What’s the Context of Good Friday? From Passover to Crucifixion

Passover was more than just an event that saw the Israelites freed from Egypt: It prefigured the Crucifixion. Christians celebrate it today as Good Friday.

Mar 28, 2024By Eben De Jager, PhD New Testament, MTh Christian Spirituality
good friday passover crucifixion


Today, Christians are often more familiar with Good Friday than with the term Passover. Yet, the typology of Passover in the context of the Crucifixion is a rich and profound subject. It exemplifies the interconnectedness of Old Testament rituals and New Testament events.


When we consider some of the details of the narrative, we discover symbols that weave a tapestry of what would happen to Christ many centuries later. For Christians, it provides insight into the way God revealed the future Messiah to Israel and how he planned to save believers from sin.


The Historical Context of the Passover

passover blood lintels good friday
Preparing for the Passing Over of the Angel of Death, by Sylvanus Stall, 1911, Source: VCY


The sons of Jacob (also called Israel), resided in Egypt, having moved there to avoid the famine that ravaged their native land. Joseph was surpassed only by Pharaoh himself in authority over Egypt. However, sometime after the death of Joseph, the descendants of the sons of Jacob, known as the nation of Israel, became slaves in the country.


During the hundreds of years after Israel moved to Egypt, the numbers of the Israelites increased significantly. The pharaoh perceived them as a threat to his country. After Pharaoh ordered that the male infants among the Israelites be killed to reduce their numbers, Moses, of Israelite descent, ended up at the Egyptian court, and the daughter of Pharaoh raised him like a prince.


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Moses later became a leader among the Israelites and petitioned Pharaoh for the release of the nation of Israel. After numerous attempts and nine plagues that ravaged the land of Egypt, Moses informed Pharoah that a tenth plague would strike. This plague would see the firstborn son of each family die.


paschal lamb mosaic st marys
Saint Mary Magdalene Church (Columbus, Ohio), mosaic depicting the Israelites applying the blood of the paschal lamb to the doorposts, Source: Wikimedia Commons


Exodus 12 details how Israel could avoid the tragedy of the death of their firstborns. Each household had to sacrifice a year-old lamb without blemish. The Israelites had to put the blood of the lamb on the doorposts and lintels of each house. They also had to dip hyssop—an aromatic plant associated with purification rituals in the Old Testament—in the blood and smear it on the frames of the entrance to each house. Every household then had to eat the roasted meat of the lamb with unleavened bread and bitter herbs. Each household member had to eat in haste with their belts fastened and their sandals on. They also had to hold a staff in their hands.


Exodus 12:13 explains the reason for the blood on the doorposts and lintels: “The blood shall be a sign for you, on the houses where you are. And when I see the blood, I will pass over you, and no plague will befall you to destroy you when I strike the land of Egypt.” The blood would protect the inhabitants of each house.


The Israelites had to remove all leaven from their houses a week before the Passover. They were not allowed to eat anything that contained leaven during that week. Anyone who disobeyed this instruction would be cut from the Israelite nation.


death of the first born
Death of the Firstborn in True Stories for Little People, 1894, Source: Internet Archive


The date of the Passover was the 14th day of the first month. God instructed the Israelites to celebrate that day as the feast of Unleavened Bread in all generations afterward. To this day, the celebration of Passover is a prominent event in Jewish and Christian faith communities. The Jews celebrate it as a commemoration of their freedom from slavery in Egypt, while Christians celebrate it for its typological significance as a symbol of Christ and his Crucifixion.


In the Christian tradition, believers do not celebrate Passover as a feast day of the ceremonial system of ancient Israel. Instead, Christians hold communion—which has ties with the same event—more regularly. Christians do, however, celebrate Good Friday on Easter Weekend as the day Christ died on the cross.


Typology of the Passover

dutch passover preparation illustration good friday
Preparation for the Passover, from The Story of Moses, before the Exodus, by Johann Sadeler, After Marten van Cleve I Netherlandish, 1585, Source: The MET, New York


Typology is the study and interpretation of types and symbols. Typology is, therefore, a way of understanding connections between events, people, or concepts in the Bible. It is like finding patterns or echoes across different stories or characters. In typology, something from the past called a “type” is seen as a kind of foreshadowing or precursor to something in the future—an “antitype.” The Passover narrative has much typological significance. Let us consider some themes:


The Israelites as Slaves in Egypt:


The experience of slavery in Egypt serves as a type of foreshadowing of the spiritual bondage of humanity to sin. Just as the Israelites were enslaved by Pharaoh and subjected to harsh oppression, humanity suffered slavery to sin and its consequences. Israel was unable to break the chains of slavery in Egypt without the supernatural intervention of God. Likewise, sinners are unable to break free from their enslavement to sin without divine intervention.


The Lamb: 


In the Passover narrative, the lamb is a substitutionary sacrifice, representing the innocent life given to save others. In the New Testament, John the Baptist exemplifies how Jews interpreted Old Testament typology. In John 1:29, John the Apostle records how John the Baptist, seeing Jesus, said: “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!”


