This is the second of four articles in the Tough Topics Explained series about Passover.
The Passover points to Jesus as the Messiah.
This second article is called: “Jesus and the Messianic Fulfillments of Passover and Unleavened Bread.”
It reflects upon various ways the symbols of the original Passover foreshadow the work of Jesus as the Passover Lamb and the Unleavened Bread. It also considers how the Jewish celebrations of these Holy Days are emblematic of specific moments and actions from Jesus’s final week celebrating the Passover in Jerusalem.
The first article was called: “The Original Passover and the Holy Days of Passover, Unleavened Bread, and First Fruits.”
It considers the Biblical account of God’s deliverance of the Israelites from Egypt and His commands for how Israel was to observe and memorialize this event and their entrance into the Promised Land.
The third article is “The Passover Seder.”
It explains the elements and order of a Jewish Seder which symbolically commemorate the Passover story and its lessons through a special meal.
The fourth article is “Jesus’s Last Supper as a Passover Seder.”
It considers how Jesus’s final Passover meal with His disciples incorporated many elements of a Passover Seder. It will focus on several ways that Jesus used this Passover meal to further reveal things not only about Passover, but about Himself as the Messiah. The Passover points to Jesus as the Messiah.
JESUS AND THE MESSIANIC FULFILLMENTS OF PASSOVER AND UNLEAVENED BREAD
The Original Passover as a Foreshadowing of Jesus
There are many ways in which the original Passover events foreshadowed Jesus as the Messiah and God’s plan to redeem the world.
Some common ways the Exodus of Israel from Egypt foreshadowed the Gospel include:
- Egypt as a symbol of the oppression of sin and slavery (Salvation)
- Parting of the Red Sea as God’s deliverance from death to life (Baptism)
- Accepting the covenant at Mt Sinai (Pentecost, receiving of the Holy Spirit)
- 40 Years in Wilderness (Various Trials in a Believer’s Life)
The wilderness is largely an example of failure and what not to do. Do not follow the example of Israelites who doubted/lost faith and squandered their inheritance, though they remained God’s children. We should have faith and endure suffering, remaining steadfast, being sustained by the Bread from Heaven (Manna/Jesus) till the end. Then Joshua/Yeshua/Jesus will cause us to inherit the Promised Land/Messianic Kingdom. And by extension the New Earth (Hebrews 4:1-9).
- The Promised Land (Messianic Kingdom)
There is more to be made of these Exodus events as parallels to the Gospel of course, but the focus of this article is how the Passover, the Feast of Unleavened Bread, and the Festival of First Fruits prefigure Jesus.
The two predominant ways the Exodus of Israel from Egypt foreshadows Jesus are through the Passover Lamb and as Unleavened Bread.
Passover Lamb as Jesus, the Messiah
Perhaps the most obvious way the Passover foreshadows Jesus is the Passover lamb.
Paul identified Jesus as “Christ our Passover” (1 Corinthians 5:7).
John the Baptizer identified Jesus as “the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world!” (John 1:29).
Using the image of a Passover lamb, Peter described the value and worthiness of Jesus’ sacrifice: “with precious blood, as of a lamb unblemished and spotless, the blood of Christ” (1 Peter 1:19).
And Jesus is depicted as a sacrificed but living Lamb in Heaven’s throne room: “Worthy is the Lamb that was slain to receive power and riches and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing” (Revelation 5:12).
Directly or indirectly, these Biblical accounts all point to Jesus as a Passover lamb.
Passover lambs were substitutionary sacrifices offered to make peace with God. The first Passover occurred on the eve of the Israelites’ exodus from Egypt. On that night God commanded “each household” (Exodus 12:3) to take and kill an “unblemished lamb” (Exodus 12:5-6). They were to “take some of the blood and put it on the two doorposts and on the lintel of the houses in which they eat it” (Exodus 12:7). Some have noted that this placement of blood formed the shape of a cross when connected.
If they did this God promised that “The blood shall be a sign for you on the houses where you live; and when I see the blood I will pass over you, and no plague will befall you to destroy you when I strike the land of Egypt” (Exodus 12:13). God “passed over” the houses covered in blood. In the same fashion, God passes over those who receive the sacrifice that Jesus made on the cross for their sins.
