Book: The Christian Passover

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As we have learned, both the Old Covenant and the New Covenant were established on God’s promises to Abraham. The promises were given on the night of Nisan 14, which became the Passover day, and the covenant between God and Abraham was ratified on the following day—the first day of the Feast of Unleavened Bread.

Four hundred and thirty years later, to the very same day, God fulfilled His promise to bring Abraham’s descendants out of their affliction. At this time, God began to establish His covenant with them. The instructions that God gave for the Passover in Egypt were the first words of the Old Covenant between God and Israel. After the Exodus from Egypt, God delivered the complete words of the Old Covenant at Mt. Sinai on the day of Pentecost. On the following day, the covenant was ratified by the people with the blood of bullocks (Ex. 24:3-8).

For the children of Israel under the Old Covenant, the Passover required the sacrificing of the lamb and placing of its blood on the door posts of the houses. This ceremony commemorated God’s passing over the houses of the children of Israel in Egypt, sparing their firstborn, but killing the Egyptians’ firstborn. On that same day, the children of Israel were released from the bondage of Egypt.

For the children of Abraham by faith, who are under the New Covenant, there is no need for the sacrifice of a Passover lamb. The Passover of the New Covenant is a commemoration of the sacrifice of Jesus Christ, the Lamb of God. His one perfect sacrifice opened the way for all mankind to be delivered from the bondage of sin and receive the gift of eternal life.

The New Covenant, which was ratified on the Passover day by the blood of Jesus Christ, is fulfilling God’s promise to Abraham of blessings for all nations. The spiritual blessings that are granted through the New Covenant were never offered through the Old Covenant. The Old Covenant, which was based on the blood of animal sacrifices, promised only physical, temporal blessings from God. To receive these blessings, the children of Israel were required to obey God by keeping His commandments, statutes and judgments in the letter of the law. Obedience in the spirit of the law was not possible under the Old Covenant, because the people of Israel had not received the Holy Spirit.

According to the terms of the Old Covenant, if the children of Israel obeyed God, they would receive physical blessings. If they disobeyed Him and rejected His commandments, they would suffer the correction and curses of God. Deuteronomy 28 gives a complete summary of the blessings that were promised to the children of Israel under the Old Covenant, and the curses that would beset them if they forsook their covenant with God. When we read Deuteronomy 28, we can clearly see that the promise of eternal life was not a promise of the Old Covenant. The promise of eternal life through the forgiveness of sins was not offered until the New Covenant was established by Jesus Christ. The apostle John makes that very clear: “And of His fullness [Jesus Christ’s] we have all received, and grace upon grace [the gift of salvation]. For the law [the Old Covenant] was given through Moses; but the grace and the truth came through Jesus Christ” (John 1:16-17).

The Old Covenant with its animal sacrifices, which continually reminded the people of their sins, pointed to the need for a better covenant that would bring deliverance from sin. That covenant was established by Jesus Christ, Who offered Himself as the perfect and complete sacrifice for sin for all time. Redemption from sin through the blood of Jesus Christ, which is the blood of the New Covenant, is fully revealed in the New Testament. This salvation was announced in the Old Testament, which records the curses for sin and the prophecies of a Savior, but it was not revealed until the coming of Jesus Christ: “The Law and the Prophets were until John; from that time the kingdom of God is preached...” (Luke 16:16).

Jesus Christ came into the world to proclaim the full salvation of God the Father through the New Covenant. The New Covenant, as revealed by Jesus Christ in the New Testament, is far greater than the Old Covenant. The New Covenant was confirmed with the blood of Jesus Christ as the Lamb of God—the ultimate sacrifice of God! It was sealed on the day of Pentecost with the coming of the Holy Spirit as a gift from God the Father. All who enter the New Covenant receive the power of the Holy Spirit, which enables them to overcome sin in the flesh and to grow in the righteousness of Jesus Christ, with the promise of eternal life at the resurrection (Acts 2:1-11, 16-18, 21-39).

Unlike the Old Covenant, the New Covenant offers spiritual promises and eternal blessings! The blessings of the New Covenant include the gift of salvation and the promise of eternal life with an eternal inheritance in the kingdom of God. Jesus Christ will establish that kingdom on the earth at His return. The apostle John describes His coming in the book of Revelation: “Behold, He is coming with the clouds, and every eye shall see Him, and those who pierced Him; and all the tribes of the earth shall wail because of Him. Even so, Amen. ‘I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the Ending,’ says the Lord, ‘Who is, and Who was, and Who is coming— the Almighty’ ” (Rev. 1:7-8). At that time of His second coming, His saints will be resurrected to immortality and will reign with Him on the earth (Rev. 5:8-10; 20:4-6). All true Christians await the resurrection of the dead and the transformation to glorious eternal life at the return of Jesus Christ.

