From the evening of Israel’s very first Passover (our last night in Egypt), all the way until the destruction of the Second Temple 1,500 years later, literally tens of millions of animals were sacrificed by the people of Israel to Adonai, as demanded by the Torah. That’s a lot of blood! That’s a lot of lambs. But of the requirements for the Passover lamb we are given much more detail; and for good reason. The blood of those lambs killed on Passover didn’t just adorn the doorposts of our homes; it identified us as a people set apart, and it meant the difference between life and death. Ultimately that blood served as a symbol of the one ultimate Lamb who would give His life to rescue fallen mankind from eternal death, and reconcile us to the Living God.
Reading: Exodus 12:3-10, 42-46 (excerpted)
Speak to all the congregation of Israel, saying, ‘On the tenth of this month they are each one to take a lamb for themselves, according to their fathers’ households, a lamb for each household… your lamb shall be an unblemished male a year old… You shall keep it until the fourteenth day of the same month, then the whole assembly of the congregation of Israel is to kill it at twilight. Moreover, they shall take some of the blood and put it on the two doorposts and on the lintel of the houses in which they eat it. They shall eat the flesh that same night, roasted with fire… with unleavened bread and bitter herbs… And you shall not leave any of it over until morning, but whatever is left of it until morning, you shall burn with fire… this night is for the Lord, to be observed by all the sons of Israel throughout their generations… no foreigner is to eat of it… you are not to bring forth any of the flesh outside of the house, nor are you to break any bone of it.
I. A flawless male lamb
God stipulated that the lambs chosen for Passover had to be males, and they had to be without any defect – “unblemished”. It is a general principle that what we give to Adonai reflects how much or how little we appreciate Him. At other times there might be a question of whether we are sincerely giving our best. But on Passover there could be no doubt; the lamb had to be flawless.
We’ll talk more about it in a few moments, but for that very reason, the lamb was to be chosen on the 10th of Nisan – four days prior to Passover eve. Four days would give the family members ample time to notice if there was even a slight defect.
Living in this New Covenant era, we can now fully appreciate why the condition of the Passover lamb was so crucial; that lamb foreshadowed the coming Messiah, who likewise would be put to death, but because of His sinless life, that death would provide atonement sufficient for all of mankind – whoever will believe.
Messiah Yeshua lived a perfect life, a life characterized by complete devotion to Adonai, and in perfect conformity to the Torah. Though tempted in every way, He never once yielded to sin.
II. A flawless male lamb in its prime!
A male lamb in its prime was, comparatively, of the most value. It represented giving our very best to Adonai. Again, while is a general principle, for Passover everything had to conform exactly to the Lord’s demands. Remember, Exodus 12 tells us that this is to be observed by all Jewish people throughout our generations. We are talking about foundational things, and if the foundation isn’t right, things only get worse as you go on.
And, as with every other detail about the Passover lamb, these things point us to the Promised Messiah. Yeshua was just 33 years old when He willingly lay down His life. He didn’t live out the years of a full life and die at a ripe old age. The demand of a flawless male lamb dying in its prime was part of the greater prophecy that is the holiday of Passover.
III. The lamb brought into the house four days early
The lamb was to be selected 3-4 days before Passover, giving the family ample time to observe it closely, to ensure it was flawless – no defect whatsoever.
Messiah Yeshua walked among His fellow Israelis, ministering for 3-4 years, giving the nation (the ‘family’ as it were) ample time to observe Him closely, to see that He, likewise, was flawless. At one point, Messiah said, “Can any of you prove Me guilty of sin?” (John 8:46) Those are audacious words; no ordinary human being could ever have spoken them with any measure of credulity. No one could prove Him guilty of sin. He had no sin.
IV. The lamb slaughtered at twilight on the 14th of Nisan
God didn’t command Israel to slaughter their lambs that first Passover in the morning or at midday. The lambs were to be slaughtered in the late afternoon, close to sunset. Yeshua didn’t die in the morning, or at midday. He was put on the cross in the morning, but he suffered on it for six hours, dying at approximately 3:00 on on Erev Pesach (twilight of the eve of Passover). Even in this way the time of the death of the lamb foreshadowed what was to come.
