What is the meaning and significance of eating bitter herbs, eating unleavened bread, eating lamb, and drinking wine during the passover meal?
The Jewish passover foods eaten at the feast known as the Seder, was instituted by God while the Israelites were in Egypt during the last plague. The plagues were designed to motivate the Egyptian Pharaoh to release the Israelites. Each plague targeted an Egyptian deity and demonstrated that those supposed gods were not real gods. They were weak and pathetic and not gods at all. At best they were demonic powers impersonating gods. The ten plagues were 1) water turned into blood (Exodus 7:14-25), 2) frogs (Exodus 8:1-15), 3) gnats (Exodus 8:16-19), 4) flies (Exodus 8:20-32), 5) pestilence that cause animals to die (Exodus 9:1-7), 6) boils (Exodus 9:8-17), 7) hail (Exodus 9:18-35), 8) locusts (Exodus 10:1-20), 9) darkness (Exodus 10:21-29), and 10) the death of the first born (Exodus 11:1-10).
In preparation for the last plague, God directed Moses to establish the Passover feast. The feast was to occur while an angel sent by God killed the first born in every family and the first born of all the animals. The term “passover” refers to the fact that every family that participated in the Passover Feast would be “passed over” and no one would die in their home or among their cattle (Exodus 12:23-32). As part of the feast, each Jewish family was to also put the blood of a lamb on the lintel and the doorposts of their home (Exodus 12:23-27).
The Passover Feast started with the removal of leaven, bread baked with yeast, from the home (Exodus 12:14-20). Then they were to eat only unleavened bread, or Matzah, for the next seven days of the feast. Leaven was a symbol of sin (1 Corinthians 5:8); so unleavened bread, bread without yeast, was symbolic of a sinless life.
The Passover lamb was to be an animal without blemish or deformity. The lamb was symbolic of Jesus Christ who died for all of us so that we could have our sins taken away (1 Corinthians 5:7).
The next day he saw Jesus coming to him and said, “Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world! John 1:29 (NASB)
Clean out the old leaven so that you may be a new lump, just as you are in fact unleavened. For Christ our Passover also has been sacrificed. 1 Corinthians 5:7 (NASB)
The slaughter of the lamb symbolized Jesus’ death. The eating of the lamb would symbolize one’s acceptance of His death and the willingness of each person to believe in Jesus as their Savior and Lord (Exodus 12:23-27).
And when your children say to you, “What does this rite mean to you?” you shall say, “It is a Passover sacrifice to the LORD who passed over the houses of the sons of Israel in Egypt when He smote the Egyptians, but spared our homes.” And the people bowed low and worshiped. Exodus 12:26-27 (NASB)
The bitter herbs, or Maror, typically included horseradish, salt and green onions (Exodus 12:8). The bitter herbs were a reminder of the bitterness of slavery and suffering in Egypt. It is also a reminder of our sin. It is symbolic of the reason that Jesus had to die.
They shall eat the flesh that same night, roasted with fire, and they shall eat it with unleavened bread and bitter herbs. Exodus 12:8 (NASB)
Four Cups of Wine
During the meal four cups of wine were consumed. Each cup stood for the four “I wills” in Exodus 6:6-7. Each cup had a symbolic meaning for Israel and each one also symbolizes what Jesus Christ has done to forgive our sins. God has made it possible for us to be delivered from the power and control of sin. God then starts the process of sanctification. When we die we experience our ultimate redemption. For all of this we can praise our God.
Say, therefore, to the sons of Israel, “I am the LORD, and I will bring you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians, and I will deliver you from their bondage. I will also redeem you with an outstretched arm and with great judgments. Then I will take you for My people, and I will be your God; and you shall know that I am the LORD your God, who brought you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians. Exodus 6:6-7 (NASB)
Cup of Santification. It symbolized Israel’s deliverance from being under the burdens of the Egyptians.
Cup of Deliverance. It symbolized Israel’s deliverance from their bondage.
Cup of Redemption. It symbolized God’s promise to redeem Israel from with an outstretched arm.
Cup of Praise. It symbolized the fact that God took the Israelites to be His people.
The most significant part of the Seder meal occurs when the Yachatz is picked-up after the Karpas (parsley dipped in salt water) is eaten. The Yachatz is a single pouch containing three Matzah. The single pouch symbolizes unity. The middle Matzah is then removed, broken in half, and wrapped in a cloth. This is called the Afikomen. Jewish tradition says that the three Matzahs represent the Jewish people, the priests, the Levities, and the people. Jewish tradition does not know why the middle Matzah is broken. They do not know when this part of the Seder was established. However for Christians the symbolism is obvious. The Yachatz represents our one and only God and the three Matzah represent the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. The breaking of the middle Matzah symbolizes the punishment and death of Jesus Christ. It is important to note that Matzah is stripped and has holes. One half of this broken Matzah is then wrapped and put away until just before the third cup. This symbolizes Jesus’ burial and resurrection on the third day. The Passover Seder is a great reminder of what Jesus Christ did for all of us. We can be delivered from the bondage of sin when we believe in Jesus Christ and ask Him to forgive our sins.
Suggested Links:Should Christians observe the Passover?
On what day of the Jewish calendar does passover begin?
Searching For God