Christian Guide to Passover

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A Christian Guide to Passover (PESCH)

Below is a compilation of several contemporary Seder services that are used today.  Because of the passage of time and that Passover was intended to be a family tradition, it is not possible to reconstruct with certainty the type of Passover meal or celebration that Jesus shared with his disciples. Nevertheless, I offer for your reading a concise history of Passover and how the celebration is viewed in out time. 

The Seder Meal and Christian Celebration

Preparation for the Passover

The Passover meal that the Israelites held in Egypt was unique from all the Passover meals held since.  Before the first one, they were to sprinkle the blood of the lamb on their doorposts and lintel, and they were to eat it in haste.  It has since evolved, maintaining many of the same customs, as well as adding a few.  You are familiar with the one in Exodus 11-12.  Let us look at how it is usually done today.  Every year before the Passover, an Orthodox Jewish family will eat up as much as possible all the foods in their house not processed or packaged for the Passover.  This is to remove all the leaven from the house - any fermented grain product, starter dough, breads, cakes, cookies, yeast, (baking soda and baking powder).  What cannot be eaten is sold to a non-Jew.  Not only can a Jew not eat any leaven during Passover week, he cannot have it in his house or even own any leaven.  They do usually go and buy back their products after the festival.  Leaven is an emblem of sin, corruption.  Paul refers to it as that in 1 Corinthians 5:6-8.  The final search for leaven is made the night before the Passover (PESAH). 

Traditionally a candle, feather and bag are used for this final search.  Every member of the family is to participate in this search.  Every nook and cranny of every floor, shelf, and cupboard is inspected for the minutest grain of breadcrumbs or leavening.  Any dust found is swept up with the feather (like a broom) into the bag for fear it might contain a grain of leavening.  Traditionally, 10 pieces of leavened bread are hidden throughout the house and the ritual is not complete until the family has found the 10 pieces.  All that was found is burnt the next morning before the Passover begins.  Cooking for the Passover meal is an extremely complicated procedure.  Everything used during the preparation - refrigerator, stove, counter, sink, etc., is thoroughly scoured before beginning.  Because some minute speck of leaven might be left unnoticed on some utensil, some Jews find the easiest way to prepare their meal is to have a special set of dishes, silverware and cooking utensils reserved only for use during the Passover.  Some cover their burners so that no Passover pot touches the parts of the stove used every other day.


The Passover meal - is the central celebration of the Passover.  It's origin stems from our text today.  The entire extended family is to come together.  They go through the meal and the retelling of the story in first person as if they had been one of the slaves freed from Pharaoh's bondage. This book, the HAGGADAH, is the text for the SEDER.  Everyone present would have a copy of it.  It contains all the blessings, order for eating, telling of the Exodus story from slavery through the plagues crossing of the Red Sea, giving of the Law, and to the giving of the land of Canaan.  There are also songs and psalms to be read, etc.

The Feast of Passover as an Annual Event

The first Passover is described in Exodus chapter 12: one lamb was slain for every household and the blood painted onto the lintels and doorposts. This was done in order that the angel of Death would not slay the first-born son of the Jewish households, but only those of Pharaoh’s people, whom God had warned He would judge. "When I see the blood, I will pass over you,” the Lord told the children of Israel (Exodus 12:13). They were to eat the lamb, with unleavened bread and bitter herbs, in haste prior to their departure from Egypt. The eating of unleavened bread was to continue for seven days, as their sustenance to exit Egypt and escape Pharaoh’s slavery. God ordained that the children of Israel would commemorate the Passover every year to remember their deliverance, almost 3,450 years ago.

The First Passover is Remembered

Commemoration of the Feast of Passover was the first major event after the Tabernacle was first built. The building was finished on schedule, two weeks prior to the first anniversary of the Exodus. The Tabernacle was consecrated and anointed with oil (Exodus 40:9, a definite foreshadow of the Anointed One, the Messiah, the Christ). Aaron and his sons (the Levites) were also consecrated and anointed to serve in the Tabernacle (Exodus 40:13).

Early Commemorations of The Passover

During the first four decades of the Tabernacle, all of the children of Israel were together in one place in the wilderness to commemorate the Passover. Once they had entered into the good land of Canaan, Jerusalem eventually became the focus of worship, at the time of King David, around 1000 BC. From then onwards, the Feast of Passover was to be held every year in Jerusalem, in accordance with God's word to Moses in Deuteronomy 16:1-8.

