Easter falls each year either during — or near — Passover, a Jewish commemorative holiday that celebrates the Hebrews’ liberation from Egyptian captivity and slavery.
The vast majority of Christians are deeply familiar with the significance of Jesus’ death and resurrection, though some might be less acquainted with the Passover story and its connection to Jesus’ birth, death and resurrection.
Let's explore the differences between Passover and Easter as well as some relationships and connections.
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What Is Passover?
So, what is Passover? The Passover, which coincides with the Festival of the Unleavened Bread, begins on the 15th day of the Jewish month of Nisan, which typically falls in April, and extends for eight days. It’s a widely celebrated Jewish holiday that remembers the Hebrews’ exodus from Egypt.
You'll obviously be able to find Passover in the Bible. But this article also offers a helpful explainer that provides the essential ins and outs of the holiday’s significance as well as its relation to Easter.
It is observed, in part, with a family meal called a Seder, a tradition that is held in Jewish homes on the first night of the celebratory period. Prayers are said during this dinner and adherents observe strict dietary measures throughout the week.
The roots of the Passover story are set in the Book of Exodus, when God promised to release the Hebrews from Egyptian captivity.
Now that we've answered the question, "What is Passover?" let's explore the Passover story as explained in scripture.
What’s the Biblical Backstory of Passover?
After Pharaoh’s repeated refusals to comply with God’s request through Moses that the Hebrew slaves be freed, some fairly unpleasant plagues began: water turned to blood — and frog, lice/gnats, and fly infestations broke out.
And that’s not all. The Passover story tells us there was also a plague of livestock, boils, hail, locusts, darkness ... and the death of the firstborn.
Pharaoh continued his stubbornness throughout the first nine plagues — that is, until the 10th and final plague took the lives of every firstborn Egyptian child. The finer details of this part of the Passover story can be found in Exodus 12.
That chapter explains that God commanded the Hebrews before the 10th and final plague to take a blemish-free, 1-year-old, male lamb for each household and roast it over a fire with bitter herbs. The Hebrews were then told to eat the lamb along with bread made without yeast. This was the first Passover meal, but why is it called “Passover”?
Passover In The Bible - Exodus 12
God also commanded the Hebrews to:
“take some of the [lamb’s] blood and put it on the sides and tops of the doorframes of the houses where they eat the lambs” (verse 7).
God said doing this would spare the lives of the Hebrew firstborn children – and as we see when we read about Passover in the Bible, it let the Angel of Death know to “pass over” these obedient homes:
“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,”
God proclaims in verse 12, continuing in verse 13:
“The blood will be a sign for you on the houses where you are, and when I see the blood, I will pass over you. No destructive plague will touch you when I strike Egypt.”
When God fulfilled the final plague and the firstborn of every Egyptian died, the Egyptians were quick to release the Hebrews, and the much-anticipated Exodus began.
God told the Hebrews to commemorate the Passover as a “festival to the Lord” and “for the generations to come.” Moses’ words to the elders of Israel about the importance of the Passover and the Festival of the Unleavened Bread further explain its importance:
“When you enter the land that the Lord will give you as he promised, observe this ceremony. And when your children ask you, ‘What does this ceremony mean to you?’ then tell them, ‘It is the Passover sacrifice to the Lord, who passed over the houses of the Israelites in Egypt and spared our homes when he struck down the Egyptians.’” Then the people bowed down and worshiped. The Israelites did just what the Lord commanded Moses and Aaron.” – Exodus 12: 25:28 (NIV)
Jewish people around the world still celebrate as God commanded. It is also widely believed that the Last Supper was a Passover seder meal, which brings us to Jesus.
What is Easter?
Easter Sunday is the day we celebrate the resurrection of Jesus Christ three days after his crucifixion. Jesus' resurrection signifies that His death was indeed a sacrifice for our salvation. Easter Sunday, the commemoration of the resurrection of Christ, comes three days after Good Friday, which is the day that Jesus Christ was crucified.
