These four Hebraic feasts, festivals or holy days, which take place in the Spring of the year, represent events in the First (former) Coming of the Messiah:
In Hebrew, “festival” or “feast” is hag or mo’ed, a “set time” or “appointed time.” Also, each one of these appointed feasts/festivals/holy days is a “holy convocation” or “sacred assembly,” meaning in Hebrew mikrah, a “rehearsal” or a “recital.” All of the festivals/holy days have been appointed by God as rehearsals to reveal the Messiah (Col. 2:16,17), not only to Jews but to all of humanity, as an integral phase in God’s great Plan of the Ages.
The children of Israel (Hebrews) were bitterly mistreated by the Egyptians during their captivity in Egypt, because the Pharaoh (king) was afraid that they were becoming too numerous (Exo. 1:8-14). God was fully aware of this unjust abuse, and He had a plan to get the Hebrews out of Egypt and into the land He previously had promised them (3:16,17). God selected Moses to ask the Egyptian Pharaoh to let all the children of Israel go out of Egypt for three days so that they could worship and sacrifice to God (3:18).
Nine times Pharaoh refused Moses’ requests, and nine times God sent great plagues of various types upon the land of Egypt (Exo. 7:1–10:29). They included 1) water turning to blood, 2) frogs covering the land, 3) all the dust particles turning into gnats, 4) swarms of flies invading the land, 5) all the livestock dying, 6) festering boils breaking out on men and animals, 7) hail beating down on people, animals, and plants, 8) swarms of locusts devouring all the fruit and other crops, and 9) total darkness for three days. The plagues came only upon the Egyptians; none of the children of Israel in Egypt were affected (Exo. 8:22,23a, 9:4,6,7a,26, 10:22,23).
Finally, God told Moses that He would bring a tenth and final plague upon Egypt. After that, Pharaoh would let the people and their animals go.
Up until that time, there had been only one (civil) calendar which the Jews followed. It began with the month Tishri (or Ethanim). (Tishri starts during our late September or early October and extends through most or all of October.) It was in the seventh month, Aviv (or Nisan), that God announced there would be a tenth plague. God told Moses that Aviv was, thereafter, to be the first month (Exo. 12:1,2) in a new (religious) calendar on which the timing of all of the feasts/festivals/holy days would be based. (Aviv starts during our middle to late March and extends through most of April.)
God told Moses that on Aviv 10, each household was to take in a lamb without defect. Each lamb was to be cared for by a family (or two neighboring families) until Aviv 14, on which day the lamb would be slaughtered (sacrificed) at “twilight.” Then a hyssop branch was to be dipped into the blood of each lamb and the blood placed on the lintel (top of the doorframe) and on each doorjamb (two sideposts of the doorframe) of every Hebrew house (Exo. 12:3-7). At least a few drops of the blood would have dripped from the top of the doorway to the floor. (Note that the blood on the four sides of the doorframe demarcated a cross.) Later, each family was to roast its lamb over a fire and eat it; it had to be fully cooked, even the inner parts (12:8,9). Traditionally, to cook it evenly inside as well as outside, a wooden stake was driven vertically through the lamb, while another stake was inserted horizontally. (Note, again, that the configuration of the stakes formed a cross.)
At midnight (on Aviv 15, since the Hebrew day begins at sunset), the Lord allowed the “destroyer” (death angel—see “destroyer angel”: C-8, P-I, S-2) to strike dead the firstborn of every household in the land which did not have blood applied to the doorway. But the homes where the blood was present were passed over (thus the name, “Passover” or Pesach) and were not disturbed (Exo. 12:23). In every Egyptian dwelling (including Pharaoh’s palace), each firstborn son, as well as the firstborn of every kind of animal, was killed (11:5, 12:12a,29,30). However, no one in any Hebrew family, nor any of their livestock, was harmed (11:7, 12:13,23,27a). When Pharaoh discovered that even his own firstborn son (4:23c) was dead, he finally told Moses to take the children of Israel and their livestock and leave (12:31,32a).
Sacrificing the Passover (or Pesach) lamb on Aviv 14 was a ceremony to be observed as a lasting ordinance for all subsequent generations (Exo. 12:24,25; Lev. 23:5; Num. 28:16; Deut. 16:1,2,5,6). It was to be a reminder to them of God’s special care and concern for, as well as deliverance of, His chosen people—chosen to be the agents through whom He later would reveal His great and wonderful Plan of salvation to those in the world who willingly would accept and embrace it.