The Ordinances of the Passover Specified in Exodus 12

The ordinances of the Passover, specified in Exodus chapter 12, state that the lamb was to be examined for four days, to ensure it was without blemish. Then at evening (Jewish days begin at sunset) the lamb was to be slain, its blood applied to the lintels and doorposts and then roasted for sustenance for the Exodus journey.

Modern Commemoration of Passover – and The Typical Seder Plate and the Symbolism

Today, the Passover (Seder) meal follows a fairly standard pattern in every Jewish household. There is a 'Haggadah' (which means 'telling', 'portraying', see Galatians 3:1) to guide the proceedings, which is based on four 'Cups'.

At the start, candles are lit and a prayer is offered to bless the First Cup of wine: "Blessed are You, O Lord our God, King of the Universe, the Creator who brings forth the vine from the earth with its fruit" (Genesis 1:11). This First Cup is called the Cup of Sanctification, signifying "I the Lord will bring you out from under the yoke of slavery" (Exodus 6:6); this was God setting the children of Israel apart for Himself.

  •    Hard-boiled egg - symbol of the suffering and oppression in Egypt.  Everything else in boiling water becomes soft or disintegrates.  But an egg becomes hard, like the Israelites.  The more it is boiled, the harder it becomes.  An egg also symbolizes New Life.
  •       Roasted shank bone of lamb - reminds them there had to be blood sacrificed to save their lives.
  •       Bitter herbs - horseradish - reminds them they were servants to slavery.
  •       Greens - parsley, celery - symbol of coming of Spring, which brings hope.
  •       Salt water - reminds them of the tears they cried in Egypt.
  •       Haroset - nut, apple, cinnamon, wine mixture which has the appearance of straw in remembrance of the mortar used to build the Treasure Cities for Pharaoh.  It is symbolic of the hope of freedom that enabled their ancestors to withstand the bitterness of slavery.
  •       Matzah - the unleavened bread that reminds them of the haste with which they left Egypt.

A Christian Guide to Passover (PESCH)

Below is a compilation of several contemporary Seder services that are used today.  Because of the passage of time and that Passover was intended to be a family tradition, it is not possible to reconstruct with certainty the type of Passover meal or celebration that Jesus shared with his disciples. The following program has many components that were part of the Passover Meal and is probably similar to what occurred during his time period.  Feel free to reflect upon this Seder program that was used at our church just recently.

Order of Service and the Seder Meal

Usually the evening before the Passover meal was eaten, the paterfamilias led his family through the house by candlelight, looking in nooks and crannies for any leaven in the house. No leaven was supposed to be in the home at that time. (Not infrequently, Jews would sell their leaven to their Gentile neighbors and buy it back after the eight days of unleavened bread!)   At the end of the search the father says, “All leaven that is in my possession, that which I have seen and that which I have not seen, be it null, be it accounted as the dust of the earth.

·        Seder begins, candles are lit and a prayer is offered to bless the First Cup of Wine.

·        Next all the participants wash their hands

… This was probably the point where Jesus washed His disciples' feet (John 13:4-12).

As guests and family members entered the home to celebrate Passover, a servant or slave would often be there to wash their feet. This was the task of the lowest class of people. (That Jesus did this in John 13, even though he was the paterfamilias or head of the family, both symbolizes what he would later do for his disciples [cf. Mark 10:45—“The Son of man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give my life as a ransom for many”] and embodies his principle that “If anyone wants to be first, he shall be last of all, and servant of all” [Mark 9:35; and John 13:15].

·        First hand-washing: Once all the guests arrive, we will perform the ritual hand-washing that Jews, from antiquity, have done

before every meal. Table setting: in front of each seat—four glasses for ritual wine, labeled as such (the non-ritual wine glass should not be on the table, but should be given to guests after they arrive and after their feet are washed); one plate,

cutlery, napkin. Several candles on the table. Seating labels in place. Unleavened bread, vegetables, and vinegar (karpas) should all be on the table. As well, representative bottles of wine should be there too, all labeled.

Seating at the Meal

Guests are to recline at table: The ancient near eastern custom of total relaxation was not too far from our modern “couch potato with remote control” motif. They would relax around a low table (about 18” off the ground), sprawled out on pillows, being served by the help. So, take your shoes off, and prepare to have a good time! Seating at Passover is assigned: beginning with the head of the family at one end, the guests are to wrap around the table either from the oldest to youngest, or the most important to the least important.

