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Ante-Nicene Fathers, Vol IX:
Epistle to Gregory and Origen's Commentary on the Gospel of John.: Chapter XIII

Early Church Fathers  Index     

13.  Spiritual Meaning of the Passover.

A few points may be added in connection with the doctrines now under consideration, though it would require a special discussion in many volumes to treat of all the mystical statements about the law, and specially of those connected with the festivals, and more particularly still with the passover.  The passover of the Jews consists of a sheep which is sacrificed, each taking a sheep according to his father’s house; and the passover is accompanied by the slaughter of thousands of rams and goats, in proportion to the number of the houses of the people.  But our Passover is sacrificed for us, namely, Christ.  Another feature of the Jewish festival is unleavened bread; all leaven is made to disappear out of their houses; but “we keep the feast 5034 not with the old leaven, nor with the leaven of malice and wickedness, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth.”  Whether there be any passover and any feast of leaven beyond the two we have mentioned, is a point we must examine more carefully, since these serve for a pattern and a shadow of the heavenly ones we spoke of, and not only such things as food and drink and new moons and sabbaths, but the festivals also, are a shadow of the things to come.  In the first place, when the Apostle says, “Our passover is sacrificed, Christ,” one may feel with regard to this such doubts as these.  If the sheep with the Jews is a type of the sacrifice of Christ, then one should have been offered and not a multitude, as Christ is one; or if many sheep were offered it is to follow out the type, as if many Christs were sacrificed.  But not to dwell on this, we may ask how the sheep, which was the victim, contains an image of Christ, when the sheep was sacrificed by men who were observing the law, but Christ was put to death by transgressors of the law, and what application can be found in Christ of the direction, 5035 “They shall eat the flesh this night, roast with fire, and unleavened bread on bitter herbs shall they eat,” and “Eat not of it raw, nor sodden with water, but roast with fire; the head with the feet and the entrails; ye shall not set any of it apart till the morning, and a bone thereof ye shall not break.  But that which is left thereof till the morning ye shall burn.”  The sentence, “A bone of it ye shall not break,” John appears to have made use of in his Gospel, as applying to the transactions connected with Christ, and connecting with them the occasion spoken of in the law when those eating the sheep are bidden not to break a bone of it.  He writes as follows: 5036   “The soldiers therefore came and brake the legs of the first, and of the other who was crucified with him; but when they came to Jesus and saw that He was already dead, they brake not His legs, but one of the soldiers with a spear pierced His side, and straightway there came out blood and water.  And he that hath seen hath borne witness and his witness is true, and he knoweth that he sayeth truth that ye also may believe.  And these things took place that the Scripture might be fulfilled, “A bone of Him ye shall not break.”  There are a myriad other points besides this in the Apostle’s language which would call for inquiry, both about the passover and the unleavened bread, but they would have to be dealt with, as we said above, in a special work of great length.  At present we can only give an epitome of them as they bear on the text presently before us, and aim at a short solution of the principal problem.  We call to mind the words, “This is the Lamb of God that taketh away the sin of the p. 390 world,” for it is said of the passover, 5037 “Ye shall take it of the lambs or of the goats.”  The Evangelist here agrees with Paul, and both are involved in the difficulties we spoke of above.  But on the other hand we have to say that if the Word became flesh, and the Lord says, 5038 “Unless ye eat the flesh of the Son of Man, and drink His blood, ye have no life in you.  He that eateth My flesh and drinketh My blood, hath eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day.  For My flesh is meat indeed and My blood is drink indeed.  He that eateth My flesh and drinketh My blood abideth in Me, and I in him,”—then the flesh thus spoken of is that of the Lamb that takes away the sin of the world; and this is the blood, some of which was to be put on the two side posts of the door, and on the lintels in the houses, in which we eat the passover.  Of the flesh of this Lamb it is necessary that we should eat in the time of the world, which is night, and the flesh is to be roast with fire, and eaten with unleavened bread; for the Word of God is not flesh and flesh only.  