Lev 23:5-8, Ex 12:14-20, 23:14-15, Num 28:16-25, Deut 16:1-8

The festival
The fulfilment
   1. Leaven
   2. Houses
   3. Unleavened bread

If you thought that my notes on Passover were unnecessarily brief on certain points then you’ll gasp at the length of this treatment of Unleavened Bread! But there’s good reason for this brevity - as has been previously noted under ‘Passover’, Unleavened Bread came to be regarded as one and the same festival in later times and, indeed, as we think about it’s significance, a lot of what we saw as being fulfilled by Christ at Passover has it’s natural consequence in the outworking of this festival.

Therefore, a quick overview of the festival is all that’s really necessary with a simple explanation of its fulfilment in Christ - where the fulfilment comes from is rooted securely in the cross and the redemption and deliverance that God’s Passover Lamb has secured for all believers.

The festival

There’s only one name given to this festival in Scripture which is transliterated in Hebrew as ‘Hag Hamatzot’ meaning ‘The Festival of Unleavened Bread’ (Ex 23:15). However, as I noted in the Introduction and as we’ll see below, this title appears to have been applied at a very early stage to include the Passover.

Biblically, the Lord’s Passover was one day in length on the 14th of Nisan (Num 28:16, Lev 23:5) while Unleavened Bread lasted seven days from the 15th to the 21st of Nisan. This made the entire festival eight days in duration (Num 28:17, Lev 23:6). Confusion arose because, although the lamb was commanded to be slain on the 14th, the instruction that it was to be eaten during the night necessarily meant that it was consumed during the early part of the 15th, the Jewish day beginning at sundown when three stars were visible in the night sky.

The Rabbis (before the destruction of the Temple in 70 AD) after much debate, came to the conclusion that the day of Passover and the first day of Unleavened Bread were the same day (the 15th of Nisan) but the practice amongst many of the Jews seems to have varied widely for there are statements which seem to be the product of different understandings of the structure of that week.

The Rabbi’s interpretation, however, made the combined two festivals only seven days in length - though just when they came to this conclusion is by no means certain (see the two charts in Appendices 1 and 2 of the notes on Passover). This Rabbinical interpretation seems to be supported in the NT by Mark 14:12 which notes that

‘...on the first day of Unleavened Bread...they sacrificed the Passover lamb...’

and it’s clear that the statement relies upon the 14th Nisan being taken to be what was normally attributed to the fifteenth.

However, as leaven had to be put out of the houses on the 14th, many of the statements that it was ‘the first day of unleavened bread’ may be no more than an observation that leaven, having been removed from the houses, could not have been used in the production of the day’s food. This is something about which it’s very difficult to be certain.

The Lamb of the Passover was slain between the two evenings on the 14th just before sunset and therefore just before the beginning of the 15th (Deut 16:6). The paschal lamb was eaten during the night of the 15th of Nisan (this being the first official Biblical day of the festival of Unleavened Bread) and the remaining flesh burnt the following morning (Ex 12:8).

The feast of Unleavened Bread stood or fell with Passover so that ‘Passover’ became the name for the entire festival and not just the name for the day immediately preceding the seven days of Unleavened Bread (Luke 22:1).

Although they’re two distinct festivals in Leviticus chapter 23 and other places, they appear to have merged into one almost immediately. For example, Ex 23:15-17 and Deut 16:16 both list the three festivals at which it was compulsory for Jewish men to appear before the Lord and record the first as ‘Unleavened Bread’, going on to speak in the former of these passages as it being necessary that throughout a seven day period unleavened bread was to be eaten.

This stops short, however, of stating that the festival of Unleavened Bread in this context was considered to be both of the first two festivals combined, but it does show how they were both inextricably linked in the Jewish mind.

Later in the OT, II Chr 8:13 also bears testimony to the name of ‘Unleavened Bread’ being given to what one would have expected to have been called ‘Passover’ and Luke 22:1 makes this equation certain when the author notes that

‘...the feast of Unleavened Bread drew near, which is called the Passover’

going on to note in Luke 22:7 that the day on which the Passover lamb was sacrificed was also called

‘...the day of Unleavened Bread...’

