Several symbolic clues during Passover are fulfilled in Christ. John the Baptist introduced Jesus by saying, “Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.” (John 1:29). The Jews had been celebrating Passover for 1,500 years. They understood the significance of John’s statements.
Isaiah 53, written hundreds of years before Christ, records the suffering the human lamb would experience.
He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth: he is brought as a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before her shearers is dumb, so he openeth not his mouth. He was taken from prison and from judgment: and who shall declare his generation? for he was cut off out of the land of the living: for the transgression of my people was he stricken. And he made his grave with the wicked, and with the rich in his death; because he had done no violence, neither was any deceit in his mouth. Yet it pleased the LORD to bruise him; he hath put him to grief: when thou shalt make his soul an offering for sin, he shall see his seed, he shall prolong his days, and the pleasure of the LORD shall prosper in his hand (Isa. 53:7-10).
Triumphal Entry of the Lambs
In the first century, a lamb was chosen by the high priest outside of Jerusalem on the tenth of Nisan. Then the priest would lead this lamb into the city while crowds of worshippers lined the streets waving palm branches and singing Psalm 118, “Blessed is He that comes in the name of the Lord.”
Jesus our Messiah entered Jerusalem this same day, on a donkey (usually ridden by a king), probably right behind the High Priest’s procession. The crowds that had just heralded the entrance of the sacrificial lamb heralded the entrance of the Lamb of God. Accordingly, Jesus identified himself with the Passover sacrifice (John 12:9-19). The next day, as Jesus entered Jerusalem, His entry fulfilled prophecy.
Enthusiasm filled the air. All Israel knew that it would be in Jerusalem where Messiah would be enthroned as their King. Edersheim writes,
Everyone in Israel was thinking about the Feast, Everyone was going to Jerusalem, or had those near and dear to them there, or at least watched the festive processions to the Metropolis of Judaism. It was a gathering of universal Israel, that of the memorial of the birth-night of the nation, and of its Exodus, when friends from afar would meet, and new friends be made; when offerings long due would be brought, and purification long needed be obtained and all worship in that grand and glorious Temple, with its gorgeous ritual. National and religious feelings were alike stirred in what reached far back to the first, and pointed far forward to the final Deliverance.
The High Priest would then take the lamb to the Temple, where it would be tied in public view so that it could be inspected for blemish. In the same way, Yeshua sat and taught in the Temple courtyard for four days. He was inspected and questioned as the Sadducees, the Pharisees, and the teachers of the law sought to trip him up in His words and entrap Him. They could not, because He was perfect and without blemish (Lancaster1996).
Passover pronounces redemption. To believers in Messiah, the Passover feast has a special meaning. Though we are not slaves, as God’s people in Egypt, we were slaves to our sin, our own wants and desires. Sin was our master until Jesus, the Passover Lamb, delivered us from our Egypt. The lamb slain during Passover is a foreshadow of the redemption we find in Jesus, the Messiah, our Passover lamb. The principle of redemption is the concept of bondage to the slavery of sin and freedom from its domination (John 8:31-36). To be “redeemed” means to be purchased from slavery. Jesus Christ purchased our freedom with His blood as the payment for the redemption (Ps. 34:22; 1 Peter 1:18,19; Gal. 3:13; Eph. 1:7; 1 John 1:7).
Jesus ate the Passover meal with eleven of His disciples (see Passover in Bible Times). Just as the priest was to teach, pray, and offer sacrifice, Christ, the High Priest, taught, prayed, and then offered Himself as our sacrifice.
After the Meal
When Jesus had spoken these words, he went forth with his disciples over the brook Cedron, where was a garden, into the which he entered, and his disciples. (John 18:1).
Jesus went to the Garden of Gethsemane. The garden has many ancient olive trees today, some of which may have grown from the roots of the trees that were present in Jesus’ time. (All trees in and around Jerusalem were cut down when the Romans conquered the city in 70 a.d. Olive trees can regenerate from their roots and live for thousands of years.) The name Gethsemane comes from the Hebrew Gat Shmanim, meaning “oil press” (Kollek). Since oil is used in the Bible to symbolize the Holy Spirit, it may be said that the garden is where “the Spirit of God was crushed” (Missler 1995).
