israelites go. Several times he said they could leave, then when the plague subsided he changed his mind. God was steadfast in His demonstration of His power and love. Through these plagues, the LORD wanted to teach the children of Israel that, “I am the LORD your God” (Exodus 6:7). He also wanted to teach the Egyptians that “I am the LORD” (Exodus 7:5).
The 10th plague was about to come. And everyone in Egypt including the Pharaoh would be wailing over this plague. It struck right at the heart of the Pharaoh, who was perceived to be a god by the Egyptians. They perceived him as the ultimate power in Egypt. Nothing could come against him, they believed.
With the 10th plague — the death of the firstborn of every household (man and beast) in Egypt — the LORD demonstrated His sovereignty over all, even above the mighty Pharaoh. When the death angel came to Pharaoh’s house and to all of the houses not covered by the blood of the Passover lamb, the Egyptians were so shocked and grieved that they sent the children of Israel away in a hurry.
The Passover Meal
God instructed Moses on how the first Passover meal should take place. And each year thereafter the children of Israel were to celebrate the Passover with a feast to remember their deliverance from bondage.
Leviticus 23:4-5 (HCSB)
4 “These are the Lord’s appointed times, the sacred assemblies you are to proclaim at their appointed times. 5 The Passover to the Lord comes in the first month, at twilight on the fourteenth day of the month.
Exodus 12:1-8 (HCSB)
1 The Lord said to Moses and Aaron in the land of Egypt: 2 “This month is to be the beginning of months for you; it is the first month of your year. 3 Tell the whole community of Israel that on the tenth day of this month they must each select an animal of the flock according to ⌊their⌋ fathers’ households, one animal per household. 4 If the household is too small for a ⌊whole⌋ animal, that person and the neighbor nearest his house are to select one based on the combined number of people; you should apportion the animal according to what each person will eat. 5 You must have an unblemished animal, a year-old male; you may take it from either the sheep or the goats. 6 You are to keep it until the fourteenth day of this month; then the whole assembly of the community of Israel will slaughter the animals at twilight. 7 They must take some of the blood and put it on the two doorposts and the lintel of the houses where they eat them. 8 They are to eat the meat that night; they should eat it, roasted over the fire along with unleavened bread and bitter herbs.
Exodus 12:46 (HCSB)
46 It is to be eaten in one house. You may not take any of the meat outside the house, and you may not break any of its bones.
Exodus 12:11 (HCSB)
11 Here is how you must eat it: you must be dressed for travel, your sandals on your feet, and your staff in your hand. You are to eat it in a hurry; it is the Lord’s Passover.
Exodus 12:22 (HCSB)
22 …None of you may go out the door of his house until morning.
Exodus 12:12-14 (HCSB)
12 “I will pass through the land of Egypt on that night and strike every firstborn ⌊male⌋ in the land of Egypt, both man and beast. I am Yahweh; I will execute judgments against all the gods of Egypt. 13 The blood on the houses where you are staying will be a distinguishing mark for you; when I see the blood, I will pass over you. No plague will be among you to destroy ⌊you⌋ when I strike the land of Egypt. 14 “This day is to be a memorial for you, and you must celebrate it as a festival to the Lord. You are to celebrate it throughout your generations as a permanent statute.
Notice some of the particulars about the Passover meal:
- Take a lamb on the 10th day, keep it until the 14th day (Lev 12:1-3)
- A male without blemish (Lev 12:5)
- Kill it at the appointed time (Lev 12:6)
- Do not break any of its bones (Lev 12:46)
- Apply the blood to the doorposts and lintel of your house (Lev 12:7)
- Eat the lamb, the unleavened bread and bitter herbs (Lev 12:8)
- Eat, dressed for travel (Lev 12:11)
- Stay inside your house until morning (Lev 12:22)
- The LORD says, “I will execute judgment…. When I see the blood I will pass over you.” (Lev 12:12-13)
The people’s obedience to follow these instructions was outward evidence that they trusted in the LORD, believing that what He said was true. Instead of obeying, they could have said, “This is ridiculous. Let’s sacrifice an old, crippled animal.” Or, “This is a waste of my time. I’m going to bed.” Or even, “Let’s go party outside and see what happens.” If they would have done anything other than obey, God would not have passed over them.