So integrated are the two labels that it’s difficult to be absolutely certain whether a seven day festival or a one day event is being referred to in some of the texts.

When we come to the command to celebrate the festival in Jerusalem, it’s natural to be hesitant about the witness of both Deut 16:16 and Ex 23:15-17 cited above for the use of the label ‘Festival of Unleavened Bread’ occurs in the place where one would have expected the word ‘Passover’ for Deut 16:5-6 - which occurs just a few verses prior to the first of these two - notes that

‘You may not offer the Passover sacrifice within any of your towns...but at the place which the Lord your God will choose, to make his name dwell in it, there you shall offer the Passover sacrifice...’

and it makes it seem as if there were four festivals at which it was compulsory for Jewish men to appear before YHWH.

However, if we accept that both Passover and Unleavened Bread were so inextricably linked together they stood or fell as one festival, then we can accept that the command had to do with a festival which ran from the 14th, a day of preparing for the Passover (not a ‘Day of Preparation’ which only rightfully is used of a day prior to a sabbath) followed by the seven day festival itself which ran from the 15th to the 21st Nisan.

Therefore, it seems right to accept that the Festival of Unleavened Bread was compulsory for all male Israelites to attend annually.

Leaven was to be removed from all the houses (Ex 12:15) where the Mishnaic command in Pesahim 1:1 reads that

‘On the night of the 14th Nisan, the hametz must be searched for by the light of a lamp’

Leaven wasn’t to be with anyone throughout the entire territory of Israel for the full duration of the festival (Deut 16:4). For seven days no leaven was to be present and only unleavened bread was to be eaten (Deut 16:3, Ex 12:18). It was to be a reminder to the Israelites of the day when they came out of the land of Egypt (Ex 12:33-34). Israelites were to be ‘cut off’ from the nation if they partook of leaven during that seven day period (Ex 12:15,19).

Because of the various statements which are made in Scripture, it’s difficult to simply answer the question as to whether unleavened bread was commanded to be eaten from the 15th to the 21st or from the 14th to the 20th seeing as a seven day period is stated with clarity in several places (Ex 13:6,7, 23:15, 34:18, Lev 23:6, Num 28:17). Ex 12:18, however, states that

‘In the first month, on the fourteenth day of the month at evening, you shall eat unleavened bread, and so until the twenty-first day of the month at evening’

which gives an eight day period (14th-21st) but, as leaven had to be removed from the Jews’ places of residence during the 14th, it seems only fair to presume that it wouldn’t have been right for them to have eaten bread on that day that was leavened. The 14th, therefore, although being a day on which to make sure that the requirements of the festival were satisfied, was also consequently a day on which unleavened bread had to be eaten while not strictly being part of the Festival of the same name.

Therefore, the OT commandments can also maintain that the period of eating of unleavened bread was to take place on the 15th and for seven days (Lev 23:6, Num 28:17). Deut 16:8 is the only Scripture which appears to cloud this issue for it commands that

‘For six days you shall eat unleavened bread; and on the seventh day there shall be a solemn assembly to the Lord your God; you shall do no work on it’

which makes it sound as if the command was for six days of eating. However, all the Scripture is doing is to show when the assembly was to take place at which all the male Israelites were to come together before YHWH. Ex 13:6 phrases the same command differently by noting that

‘Seven days you shall eat unleavened bread, and on the seventh day there shall be a feast to the Lord’

In summary, because leaven had to be removed from the houses on the 14th Nisan, it was natural for unleavened bread to also be eaten on that day, even though the command related to eating it between the 15th and 21st. The term ‘Passover’ and ‘Unleavened Bread’ as names of festivals could be used interchangeably but it was more common for the latter to be used to encapsulate both festivals as one unit and, as such, it was compulsory for the male Israelites to attend the celebrations in the ‘place where YHWH would choose’ which eventually became the city of Jerusalem.

