THE EARLY CHURCH AND THE FESTIVAL OF UNLEAVENED BREADBack to Alphabetical Index | Back to Chapter Index
It is clear from what is written in the New Testament that the Apostles and the early church taught the observance of the Festival of Unleavened Bread. It is also clear from the prophecy of Ezekiel 45:21 that these days will be observed after the return of Christ. Therefore, it is important to review the teachings of the early church concerning these days in order understand their meaning for today and the future, after the return of Jesus Christ.
The Apostles and the Early Church
"Now about that time Herod the King stretched forth his hands to vex certain of the church. And he killed James the brother of John with the sword. And because he saw it pleased the Jews, he proceeded further to take Peter also (Then were the days of unleavened bread). And when he had apprehended him, he put him in prison and delivered him to four quaternions of soldiers to keep him, intending after Passover to bring him forth to the people" (Acts 12:1-4 KJV).
Here, the writer of Acts was inspired to document that the murder of James and the imprisonment of Peter (about 44 A.D.) occurred during the observance of the Passover and Days of Unleavened Bread. This single reference would mean little by itself; however, when it is viewed in the light of the spiritual lessons concerning these days, such a reference shows that these days were still important to the early church.
Paul at Philippi
The account of Paul's third missionary journey indicates that he left Philippi to go to Troas after the Days of Unleavened Bread.
"And we sailed away from Philippi after the Days of Unleavened Bread, and came to them at Troas in five days: where we abode seven days" (Acts 20:6 KJV).
Acts 20 covers the time period of 57-58 A.D.. And verse 6 refers to the Feast of Unleavened Bread, which was observed in the month of April in 58 A.D.. This observance of the Days of Unleavened Bread took place about 28 years after the death and resurrection of Jesus, which proves that the early church understood the law concerning the observance of the days.
While this record does not specifically say that Paul and those of the early church observed these days, there would have been no reason to mention these days unless they held some significance for both the writer and the readers. Paul and this small group of God's elect obviously held up their departure from Philippi in order to observe this commanded festival. This scripture clearly shows that they were observing those days and waited until after the festival was finished to make their journey.
Paul's admonition to the Corinthians clearly shows that he taught the observance of the Passover along with the observance of the Feast of Unleavened Bread. In 1.Corinthians chapter 5, Paul corrects the Church of Corinth for being complacent about the immoral sexual behavior of one of its members. It is evident by what Paul says that this sermon was given just before or during the Feast of Unleavened Bread.
In his sermon, Paul compares leavening to sin and says that a small amount of it will thoroughly permeate everything with which it comes into contact:
"Your boasting is not good. Don't you know that a little yeast works through the whole batch of dough?" (1.Cor.5:6 NIV).
"Purge you out the old leaven, that you may be a new lump, as you are unleavened. For even 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" (1.Cor.5:7-8 KJV). See also Col.3:1-10; Rom.8:12-13.
Here, Paul speaks about the behavior and attitudes (leaven/sin) that need to be eliminated as a part of the Christian's ongoing process of overcoming the old self and progressing toward spiritual maturity.
Those to whom Paul spoke were already in an unleavened condition; they had been made sinless through the atoning blood of Christ. Although they were considered sinless before God the Father, Paul admonishes them to rid themselves of sin and become as a new batch of dough in which their is no leavening (i.e., sin).
Paul clearly says that the elect at Corinth were to put away the sinful things that they were allowing to invade their lives and cause spiritual defilement. But, why should they purge out sin? Because Christ, their Passover, had sacrificed himself in order to free them from sin and its penalty"Christ our Passover is sacrificed for us" (1.Cor.5:7).
Notice that Paul says to observe the Feast of Unleavened Bread without leaven (without sin). Paul describes the old leaven (sin) that the Corinthians should eliminate from their lives as pride, malice, and wickedness. He tells them that they should replace this old leaven with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth (sinless, righteous behavior).
Pride, malice, and wickedness are all condemned by God as being attitudes and behaviors that will lead to one's eternal death, but having respect for God and serving him in sincerity and truth will bring God's favor:
"Now therefore fear the Lord, and serve him in sincerity and truth: and put away the gods of your fathers served on the other side of the flood, and in Egypt; and serve the Lord" (Josh.24:14 KJV).
Passover, or the Feast of Unleavened Bread?