V. The lamb’s blood put on our doorposts: a protective covering
For the sons of Israel, applying the blood of those lambs to the doorposts and lintels of their homes on their last night in Egypt was a matter of obedience, and they were fully aware that the consequences of disobedience would be the death of their firstborn. What they couldn’t have known is that this was symbolizing a far greater covering and protection that would benefit Israel and the nations through the blood of an infinitely greater Lamb: Messiah Yeshua.
His blood was precious, because He was sinless. And just as the plague of death of the firstborn passed over those houses that had the covering of blood on their doorposts, so the second death – spiritual death – will pass over all those who are in the household of God, where the perfect blood of Messiah is our covering. The question is: have you come under that covering?
VI. The lamb to be roasted, eaten w/unleavened bread, bitter herbs
Corresponding to the bitter herbs we are commanded to eat at Passover, was the bitterness of Yeshua’s experience. He was rejected by Israel’s elders, betrayed by a close friend, forsaken by most of His disciples, subjected to a kangaroo court and unjustly condemned, handed over to Roman authorities, tortured and put to a slow and agonizing death.
Because leaven is a biblical symbol of sin, unleavened bread symbolizes sinlessness, and so the matzah eaten during Passover symbolizes the sinless life that Messiah Yeshua lived. The process of baking matzah creates brown stripes along it’s length. In this way, matzah further symbolizes the suffering of Messiah when He was ‘striped’ – whipped by the Roman soldiers. In order for matzah to remain flat during the baking process, rows of holes are pierced in it. In this way, matzah further symbolizes Messiah’s suffering: His feet and wrists were pierced through when He was nailed to the cross. Matzah is called ‘the bread of affliction’ and Messiah Yeshua was afflicted to the extreme degree.
VII. No bone of the lamb to be broken!
This might strike us as a rather curious command from God. After all, once the lamb has been slaughtered, what difference would it make whether a bone would be broken? But, you see, the unblemished quality of the lamb was to be upheld even in death. And as with the other aspects of the lamb chosen for Passover, this was a prophecy of the circumstances of the death of the coming Messiah.
There were two thieves being crucified along with Yeshua that day, one on either side of Him. Because it was afternoon and Passover was about to begin, the Jewish religious leaders asked the Roman soldiers to break the legs of the men being crucified, in order to hasten their suffocation and death. The soldiers did so with the two thieves, but when they came to Yeshua, they saw that He had already died. So they didn’t break His leg, and this fact was not lost on the Apostle John, who wrote, These things happened so that the Scripture would be fulfilled: “Not one of His bones will be broken” (John 19:36).
Across all the years, and all the sacrifices offered in the Beit HaMikdash, the Temple, no lamb ever volunteered to die to make a sinful Israeli right with God. But as the ancient prophet Isaiah told us, He was oppressed and afflicted, yet He did not open His mouth; like a lamb that is led to slaughter, and like a sheep that is silent before its shearers, so He did not open His mouth.
The prophet continued,
But the Lord was pleased to crush Him, putting Him to grief; if He would render Himself as a guilt offering.
And this was why Messiah Yeshua Himself could confidently say,
“The Father loves Me, because I lay down My life so that I may take it again. No one has taken it away from Me, but I lay it down on My own initiative. I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up again. This commandment I received from My Father.”
And this is why John wrote,
Then I heard every creature in Heaven and on Earth and under the Earth and on the sea, and all that is in them, saying: “To Him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb be praise and honor and glory and power, forever and ever!”
He is not your run-of-the-mill lamb.
He is the incomparable One. And though flawless Himself, He gave Himself to death so that we might have life; our sin once-and-for-all atoned for, and has reconciled us to the Father.
We should be grateful. We should give Him our love, and in all things, we should give Him our very best.