The Jewish Feasts: Part 6, The Lamb of God

“Theology” is the study of God, and “Soteriology” is the study of, or theology of, salvation.

As an Evangelical Christian, I believe that Salvation is by God’s Grace, through Faith implanted by God and acting in us. I believe that Salvation has always been by Grace, through Faith. In Temple times, yes, certainly there were many Jewish legalists, but the sages always understood that the sacrifices were a response of faith to Salvation, not a means of it. And if not, were Jews of the Babylonian Captivity forever lost because they had no Temple and therefore no sacrifices? No, they had their faith and a gracious God!

We understand that Salvation is, in one sense, a process (personal conviction of sin), culminating in an event. Not, I think, a result of following some yellow brick road through random verses in Romans with a well-meaning friend or stranger, and then repeating back a magic prayer. The best statement I know of to explain salvation is:

Hebrews 11:6 (ESV)
[6] And without faith it is impossible to please him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him.

While the Salvation event is a jewel to be sought, it is in reality a jewel with many separate facets (see slide, below): It gathers us into fellowship with likeminded believers; in fact, usually, God brings people into contact with believers in order to introduce them to the reality of His existence. The key facet is regeneration, replacement of our old nature by the new. This results in short- and long-term joy. It also brings redemption from slavery to sin. As we live among God’s people and learn God’s will, we experience sanctification, a turning from sin towards a purer life. Eventually, we all die, but we look forward to ultimate resurrection, followed by revelation of all truth.

So, these facets of Salvation are typified by the recognized themes of the Jewish Feasts! The order is precisely that of the feasts, on Israel’s civil calendar beginning in the fall.

It is important, and the reason for this article, that you recognize that

Jesus is not just the archetype of the Passover Lamb; He is also typified by, and fulfills the prophetic vision of, all Biblical Jewish Feasts and Sacrifices.

In1 Peter 1:18-19 (ESV), the Apostle tells us, “You were ransomed … with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb… without blemish or spot” The emphasis on “like” is mine, and I removed a comma that is not in the Greek. Peter is here comparing Jesus with, really, all of the efficacious sacrificial animals, not just the Passover Lamb.

John the Baptizer, in John 1:29 (ESV), said, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world.”  But, what does it mean to call Him “The Lamb of God“? Was John prophesying that Jesus would be crucified during the Passover Feast, some 3-1/2 years in the future? The people hearing John in that day, in that place, would have missed that point and immediately known that John was pointing out to them the person who he believed to be the promised Messiah!

Prior to Jesus’ appearance, the Jewish rabbis taught that personifications of “the Lamb” in the Old Testament were speaking of the coming Messiah. Take, for example,

Isaiah 53:7 (ESV)
[7] He was oppressed, and he was afflicted,
yet he opened not his mouth;
like a lamb that is led to the slaughter,
and like a sheep that before its shearers is silent,
so he opened not his mouth.

At the bottom of Part 4, I mentioned some reasons that many theologians mistakenly think that the Gospel of John conflicts with the synoptics, and thus proves that the Last Supper could not have been a Passover Seder. Part of their belief is that Jesus must have been crucified at the exact same time as the Passover sacrifices because “He was the Passover Lamb of God who took away the sins of the world.” That, too, is a misreading of John.

Here is a list of some things that I think make it impossible for Jesus to have died on Nisan 14, at the same time as the sacrifices:

  • Most importantly, a proper understanding of the scriptures and the cultural traditions make the narrative of the four Gospels clear and consistent. The sacrifices were on Nisan 14, the Crucifixion on Nisan 15.
  • In Exodus, the killing of the sacrifice was of little importance; what mattered is what happened in the home that night—the smearing of the blood on the doorposts and the sharing of the final meal in slavery. Followed, of course by the passing over by the angel of death. In the commemoration, the sacrifice was governed by ritual, but it was still not a holiday occurrence—the meal was now the essential feature and made more-so by Jesus. During that one, all-important twilight, at the Passover Seder, Jesus proclaimed for all time the New Covenant in His body and blood!
  • If Jesus had died alongside the Passover sacrifices, His death would have been forever connected with that one sacrifice alone. In fact, His death represented every other sacrifice as well!

The key take-home from this lesson is that, while Jesus was certainly the ultimate Passover Lamb, it was not as the Passover Lamb that He saved us! Passover lambs were never sin offerings. A sin offering became a symbolic receptacle for the sins of the people, and could not be eaten, because one would be symbolically re-ingesting the same sins. The Passover lambs were a type of fellowship offering, a remembrance of redemption from slavery, and a celebratory meal between family and/or friends. It not only could be eaten, but it must be eaten.

So, where did salvation truly lie? In Jesus, the Scapegoat of Yom Kippur!
Stay tuned for a future instalment.

Table of Contents: The Jewish Feasts
Start of Series: The Jewish Feasts: Part 1, Chapter Introduction
Previous in Series: The Jewish Feasts: Part 5, Passover
Next in Series: The Jewish Feasts: Part 7, Unleavened Bread

The Jewish Feasts: Part 5, Passover

Leviticus 23:5 
Passover (Pesach) 
[5] '"In the first month, on the fourteenth day of the 
month, between sundown and complete darkness, 
comes Pesach* for ADONAI*.

Passover—as commanded in Lev 23—is the only major Jewish feast that lasts less than a day. It spans, in fact, only the relatively short amount of time “between sundown and complete darkness“. Ring a bell? This is the period between Jewish days, as explained in Part 2 of this series. The annual Passover dinner, the Seder, begins during this time span, but ends around midnight. The passage below, from Exodus, describes the original Passover, in Egypt, and the preparation days in advance of it.