Unleavened Bread: 


In the Bible, the leaven serves as a symbol of sin. The removal of leaven from Israelite households represents the removal of sin from the believer. It can take the form of reflection and introspection, accompanied by repentance and asking for the Lord’s forgiveness.


In the New Testament, Jesus used unleavened bread during the Last Supper to symbolize his body. Just like the bread had not leaven, Jesus was sinless. It connects his sacrifice to the Passover tradition and signifies the removal of sin through his death.


the destroying angel passing through egypt
The Destroying Angel passing through Egypt, illustration from The Story of the Bible from Genesis to Revelation Told in Simple Language for the Young, by Charles Foster, 1881, Source: Wikimedia Commons


The Bitter Herbs: 


The Passover meal included “bitter herbs,” such as horseradish. There is a twofold interpretation of the meaning of the bitter herbs that Israel ate with the Passover meal. Firstly, it symbolized the bitter suffering of the Israelites as slaves in Egypt. Typologically, it represents the bitter experience of slavery to sin and the suffering that flows from it.


Second, it signifies the bitter experience and realization that the innocent lamb had to suffer to set the Israelites free. Typologically, it depicts the bitterness that Jesus, the sinless Son of God, had to suffer and die for the salvation of believers and to free them from sin. It may also prefigure the suffering of Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane when Judas betrayed Jesus, and when his suffering before the crucifixion would start.


The Blood Covenant: 


The blood of the lamb that the Israelites smeared on the doorposts and lintels of their houses typifies the blood of Jesus that he spilled for believers. Just as the blood of the lamb caused the angel of death to pass over certain houses, so the blood of Jesus insulates the believer. It speaks to a covenant and relationship with God where the blood works ultimate atonement and grants the believer access to eternal life.


the israelites eat passover good friday
The Israelites eat the Passover, from Figures de la Bible, by Gerard Hoet, 1728, Source: Mythfolklore.net


Dress During the Passover: 


The clothing that the Israelites wore during the Passover meal was also symbolic. Usually, Israelites would not enjoy a meal with their belts fastened, sandals on their feet, and staffs in their hand. Israelites wore these items as if they were about to go outside to work or on a journey. It indicated a readiness to leave the land of slavery and start on a journey toward the promised land. Eating the meal in haste indicated the eagerness the Israelites should have to embark on the journey away from Egypt.


The symbolic meaning of this practice is a readiness to leave sin behind and journey towards the promised eternal residence for believers. It exemplified the eagerness to move away from the profane and to stride toward a holy lifestyle.


From Old to New

apostls at passover good friday
From the Life of Christ Series, Passover: Christ and the Apostles sit around a table and eat lamb and unleavened bread, by Jacob Cornelisz. van Oostsanen, 1523, Source: The British Museum


When Jesus held the last supper with his disciples, they celebrated the Passover. Christians celebrate communion (which has the Passover meal as its origin), more regularly than the Israelites celebrate their annual feast. In addition, Christians also celebrate Good Friday as a special celebration where the antitype of the feast—the death of Christ on the cross—is in view, rather than the original event.


The actual meal of the Passover was enjoyed by Jesus and his disciples on the Thursday evening of the weekly Easter cycle. This is because the Jewish reckoning of a day starts with the evening and then the morning. What we know as Thursday evening is the beginning of the Friday, or day of preparation, to Jews. It would be, strictly speaking, incorrect to celebrate the Passover meal on a Friday evening in the Western calendar.



christ on cross murillo
The Crucifixion, by Bartolomé Estebán Murillo Spanish, ca. 1675, Source: The MET, New York


The Passover was an event that saw the Israelites protected from the tenth plague that killed the firstborns of Egypt. Elements of the Passover hold many types that point to the death of Christ for Christian people. In the symbolism of Passover, we see the redemption of believers from sin and the resulting suffering in the way that God saved the Israelites from slavery in Egypt.


The lamb without blemish, unleavened bread, the blood, the bitter herbs, and the clothing the Israelites wore were all symbols that resonate with aspects of the Christian experience of salvation from slavery to sin. In a Christian context, communion took the place of the Passover meal. That said, Christian communities still celebrate the Passover, although they are more familiar with the term Good Friday. On Good Friday, Christians have the antitype of the Passover (the death of Christ) in view rather than the original feast. In Judaism, the salvation of Israel from slavery in Egypt is still the primary focus.

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By Eben De JagerPhD New Testament, MTh Christian SpiritualityEben is a theologian, presenter, author, and public speaker with more than a decade of experience in Christian apologetics. His fields of interest are the gift of tongues and eschatology, especially the books of Daniel and Revelation. He holds a PhD from North-West University, a MTh (Christian Spirituality) from the University of South Africa, a BA(Hons) in Theology from the University of Johannesburg, and a BA in Theology from the Rand Afrikaans University.