Passover – seeing the unseen

Passover celebrates the deliverance of Israel from slavery in Egypt by the mighty hand of God. However, Passover can only really be understood and celebrated in the light of the Messiah because the exodus from Egypt and the entry into the Promised Land were merely shadows and illustrations of the ultimate deliverance from the devil’s control over mankind through sin and death. In the beginning Adam and Eve enjoyed blessing, innocence and freedom in the Garden of Eden with only one prohibitive command, the transgression of which resulted in bondage and death for all mankind. The real exile is the expulsion of man from Eden.

Sight and Insight

When Adam and Eve disobeyed God we are told that their eyes were opened. However, there is a paradox in this: Though their eyes were opened to good and evil, this precipitated a spiritual decline that led to a progressive blindness to spiritual truths as men became increasingly enslaved to sin. Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images made to look like mortal man and birds and animals and reptiles (Romans 1:22-23).

At the same time it was only when their eyes were opened that they realized their nakedness. Only when sinners realize their fallen condition and their spiritual blindness and nakedness will they perhaps call upon the name of the Lord to save them. Jesus came into the world to open the eyes of the blind and to set the captives free. But there is a further paradox in that his message was deliberately veiled to those who did not recognize their blindness. When his disciples asked Jesus why he spoke in parables through which the secrets of the kingdom of God remained hidden from many, Jesus explained that it was to fulfil what was written by the prophet Isaiah: “Though seeing, they do not see; though hearing, they do not hear or understand” (Matthew 13:10-14). Those who claimed to see, who were confident that they were enlightened, but failed to recognise the Messiah at work right in their midst were left stumbling in the dark: Jesus said, “For judgment I have come into this world, so that the blind will see and those who see will become blind.” Some Pharisees who were with him heard him say this and asked, “What? Are we blind too?” Jesus said, “If you were blind, you would not be guilty of sin; but now that you claim you can see, your guilt remains (John 9:39-41).

Only the Messiah is able to open our spiritual eyes. Even the Jews who had believed that Jesus was the promised Messiah, the Prophet like Moses, were expecting the redemption and kingdom of God to come about through a political transformation that would be seen by everyone and they were very dejected and disillusioned after Jesus had been crucified. Luke tells us of the two disciples on the road to Emmaus to whom Jesus appeared after being raised from the dead. They did not recognise him at first but, Jesus then opened their minds so they could understand the Scriptures. He told them, “This is what is written: The Messiah (the Christ) will suffer and rise from the dead on the third day, and repentance and forgiveness of sins will be preached in his name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem” (Lk. 24:45-47).

By his death and resurrection, Jesus destroyed the power of death. The sentence of death that was hanging over our heads has been replaced with life and immortality – this is the meaning of Passover:  “We tell you the good news: What God promised our fathers he has fulfilled for us, their children, by raising up Jesus” (Acts 13:32-33).

Tragically, Passover is still celebrated by millions of Jewish people throughout the world who remain spiritually blinded to the real exile and slavery from which they need to be redeemed through the blood of Jesus, the Passover Lamb. They celebrate an historical freedom from slavery while remaining completely enslaved to the sinful nature in this fallen world. Professing to be a light to the nations they deny and obscure the true light of the world which is revealed in and through Jesus Christ. Jesus said of the religious Pharisees: “They are blind guides. If a blind man leads a blind man, both will fall into a pit” (Matthew 15:13-14).

But the deceptiveness of trusting in the visible and tangible things of the world, rather than in what God has promised, is a temptation to all of us. The devil tempted Eve with what was pleasing to the eye just as he tried to tempt Jesus with the splendour of all the world’s kingdoms (Matt. 4:8-10) and still tries to tempt us with the things of this world that we can see and touch.

Do not love the world or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For everything in the world – the cravings of sinful man, the lust of his eyes and the boasting of what he has and does – comes not from the Father but from the world. The world and its desires pass away, but the man who does the will of God lives forever (1 John 2:15-17).

The more we are engrossed in the visible things of this world, the more we remain captive to the god of this age who has blinded the minds of unbelievers, so that they cannot see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God (2 Corinthians 4:4).