Exodus 12:1 (CJB)
Chapter 12
[12:1] ADONAI* spoke to Moshe* and Aharon* in the land of Egypt; he said, [2] “You are to begin your calendar with this month; it will be the first month of the year for you. [3] Speak to all the assembly of Isra’el* and say, ‘On the tenth day of this month, each man is to take a lamb or kid for his family, one per household—[4] except that if the household is too small for a whole lamb or kid, then he and his next-door neighbor should share one, dividing it in proportion to the number of people eating it. [5] Your animal must be without defect, a male in its first year, and you may choose it from either the sheep or the goats.
[6] “‘You are to keep it until the fourteenth day of the month, and then the entire assembly of the community of Isra’el* will slaughter it at dusk. [7] They are to take some of the blood and smear it on the two sides and top of the door-frame at the entrance of the house in which they eat it. [8] That night, they are to eat the meat, roasted in the fire; they are to eat it with matzah* and maror*. [9] Don’t eat it raw or boiled, but roasted in the fire, with its head, the lower parts of its legs and its inner organs. [10] Let nothing of it remain till morning; if any of it does remain, burn it up completely.
[11] “‘Here is how you are to eat it: with your belt fastened, your shoes on your feet and your staff in your hand; and you are to eat it hurriedly. It is ADONAI‘s* Pesach* [Passover]. [12] For that night, I will pass through the land of Egypt and kill all the firstborn in the land of Egypt, both men and animals; and I will execute judgment against all the gods of Egypt; I am ADONAI*. [13] The blood will serve you as a sign marking the houses where you are; when I see the blood, I will pass over [Hebrew: pasach*] you—when I strike the land of Egypt, the death blow will not strike you.
[14] “‘This will be a day for you to remember and celebrate as a festival to ADONAI*; from generation to generation you are to celebrate it by a perpetual regulation.

The passage above was the command given by God to the Israelite slaves after Pharaoh refused to let them leave following the ninth plague on Egypt. The Israelites obeyed, the Egyptians scoffed, and that night (Nisan 15) at midnight, God killed the firstborn children and livestock of any family in the land that did not have the blood smeared on their doorposts. The next morning, Pharaoh let the Israelites leave, and they began their trek to the Promised Land.

Some 50 days after the exodus from Egypt, Moses halted the Israelites at Mt. Sinai, where God delivered the Torah (the “teachings”, commonly called “the Law”) to them. Leviticus 23 is part of that Torah, and the Spring Feasts are annual commemorations of the Exodus.

The celebrations in following years and centuries are somewhat of a reenactment. They have always differed from the original events, and in years with no Tabernacle or Temple, they are in some ways quite different—but there are noted similarities.

Verse 2 of Exodus 12 defines Nisan as the starting month for the religious, or ecclesiastical, not the civil, calendar. Nisan is a borrowed Akkadian name; in Moses’ day it was called Aviv.

Verses 3 through 5 were followed as long as there was a Temple. The purpose of the time span between selection and sacrifice was twofold. First, to allow time for inspection and observation of the animal, to ensure that it met the standards of verse 5. Second, in so doing it would allow the owners to become emotionally invested in the animal; it isn’t an offering, it’s a sacrifice—with a cost. Unlike other sacrifices where a pigeon or grain product could be substituted by a poor family, in this case it had to be a lamb or kid, but the expense could be divided between the participants.

In Egypt, animals were sacrificed at individual homes, without priestly supervision, during the dusk period. In Temple times, all sacrifices had to be done in the Temple, and because there were so many they were done before dusk and before the actual Feast days. In Egypt, the blood was smeared around the doors, but in Tabernacle and Temple, it was splashed on the altar base. In Egypt and later years, the animal was roasted (no other method of cooking was permitted), then fully consumed that night, with unleavened bread (Heb. matzah, symbolizing sinlessness) and bitter herbs (Heb. maror, symbolizing the bitterness of slavery).

In the absence of a Temple, there are of course no sacrifices. Different Jewish sects modify the traditions in ways they judge are appropriate. The Seder generally includes some sort of roast meat, and there are generally shank bones from a lamb on each plate.

The table ritual of verse 11 was specified in Egypt, but not thereafter. Traditionally the Passover meal, or Seder, begins at sundown and the ritual portions are finished by complete darkness; then the remainder of the time until midnight is spent in table fellowship. In Egypt, the entire animal was spitted and roasted; in later ritual, the animal was butchered in advance, and only edible meats were roasted. In both Egypt and later tradition, none of the meat could be left for morning; if it was, it had to be burned.

The Passover Seder Plate, from the Chabad.org Haggadah

Verses 11 – 13 only applied in Egypt, of course. At midnight, in tradition, guests break from the table and stream out to the streets and rooftops to sing the hallel (“praise” songs, Psalm 113 – 118) together—an entire city in choir!

More on this next time, but the Passover was not a sin offering, and you had to already be ritually sinless to partake of it. The theme of the Feast is Redemption from slavery, not salvation or regeneration. Though there were rigid requirements for the animal being sacrificed, it was the meat that was ultimately important, not the actual act of sacrifice. To clarify this important point, I plan to dedicate the entire next article to the actual meaning we should attach to Passover, in terms of Christian soteriology, or salvation theology.

Passover Plate and Coasters, from my personal Judaica collection. ©Ron Thompson 2020

Table of Contents: The Jewish Feasts
Start of Series: The Jewish Feasts: Part 1, Chapter Introduction
Previous in Series: The Jewish Feasts: Part 4, Spring Feasts
Next in Series: The Jewish Feasts: Part 6, Lamb of God

Easter Myths, part 3

Updated 9/12/2022

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?

Sheep grazing near Jerusalem. Source unknown.

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

Short sword similar to what Peter would have used to maim Malchus.

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.