How Jesus Fulfilled the Passover – Salvation through Substitution


Justin Dillehay:

This year the Jewish celebration of Passover will begin on Wednesday, April 8, two days before the Christian celebration of Good Friday. The proximity of these two religious holy days is nothing new. It reminds us that Jesus was crucified during Passover, and that as a Jew he had come to Jerusalem to celebrate it.

But is that just a coincidence? Did Jesus just happen to die during Passover?

The biblical answer is no. The reason he came to Jerusalem that final time wasn’t just to celebrate Passover, but to become our Passover. As the apostle Paul says plainly in 1 Corinthians 5:7, “Christ our Passover has been sacrificed.”

But what does that mean?

To see the answer, we need to begin at Exodus 12, the story of the first Passover. There we’ll see why the Passover was necessary and what it meant. Having learned Passover’s meaning, we’ll then look at how Christ became our Passover.

Exodus 12 and the First Passover

The setting is Egypt, and the mood is chaos. Egypt has just been devastated by a series of nine plagues. And this isn’t just a string of tough luck—God is judging Egypt. More than that, God is keeping a promise (Ex. 2:23–25). He has sworn to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob that their children would have the land of Canaan for an inheritance (Gen. 15:18–21), yet they’ve been stuck in Egypt for centuries. It’s time for God to get them out and bring them home.

But first, there is one last plague, the most severe of all. With all (or at least most) of the previous plagues, Israel has been exempted. Their cattle didn’t die (Ex. 9:6). Their crops weren’t hailed on (Ex. 9:26). Even their land didn’t go dark (Ex. 10:23). They haven’t done anything to avoid these other plagues; God has simply aimed away from them.

The final plague will be different. God will be aiming at everyone this time. Apart from some unforeseen provision, God is going to strike down all the firstborn in Egypt, including the firstborn of Israel.


Because despite the fact that Israel is God’s chosen people, and despite the fact that they’ve been oppressed for centuries, the truth is they are sinners, too. Ezekiel 20:4–10 tells us they’d even been worshiping the false gods of Egypt! God can’t simply ignore that sin.

The message of the 10th plague is that God is holy and just. But the message of Passover is that God is also merciful. On that first Passover, God devised a way in which he could be both just and merciful at the same time. We might call it salvation through substitution.

God’s provision is simple: take a lamb. A mature male one-year-old and without blemish (Ex. 12:3–5). Examine it for four days to ensure there’s no flaw in it (12:6). And finally, on the 14th day of the month—the night the death angel kills the firstborn—kill that lamb. Then apply its blood to your doorposts (12:7), and when God sees the blood, he will pass over you (12:13).

That’s the meaning. God spares Israel’s sons, not because they are better than Egypt’s sons, but because a spotless lamb dies in their place and its blood covers their door.

Salvation through substitution. And, according to New Testament, the message of Passover is also the message of Good Friday.

Good Friday and the True Passover Lamb

If you wonder how an animal could substitute for a human, the answer is that ultimately it couldn’t (Heb. 10:4). How God could pass over human sin because an animal died was a problem still demanding resolution (Rom. 3:25).

Good Friday is when God finally resolved it.

Just as even Israel stood exposed to God’s wrath in that 10th plague for their idolatry, so we all stand exposed to God’s righteous wrath for our idolatry. All of us have sinned and fallen short of his glory. And apart from some provision, every last one of us was going to perish eternally under God’s wrath in the eternal fire prepared for the Devil and his angels. Because God is holy and just.

But in his infinite love, God devised a way to be just and merciful at the same time. Salvation through substitution. The Passover was meant to paint a picture of that, but it wasn’t the real thing. But when we get to the Gospels, the true substitute is here. In the words of John the Baptist, “Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1:29).

As with all typology, Jesus is greater than the Old Testament type. This time God didn’t ask us to provide the lamb—he provided the Lamb himself. And this Lamb was no beast—he was fully God and fully man—like us in every way except sin (Heb. 2:17; 4:15).

And yet as with all typology, Jesus corresponded to the Old Testament type in many ways. Like the Passover lamb, he was a mature male (Luke 3:23), none of his bones was broken (Ex. 12:46John 19:36), he was thoroughly examined and found spotless (1 Pet. 2:22), and he was slain for our sins (1 Cor. 15:3Rev. 1:5). We boast that we’ve been redeemed, “not with perishable things like silver and gold—but with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without blemish or spot” (1 Pet. 1:18–19).

That’s what Paul means when he says that “Christ our Passover has been sacrificed.” Our salvation comes through his substitution. That’s why God can say to us, “When I see his blood, I will pass over you.”

Which leaves one question.

Is His Blood Applied to You?

Are you covered by the blood?

Recall what Exodus 12 says. Strictly speaking, it wasn’t enough for the Passover Lamb to be slain. In order for God to pass over them, its blood had to be applied to their door. If they’d omitted that, the lamb wouldn’t have done them any good. In the same way, John Calvin once noted that “as long as Christ remains outside of us, and we are separated from him, all that he has suffered and done for the salvation of the human race will remain useless and of no value for us” (Institutes III.1.1).

You must look on the Lamb who was pierced for you, and embrace him by faith as your only protection from God’s wrath. Faith is the instrument by which his blood is applied to you personally. If you knock at his door in humble faith, you’ll find there is plenty of room in his house for you. And when God sees the blood, he will pass over you.

Salvation through substitution.

This is the message of Passover.

It’s the message of Good Friday.

And it’s the hope of all the world.

Peter serves as a pastor-teacher, at home and abroad, resourcing gospel-centred communities.