It was here that Jesus agonized in prayer over what was to occur. It is significant that this is the only place in the King James Version where the word agony is mentioned (Strong’s concordance). The Greek word for agony means to be “engaged in combat” (Pink). Jesus agonized over what He was to go through, feeling that He was at the point of death (Mark 14:34). Yet He prayed, “Not my will, but thine be done” (Terasaka 1996).
Of medical significance is that Luke mentions Him as having sweat like blood. The medical term for this, hemohidrosis, or hematidrosis, has been seen in patients who have experienced extreme stress or shock to their systems (Edwards). The capillaries around the sweat pores become fragile, and leak blood into the sweat. A case history is recorded in which a young girl who had a fear of air raids in World War I developed the condition after a gas explosion occurred in the house next door (Scott). Another report mentions a nun who, as she was threatened with death by the swords of the enemy soldiers, “was so terrified that she bled from every part of her body and died of hemorrhage in the sight of her assailants.” (Grafenberg) As a memorial to Jesus’ ordeal, a church which now stands in Gethsemane is known as the Church of the Agony (ibid).
Immediately thereafter, He was betrayed by Judas (Mark 14:43), and captured by the high priest and taken for trial before Caiaphas (Luke 22:54). Consequently, Jesus was crucified between two thieves, fulfilling His own prediction that “as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of man be lifted up” (John 3:14). Most of His disciples fled at His arrest; only a group of women and one disciple, called “the disciple whom He loved,’ were present at the cross when He died (John 19:25-27; compare Matthew 27:55-56; Mark 15:40; and Luke 23:49).
Jesus’ Trial, Death, and Resurrection
Many of us have a hard time grasping the pain and suffering Christ went through on the crucifixion day. Television today has de-sensitized our feelings pertaining to the horrifying violence of the torture and slow death of Jesus.
The following is just a portion of an article by Dr. C. Truman Davis, M.D., M.S., titled: “The Crucifixion Of Jesus: The Passion Of Christ From A Medical Point Of View,” which explains some of the agony of Christ:
In the early morning, Jesus, battered and bruised, dehydrated, and exhausted from a sleepless night, is taken across Jerusalem to Pontius Pilate. The prisoner is stripped of His clothing and His hands tied to a post above His head. A short whip consisting of several heavy, leather thongs with two small balls of lead attached near the ends of each is brought down with full force again and again across Jesusÿ shoulders, back and legs.
The condemned man was forced to carry the patibulum [cross bar], apparently weighing about 110 pounds, from the prison to the place of execution. Without any historical or Biblical proof, medieval and Renaissance painters have given us our picture of Christ carrying the entire cross. Many of these painters and most of the sculptors of crucifixes today show the nails through the palm. Roman historical accounts and experimental work have shown that the nails were driven between the small bones of the wrists and not through the palms. Nails driven through the palms will strip out between the fingers when they support the weight of the human body. The misconception may have come about through a misunderstanding of Jesus’ words to Thomas, observe my hands. Anatomists, both modern and ancient, have always considered the wrists as a part of the hand. A titilus, or small sign, stating the victims crime was usually carried at the front of the procession and later nailed to the cross above the head. A small bundle of flexible branches covered with long thorns (commonly used for firewood) are plaited into the shape of a crown and this is pressed into His scalp. The heavy patibulum [crossbar]of the cross is tied across His shoulders, and the procession headed by a centurion, begins its slow journey along the Via Dolorosa. In spite of His efforts to walk erect, the weight of the heavy wooden beam, together with the shock produced by copious blood loss, is too much. He stumbles and falls. The centurion, anxious to get on with the crucifixion, selects a stalwart North African onlooker, Simon of Cyrene, to carry the cross.
The crucifixion begins. The legionnaire drives a heavy, square, wrought-iron nail through the wrist and deep into the wood. The patibulum is then lifted in place at the top of the stipes and the titulus reading, ÿJesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews is nailed in place.
