Part 2 of a three-part series on the atonement. See Part 1 and Part 3

In our first post we examined the way Christ fulfils the Old Testament idea of Sacrifice through his death on the cross. This week we will look at the idea of the Passover Lamb.

In its original context the Passover brings together God’s judgement, salvation and victory.

The Passover is first an act of judgment: both against the sin of Pharoah for refusing to release the Israelites; and also against the false gods of Egypt:

I will pass through the land of Egypt that night, and I will strike down every firstborn in the land of Egypt, both human beings and animals; on all the gods of Egypt I will execute judgment … when I see the blood, I will pass over you, and no plague shall destroy you when I strike the land of Egypt (Exod 12:12-14).

The Passover means salvation too. As he judges, God simultaneously protects his people from his own judgement. The blood of the lamb is a God-given sign that causes him to pass over those who believes and obey. The blood is propitiatory, turning aside wrath. In Jeremy Treat’s words,

The suffering of the Passover lamb plays a key role in the victory of God and his people. In fact, if the wrath of God were not averted from Israel by the spotless lambs, their fate would be no different than that of the Egyptians…this is an instance of royal victory through atoning suffering.[1]

Jeremy Treat –

Passover, Exodus and Victory

Treat’s quote leads us to the third aspect of the Passover – victory.
The Passover comes within a series of acts in which we see God’s judgment and salvation in the context of victory – from the start of the plagues to the drowning of Pharaoh’s army.
The prophet Micah reflects this intersection of themes when he later uses Exodus imagery to praise God’s pardon for sin: “You will cast all our sins into the depths of the sea,” (Mic 7:20, in the context of 7:15,18).

Christ and the Passover

In the New Testament all the gospel accounts connect the death of Jesus Christ to the Passover and the forgiveness of sins (Matt 26:17-19, 26-30, Mark 14:12-26, Luke 22:7-23; John 18:28, 19:14,31,42). In John’s gospel Jesus dies on the cross as the Passover lambs are being slaughtered.[2]
In the Epistles Paul writes that “Christ, our pascal lamb, has been sacrificed,” (1Cor 5:7). Peter says that we have been “ransomed…with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without defect or blemish,” (1 Pet 1:18,19). Just as those rescued from Egypt were ransomed or redeemed (Exod 6:6, Deut 9:6, etc.), so Christ claimed that he came to serve, by giving his life “as a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45).[3]

The Lamb who was Slain

The theme of Christ as the Passover lamb links sacrifice with victory; forgiveness of sins and protection from God’s judgement; and victory over sin and Satan. In the book of Revelation, these connections appear with stark clarity as John sees “a Lamb standing as if it had been slaughtered;” and hears words of praise which explain what Christ’s death achieves:

You are worthy to take the scroll and to open its seals, for you were slaughtered and by your blood you ransomed for God saints from every tribe and language and people and nation (Rev. 5:6,9,10,).

Revelation, like Exodus, looks to a lamb that rescues people from judgement. It depicts plagues of judgment, and great victories over Satan and the nations. Christ the true Passover Lamb defeats the forces of evil and protects his people from the wrath and judgment of God through his death and resurrection. In the words of Richard Bauckham:

By juxtaposing two contrasting images (the Lion of Judah and the standing slaughtered Lamb) John has forged a new symbol of conquest by sacrificial death.’[4]

The Victorious Sacrifice

This connection between sacrifice salvation and victory can be found elsewhere:

  • In the vigorous language of victory of Romans 8:31-39 which depends on the sacrifice described in Romans 3.
  • In Colossians, where we read of God gaining “victory over the rulers and authorities” through Christ’s “canceling the record of debt” by means of the cross. [5]
  • In Hebrews 2, where Christ’s victory over Satan in Hebrews 2 is achieved by his atoning work as priest and sacrifice.[6]

Christus Victor, Christus Redemptor

Graham Cole observes that “the good news is that Christ’s cross not only saves us but additionally disarms those forces arraigned against us; … The key to the disarmament is the forgiveness of sins on the basis of the cross.” To put it in technical language ” [the idea of Christ as the one who defeats evil] needs the explanatory power of substitutionary atonement.”[7]

Graham Cole –

Jeremy Treat shows why penal substitution and are complementary, not in competition:

First, if our sins have not been dealt with, the coming of God’s kingdom is not good news…if our sins have been atoned for, we remain under God’s wrath and outside his kingdom … (and) … if the kingdom is established with justice, where is the justice of God revealed in its fullest? It is revealed at the cross, where Jesus was “put forward as a propitiation … to show God’s righteousness’.[8]

In the image of Christ as Passover Lamb we see the intersection of a host of fundamental biblical themes: the judgement of God; the defeat of his enemies; the rescue of God’s people through a propitiatory sacrifice.

No wonder we still pray the ancient prayer, “Jesus, Lamb of God, you have taken away the sin of the world, have mercy upon us.”


Picture: “Agnus Dei”, Francisco de Zurbarán, 1640

* These posts are adapted from Peter Adam’s essay “The Atoning Saviour,” in Michael R. Stead, ed., Christ Died for Our Sins: Essays on the Atonement, Canberra, Barton, 2013, pp. 15-34. See Barton Books, or order a copy here.

[1] Jeremy R. Treat, The Crucified King: Atonement and Kingdom in Biblical and Systematic Theology, Grand Rapids, Zondervan, 2014, 63.

[2] See Dorothy Lee, “Paschal Imagery in the Gospel of John: A Narrative and Symbolic Reading”, Pacifica 24 , Feb 2011, 13-28.

[3] See also Rom 3:24, Ephes. 1:7, and Rev. 5:9,10.

[4] Richard Bauckham, The Theology of the Book of Revelation, Cambridge, CUP, 1993, 74. And see also GK Beale, The Book of Revelation, NIGTC, Grand Rapids/Cambridge, Eerdmans/Carlisle, Paternoster, 350,351.

[5]  Garry Williams, “Penal Substitution: A Response to Recent Criticisms”, in D. Tidball, D. Hillborn, and J. Thacker, eds, The Atonement Debate: Papers from the London Symposium of the Theology of the Atonement, Grand Rapids, Zondervan, 2008, 187.

[6] John Stott, The Cross of Christ, Leicester, IVP, 1986, 227-251.

[7] Graham Cole, God the Peacemaker: How Atonement Brings Shalom, NSBT, Nottingham, Apollos/ Downers Grove, IVP, 2009, 183.

[8] Treat, Crucified King, 225.