It was on Aviv 10 that Jesus made His final entrance into Jerusalem (see “final five days” later in this part). Just prior to His descent from the Mount of Olives into the city, the annual procession of the national Passover lamb was taking place. The lamb, which would be taken to the temple in Jerusalem (to be the public sacrifice on Aviv 14 for all of Israel), was led into the city from the east. The lamb was met by crowds of people waving palm branches and joyously singing Psalm 118 as they remembered God’s miraculous delivery of their ancestors from the clutches of the Egyptian Pharaoh. One passage sung was, “Oh Lord, please save us, Oh Lord, please save us. Oh Lord, send us prosperity, Oh Lord, send us prosperity. Blessed is He that comes in the name of the Lord,”
Following the procession of the Passover lamb, Jesus came down from the Mount of Olives, riding a donkey (indicating that He was coming humbly, in peace). He followed exactly the same path to the temple that the Passover lamb had just taken. The crowds of people, who previously had witnessed Jesus’ great miracles, placed more palm branches on the pathway in front of Him (thus, the name “Palm Sunday”) and shouted to Him as He passed, “‘Hosanna to the Son of David!’ ‘Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!’ ‘Hosanna in the highest!’” (Matt. 21:7-9). (“Hosanna” or Hoshana means “Deliver us!”)
For four days, the Pesach lamb was kept in public view at the temple for everyone to examine to make sure that it was perfect and without defect. During the same four days, the chief priests, elders, Pharisees, and Sadducees interrogated Jesus; but He always left them speechless, because they could find no fault with His impeccable logic and character (Matt. 21:23-27, 22:23-46). Moreover, after Jesus was arrested, Pilate (governor of Jerusalem) and Herod (governor of Galilee) could find no evidence against Him nor fault with Him (Matt. 26:59,60a, 27:23a; Luke 23:4,14,15; John 19:6c). This is because Jesus was perfect and without defect, just as the Passover lamb was expected to be.
The national Passover lamb for Israel was to be killed in the temple on Aviv 14 at “twilight” (Exo. 12:6), or at the “twain of the evening.” In Hebrew, this is translated, beyn ha’arbayim, or “between the evenings.” The last half of the daylight hours (from about noon to 6:00 p.m.) was further divided into two parts: the minor evening oblation (noon to 3:00 p.m.) and the major evening oblation (3:00 p.m. to 6:00 p.m.). Thus, “between the evenings” means between these two periods, or about 3:00 p.m. This was the time midway between the beginning of the sun’s descent into the west (about noon) and its setting (about 6:00 p.m.).
The Passover lamb in the temple was bound to the altar at about 9:00 a.m.
Now, recall the two “cross” configurations mentioned in the previous section. Jesus was sacrificed on a wooden cross, as was the lamb impaled on a wooden cross to be cooked. Moreover, the blood stains of Jesus’ head, hands, and feet on the cross matched the locations of the blood of the lamb on the doorframe (top, sides, and bottom) of each Hebrew family’s house in Egypt.
Finally, it was forbidden for any of the Passover lamb’s bones to be broken (Exo. 12:46c). After the crucifixion, the legs of the two criminals crucified along with Jesus were broken to ensure that they would die (by suffocation) quickly, as the Feast of Unleavened Bread, Aviv 15, was soon to begin. But Jesus was already dead, so they did not break His legs (John 19:31-33). This also was a fulfillment of a prophecy of David that none of the Messiah’s bones would be broken (Psalm 34:20).
It might be added that it often took two or three days for a person to die on the cross. But it took Jesus—a strong, healthy man—only six hours. Besides the fact that he had been severely flogged and beaten beyond recognition, He had more appointments to keep. Jesus had said, “No one takes [my life] from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down and authority to take it up again” (John 10:18ab). Moments before Jesus died on Aviv 14, He called out, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit” (Luke 23:46a); then He voluntarily gave up his Spirit (Matt. 27:50). He knew He had to keep the appointment of dying at the same time as the Passover lamb at the temple, as well as to leave time to be buried before the Feast of Unleavened Bread began at sunset.
There has been much debate as to the day of the week on which the crucifixion of Jesus occurred. The three days in question are Wednesday (sunset on Tuesday to sunset on Wednesday), Thursday (sunset Wednesday to sunset Thursday), and Friday (sunset Thursday to sunset Friday).
