God’s Calendar

Chapter Two. Passover and Unleavened Bread

The authors’ thesis is that Jesus completed, or fulfilled, both Passover and Unleavened Bread, in that He was crucified, or sacrificed, on Passover and was buried, taking sin away, on Unleavened Bread. Is this warranted on the basis of the biblical material itself?

The very first Jewish holiday in the religious year is the first spring feast of Passover, or Pesach, which is the transliterated Hebrew for Passover. Passover is also the first of the “pilgrimage feasts” along with Pentecost and Tabernacles. On these three holidays male Jews were to travel to the Temple in Jerusalem. Since Passover, Unleavened Bread, and Firstfruits came within the span of three days, most pilgrims would be present for all three.  

The second holiday is Unleavened Bread, or matsot, which is the transliterated Hebrew for Unleavened Bread. We find both feasts in a single section in Scripture.

Leviticus 23:4-8

“These are the appointed feasts of the LORD, the holy convocations which you shall proclaim at the time appointed for them. In the first month, on the fourteenth day of the month at twilight, is the LORD’s Passover. And on the fifteenth of the same month is the Feast of Unleavened Bread to the LORD. For seven days you shall eat unleavened bread. On the first day you shall have a holy convocation; you shall not do any ordinary work. But you shall present a food offering to the LORD for seven days. On the seventh day is a holy convocation; you shall not do any ordinary work.”

Notes on the passage:

One. Passover was a one-day feast to be observed during the first month, called Nissan, on the fourteenth day of that month. Numbers are significant in Scripture, especially three, seven, ten, twelve, and multiples thereof. Here the fourteenth is seven doubled. Unleavened Bread came on the fifteenth day of Nissan and was to last seven days.

Two. “Appointed” and “holy”—these words, used for all the feasts, point to the importance of the feasts, which are established by God alone.

Three. No ordinary work was to be done on Passover or Unleavened Bread, so then we see a focus on resting from work. In the short description of the first two feasts we find two statements that no ordinary work was to be done.

Four. Unleavened bread is bread made without yeast. Yeast became a symbol or a metaphor for sin. When Paul the apostle wrote to the Corinthians around A.D. 55, he was able to communicate with a mixed Jewish and Gentile church and rely upon a common understanding that there was a connection between leaven and sin:

Do you not know that a little leaven leavens the whole lump? Cleanse out the old leaven that you may be a new lump, as you really are unleavened. For Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed. Let us therefore celebrate the festival, not with the old leaven, the leaven of malice and evil, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth.

1 Corinthians 5:6-8

It is important to note that by A.D. 55 Jesus is referred to as the Passover lamb, a lamb that had been sacrificed. This identification probably depends on the words of John the Baptist, who saw Jesus approaching the Jordan River where the baptizing was taking place and said, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1:29).

One feast or two?

Passover and Unleavened Bread were so closely connected in the centuries before the birth of Christ and during His ministry that both would be referred to when only one was mentioned. The clearest example of this is found in Matthew 26:17. “Now on the first day of Unleavened Bread the disciples came to Jesus, saying, ‘Where will you have us prepare for you to eat the Passover?’” It was at the traditional Passover Seder when the Lord’s Supper, also known now as Communion or the Eucharist, was instituted. Only unleavened bread was used at that Seder. Other references are Mark 14:1, 12; Luke 22:1, 7; Acts 12:3, 6; 20:6.

In modern times the term “Unleavened Bread” is usually not used, and the designation “Passover” refers to an eight day period incorporating both holidays.

Background to Passover 

The Passover is the story of God bringing His people out of Egypt to fulfill His earlier promise to Abraham (the full account is to be found in Exodus 12). Originally, that promise was given in Genesis 15:12-16, where God said, “Know for certain that your offspring will be sojourners in a land that is not theirs and will be servants there, and they will be afflicted for four hundred years. But I will bring judgment on the nation that they serve, and afterward they shall come out with great possessions” (Genesis 15:13-14). An approximate dating of this event is 2100 B.C.

While Jacob, also named Israel, and the grandson of Abraham, was still living, he brought his whole family to Egypt in order to survive a severe famine. At first they were favored guests due to his son Joseph’s high rank in the Egyptian government, but the Israelites (also called the Hebrew people by this time) were eventually enslaved and lived miserably for four hundred and thirty years until the days of Moses (see Exodus 12:40). The dating of these events varies among biblical scholars, with some dating the exodus about 1446 B.C. and others about 1260 B.C. A discussion of the dating goes beyond our purposes here, but the important point is that God did redeem the people of Israel out of Egypt.

God commanded Moses to go to the Egyptian Pharaoh and demand that he let the Israelites go. Pharaoh hardened his heart and said no. In order to change Pharaoh’s mind and show him that the God of Israel was superior to the Egyptian gods, a series of devastating plagues ensued, and the last one, the tenth plague, threatened death to the first born of each household, both Israelite and Egyptian.

