How Did Jesus Fulfill Passover?
This is part 5 of a series of articles on the Biblical Feasts of the Lord (sometimes called the “Jewish Feasts”) and how they were designed by God to reveal both the first and second coming of his Messiah, Yeshua (Jesus). If you haven’t read the articles preceding this one, I highly recommend you start here.
In my last post , we looked at Passover, its history, and some of its symbolism. In that post I proposed that when we study the Feasts of the Lord, we should concern ourselves with 4 things:
- When? On what day in God’s calendar does the Feast occur?
- Why? Why is this festival celebrated? What event does it commemorate in the Old Testament?
- What? What are the symbols and offerings connected with this feast?
- How? How did Jesus fulfill this feast in the New Testament?
We’ve already examined questions 1 through 3. In this post we’ll attempt to answer the 4th question, how did Yeshua (Jesus) fulfill Passover?
Through His Death
The most obvious and direct example of Jesus’ fulfillment of Passover is his crucifixion occurring the same day the Passover lamb was slaughtered. This is confirmed through a myriad of scriptures like, Matthew 26:2, John 19:14, etc. This was not news to me. I had been taught this since I was a child.
But it was here where I became confused when first learning about the feasts. Many of us were taught that Jesus ate the Passover meal with his disciples on the same night he was betrayed. But we were also taught that he was crucified the following day on Passover. But if he wasn’t crucified until the day AFTER he ate the Passover meal, then which is it? Was he eating with his disciples on Passover, or was he crucified on Passover? I was surprised to learn that the answer is both.
My confusion was due to my misunderstanding of how days are reckoned on a Jewish calendar. In Jewish reckoning, a day begins at sundown, not the middle of the night as on our calendar. The reason for this, Judaism teaches, is because of how God recognized the two parts of a day in Gen 1:5. After God separated light from darkness, it says, “And there was evening and there was morning, the first day.” Because scripture recognizes the evening before the morning in God’s created day, Jews begin their calendar days at “evening,” i.e., sundown.
This informs how we understand which day it was when Jesus told his disciples to prepare the upper room for Passover in Luke 22:12-13. In my last article I pointed out that Passover falls on the 14th day of Nisan, the first month of the Jewish calendar.
There were essentially 3 lambs sacrificed in Jerusalem at Passover each year. The first lamb was killed on the afternoon of the 13th (at 3pm) and eaten that evening (beginning the 14th) as the first lamb of Passover. This was the Passover Seder meal which Jesus ate with his disciples. However, the second lamb was sacrificed the next morning of the 14th and, like the first one, was also called a “Passover.” Read John 18:28. Notice that those who brought Jesus to Pilate refused to enter the Gentile praetorium, lest they be made “unclean” and therefore disqualified from eating the second Passover.
Jesus, however, was killed 6 hours after that, at the time of the evening sacrifice. Flavius Josephus, the historian of Jesus’ day, stated that the evening sacrifice was at the “ninth hour,” about 3pm our time (Antiquities 14.4). Luke 23:44-46 confirms that Jesus died at the very moment the third and last Passover lamb was being slaughtered!
We see, then, how God so divinely orchestrated these events that the symbol of Passover and its fulfillment would occur simultaneously and reveal Yeshua, Jesus as the true Passover lamb who’s blood saves his people from death just like the blood of the original Passover lamb in Exodus 12:12-13 1,500 years prior.
But Jesus’ death is not the only way he fulfilled the symbols of Passover. We have some less obvious correlations revealed in scripture – if we pay close attention and think like a Hebrew!
Through His Entrance Into Jerusalem
John 12:1-13 gives an account of the events which took place in the days leading up to Jesus’ death. The first eleven verses tell how Jesus attended a large party hosted by Lazarus (whom he had recently raised from the dead) and his sisters, Mary and Martha. The passage begins by telling us that it was 6 days before Passover, so we know this party occurred on the 8th of Nisan.
Verse 12 then begins by saying, “on the next day,” (indicating the 9th) and describes how Jesus entered Jerusalem and was met by a large crowd waving palm branches and shouting, “Hosanna! Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord! The King of Israel!” So how is this event a fulfillment of Passover?
