Behold the Lamb!

The death of Jesus is intimately connected with the Jewish feast of Passover.

The Seder, the traditional meal eaten by Jews at sundown on the first day of Passover, recalls the events that brought God’s people out from slavery in Egypt. The Last Supper that Jesus shared with his disciples on the night before his death was a Seder. Jesus kept many of the traditions associated with this sacred meal. But he also made significant changes, introducing new elements to show his disciples that God was about to do something astounding. The disciples were on the verge of witnessing a new and greater exodus that would change them and their world forever.

If you have ever participated in a traditional Seder, you may have noticed that many details of this ceremonial meal are suggestive of the death of Christ. Indeed, Jews for Jesus and other communities of messianic Jews continue to celebrate the Seder, and they augment the ceremony to show how the Passover achieves its ultimate fulfillment in Jesus. If you ever have the chance to participate in a Seder, I would encourage you to do so; it can be a truly beautiful and meaningful addition to your celebration of Easter.

A new book that was just published this year, Jesus and the Jewish Roots of the Eucharist by Brant Pitre, explores the myriad connections between the Lord’s Supper, the Passover, and other events and teachings from the Old Testament. Even if you already know something about these connections, you will learn a great deal more from this book. The book is easy to read and brimming with details that will fascinate you and bring you to a deeper understanding of Communion and the gospel itself.

Pitre points out one very significant difference between the way Passover is observed in modern times and the way it was observed in the time of Jesus. The foods served in a modern Seder include unleavened bread (matzo) and bitter herbs (maror), but the roasted lamb is missing. Jews today do not follow the command given in Exodus 12:8 to eat the meat of a lamb because, ever since the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 A.D., there has been no temple and no priesthood.

The Seder as described in the Old Testament was not just a meal; it was a sacrifice. Because the Passover meal was a sacrifice, it had to be eaten in Jerusalem in the vicinity of the temple, where the animal could be killed by an authorized priest in the prescribed manner (Dt 16:5-7). Every year at Passover, the population of Jerusalem swelled by hundreds of thousands of Jews who poured in from the surrounding area and from every part of the Empire. The sacrifice took place in the temple on the Day of Preparation just before Passover began, at about 3 pm (note the hour of Jesus’ death). Pitre describes the scene of mass killing by quoting from The Mishnah (pp. 71-72):

The Passover-offering was slaughtered in three groups… When the first group entered in and the Temple Court was filled, the gates of the temple were closed… The priests stood in rows and in their hands were basins of silver and basins of gold… An Israelite slaughtered his offering and the priest caught the blood. The priest passed the basin to his fellow, and he to his fellow, each receiving a full basin and giving back an empty one. The priest nearest to the altar tossed the blood in one action to the base… When the first group went out, the second group came in; and when the second group went out the third group came in… [In the meantime] the Levites sang the Hallel.

(Hallel consists of Psalms 113-118, which played an important role in the Passover.)

This slaughter of tens of thousands of lambs must have been an unforgettable sight. Rivers of blood literally flowed through the temple. Perhaps this scene of pouring blood was in the mind of Jesus and his disciples when Jesus said at the Last Supper: “Drink of it, all of you; for this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins” (Mt 26:27-28).

Pitre comments (p. 72):

When we compare Jesus’ actions to these ancient Jewish traditions, it doesn’t take much imagination to figure out his point. By means of his words over bread and wine at the Last Supper, Jesus is saying in no uncertain terms, “I am the new Passover lamb of the new exodus. This is the Passover of the Messiah, and I am the new sacrifice.”

Pitre presents another little known but interesting fact: At the time of Jesus, the Passover lambs were not only sacrificed; they were also crucified.

After the slitting of the animal’s throat, a thin stave of wood was driven horizontally through the shoulders so that the animal could be hung and skinned. After skinning, another stave was driven vertically into the mouth, through the belly and through its buttocks. This incredible detail, which is found in the rabbinical literature, was confirmed in the writings of Justin Martyr in the second century (pp. 63-64):

For the lamb, which is roasted, is roasted and dressed up in the form of a cross. For one spit is transfixed right through from the lower parts up to the head, and one across the back, to which are attached the legs of the lamb.

If this description is accurate, then Jesus and his disciples would have witnessed the crucifixion of thousands of lambs each year at Passover. This detail is not mentioned in the modern Jewish Seder, but it confirms the powerful imagery found in the Passover that Jesus celebrated with his disciples on the night before his death.

“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” (1Co 5:7).


  1. I participated in a seder presented by Jews for Jesus. It was so interesting! I wish I could have remembered everything I learned because just last night I met a woman who participated in the passover and I wanted to talk to her about what I had learned. Missed opportunity! I’ve never heard of the passover lamb actually being crucified. And I can’t imagine all the blood that would have flowed from having to sacrifice so many animals. Yikes.

  2. Happy Good Friday, you friends of UBF!

    By the grace of Jesus alone, may our hearts, however hardened by our own  sins, never ever depart from the wealth and depth of meaning from what Jesus did for us on that first Easter from Good Friday to resurrection Sunday.

    This  link is Tim Keller’s explanation of the meal Jesus shared with his disciples, from his book, King’s Cross, which I had previously reviewed.