And consider this. If an Egyptian would have trusted in the LORD and followed the prescribed procedures, would the LORD have saved his family? Yes! That person’s faith would have been honored by the LORD, who would have extended to Him grace and mercy.
Exodus 12:29-38 (HCSB)
29 Now at midnight the Lord struck every firstborn ⌊male⌋ in the land of Egypt, from the firstborn of Pharaoh who sat on his throne to the firstborn of the prisoner who was in the dungeon, and every firstborn of the livestock. 30 During the night Pharaoh got up, he along with all his officials and all the Egyptians, and there was a loud wailing throughout Egypt because there wasn’t a house without someone dead. 31 He summoned Moses and Aaron during the night and said, “Get up, leave my people, both you and the Israelites, and go, worship Yahweh as you have asked. 32 Take even your flocks and your herds as you asked and leave, and also bless me.”
33 Now the Egyptians pressured the people in order to send them quickly out of the country, for they said, “We’re all going to die!” 34 So the people took their dough before it was leavened, with their kneading bowls wrapped up in their clothes on their shoulders. 35 The Israelites acted on Moses’ word and asked the Egyptians for silver and gold jewelry and for clothing. 36 And the Lord gave the people such favor in the Egyptians’ sight that they gave them what they requested. In this way they plundered the Egyptians. 37 The Israelites traveled from Rameses to Succoth, about 600,000 soldiers on foot, besides their families. 38 An ethnically diverse crowd also went up with them, along with a huge number of livestock, both flocks and herds.
FEAST OF UNLEAVENED BREAD
The Feast of Unleavened Bread was a seven-day feast. It began on the 15th day of the first month, on the same night that the Passover meal was eaten. This feast included a sacred assembly on the first day, when the people should come together and do no daily work. Then they had a week of special offerings and special meals with unleavened bread. followed by another sacred assembly on the 7th day of the festival.
The reason for eating unleavened bread is that it reminded them of how their ancestors left Egypt. They left in a hurry. Their bread did not have yeast in it. The yeast was a representation of sin (Jesus spoke of this during His ministry). They left in a hurry, and they left the slavery to sin behind in Egypt.
Leviticus 23:6-8 (HCSB)
6 The Festival of Unleavened Bread to the Lord is on the fifteenth day of the same month. For seven days you must eat unleavened bread. 7 On the first day you are to hold a sacred assembly; you are not to do any daily work. 8 You are to present a fire offering to the Lord for seven days. On the seventh day there will be a sacred assembly; you must not do any daily work.”
Throughout the centuries, because the Passover meal and the Feast of Unleavened Bread took place on consecutive days over an eight-day span of time, the entire week became known as Passover Week. This is reflected in references to the Passover in the Gospels. Understanding this can clear up confusion about the timing of events and references to the Passover during the last week of Jesus’ life as He headed to the cross.
FEAST OF FIRSTFRUITS
On the first day after the Sabbath of Passover Week (Sunday), the children of Israel were to bring the first sheaf (a large bundle of the harvest of their land) to the priest as an offering to the LORD. And then the people would have a special meal on that day. By bringing this offering, they were bringing the LORD their firstfruits, their best. They were indicating their worship of the LORD, their dependence on Him for provision, and their confidence that more would be harvested. Others would certainly follow these firstfruits.
Leviticus 23:9-14 (HCSB)
9 The Lord spoke to Moses: 10 “Speak to the Israelites and tell them: When you enter the land I am giving you and reap its harvest, you are to bring the first sheaf of your harvest to the priest. 11 He will wave the sheaf before the Lord so that you may be accepted; the priest is to wave it on the day after the Sabbath.