In addition to these ways that Passover lambs were a prefiguration of Jesus, The Passover Lamb, there are multiple details from the life of Jesus that also demonstrate His “Passover credentials.”
First, Jesus was born in Bethlehem (Micah 5:2; Matthew 2:1; Luke 2:4-6). Passover lambs were traditionally raised in pastures surrounding Bethlehem. The shepherds to whom the angel appeared at Jesus’s birth were possibly tending the very flocks of sheep from which Passover lambs would be selected (Luke 2:8-20).
Second, Passover lambs had to meet three requirements according to Exodus 12:5:
- Unblemished (healthy and without defect)
- One-Year-Old (young and vigorous)
Jesus met all three of these qualifications.
- He was unblemished in both Spirit (John 19:4, I Peter 2:22, I John 3:5) and body (John 19:32-36).
- He was male (Matthew 1:21)
- And although He was not a one-year-old baby when He was crucified, at age thirty-three He was in His prime, both young and vigorous. Jesus was also brought to the temple when was in His first year (Luke 2:21-27).
Following His entrance to Jerusalem, Jesus would be tested in the Temple by the Pharisees, scribes, and Sadducees (Matthew 21:23-22:46). He would be found without blemish (Matthew 22:46). Jesus would again be tested at His trial before the High Priest and later by the Roman governor Pilate. During these trials, Jesus told the truth, and though His claims were not believed, He was without blame (Matthew 26:57-66; 27:24; John 18:19-24; 19:12-15). Jesus, God’s Passover lamb, was therefore inspected and found spotless.
Unleavened Bread = Jesus, the Messiah
The Passover lamb is not the only symbol that prefigures Jesus as the Messiah from the original Passover. The unleavened bread is also a symbol of Christ.
The Hebrew name for unleavened bread is “matzah.”
Matzah symbolizes Jesus in three ways:
- In His sinlessness
- in His suffering and crucifixion
- in His death and burial
The first way unleavened bread is like Jesus is that it symbolizes that He was without sin.
Leaven is a substance used in bread-making. At the time of the Exodus, it would mostly likely have been yeast. When leaven is added to the dough, it permeates the flour and water mixture and causes it to slowly rise. Without leaven the dough remains flat. It does not require much leaven to bring about this transformation. (For instance, modern bread recipes call for only 1 tablespoon of yeast for 6 cups of flour and two cups of water.) A small amount of leaven greatly affects the whole (Galatians 5:9).
In His “Parable of the Leaven” (Matthew 13:33-35), Jesus compares the transforming power of the kingdom of heaven to leaven. But in the Feast of Unleavened Bread, leaven is used as a symbol for sin. The cleansing of the house of leaven is symbolic of purging the corrupting influences of sin. The New Testament also uses leaven as a symbol of sin in various ways:
- The leaven of the Pharisees’ Teaching (Matthew 16:6, 11-12; Luke 12:1)
This refers to their hypocrisy. The Pharisees morally exploited others to crush them.
- The leaven of the Sadducees’ Teaching (Matthew 16:6, 11-12)
This may refer to their skepticism. The Sadducees did not believe in the resurrection or angels (See Acts 23:8).
- The leaven of Herod (Mark 8:15)
This may refer to a lust for worldly power.
- The leaven of the Pagan Culture (1 Corinthians 5:6-8)
This refers to the sexual immorality (1 Corinthians 5:1, 9-13).
- The leaven of the Judaizers (Galatians 5:9)
This refers to legalism or attempts to earn salvation through works-based righteousness (Galatians 5:4, 11)
All of these types of leaven are sinful. And when any of them enter into our hearts and minds, they corrupt and spoil every good thing we have. We must purge the leaven from our midst so that we may become new (1 Corinthians 5:7).
To the extent that leaven represents sin, unleavened bread represents moral purity and holiness. And this is a significant way that matzah is a symbolic image of Jesus.
Jesus said, “I am the bread of life” (John 6:35). We must feed on His perfect righteousness if we are to live righteously. If we eat the leavened bread of the world our lives will remain unhealthy and in sin. Jesus promises, “he who comes to Me will not hunger” (John 6:35). And Blessed are those who hunger for His unleavened righteousness, “for they shall be satisfied” (Matthew 5:6).
