Dec 29, 2023

How Was the Passover a Sign of the Covenant?

3 Min Read

Of all the Old Testament images that foreshadow Jesus, the Passover lamb was perhaps the clearest in foreshadowing Jesus’ saving work at Calvary. According to God’s own appointment, God promised to remove His judgment from His people when He saw the substitutionary blood of a spotless lamb painted on the doorposts of the Israelites’ homes in Egypt. The Passover was a sign of God’s covenant with His people in the Old Testament, indicating the way in which He would one day satisfy His wrath through the sacrifice of Christ.

After sin entered the world, Scripture immediately tells us that Abel gave an animal sacrifice to offer acceptable worship to the Lord (Gen. 4:4). The infinitely holy God only accepts as righteous those who come to Him by faith in the promised Redeemer, who would Himself be the atoning sacrifice for sin (Heb. 11:4). The blood of the substitutionary sacrifice is an essential element of Christian doctrine and practice. As the writer of Hebrews explains, “Without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins” (Heb. 9:22). The blood of the God-appointed sacrifice typified the substitution of one party for another in the execution of God’s judgment. If “the wages of sin is death,” then only a substitutionary death can deliver a sinner from the righteous judgment of God (Rom. 6:23). This principle was signified clearly in the details surrounding the institution of the Passover lamb. Like its bloody counterpart, circumcision, the Passover lamb was an old covenant sacrament—a sign and seal of God’s gracious dealing with His people through atonement.

The Passover served as a sign of God’s covenant promise of redemption in Christ. The Lord gave instructions about the Passover at the time of the exodus that pointed to various aspects of the redemption that He would provide in Christ (Ex. 12; 1 Cor. 5:7). The Passover was instituted at the time of the tenth plague, the death of the firstborn. The Lord had graciously distinguished between Israel and Egypt with the first nine plagues. However, there was no distinction in this tenth and most terrible plague. If the Israelites did not follow the Lord’s instructions regarding the Passover, they would be subject to the same judgment as the Egyptians. This indicated that Israel, no less than Egypt, deserved God’s wrath and judgment because of their sin.

The Passover lamb was an old covenant sacrament—a sign and seal of God’s gracious dealing with His people through atonement.

When He instituted the Passover, the Lord gave His covenant people highly specific instructions about the Passover lamb (Ex. 12:1–28). They were to recalibrate their calendars to the first day of the new year at the institution of the Passover (v. 2). Each household was to have a lamb (v. 3). The people were to share the lamb with their neighbors if there was too much for one household (v. 4). The lamb was to be free of any imperfection (v. 5). They were to put the blood of the lamb on the doorposts of the house (v. 7). The people of God were to roast the lamb in herbs over fire before partaking of it (vv. 8–9). They were to eat the lamb in haste, dressed and ready to depart on their spiritual pilgrimage as soon as the Lord told them to depart. Not one of the bones of the Passover lamb was to be broken (v. 46).

These specific details in the instructions concerning the Passover typified various aspects of the saving work of Christ:

  • Jesus is the Passover Lamb who brings about the true exodus (Luke 9:31; 1 Cor. 5:7).
  • By His sacrifice, Jesus brings about the new creation—a spiritual new creation—raising His people from spiritual death to spiritual life (2 Cor. 5:17; Eph. 2:5).
  • Every home needs the substitutionary sacrifice of Christ for God to deliver those belonging to it from the judgment of God (Acts 16:31).
  • Believers are called to share the good news of Christ with others (1 Peter 3:15). We must feed on Him by faith (John 6:53–58).
  • Jesus is the sinless sacrifice, the “lamb without blemish and spot,” who offers Himself to God (1 Peter 1:19).
  • Jesus was consumed by God’s wrath as the sacrificial Lamb (Isa. 53:4–7; Rom. 5:8–9).
  • Sinners are to waste no time in trusting in Christ; rather, we are to follow Him as pilgrims through the wilderness of this world (Luke 12:35–47; 1 Peter 1:13).
  • God did not allow any of Christ’s bones to be broken on the cross (John 19:36).

In these and many other ways, the unfolding of the history of redemption reveals how the Passover was a sign of God’s gracious covenant, in which He would provide the greater exodus from sin, Satan, and death by the sacrificial death of Christ. Believers confidently confess that “Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed” (1 Cor. 5:7).