The Symbolic Nature of the Cups 

Four ritual cups of wine are used for the Passover. The Mishnah says that even the poorest man in Israel must drink the four ritual cups, even if it means selling all his possessions! The wine used was red and warm A prayer is uttered over each cup, and the four verbs of Exodus 6:6-7 are recited, one over each cup.  The first prayer (the prayer of sanctification) is uttered by the paterfamilias.... npgh yrp arwb mluh ilm wnyhla yy hta iwrbBlessed are you, O Lord our God, king of the universe, who has created the fruit of the vine. . . . And you, O Lord our God, have given us festival days for joy, this feast of the unleavened bread, the time of our deliverance in remembrance of the departure from Egypt. Blessed are you, O Lord our God, who has kept us alive, sustained us, and enabled us to enjoy this season.”

Then the first cup of ritual wine is then poured and the first verb of Exodus 6:6-7 is recited by the father: myrxm tlbs tjtm mkta ytaxwhw hwhy yna “I am the LORD, and I will bring you out from under the yoke of the Egyptians.”

The Seder Meal

·        The first drink may now be drunk.

Each person now takes some herbs (usually Parsley or Celery) and dips them in salt water and eats them.

The Karpas (bitter herbs and the first dipping): The head of the house dips bitter herbs (traditionally lettuce or celery) into salt water or vinegar. He dips the bitter herb together with the chief guest of honor (the person on his right), and then the bitter herbs are passed on down the table. After all partake of the karpas, all food is removed from the table. This   heightens the interest of the evening, prompting the questions from the youngest son.

·        Next, the head of the family takes the middle one of the three flat cakes of unleavened Matzah bread, breaks one, and lays one part aside for desert … A description of why three cakes are used and the middle one broken

·        The Haroset is dipped into horseradish and eaten.

·        The Youngest child present asks four questions:

…. why tonight?

…. why bitter herbs?

….   why dip the bitter herbs in the salt water twice?

…. why do we eat reclining?

~Indeed, this night is very different from all the other nights of the year, for on this night we celebrate one of the most important moments in the history of our people.  On this night, we celebrate their going forth in triumph from slavery into freedom.

I am glad you asked the questions you did, for the story of this night

was just what I wanted you to know. Although the Haggadah we are reading tells this whole story, and if you listen carefully, you will surely learn it, I should like to tell you here, in a few words, the answers to your questions.

~ Why do we eat only mazzah tonight?
When Pharaoh let our forefathers go from Egypt, they were forced to flee in great haste.  Now, they had prepared dough for bread to take on their journey, but the Egyptians pressed them to hasten out of the land.  So they snatched up their dough, and fled, and had no time to bake it. But the hot sun, beating down on the dough as they carried it along with them, baked it into a flat, unleavened bread, which they called mazzah. That is why we eat only mazzah on Pesah.

~ Why do we eat bitter herbs on Pesah night?
Because our forefathers were slaves in Egypt, and their lives were made bitter. That is why we eat bitter herbs on Pesah night.

~ Why do we dip herbs twice tonight?
You have already heard that we dip the parsley in salt water because it reminds us of the green that comes to life again in the springtime. We dip the maror, or bitter herbs, in the sweet haroset as a sign of hope; our forefathers were able to withstand the bitterness of slavery, because it was sweetened by the hope of freedom.

~ Why do we recline at the table?
Because reclining at the table was a sign of a free man in olden times; and since our forefathers were freed on this night, we recline at the table.

·        The Father recounts the history of Israel from Abraham till Moses and the giving of the Law with the story of the first

Passover read aloud from Exodus chapter 12 and Psalms 113 and 114 =  or the leader will go around the room asking everyone to reconstruct a part of the story. [What do you remember about your leaving Egypt?] Each person will tell a part as if he had been a slave and as if he had actually witnessed the plagues and as if he had actually crossed the Red Sea on dry ground and then watched Pharaoh's army drown.  Looking at Acts 7:2-38 it is interesting that Stephen’s speech so closely parallels the kinds of things that the paterfamilias would say at the Passover that one wonders if this was indeed the message that Stephen, as head of his own home, would recite at Passover (for at Acts 7:39 Stephen goes beyond what was to be recited and begins to pronounce his indictment against the religious leaders).

Father now explains the significance of the lamb, bitter herbs, and unleavened bread. Singing of the first half of the Hallel Psalms: Psalms 113-114. Done in one of two ways: father singing the lines with the family saying “Hallelujah” after each verse, or all singing the psalms together.