Those who believe that the crucifixion occurred on Wednesday hold this view mainly because of Jesus’ statement that “...the Son of Man will be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth” (Matt. 12:40b). On the surface, this seems to necessitate Jesus’ being dead three full nights and days, being buried just before sunset on Wednesday and being resurrected sometime after sunset on Saturday. However, it is not uncommon in the Bible to include any portion of a night as a “night” and any portion of a day as a “day.” Therefore, as long as Jesus was dead for any parts of three days and three nights, this would satisfy the requirements of Jesus’ statement; it would not need to be three full 24-hour periods that he was in the tomb. Furthermore, had Jesus died on Wednesday, he would have been in the grave portions of 4 days (the rest of Wednesday, all day Thursday, all day Friday, and all day Saturday) and 4 nights (the beginning of Thursday, the beginning of Friday, the beginning of Saturday, and the beginning of Sunday), invalidating his own prophecy.
More traditionally, it has been accepted that Jesus was crucified on “Good Friday.” The assumption for this is based upon the fact that, after Jesus’ death, the Jews asked that all crucified bodies be taken down from the crosses, in respect for the Sabbath which began at sunset and continued through the next day (John 19:31). Also, other passages state that it was the Preparation Day, the day before the Sabbath which was about to begin (Mark 15:42a; Luke 23:54). Because the usual weekly Sabbath began at sunset after Friday was over, it easily could be assumed that Jesus died on Friday. Had Jesus died on Friday, though, He would have been in the grave portions of only 2 days (the rest of Friday and all day Saturday) and 2 nights (the beginning of Saturday and the beginning of Sunday), and His prophecy would not have been fulfilled.
Actually, though, the Sabbath referred to in this case is one of the “Shabbaton” or “High Sabbaths” occurring each year. According to John, the crucifixion day “...was the day of Preparation, and the next day was to be a special Sabbath...” (John 19:31ab). The direct translation is this:
The therefore Jews, since preparation it was, that might not remain on the cross the bodies on the sabbath, for was great the day of that sabbath, they asked Pilate that might be broken of them the legs and they might be taken (John 19:31—The Zondervan Parallel New Testament in Greek and English).
The first day of the Feast of Unleavened Bread (Aviv 15), the special Sabbath under consideration, began at sunset after the day of Passover or Preparation (Aviv 14) had ended. Passover (Aviv 14) was referred to as the “day of Preparation” (19:14a,42), because it was the day the Passover lamb was slain in preparation for the evening meal, eaten after sunset (when Aviv 15 began).
Thus, in that particular year, there were two Sabbaths in a row: Aviv 15 (a special Sabbath) and Aviv 16 (the regular weekly Sabbath). This further is inferred in Matthew’s account by the statement, “After the Sabbath, at dawn on the first day of the week...” (Matt. 28:1a). In most Bibles, “Sabbath” is a mistranslation; the Greek is “Shabbaton”
But late of [the] sabbaths, at the drawing on toward one of [the] sabbaths [pointing to the first day of the week, following the second Sabbath], came Mary the Magdalene and the other Mary to view the grave (Matt. 28:1—The Zondervan Parallel New Testament in Greek and English).
crucifixion on Thursday
Three Gospel accounts, as translated directly from the Greek, indicate that it was the “first day” or the “day” of unleavened bread, the same day the Passover lamb was to be sacrificed, when Jesus told Peter and John to go to a certain man in the city to arrange for them to eat the Passover meal at his house (Matt. 26:17,18; Mark 14:12-15; Luke 22:7-12). The fourth account notes that the time was “...before the Passover Feast” (John 13:1a). Now, the day the Passover lamb was sacrificed was always Aviv 14. This day also could be considered the “first [day] of unleavened bread,” since unleavened bread commonly was eaten on this date. It does not mean that it was the first day of the Feast of Unleavened bread (a mistranslation of Matthew and Mark in some Bible versions), which would be Aviv 15.
Jesus seemed to display a sense of urgency in saying that His appointed time to leave the world (be killed) was near (Matt. 26:18a; John 13:1b). He was eager to celebrate the Passover with them before He suffered (Matt. 26:18b; Luke 22:15). Jesus had in Mind that He must die that very date (Aviv 14)—being the Passover Lamb for humanity—at the same time that Israel’s annual Passover lamb was slain. Therefore, He would be unable to eat the traditional Passover meal the following night (Aviv 15), because He would not then be alive. Since Jesus, being Jewish (in the flesh), celebrated every Hebrew festival and holy day, He would insist on observing the Passover meal, albeit early. (Twice in the past, the Passover had been celebrated one month late—Num. 9:6-11a; 2 Chr. 30:2,3,15a. So it was entirely permissible for Jesus, the King of kings and Lord of lords, to observe it one day early.)
