Last month, Florida televangelist Paula White wished her followers a special holiday message. Not for Easter, which falls in mid-April, but for the Jewish holiday of Passover.
“We are entering into one of the most supranational and miraculous seasons,” White, who is also a spiritual advisor to President Trump, said in a special video message. “The season of Passover.”
It could seem an unusual message for a Christian to deliver to her followers. Passover commemorates the biblical Exodus out of Egypt, not something most Jews associate with a Christian message.
But in some Christian circles, the holiday has also become extremely popular. Many Christians — particularly evangelicals — are drawn to Jewish ritual out of a desire to practice the Christianity of Jesus’ early followers, as they understand it.
And in this reading of the holiday, Christians also find resonant theological parallels to their belief in Jesus being the Messiah.
In the traditional Passover story, God commands the Israelites to sacrifice lambs and spread blood on their doorways so that may be spared God’s wrath. Christians view the sacrificial lamb as an analogy for Jesus’ death and the Israelites’ salvation as their own as believers in Jesus.
“The lamb’s blood became their salvation or their deliverance,” White said, referring to the Israelites. “Our Passover lamb, Jesus, is for your deliverance today.”
“In the Christian imagination, the Seder is not just a reenactment of the Exodus and the salvation of the Jewish people. It is also a reenactment of the final day of Christ as the Passover lamb, “said John Dulin, a Stanford University anthropologist who has studied evangelical use of Jewish ritual.
In many cases, self-styled Messianic Jews act as a sort of bridge, introducing Jewish rituals into evangelical circles or appearing as ambassadors of sorts. Messianic Jews believe that Jesus is the messiah and though seen as apostates by most mainstream Jews, Messianics still identify as Jewish.
And in evangelical circles, they’re also seen as legitimate Jewish figures, a fact that enhances their stature.
For example, White hosted a controversial Messianic-styled teacher named Ralph Messer, on her television program in 2009 to explain the meaning of Passover. Messer is the founder of Simchat Torah Beit Midrash, a school and congregation that teaches the “Hebrew Roots of the Christian Faith” and is perhaps best known for performing ceremonies during which he will wrap church leaders in a Torah scroll.
In the segment on White’s television program, Messer offered his own explanations to White about “Passover’s meaning to Christians.”
In a separate Passover program hosted by Messer, a Christian pastor named Mark Byrne explained why he believed it was important for Christians to celebrate Passover. “I can come from a place of Easter and what this does is enhances my understanding,” Byrne said.
Messer, signaling his self-proclaimed “Jewish background,” described his conversation with Byrne as an “interfaith discussion.”