How Christ’s Crucifixion Fulfilled the Feast of Passover
Jesus personified the feasts God ordained in the Old Testament. Christians typically refer to these as “Jewish feasts,” but they are actually God’s holy celebrations.
The first feast is Passover. Actions and events in the Lord’s final days correlate precisely to the fate of the Passover Lamb, sanctioning Christ’s distinction as the Lamb of God (John 1:29,36).
In fact, Jesus was the earthly incarnation of not just Passover, but also the accompanying feasts of Unleavened Bread and Firstfruits, which are part of the Passover season. The fourth of the seven Jewish feasts, Pentecost (Feast of Weeks), also paints a Jesus portrait through establishment of the Christian church.
We’re not readily aware of this because our Westernized Christianity has severed its Jewish roots, unfortunately. Studying the feasts, particularly Passover, will demonstrate some of the deep treasures of Scripture the typical Christian never discovers.
Richard Booker, in Jesus in the Feasts of Israel (1987, Bridge Publishing), terms the feast rituals “visual aids.” Writes Booker: “As the Jews practiced these laws and rituals, they would learn through their physical senses spiritual truths concerning their relationship with God.”
Breaking Egyptian Bondage
These biblical holy days are established in the 23rd chapter of Leviticus. But the initial Passover is the story of the evacuation from Egypt (book of Exodus). The Hollywood depiction of this is the movie “The Ten Commandments.” A hard-hearted Pharaoh would not permit the Hebrew children to make a three-day sacrificial pilgrimage into the wilderness. It had been an historical custom this time of year to celebrate the advent of spring. Despite the impression Charlton Heston might have given you, Moses had not been requesting their permanent release (Exodus 3:17-18, 10:25).
The Hebrew children were in slavery, incidentally, not to Egypt but to Pharaoh personally. He had purchased them, opportunistically, from the Egyptian people during a famine.
Assuming Types and Shadows. The term “types and shadows” is a technique used by Bible scholars. It means that someone typifies someone else, or something hints at something else, generally of greater significance and more profound meaning. This type and shadow technique can be applied to the first Passover.
In the Exodus story, think of Pharaoh as in the role of the devil, and Moses as Jesus. This is suggested by Bill Cloud, formerly youth pastor of my church and now co-author of several scintillating books.
“Moses is sent to free Israel, just as Jesus was sent into this world to free the captives of sin,” said Bill. “Satan is the prince of this world. Before Jesus redeemed us, we belonged to Satan, just as the Hebrew children belonged to Pharaoh.”
The final of 10 plagues upon Egypt was the death of the firstborn male of each household. The Angel of Death, however, passed over dwellings marked with blood-drenched doorposts. It was the blood of a sacrificial lamb, per instructions to Moses.
This bloody night in Egypt began a 1,500-year preparation for Jesus, a rehearsal for his crucifixion. Among the many details forming a fingerprint of the earthly endeavors of our Savior was the action that made Pharaoh realize he had been tricked – the Hebrews were attempting permanent escape!
Haven’t you wondered why he let them go, then started chasing them? Exodus 14:5 says Pharaoh’s heart was hardened. Bill Cloud thinks he may have found the tomb of Joseph of Rama to be empty.
Joseph of Rama was the great grandson of Abraham. The lineage runs Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and then Joseph, the 11th of Jacob’s 12 sons. Joseph was hated by his brothers, cast into a pit, sold into slavery, falsely accused, and then ascended to power in Egypt, second only to Pharaoh (Genesis chapters 37 through 50).
These are striking parallels. Joseph is a shadow of Jesus, who was hated by his brothers, the Jewish leaders; cast into a pit, the house of Caiphas; and falsely accused. Jesus ascended to the right hand of the Father, someday to return to earth as King of Kings and Lord of Lords.
When they stood before him in his role as magistrate in Egypt, Joseph’s brothers did not recognize him. Likewise, Jesus’ brothers, the religious hierarchy of Israel, did not identify their Messiah. But just as Joseph revealed his identity to his brothers, Jesus is going to proclaim his majesty “and that day all Israel will be saved,” Romans 11:26 tells us.
The Tomb Link
Joseph’s remains were in an Egyptian tomb, and much on the mind of Moses (Exodus 13:19). Pharaoh was likewise aware of Joseph’s decree concerning removal of his remains from Egypt. Bill Cloud points out that transliterated from Hebrew into Greek, the language of the New Testament, Joseph of Rama means – are you ready? – Joseph of Arimathea. This is the same name as the wealthy Israelite who owned the tomb into which Jesus was lain.
Because the tomb of Joseph of Rama (“Arimathea”) was empty, Pharaoh realized the children of Israel were heading to the Promised Land. One day 1,500 years later, the tomb of Joseph of Arimathea was vacant. The devil, who had held mankind in slavery to sin, knew the children of God were headed to their Promised Land.
Pharaoh gave chase and God destroyed him in the waters of the Red Sea. The devil runs to and fro seeking whom he may devour, but one day he will be bound in a bottomless pit, later to be cast permanently into a lake of fire.
Admittedly there is much supposition in these “types and shadows” suggestions. But the hard-core facts are indisputable.
The Ritual Relationships
It is intriguing to examine the three historical stages of Passover:
- its inception in approximately 1500 B.C.,
- it’s formalization following the Jews’ release from Babylonian captivity in approximately 580 B.C., and
- the final days of Jesus of Nazareth in approximately 30 A.D.
God’s instructions for preparing for the Passover that led to the Exodus are also those used in celebrating the feast even today. Specific actions are pegged to precise days on the Hebrew religious calendar. Jesus’ walk to the cross matched these instructions, too.