The promise of eternal life makes the New Covenant immeasurably superior to the Old Covenant. The New Covenant reveals the love and grace of God the Father to all mankind through Jesus Christ, His only begotten Son. The promise of salvation through the New Covenant is founded on the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. God the Father Himself calls us to salvation through His Son (John 6:44, 65). God the Father leads us to repentance through His goodness and grace (Rom. 2:4). Repentance means that we turn from the way of sin—from our transgressions of God’s holy, righteous and perfect laws and commandments (I John 3:4). After repenting of our sins, we are commanded to be baptized by full immersion in water (Acts 2:38). Then God the Father gives the gift of His Holy Spirit through the laying on of hands (Acts 8:14-17; 19:5-6). From that time forward, we are to walk in newness of life, yielding ourselves to God by practicing righteousness (Rom. 6:3- 6, 11-13). The righteousness that we are to practice is clearly defined in Scripture by the commandments of God (Psa. 119:172). As the apostle John shows, obedience to God’s commandments is required of everyone who professes to know and love God (I John 2:3-4; 3:24; 5:2-3).

Under the New Covenant, the laws and commandments of God are written in our minds and inscribed on our hearts (Heb. 8:10; 10:16). Through the gift of the Holy Spirit, which imparts the mind of Jesus Christ, we are able to understand and obey God’s laws in their spiritual meaning and application. Although our obedience requires physical actions and efforts, the result is spiritual and eternal. We have God’s promise that if we are conformed to the righteousness of His Son, Jesus Christ, we will share in His glory and immortality (Col. 1:27-28; 3:1-4; Rom. 8:29). The promise of eternal life in the kingdom of God is made possible by God’s grace through the gift of the Holy Spirit.

Unlike the people of Israel under the Old Covenant, who were granted limited access to God as members of a physical nation, those who enter the New Covenant enjoy continual fellowship with God as members of His own family. They are the brothers and sisters of Jesus Christ and the children of God the Father. When we fully understand this relationship, and the fantastic and wonderful promises that God has given of eternal life, eternal love and eternal glory in Christ Jesus, it is truly overwhelming! This knowledge and understanding is imparted and understood only through the Holy Spirit of God (I Cor. 2:6-13). Human intellect and rationale cannot fathom this supreme mystery of God—that we can actually become the sons and daughters of God! Only those whose minds are enlightened by the Holy Spirit can comprehend the magnificent plan that God is working out through the New Covenant.

The Superior Priesthood of the New Covenant

Under the New Covenant, Jesus Christ is High Priest and Mediator before the Father’s throne, continually interceding for every child of God. Through His intercession, each one receives daily forgiveness of sins and remains in a state of grace, having fellowship with the Father and being strengthened by the Holy Spirit. This daily process of overcoming sin and growing in grace through the power of the Holy Spirit is leading each child of God to spiritual perfection.

In his epistle to the Hebrews, the apostle Paul shows that the New Covenant priesthood of Jesus Christ has replaced the old Aaronic priesthood of the Old Covenant: “Now here is a summary of the things being discussed: We have such a High Priest Who sat down at the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in the heavens; a minister of the sanctuary and of the true tabernacle, which the Lord set up, and not man” (Heb. 8:1-2).

Paul explains that the true sanctuary is the throne of God in heaven, where Jesus Christ ministers as High Priest. The priesthood of the resurrected Jesus Christ, ministering before the very throne of God the Father, is FAR SUPERIOR to the earthly priesthood which ministered at the tabernacle that God instructed Moses to build (verses 2-5). Paul shows that the superiority of the heavenly priesthood is matched by the superiority of the covenant which it ministers:

“But on the other hand, He [the heavenly High Priest] has obtained a supremely more excellent ministry, as much greater as the superior covenant of which He is also Mediator, which was established upon superior promises. For if the first covenant had been faultless, then no provision for a second covenant would have been made. But since He found fault with them, He says, ‘ “Behold, the days are coming,” says the Lord, “when I will establish a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah; not according to the covenant that I made with their fathers in the day that I took hold of their hand to lead them out of the land of Egypt because they did not continue in My covenant, and I disregarded them,” says the Lord. “For this is the covenant that I will establish with the house of Israel after those days,” says the Lord: “I will give My laws into their minds, and I will inscribe them upon their hearts; and I will be their God, and they will be My people. And they will no longer teach every man his neighbor, and every man his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord’ because all will know Me, from the least to the greatest of them; for I will be merciful toward their unrighteousnesses, and their sins and their lawlessness I will not remember ever again.’ In speaking of a new covenant, He has made the first covenant obsolete. Now that which has become old and obsolete is about to disappear” (Heb. 8:6-13).