Hours of this limitless pain, cycles of twisting, joint-rending cramps, intermittent partial asphyxiation, searing pain as tissue is torn from His lacerated back as He moves up and down against the rough timber; then another agony begins. A deep crushing pain deep in the chest as the pericardium slowly fills with serum and begins to compress the heart.
The body of Jesus is now in extremis, and He can feel the chill of death creeping through His tissues. This realization brings out possibly little more than a tortured whisper, ÿIt is finished.ÿ
His mission of atonement has been completed. Finally He can allow His body to die.
With one last surge of strength, He once again presses His torn feet against the nail, straightens His legs, takes a deeper breath, and utters His seventh and last cry, ÿFather, into thy hands I commit my spiritÿ (Truman 1965).
Jesus died as the lambs for the Passover meal were being slain. Not a bone was to be broken in these sacrificial lambs (Ex. 12:46; Num. 9:12). Jesus, the Lamb of God, was the perfect sacrifice for the sins of the world (1 Cor. 5:7).
During the Passover time, a sign hung on each lamb’s neck, bearing the name of the owner of the lamb. Jesus was crucified with a sign hung over His head with the name of His Father. Studies have shown the Tetragrammaton probably appeared over Jesus when He hung on the cross. During Bible times, messages were commonly written with the first letter of each word. An example in English: UPS, stands for United Parcel Service. The phrase Jesus of Nazareth and King of the Jews was written in three languages on a sign above Jesus as He hung on the cross (John 19:19). The Hebrew initials for Jesus of Nazareth and King of the Jews was YHWH. That is why the priest asked Pilate to change the writing. Then said the chief priests of the Jews to Pilate, Write not, The King of the Jews; but that he said, I am King of the Jews. Pilate answered, What I have written I have written (John 19: 21-22).
The story does not end with the death of Jesus. His body was placed in a new tomb that belonged to a man named Joseph of Arimathea (Luke 23:50-56; John 19:38-42). The greatest event that separates Jesus from all others is the fact that He overcame death. In three days He rose again and lives today. He arose from the grave on the Feasts of Firstfruits!
On Nisan 17, when Israel emerged from the Red Sea, this emergence was a shadow of the fulfillment of the day of Firstfruits (Lev. 23:9-14). This was the first of God’s people to emerge from sin (Egypt). It was fulfilled 1,478 years later on Nisan 17, 30 a.d. when Jesus was resurrected and ascended to heaven as our high priest, the Firstfruit of the resurrected (John 20:17).
The gospels appear to say that the Messiah ate a Passover meal with the twelve on the evening beginning Nisan 14, and John appears to say Jews were having their Passover meal one day later. There are different theories to explain this.
1. The Sadducees and Pharisees disagreed on the day of Passover. The Sadducees (more conservative group) believed the Feasts of Passover and Unleavened Bread were separate feast days. They held Passover on the fourteenth as God decreed in Exodus, Leviticus, and Numbers. Those of the majority opinion, including the Pharisees, held Passover on the fifteenth. Jesus may have been following both dates by having Passover with the disciples on the fourteenth and becoming the Passover lamb on the fifteenth.
2. Thousands of people would come to Jerusalem to have their lambs ritually slain in the Temple. If they only had one day in which to prepare for the Passover, it would have been extremely difficult to have slaughtered all the lambs brought in to be sacrificed. Therefore, they worked on two different time scales. The northern part of the country went with the old way of dating (starting from morning and going to the following morning). The southern part of the country followed the official dating method (from evening to evening). Thus, there were two times when lambs were being killed in the Temple for sacrifice.2
This controversy as to what day Passover should be is not the purpose of this. You must study to decide for yourself which day is correct. Some families celebrate both days, one with their church and one at home.
Three days, Three Nights
“For as Jonas was three days and three nights in the whale’s belly; so shall the Son of man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth.” (Matt 12:40).
Friday to Sunday does not equal three days.
Click here to view a chart of the last week of Christ’s life on earth. (Acrobat file)
More About Passover
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An excellent Passover video is available from Sojourner Ministries. You can view a clip online. Click The Unleavened Messiah Video
Kindly used with permission from Robin Sampson, Biblical Holidays