The fulfilment
Ex 12:15

The fulfilment of the festival is provided for the reader by a consideration on Ex 12:15 which commanded the Israelites

‘Seven days you shall eat unleavened bread; on the first day you shall put away leaven out of your houses, for if any one eats what is leavened, from the first day until the seventh day, that person shall be cut off from Israel’

This seven day period is significant within the festivals because it only occurs twice - once here and, again, at the final festival of Tabernacles. Seven is the usual number of completion and wholeness in the Bible and it’s usage here is indicative of the entire Church age. For the entire Church age, therefore, no sin (leaven) is to be found with believers in all their territory (Deut 16:4).

This is an important concept to grasp and we’ll see this time period as being indicative of an age again when we get to the Festival of Tabernacles as opposed to the single day festivals of Passover, First Fruits, Trumpets and Yom Kippur, all of which point toward a single event taking place in world history and on which the fulfilment of the festival was to take place.

In both seven day festivals, the ‘age’ comes about through one specific act when viewed in their fulfilment in Jesus Christ but, in the OT, only Unleavened Bread can be clearly perceived as being a result of the effects of Passover while Tabernacles occurs as a remembrance of the period of both the wilderness wanderings and the ingathering of the harvest. When Paul writes in I Cor 5:7 that

‘...Christ, our [Passover], has been sacrificed’

referring to the single day festival finding fulfilment in Jesus’ death on the cross, he continues by exhorting his readers (I Cor 5:8)

‘Let us, therefore, celebrate the festival, not with the old leaven, the leaven of malice and evil, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth’

moving on from the single event of the lamb slain and eaten to the seven day period of the Unleavened Bread festival and paralleling it with the Church age in which believers live - or, more exactly, the life of the believer who exists within its times. Paul’s not thinking of a limited seven day period after which the believers would have the freedom to return to their former lives of sin, but of their entire life experience until death.

Once an individual receives the reality of the Passover into their lives, their remaining years are to be spent in the celebration of the festival of Unleavened Bread - that is, lives that feed upon Christ and which live out the righteousness of God into all the earth. As we’ll see also when we come to the Festival of Tabernacles, the age about which the festival speaks comes about only after both the harvest and completion of the wilderness wanderings.

The seven day duration of the festival, therefore, is indicative of a time period and not a once-and-for-all-time event. Besides this, there are certain aspects of the festival which, when seen as foreshadowings, point towards how a believer is to live their lives before God from the moment they come to accept the sacrifice offered on their behalf through until the day they die, a time period rather than a time-fixed event which varies in each individual’s life but which occurs completely within the Church age.

1. Leaven
represents the pervasiveness of sin
‘...you shall put away leaven...’

Leaven was a small part of the old batch of dough which decayed and which was added to the next batch to cause it to rise. As such, ‘yeast’ is not necessarily the best name for it in today’s society for the manner in which it’s obtained for inclusion into a new batch of bread is significantly different - besides, the EU would never permit such a practice to take place.

Leaven was accepted as being an agency of disintegration and corruption and is used figuratively in the Bible to denote not just sin but the agency of evil which moves through men and women to bring about the multiplication of actions which are opposed to God. It’s this intrinsic character of moving through areas and infiltrating even hidden parts which lies at its base of its use either positively or negatively depending on the context in which it’s used.

For example, in the previously quoted I Cor 5:8, Paul talks about the leaven of malice and evil compared to the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth where each of the two contrasts speak of an active force in a person’s life. Mtw 16:6 also records Jesus’ words as warning the disciples to

‘...beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees’

where the concluding explanation of Mtw 16:12 interprets His words as meaning

‘...the teaching of the Pharisees and Sadducees’

seen in Mtw 23:13-15 to be something which increases itself as it works its way through even Gentile society. Far from simply referring to sin, therefore, leaven corresponds to a pervading influence working its way through men and women and, out from them, to affect others.