The New Covenant, which is mediated by Jesus Christ from the throne of God the Father, is vastly superior to the Old Covenant, which was ministered from the sanctuary of the tabernacle on earth. Under the Old Covenant, the priesthood offered animal sacrifices that could not remove sins and bring sanctification before God the Father in heaven above. The ceremonial cleansing of the children of Israel allowed them access to the earthly tabernacle, but it could not purify them from sin. This fact is confirmed by Paul’s words in Hebrews 10: “Because it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins” (verse 4). The animal sacrifices that were offered at the earthly tabernacle and the temple could not remove sin from the hearts of the people but only purified them in the flesh. This fleshly purification allowed the offerers to continue in the Old Covenant relationship with God and participate in the physical blessings of the covenant. The animal sacrifices were a reminder of sins because they were repeated over and over, year after year (verse 3). They pointed to the need for a greater sacrifice that could remove all sins forever (verses 5-7). That greater sacrifice was fulfilled in the body of Jesus Christ, Who offered Himself once to atone for the sins of all mankind (verse 10).

The Old Covenant with its animal sacrifices ended when the sacrifice of Jesus Christ ushered in the New Covenant. Unlike the sacrificial offerings of the Old Covenant, which could only purify the flesh, the sacrifice of Jesus Christ is able to purify the mind and heart: “But Christ Himself has become High Priest of the coming good things, through the greater and more perfect tabernacle, not made by human hands (that is, not of this present physical creation [the temple in Jerusalem, which was then standing]). Not by the blood of goats and calves, but by the means of His own blood, He entered once for all into the holiest [the heavenly sanctuary], having by Himself secured everlasting redemption for us. For if the blood of goats and bulls, and the ashes of a heifer sprinkled on those who are defiled, sanctifies to the purifying of the flesh, to a far greater degree, the blood of Christ, Who through the eternal Spirit offered Himself without spot to God, shall purify your conscience from dead works to serve the living God. And for this reason He is the Mediator of the NEW COVENANT...” (Heb. 9:11-15).

Paul makes it clear that the work of Jesus Christ as High Priest and Mediator of the New Covenant is to bring complete sanctification from sin. Paul shows that this work is accomplished through the power of the Holy Spirit of God. As Jesus was empowered by the Holy Spirit to live in sinlessness before God, so He enables every true believer to overcome sin. Through His blood, each believer is reconciled to God the Father and is granted the gift of the Holy Spirit, which empowers the believer to obey God from the heart, as Jesus did: “Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus” (Phil. 2:5). Each Spirit-begotten believer learns to walk in newness of life, forsaking his or her former thoughts and practices. The indwelling of the Holy Spirit begins to produce fruits of righteousness: “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, long-suffering, kindness, goodness, faith, meekness, self-control; against such things there is no law” (Gal. 5:22- 23). This process of sanctification and spiritual growth is accomplished as the Holy Spirit is daily supplied to each believer through the ongoing mediation of Jesus Christ.

Jesus Pledged to Fulfill the Covenant with Abraham

As we have learned, the covenant between God and Abraham laid the foundation for the New Covenant through Jesus Christ. When we analyze the maledictory oath of God’s covenant with Abraham, we find an awesome relationship to the sacrifice of Jesus Christ. Notice God’s command to Abraham: “And He said to him: ‘Take Me a heifer of three years old, and a she-goat of three years old, and a ram of three years old, and a turtledove, and a young pigeon.’ And he took all these to himself, and divided them in the middle [split them from head to tail], and laid each piece opposite the other; but he did not divide the birds” (Gen. 15:9-10).

The animals for this special covenant sacrifice—a heifer from the herd, a goat and a ram from the flock, and the two fowl—represented the various kinds of animals that were later offered in the sacrifices that God commanded for the tabernacle. These animals symbolized the whole sacrificial system, covering every category of animal sacrifice. As we learned in the previous chapters, these animals were slaughtered during the daylight portion of Nisan 14—the Passover day. By walking between the parts of the slaughtered animals, the ratifier would pledge his life to fulfill the promises of the covenant. This act was called “cutting the covenant.” Once cut, the covenant was in effect and could not be changed in any way, as long as the ratifier was living.

As the account shows, the covenant with Abraham was ratified after the sun had set and darkness had come: “And it came to pass, as the sun was going down [ending the 14th], that a deep sleep fell upon Abram. And, behold, a horror of great darkness fell upon him....And it came to pass—when the sun went down [beginning the 15th] and it was dark—behold a smoking furnace and a burning lamp passed between those pieces” (verses 12, 17).