As matzah was without leaven, so was Jesus without sin.
Jesus lived completely sinless and holy. Isaiah prophesied about the Messiah: “He had done no violence, nor was there any deceit in His mouth” (Isaiah 53:9b). When Jesus stood on trial before Pilate, the Roman prefect declared “I find no guilt in this man” (Luke 19:4; John 19:4).
Jesus was “tempted in all things as we are, yet without sin” (Hebrews 4:15). And John declared that Jesus came “in order to take away sins” and that “in Him there is no sin” (1 John 3:5).
“God is Light, and in Him there is no darkness at all.”
(1 John 1:5b)
The Bible is clear that Jesus was morally perfect. He lived His life without any sin. He is unleavened by sin and its corrupting influence. This is perhaps the main way Jesus is like unleavened bread.
A second way that Jesus can be likened to matzah is through His suffering and crucifixion.
During His last Passover Feast, Jesus took the matzah and broke it. And as He did this, He said to His disciples, “This is my body given for you” (Matthew 26:26; Mark 14:22; Luke 24:19). Through this statement and the act of breaking the bread, Jesus was drawing an unforgettable metaphor. He explicitly compared Himself and His death on the cross to the unleavened bread of Passover.
In Deuteronomy’s commands to keep the Passover and Feast of Unleavened Bread, the matzah is also called “the bread of affliction” (Deuteronomy 16:3). This description recalls Israel’s affliction while they were slaves in Egypt. But it also anticipates the affliction Jesus would suffer on behalf of the world.
The word translated as “affliction” in Deuteronomy 16:3 is pronounced “on-ee’.” It can mean “affliction,” “misery,” or “poverty.” It is related to the word translated as “afflicted”—“aw-naw’” used by Isaiah in the Messianic suffering-servant prophecy:
“Surely our griefs He Himself bore,
And our sorrows He carried;
Yet we ourselves esteemed Him stricken,
Smitten of God, and afflicted.”
“He was oppressed and He was afflicted,
Yet He did not open His mouth;
Like a lamb that is led to slaughter,
And like a sheep that is silent before its shearers,
So He did not open His mouth.”
It is worth pointing out that according to tradition, matzah must be made “pierced and striped” to prevent it from being puffed up with leaven. This looks forward to Christ. Jesus was pierced and striped, as predicted by Isaiah:
“But He was pierced through for our transgressions,
He was crushed for our iniquities;
The chastening for our well-being fell upon Him,
And by His scourging [stripes] we are healed.”
As the unleavened bread, Jesus was our “bread of affliction.” Or as Paul explained, “[God] made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him” (2 Corinthians 5:21). We receive our righteousness from His righteousness.
Or in terms of the metaphor, we receive our life and nutrition by feeding on His flesh (the unleavened bread of His body) (John 6:53-58).
The third way Jesus is like unleavened bread is through His death and burial.
This connection can be made by the fact that Jesus’s broken body was in the tomb during the Feast of Unleavened Bread. (Jesus died on Passover and He rose from the dead on First Fruits).
Another manner in which Jesus’s death and burial associate Him as unleavened bread is by considering what happened to His body when it was in the grave.
To see this connection, we must consider the chemical process of how yeast causes bread to rise. When yeast is used as a leaven to make bread rise, it relies on a chemical process that decomposes organic compounds into simpler substances. With bread, the leaven of yeast decomposes the sugars in flour and releases carbon dioxide, ethanol, and alcohol. This decomposition process is a form of decay.
Normally, when a person dies, their corpse decomposes and decays. One of the consequences of Adam’s disobedience was that he would die and would return to dust (Genesis 3:19). Because of sin and the Fall, this process of decay has happened or will happen to every son of Adam; our bodies will return to dust (Ecclesiastes 12:7).
