New Testament Bible Class

Passover (Pesach) – An Overview With the Last Supper In Mind.


Hebrew: Pesach (pe’-sahkh)

Latinized Hebrew: Paschal

  • John 1:29 – Jesus is “the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.”
  • Matthew 26:17ff, Mark 14:12ff, Luke 22:7ff, John 1:29 – Events of the Last Supper and Jesus’ arrest, trial, death and resurrection took place during the Feast of Unleavened Bread which includes Passover.
  • Exodus 12ff – The first Passover.

Jewish Year 5769 (the number of years since creation): sunset April 8, 2009 – nightfall April 16, 2009 on the modern Gregorian Calendar

Pesach begins on the 15th day of the Jewish month of Nissan. (The first month of the Jewish year, occurring in March/April.) and is followed by the 8-day Feast of Unleavened Bread.  It is the first of the three major festivals with both historical and agricultural significance.

The other two festivals are Shavu’ot (shah-voo-awt)– a festival commemorating the giving of the Torah (Old Testament) and the harvest of the first fruits, and Sukkoth (sookuh)– festival commemorating the wandering in the desert and the final harvest. Also known as the Feast of Tabernacles or the Festival of Ingathering. A booth or hut roofed with branches called a sukkah is built against or near a house or synagogue and used during the Jewish festival of Sukkoth as a temporary dining or living area).

One of the most significant Jewish holidays, Passover, or Pesach in Hebrew, recalls and rejoices over the Israelites’ redemption from slavery in Egypt. The symbolic elements of the feast cause us not only to look back and remember what the Lord did for our people in the past; they also foreshadow a greater redemption through Jesus, the Passover Lamb. Jewish people around the world have celebrated Passover for thousands of years; however, most do not understand the ultimate significance of the festival.

Of all the Jewish holidays, Pesach is the one most commonly observed, even by otherwise non-observant Jews.

Just as Christians celebrate Easter in similar but not identical ways, Jewish people celebrate Pesach in similar but not identical ways today – and at the time of Jesus.

Agriculturally, Pesach represents the beginning of the harvest season in Israel, but little attention is paid to this aspect of the holiday. The primary observances of Pesach are related to the Exodus from Egypt after generations of slavery. This story is told in Exodus, Ch. 1-15. Many of the Pesach observances are instituted in Chs. 12-15.

The name “Pesach” comes from the Hebrew root word meaning to pass through, to pass over, to exempt or to spare.

·          It refers to the fact that God “passed over” the houses of the Jews when he was slaying the firstborn of Egypt. In English, the holiday is known as Passover.

·          “Pesach” is also the name of the sacrificial offering (a lamb) that was made in the Temple on this holiday.

Pesach Laws and Customs

Probably the most significant observance related to Pesach involves the removal of chametz (khaw-mits), leaven or yeast from the home. This commemorates the fact that the Jews leaving Egypt were in a hurry, and did not have time to let their bread rise. It is also a symbolic way of removing the “puffiness” (arrogance, pride) from one’s soul.  (Exodus 12:14,15)

During Pesach Jews may not eat chametz, may not own it, may not even feed it to their pets or cattle. All chametz, including utensils used to cook chametz, must either be disposed of or sold to a non-Jew (they can be repurchased after the holiday) even though he does not take physical possession of the goods.

The grain product eaten during Pesach is called matzah. Matzah is unleavened bread, made simply from flour and water and cooked very quickly like the bread that the Jews made for their flight from Egypt.

On the first night of Pesach (first two nights for traditional Jews outside Israel, the Diaspora), a special family meal is held that is filled with ritual to remind Jew of the significance of the holiday. This meal is called a seder from a Hebrew root word meaning “order,” because there is a specific set of information that must be discussed in a specific order.

Pesach lasts for seven days (eight days outside of Israel). The first and last days of the holiday (first two and last two outside of Israel) are days on which no work is permitted. Exodus 12:16)

The text of the Pesach seder is written in a book called the haggadah (huhgah-duh). The haggadah tells the story of the Exodus from Egypt and explains some of the practices and symbols of the holiday and includes the liturgy for the Seder service on the Jewish festival of Passover.

The content of the seder can be summed up by the following Hebrew rhyme:

Kaddesh, Urechatz,

Karpas, Yachatz,

Maggid, Rachtzah,

Motzi, Matzah,

Maror, Korekh,

Shulchan Orekh,

Tzafun, Barekh,

Hallel, Nirtzah

Now, what does that mean?

1. Kaddesh: Sanctification


A blessing over wine in honor of the holiday. The wine is drunk, and a second cup is poured.