·        Prayer over the Second Cup

npgh yrp arwb mlwuh ilm wnyhla yy hta iwrb “Blessed are you, O Lord our God, king of the universe, who has created the fruit of the vine. . . . Exodus 6:6b: “I will deliver you from their bondage”mtdbum mkta ytlxhw

·        The Hands are washed again, another blessing is given to the Matzah, and it is eaten.

“Blessed are you, O Lord our God, King of the universe, who brings forth bread from the earth. Blessed are you, O Lord our God, King of the universe, who has sanctified us with your commandments, and commanded us to eat unleavened bread.”

·        The second cup, the Cup of Plagues is filled and passed round and the plagues mentioned individually





Cattle Disease!





Death of the Firstborn!

·        The host breaks the guest of honor’s bread and they dip it together in the charoseth and bitter herbs. The guest in turn

 breaks his neighbor’s bread and they dip it together, and so on down the line.

·        A shank bone is presented as a reminder of the Passover Lamb (Jesus is the Passover Lamb John 1:29). It was probably

at this time that Judas left the meal after he was given the sop (John 13:26).

Herbs, the Matzah, hard-boiled eggs, and grapes are served with the Lamb.

…At this time, Jesus probably took the Matzah that was laid aside and blessed it and passé it around exhorting his disciples to remember his body is broken (Luke 22:19).

After the meal, the third cup is poured. The last of the unleavened bread  wafers is blessed, broken, and eaten:

  “Blessed are you, O Lord our God, King of the universe, who brings forth bread from the earth. Blessed are you, O Lord our God, King of the universe, who has sanctified us with your commandments, and commanded us to eat unleavened  bread.”

·        All participants recite the post-meal grace together, and then the prayer over the wine.  “The name of the Lord be blessed

from now until eternity. Let us bless him of  whose gifts we have partaken: Blessed be our God of whose gifts we have

partaken, and by whose goodness we exist.” “Blessed are you, O Lord our God, king of the universe, who has created the

fruit of the vine.  Then the father recites the third verb from Exodus 6:6:  “I will redeem you with an outstretched arm and with great judgments.” myldg myf n uwrzb mkta ytlagw

Then the wine is drunk.

…At this time Jesus probably passed around the third cup (called the Cup of Blessing or the Cup of Redemption)after the meal, and exhorted his disciples to drink all of it for it represents his bloodshed for sins and represents a new testament. (Luke 22:20)

·        The Matzah is eaten for desert.

·        The final cup of wine, the Cup of Praise, is drunk as the Seder meal concludes

·        A hymn is sung.

·        "Next year in Jerusalem!"


Reading from Luke 22:14-20

The Matzah will be used for the bread

A cup of Juice will be used for the cup

A Christian Guide to Passover (PESCH)

After a Passover Celebration the participants went home with the assurance that someday Messiah will come and the meal will be held in Jerusalem.  It would be pure conjecture to even try to imagine what Jesus' disciples felt as they departed the Upper Room for Gethsemane. What follows is a series of reflections and scriptures that point to Jesus as the Passover Sacrifice, thus fulfilling the requirements of redemption and He is our Messiah!

Reflections on the Seder Meal and its Christian Connection

Let's relate this to us as Christians. Jesus initiated our Lord's Supper from this first Passover meal and at some similarities between the PASAH and Jesus.

  •      God initiated this Passover meal before the events took place that it was to commemorate- Jesus initiated the Lord's Supper commemorating His death and looking forward to His resurrection before the events took place Exodus 12:1-20 – Luke 22:13-22).
  •  God told Moses for them to take a lamb four days before its slaughter-Christ entered Jerusalem on Sunday - four days before His crucifixion. Both took place on the 14th day of the month Abib (Exodus12:2-6 - John 12:12-15).
  •   Israelites were to sacrifice a male lamb one year old - in the prime of his life - when he was at his strongest. Jesus was about 33 years old - pinnacle of earthly strength and maturity (Exodus 12:2-6).
  •       Male lamb was to be without blemish. Jesus is our example of perfection and sinlessness - without blemish. A lamb is patient, noiseless and submissive to death as was Christ (Isaiah 53:7 - Matthew 27:14).
  •   The entire assembly of the congregation of Israel was to kill their lambs. A priest did not do this.  Everyone was to witness and be responsible for the death of the lamb. We are all responsible for the death of Christ on the cross. It was our sins that crucified Him (Exodus 12:6 – John 3:16).