This account is most significant. The smoking furnace and the flaming torch that passed between the parts of the sacrificial animals showed that God was ratifying the covenant by a maledictory oath. Through this act, God not only guaranteed the fulfillment of His promises to Abraham, but He also prophesied His own death. Remember that the God Who appeared to Abraham was the Word, Who later came in the flesh as Jesus Christ to die on the cross (John 1:1-14, Phil. 2:5-11). When He established the covenant with Abraham, He pledged to sacrifice His life! He bound Himself by a maledictory oath to fulfill the promises He had made to Abraham. Those promises could not be fulfilled through the Old Covenant with the children of Israel, which could bring only physical blessings. The promise of spiritual seed required a better covenant that would lead to eternal life. That covenant could only be ratified by the supreme sacrifice for sin—the death of the Son of God.

Hebrews 9 Confirms the Covenant Pledge

The words of Paul confirm that God pledged to sacrifice His life when He ratified His covenant with Abraham by a maledictory oath. In Hebrews 9, Paul presents a detailed explanation of this principle of covenantal law. Before we examine Paul’s statements, we need to understand the error in the King James translation of a passage in this chapter. Because the translators of the King James Version did not understand covenantal law, they completely misinterpreted this passage in Scripture. The words that they chose for their translation do not apply to covenantal law but to testamental law. Here is the King James translation of this passage in Hebrews 9: “And for this cause He is the Mediator of the new testament, that by means of death, for the redemption of the transgressions that were under the first testament, they which are called might receive the promise of eternal inheritance. For where a testament is, there must also of necessity be the death of the testator. For a testament is of force after men are dead: otherwise it is of no strength at all while the testator liveth” (verses 15-17, KJV).

The King James translation of Paul’s words does not convey the meaning of the Greek text. The English word “testament” is translated from the Greek word diatheekee, which means “covenant.” In earlier passages in this same epistle, diatheekee is correctly translated “covenant” (Heb. 8:6, 8, 9, 10 and 9:4). But in Hebrews 9:15, the translation abruptly switches from “covenant” to “testament,” although the same Greek word diatheekee is used. Diatheekee is incorrectly translated “testament” in Verses 15 through 17. In every occurrence after Verse 17, diatheekee is properly translated “covenant.” Moreover, in Paul’s epistle to the Galatians, the King James translators have correctly translated diatheekee as “covenant” (Gal. 3:15, 17).

There is no justification in the Greek text for translating diatheekee as “testament.” This incorrect translation of diatheekee in Hebrews 9:15-17 has led to much confusion and needless debate. A dissertation by John J. Hughes entitled Hebrews IX 15ff and Galatians 3:15ff, published in Novum Testamentum, shows the error in translating diatheekee as “testament.” Hughes presents the proper interpretation of this passage according to covenantal law. As Hughes shows, covenantal law is placed in force upon the symbolic death of the ratifier by a maledictory oath. The covenant remains in force until the actual death of the ratifier. Unlike a will or testament, a covenant has no force when the ratifier is dead. Rather, the death of the ratifier extinguishes the covenant. While the ratifier is living, the covenant is binding and cannot be changed or altered in any way.

A testament follows the opposite principle. The terms of a last will and testament do not take effect until the death of the testator. Moreover, a will and testament can be changed at any time while the testator is living. The testator may add or delete beneficiaries any number of times. Because a will and testament can be changed by the testator, the beneficiaries have no assurance whatsoever that what has been written will be placed into effect. The inheritance that the beneficiary expects to receive may be given to others.

God, Who is faithful, does not alter His promises, as in testamental law. God uses only covenantal law, so that His promises are guaranteed to His people. When God establishes a covenant, the promises remain in full force and effect; they cannot be changed. The great difference between covenantal law and testamental law leaves no room for interchanging the terms “covenant” and “testament,” as the translators of the King James Version have done. John J. Hughes clearly condemns their error: “Thus to translate and interpret diatheekee in [Hebrews] ix 16,17 as ‘testament’ does great violence to the larger context of the argument [which concerns the transition from the Old Covenant to the New Covenant, as found] from ix 1-x 18 [Hebrews 9:1-10:18]...” (Novum Testamentum—An International Quarterly for New Testament and Related Studies, Vol. XXI, facs. 1, p. 59, emphasis added).

In addition to mistranslating diatheekee as “testament,” the King James translators committed a second error in Hebrews 9:17. Here is the translation of this verse in the King James Version: “For a testament [Greek diatheekee, meaning “covenant”] is of force after men are dead: otherwise it is of no strength at all while the testator liveth.”

