The Jews have been celebrating Passover for thousands of years and practicing traditions of which they only know half the meaning. Christians have been celebrating a mixture of Passover and pagan holidays during that time, but they too know some of the meaning of the Jewish traditions. Most of them just don’t know that they know. Here is just some of the rich meaning behind the traditions and commands of the Passover seder:
We eat parsley or celery greens dipped in salt water to remember the hyssop with which our ancestors painted the lamb’s blood on their doorposts and with which Yeshua was given vinegar on the cross. We dip the greens in salt water to remind us of the tears of bondage in Egypt and sin, as well as the tears of joy at our redemption.
We eat unleavened bread to remember how our ancestors had to leave Egypt in such a hurry that they had not time to allow their bread to rise, and it baked in the sun right on top of their packs.
The matzah is striped and pierced (think of a typical Saltine) to represent the wounds of our Messiah who was pierced for our transgressions and striped for our healing.
In the center of the Passover table, we place three pieces of matzah wrapped in white linen. Each piece is in a separate fold or compartment of the cloth and represents one part of the Trinity.
At the start of the seder, we break the middle matzah in half, wrap it in a separate cloth and hide it. This is called the afikomen and reminds us of how the Messiah’s body was broken for us, wrapped in a linen burial shroud and buried in the tomb for three days. It also reminds us that he was taken away and hidden from our view after his resurrection.
At the end of the seder, the children all go to find the afikomen. This tells us that only those who are willing to look for the Messiah with the heart of a child will find him. The child who returns with the matzah may bargain with the leader for a prize. When the Messiah returns to rule his kingdom, he will not be coming for a slovenly bride, but one who is pure, who has worked out her salvation with earnestness. He will accept our gifts of gold and silver but destroy our chaff.
We eat horseradish or some other bitter herb to remind us of our ancestors’ bitter suffering in Egypt. Although their suffering was great, so was their redemption and reward. We suffer too, but Yeshua said to rejoice when we are persecuted for righteousness sake. Our reward in heaven will be more than just compensation.
We eat a paste made of apples, nuts, cinnamon, and wine to remind us of the mortar used to lay bricks in Egypt. It tastes much better than the mud it resembles, however, which is appropriate, because time spent in hard labor as a community binds us together and strengthens us as families and a nation.
Since there is no Temple in Jerusalem, we cannot have an actual Passover lamb. Many families will include a roasted lamb bone on the seder plate to symbolize the lamb whose blood marked the doorposts of the faithful in Egypt. The bone is roasted to remind us that the Passover lamb is to be roasted over a fire and eaten in whole. Whatever is leftover must be burned in a fire. The lamb also represents the Lamb of God who was slain to take away the sins of the whole world.
Although many people only eat chicken or some other bird on Passover so as to avoid even the appearance of having sacrificed somewhere besides the Temple, there is no commandment to that effect. Since this Passover can only ever be a rehearsal, no blood sacrifices are involved.
We drink four cups of wine at Passover, though they need not be four full cups and can even be diluted or filled with simple grape juice instead of wine. The cups represent four promises that God made to Israel regarding slavery:
Exodus 6:6-7 Wherefore say unto the children of Israel, I am the LORD, and (1) I will bring you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians, and (2) I will rid you out of their bondage, and (3) I will redeem you with a stretched out arm, and with great judgments: And (4) I will take you to me for a people, and I will be to you a God: and ye shall know that I am the LORD your God, which bringeth you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians.
We drink the first cup immediately after the opening blessing to remind us that God saves us from our sins, while we were yet sinners. He took our ancestors out of Egypt before he gave them his laws or told them to do anything at all except to trust in him. Likewise, we do not need to complete our transformation to be saved, but only to commit ourselves to the process.
We drink the second cup after telling the story of the Exodus and explaining the significance of the various items on the seder plate, but before eating the main meal. This represents our sanctification through obedience to God’s law after our salvation from sin. God gave his Torah to Israel after saving them from Egypt and before allowing them to enter the Land. Only after we rid ourselves of bondage to sin can we partake in the full richness of God’s promises.
We drink the third cup, the cup of redemption, after the meal. This is the cup that Yeshua held when he said, “This is my blood of the new covenant.” Since sin entered the world through one son of God, so sin can only be taken away through another. As the perfectly sinless only begotten Son of God, the Messiah is the only person whose blood can redeem all of mankind from sin. Although we work hard to rid our lives of sin, we could never remove it through our own efforts. True redemption can only be a gift of God.
We drink the fourth cup to symbolize our union with God as his people. Yeshua did not drink the fourth cup because his mission was not yet complete. Although his blood was given as an earnest of that time, the New Covenant has not fully come. Only when he returns to rule his Kingdom will he drink the fourth cup and usher in the age of the New Covenant, writing his Torah on our hearts so that we will no longer have to teach or be taught about God. We will know him and his ways in our very flesh.