How The Symbolism of the Passover Seder Meal Can Enrich Your Easter Celebration

How The Symbolism of the Passover Seder Meal Can Enrich Your Easter Celebration

As Christians, we are not required to celebrate Jewish festivals like Passover, or participate in ritualistic feasts, like the Seder meal (Colossians 2:16, Galatians 4:9-11, Hebrews 10:1). The reason for this is twofold. Not only are believers under the new covenant of grace, but the deeper purpose behind God’s ordained festivals was always to foreshadow things to come. The reality of that foreshadowing is now found in Jesus Christ (Colossians 2:17).

Christ is our Passover Lamb (1 Corinthians 5:7). How thrilling it is to look back and revel in awe at the symbolism behind the Passover celebration—as it hints toward our Savior’s future arrival. If you’ve never connected the dots between the details of the Passover celebration and Christ, then you’re in for a treat. As Easter approaches, we can add depth and dimension to our worship by recounting God’s unfolding plan of redemption that culminates in the coming of His Lamb who takes away the sin of the world.

What Is the Seder Meal? Elements and Symbolism

The Seder meal is celebrated today through a 15-step communal feast. During the feast, participants eat ceremonial foods that are arranged on a Seder plate. Each food item is eaten in a choreographed order that accompanies sacred readings, ritual handwashing, and a series of interactive questions. Participants also partake in four cups of wine. Each step of the Seder is symbolic of some element of the Exodus, with the purpose of remembering God’s deliverance.

When we look at the Seder elements through the fresh lens of Christ’s crucifixion and resurrection, it adds an intricate tapestry of symbolism that highlights God’s masterplan for all mankind. Here’s an overview of just a few Seder elements and possible parallels to Christ’s work on the cross:

The Four Cups of Wine

Four cups of wine are served at different intervals during the Seder meal. Each of these cups represents four phrases and promises God made to the Israelites in Exodus 6:6-7: "I will bring you out"; "I will deliver you"; "I will redeem you"; and "I will take you to me for a people." These four promises also foreshadow our ultimate redemption through Christ.

Possible parallels: When Jesus shared the final Passover with his disciples, He drank the first two cups of wine with them in the traditional way. First cup—I will bring you out: “After taking the cup, he [Jesus] gave thanks and said, ‘Take this and divide it among you. For I tell you I will not drink again from the fruit of the vine until the kingdom of God comes" (Luke 22:18). Jesus’s promise of the soon-coming “kingdom of God” is an echo of God’s promise to “bring out” the Israelites from the yoke of slavery. “For he [God] has rescued us [brought us out] from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves” Colossians 1:13.

Second cup—I will deliver you: Jesus offered a second cup of wine to his disciples during the Last Supper that would symbolize the means by which all humanity would be delivered. “In the same way, after the supper he took the cup, saying, ‘This cup is the new covenant in my blood, which is poured out for you’” (Luke 22:20). It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery” (Galatians 5:1).

Third cup—I will redeem you: The third “cup” that Christ represents is the one He agonized over in the Garden of Gethsemane (Luke 22:42). Jesus willingly drank this cup of wrath by dying on the cross to redeem the world from our slavery to sin. Interestingly, the Exodus 6 scripture from which the four Seder promises were taken reads this way: “I will redeem you with an outstretched arm and with mighty acts of judgment.”

Fourth cup—I will take you to me for a people. A day is coming when Christ will return and take home all blood-bought believers, to live with Him for eternity. We are the bride of Christ (2 Corinthians 11:2). At the Marriage Supper of the Lamb, we’ll celebrate the consummation of our salvation with our Bridegroom, where there will be, “a feast of rich food, a feast of well-aged wine.” This final cup of wine will once and for all demonstrate that we are His and that He has claimed us for Himself, as His people (Revelation 19:6–9; Isaiah 25:6–9).

Karpas--The Raw Vegetables

Step number three in the Seder involves dipping a small portion of a raw vegetable, oftentimes parsley, into saltwater before eating. A blessing is said over the vegetables prior to ingestion. The parsley represents the hyssop plant that the Hebrews used to dab their doorposts with blood. The saltwater represents the bitter tears shed throughout their slavery.

Possible parallel: During the crucifixion, the Roman soldiers used the hyssop plant to offer Jesus a drink of wine vinegar (John 18:28-29). Hyssop has been used throughout the Bible to symbolize purification. David says in Psalm 51:7, “Cleanse me with hyssop, and I will be clean; wash me, and I will be whiter than snow.” When Christ entered the Most Holy by his own blood, He eternally purified us (Hebrews 9:12).

Yachatz- Breaking of matzah

Three flat pieces of unleavened bread called matzah are stacked one upon another and used during the Seder. The top piece of matzah is never eaten during the feast. The middle piece of matzah is broken in half—one half is returned to its place; it’s called the “bread of poverty,” to represent the many years of slavery the Hebrews had to endure. The other broken half is called the afikomen—which literally means “dessert,” not because the bread is sweet but because it will be eaten at the conclusion of the meal. The afikomen is wrapped in a linen cloth and hidden, usually by a child, till the end of the feast.

In ancient biblical times, the Passover lamb was the last item consumed during the Seder. But after the destruction of the Temple in 70AD, the afikomen became a symbolic substitute for the paschal lamb.

Possible parallels: “and when He had given thanks, He broke it and said, “Take, eat; this is My body which is broken for you; do this in remembrance of Me” (1 Corinthians 11:24, NKJV).

“In the New Testament, leaven and yeast were often a symbol of sin. Leaven in Scripture, with the single exception of the Parable (Matthew 13:33; Luke 13:20-21), is always a symbol of evil (1 Corinthians 5:6-8; Galatians 5:9),” says Penny Noyes in Why Is Leavened Bread Forbidden During Passover? 