The Greek word diatheekee shows that Paul is speaking of covenantal law, not of testamental law. However, the principle that is stated in this verse applies only to testamental law. This apparent contradiction is resolved when we understand that the phrase “after men are dead” is a gross mistranslation of the Greek text. This English phrase is translated from the Greek epi nikrois, which literally means “upon (or over) the dead ones.” The words epi nikrois refer to the animals that were slain to ratify the covenant, not to the death of the ratifier. The phrase “is of force,” translated from the Greek bebaia, is also an incorrect translation. The word bebaia means “to establish, to confirm, or to make fixed” (Arndt and Gingrich, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament). In Hebrews 9:17, bebaia should be translated “ratified.”

Here is a more precise translation of the Greek text: “Now where there is a covenant, it is obligatory to bring forth [to represent] a symbolic sacrifice to represent the death of the one who personally ratifies the covenant [through a symbolic sacrifice]; because a covenant is ratified only over the dead sacrificial animals, since there is no way that it is legally in force until the living ratifier [covenant-maker] has symbolically represented his death” (Heb. 9:16-17).

When correctly translated, these verses clearly express the principles of covenantal law and the means by which covenants are made legally binding. The phrase epi nikrois (“over the dead ones”) applies equally to the covenant between God and Abraham and to the covenant between God and Israel. Both covenants were confirmed, or ratified, over the bodies of sacrificial animals which represented the death of the ratifier/ratifiers. The following verses in Hebrews 9 describe the ratification of the covenant between God and Israel: “For this very reason [the requirement of a sacrifice to confirm or ratify a covenant], neither was the first covenant [the Old Covenant] inaugurated without blood because after Moses had spoken every commandment of the law to all the people, he took the blood of calves and goats, with water and scarlet wool and hyssop, and he sprinkled both the book of the covenant itself and all the people, saying, ‘This is the blood of the covenant that God has ordained for you’ “ (Heb. 9:18-20).

As Paul shows, the Old Covenant was ratified over the dead bodies of calves and goats. The sacrifice of these animals fulfilled the requirements of covenantal law and gave the covenant full force and effect. After establishing this fact, Paul goes on to show that the sacrifice of Jesus Christ fulfilled the requirements for ratification of the New Covenant: “Therefore, it was obligatory for the patterns of the heavenly things [the vessels in the earthly sanctuary] to be purified with the blood of these animals, but [it was obligatory to purify] the things in heaven themselves [in the heavenly sanctuary] with superior sacrifices than these. For Christ has not entered into the holy places made by human hands, which are mere copies of the true; rather, He has entered into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God for us; not that He should offer Himself many times, even as the high priest enters into the holy of holies year by year with the blood of others; for then it would have been necessary for Him to suffer many times since the foundation of the world. But now, once and for all, in the consummation of the ages, He has been manifested for the purpose of removing sin through His sacrifice of Himself (Heb. 9:23-26).



The Covenant Pledge Foreshadows the New Covenant Sacrifice

By sacrificing His own body and blood, Jesus Christ fulfilled the requirements of covenantal law, confirming and ratifying the New Covenant. As the Mediator of the New Covenant, He offers redemption from sin and the gift of eternal life to all nations. Those who accept His sacrifice become the children of Abraham through faith, fulfilling the promise of spiritual seed. Remember that this promise was given to Abraham on the night of Nisan 14—the time that God had appointed for the Passover. On the same day, the animals for the covenant sacrifice were slain. The bloody sacrifice that Abraham was commanded to prepare, cutting those animals asunder, and making a path for God to pass between the parts, foreshadowed the agonizing death that Jesus Christ would die when He was beaten and crucified on the Passover day.

Abraham prepared his sacrifice during the very time that the flesh of Jesus Christ would be torn and mutilated by scourging and pierced by the nails of the cross. Here is Matthew’s account of the timing of Jesus’ suffering: “...after scourging Jesus, he delivered Him up so that He might be crucified.... And they stripped Him and put a scarlet cloak around Him. And after platting a crown of thorns, they put it on His head....Then, after spitting on Him, they took the rod and struck Him on the head. When they were done mocking Him, they...led Him away to crucify Him....Now from the sixth hour [noon] until the ninth hour [3 PM], darkness was over all the land. And about the ninth hour, Jesus cried out with a loud voice, saying, ‘Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani?’ That is, ‘My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?’...And after crying out again with a loud voice, Jesus yielded up His spirit....And when evening was coming on, a rich man of Arimathea came, named Joseph, who was himself a disciple of Jesus. After going to Pilate, he begged to have the body of Jesus. Then Pilate commanded the body to be given over to him” (Matt. 27:26, 28-31, 45-46, 50, 57-58).