Some people believe that the feast mentioned in 1.Corinthians 5:8 is the Passover, not the Feast of Unleavened Bread, because 1.Corinthians 5:7 speaks of Christ as the Passover. But this is not true. The Passover observance is not a feast; it is a memorial of Christ's death and a service in which the elect of God renew their covenant with their heavenly Father. Moreover, Paul says to clean out the old leaven. When we view what Paul says about leaven in the context of the Corinthian's behavior toward the adulterer, it is very clear that he is speaking of leavening as symbolic of sin that must be purged from one's life in order to properly keep the Feast of Unleavened Bread.
The following are translations of 1.Corinthians 5:6-8 that help clarify what Paul was saying about sin, the Passover, and the Feast of Unleavened Bread.
New American Standard Version
"Your boasting is not good. Do you not know that a little leaven leavens the whole lump of dough? Clean out the old leaven, that you may be a new lump, just as you are in fact unleavened. For Christ our Passover also has been sacrificed. Let us therefore celebrate the feast, not with old leaven, nor with the leaven of malice and wickedness, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth" (vs.6-8).
"Your grounds for boasting about such a case is not good. Are you not aware that a little yeast will change the whole lump of dough? You must clean out the old yeast (a symbol of sin), that you may be a fresh lump, as you are to be free from the old yeast. For our Passover Lamb, Christ, has already been sacrificed So let us keep our feast, not with old yeast nor with the yeast of vice and wickedness, but with the bread of purity and truth without the yeast" (vs.6-8).
"It isn't good for you to feel proud. Don't you know a little yeast makes the whole dough sour? Get rid of the old yeast in order to be a new dough, as you are really free from the old yeast, because our Passover Lamb was sacrificed, it is Christ. Let us, then, celebrate our festival, not with old yeast, not with any yeast of vice and wickedness, but with the sweet bread of purity and truth" (vs.6-8).
Beck translates verse 8 as, "Let us celebrate our festival." The Greek-English Interlinear New Testament translates this section of verse 8 as, "We should celebrate the feast."
In this case, Paul is speaking of celebrating the Feast of Unleavened Bread after observing the Passover service.
In no way was Paul referring to the Passover observance as a feast. These verses plainly state that Paul was telling those at Corinth to celebrate the Days of Unleavened Bread in the manner God intended by putting sin out of their lives. Here, we have a clear example of Gentile Christians keeping the Feast of Unleavened Bread.
Why would non-Jews celebrate the Festival of Unleavened Bread? The answer is simple: They would not have celebrated the feast unless its observance was necessary in order to properly worship, serve, and please God.
The Bread of the Offerings
Under the sacrificial system, unleavened bread was used as a part of the consecration rituals for the priesthood and was to be offered to God with certain animal sacrifices. Once brought before God, this bread became holy and was only to be used for God's purpose.
The parallel between the eating of the unleavened bread by the priesthood while in service to God and the eating of unleavened bread by the elect of God is obvious. Both the priesthood and the elect of God were called to serve God, both were made holy and set apart for a sacred service, and both were authorized to partake of holy things. The eating of unleavened bread by the elect today is just as important as it was for the elect of Paul's time.
Sinless and Righteous
One of the primary reasons that those who are called during the gospel age must eat unleavened bread during the Feast of Unleavened Bread is that God the Father considers those who are partakers of his holy spirit to be totally sinless and righteous.
The Primary Lesson
Although there are many spiritual lessons that can be learned from the observance of the Festival of Unleavened Bread, the primary lesson of these days has to do with maintaining a sinless and righteous nature throughout one's life as one grows toward spiritual maturity.
The apostle Paul reminds the elect at Rome that, because they had accepted God's way of life and were dead to past sins, they should cease to practice sin:
"What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin, that grace may abound? God forbid. How shall we, that are dead to sin, live any longer therein?" (Rom.6:1-2 KJV).
Some people today feel that, once a person has been baptized and has received the holy spirit, they may go on with their life without any significant change. However, Paul says in essence, "God forbid that we who are children of God would have such an attitude." He says there must be a change from the old life of sin to a new life of righteousness:
"Know you not, that so many of us as were baptized into Jesus Christ were baptized into his death? Therefore we are buried with him by baptism into death: that like as Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life" (Rom.6:3-4 KJV).
After baptism, the old person is dead and buried in the baptismal waters and a new clean, pure, and sinless person is raised to life through the power of God's spirit. This new person should begin to live as a son of God who seeks to do God's will in their life.
This newness of life refers to a righteous lifestyle that conforms to the law of God, which is only made possible because of the death and resurrection of Christ.
"For if we be planted together in the likeness of his death, we should be also in the likeness of his resurrection: Knowing this, that our old man is crucified with him that the body of sin might be destroyed, that henceforth we should not serve sin. For he that is dead is freed from sin" (Rom.6:5-7 KJV).