The three pieces of unleavened bread, in one stack, hint at the sinless, triune nature of God—God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. During the Seder, the middle piece of Matzah is broken—just as Jesus’s body was broken for us (1 Corinthians 11:24). Half of the broken piece of Matzah, the afikomen, is wrapped in a linen cloth—just as Jesus’s body wrapped in linen after the crucifixion (John 19:40). At the end of the Seder, the one who finds the afikomen holds it for ransom until a gift is given in exchange for the find. And in Mark 10:45 we’re told, “For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many."

The remaining Seder elements also contain similar parallels. Why is this important? As Bethany Verrett says in What Happens During a Seder Meal?“Holy week carries great meaning and significance for those of Jewish and Christian faith. The Seder meal begins the Passover week, which ends with Easter, moving from the Jewish calendar to the Christian one - from the Old Testament to the New Testament. Understanding the importance of the Seder meal can help Christians appreciate the Old Testament better and see the deep connections with the songs and prophecies about the Lord Jesus.”

What Is Passover?

Passover is a week-long, spring festival that happens in the Hebrew month of Nissan, which is March or April on our calendar. The highlight of Passover is the Seder, a celebratory feast observed during the first two nights of the holiday.

Most Christians are familiar with the account of God’s deliverance in the book of Exodus. Through Moses, God led His people out of Egypt and away from the grip of Pharaoh’s slavery. He guided them through the Red Sea, sustained them in the wilderness, and eventually delivered them into the Promised Land.

Before the Hebrews could begin their long-awaited freedom journey they had to be delivered from Egypt, where they’d been enslaved for over 400 years. But Pharaoh’s heart was hardened; he had no intention of allowing his captive laborers to go free. So God demonstrated His power and softened Pharaoh’s heart by sending 10 successive plagues upon Egypt. Through the first nine plagues, Pharaoh’s oppressive grip on the Hebrews grew tighter. But the 10th plague was so powerful, so unspeakably horrific, that it finally shattered Pharaoh’s resistance. God said, "On that same night I will pass through Egypt and strike down every firstborn of both people and animals, and I will bring judgment on all the gods of Egypt. I am the Lord” Exodus 12:12.

Prior to that final plague, God gave the Hebrews specific instructions to spare them from the coming devastation. They were to sacrifice a spotless lamb and paint their doorposts with its blood (Exodus 12:3-7). The destroyer would “pass over” the house of any person who had a blood-covered door (Exodus 12:23). God’s people were then instructed to use the sacrificed lamb to prepare a special meal that would symbolize their readiness for deliverance and remind them of God’s power to save.

It was important to God that the Hebrews—soon to be Israelites—meticulously honor their deliverance that night, and forevermore, with a celebration God called, “the LORD’s Passover”  (Exodus 12:7-14).

What Does Passover Celebrate?

Today, people of the Jewish faith still commemorate the Lord’s Passover, or Pesach, to celebrate the deliverance God provided when He brought His people out of Egypt. And according to Russ Jones in What is Passover - Important History and Christian Traditions “In many circles, there appears to be an increasing interest in the Jewish roots of the Christian faith. This Easter season numerous congregations across the globe will hold a "Passover Haggadah" or more traditionally known as a "Seder" to gain a greater understanding of the Christian - Jewish relationship.

Rich symbolism can be found in this ancient Jewish celebration. Even though Passover traditionally celebrates God’s power and deliverance of the Hebrew people, it also foreshadows the ultimate freedom God would provide over a thousand years later through His Lamb, our Lord, and Savior, Jesus Christ (1 Corinthians 5:7).

What Does the Bible Say about Passover?

God told the Israelites to celebrate Passover as a “festival to the Lord” for generations to come and as a “lasting ordinance” (Exodus 12:14). Because of this, the Old Testament is full references that show the Jewish peoples’ commemorative obedience to God’s command (Exodus 12:1-5, Leviticus 23:1-44, Numbers 9:13, Deuteronomy 16:1, Joshua 5:10, Numbers 9:13, Ezra 6:19-20, 2 Kings 23:22-23, Ezekiel 45:21-24, Numbers 28:16-25, 2 Chronicles 35:1).

The New Testament also has a lot to say about Passover. “As a Jew, Jesus celebrated Passover. Mary and Joseph went to Jerusalem every year for Passover, as God had directed (Luke 2:41), and as an adult, Jesus continued to return to Jerusalem for the Passover and is recorded going more than once with His disciples (John 2:13)” says Alyssa Roat in Why Don't Christians Celebrate Passover if Jesus Did?

Although there is some variation between the gospels, Luke’s account makes it clear that the meal Jesus shared with His disciples on the eve of His crucifixion was a Passover Seder. “And he [Jesus] said to them, "I have eagerly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer” (Luke 22:15).

Throughout the ages, the Jewish rituals for celebrating Passover have evolved, but the purpose behind the observance has remained constant; they desire to honor God’s original command in Exodus 12:7-14 and remember His great work of deliverance.

Photo credit: ©Getty Images/photovs

Annette GriffinAnnette Marie Griffin is an award-winning author and speaker who has managed and directed children’s and youth programs for more than 20 years. Her debut children’s book, What Is A Family? released through Familius Publishing in 2020. Annette has also written curriculum for character growth and development of elementary-age children and has developed parent training seminars to benefit the community. Her passion is to help wanderers find home. She and her husband have five children—three who have already flown the coop and two adopted teens still roosting at home—plus two adorable grands who add immeasurable joy and laughter to the whole flock.

This article is part of our larger Holy Week and Easter resource library centered around the events leading up to the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. We hope these articles help you understand the meaning and story behind important Christian holidays and dates and encourage you as you take time to reflect on all that God has done for us through his son Jesus Christ!

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