The suffering of Jesus Christ ended when He died on the afternoon of Nisan 14—the same time that Abraham completed his preparation of the covenant sacrifice. Notice the account in Genesis 15: “And when the birds of prey came down upon the carcasses, Abram drove them away. And it came to pass, as the sun was going down...” (verses 11-12). As the bloody bodies of the animals remained in place during the afternoon of the day, so Jesus’ body remained on the cross. Near the end of the Passover day, Joseph of Arimathea took the body of Jesus down, and Nicodemus came with burial spices. Together they wound burial linen around Jesus’ body, wrapping the spices with the linen. They placed His body in the tomb as the sun was setting, ending the 14th day and beginning the 15th.

Jesus’ burial in the tomb was foreshadowed by the deep sleep that Abraham experienced as the sun was going down. Notice: “And it came to pass, as when the sun was going down, that a deep sleep fell upon Abram; and, behold, a horror of great darkness fell upon him” (Gen. 15:12).

After the sun had gone down, the God Who would become Jesus Christ in the flesh passed between the parts of the covenant sacrifice in a maledictory oath, pledging His future death by the sacrifice of Himself to fulfill the promises of the covenant: “And it came to pass—when the sun went down [beginning the 15th] and it was dark—behold, a smoking furnace and a burning lamp passed between those pieces” (Gen. 15:17).

This event occurred at the beginning of Nisan 15—the same time that Jesus’ body was sealed in the darkness of the tomb. The Gospel of Luke confirms the time of Jesus’ burial: “And behold, there came a man named Joseph [of Arimathea]...after going to Pilate, begged for the body of Jesus. And after taking it down, he wrapped it in linen cloth and placed it in a tomb hewn in a rock, in which no one had ever been laid. Now it was a preparation day, and a Sabbath [the first day of the Feast of Unleavened Bread] was coming on [at sundown]” (Luke 23:50-54). Jesus’ body was placed in the tomb as the sun was setting, ending the 14th and beginning the 15th. By the time the sun had set, the tomb had been sealed by rolling a huge stone over the entrance. That night—the night of Nisan 15—was the beginning of Jesus’ three-day burial in the heart of the earth.

True to the maledictory oath of His covenant with Abraham, the God of the Old Testament sacrificed His life to raise up the spiritual seed that He had promised. As God in the flesh, Jesus died to ratify the New Covenant and secure the promise of eternal life for the spiritual seed who would be added throughout all ages. He sacrificed His body and blood on the Passover day—the 14th of Nisan—and He was in the tomb when the 15th day began. By His one perfect sacrifice, Jesus Christ atoned for all sin forever. After three days and three nights in the heart of the earth, He was raised from the dead and restored to His former glory. At that time, He became the Mediator of the New Covenant—the one and only Mediator between God and man (I Tim. 2:5).

The New Covenant Offers Sanctification from Sin

The spiritual priesthood of Jesus Christ, which ministers eternal life through the New Covenant, is far more glorious than the earthly priesthood of the Old Covenant, which offered animal sacrifices at the tabernacle and the temple. The animal sacrifices from the flock and the herd were instituted to point out the sins of the people. These sacrifices were repeated year after year because the people continued to sin. No animal sacrifice could remove their sins by purifying their hearts. The only sacrifice that could remove sin and bring spiritual perfection was the sacrifice of Jesus Christ, which was prophesied for a future time. The whole history of the Old Testament reveals the need for the TRUE SACRIFICE.

When their hearts were hardened by sin, the children of Israel lost sight of the purpose of the animal sacrifices. As a result, the sacrifices degenerated into mere ritual with no meaning whatsoever. The words of the prophet Isaiah show that God was not pleased with these sacrifices: “ ‘To what purpose is the multitude of your sacrifices to Me?’ says the LORD; ‘I am full of the burnt offerings of rams, and the fat of fed beasts; and I do not delight in the blood of bullocks, or of lambs, or of he-goats’ ” (Isa. 1:11).

Worse yet, some tried to cover their sins by using the earthly temple with its sacrificial system to justify themselves before God. The sacrifices that they offered were an abomination, because there was no repentance nor reverence for God in their hearts. Here is God’s scathing rebuke for their self-willed and unrepentant attitudes: “He that kills an ox is as if he killed a man; he who sacrifices a lamb is as if he broke a dog’s neck; he who offers a grain offering is as if he offered swine’s blood; he who burns incense is as if he blessed an idol. Yea, they have chosen their own ways, and their soul delights in their abominations. I also will choose their delusions, and I will bring their fears upon them because when I called, no one answered; when I spoke, they did not hear. But they did evil before My eyes and chose that in which I did not delight” (Isa. 66:3-4).