  •     The blood of the lamb was to be put on the two doorposts and lintel so that they might be passed over when death came to Egypt. It is the blood of Christ that keeps us from everlasting death (Exodus 12:22 – Hebrews 9:14).
  •      Lamb was to be roasted whole - no broken bones. Christ was crucified and died with no broken bones - even though the soldiers were sent out to break His leg bones to hasten His death (Exodus 12:8-9 – John 19:31-36).
  •     The meal was to be eaten with bitter herbs to remember the bitter slavery, suffering and hardships in Egypt. During the Lord's Supper we are to remember Christ's hardships and suffering (Exodus 12:8 – I Peter 4:1).
  •     The meal was also to include unleavened bread (Exodus 12:8). Leaven is a form of corruption, sin, and impurity. Paul instructs the church about leaven and its spiritual application in I Corinthians 5:7-8. We are to be unleavened - clean out malice and evil from us.  Jesus alludes to this in Matthew 16:6-12 when He says beware of the leaven of Pharisees and Sadducees.
  •   The Israelites were to eat in haste with their shoes on, staff in their hand and ready to go, looking forward to their future as free men. We as Christians are to be ready to go - watching and waiting for Christ to come - looking forward to our future in heaven as men free from sin (Exodus 12:11 – Luke 12:37).
  • The Israelites put the blood on their doorposts several hours before midnight. The passing Egyptians must have thought that peculiar and ridiculous. It made them vulnerable to the spiteful Egyptians. But the blood of the lamb protected them from death. We are to accept Christ as our Passover Lamb and let his blood protect us. We are perpetually being saved from the hand of the destroying angel when we have Christ's blood on our doorposts. (Exodus 12:22-23 – I Peter 1:19)

What does it mean to have Christ's blood on our doorposts?

It is the act of perpetually having a badge that can be seen, experienced, spit upon, and being made vulnerable like the Israelites were vulnerable with blood on their doorposts for the Egyptians to see and laugh, and revile.

It also means cleaning up our act, diligently searching for corruption and sin present in our lives - like the Jews meticulously cleaning their house of leaven with a candle and a feather.

It means doing everything that God commands us.

A Christian Guide to Passover (PESCH)

Below are a few notes gleamed from several sources that explain some of the activities in the Passover Meal.  By no means are these the only or most important activities, but the ones mentioned below stand out and need further explanation. 

Additional Notes

  •       The basic source for the ancient Passover ceremony is the tractate Pesachim (from which the Greek word pascha is derived and which is translated as ‘paschal’ in the RSV of I Corinthians 5:7, ‘Passover’ in most other modern translations) in the Mishnah, a document that was written down in c. A. D. 200 by Rabbi Judah ha-Nassi. Judah had received it via oral tradition dating back to the great Rabbi Hillel, who lived in the century before Christ.  The modern practice of Passover and the  components in the meal may not be exactly as it was at the time of Christ, but the symbolism is apparent.
  •       The date for the Passover of Jesus was either Wednesday April 1st or Thursday April 2nd AD 33, which Wednesday April 2nd has been argued by Harold Hoehner in his Chronological Aspects of the Life of Christ.
  •       Passover lambs were slain between noon and 3 p.m. on Nisan 14 (recall that there were three hours of darkness, from approximately noon to 3 p.m., when Jesus was on the cross [Mark 15:33]. When Jesus died, the temple curtain was torn in two, from top to bottom [Mark 15:38]—right when the last of the lambs would be on the altar in front of the sanctuary!). In A. D. 70, the last year that the temple was still standing, 270,000 lambs were slain. When the lambs were slain, the Levites would chant the Hallel Psalms (Psalms 113-118) repeatedly.
  •       The practice of searching for leaven in the home apparently stems from a rabbinic interpretation of Zephaniah 1:12—“I will search Jerusalem with lamps and punish those who are complacent.” Since leaven often represents sin, Paul makes the tie between the leaven of the Passover and our commitment to Christ in I Corinthians 5:7 (“Get rid of the old leaven that you may be a new batch without leaven—as you really are. For Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed.”)
  •       The practice of washing one’s hands has some dispute attached to it and it is unclear when hand washing was performed as part of the Passover Meal.   During modern times, it is done prior to the meal and before sitting down. In ancient times it may have been done once all reclined at table and after the first cup of wine was poured.
  •       Many pious participants of Passover also washed their feet.  Foot washing was not a part of the Passover per se, but was the custom in Palestine when one entered a home to eat a meal.
  •       The command to recount Israel’s history is recorded in Exodus 10:2; 12:26-27; and 3:8.

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