The name given to the chief of the three great historical annual festivals of the Jews. It was kept in remembrance of the Lord's passing over the houses of the Israelites (Exodus 12:13) when the first born of all the Egyptians were destroyed. It is called also the "feast of unleavened bread" (Exodus 23:15; Mark 14:1; Acts 12:3), because during its celebration no leavened bread was to be eaten or even kept in the household (Exodus 12:15). The word afterwards came to denote the lamb that was slain at the feast (Mark 14:12-14; 1 Corinthians 5:7).
A detailed account of the institution of this feast is given in Exodus 12 and 13. It was afterwards incorporated in the ceremonial law (Leviticus 23:4-8) as one of the great festivals of the nation. In after times many changes seem to have taken place as to the mode of its celebration as compared with its first celebration (Comp. Deuteronomy 16:2, 5, 6; 2 Chronicles 30:16; Leviticus 23:10-14; Numbers 9:10, 11; 28:16-24). Again, the use of wine (Luke 22:17, 20), of sauce with the bitter herbs (John 13:26), and the service of praise were introduced.
There is recorded only one celebration of this feast between the Exodus and the entrance into Canaan, namely, that mentioned in Numbers 9:5. (see JOSIAH.) It was primarily a commemorative ordinance, reminding the children of Israel of their deliverance out of Egypt; but it was, no doubt, also a type of the great deliverance wrought by the Messiah for all his people from the doom of death on account of sin, and from the bondage of sin itself, a worse than Egyptian bondage (1 Corinthians 5:7; John 1:29; 19:32-36; 1 Peter 1:19; Galatians 4:4, 5). The appearance of Jerusalem on the occasion of the Passover in the time of our Lord is thus fittingly described: "The city itself and the neighbourhood became more and more crowded as the feast approached, the narrow streets and dark arched bazaars showing the same throng of men of all nations as when Jesus had first visited Jerusalem as a boy. Even the temple offered a strange sight at this season, for in parts of the outer courts a wide space was covered with pens for sheep, goats, and cattle to be used for offerings. Sellers shouted the merits of their beasts, sheep bleated, oxen lowed. Sellers of doves also had a place set apart for them. Potters offered a choice from huge stacks of clay dishes and ovens for roasting and eating the Passover lamb. Booths for wine, oil, salt, and all else needed for sacrifices invited customers. Persons going to and from the city shortened their journey by crossing the temple grounds, often carrying burdens...Stalls to change foreign money into the shekel of the temple, which alone could be paid to the priests, were numerous, the whole confusion making the sanctuary like a noisy Market" (Geikie's Life of Christ).