Passover & Unleavened Bread

This is part of a series of essays I wrote in 2018 to explain the Biblical Appointed Times (mo'adim) to my family members. If you'd like to read the other papers in this series, you can find them linked here:

  1. Happy New Year! (four months early)
  2. Shabbat shalom!
  3. Passover & Unleavened Bread
  4. Pentecost
  5. The Day of Loud Noise
  6. The Day of Atonement
  7. The Grand Finale
  8. That Jewish Christmas?

Chag haMatzot sameach!

If I have kept up with these as I planned, then you should be getting this on Aviv 13—that is, thirteen days after the biblical New Year's Day. That is actually the day before Passover (Pesach); I will explain why I’m a day early soon. We have a lot to cover in this section, so I will do my best to keep it within four pages.

As you all have grown up in church, my hope is that you already know the story of the Exodus. For brevity, I won't recap that story, except for the parts directly related to the Passover.

The people of Israel were slaves in Egypt for 215 years.1 God used Moses as his mouthpiece to free Israel from Pharaoh, but Pharaoh refused to let them go. God cursed Egypt with ten terrible plagues, each of which was an attack on one of the gods of Egypt. The final plague was the death of every firstborn son and male livestock in Egypt. This was the proverbial straw that broke the camel's back, and Pharaoh agreed to let Israel go.

When God described this judgment to Moses, he told him that he would bring it upon all of Egypt, even the Israelites, unless they performed a certain act of obedience. You can read the full story in Exodus 12, but God told them to bring a yearling male lamb without blemish into their homes on the tenth day of the month. After four days, they would slaughter it in the afternoon; then they would eat it that evening (the evening meal marked the beginning of the 15th day). They were to paint their doorframes with the blood of the lamb. When the angel of death came to kill the sons, he would see the blood over the houses and pass them over. Any Hebrew or Egyptian who obeyed this command was saved.

Israel spent the next week running, finally reaching the Red Sea on the 21st day of the month. In Leviticus 23, God gives the most detailed instructions of his holy days that we find in the Bible, and there he tells us to observe the entire week following Passover (the 15th through the 21st) remembering his deliverance by eating unleavened bread, since baking with leaven is a day-long process, and Israel didn't have time to sit around waiting for leavened dough to rise during their escape.

In addition, he gave us another command, that of the Day of Firstfruits. Unlike Passover and Unleavened Bread, this isn't a holy day; it's the day Israel begins to harvest the barley crop. It falls on the first Sunday after the Sabbath during the Feast of Unleavened Bread. It always falls on a Sunday (although remember that in the Bible, days begin in the evening, so technically Firstfruits begins on Saturday evening and ends Sunday evening). This day is part one of a two-part command to remember how God spared the firstborn sons of Israel. Before Israel could begin harvesting their barley, the high priest had to cut down the first bundle of barley and present it before the altar as an offering. It symbolizes the firstborn sons of Israel being set apart for God. The second half of this command regards individual offers that every family must make for their firstborn son. Since we don't have a temple today, we can't really do either of those things, but this commandment is why Joseph and Mary offered two little birds as a sacrifice when Jesus was forty days old (Luke 2:22-24).

There is so much depth in these mo'adim, I will do my best to condense it all. The history of it is pretty straightforward, but this is where the events in Jesus' life become extremely important.

To start it off, John the Baptizer was born on Passover. There is a long-standing Jewish tradition that Elijah the Prophet will appear to Israel on Passover to prepare them for the Messiah, and that is exactly what John the Baptizer came to do. I won't go into it here, but when you do some calculations regarding Gabriel's visit to Zechariah in Luke 1, the most likely date for John's birthday is Passover.

