Exodus 12: Christ our Passover Lamb
By Todd Baker
Exodus chapter 12 is one of the most important chapters in the Bible for the simple fact that it is where God instituted the Passover for Israel, and at the same time establishes one of the most prominent types in the Bible that prefigure the Messiah in his atoning death on the cross.
The Passover is the epochal event in Jewish history—a Jewish celebration observed every year that has lasted for some 3,500 years, virtually making it the oldest holiday celebrated in the world. The Passover was the signal event that brought deliverance for Israel out the bondage of slavery in Egypt.
God instructed the Israelites on that first Passover night to slay a lamb and to sprinkle the blood of it upon the doorposts and lintels of their houses so that when the Lord passed through the land of Egypt to strike down the first born of Egypt, Israel and their firstborn would be spared and saved from the destruction that was coming (Ex. 12:1-13).
The Passover lamb and the shedding of its blood was the crucial thing for Israel’s redemption from Egypt and points to a greater reality in the very qualifications and specifications God required for Israel to use. Indeed, what God ordained here in the qualifications and stipulations for sacrificing the Passover lamb beautifully typify and find detailed fulfillment in the person and death of Jesus the Messiah as God’s final Passover lamb.
The forerunner of Jesus, John the Baptist, astutely understood the paschal significance and Messianic type and made the prophetic application of the Passover lamb of Exodus 12 to Jesus when he prophetically declared of Him:
“Behold the lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29).
Before delving into this study any further it behooves us to first define what we mean by a Type. A Type in Scripture is used to prefigure or symbolize an event or person yet to happen in the future, a Type is thus predictive in nature and prophetic in its primary use in the Bible. Every Type is a divinely ordained correspondence between a person, event, or institution that serves as a prophetic disclosure about the future.
The large body of Types found in the Bible are Messianic; they point to a particular aspect of His person, life, and accomplishments foretold about the first and second advent. Therefore since the whole of Scripture is the mirror of Messiah, we should expect to see the reflection of His image all throughout the pages of Holy Writ, particularly in the Types (see All the Messianic Prophecies of the Bible, by Herbert Lockyer, p. 212).
The Anti-Type is the fulfillment by that thing or person represented or foreshadowed by the earlier type. The Passover lamb of Exodus 12 as a Type clearly points ahead to the Anti-Type—Jesus Christ our Passover lamb slain for us. Thus as another author has wrote before us “God told Israel to do typically with the Passover lamb what He would fulfill actually with the True Lamb” (Interpreting the Symbols and Types by Kevin J. Conner).
The apostle Paul understood this Type all too well when writing in 1 Corinthians 5:7: “Christ, our Passover, was sacrificed for us.” The Passover lamb as a type not only points ahead to Jesus Christ our Passover lamb slain and sacrificed for our sins, but also points back to the foreordained and predestined fact of God’s plan before the world began that Jesus Christ, the lamb of God, would be slain for humanity’s sins. In Revelation 13:8 we read that Jesus was the lamb “slain from the foundation of the world.”
“From the foundation of the world” means before the world began, and thus from an eternal perspective God determined in eternity past before time began and the cosmos was created that Christ should die for the sins of man. It was decreed and decided upon within the eternal counsels of the triune Godhead that God the Son would be man’s Perfect Passover Lamb. In doing so the Lord gave advance witness and prophetic type of this blessed reality by revealing through the Passover lamb of Exodus 12, the crucified and atoning Messiah to come.
In His Person and death Jesus fulfilled the prophetic picture and type of the Passover lamb in Exodus 12 in every detail and aspect associated with it. In the next issue or two we will closely examine the manner, qualities, and characteristics God gave in association with this Passover Lamb in the Old Testament and how they are precisely fulfilled in God’s final Passover Lamb Jesus Christ in the New Testament.
The qualifications and particulars for the Passover Lamb that we will carefully look at in Exodus 12 point to the character, ministry, and manner of the work and Person of Jesus the Messiah in His atoning death as God’s final Passover lamb. The correspondence between the type (the Passover lamb) and the fulfillment in the anti-type (Jesus Christ) is clear and unmistakable.
1. Every man and every household was to have a lamb for sacrifice (Exodus 12:1-4)
The Passover sacrifice involved the whole family in Israel. The prophetic paradigm laid out for us here is obvious. Like Israel of the Exodus, each one of us must experience salvation individually and celebrate it together as a community. Every individual Jew had to personally appropriate and accept God’s deliverance through the blood of the lamb. Salvation then, like now, is an individual decision and experience between him or her and the Savior.
