According to John Pratt, the prophets taught that the ordinances of the law of Moses (such as Passover) were symbolic of things to come. For example, Abinadi explained that “there was a law given them [the children of Israel], yea, a law of performances and ordinances, … all these things were types of things to come” (Mosiah 13:30-31). He summarized his powerful discourse, which condemned the wicked priests for not teaching the prophetic nature of the law of Moses, with the following closing statement: “therefore, if ye teach the law of Moses, also teach that it is a shadow of those things which are to come -- Teach them that redemption cometh through Christ the Lord” (Mosiah 16:14-15; see also 13:30-33). In 3 Nephi 6:20, Mormon termed it “the redemption which the Lord would make for his people, or in other words, the resurrection of Christ.”
The Lord instituted the Passover celebration at the time of the exodus of the Israelites from Egypt, to commemorate their release from slavery after the angel of death slew the firstborn of Egypt but “passed over” the Israelite homes (see Exodus 12). However, as the symbolism of the Passover is reviewed, it will be clear that the Passover ceremony is not only symbolic of the redemption of Israel from bondage, it also was in similitude of the redemption of mankind from death and sin by the Lamb of God. How was the annual Passover ceremony a shadow of the redemption that would come through Christ? The Passover feast centered on the paschal lamb, which was a sacrificial lamb, a male without blemish and with no broken bone, even after death (see Exodus 12:5,46). Likewise, Jesus was the “Passover,” the “Lamb of God” (1 Corinthians 5:7; John 1:29), a male without blemish and with no broken bone, even after death (John 19:36). He was the Firstborn of God in the pre-mortal existence (D&C 93:21), sanctified in the flesh as were the firstborn of Israel (Exodus12:23-24), and slain even as were the firstborn of Egypt (Exodus 12:29).
The Passover lamb was to be chosen on 10 Nisan, the tenth day of the Jewish lunar month Nisan. It was to be killed by “the whole assembly of the congregation of Israel” on 14 Nisan (Exodus 12:6), which was usually the day of the first full moon of spring. Jewish sources state that the lamb was sacrificed between 3:00 and 5:00 P.M. on that day (Jubilees 49:1 and Josephus -- Wars, 6.9.3).
Jesus, too, was “chosen” on 10 Nisan at his triumphal entry into Jerusalem, when he was hailed as the Messiah (see Matthew 21:1-9; Mark 11:1-11; Luke 19:37-40; John 12:l,12-16), which had been prophesied by Zechariah (Zechariah 9:9). The multitude who had assembled in Jerusalem for Passover later consented to his death when they “all” cried out on 14 Nisan, “Let him be crucified” (Matthew 27:20-23). The Lamb of God died about 3:00 P.M. (Matthew 27:46) on the day of preparation for Passover (John 19:14), 14 Nisan, just when the paschal lambs were also being slain.
The preparation of the lamb for the feast had to be hurriedly completed before sunset, after which would begin the first day of Passover, 15 Nisan, a day sanctified as a special sabbath day. After sunset, the lamb was eaten with bitter herbs, unleavened bread, and wine. This ritualized Passover meal was also called the feast of unleavened bread; it began a week in which no leavened bread was eaten, symbolic of the haste of preparation which did not allow enough time for bread dough to rise (Exodus 12:18-20,34,39; Leviticus 23:6-8).
Likewise, the body of Jesus had to be hurriedly prepared for burial before the sunset would commence the Sabbath, which would be a “high day” (John 19:31) because it was not only Saturday, the weekly Sabbath, but also 15 Nisan, the first day of Passover.
It was on 15 Nisan, after the slaying of the firstborn, that Pharaoh declared liberty to the captive Israelites. After their long period of bondage in Egypt, it must have been a day of great rejoicing. One reason that 15 Nisan was sanctified as an annual feast day was to commemorate that day on which the Lord brought Israel out of bondage and released them from the chains of slavery (Exodus 12:14-17, 29-31; 13:3, 14-15).
Similarly, on 15 Nisan A.D. 33, the Passover feast day, the Savior declared liberty to the captives in the spirit prison after their long period of bondage (see D&C 138:18,31,42). Before the Savior arrived, they had been “assembled awaiting the advent of the Son of God into the spirit world, to declare their redemption from the bands of death.” In fact, they were already “rejoicing in the hour of their deliverance from the chains of death” (D&C 138:16,18). The fact that they were assembled, rejoicing in the hour of their deliverance, suggests that they expected his arrival on the Passover feast day, the day of liberation.