Although these offerings were part of the sacrificial system that God had instituted, He rejected them because they were offered in an unrepentant attitude of pride and self-will. God does not accept such sacrifices, just as He did not accept the sacrifice of Cain because Cain’s heart was not right before Him (Gen. 4:5-7). God the Father desires a repentant, yielded heart and mind: “Thus says the LORD, ‘The heaven is My throne, and the earth is My footstool. Where, then, is the house that you build for Me? And where is the place of My rest? For all these things My hand has made, and these things came to be,’ says the LORD. ‘But to this one I will look, to him who is of a poor and contrite spirit and who trembles at My word” (Isa. 66:1-2).

King David understood that God desires a humble and contrite heart. Being a prophet, he foresaw a time when animal sacrifices, which could not purge the stubborn and rebellious heart of man, would be replaced by the sacrifice of Jesus Christ: “Sacrifice and offering You did not desire; My ears You have opened; burnt offering and sin offering You have not required. Then I said, ‘Lo, I come; in the scroll of the book it is written of Me; I delight to do Your will, O My God; and Your law is within my heart’ ” (Psa. 40:6-8).

The one perfect sacrifice of Jesus Christ has accomplished what all the animal sacrifices of the Old Covenant could not do. By offering His own body and blood, Jesus Christ established the New Covenant, which removes sin through sanctification of the heart: “In the saying above, He said, ‘Sacrifice and offering and burnt offerings and sacrifices for sin (which are offered according to the law) You did not desire nor delight in’; then He said, ‘Lo, I come to do Your will, O God.’ He takes away the first covenant in order that He may establish the second covenant; by Whose will we are sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.

“Now every high priest stands ministering day by day, offering the same sacrifices repeatedly, which are never able to remove sins; but He, after offering one sacrifice for sins forever, sat down at the right hand of God. Since that time, He is waiting until His enemies are placed as a footstool for His feet. For by one offering He has obtained eternal perfection for those who are sanctified” (Heb. 10:8-14).

The sacrificial system of the Old Covenant could not purify the stubborn and sinful hearts of the people. Only the sacrifice of Jesus Christ can purify the heart and remove sin. Through faith in His one perfect sacrifice, all may enter the New Covenant and be redeemed from the power of sin. They are symbolically crucified with Christ, putting to death the old nature of sin, and rising with Him in newness of life. As Paul writes: “I have been crucified with Christ, yet I live. Indeed, it is no longer I; but Christ lives in me. For the life that I am now living in the flesh, I live by faith—that very faith of the Son of God [Christ’s own faith imparted to him], Who loved me and gave Himself for me” (Gal. 2:20).

The relationship of the individual believer with Jesus Christ and God the Father through the New Covenant is far superior to the relationship between God and the children of Israel under the Old Covenant. The New Covenant relationship begins when each believer repents of sin and is baptized in the name of Jesus Christ (Acts 2:38). The believer is granted reconciliation with God the Father and receives direct access to His throne through Jesus Christ as High Priest. God the Father then bestows the gift of the Holy Spirit to dwell within the believer. The Holy Spirit imparts the mind of God and inscribes His laws in the believer’s heart: “And the Holy Spirit also bears witness to us; for after He had previously said, ‘This is the covenant that I will establish with them after those days [the days of the ministry of Jesus Christ],’ says the Lord: ‘I will give My laws into their hearts, and I will inscribe them in their minds; and their sins and lawlessness I will not remember ever again’ ” (Heb. 10:15-17).

Contrary to the teaching of many ministers and theologians, the New Covenant does not abolish the commandments and laws of God. The Scriptures teach the opposite! Under the New Covenant, the laws of God are inscribed in the heart, and bondage to sin is abolished. The believer is no longer enslaved to the sinful nature of the flesh, but is empowered to overcome sin through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit of God—the same Spirit that enabled Jesus Christ to live without sin: “However, you are not in the flesh, but in the Spirit, if the Spirit of God is indeed dwelling within you. But if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to Him. But if Christ be within you, the body is indeed dead because of sin [crucified with Christ]; however, the Spirit is life because of righteousness [raised with Christ to walk in newness of life]. Now if the Spirit of Him Who raised Jesus from the dead is dwelling within you, He Who raised Christ from the dead will also quicken your mortal bodies [transform them to immortal spirit at the resurrection] because of His Spirit that dwells within you.

“So then, brethren, we are not debtors to the flesh, to live according to the flesh; because if you are living according to the flesh, you shall die; but if by the Spirit you are putting to death the deeds of the body, you shall live. For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, these are the sons of God. Now you have not received a spirit of bondage again unto fear, but you have received the Spirit of sonship, whereby we call out, ‘Abba, Father.’ The Spirit itself bears witness conjointly with our own spirit, testifying that we are the children of God. Now if we are children, we are also heirs—truly, heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ—if indeed we suffer together with Him, so that we may also be glorified together with Him” (Rom. 8:9-17).

