Jack M. Lane
Christ the Lord is risen today, Halleluia!
So begins the well-known "Easter Hymn." But this poem was not written specifically for Easter Day. It is a joyous statement of fact for the Christian -- Jesus Christ is, indeed, risen from the dead, and is alive today! And because He rose from the dead, He became the firstborn Son of God (Romans 1:4), and the firstborn of many brethren to be born, or resurrected, from the dead (Romans 8:29; Colossians 1:18; Revelation 1:5). It is through the blood of the Messiah that we have been justified to God, but it is through His life that we are saved (Romans 5:6-10). Because of this, we rejoice and proclaim, every day of the year, "Jesus Christ is risen today, Halleluia!"
But what does this have to do with the Passover?
Remember that Jesus, His apostles, and the early church were entirely Jewish. All the converts who came into the new church for the first several years were Jewish! Up until the time Peter was sent to Cornelius the Roman, and salvation was extended to the Gentiles (Acts 10 & 11), it was a natural assumption that this new "sect of the Nazarenes" was simply an extension of the faith of Moses! Those who came into fellowship with the apostles and disciples had the background of Moses and the Prophets. They would understand a great many things about Yeshua HaMashiac (Jesus, the Messiah) that showed that He fulfilled the prophecies of the coming Savior.
The Passover Season
One of the holiest times of the year for observant Jews was, and continues to be, the springtime festival of Passover. The festival season consists of the day of Passover followed by seven days when unleavened bread is eaten. Passover represented the day that the Eternal God passed harmlessly over Israel but continued on to slaughter the firstborn of Egypt. The following morning Moses led the nation of Israel out of its slavery in Egypt. This has been commemorated annually by the celebration of Passover and the Days of Unleavened Bread. Often, the entire eight-day period is simply referred to as Passover.
According to the instructions of Scripture (Exodus 12:1-20; Leviticus 24:4-8), the first day of unleavened bread was a holy day. On that day, leavening agents were to be removed from the home, symbolizing Israel's exodus out of Egypt. The seventh day was also a holy day. During those seven days, no leavened products could be eaten. This commemorated how the Israelites left Egypt hurriedly, and didn't have the time to allow their bread dough to rise.
It was appealing to the Jewish converts in the first century A.D. that Yeshua of Nazareth fulfilled the role of the Passover lamb which was cooked and eaten as part of the Passover observance. Yeshua is the Passover Lamb. John the Baptist "saw Jesus coming to him and said, 'Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!' … Again the next day John was standing with two of his disciples, and he looked at Jesus as He walked, and said, 'Behold, the Lamb of God!'" (John 1:29, 35-36).
After Christ's resurrection and ascension to heaven, the early church continued to observe the Passover and the Days of Unleavened Bread, but with a new understanding of its true significance. The Lord was the Passover sacrifice, to take away our sins, and the Days of Unleavened Bread show our exodus out of slavery to sin (see Romans 6). Paul wrote, "Clean out the old leaven so that you may be a new lump, just as you are in fact unleavened. For Christ our Passover also has been sacrificed. Therefore let us celebrate the feast, not with old leaven, nor with the leaven of malice and wickedness, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth" (1 Corinthians 5:7-8).
Notice that Paul was encouraging the Corinthian church, a largely Gentile congregation, to celebrate the Feast of Unleavened Bread, because Christ is our Passover! It was the custom of the early church to observe the annual holy days God had established in Leviticus 23. This practice persisted up until the time it was outlawed by the Council of Nicaea in 325 A.D. After that time, Christians had to either give up the Holy Days or flee to the extremes of the Roman Empire where they could practice their religion in relative safety.
Today, the observance of God's holy days is making a comeback. More and more, congregations that take their Bible as the source of knowledge and doctrine are finding that the holy days have relevance to the Christian religion, that God has ordained these holy days, and that He calls them His holy days, not the Jews' holy days. Notice it: "The LORD spoke again to Moses, saying, 'Speak to the sons of Israel and say to them, "The LORD'S appointed times which you shall proclaim as holy convocations -- My appointed times are these"'" (Leviticus 23:1-2). There is no biblical authority for changing or dropping the observance of God's holy days. There is no biblical evidence that the holy days of Leviticus 23 were only for the Jews, or only for a certain period of time. And, interestingly, there is no biblical authority for substituting other days and observances.
A Lamb Slain
What else did the first century church know about this Lamb of God? Like the Passover lamb, our Redeemer had to be without spot or defect (Exodus 12:5). Peter wrote, "…knowing that you were not redeemed with perishable things like silver or gold…, but with precious blood, as of a lamb unblemished and spotless, the blood of Christ" (1 Peter 1:18-19). To redeem means to buy back. We had been sold to sin. "For we know that the Law is spiritual, but I am of flesh, sold into bondage to sin" (Romans 7:14). Christ redeemed us, or bought us back, through His shed blood. We are "…the church of God which He purchased with His own blood" (Acts 20:28). If we have been purchased, we belong to our new Owner! "But now having been freed from sin and enslaved to God, you derive your benefit, resulting in sanctification, and the outcome, eternal life" (Romans 6:22).