He says, in fact, Himself, 5039 “I am the bread of life,” and “This is the bread of life which came down from heaven, that a man should eat of it, and not die.  I am the bread of life that came down from heaven; if a man eat of this bread, he shall live for ever.”  We must not overlook, however, that by a loose use of words, any food is called bread, as we read in Moses in Deuteronomy, 5040 “Forty days He ate no bread and drank no water,” instead of, He took no food, either wet or dry.  I am led to this observation by John’s saying, “And the bread which I will give is My flesh, for the life of the world.”  Again, we eat the flesh of the Lamb, with bitter herbs, and unleavened bread, when we repent of our sins and grieve with the sorrow which is according to God, a repentance which operates for our salvation, and is not to be repented of; or when, on account of our trials, we turn to the speculations which are found to be those of truth, and are nourished by them.  We are not, however, to eat the flesh of the Lamb raw, as those do who are slaves of the letter, like irrational animals, and those who are enraged at men truly reasonable, because they desire to understand spiritual things; truly, they share the nature of savage beasts.  But we must strive to convert the rawness of Scripture into well-cooked food, not letting what is written grow flabby and wet and thin, as those do who have itching ears, 5041 and turn away their ears from the truth; their methods tend to a loose and flabby conduct of life.  But let us be of a fervent spirit and keep hold of the fiery words given to us of God, such as Jeremiah received from Him who spoke to him, 5042 “Behold, I have made My words in thy mouth like fire,” and let us see that the flesh of the Lamb be well cooked, so that those who partake of it may say, as Christ speaks in us, “Our heart burned by the way, as He opened to us the Scriptures.” 5043   Further, if it is our duty to enquire into such a point as the roasting of the flesh of the Lamb with fire, we must not forget the parallel of what Jeremiah suffered on account of the words of God, as he says: 5044   “And it was as a glowing fire, burning in my bones, and I am without any strength, and I cannot bear it.”  But, in this eating, we must begin at the head, that is to say, at the principal and the most essential doctrines about heavenly things, and we must end at the feet, the last branches of learning which enquire as to the final nature in things, or about more material things, or about things under the earth, or about wicked spirits and unclean demons.  For it may be that the account of these things is not obvious, like themselves, but is laid away among the mysteries of Scripture, so that it may be called, tropically, the feet of the Lamb.  Nor must we fail to deal with the entrails, which are within and hidden from us; we must approach the whole of Scripture as one body, we must not lacerate nor break through the strong and well-knit connections which exist in the harmony of its whole composition, as those do who lacerate, so far as they can, the unity of the Spirit that is in all the Scriptures.  But this aforesaid prophecy of the Lamb is to be our nourishment only during the night of this dark life of ours; what comes after this life is, as it were, the dawn of day, and why should we leave over till then the food which can only be useful to us now?  But when the night is passed, and the day which succeeds it is at hand, then we shall have bread to eat which has nothing to do with the leavened bread of the older and lower state of things, but is unleavened, and that will serve our turn until that which comes after the unleavened bread is given us, the manna, which is food for angels rather than men.  Every one of us, then, may sacrifice his lamb in every house of our fathers; and p. 391 while one breaks the law, not sacrificing the lamb at all, another may keep the commandment entirely, offering his sacrifice, and cooking it aright, and not breaking a bone of it.  This, then, in brief, is the interpretation of the Passover sacrificed for us, which is Christ, in accordance with the view taken of it by the Apostles, and with the Lamb in the Gospel.  For we ought not to suppose that historical things are types of historical things, and material things of material, but that material things are typical of spiritual things, and historical things of intellectual.  It is not necessary that our discourse should now ascend to that third passover which is to be celebrated with myriads of angels in the most perfect and most blessed exodus; we have already spoken of these things to a greater extent than the passage demands.



1 Cor. v. 8.


Exod. xii. 8.


John 19.32.


Exod. xii. 5.


John vi. 53.


John vi. 48-50.


Deut. 9.9.


2 Tim. 4:3, 4.


Jer. v. 14.


Luke xxiv. 32.


Jer. 20.9.

Next: Chapter XIV

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