12 On the day you wave the sheaf, you are to offer a year-old male lamb without blemish as a burnt offering to the Lord. 13 Its grain offering is to be four quarts of fine flour mixed with oil as a fire offering to the Lord, a pleasing aroma, and its drink offering will be one quart of wine. 14 You must not eat bread, roasted grain, or ⌊any⌋ new grain until this very day, and until you have brought the offering to your God. This is to be a permanent statute throughout your generations wherever you live.
The Last Supper
Jesus came riding into Jerusalem on a donkey on the 10th day of the first month, ready to be examined by the people (see John 12:12). They examined Him for four days to see that He was an unblemished male (not stained by sin). On the 14th day, Jesus celebrated the Passover meal with His disciples. He gave the meal new meaning. The unleavened bread, Jesus said, represents His body that is about to be broken for humanity. The cup represents His blood, which is about to be poured out as an atoning sacrifice for our sin.
Luke 22:7-20 (HCSB)
7 Then the Day of Unleavened Bread came when the Passover lamb had to be sacrificed. 8 Jesus sent Peter and John, saying, “Go and prepare the Passover meal for us, so we can eat it.” 9 “Where do You want us to prepare it?” they asked Him. 10 “Listen,” He said to them, “when you’ve entered the city, a man carrying a water jug will meet you. Follow him into the house he enters. 11 Tell the owner of the house, ‘The Teacher asks you, “Where is the guest room where I can eat the Passover with My disciples?”’ 12 Then he will show you a large, furnished room upstairs. Make the preparations there.” 13 So they went and found it just as He had told them, and they prepared the Passover.
14 When the hour came, He reclined at the table, and the apostles with Him. 15 Then He said to them, “I have fervently desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer. 16 For I tell you, I will not eat it again until it is fulfilled in the kingdom of God.” 17 Then He took a cup, and after giving thanks, He said, “Take this and share it among yourselves. 18 For I tell you, from now on I will not drink of the fruit of the vine until the kingdom of God comes.” 19 And He took bread, gave thanks, broke it, gave it to them, and said, “This is My body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of Me.” 20 In the same way He also took the cup after supper and said, “This cup is the new covenant ⌊established by⌋ My blood; it is shed for you.
The Lord’s Supper
So when we celebrate the Lord’s Supper, we stand in awe of Jesus’ death for us on the cross. We see a picture of people being set free from bondage in Egypt, but we see beyond that to see the One whose body was broken for us, whose blood was shed for us. We remember what Jesus did for us. We see that Jesus is the perfect Passover Lamb. Look back over the list above from the Passover meal, and you will see shadows of Christ!
The Lamb of God became our atoning sacrifice. God looks at His blood and passes over us. Jesus’ blood covers over our sin. Jesus, the perfect/unleavened One, became the perfect sacrifice for our sin. He sets us free from sin so that we will live a life of holiness and faithfulness to God as we follow Him.
1 Corinthians 5:7-8 (HCSB)
7 Clean out the old yeast so that you may be a new batch. You are indeed unleavened, for Christ our Passover has been sacrificed. 8 Therefore, let us observe the feast, not with old yeast or with the yeast of malice and evil but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth.
After Jesus died, He was buried in a tomb. But the story doesn’t end there. On the third day, Jesus rose from the dead! Jesus is alive! He is the firstfruits of the resurrection. And because He is the firstfruits, we are guaranteed that others will come after Him. That is our guarantee of eternal life, for those who have trusted in Jesus for eternal life!
1 Corinthians 15:20 (HCSB)
20 But now Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep.
So how do you respond to this teaching about feasts? Don’t let it just become knowledge. May it drive you deep into the Scriptures to understand the fullness of God’s truths to us. May it drive you straight to the cross to understand the fullness of the sacrifice of Christ for your sin. May it drive you to a daily walk of holiness and faithfulness to Christ. May it drive you to others who need to be delivered from slavery to sin. Jesus can set them free. Share this good news with them!