When a person accepts the sacrifice of Christ as a release from the death penalty imposed upon them by their sin, truly repents, is baptized, and receives the holy spirit, the old person is actually dead. See our study paper concerning the New Creation.
"Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body, that you should obey it in the lusts thereof. Neither yield your members as instruments of unrighteousness to sin; But yield yourselves to God as those that are alive from the dead, and your members as instruments of righteousness to God" (Rom.6:12-13 KJV).
"For sin shall not have dominion over you: for you are not under the law, but under grace. What then? shall we sin, because we are not under the law, but under grace? God forbid" (Rom.6:14-15 KJV).
Sin should not rule anyone who has dedicated themselves to the pursuit of Godliness. One who is no longer under the law (i.e., its death penalty) by the grace of God should not willingly give themselves over to sinful behavior. The Father's grace, which he extends to those he calls to salvation, is not a license to break his law with impunity:
"Don't you know that when you offer yourselves to someone to obey him as slaves, you are slaves to the one whom you obey whether you are slaves to sin, which leads to death, or to obedience, which leads to righteousness? But thanks be to God that, though you used to be slaves to sin, you wholeheartedly obeyed the form of teaching to which you were entrusted. You have been set free from sin and have become slaves to righteousness" (Rom.6:16-18 NIV).
When a person is forgiven of their sin (leavening) through the sacrifice of Jesus Christ, they stand before God as a righteous individual, who is without sin (unleavened).
The apostle John speaks of the purity and sinlessness of those who practice righteousness through the spirit of God.
"Behold, what manner of love the Father has bestowed upon us, that we should be called the sons of God: therefore the world does not know us, because it did not know him. Beloved, now we are the sons of God, but it is not apparent what we shall be; however, we know that, when he appears, we shall be like him; for we shall see him as he is. And every man that has hope in him purifies himself, even as he is pure. Whoever commits sin violates the law; for sin is the violation of the law. And you know that he was manifested in order to take away our sin; and in him there is no sin. Everyone remaining in him does not sin. Everyone sinning has not seen him, nor known him" (1.Jn.3:1-6 Para).
It is important to note that the English word 'seen' in the scripture above is from the Greek word 'horao', which can mean 'to stare at', 'to discern', or 'to perceive'.
John is speaking of God's children who continue to reside in Christ and remain sinless (unleavened) because they understand the things pertaining to Christ, whereas sinners (those who are leavened) cannot understand or know God:
"Little children, let no one lead you astray; the one practicing righteousness, is righteous, even as the One is righteous. The one practicing sin is of the Devil, because the Devil sins from the beginning. For this the Son of God was revealed, that he undo [destroy] the devil's works" (1.Jn.3:7-8 Para.).
The 'devil's works' spoken of here refer to the deception of Eve and Adam's disobedience, which resulted in humanity being placed under the sentence of death for the violation of God's righteous law. Christ has destroyed the devil's work by his righteous life and perfect sacrifice; thereby, he has removed the death sentence for those who obey God.
"Everyone who is begotten of God does not sin because God's seed [the spirit of God] abides in him, and he is not able to sin, because he has been born of God" (1.Jn.3:9 Para.).
It is impossible to understand what John is saying here, unless one understands that the spirit of God within a child of God keeps them in a sinless condition before God the Father. As long as a child of God seeks to live a righteous life and does not willfully and habitually practice sin, no sin is imputed to them. Why is this? It is because Christ lives in the children of God through the spirit of God; therefore, his righteous qualifications are also attributed to those who possess the Father's holy spirit: See Rom.8:33-34; 1.Jn.1:1-7; 2:1-2; 5:18.
Although it is not an exact translation, the Living Bible Paraphrased (LBP) does clarify what John was trying to convey about overcoming the old self with the power of the holy spirit:
"The person who has been born into God's family does not make a practice of sinning, because now God's life is in him; so he can't keep on sinning, for this new life has been born into him and controls himhe has been born again" (1.Jn.3:9 LBP). See also 1.Jn.5:18.
"By this the children of God and the children of the Devil are revealed: Everyone not practicing righteousness is not of God; also the one not loving his brother" (1.Jn.3:10 Para.).
A major part of being a Christian concerns being a righteous individual. Being righteous is not only a state of existence, it is a process that involves maintaining righteous behavior throughout one's lifetime. A person accomplishes this by refraining from practicing evil and eliminating any sin (leavening) that one finds in their life through introspection and self-evaluation as one endeavors to grow spiritually.