Next, the 13th and 14th days of the month are considered days of preparation. Yes, the 14th is the Passover, but the Passover meal was eaten at the beginning of the 15th day, at sundown. Now if you compare Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, it is difficult to figure out the exact timing of these events. But the outline below pieces them together accurately. Since the four Gospels are somewhat tricky to understand, here is the breakdown of the events of the last week of Jesus' life:

  • Saturday, 10th. Jesus enters Jerusalem on the back of a donkey foal. This took place at the same time as the spotless yearling lambs entered Jerusalem. For the next several days, Jesus is grilled by the religious authorities, who are desperate to find a flaw in him somewhere. They can't. Also during this time, the same religious leaders also examine the Passover lambs to make sure they're perfect. Did you catch the symbolism there?
  • Tuesday, 13th. Jesus instructs two of his disciples to prepare for the Passover.
  • Tuesday evening, 13th/14th. This is the Last Supper. It is not the Passover, even though some of the Gospels give this misleading impression. After dinner, Jesus leads his disciples to the Garden of Gethsemane, where he is betrayed by Judas.
  • Tuesday night/Wednesday morning, 14th. Jesus is tried by the Jewish leaders in an illegal trial. In the morning, they take him to Herod and Pilate, who sentence him to death.
  • Wednesday afternoon, 14th. Around 3:00 p.m., Jesus has been on the cross for six hours. He cried out, “It is finished!” and gave up his life. This is the same time as when the priests would begin to sacrifice the Passover lambs.
  • Wednesday evening, 14th/15th. Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathea bury Jesus.
  • Thursday, 15th. This was the first day of Unleavened Bread, which is considered a High Holy Day. No work can be done on it, just like the Sabbath.
  • Friday, 16th. The women buy and prepare the spices to properly bury Jesus' body.
  • Saturday, 17th. This is the weekly Sabbath.
  • Saturday evening, 17th/18th. Jesus is resurrected.
  • Sunday morning, 18th. Mary gets to the tomb early and meets Jesus. He tells her not to touch him yet, because he has not yet ascended to his Father and God. Later, he meets the other women and most of his disciples, and he allows them to embrace him. Something significant happened between those times…2

As you can see, his Wednesday crucifixion and Saturday evening resurrection don't match the Christian holidays of Good Friday and Easter. Because of this, I have chosen not to celebrate those holidays, in favor of the holy days which God gave us in the Bible. I don't say that to be boastful, but there is value in reconnecting with the faith practiced by the saints in the Scriptures. I hope you will consider joining me in this next year.

At the beginning of this letter, I said this is a day early. Tonight is the memorial of the Last Supper, and there is a lot going on at this meal that we can overlook when we read the stories.

Every year after the Day of Firstfruits, Israel would begin harvesting barley. From this barley, they would make a soupy concoction of fermenting flour called leaven. Leaven is what you use to make sourdough bread. As the flour soaks in a bowl of water, yeast from the air begins to digest the sugars in the flour. As the yeast eats, it turns the flour into leaven. When you bake sourdough, you mix some of that leaven into your fresh flour and oil. Then you set your dough somewhere warm, and the yeast release gases that cause the dough to expand. This is how we get loaves of fluffy bread.

Now leaven can survive for centuries if maintained well, but God commanded us to throw out our leaven every year on the day or two leading up to the Feast of Unleavened Bread. In the New Testament, leaven is likened to pride (1 Corinthians 5:6), sin (1 Corinthians 5:8), and bad doctrine (Matthew 16:5-12). This annual ritual was clearly meant to be an object lesson for Israel.

At the Last Supper, we see that Jesus and those with him ate leavened bread.3 This means the meal had to take place on the 13th/14th, not as the Passover meal itself (14th/15th). This loaf of bread was probably made from the last leaven in the house. Jesus told them that the bread represented his body, which was broken on our behalf. Fast forward a decade or so, and Paul referred to Christians as the “Body of the Messiah”. I will go into more detail on this in a couple of months with my next letter, but for now, just know that the bread from the Last Supper and us being the “Body of the Messiah” bear great significance.

At the Last Supper, Jesus shared a cup of wine with his disciples. This is a Hebrew engagement custom. A young man offers a glass of wine to a young woman (after getting her father's permission). If she accepts, then they both drink as a sign of their engagement. He returns to his father's house to begin building a new room for them to live in. Once his father says it is ready, then he returns to his fiancée and takes her to their new home. When they arrive, they hold a week-long wedding feast. This kind of marriage language is all over in the New Testament, particularly in things Jesus said to his disciples. I won't go into it now, but feel free to ask, and I can explain it more in depth. Maybe you even picked up on some of it yourself.