2. Urechatz: Washing


A washing of the hands without a blessing, in preparation for eating the Karpas.

3. Karpas: Vegetable


A vegetable (usually parsley) is dipped in salt water and eaten. The vegetable symbolizes the lowly origins of the Jewish people; the salt water symbolizes the tears shed as a result of slavery. Parsley is a good vegetable to use for this purpose, because when you shake off the salt water, it looks like tears.

4. Yachatz: Breaking


One of the three matzahs on the table is broken. Part is returned to the pile, the other part is set aside for the afikomen (see below).

5. Maggid: The Story


A retelling of the story of the Exodus from Egypt and the first Pesach. This begins with the youngest person asking The Four Questions, a set of questions about the proceedings designed to encourage participation in the seder. The Four Questions are also known as Mah Nishtanah (Why is it different?), which are the first words of the Four Questions. This is often sung.


The maggid is designed to satisfy the needs of four different types of people: the wise one, who wants to know the technical details; the wicked one, who excludes himself (and learns the penalty for doing so); the simple one, who needs to know the basics; and the one who is unable to ask, who doesn’t even know enough to know what he needs to know.


At the end of the maggid, a blessing is recited over the second cup of wine and it is drunk.

6. Rachtzah: Washing


A second washing of the hands, this time with a blessing, in preparation for eating the matzah

7. Motzi: Blessing over Grain Products


The ha-motzi blessing, a generic blessing for bread or grain products used as a meal, is recited over the matzah.

8. Matzah: Blessing over Matzah


A blessing specific to matzah is recited, and a bit of matzah is eaten.

9. Maror: Bitter Herbs


A blessing is recited over a bitter vegetable (usually raw horseradish; sometimes romaine lettuce), and it is eaten. This symbolizes the bitterness of slavery. The maror is dipped in charoset, a mixture of apples, nuts, cinnamon and wine, which symbolizes the mortar used by the Jews in building during their slavery.

10. Korekh: The Sandwich


Rabbi Hillel (One of the greatest rabbis recorded in the Talmud which is the most significant collection of the Jewish oral tradition interpreting the Torah which is the Old Testament.  Hillel was born in Babylon and went to live in Jerusalem to study Torah during the time of King Herod and Caesar Augustus. He rose to become the most respected Pharisee and President (Nasi) of the Sanhedrin.) was of the opinion that the maror should be eaten together with matzah and the paschal offering in a sandwich. In his honor, we eat some maror on a piece of matzah, with some charoset.  (Jews do not offer animal sacrifice anymore, so there is no paschal offering to eat).

11. Shulchan Orekh: Dinner


A festive meal is eaten. There is no particular requirement regarding what to eat at this meal (except, of course, that chametz cannot be eaten). Among Ashkenazic Jews (Jews from eastern France, Germany and Eastern Europe, and their descendants. Most Jews in America), gefilte fish and matzah ball soup are traditionally eaten at the beginning of the meal. Roast chicken or turkey are common as a main course, as is beef brisket.

12. Tzafun: The Afikomen


The piece of matzah set aside earlier is eaten (See: The Seder celebrated by Jesus and his disciples, below) as “desert,” the last food of the meal. Different families have different traditions relating to the afikomen. Some have the children hide it, while the parents have to either find it or ransom it back. Others have the parents hide it. The idea is to keep the children awake and attentive throughout the pre-meal proceedings, waiting for this part.

13. Barekh: Grace after Meals


The third cup of wine is poured, and birkat ha-mazon (grace after meals) is recited. This is similar to the grace that would be said on any Shabbat (shah-baht, Sabbath). At the end, a blessing is said over the third cup and it is drunk. (See: The Seder celebrated by Jesus and his disciples, below) as The fourth cup is poured, including a cup set aside for the prophet Elijah, who is supposed to (see Luke 1 below) herald the Messiah, and is supposed to come on Pesach to do this.

( Luke 1: 11Then an angel of the Lord appeared to him, standing at the right side of the altar of incense. 12When Zechariah saw him, he was startled and was gripped with fear. 13But the angel said to him: “Do not be afraid, Zechariah; your prayer has been heard. Your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you are to give him the name John. 14He will be a joy and delight to you, and many will rejoice because of his birth, 15for he will be great in the sight of the Lord. He is never to take wine or other fermented drink, and he will be filled with the Holy Spirit even from birth.[b] 16Many of the people of Israel will he bring back to the Lord their God. 17And he will go on before the Lord, in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the fathers to their children and the disobedient to the wisdom of the righteous—to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.”)