You must personally come to Christ and believe He, as the Lamb of God, took away your sins to save you from the wrath to come. No one else can do it for you. Scripture knows no such thing as surrogate salvation. God has no grandchildren, only born-again children who have been born twice—once physically and once again spiritually through faith in Jesus Christ.
It was an act of faith for the Israelites to put the blood of the lamb on the doorposts. But once they did so, that faith saved them from the angel of death. Once you and I put our trust in the blood of Christ, we too are saved from the “second death” which is eternal separation from God in the lake of fire (Rev. 20:13-14).
2. The lamb had to be unblemished, only the best from the flock would do (Exodus 12:5)
The Passover lamb was to have no visible defect or blemish on it, flawless and no stain of imperfection found. This requirement for the lamb obviously points to the fact that as God’s final Lamb, Jesus was sinless and perfect in his humanity and moral character. The lamb without mark or blemish represents the spotless character and impeccability of Jesus the Messiah. The disciples lived with Jesus for over three years and never once did they see Him sin or commit wrong in all that time.
No wonder the apostle Peter identified Jesus as “the Lamb without blemish and without spot” in 1 Peter 1:19. Notice in this passage Peter makes an allusion to the Passover lamb in Exodus 12:5 and sees its fulfillment in the perfect character and conduct of Messiah Jesus. John, one of the closest apostles of Jesus, testified of Him, “In Him is no sin” (1 John 3:5).
On this same theme, the writer of Hebrews adds that Jesus was “holy, harmless, undefiled, and separate from sinners” (Hebrews 7:26). Not only did Jesus’ close friends and followers affirm His personal impeccability as God’s sacrificial lamb for man, but also even His fiercest foes and those very enemies who conspired in His death were forced to admit His faultless character.
After closely examining Him in a Roman court of law, Pontius Pilate exclaimed of Christ, “I find no fault in Him” (John 19:4). Judas said of the Master he betrayed, “I have sinned in that I betrayed innocent blood” (Matthew 27:4). Jesus boldly affirmed His perfection of character when He challenged His enemies with the question, “Which of you convicts Me of sin?” (John 8:46; see also John 7:18).
As the Lamb of God, Jesus was unblemished in thought, word, and deed. Thus, He alone by His perfection was worthy to be our sinless substitute and Sacrifice Lamb for our sins. Christ was born sinless and died sinless. “For He made Him who knew no sin to be a sin offering for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him” (2 Corinthians 5:21).
3. The Passover lamb was to be a young male (Exodus 12:5).
Again Jesus answers to this type. He was a young man when He went to the cross. Christ died in the prime of His life at 33 years of age. Indeed, some medical doctors and researchers have said that 30-35 years of age is the healthiest period of manhood in life.
4. A time period of four days from the selection of the lamb to the slaying of it was given to examine the lamb for any defects (Exodus 12:3, 6).
God specified this time period to occur on the 10th day of Nisan until the 14th day of Nisan (Abib). This amazingly corresponds exactly with the length of time of Jesus’ last week of public ministry on earth when He entered Jerusalem for the Passover week, which corresponded from Palm Sunday to the crucifixion.
Palm Sunday, Jesus rode into Jerusalem on a donkey — it was the tenth day of Nisan! He publicly taught in the Temple and in Jerusalem until Thursday of that week — the 14th day of Nisan — when He and His disciples celebrated Passover. During the four-day period, this Lamb of God was under close scrutiny, questioning, and examination by the scribes, priests, and Pharisees of the Temple hoping to catch Him in some error or inconsistency with His teaching and conduct. But on each occasion, Jesus came out spotless.
The very ones (the High Priest Caiaphas and the chief priests with him) responsible for overseeing and slaying the Passover lambs could find nothing legitimately wrong with the words and works of Jesus Christ after four days of close examination.
As the Lamb of God, the High Priest and chief priests of the Temple could not find anything legitimately wrong with what He said or did. In the end, this forced them to bring in false witnesses and fabricate alleged infractions against the spotless Lamb of God that were false and untrue (Matt. 26:59-60). Thus as the Lamb of God, Jesus passed the inspection test for sacrifice.
In the next issue, we will continue to look at how the particulars and qualities of the Passover lamb in Exodus 12 have been fulfilled in Jesus Christ.