Moving forward, Jesus died at 3:00 p.m. on the following Wednesday afternoon. This is important because he is called our Passover Lamb. In fact, in 1 Corinthians 5, Paul instructs the presumably Gentile church in Corinth to keep Passover and the other feasts that fall during this time. When we choose to faithfully follow Jesus, his blood is figuratively painted over the doors of our hearts so that God's anger for sin will pass over us on the day of judgment. And the unleavened bread we eat during the next seven days reminds us to remove sin, pride, and false teaching from our own lives.

There is so much more I could say. These spring mo'adim are so important to us today because of what they tell us about Jesus and the hope of the Gospel. I greatly abridged the information and left out most Scripture references to cut down on space. But I do want to end on the End Times importance of these days.

Ezekiel 40-48 describes Israel during the Messianic era, aka the Millennial Kingdom that we discussed in the note about the Sabbath day. When Jesus reigns as King, there will be a temple in Jerusalem that dwarfs the ones that came before it. Jesus himself will be its high priest, and the descendants of Aaron the priest will serve under him.

When there was a temple in Jerusalem, all the nation was required to go to Jerusalem for Passover, as well as two other feasts (which I will discuss later). It will be no different in the future. Since Paul tells us to celebrate Passover and Unleavened Bread now, and Ezekiel tells us that we will do so during Jesus' reign on Earth for 1,000 years, we ought to begin practicing now. You can begin by removing all the bread in your house and eat unleavened bread for a whole week. You can buy it at the store, but last year I made my own by mixing flour, water, salt, and olive oil. Next, take a day of rest on the first and last days of the feast, besides the weekly Sabbath. Take these days to remember the history of God's redemption of his people—whether Israel from Egypt or all of us today from the curse of our sins.

The Catholic Church has set up its own holidays to celebrate Jesus' death and resurrection. However, these holidays have been bogged down by many traditions that have dubious origins, some of which even come from other religions. I don't begrudge anyone for celebrating Good Friday and Easter, but I urge you to consider giving up those man-made traditions in favor of God's Appointed Times. There is such great worth in them that no human holiday can ever match.

May the grace of God our Father be with you in Jesus the Messiah.

Seth שת

  2. When I first wrote this, I was taken by an idea proposed by Michael Rood of A Rood Awakening! and The Chronological Gospels (which I still consider to be the best attempt to reconcile the confusing timelines of the Gospels). I'll share my original thoughts below, then give a more recent take. If we ever stop learning, we are either dead or as good as dead.

    You may recall that Matthew writes a spurious remark in 27:52-53 that at Jesus' death, graves around Jerusalem broke open, and after he was resurrected, the bodies within them came out and preached around Jerusalem. After this, they are never mentioned again. It is my belief that these people were the Firstfruits offering made to God by Jesus in his new role as High Priest (more on this in six months, Lord willing). When Jesus told Mary not to touch him, it was because the high priest was not supposed to be touched from Passover until after he presented the bread offering to God. So sometime early Sunday morning, Jesus apparently took those resurrected people up to heaven. Throughout the Bible, we are privy to several descriptions of the throne room in heaven, but from Revelation 4 and onward, we see twenty-four elders who haven't been mentioned before. I believe these are the saints whom Jesus presented before the Father before returning to greet his disciples that evening.

    I'm seriously reconsidering this. There's definitely a strong connection between the resurrection and the Firstfruits offering, but these resurrected folks aren't mentioned anywhere else in Scripture in connection to it. After learning more about the Divine Council, my opinion on the 24 elders has shifted to thinking they may be the b'nei Elohim (sons of God) who did not fall. Why they are absent from other visions of the throne, I can't say, but it seems like a bigger stretch to assume these are other glorified humans when they are never identified as such. Functionally, I believe glorified humans and the Watchers will be the same (“holy ones” vs. “saints”; “sons of God”), so their exact identity isn't all that important. This is a subject I'm still studying, so my mind may change again at some point. But it didn't feel right to include this paragraph in the body of my essay when it's the one I'm least certain about.
  3. The Greek text in the Last Supper narratives uses the generic word for bread, ἄρτον (arton), instead of ἀζύμων (azymōn), which specifically means “unleavened bread”.


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