The door is opened for a while at this point (supposedly for Elijah, but historically because Jews were accused of nonsense like putting the blood of Christian babies in matzah, and we wanted to show our Christian neighbors that we weren’t doing anything unseemly).

14. Hallel: Praises


Several psalms are recited. A blessing is recited over the last cup of wine and it is drunk.

15. Nirtzah: Closing


A simple statement that the seder has been completed, with a wish that next year, we may celebrate Pesach in Jerusalem, i.e., that the Messiah (Anglicization of the Hebrew, “moshiach”  which means anointed.), man who will be chosen by God to put an end to all evil in the world, rebuild the Temple, bring the exiles back to Israel and usher in the world to come.) will come within the next year. This is followed by various hymns and stories.

Day of Unleavened Bread (Luke 22:7)

14th day of the Hebrew month of Nisan.

The official Passover lamb was sacrificed at the Temple in the Court of the Priests between 2:30 and 5:30pm.  On Thursday of Passion Week.

The Seder celebrated by Jesus and his disciples (From Jews for Jesus)

The “Last Supper” was a Passover meal and seems to have followed much the same order as found in the Mishnah (the collection of oral laws compiled about 200 AD by Rabbi Judah ha-Nasi and forming the basic part of the Talmud).

In the New Testament accounts, we find reference to:

·        The First Cup, also known as the Cup of Blessing (Luke 22:17: After taking the cup, he gave thanks and said, “Take this and divide it among you.  18 For I tell you I will not drink again of the fruit of the vine until the kingdom of God comes.”);

·        To the breaking of the matzoh (Luke 22:19: And he took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to them, saying, “This is my body given for you; do this in remembrance of me.”);

·        To the Third Cup, the Cup of Redemption (Luke 22:20: In the same way, after the supper he took the cup, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood, which is poured out for you.);

·        To reclining (Luke 22:14: When the hour came, Jesus and his apostles reclined at the table.  15 And he said to them, “I have eagerly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer.  16 For I tell you, I will not eat it again until it finds fulfillment in the kingdom of God.”);

·        To the charoseth or the maror (Matthew 26:23: Jesus replied, “The one who has dipped his hand into the bowl with me will betray me.  24 The Son of Man will go just as it is written about him. But woe to that man who betrays the Son of Man! It would be better for him if he had not been born.”), and

·        To the Hallel (Matthew 26:30: When they had sung a hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives.).

In particular, the matzoh and the Third Cup are given special significance by Jesus:

And he took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to them, saying, “This is my body given for you; do this in remembrance of me.” In the same way, after the supper he took the cup, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood, which is poured out for you”  Luke 22:19-20


The Passover/Paschal Lamb (From Jesus for Jesus)

The early Jewish believers in Jesus considered him the fulfillment of the Passover lambs that were yearly sacrificed.

·        Thus Paul, a Jewish Christian who had studied under Rabbi Gamaliel, wrote, “Messiah, our pesach, has been sacrificed for us” (From the NIV:  1 Corinthians 5:7,8: Don’t you know that a little yeast works through the whole batch of dough?  7 Get rid of the old yeast that you may be a new batch without yeast—as you really are. For Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed.  8 Therefore let us keep the Festival, not with the old yeast, the yeast of malice and wickedness, but with bread without yeast, the bread of sincerity and truth.).

·        John in his gospel noted that Jesus died at the same time that the Passover lambs were being slaughtered in the Temple (see John 19:142-14 From then on, Pilate tried to set Jesus free, but the Jews kept shouting, “If you let this man go, you are no friend of Caesar. Anyone who claims to be a king opposes Caesar.”   13 When Pilate heard this, he brought Jesus out and sat down on the judge’s seat at a place known as the Stone Pavement (which in Aramaic is Gabbatha).  14 It was the day of Preparation of Passover Week, about the sixth hour.) and that like the Passover lambs, none of his bones were broken (the others being crucified had their leg bones broken by the Romans—John 19:32, 33, 36).

The idea behind all this was that just as the Israelites were redeemed from Egyptian slavery by an unblemished lamb, now men could be freed from slavery to sin by the Messiah, the Lamb of God.


Agnus Dei, Latin for “the Lamb of God”, i.e., Jesus. The lamb of the Passover sacrifice is said to prefigure the crucifixion. Isaiah calls the expected Messiah the Lamb of God, and Jesus is met by John the Baptist with the words, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world.” In the Mass or Holy Communion the Agnus Dei, or Lamb of God, is said or sung while the communion bread is being broken for distribution. In iconography a lamb with halo and cross is called an Agnus Dei.





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