The law of Moses states that “on the morrow after the Sabbath” of Passover, the priest should wave before the Lord a sheaf of the firstfruits of the harvest (see Leviticus 23:10-12). On Easter Sunday, 16 Nisan, the morning after the Jewish Sabbath, the Savior through his resurrection, became “the firstfruits of them that slept” (1 Corinthians 15:20, 36-38). Jesus had already taught that he was like a kernel of grain which must abide alone until it dies in the ground, whereupon it can bring forth much fruit. (See John 12:23-24) Lehi also explained that the Savior, “being the first that should rise … is the firstfruits unto God, inasmuch as he shall make intercession for all the children of men; and they that believe in him shall be saved” (2 Nephi 2:8-9).
Thus, the carefully prescribed elements of the Passover ceremony precisely foreshadowed both the events of the Atonement and the time each would occur. The annual sacrifice of the paschal lamb on 14 Nisan was not only in remembrance of the Israelites’ having been saved by the blood of the lamb on the houses in Egypt (Exodus 12:13), it was also anticipating the 14 Nisan when the great sacrifice of the Lamb of God would occur. The feast on 15 Nisan celebrated not only the liberation of the captives of Egypt; that day would also be the time of even more rejoicing when the Savior would declare liberation to the captives in the spirit prison. And the third day, 16 Nisan, was not only the time when the firstfruits of the harvest of barley were presented to the Lord, it was also the glorious day of the Resurrection -- the firstfruits of the harvest of souls.
When it is thus understood how the Passover ceremony of the law of Moses was fulfilled in the resurrection of Christ, one finds further confirmation of the proposed Resurrection date in what is termed an “argument from typology.” For example, the fact that the law of Moses specifically required the lamb to be sacrificed on 14 Nisan argues against a 15 Nisan crucifixion (or any other date). Moreover, when the symbolism of the offering of the firstfruits on the morning after the Jewish Sabbath is understood to symbolize the resurrection of the Savior, then it becomes an indication that the first Easter morning should also have occurred at the same time. It is interesting to note that the Pharisees (and modern Jews) interpreted “Sabbath” as “feast day” and offered the grain on 16 Nisan, the second day of Passover. But the Sadducees interpreted “Sabbath” as “Saturday,” the weekly Sabbath, and presented the firstfruits on the Sunday after Passover (see Hoehner, pp. 83-84). Because 16 Nisan fell on Sunday in A.D. 33, both Sadducees and Pharisees presented the firstfruits on the morning proposed for Jesus’s resurrection.
The importance of the Savior’s resurrection occurring on Sunday was emphasized when the sanctified Sabbath day was changed from Saturday, the seventh day, symbolic of the day of rest from the labor of the Creation (Exodus 20:11), to Sunday, the Lord’s Day (Acts 20:7; D&C 59:12), the glorious day of the Savior’s resurrection.
The Easter story has two main parts: the Savior’s suffering and his triumph. The emblems of the sacrament remind us of his suffering, both in body and in spirit (see D&C 19:18; 20:75-79). The Sabbath was changed to Sunday as a reminder of the day of triumph, the day death was conquered. In a sense, one celebrates Easter every Sunday by partaking of the sacrament.
Thus, it is clear that the Lord uses symbols to remind his people of the key points of the Atonement, even of the day it was completed. The day of Jesus’ resurrection was important enough to commemorate beforehand in the Passover ceremony and also to celebrate afterward by changing the Sabbath to Sunday. [John P. Pratt, “The Restoration of Priesthood Keys on Easter 1836 -- Part 2: Symbolism of Passover and of Elijah’s Return,” in The Ensign, July 1985, pp. 55-58]
The reader should note that John Pratt proposes the year A.D. 33 as the year Christ was crucified. Only in this year did the Passover dates meet the full type and shadow of Christ’s Atonement as described in the Bible. [See the commentary on 3 Nephi 8:5]
3 Nephi 6:20 The Redemption Which the Lord Would Make [[Illustration] Correspondence of the Atonement to the Passover. [John P. Pratt, “The Restoration of Priesthood Keys on Easter 1836 -- Part 2: Symbolism of Passover and of Elijah’s Return,” in The Ensign, July 1985, p. 59]