Paul also uses the metaphor clearly in Gal 5:9 (see also I Cor 5:6) where he summarises his arguments of the path of law observance versus the way of obedience to the Spirit (Gal 5:1-8) by noting that

‘A little leaven leavens the whole lump’

explaining that even a little leaven of wrong teaching and life conduct works through the entire life set out before Him. But, like other word images, leaven doesn’t always have this meaning - see Mtw 13:33 where it’s used with no connotations of sin having to be attached to it. Here it’s only used because leaven affects the entire lump in which it’s found, just like the Kingdom of God which works itself through society from very small beginnings (see also my notes on the web page here).

When we come to the fulfilment of the festival, however, the putting away of leaven and the participation in bread which is lacking in the ingredient teaches believers that assimilation of spiritual food into themselves should also be pure and acceptable to God and that this will work through their entire lives to bring them completeness and wholeness in the sight of God.

This assimilation is also spoken of in the Gospel of John where many of the Jews and His own followers failed to perceive the truth which He was trying to impart to them (John 6:41-71) that they needed to take into themselves His own character and life that it might become part of themselves - hence, Jesus becomes not simply Someone whose words are to be obeyed but a Person who’s to be absorbed.

Living in the continuing outworking of the Festival of Unleavened Bread, therefore, a believer is to grow increasingly more like Jesus as they feed upon Him and take into their own experience all that He is. Christianity is no series of rules to be kept but a Person who’s allowed to take root and grow out from an individual’s lives.

2. Houses
represent individual human beings
‘...you shall put away leaven out of your houses...’

The human body is sometimes referred to as a habitation in which a person lives (Job 4:19, II Cor 5:1, II Peter 1:13) and it’s this typology that’s relevant here. Before the Passover sacrifice, Israel’s houses had leaven in them, but its presence had to be dealt with in order for the people to remain as the people of God (Ex 12:15) and to celebrate the festival pure from any leavening influence.

Before an individual comes to acknowledge and receive the reality of the sacrifice of God’s Passover (Jesus), they’re a human habitation in which sin both dwells and reigns but which, at Passover, must be removed in order for them to become acceptable to God and, at Unleavened Bread, to continue building upon the foundation which has been laid.

3. Unleavened bread
represents the body of Christ
‘...you shall eat unleavened bread...’

Just as the Passover sacrifice began the entire festival, so, too, Christ’s fulfilment of the Passover in the cross is the starting point from which a person enters into the spiritual feast of Unleavened Bread. When there’s spiritual cleansing from sin (leaven), the bodies of believers (houses) become clean before God and they receive the forgiveness of their sins (I John 1:7).

We should again remind ourselves here that the festival didn’t teach the Israelites that God had dealt with their sins but that He’d delivered them from bondage into freedom, one of the aspects of that freedom being the release from slavery to sin through the forgiveness of the cross. The passage in I Cor 5:6-8 uses this specific aspect to go on and speak of the spiritual celebration and fulfilment of Unleavened Bread, but it’s not the only aspect of Christ’s fulfilment on the cross.

Although Paul exhorts the Corinthians (I Cor 5:7) to

‘...cleanse out the old leaven’

he doesn’t have a legalistic righteousness in mind for, later in the same sentence, he goes on to say that the Corinthians

‘...really are unleavened’

giving the reason that

‘Christ, our Passover, has been sacrificed’

Paul is urging his readers to be the people that they already are, the people that they became by faith in the work of the cross, and not slip back into a lifestyle in which sin (leaven) is present and which will pervade their entire conduct in the world. But, more than this, the Corinthians are exhorted (I Cor 5:8) to

‘...celebrate the festival...with the Unleavened Bread of sincerity and truth’

Their houses (bodies) are not simply to have sin absent from them, but are to have righteousness and obedience to God indwelling. In a very real sense, Jesus should be considered as the Unleavened Bread of God. The body which knew no sin (Heb 4:14) is the body upon which believers are to feed and to gain nourishment (John 6:48-56) and which Jesus showed symbolised His body given for them in the broken unleavened bread at the Last Supper (Mtw 26:26).

Believers, therefore, are to assimilate Him into their experience and life, rather than to feed upon the old way of sin.