It was on the 9th of Nisan that all the lambs from the nearby pastures of Bethlehem were brought to the temple in preparation for the Passover sacrifices. Then, during the 4 days following that processional (the 10th to the 14th), they would be inspected to ensure the sacrificial lambs were “without blemish,” in accordance with God’s instruction in Exodus 12:3-6.
They were led by the high priest through what is called the Sheep Gate, a northern gate of Jerusalem’s city wall. As the high priest led the throng of sheep, from which was chosen the Passover lamb that would be sacrificed for the nation, he was accompanied by a jubilant crowd singing this song from Psalm 118, which says, “Save now, I pray, O Lord. O Lord, I pray, send now prosperity. Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!”
This song is part of what’s known as the Hallel. This word, “Hallel” means, “praise” in Hebrew and provides the root of the word, “hallelujah” (praise Jehovah). The Hallel is essentially the Jews’ primary hymn book, consisting of all the passages from Psalm 113 to Psalm 118, which were sung at every feast of the year.
The words shouted by the crowd, “Save now!” are translated from the Aramaic word, “Hosanna,” which the author left untranslated in John 12:13. Notice that these are the very words proclaimed by the crowd who welcomed Jesus into the city gates.
So at the very moment that a crowd was singing these words to the high priest as he led the Passover lambs into the city, another group was proclaiming the same words to Jesus as he entered through the Eastern Gate (coming from the Mount of Olives; Matthew 21:1-7). Once again, we see God sovereignly controlling human events to ensure that the symbols of Passover and its fulfillment occur simultaneously and reveal Yeshua, Jesus as the true Passover lamb!
Through His Inspection by the Jewish Leaders
You’ll recall that the four days following Jesus’ entrance into Jerusalem were the 10th through the 14th of Nisan, when the priests inspected the lambs to ensure they were without blemish, according to Exodus 12:3-6.
What do we see the day after Jesus enters the city in Mark 12:13? “Then they sent to Him some of the Pharisees and the Herodians, to catch Him in His words.” We see here that the lamb is being inspected. And they did so for the next four days!
Matthew 26:59-60: Now the chief priests, the elders, and all the council sought false testimony against Jesus to put Him to death, but found none. Even though many false witnesses came forward, they found none.
Right up to the point of his death, even Herod and Pilate could find no fault in him.
Luke 23:13-15: Then Pilate, when he had called together the chief priests, the rulers, and the people, said to them, “You have brought this Man to me, as one who misleads the people. And indeed, having examined Him in your presence, I have found no fault in this Man concerning those things of which you accuse Him; no, neither did Herod, for I sent you back to him; and indeed nothing deserving of death has been done by Him.
So we see here that Jesus literally fulfills the Passover requirement of the Lamb that is without blemish.
Through the Passover Hymn
Knowing that the Hallel was sung at every Hebrew feast in the year, a fresh look at Matthew 26:30 will prove beneficial. This passage informs us that just before Jesus and his disciples went to the Mount of Olives where Jesus would be betrayed and arrested, they had just finished singing a hymn. As I pointed out earlier, this is the last hymn of the Hallel, which is Psalm 118. Let’s look again at what these verses say, keeping in mind that this is a Messianic psalm and that they are singing these words right before Jesus is betrayed.
Psalm 118:21-23: I will praise You, For You have answered me, And have become my salvation. The stone which the builders rejected has become the chief cornerstone. This was the Lord’s doing; It is marvelous in our eyes.
I’ve bolded the word, “salvation” in this passage, because is it the Hebrew word “yeshuah” (Strong’s #3444), where Jesus’ name comes from (not to mention the name of this blog). So his disciples were literally singing, “Yahweh has become my Yeshuah.”
I’m guessing the disciples had no idea of the profound truth they were singing just before Jesus, the true Sacrificial Lamb, was bound and killed upon his sacrificial altar, the cross.
There are many other examples of Yeshua’s fulfillment of Passover both in scripture and the Passover traditions, but in an attempt to keep this article from becoming a novel, I’ll end it here. In the next article in this series, we’ll look at Feast #2 in Yahweh’s calendar: The Feast of Unleavened Bread.
Until next time.