Three times a year Israelite families travelled to the temple in Jerusalem for a religious festival (Ex. 23:14-17; 34:23-24; Dt. 16:16). The first of these was the Passover, when they remembered how God delivered them from slavery in Egypt. They were to kill and eat a lamb together with unleaven bread (without yeast) and bitter herbs (Num. 9:1-14; Dt. 16:1-8). The symbols were taken from the exodus. In the final plague on the Egyptians, to be protected from the death of the firstborn son, the Israelites had to kill a lamb and put its blood around their front door-frame. The lamb died so they could escape death of the firstborn and escape from Egypt. And because they had to leave in haste, they didn’t have time to add yeast to cause their bread to rise. And yeast is also a symbol of sin. The bitter herbs symbolized their bitter slavery in Egypt (Ex. 1:14). Straight after the death of the Egyptian firstborn, Pharaoh told the Israelites to leave Egypt and they escaped slavery (Ex. 12:31-33).
Jesus died “when it was customary to sacrifice the Passover lamb” (Mk. 14:12). John called Jesus “the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” (Jn. 1:29). He also saw Jesus as a Lamb who had been slaughtered (Rev. 5:6). Paul said, “Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed” (1 Cor. 5:7). And Peter said, believers are saved “with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect” (1 Pt. 1:18-19). Jesus never sinned (Heb. 4:15). So He is like the Passover lamb, which was also to be without defect (Ex. 12:5). Another similarity is that the soldiers didn’t break Jesus’ legs when He was crucified and the Israelites were not to break any of the bones of the Passover lamb (Ex. 12:46; Jn. 19:33-36).
Because of the death of the lamb on their behalf, the Israelites were delivered from slavery to freedom. And because of Christ’s death on our behalf, we can be delivered from the penalty of sin to have eternal life with God.
Jesus instituted the Lord’s Supper on the night before the Passover. It was a command for believers like the Passover was a command for the Israelites (1 Cor. 11:24). The Jews were to remember their deliverance/salvation from slavery once a year at the Passover festival. And, like Paul, we remember our deliverance/salvation from the penalty of sin once a week (Acts 20:7). We don’t need to travel to a holy place for this remembrance. Today we have holy people, not holy places.
The bread and the wine are symbols of Christ’s incarnation (He came in a human body) and His sacrificial death. At that time they were used at most evening meals. In this case, they represent His person and His work. The bread represents His body. And the cup represents the wine it contains, which represents the shedding of Christ’s blood, which represents Christ’s death. The main point is that forgiveness comes through Christ’s sacrifice. Just like the Israelite’s firstborn were only saved by the death of a lamb. We are proclaiming that Christ’s sacrificial death provides forgiveness and peace with God. We recall His suffering and the blessings and benefits which come from His death and resurrection. That’s why at the Lord’s Supper we offer thanks and praise for all that God has done for us through Jesus Christ.