A remedy, however, was provided by God, who instructed the children of Israel through Moses to take one unblemished lamb per family on the tenth day of the month of Nisan and for four days to inspect it to make sure it was a truly flawless or clean lamb. Then at twilight on the fourteenth day of Nisan, they were to slaughter that lamb without breaking any bone, they were to collect the blood in a basin, then they were to take a hyssop stock, dip it into the blood, apply the blood to the lintel (top part) and the side doorposts of their houses. That night, when the angel of the LORD saw the blood, he would pass over those houses, thereby delivering the firstborn of that family from death.

According to Leviticus 23, God’s people were to keep or observe, actually “proclaim” Passover every year. And many centuries later we find that Jesus, accompanied by His disciples, also observed Passover.

The Passover with Jesus and His disciples

It was at a Passover Seder, that meal that occurred the evening of Jesus’ arrest and the day before His crucifixion, where Jesus reinterpreted and applied the meaning embedded in the story of the first Passover in Egypt:

Now as they were eating, Jesus took bread and after blessing it, broke it and gave it to the disciples and said, “Take, eat, this is my body.” And he took a cup, and when he had given thanks, he gave it to them saying, “Drink of it, all of you, for this is my blood of the covenant which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins. I tell you, I will not drink again of this fruit of the vine until the day that I drink it new with you in my father’s kingdom.”

Matthew 26:26-29

This Seder took place on the evening of the crucifixion. Jesus and His disciples

were going to celebrate the Passover. The bread would have been unleavened bread—matzoh—which He distributed and said, “This is my body.” Then He took the cup, probably the third cup, known as the “Cup of Redemption,” and said, “This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.”

            Soon after that supper, Jesus and several disciples went to the Garden of Gethsemane where He was arrested following the betrayal by Judas. He was put through a series of trials, one before the current high priest Caiaphas, one before the former high priest Annas, who was the father-in-law of Caiaphas, then finally before Pilate. The result was that Jesus, though innocent and flawless, was sent away to be executed. He was taken outside the walls of Jerusalem and there crucified along with two others. He was placed on the cross at 9 A.M., the time of the morning sacrifice at the Temple. It was the fourteenth of Nissan—Passover. He died at 3 P.M., the hour of the evening sacrifice at the Temple. But it took some time before Pilate issued the order to remove the body from the cross. It often took days to die on a cross, which is one of the reasons the Romans employed such a horrific method of execution, but Jesus died after only six hours. Pilate needed to ascertain that Jesus was actually dead before releasing Jesus’ body to those who asked for it. We find the story in Mark’s Gospel:

And when evening had come, since it was the day of Preparation, that is, the day before the Sabbath, Joseph of Arimathea, a respected member of the Council, who was also himself looking for the kingdom of God, took courage and went to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus. Pilate was surprised to hear that he should have already died. And summoning the centurion, he asked him whether he was already dead. And when he learned from the centurion that he was dead, he granted the corpse to Joseph. 

Mark 15:42-45

John’s Gospel contains another account of this, with slight differences:

After these things Joseph of Arimathea, who was a disciple of Jesus, but secretly for fear of the Jews, asked Pilate that he might take away the body of Jesus, and Pilate gave him permission. So he came and took away his body. Nicodemus also, who earlier had come to Jesus by night came bringing a mixture of myrrh and aloes, about seventy-five pounds in weight. So they took the body of Jesus and bound it in linen cloths with the spices, as the burial custom of the Jews. Now in the place where he was crucified there was a garden, and in the garden a new tomb in which no one had yet been laid. So because of the Jewish day of Preparation, since the tomb was close at hand, they laid Jesus there.

John 19:38-42  

Jesus died in time to be buried exactly on the day of Unleavened Bread. There was just enough daylight left for His burial. That burial took place on the fifteenth of Nissan.  

How much did the prophets know?

Long before Jesus was born of Mary in Bethlehem, the Passover was the focus of

the attention of Hebrew prophets. As we read through the Old Testament, it appears that prophets were studying the Passover, looking for clues to what God would do in the future. From the reading of the introduction to Isaiah chapter 53, it seems possible that the prophet had been studying and considering the Passover story as he quoted from Exodus 12:1-6, which talks about the preparation of a lamb. Then in the body of chapter 53, Isaiah introduces that lamb—he describes how God would send a “suffering servant,” one that His people would reject and that would be pierced for our transgressions. This suffering servant would be led like a lamb to the slaughter and die for the sins of the people, die just like the lamb sacrificed in the first Passover in Egypt.  

            How much the Hebrew prophets knew cannot now be fully known. It is plain that they saw the hand of God extended far into the future at least. They knew of the faithfulness and the power of the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob; it is reasonable to think that they saw the fulfillment of the many promises in those things that God had already revealed, and the yearly holidays might well have been continual reminders of those promises.

Is there a biblical warrant?

Is it possible to state that Jesus completed, satisfied, and fulfilled, in His death and burial something that God had embedded in those holidays and which mark the roadmap of world history?

            Since nothing said here is testable using the scientific method it must be that our conclusions will be based upon faith. But this faith is not without something tangible behind it, some evidence that is clear, consistent, and easily understood. It is undeniable, based on the biblical evidence, that Jesus was crucified on Passover and buried on Unleavened Bread. Is this extraordinary? Yes it is, and there is more evidence to come. Next we will see that Jesus also fulfilled Firstfruits. That would make it three in a row.

Leave a Reply