I’ll deal here, briefly, with just three more Easter myths.
Myth: By dying on Passover, Jesus became our Passover Lamb. I touched on this in Part 1 of this series. I suspect that the vast majority of Christian theologians would say that, at the very least, it is foundational that Jesus died on the same day as the Passover lamb or lambs, because He had to be seen as the fulfillment of the prophetic purposes of the Feast. If that were the case, then I ask why His throat wasn’t slit inside the Temple precincts and His blood splashed on the altar as required by Torah? How is it permissible that He died in a completely different manner, nailed to a Roman cross way over on the other side of the Tyropoeon Valley?
My contention, on the contrary, is that Jesus did not die on the Feast of Passover, and more particularly, He did not die at the same time as “the Passover Lamb”, of which there were many thousands. In fact, I think that it was theologically necessary that Jesus did not die on the same day or in the same way as the Passover lamb! Had He done so, would He not have linked Himself prophetically to that sacrifice alone, to the exclusion of all others? The truth is that Jesus was the prophetic fulfillment of all of the sacrifices! And in terms of Soteriology, Passover is less important by far than, say, Yom Kippur!
Myth: As our Passover Lamb, Jesus brought salvation to the world. In a word, no! But didn’t Yochanan the Immerser—John the Baptizer—tell his followers to “Behold the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29)? And what about Paul, who called Him “Christ, our Passover” (1 Cor. 5:7). Those are accurately reported sayings but mind the context! John was urging immersion as part of a ritual of repentance, connected, I’m sure, to the onset of the Days of Awe on that very day and Yom Kippur, just 40 days in the future. He was making no claim to offer salvation! Instead, he was pointing to the Messiah, often referred to in Scripture as “the Lamb of God”, or just “the Lamb.” Jesus didn’t die until some 3½ years later. And Paul was not talking about salvation at all, but rather separation of the Corinthian Church from the “leaven of sin.”
Yes, Jesus died on the cross to save us from our sins, but His sacrifice encompassed and surpassed all of the daily and seasonal sacrifices, not just the Passover lamb. The Passover sacrifice was not even a sin offering! It was a type of fellowship offering. Sin offerings could not be consumed by the people, but they were required to eat their Passover sacrifice to symbolize their freedom from the bondage of sin and the resulting right to sup at God’s table, in fellowship with Him. The Yom Kippur sacrifices were far more to the point of salvation, but even sin offerings only deal with incidental sin—not deliberate, malicious, God-defying sin. There was only one hope for that. Not a specific blood sacrifice, but simply the Grace of God, as symbolized at Yom Kippur by the Scapegoat, which wasn’t even killed! (Well, it was, but not as part of the ceremony; it was driven over a cliff in the wilderness so that it couldn’t come wandering back to town with the sins of the people.)
It was, then, as a goat—the Scapegoat—that “the Lamb of God” took away the sin of the world!
Myth: Peter accidentally cut off Malchus’ ear while taking a wild swing with his sword in an effort to protect Jesus. This quote from the Complete Jewish Bible, my personal favorite translation, sets the stage:
Then Shim‘on Kefa [Simon Peter], who had a sword, drew it and struck the slave of the cohen hagadol [high priest], cutting off his right ear; the slave’s name was Melekh [Malchus].
—John 18:10 CJB
First, it is unlikely that Peter was carrying a military sword that night after the Seder. Neither he, nor Malchus, was a soldier. Peter was a fisherman by trade and would be accustomed to carrying a knife for tending nets and lines, and for gutting fish. The Greek term here is machaira, which was probably a double-edged knife or dirk, a shorter version of a sword design that had been introduced into Israel by the Phoenician Sea Peoples. Nor do I think Peter was a trained fighter. We know he was impetuous, but was he an idiot? Did he think he could mow down a band of trained Roman soldiers and Temple guards? Was he distraught and attempting to commit “suicide by Roman soldier”? I think that if he had attempted a frontal assault in Jesus’ protection, he would have been reflexively cut to pieces before he drew a drop of blood, and quite likely the slaughter would have extended to the other apostles present, as well.
What I think really happened was that Peter took advantage of the soldiers’ preoccupation with Jesus, slipped around behind Malchus—his intended target—and deliberately sliced off his ear. Why Malchus? Because Malchus was the High Priest’s servant and right-hand man. The High Priest was protected by bodyguards, but nobody was paying attention to Malchus. At any rate, harming the High Priest would have resulted in quick execution. By taking Malchus out, Peter would be insulting and effectively crippling the High Priest and, to some extent, the Sanhedrin. But then, why an ear, of all things? Because Peter wasn’t a killer, and taking an ear did the job! Priests, Levites and all other Temple officials were required to be more or less physically perfect. With a missing ear, he would be considered deformed and unfit for Temple service.
Yes, Peter was impulsive. But he was also smart.
Easter Myths, Part 1
Easter Myths, Part 2
For a complete series on the Principle Jewish Feasts, as specified in Leviticus 23, please see The Jewish Feasts–The Back of My Mind.