The apostle John was given an amazing series of visions in his old age. These visions make up the biblical Book of Revelation. Notice chapter five of this amazing story.
I saw in the right hand of Him who sat on the throne a book written inside and on the back, sealed up with seven seals. And I saw a strong angel proclaiming with a loud voice, "Who is worthy to open the book and to break its seals?" And no one in heaven or on the earth or under the earth was able to open the book or to look into it. Then I began to weep greatly because no one was found worthy to open the book or to look into it; and one of the elders said to me, "Stop weeping; behold, the Lion that is from the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has overcome so as to open the book and its seven seals."
And I saw between the throne (with the four living creatures) and the elders a Lamb standing, as if slain, having seven horns and seven eyes, which are the seven Spirits of God, sent out into all the earth. And He came and took the book out of the right hand of Him who sat on the throne. When He had taken the book, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb, each one holding a harp and golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints. And they sang a new song, saying, "Worthy are You to take the book and to break its seals; for You were slain, and purchased for God with Your blood men from every tribe and tongue and people and nation. You have made them to be a kingdom and priests to our God; and they will reign upon the earth."
Then I looked, and I heard the voice of many angels around the throne and the living creatures and the elders; and the number of them was myriads of myriads, and thousands of thousands, saying with a loud voice, "Worthy is the Lamb that was slain to receive power and riches and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing." And every created thing which is in heaven and on the earth and under the earth and on the sea, and all things in them, I heard saying, "To Him who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb, be blessing and honor and glory and dominion forever and ever." And the four living creatures kept saying, "Amen." And the elders fell down and worshipped.
It's a marvelous picture of the glory of our risen Lord Jesus Christ. Because of His shed blood, and because of His life, we -- you and I -- and every other person on earth, has the potential to live as kings and priests, reigning on the earth, with this glorious risen Lamb!
Sons of God
But we must begin somewhere. That somewhere is at the foot of the cross.
"Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we rejoice in the hope of the glory of God. … You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous man, though for a good man someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Since we have now been justified by his blood, how much more shall we be saved from God's wrath through him! For if, when we were God's enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through his life!" (Romans 5:1-2, 6-10)
When we repent and accept Christ as our Savior, our Redeemer, and our Lord, we become reconciled to God. God accepts us as His children, and we can begin to call Him our Father. "For you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus" (Galatians 3:26).
"Jesus said to them, 'The sons of this age marry and are given in marriage, but those who are considered worthy to attain to that age and the resurrection from the dead, neither marry nor are given in marriage; for they cannot even die anymore, because they are like angels, and are sons of God, being sons of the resurrection'" (Luke 20:34-36).
"For all who are being led by the Spirit of God, these are sons of God. For you have not received a spirit of slavery leading to fear again, but you have received a spirit of adoption as sons by which we cry out, 'Abba! Father!' The Spirit … testifies with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, heirs also, heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, if indeed we suffer with Him so that we may also be glorified with Him. For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory that is to be revealed to us. For the anxious longing of the creation waits eagerly for the revealing of the sons of God. For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of Him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself also will be set free from its slavery to corruption into the freedom of the glory of the children of God" (Romans 8:14-21).
The Bride of Christ
At some point yet future, the collective members of the assembly will, as it were, marry Christ. We can look forward to being the Bride of Christ:
"Then I heard something like the voice of a great multitude and like the sound of many waters and like the sound of mighty peals of thunder, saying, 'Hallelujah! For the Lord our God, the Almighty, reigns. Let us rejoice and be glad and give the glory to Him, for the marriage of the Lamb has come and His bride has made herself ready.' It was given to her to clothe herself in fine linen, bright and clean; for the fine linen is the righteous acts of the saints. Then he [the angel] said to me, 'Write, "Blessed are those who are invited to the marriage supper of the Lamb."' And he said to me, 'These are true words of God'" (Revelation 19:6-9).
These true words of God tell us that, as the story of the Bible comes to a close, there will be a joyous wedding, and a happy ending, as the glorified church is united forever with its Lord and Savior. This is the happy ending that awaits those who have been redeemed from sin, who have unleavened their lives and come out of slavery to sin. "These are the ones who follow the Lamb wherever He goes. These have been purchased from among men as first fruits to God and to the Lamb" (Revelation 14:4).
All this, from following Jesus Christ -- Our Passover! He is the Lamb of God, who takes away your sin!
(Scriptures quoted are from the New American Standard Version of the Bible.)