Only by faith, which comes by hearing and believing God’s promises of redemption through the Messiah, do we perceive the more glorious world to come as we anticipate the day when Jesus will appear in glory and we too will be transformed and clothed in eternal glory: Meanwhile we groan, longing to be clothed with our heavenly dwelling, because when we are clothed, we will not be found naked. For while we are in this tent, we groan and are burdened, because we do not wish to be unclothed but to be clothed with our heavenly dwelling, so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life. Now it is God who has made us for this very purpose and has given us the Spirit as a deposit, guaranteeing what is to come (2 Corinthians 5:2-5).

Everything that we see with our physical eyes is in fact temporal and passing away, but the things that can only be perceived by spiritual insight – by the revelation of the Word of God illuminated by the Holy Spirit, including a perception of the heavenly things which are beyond this visible earthly dimension – are the things that are eternal.

…we speak of God’s secret wisdom, a wisdom that has been hidden and that God destined for our glory before time began. None of the rulers of this age understood it, for if they had, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory. However, as it is written [Isaiah 64:4]: “No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has conceived what God has prepared for those who love him” – but God has revealed it to us by his Spirit (1 Cor.  2:7-10).

Christians are given a different (spiritual) vantage point which is no longer restricted by the earthly viewpoint of the world. So from now on we regard no one from a worldly point of view. Though we once regarded Christ in this way, we do so no longer. Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come! (2 Cor. 5:16-17).

So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal. Now we know that if the earthly tent we live in is destroyed, we have a building from God, an eternal house in heaven, not built by human hands (2 Cor.  4:18 – 5:1).

Therefore, holy brothers, who share in the heavenly calling, fix your thoughts on Jesus, the apostle and high priest whom we confess. Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God (Hebrews 3:1; 12:2).

A sense of security and complacency in this world often blinds us to the spiritual realities of the heavenly realm which are unseen. The earth, including the earthly city of Jerusalem, is only a shadow of the eternal heavenly realm. Jesus taught us to pray, “Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven”. Paul exhorted Christians to: set your hearts on things above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things (Colossians 3:1-2).

The city of Laodicea was renowned for the development of medical treatments for eye ailments which brought wealth and prosperity to its citizens. Yet, ironically, it was the Christians in that city that Jesus admonished so severely for their spiritual blindness because they were trusting in their worldly possessions:

“You say, ‘I am rich; I have acquired wealth and do not need a thing.’ But you do not realize that you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked. I counsel you to buy from me gold refined in the fire, so you can become rich; and white clothes to wear, so you can cover your shameful nakedness; and salve to put on your eyes, so you can see”(Revelation 3:17-18).

After the Israelites were set free from their slavery in Egypt, away from the visible and tangible resource of the Nile River, they needed to learn to put their trust in the LORD as their provider:

Remember how the LORD your God led you all the way in the desert these forty years, to humble you and to test you in order to know what was in your heart, whether or not you would keep his commands. He humbled you, causing you to hunger and then feeding you with manna, which neither you nor your fathers had known, to teach you that man does not live on bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of the LORD (Deuteronomy 8:2-3).

There is really no limit to the extent to which God could cause us to prosper and succeed in this world. However, we tend to become proud, independent and self-reliant when we succeed in worldly accomplishments and we are advised to store up treasures in heaven, and not, figuratively speaking, in Egypt.  Moses set such an example:

By faith Moses, when he had grown up, refused to be known as the son of Pharaoh’s daughter. He chose to be mistreated along with the people of God rather than to enjoy the pleasures of sin for a short time. He regarded disgrace for the sake of the Messiah as of greater value than the treasures of Egypt, because he was looking ahead to his reward. By faith he left Egypt, not fearing the king’s anger; he persevered because he saw him who is invisible. By faith he kept the Passover and the sprinkling of blood, so that the destroyer of the firstborn would not touch the firstborn of Israel (Hebrews 11:24-28).

