Should Churches of Christ Observe Passover?

by Mark W.White
via Biblical Insights, Vol. 13, No. 1, January 2013

The Jewish Passover usually comes around each year in our month of April. Those who are familiar with Old Testament history understand the significance of this holy day for the Jewish nation. God delivered the children of Israel from their Egyptian bondage through a series of ten plagues which broke Pharaoh's stubborn heart of rebellion. He would not let Israel go, for He refused to hear God's instruction through Moses, the spokesman for God and leader of the nation of Israel. The tenth and final plague brought upon Egypt was the death of the firstborn in every household. Not only were human firstborns affected, but the firstborn of all livestock died as well. To prevent death in the households of Israel, the blood of a sacrificial lamb was to be painted on the lintel and over the doorposts of the houses. God's destroyer "passed over" the houses where the blood marked the presence of the faithful. "And it came to pass at midnight that the Lord struck all the firstborn in the land of Egypt, from the firstborn of Pharaoh who sat on his throne to the firstborn of the captive who was in the dungeon, and all the firstborn of livestock. So Pharaoh rose in the night, he, and all his servants, and all the Egyptians; and there was a great cry in Egypt, for there was not a house where there was not one dead" (Exodus 12:29-30). The full account of the Passover, which was to be observed annually by the Jews in commemoration of this historic event, is recorded in Exodus 12.

As significant as this event was in the history of Israel, it received little if no attention in the New Testament churches, for they were composed of both Jews and Gentiles. Passover was meaningless to a Gentile. However, to make a significant point concerning the sacrifice of Jesus in our behalf, the apostle Paul stated in I Corinthians 5:7-8, "Therefore, purge out the old leaven, that you may be a new lump, since you truly are unleavened. For indeed Christ, our Passover, was sacrificed for us. Therefore, let us keep the feast, not with old leaven, nor with the leaven of malice and wickedness, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth." Inspired Paul says that Christ, not a physical lamb, is our (a Christian's) Passover. Furthermore, to the Colossians, Paul wrote, "Therefore let no one judge you in food or in drink, or regarding a festival or a new moon or sabbaths, which are a shadow of things to come, but the substance is of Christ" (Cossians 2:16-17). Passover was significant to the Jew for it reminded him of a historic occurrence in Israel. But the Christian celebrates the sacrifice of Christ, whose blood causes the Destroyer to "pass over" us in his sentence of judgment and eternal death.

Should Christians, therefore, celebrate the Jewish Passover? Specifically, should local churches arrange and provide for such a celebration? If they should do so, by what authority would they proceed with such a celebration?

Since the New Testament declares that Jesus is our Passover, it appears that any celebration of an Old Testament Jewish festival is superfluous, at the very least. Since the New Testament also teaches that such festivals are no longer valid in view of the sacrifice of Christ, such a Passover celebration is also without divine authority. There is no record that New Testament churches provided such meals, either with or without an admission price! Clearly, any local church who chooses to celebrate the Passover today is treading on very dangerous ground. Rather than bringing Christ honor, they dishonor Him by hanging on to a festival which was never meant for anyone but Old Testament Jews.

Jesus was a Jew, living under the old covenant. It was fitting and proper for Him to observe the Passover. Matthew 26:17-29 accounts that Jesus took advantage of the Passover to institute a new feast for His disciples. "And as they were eating, Jesus took bread, blessed it and broke it, and gave it to the disciples and said, 'Take, eat; this is My body: Then He took the cup, and gave thanks, and gave it to them, saying, 'Drink from it, all of you. For this is My blood of the new covenant, which is shed for many for the remission of sins" (Matthew 26:26-28). He further explained that this eating and drinking was to be a Kingdom (church) observance. "But I say to you, I will not drink of this fruit of the vine from now on until the day when I drink it new with you in My Father's kingdom" (Matthew 26:29). After Pentecost, (50 days after the Passover) the church observed the Lord's Supper (also known as the "breaking of bread") on the first day of the week (Acts 20:7). Such an observance is Christ's approved means of remembering His sacrificial death. The resurrection of an invalid Jewish feast to commemorate God's salvation is unworthy of those who wear the name of Christ.