The spiritual begettal that makes the believer a child of God enables him or her to resist the temptations of the flesh and to obey God from the heart. Each believer who walks in daily obedience to His laws is being conformed to the image of His Son Jesus Christ, with the promise that he or she will, like Him, be resurrected to eternal life (Rom. 8:29). The promise of glory and immortality for the children of God is guaranteed by the New Covenant and is being accomplished through the power of the Holy Spirit, which is granted to all who accept the sacrifice of Jesus Christ—the Lamb of God, Who takes away the sin of the world (John 1:29).

The Circumcision of the New Covenant Is of the Heart

The circumcision of the flesh, which was instituted as a token of the covenant between God and Abraham, foreshadowed the future circumcision of the heart through the New Covenant. Under the Old Covenant, circumcision of all males was mandatory, and any male who was not circumcised could not partake of the Passover. When Jesus Christ established the New Covenant, the circumcision of the flesh was superseded by the circumcision of the heart.

Even under the Old Covenant, the circumcision of the heart was more important to God than circumcision of the flesh: “And now, Israel, what does the LORD your God require of you, but to fear the LORD your God, to walk in all His ways, and to love Him, and to serve the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul, to keep the commandments of the LORD, and His statutes which I command you today for your good? Behold, the heaven and the heaven of heavens belong to the LORD your God, the earth also, with all that is in it. Only the LORD had a delight in your fathers to love them, and He chose their seed after them, you above all people, as it is today.

Therefore, circumcise the foreskin of your heart, and be no longer stiff-necked, for the LORD your God is God of gods, and Lord of lords, a great God, the mighty and awesome God Who does not respect persons nor take a bribe” (Deut. 10:12-17).

Under the New Covenant, circumcision of the flesh is not required by God and has no spiritual significance. Notice: “For he is not a Jew who is one outwardly, neither is that circumcision which is external in the flesh; rather, he is a Jew who is one inwardly, and circumcision is of the heart, in the spirit and not in the letter; whose praise is not from men but from God” (Rom. 2:28-29).

When the Jews in Old Testament times turned from the commandments of God and began to practice the traditions of men, they exalted the sign of circumcision. But this physical token did not justify their sins before God. As the apostle Paul shows, willing obedience to the commandments of God is far more important than the condition of the flesh: “For circumcision is nothing, and uncircumcision is nothing; rather, the keeping of God’s commandments is essential” (I Cor. 7:19).

In his epistle to the Colossians, Paul reveals that spiritual circumcision takes place in the heart of each believer who has been baptized in the name of Jesus Christ: “For in Him [Christ] dwells all the fullness of the Godhead bodily; and you are complete in Him, Who is the Head of all principality and power in Whom you have also been circumcised with the circumcision not made by hands, in putting off the body of the sins of the flesh by the circumcision of Christ; having been buried with Him in baptism, by which you have also been raised with Him through the inner working of God, Who raised Him from the dead. For you, who were once dead in your sins and in the uncircumcision of your flesh, He has now made alive with Him, having forgiven all your trespasses” (Col. 2:9-13).

The circumcision that leads to eternal life is not of the flesh but of the heart. Through faith in Jesus Christ, every sinner can be reconciled to God and receive the begettal of the Holy Spirit, which is the true circumcision of the heart. It is this circumcision—not the circumcision of the flesh—that is required to participate in the New Covenant and in its annual renewal at the Christian Passover. This ceremony is a memorial of the sacrifice of Jesus Christ to ratify the New Covenant in order to fulfill the promises that were given to Abraham.

Jesus established the New Covenant on the night of Nisan 14, the same night that He had delivered the promise of spiritual seed to Abraham. The New Covenant is fulfilling this promise by offering salvation from sin and the gift of eternal life to those whom God calls from every nation. All who enter the New Covenant through faith in Jesus Christ are commanded to observe the Christian Passover each year on the night of Nisan 14.

Although the Passover of the New Covenant is observed on the day that God ordained for the Passover of the Old Covenant, the Passover ceremony was profoundly changed by Jesus Christ. The Christian Passover does not commemorate the deliverance of the firstborn of Israel from death, but the deliverance of repentant sinners from eternal death. Because Jesus Christ purchased full redemption from sin with His own body and blood, therefore the sacrifice of the Passover lamb is no longer necessary. The ordinances that Jesus Christ instituted for the Christian Passover are the footwashing ceremony and the new symbols of the bread and the wine, which represent His body and His blood.

In Chapter Twenty-Five, we will learn the meaning of the footwashing ceremony and the reason that Jesus Christ commands all true Christians to participate in this ordinance.