Although Moses did not actually enter the Promised Land after being redeemed from Egypt, he was taken to a vantage point, in the Abarim Range, to Mount Nebo in Moab, across from Jericho, from where he literally saw the land of Canaan (Deuteronomy 32:49). I believe, however, that with the eyes of faith he also saw beyond this earthly realm into the heavenly dimension of the Promised Land, which is eternal, and of which the visible earthly realm is only a shadow or dim reflection.

…all (of the great men of faith) were commended for their faith, yet none of them received what had been promised. God had planned something better for us so that only together with us would they be made perfect (Hebrews 11:39-40).

Likewise, Abraham saw with eyes of faith the real deliverance from exile and restoration that God has planned for those he has redeemed.

By faith Abraham, when called to go to a place he would later receive as his inheritance, obeyed and went, even though he did not know where he was going. By faith he made his home in the promised land like a stranger in a foreign country; he lived in tents, as did Isaac and Jacob, who were heirs with him of the same promise. For he was looking forward to the city with foundations, whose architect and builder is God (Hebrews 11:8-10).

Paul’s prayer expresses the essence of this hope for us: I pray also that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, and his incomparably great power for us who believe. (Eph.  1:18).

Death of the Firstborn

In the first Passover, the firstborn of Israel were spared from death while all the firstborn in Egypt, from the firstborn of Pharaoh, who sat on the throne, to the firstborn of the prisoner, who was in the dungeon, and the firstborn of all the livestock as well were struck down.(Exodus 12:29-30).

However, we must not forget that the entire generation that were delivered out of Egypt, whom the LORD had passed over while visiting destruction on the firstborn in Egypt (apart from Caleb and Joshua), perished in the desert on account of their lack of faith. They failed to keep their eyes fixed upon the unseen things which God had promised them and instead longed to return to the visible and tangible security that they had come to rely on even while they were enslaved in Egypt. Like many of us today, the maxim of this fallen world, “Seeing is believing” was far more powerful and true. They even confessed that from their miserable earthly point of view, it would have been better for them if they had only died in Egypt:

The whole Israelite community set out from Elim and came to the Desert of Sin, which is between Elim and Sinai, on the fifteenth day of the second month after they had come out of Egypt. In the desert the whole community grumbled against Moses and Aaron. The Israelites said to them, “If only we had died by the LORD’s hand in Egypt! There we sat around pots of meat and ate all the food we wanted, but you have brought us out into this desert to starve this entire assembly to death” (Exodus 16:1-3).

To love this fallen world and refuse to come in to the spiritual light of the Messiah is like wanting to remain in slavery in Egypt. To love this world after coming to know the truth in Jesus, is like those who were faithless in their sojourn and longed to return to Egypt.

Faith is to believe in what God has spoken even while it remains unseen to the carnal eye.By faith Moses kept the Passover and the sprinkling of blood, so that the destroyer of the firstborn would not touch the firstborn of Israel (Hebrews 11:28).

Here too we find another paradox, for Jesus is God’s firstborn (Heb 1:6), the firstborn over all creation (Col. 1:15) and the very author of life (Acts 3:15), yet God did not spare his own (firstborn) Son, but gave him up for us all (Romans 8:32). The Passover lambs offered in sacrifice in Egypt were offered vicariously for all of the firstborn of Israel, as a testimony to how God’s own firstborn Son would eventually himself become our Passover  Lamb offered in our place to set us free from our slavery to sin and death. For Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed (1 Cor.5:7). 

The deeper lesson of Passover, to those whose spiritual eyes have been opened by the Holy Spirit, is that “the death” that will pass over the faithful, is “the second death” and the Promised Land into which the redeemed are being led in the Resurrection, together with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, is the new heaven and the new earth, the home of righteousness which we look forward to with the spiritual eyes of faith (2 Peter 3:13).

Jesus said: I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies; and whoever lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?”(John 11:25-26).

He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. He who overcomes will not be hurt at all by the second death (Revelation 2:11).

By faith in Jesus we partake in the first resurrection, our names are written in the book of life, our sins are atoned for by the blood of Christ – and: Blessed and holy are those who have part in the first resurrection. The second death has no power over them (Revelation 20:6).