The Easter Triduum starts with Holy Thursday, or Maudy Thursday, which celebrates the Last Supper. The Last Supper occurred on the feast of Passover. Good Friday, the day that signifies Christ's crucifixion, is marked by fasting, penance and prayer. Holy Saturday is the day in between when Christ died and is resurrected. Early Christians believed this is the day Christ descended into hell. The Triduum ends with Easter Sunday.
What's the Biblical Backstory of Easter?
As the Bible tells us, Mary Magdalene was the first person on Easter Sunday to go to His tomb. She was going to prepare His body for the traditional Jewish burial ritual. But what she found instead was the stone rolled away from the entrance of the tomb and the tomb empty. She believes the Romans must've moved Jesus' body before two angels appear to tell her that Jesus has risen.
We can find the rest of the Easter scene in the Gospel of John, Matthew and Luke.
On the first day of the week, very early in the morning, the women took the spices they had prepared and went to the tomb. They found the stone rolled away from the tomb, but when they entered, they did not find the body of the Lord Jesus. While they were wondering about this, suddenly two men in clothes that gleamed like lightning stood beside them. In their fright the women bowed down with their faces to the ground, but the men said to them, “Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here; he has risen! Remember how he told you, while he was still with you in Galilee: ‘The Son of Man must be delivered over to the hands of sinners, be crucified and on the third day be raised again.’ ” Then they remembered his words.
When they came back from the tomb, they told all these things to the Eleven and to all the others. It was Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and the others with them who told this to the apostles. But they did not believe the women, because their words seemed to them like nonsense. Peter, however, got up and ran to the tomb. Bending over, he saw the strips of linen lying by themselves, and he went away, wondering to himself what had happened. - Luke 24: 1 - 12 (NIV)
Differences between Easter and Passover
Here are some of the main differences between Easter and Passover:
- Passover is celebrated by the religion of Judaism. Easter is celebrated by Christians.
- The origin of Passover is found in the Old Testament. Easter is found in the four gospels of the New Testament.
- Passover lasts seven to eight nights. Easter is one day, starting at sundown the night prior.
- Passover celebrates the Jewish people being freed from salvery. Easter celebrates the resurrection of Jesus Christ.
- Passover takes place on the 14th of Nisan. Easter is based on the spring equinox and changes yearly.
Similarities between Easter and Passover
Now that we've seen some of the differences between Easter and Passover, let's look at some of their similarities:
- Passover is celebrated with Sedar Dinner. Jesus had Sedar Dinner on the feast of the Last Supper.
- Both holidays take place in the spring.
- Both holidsays are signs of hope and the promise of redemption.
- The symbol of the egg is used in both: in Jewish tradition, the egg symbolizes rebirth after being freed from slavery. In Christianity, the hollow egg symbolizes the empty tomb of Christ.
What Does Passover Have to Do with Jesus?
So, let's dive deeper on the connection between Passover and Easter. The gospels tell us that Jesus died during the Passover, which is significant for a variety of reasons. Mainly: the timing of His crucifixion and death is anything but accidental.
When considering the deep connections between Passover and Easter, you can focus on the fact that the Passover sacrifice of the blemish-free lamb commanded by God saved the lives of the Hebrew children.
Relationship Between Passover And Easter
The New Testament teaches us that Jesus, who was also blemish-free, shed his blood to save human beings from our sin, as GotQuestions.org noted. This is a theme that is repeatedly explained throughout the New Testament, with the disciples comparing Jesus to a lamb and explaining that He fulfilled the Old Testament prophecies.
In fact, John the Baptist likened Jesus to a lamb in John 1:29 when he proclaimed:
“Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!”
And Peter calls Jesus in 1 Peter 1:19 “a lamb without blemish or defect.”
The lamb in the Old Testament was, thus, a foreshadowing of what was to come in Christ. So, from a Christian and New Testament perspective, Jesus’ death is a fulfillment of what unfolded in these Old Testament scriptures.
The Passover story and the connection between Passover and Easter are fascinating theological elements to consider.
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