The Jewish religious calendar, established in Exodus 12:2, follows the Genesis account of “and the evening and the morning were the first day, second day, etc.” Their 24-hour day, therefore, begins at twilight (approximately 6:00 p.m.). The Hebrew year is 360 days long. This explains why the Hebrew month and day do not correspond to the same Julian month and day each year.
Understanding this is necessary in order to see how Jesus became the ultimate fulfillment of Passover. Referencing Exodus Chapter 12, here is what we mean:
The lamb was to be without spot or blemish. Jesus led a sinless life. The apostle Peter writes:
“For you know that it was not with perishable things such as silver or gold that you were redeemed from the empty way of life handed down to you from your forefathers, but with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect,” (1 Peter 1:18-19, NIV).
The lamb was selected on 10th day of the first month of the year, which was called Abib originally and later changed to Nisan. John 12:1 indicates that Jesus arrived in Bethany six days before Passover and the next day he entered Jerusalem. Passover, according to Exodus 12:6, was to begin on the 14th of Nisan, which was the preparation time. The actual Passover meal, however, was eaten in the evening (verse 8), which was the beginning of the 15th day. This means that Jesus entered Jerusalem on the 10th of Nisan. This is what Christians today celebrate as Palm Sunday. He, the Lamb of God, entered the House of God, the Temple. John 12:21-23 indicates His “selection” by the religious hypocrites who plotted his crucifixion.
The pascal lamb of Jesus’ time was led from the Mount of Olives, across the Kidron Valley, and entered Jerusalem through the Eastern gate. As the lamb passed, the Jews waved palm branches and sang Psalm 118. Jesus took the same route, the same day, and drew an identical reaction.
The lamb is to be observed for five days to make sure it is without spot or blemish. As Jesus taught in the temple, the religious hierarchy baited and grilled him, attempting to trick him into something they could prosecute. Finally, they resorted to falsely accusing him. Pontius Pilate verifies that Christ is the lamb without spot or wrinkle by proclaiming: “I find no fault in this man,” (Luke 23:4b).
‘The chasm between Judaism and Christianity is an atrocious misunderstanding and a misdeed of those responsible for anti-semitic actions and attitudes throughout history.’
The evening before Passover, the Jewish family does a leaven extrication of their homes (Feast of Unleavened Bread). Since leaven is a picture of sin, they are symbolically sanitizing their lives of sin. The evening before Passover, Jesus was in the Garden of Gethsemane praying, and he who knew no sin became sin for us. Judas and the Roman soldiers came searching for him, symbolizing removal of the leaven.
The pascal lamb of the Jewish Passover was tied to the altar in the Temple at 9:00 a.m. on the 14th of Nisan. At the same time, Jesus was nailed to a cross on Calvary.
Families making sacrificial offerings on Passover customarily etched a nameplate which they hung around the neck or shoulders of their lamb. Pilate had a plate attached to Jesus’ cross which said “Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews.” Catholics know this by the initials INRI, the first letters of the Latin wording. The Hebrew initials would have been YHWH. This, of course, stands for Yahweh, one of the Hebrew names of the God of Israel.
At approximately 3:00 p.m. the pascal lamb is killed. We know this because the literal Hebrew translation of Exodus 12:6 says that the lamb is to be killed “between the evenings.” In the Temple times, the day was quartered: 12:00 to 3:00 p.m. was the minor evening; 3:00 to 6:00 the major evening. The common point between the two quarters – or between the evenings – was 3:00 in the afternoon. The High Priest marks the lamb’s demise with the words “It is finished.” Almost in unison, on Calvary Jesus makes the identical proclamation as his human life ends.
Not a bone of the lamb was to be broken. It was customary to fracture the legs of crucifixion victims to expedite their death, but the Lord died before this became necessary.
Firstfruits of our Salvation
The feasts of Unleavened Bread and Firstfruits are mixed into the Passover season, perhaps, because there is only so much a lamb can do. None have ever been known to rise from the dead.
Jesus’ resurrection became the fulfillment of the Feast of Firstfruits. Firstfruits is celebrated by waving before God a barley sheaf, consisting of individual barley stalks bundled together. At his resurrection, Jesus was bundled together with many believers who were raised with him (Matthew 27:52-53).
Back in Egypt 1,500 years earlier, incidentally, on the morning of the 17th of Nisan, Pharaoh was destroyed, setting the captives free. This is the same date on which Jesus rose from the dead, setting those of us who apply his blood to our hearts free from sin and eternal damnation.
Jesus was a Jew
Recognize the role of God’s Chosen People. Jesus was a Jew. The Old Testament, thousands of years of human history, centers on Jewish life. The Christian Church was established at Pentecost, 50 days after Jesus fulfilled the role of the ultimate pascal lamb at Passover.
Those who ignore Judaism never obtain these deep treasures of the Bible that demonstrate its precision and divinity. Neither do they understand some of the whys and wherefores taking shape during Jesus’ earthly ministry.
The chasm between Judaism and Christianity is an atrocious misunderstanding and a misdeed of those responsible for anti-semitic actions and attitudes throughout history. We need to stand together as one people of God.
More than merely a Christian, I prefer to consider myself a Judeo-Christian, based on the words of the apostle Paul:
- “For he is not a Jew who is one outwardly; neither is circumcision that which is outward in the flesh. But he is a Jew who is one inwardly; and circumcision is that which is of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the letter; and his praise is not from men, but from God,” (Romans 2:28-29, NAS).