The Feasts of Passover and Unleavened Bread are so closely linked that prior to the Savior’s death Luke tells us that “the feast of unleavened bread drew nigh, which is called the Passover” (22:1). The seven-day festival commenced the day after Passover, on the fifteenth day of the first month (Lev 23:6). The link is emphasized in 1 Corinthians 5:1-8, helping us to understand the spiritual significance of the feast. “Christ our passover is sacrificed for us: Therefore let us keep the feast, not with old leaven, neither with the leaven of malice and wickedness; but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth” (vv7-8). Paul stresses that since we have benefited so much from the death of Christ, we are under obligation to lead lives devoid of “leaven,” that is, free from sin. “The feast” mentioned in the verse does not refer to the Lord’s Supper but to the Feast of Unleavened Bread. We do not observe it literally as Israel did, but in a moral and spiritual way. Calvary demands leaven-free lives, holy lives.
The seven-day span of the feast is significant. Seven is the number of completion. For example, on the first page of our Bibles a cycle of seven days saw creation completed and God resting. So, for a complete period of time, from conversion till death or rapture, we are obliged to “keep the feast,” that is, we are to exhibit holiness rather than practice the sins that are depicted by the various aspects of leaven.
On both the first and last days of the feast, they would “do no servile work” (Lev 23:7-8). This reminds us that works did not feature when we commenced the Christian life – “not of works, lest any man should boast” (Eph 2:9). Neither do works contribute to our eternal wellbeing at the end. Future salvation and “[living] together with him” are dependent on the fact that He “died for us” (1Th 5:9-10). Works should figure in our lives as evidence of genuine faith (Jas 2:26), but they played no part in our justification, nor do they provide a basis for entering eternal blessedness at the end of the journey – no servile work on the first or last days!
On each day of the feast, Israelites had to “offer an offering made by fire unto the Lord” (Lev 23:8). First, there is a reminder that Christ’s sacrifice must be kept prominent in our thinking for the duration of life. That will keep our affection warm, inflame the devotion from which earnest service springs, and stir the conscience to maintain purity. It is good to sing, “Jesus keep me near the cross …”
Then, the daily offerings remind us that Christian living is continually a life of sacrifice. Pre-eminently, there is sacrifice that affects our persons – “present your bodies a living sacrifice” (Rom 12:1). There is sacrifice connected to our pockets/purses – the God-pleasing sacrifice of doing good and communicating (Heb 13:16). There is the sacrifice of our praises, as we “offer up spiritual sacrifices” (1Pe 2:5). To apply the spiritual values and principles foreshadowed in the Feast of Unleavened Bread is costly.
Strict rules governed their attitude to leaven; these feature in Exodus 12 and 13. I will mention them, followed by a brief application.
- No leaven in their homes (Exo 12:15,19). We should ask ourselves, “What hast thou in the house?” (2Ki 4:2).
- No leaven within their “quarters,” their borders (Exo 13:7). Regarding assembly life, twice over there is the warning that “a little leaven leaveneth the whole lump” (1Co 5:6; Gal 5:9). The first relates to the corrupting influence of immorality, and the other to false teaching. Neither can be tolerated within our borders.
- No leaven to be eaten (Exo 12:15), although it should be noted that the positive side is stressed more frequently, that is, they had to eat unleavened bread. What we assimilate becomes part of us, so feasting our minds on questionable things corrupts them. Rather, what is unleavened, particularly those things that relate to the Lord Jesus, will promote moral resemblance to Him. His life is depicted in the meat offering, which was without leaven (Lev 2:11).
- No leaven to be seen (Exo 13:7). Leavened bread and leaven itself were not to be seen. The first could hardly be concealed, but the second might be less obvious. Neither the one nor the other was to be in evidence among them. When Scripture tells us to “abstain from all appearance of evil” (1Th 5:22), likely the reference is to doctrinal evil, but surely there is a general principle here. Nothing that has the whiff of evil about it should be observed in our lives; no leaven should be seen.
All the foregoing is covered by the positive command, “Ye shall put away leaven out of your houses” (Exo 12:15). Applying it in NT language, believers will “eschew evil, and do good” (1Pe 3:11). Evil must be repudiated and holiness embraced.
Scripture identifies various leavens to avoid. The Savior warned of three – the leaven of the Pharisees, the Sadducees and Herod (Mat 16:5-12; Mar 8:14-21). The disciples realized that He referred to the doctrine of the Pharisees and Sadducees, so leaven can illustrate false doctrine (the sphere of Christian profession has been corrupted by the leaven of erroneous teaching hidden in the “three measures of meal” [Mat 13:33]). The teaching of the Pharisees was the harsh, unyielding legalism that imposed man-made rules to “augment” God’s law. Another ingredient of this leaven was hypocrisy (Luk 12:1). Beware!
The leaven of the Sadducees was a rationalistic outlook that rejected the miraculous and the spiritual (Act 23:8). It is still prevalent, though hardly a problem among assemblies, but beware! The leaven of Herod is undefined, but he was a political figure who was hedonistic, immoral, flamboyant and cruel, the embodiment of all that is worldly. Beware!
As already noted, leaven also features in 1 Corinthians 5. The “old leaven” is symbolic of the sins of unconverted days, while “the leaven of malice and wickedness” (v8) is self-explanatory. The antithesis is “the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth.” Sadly, at Corinth, the former had featured, and the whole significance of Passover and Unleavened Bread had been lost. Unleavened bread and bitter herbs accompanied the Passover (Exo 12:8), but they were “puffed up”; spiritually, there was no unleavened bread. They had “not rather mourned”; there were no bitter herbs. Now the urgent message was this: “Purge out therefore the old leaven” (1Co 5:2,7).
 All Scripture quotations in this article are from the KJV.