The Festival (or Feast) of Unleavened Bread began on Aviv 15 and lasted for 7 days (Lev. 23:6). A sacred assembly was to be held and no work was to be done on Aviv 15 (23:7)—which, by definition, is a Sabbath (23:3), in this case a “special” Sabbath (John 19:31a). (No work was to be done on Aviv 15, because all the work preparing the Passover lamb to be eaten during the evening meal on Aviv 15 was done on Aviv 14—Preparation Day.) Aviv 15 was a special Sabbath, immediately following Preparation day which was Aviv 14 (Lev. 23:5).
I conclude, then, that it was on Aviv 14, immediately following sunset on Wednesday, Aviv 13, when Jesus instructed His disciples to go make preparations to eat the Passover meal, 24 hours earlier than usual (John 13:1a). The large upper room, where He and the disciples ate their Passover Seder (the “Last Supper”), already was furnished and ready (Mark 14:15,16; Luke 22:12,13). Thus, the preparations would not have taken long; and the meal could have been eaten (John 13:2a) that very night, Aviv 14. This would have permitted Jesus to be crucified hours later, at about 9:00 a.m. With the death of Jesus being in the mid-afternoon (about 3:00 p.m.) on Thursday, Aviv 14, at the same time as the Pesach lamb (see “parallels between Jesus and the Passover lamb” earlier in this part), Jesus’ prophecy (Matt. 12:40) would have been fulfilled properly, because He would have been in the grave portions of 3 days (the rest of Thursday, all day Friday, and all day Saturday) and 3 nights (the beginning of Friday, the beginning of Saturday, and the beginning of Sunday), allowing Jesus to be resurrected sometime between sunset following Saturday, Aviv 16, and sunrise on Sunday, Aviv 17.
The following table represents when I would place certain passages of the first three Gospels during the last five days (and dates) of Jesus’ earthly life (remember, a new day and date begins at sunset):
|Sunday||Aviv 10||Matt. 20:29–21:11
|Monday||Aviv 11||Matt. 21:12-17
|Wednesday||Aviv 13||Matt. 26:6-16
|Thursday||Aviv 14||Matt. 26:17–27:61
* The first verse in each of these four “Mark” entries indicates that a new day/date had, or probably had, begun.
Jesus, our Passover Lamb
The sacrifice of the Pesach lamb was a “mikrah,” a rehearsal for the slaying of the ultimate Passover Lamb, Yeshua haMashiach (Jesus the Christ), who had kept the “mo’ed,” the appointed time to die. Jesus, knowing in advance He would be crucified on Passover, told His disciples that “...the Passover is two days away—and the Son of Man will be handed over to be crucified” (Matt. 26:2). While the blood of each original Passover lamb in Egypt had delivered and saved a family from slavery and death, so also the blood of the Messiah, Jesus, the genuine Passover Lamb, has afforded deliverance from bondage to sin and salvation from the penalty of spiritual death for all believers everywhere.
It might be added here that when Jesus sent two disciples to obtain the donkey (Matt. 21:1,2), which He would ride into Jerusalem, this was a fulfillment of two prophecies. Firstly, God had told the Hebrews as they were leaving Egypt, “Redeem with a lamb every firstborn donkey...” (Exo. 13:13). Jesus, as the Lamb of God, “redeemed” or “liberated” the donkey, as well as its colt. Secondly, the prophet Zechariah’s statement came to pass: “Rejoice greatly, O Daughter of Zion! Shout, daughter of Jerusalem! See, your king comes to you, righteous and having salvation, gentle and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey” (Zech. 9:9).
The ancient Jewish prophet Isaiah foresaw that the future Messiah would be “...led like a lamb to the slaughter...” (Isa. 53:7b). John the Baptist referred to Jesus as “...the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1:29b). Paul affirmed, “For Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed” (1 Cor. 5:7b). In John’s heavenly vision of Christ, an event yet in our own future, he said that he “...saw a Lamb, looking as if it had been slain, standing in the center of the throne...” (Rev. 5:6a). Unquestionably, Jesus is the Lamb of God—our own personal Passover Lamb.
Peter declared, “For you know that it was not with perishable things such as silver or gold that you were redeemed..., but with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect” (1 Pet. 1:18,19). Ultimately, God will “pass over” and withhold the expression of His wrath or earthly Judgments (seeC-12, P-IV and C-12, P-V), as well as prevent spiritual death and eternal separation from Him, for each one who takes up his/her own “cross” to follow Jesus (Matt. 16:24) and who spiritually applies the eternal blood of Jesus upon himself/herself (Rom. 5:9,10).
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Copyright © 1998– by Ted M. Montgomery, O.D. Most rights reserved.