5. The Passover lamb was to be slain in public (Exodus 12:21).
Jesus too was publicly slain before the watching public of Jerusalem and the Jews from the Diaspora who came back from all parts of the Roman Empire to celebrate the Passover feast in Jerusalem. Golgotha (the place where Jesus was crucified) was in fact located at the busiest trade route and intersection going in and out of Jerusalem.
The Romans regularly chose the most active and exposed area of a city or a trade route close to the city to crucify criminals of the State, disturbers of the “Pax Romana” as a deterrent discouraging others from pursuing criminal activity. The death of Jesus Christ was not only a public execution, but also much more than that; it would be the cosmic event of human history drawing innumerable multitudes from all over the world to its saving power.
“And I, if I am lifted up from the earth, I will draw all peoples to Myself” (John 12:32).
6. None of the bones of the Passover lamb were to be broken (Exodus 12: 46).
John 19:36 quotes from Exodus 12:46 about the bones of the Passover lamb not being broken and prophetically connects it to the death of Jesus on the cross to prove He fulfilled the type of the Passover lamb as its perfect anti-type. A thousand years before Christ, King David, His ancestor, foresaw that the Messiah’s body would be protected in death and makes the same allusion to Exodus 12:46 (see Psalm 34:20).
“For these things were done that the Scripture should be fulfilled, “Not one of his bones shall be broken” (John 19:36).
Breaking the legs of a crucified person was not always part of Roman crucifixion. But with the legs broken, the victim could no longer lift his body in order to breathe so he would soon suffocate and die. In order for a body not to remain hanging on a cross on Passover day and cause ceremonial defilement, it had to be removed before the feast began. That is why the legs of the two thieves were broken who were crucified with Jesus (see John 19:31-33).
7. The blood shed from the Passover lamb was the sign of a life given and redemption accomplished (Exodus 12:7, 13).
When God saw the lamb’s blood sprinkled on the lintel and two doorposts, the people in that house were saved from the His wrath and judgment. The shed blood meant a life given and atonement for sin made. “For the life of the flesh is in the blood…it is the blood that makes an atonement for the soul” (Leviticus 17:11).
Likewise today, the blood Jesus Christ shed on the cross saves the believer from the coming judgment of God. For Romans 5:9 says: “Having been justified by His blood we shall be saved from wrath through Him.” It is His shed blood that atones and purifies us from sin in the eyes of a holy God:
“For the blood of Jesus Christ cleanses us from all sin” (1 John 1:7).
The Passover celebration in the Jerusalem of Jesus’ day was so large that Josephus the historian tells us that over 256,000 lambs were slain on Passover. With the lowest figure of one lamb allowed for ten people that was permitted at the time, there were no less than two and a half million people in Jerusalem offering their Passover lambs in the Temple!
8. The gesture of sprinkling the blood of the lamb on the lintel and doorposts intimates the cross of Christ!
When the faithful Israelite took the blood of the slain lamb and sprinkled it on the door with a hyssop brush, he was making the sign of the cross! The shape of the cross is seen in this gesture. The lintel of the doorframe was the horizontal beam forming the upper frame of a door. The doorposts were the vertical beams that stood on the left and right of the door.
Thus, when the blood was put on the door, the sign of the cross was made when going from the lintel and then the two doorposts, or vice-versa. The fact that the application of the blood was to be on the door of the house suggests the biblical truth that there is only one way and access to God whereby we have salvation and fellowship with Him; that way is through His Son Jesus Christ alone who said of Himself:
“I am the door. If anyone enters by Me, he will be saved, and will go in and out and find pasture. I am the way, the truth, and the life. No man comes to the Father except through Me” (John 10:9; 14:6).
During the second temple period when the sacrificed lamb was handed back to the family by the priest for the Passover meal, its body was slit down the middle and kept open by two pieces of wood—in the form of a cross! (Jesus of Nazareth by William Barclay, p. 63). So the mark and sign of the cross was on the Passover lamb pointing to the death of God’s lamb Jesus on the cross.
Today, when every Jewish family celebrates Passover, they must have a shank bone of a lamb (Z’roah in Hebrew) at the table to remind them that the means God chose to redeem and deliver them from the slavery of Egypt was through the chosen lamb. Indeed, the Passover lamb is the crux of the Gospel message and it declares that Christ Jesus, God’s final and perfect lamb (of which the Passover lamb of Exodus 12 foreshadows), was slain for us so that we could be forgiven and forever redeemed.