Jesus’ Last Supper with His disciples is well known in Christianity — but it was also an important meal for a different reason. The Last Supper was, in fact, a meal during the celebration of Passover.
Passover and the Feast of Unleavened Bread was the first festival God commanded the Israelites to celebrate. This was one of three festivals that were meant to bring all of Israel together to celebrate in Jerusalem and was a time of rejoicing and thanking God for His deliverance.
So why don’t Christians celebrate Passover? After all, didn’t Jesus celebrate it? To find out the answers, we’ll need to go back to the beginning.
Origins of Passover
The story of how Passover came to be is found in the book of Exodus. At this time, the Hebrew people (soon to be called Israelites) were enslaved in Egypt. God sent a man named Moses to the pharaoh, commanding the pharaoh to let God’s people go. When the pharaoh refused, God sent a series of ten plagues upon Egypt. After the tenth plague, the pharaoh finally agreed to let the people go.
What was that tenth plague? It was the death of every firstborn in Egypt. And that was the night of the first Passover.
To prepare for the tenth plague, God told His people to sacrifice a spotless lamb and paint their doorposts and lintels with its blood (Exodus 12:3-7). He then gave instructions on a special meal they should eat, a meal symbolic of readiness.
God explained, “On that same night I will pass through Egypt and strike down every firstborn of both people and animals, and I will bring judgment on all the gods of Egypt. I am the LORD. The blood will be a sign for you on the houses where you are, and when I see the blood, I will pass over you. No destructive plague will touch you when I strike Egypt” (Exodus 12:12-13).
God then gave instructions on how to celebrate Passover, which would commemorate this time and His deliverance.
What Is Passover?
Passover occurs the 15-21 of the Jewish month of Nissan, which is in March or April by our calendar. On these seven days, the Israelites were to eat nothing with leaven in it, to symbolize the haste with which the Hebrews left Egypt.
A traditional Passover meal constitutes fire-roasted lamb, bitter herbs, and unleavened bread, according to God’s directives (Exodus 12:8). Once Israel reached the Promised Land, they were to travel to Jerusalem each year to celebrate the Passover.
You can learn more about the specifics of Passover here.
Did Jesus Celebrate Passover?
As a Jew, Jesus celebrated Passover. Mary and Joseph went to Jerusalem every year for Passover, as God had directed (Luke 2:41), and as an adult, Jesus continued to return to Jerusalem for the Passover and is recorded going more than once with His disciples (John 2:13).
The Triumphal Entry of Jesus into Jerusalem occurred as Jesus entered the city to celebrate Passover. The Last Supper, before Jesus was arrested and put to death, was a Passover meal.
What Does the New Testament Say about Passover?
The first Christians were Jews, and as such, continued to worship in synagogues and partake in many Jewish customs.
However, the New Testament focuses more on Passover’s foreshadowing of Christ than on the celebration itself:
Get rid of the old yeast, so that you may be a new unleavened batch — as you really are. For Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed. Therefore let us keep the Festival, not with the old bread leavened with malice and wickedness, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth. (1 Corinthians 5:7-8)
Just as the blood on the doorways of the Hebrews saved them from the death of their firstborn, the death of the Father God’s firstborn, Jesus, is the blood that allows us to be saved from death.
Jesus is likened to the sacrificial lamb. God’s deliverance of the Hebrews from Egypt was an early foretaste of His deliverance of all believers from sin.
Why Did We Stop Celebrating Passover?
As time went on, the church grew from majority Jewish to majority Gentile. These Gentiles were largely unaware of Jewish culture, so those things not specifically tied-up with Christian doctrine were often lost.
As Christians, the church was no longer bound by Old Testament law (Romans 7:4). With these laws, many of the associated customs fell away as well. Eventually, the celebration of Easter grew more prevalent than the celebration of Passover.
In AD 325 at the Council of Nicaea, Easter was cemented as the day to celebrate the resurrection of Christ, and its date was also determined. This was when Easter perhaps most officially replaced Passover.
In the Middle Ages, growing anti-Semitism in Europe led to even further distancing of Roman Catholics from all things Jewish. Later on, Reformation theology’s heavy emphasis on salvation by grace alone and not through works also did not foster an environment conducive to the celebration of Old Testament ritual.
However, today, more Christians are beginning to take an interest in Passover and its meaning for the Jewish people and Christians alike.
Should Christians Celebrate Passover?
As Christians, we are no longer bound by Old Testament Law (Romans 10:4). However, the New Testament doesn’t forbid the celebration of Old Testament festivals.
In the end, we must look to verses like Colossians 2:16-17:
Therefore do not let anyone judge you by what you eat or drink, or with regard to a religious festival, a New Moon celebration or a Sabbath day. These are a shadow of the things that were to come; the reality, however, is found in Christ.
What matters is our worship of Christ. In some ways, this will look different for each person. Whether we celebrate the Passover or not, it is helpful to learn from it and remember Christ’s sacrifice as our Passover Lamb.
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Alyssa Roat studied writing, theology, and the Bible at Taylor University. She is a literary agent at C.Y.L.E., the publicity manager at Mountain Brook Ink, and a freelance editor with Sherpa Editing Services. She is the co-author of Dear Hero and has 200+ bylines in publications ranging from The Christian Communicator to Keys for Kids. Find out more about her here and on social media @alyssawrote.