I received the following question:

I have always wondered what it was the Corinthians were doing to be deserving of punishment, even unto death, when partaking of the Passover?  How could they eat and drink unworthily?  Was this unworthy eating and drinking something that was warned against in the OT as well, or is it a NT concept as Paul says they would be “guilty of the body and blood of the Lord”?    

My take on it is that since the Passover now has a new and more profound meaning for these NT believers who were Israelites, to unworthily partaking would involve either a non-believer or a believer who is not living the “Kingdom” life that was expected of him.  I understand that a life outside the will of God in the Acts period would be dealt with by God, but why is punishment attached to the partaking of the Passover if done unworthily?  

I would find it very doubtful that this would be referring to non-believers or unbelievers, since they would not be keeping the Passover outside the land. The revelation that “Christ, our Passover, was sacrificed for us. Therefore let us keep the feast,” (I Corinthians 5:7b-8a,) would not have been made to them. This is doubtless referring to believers who were doing something unworthy, and yet still thinking that, since they had permission, they could go ahead and keep the Passover in the way they had been given it by God’s kingdom representatives. The violent results of this showed them that this was not, in fact, the case.

What might they have been doing that was unworthy of the Passover? I suppose any number of things, but the Lord mentions a specific one in I Corinthians 10:21-22.

21. You cannot drink the cup of the Lord and the cup of demons; you cannot partake of the Lord’s table and of the table of demons. 22. Or do we provoke the Lord to jealousy? Are we stronger than He?

From the context, it is clear that some of the Corinthians were partaking of sacrifices made to idols, which Paul says actually represent demons, and then coming and thinking they were free to keep the Passover, since Christ their Passover had been sacrificed for them. This was not right, and they were with sickness and death paying for such an unworthy attitude and such unworthy actions.

We know there were a lot of other problems going on in Corinth as well. They were misusing what had once been called the Lord’s Dinner, but now was not that, but a travesty. They had a man among them who had his father’s wife. They were divided by which teacher they chose to follow. In these many problems and difficulties, they dishonored their Lord. Yet they did not judge themselves unworthy, and came to the Lord’s table as if nothing was wrong. Since they would not judge themselves, God judged them, and many paid the price.

One important fact about the Passover is that even the most sincere worshipper had to be ceremonially clean in order to keep it. If they could not keep it on the proper day, therefore, provision was made for them to keep it a month later. This is set forth in Numbers 9. Since they were not actually performing a blood sacrifice, as they would have been with the Passover, and since they did not have access to the temple and the cleansing ritual, the Corinthians could not be clean when they kept the Passover, at least, not ceremonially. But since they were dealing with realities, they should have realized that what the Lord truly demanded of them was a clean lifestyle when they appeared before Him.

Because they finally had been given permission to do so, they were happily keeping the Passover outside the land without worrying about the parts of the ritual they could not keep. However, how insulting was it to the Lord that they did not even bother to make sure they had a clean lifestyle before they dared to appear before Him? For that was the point of the Passover, “Three times in the year all your males shall appear before the Lord GOD.” Exodus 23:17. Yet they were daring to appear before the Lord with their lives and walks with Him an utter mess and a complete disgrace. They were so happy that they had permission to appear before Him, that they never considered the responsibility of doing so. How dare any of them appear before Him in the kind of condition they were coming before Him in, as Paul describes it in I Corinthians? Of course the Lord was not pleased with them, and of course they sickened and died when they dared to appear before His presence like this.