  3. GerardoR

    Great article Joe. I had never heard about the crucifixion of the lamb.  

    Another  amazing reference in the Talmud concerning the doors of the Second Temple. According to the Talmud (Talmud Bavli, Yoma 39b) “Forty years before the destruction of the Temple (ie. 30 C.E.) the lot did not come up in the right hand,  nor did the crimson stripe become white,  nor did the westernmost light burn; and the doors of the heikhal (the Holy Place of the Temple) opened of their own accord, until Rabbi Yochanon ben Zakkai rebuked them.
    It is also important to note that the Talmudic reference is 40 years before the destruction of the Second Temple. The Second Temple was destroyed in 70 C.E. The date of this amazing event was 30 C.E. which is the exact year that Yeshua (Jesus of Nazareth) was sacrificed in Jerusalem.
    The very massive doors of the Temple opened on their own accord. There is also a secular Jewish source that indicates the doors also opened on their own accord.
    At the same festival (Passover)… the Eastern gate of the inner court of the Temple, which was of brass, and vastly heavy, , and had been with difficulty shut by twenty men, and rested upon a base armered with iron, and had bolts fastened very deep into the firm floor, which was there made of one entire stone, was seen to be opened of it’s own accord about the sixth our of the night. (Josephus;  The Wars of the Jews 6.5.3)

  4. Abraham Nial
    Abraham Nial

    Joe, your articles always make great read.
    I got fascinated sometime back learning how so many of Old Testament imagery get illuminated in the New Testament truth and make us better appreciate God’s greater and grander plans. I have come to believe that the Old Testament contains the seed of truth that gets it full meaning in the life and teachings of Jesus and the apostles. Jesus indeed is the fullness of the truth.
    There is no doubt that Jesus used Jewish settings/customs to teach deeper truth to the public and to his disciples. The unleavened bread and the wine represent Jesus’ body and blood. However, I just want to add one more imagery in the Last Supper which I learned newly.
    At the wedding engagement, a Jewish young man goes to the house of the girl’s father. At the consent of the girl’s father, the man and the girl share wine from the same cup as a sign of the betrothal. By sharing from the same cup, the girl says yes to the wedding, and makes a commitment to remain loyal and faithful during the engagement period. The engagement period is understood to be one year, but the exact date of the wedding is unknown, except for the Bridegroom’s Father. As part of the preparation for the wedding, the Bridegroom must prepare a house for his soon to be established new family. In the mean time, the Bride also must go through certain preparation process, especially vigilance and faithfulness because of the uncertain imminent wedding day. One day, the Bridegroom’s Father who has been keenly observing the progress of the preparation realizes that the moment is ready and makes a sudden announcement of the wedding.
    At the Last supper setting, Jesus said He was going to prepare rooms for His beloved people. He shared the same cup with all of his disciples. He also said that he will return to receive His Bride, but about the timing only His Father knows. Was Jesus making a statement of our wedding engagement with Him in this age and the wedding of the Lamb and the consummation of the wedding at His return in the age to come by using Jewish wedding custom? I think so.    
    By the way, I hope we will not be surprised to see a Jewish King taking over all the evil governments of the world and ruling the whole world sitting on an eternal throne in Jerusalem. Happy Easter!

    • James Kim

      Hi Abraham. I like your post especially the last part about the engagement period and consummation of the wedding between the bride (Church) with the Lamb, Jesus Christ when he comes again. Incidentally at NU Easter conference last week, we studied Revelation 21,22 for the first time (in UBF history). We all received much grace. “Come, Lord Jesus”.

  5. Abraham Nial
    Abraham Nial

    Thanks Dr James Kim. Happy to know  you received much grace  from Rev 21,22. There is a special anointing on the Book of Revelation, especially for our time (personal opinion), although special blessings are explicitly mentioned in the Book itself. Praise God who is making new history in UBF! May many more respond to the knocking at the door! Happy Easter!

  6. Hi.   I’ve been studying Revelations lately and thanking God for helping me to understand his “last word”after all these years.   I highly recommend Eugene Peterson’s book Reversed Thunder.  

    • Abraham Nial
      Abraham Nial

      Thanks for the recommendation of Reversed Thunder.

  7. It is these Jewish-specific cultural insights into the Scriptures that make me wish that I had grown up Orthodox Jewish – you know, just to catch all these nice little cultural insights into our faith. However, my jewish friends tell me that having a Korean mom is pretty similar to having a Jewish mom on multiple levels so I guess it’s all good.

    • Maybe it’s like that now famous (or infamous) super-strict overachieving disciplinarian Chinese Tiger Mom Yale professor. Maybe I needed that kinda mom growing up. But it’s too late now…my Chinese mom was a softie, and she only spoilt me! So now you know.

  8. GerardoR

    I have a question I would like to get you guys’ opinion on. Is it ok for a Christian to attend a Jewish Seder? I am not  referring  to one of those interfaith or Christianized seder’s but to a  genuine  Jewish seder.  

    I have been mulling over this the last couple of days. I personally dont have a definitive opinion. Obviously we affirm everything in the old testament but Christ has  fulfilled  the old testament. I see it almost akin to being  circumcised  for religious reasons AFTER you receive babtism.  

    What do you all think?