As Israel approaches Passover under the shadow of the coronavirus pandemic, comparisons with their exodus from Egypt are inevitable.
The plague that opened the way for their escape from slavery was the death of the first-born. But their sons were spared by the blood of a perfect male lamb marked on the doorposts of their homes, prefiguring Jesus, the Passover Lamb (the first-born of his earthly family), who died for the sins of the world on a cross outside Jerusalem 1,500 years later. It might be that COVID-19 could lead to their salvation today, helping to open eyes to their true Messiah.
Within a generation of Yeshua’s death, just as he had predicted, his people were exiled to the four corners of the globe for failing to recognise him. Perhaps it’s significant that many Jews from America and elsewhere who traditionally travel to Jerusalem for the feast are unable to do so this year. But they can celebrate the festival, which happens this year to coincide precisely with Easter, as it’s all about the Passover Lamb sacrificed for us followed by new life in the Promised Land. The resurrected Jesus is waiting with open arms to receive them, if only they would mark the doors of their hearts with the blood he shed on the cross.
Perhaps the lockdown will spur many more to make Aliyah by returning – when the situation allows – to the Land of their forefathers, where they may be surprised by the welcome they receive, even from perceived enemies.
For example, an Arab pastor from Nazareth is helping Jewish families celebrate Pesach amidst the COVID crisis by delivering parcels of kosher food and wine, explaining that his faith has taught him to love the Jews, whom he regards as his ‘older brother’.
We are now confronted by a plague wreaking havoc on a global scale, but it’s still the case that those who trust in the Lord are promised refuge and security. (Psalm 91.3) Though not immune to the diseases inflicted on today’s world, we are spared for eternity by the blood of Christ, “the atoning sacrifice for our sins”. (1 John 2.2)
South African friends see a link with Passover in their own experience after their government announced a 21-day lockdown, ending on April 16th at the conclusion of Pesach. And they reminded us of another verse from Isaiah: “Go, my people, enter your rooms and shut the doors behind you; hide yourselves for a little while until his wrath has passed by. See, the Lord is coming out of his dwelling to punish the people of the earth for their sins. The earth will disclose the blood shed on it; the earth will conceal its slain no longer.” (Isa 26.20f)
One rabbi, Manis Friedman, was very upbeat as he shared what he referred to as a pre-Pesach message, saying the pandemic could bring untold blessing to our lives – with renewed focus on family relationships, for instance.
The virus, he said, was a reminder that we had neither mastered the universe nor conquered nature, and that there was a divine reason for everything. It was also a fantastic opportunity to be liberated from habits we have been meaning to change for years, and to ask the question: ‘What are we living for?’
In fact, an increasing number of senior rabbis say we are witnessing all the signs of Messiah’s coming. And it’s all to do with kings, apparently. They point to three factors: firstly, that Israel is currently without a king, so to speak, due to repeated failures to form a government within the last year, although a unity coalition is now being worked out.
Secondly, President Trump, the world’s most powerful leader, has followed in the footsteps of ancient Persia’s King Cyrus in recognising Israel’s legitimacy and, thirdly, they see January’s Jerusalem gathering of royalty for the special Holocaust memorial as bringing tribute to the Jewish state.
Whichever way you look at it, the plagues and pestilences we have been witnessing of late remind us of worse events yet to come, as described in the Apocalypse (or Revelation) – the last book of the Bible – signifying the imminent return of Jesus.
The prophet Isaiah, in chapter 24 of his book, also describes a time when the whole earth is devastated. It is the Lord’s doing, will affect everyone and the earth will actually be under a curse (v6) – not because we have failed to preach climate change dogma, but because we have disobeyed his laws.
The passage even talks of ‘merrymakers groaning’ amid a shortage of wine (v7) while others are joyfully singing the praises of the Lord (v14). It is a time of judgment on the world’s rebellion, culminating in the glorious reign of Messiah (v23).
A stark reminder that there is a price to pay for shaking our fists at God is the prospect of empty sports and other entertainment stadiums all over a country that has allowed the LBGTQ community to close the door on the gospel preaching of Franklin Graham, son of Billy.
As a believing doctor friend said last Saturday, the vaccine – or antidote – for the current crisis is repentance!
Many might well consider that their freedom has been stolen in the current circumstances. But in fact, as the rabbi says, it’s a wonderful opportunity to taste real freedom perhaps for the first time.
For unbelievers, such freedom as they might imagine they had will one day be snatched from them when Jesus comes “like a thief in the night”. (1 Thess 5.2)
As Pesach approaches, let’s ensure true freedom for ourselves by marking our hearts with the blood of Christ, our Passover Lamb.
Charles Gardner is author of Israel the Chosen, available from Amazon; Peace in Jerusalem, available from olivepresspublisher.com; and A Nation Reborn, available from Christian Publications International