This process of remaining righteous is pictured by the eating of unleavened bread during the Festival of Unleavened Bread.
The reality and symbolism of redemption is not complete in the Passover alone. Although the Passover pictures the sacrifice of Christ for the forgiveness of sin, to observe the Passover without observing the seven Days of Unleavened Bread is to miss the point of how one has been forgiven for their sins and made righteous before God the Father.
Just as the ancient Israelites were freed from Egypt (symbolic of sin) through the power of God when he set their sin aside and hid it from his sight through the blood of the Passover lamb (symbolic of the sacrifice of Jesus Christ), the children of God today must remain sinless to maintain their covenant with God.
Before accepting the Father's call to salvation and asking for sins to be forgiven through the sacrifice of Christ, a person should have already decided to put sin out of their life and obey God's righteous laws and ways.
Unless a person makes a commitment to leave a life of rebellion against God's law and promises to seek his will in their life, there is no way that the Father will forgive their sins.
After this commitment has been made and a person has been forgiven for their past sins and receives the holy spirit, which transforms them into a son of God, they must keep their agreement with God in order to remain his son and receive his blessings.
Once past sins are forgiven, all future sins come under the promise of forgiveness through the blood of Christ, if repentance and obedience is forthcoming from the person who has been forgiven. However, forgiveness of sin is not a license to sin with impunity.
COMMUNION WITH THE FATHER AND CHRIST
In his exhortation to remain spiritually pure, Paul equates the communion with God the Father through the Passover symbols of Christ's body and blood to the priesthood's ability to eat of the sacrifices and commune with the Creator God (Jesus Christ) because of their special relationship and service to God. See 1.Pet.2:5-9:
"Therefore, my dearly beloved, flee from idolatry. Since I am speaking to wise men; judge you what I say. The cup of blessing that we bless, is it not the communion of the blood of Christ? The bread that we break, is it not the communion of the body of Christ?" (1.Cor.10:14-16 Para.).
In the scripture above, the English word 'communion' is translated from the Greek word 'koinonia', which literally means 'to participate'. Paul uses this word to express the extremely close relationship between the elect of God, Jesus Christ, and the Father through the sacrificial symbols of the blood and bread as they relate to Jesus Christ.
"For we being many are one bread [the church] and one body [the church, the body of Christ]: for we are all partakers of that one bread [Jesus Christ]. Behold Israel after the flesh: are not they which eat of the sacrifices partakers of the altar?" (1.Cor.10:17-18 Para.).
Paul reveals that the church (the Father's elect children) is truly one with Christ (one bread and one body) in communion and service to God the Father through Jesus Christ's sacrifice and the indwelling of the Father's spirit, Christ's spirit, and the holy spirit. See our study paper which explains the many aspects of the spirit.
THE SEVEN DAYS OF UNLEAVENED BREAD DURING THE GOSPEL AGE
The number seven often signifies spiritual perfection in the scriptures and it fits very well within the symbolic, prophetic, and literal meaning of the Festival of Unleavened Bread.
The First Day
The first day is to be a day of celebration to rejoice being freed from sin and its death penalty. It is also a day to celebrate becoming a son of the living God and beginning a life of righteousness that will lead to eternal and immortal life.
The Next Five Days
The next five days picture God's grace and one's spiritual development through internalizing God's way of life, which is symbolized by eating unleavened bread. This is why the apostle Paul was inspired to exhort Christians to do the following:
"Purge out therefore the old leaven, that you may be a new lump, as you are unleavened. For even Christ our Passover is sacrificed for us: Therefore let us keep the feast, not with old leaven . . . but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth" (1.Cor.5:7-8 Para.).
The Seventh Day
The seventh day of the feast points to the end of one's physical existence when one will have successfully obtained sinless perfection through the power of the holy spirit operating in their life.
To observe the Passover and then fail to pursue a sinless life, which is pictured by the Days of Unleavened Bread, would be to fail to understand the meaning of these days and the sacrifice of Christ.
The significance of the Passover and the Festival of Unleavened Bread for the children of God today is clear:
Putting away leavened products and eating unleavened bread during this seven day festival should do the following:
The Festival of Unleavened Bread is a continuation of the spiritual process that began with the observance of the Passover service.
One of the great lessons of the Days of Unleavened Bread is that of becoming and remaining sinless. Remaining in a sinless (unleavened) condition is a lifelong process during which a person must grow toward spiritual maturity (true righteousness). This process only ends when one reaches the end of their life in the human form, which is pictured by the seventh day of the Feast of Unleavened Bread.