Jesus was unleavened and without sin. His body did not undergo the full effects of corruption in the grave. His body did not return to dust. The second Adam rose from the grave before His body decomposed. That His body did not return to dust in the grave is demonstrably true because of His resurrection three days after His death. It is less apparent, though certainly possible, that His corpse did not naturally decay while it was in the grave. God may have supernaturally preserved it. In either case, whether His body was supernaturally preserved or He “merely” rose from the dead, the Psalmist’s prophecy of the Messiah was fulfilled:
“For You will not abandon my soul to Sheol;
Nor will You allow Your Holy One to undergo decay.”
Because Jesus had no sin, its leaven did not affect His Spirit or His body. Jesus conquered death (Isaiah 25:8; 1 Corinthians 15:26, Revelation 1:18). Instead of sin’s leaven—death—breaking down Jesus’s body, Christ’s death and resurrection put the “sting” of death to death:
“Death is swallowed up in victory. O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?” The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law; but thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.”
(1 Corinthians 15:54-57)
Even in death and burial, Jesus’s unleavened body remained unaffected by the leaven of sin. It had no power over Him.
THE FINAL WEEK OF JESUS AS A PASSOVER CELEBRATION
Just as the original events surrounding the Passover and entering the Promised Land foreshadowed the person and work of Jesus as the Messiah, so too do the festivals commemorating those events foreshadow Christ. The festivals recalled God’s past faithfulness, and anticipated (literally “rehearsed”) the future Messiah.
Paul described the feasts as “things which are a mere shadow of what is to come; but the substance belongs to Christ” (Colossians 2:17).
Recall how the commands for the celebrations of Passover and The Feast of Unleavened Bread and Exodus described five major acts or rituals:
- The Selection of an Unblemished Lamb (Exodus 12:3, 5)
- The Cleansing of the House of Leaven (Exodus 12:15)
- The Sacrifice of the Passover Lamb (Exodus 12:6)
- The Passover Meal (Exodus 12:8-11)
- The Feast of Unleavened Bread (Exodus 12:15-20)
Additionally, consider the command Israel was given in the wilderness to celebrate the holy day of First Fruits upon entering the Promised Land.
- The Festival of First Fruits (Leviticus 23:9-14)
All four Gospel writers strongly associate the final week of Jesus’s life, and especially His crucifixion, in terms of the rituals of Passover and the Feast of Unleavened Bread. The Apostle Paul explicitly links Jesus’s resurrection with the Festival of First Fruits (1 Corinthians 15:20-24).
- The Selection of the Passover Lamb = Jesus’s Triumphal Entry into Jerusalem
We discussed previously how Jesus was “our Passover” lamb (1 Corinthians 5:7), but we didn’t discuss how Jesus’s triumphal entry into Jerusalem with the crowds shouting “Hosanna” on “Palm Sunday” (Matthew 21:1-11; Mark 11:1-10; Luke 19:28-40) coincided with the selection of the Passover lamb (John 12:1; 12:12), which was to take place on Nisan 10, five days (by Jewish reckoning) before it was to be slaughtered on Nisan 14 (Exodus 12:3, 6).
As Jesus entered Jerusalem, the crowds were openly proclaiming Him to be the Messiah. What they likely did not realize in that moment was they were also metaphorically selecting Him to be their Passover lamb.
Jesus’s public interactions with the religious authorities on the Temple grounds in the days between “His selection” on Nisan 10 and “His being sacrificed” on Nisan 14 or 15 metaphorically served as their inspection of Him as the Passover Lamb (Matthew 21:23-22:46). Jesus’s answers were so impressive that at the end of their “inspection,” Matthew wrote: “No one was able to answer Him a word, nor did anyone dare from that day on to ask Him another question” (Matthew 22:46). These interactions/inspections demonstrated Jesus’s qualifications as the spotless lamb.
- The Cleansing of the House of Leaven = Jesus’s Cleansing of the Temple
Jesus’s cleansing of the Temple after He entered the city at the beginning of the week of Passover (Matthew 21:12-16; Mark 11:15-17; Luke 19:45-46) represents the cleansing of leaven from the house. Leaven is sometimes used in the Bible as a symbol of sin (Deuteronomy 16:3-4; Matthew 16:6, 12; 1 Corinthians 5:6-8; Galatians 5:9).
In Hebrew, the temple is called the “Beit Hamikdash ” which means “the holy house.” (See our article on the Temple) It was intended to be God’s earthly dwelling place. Jesus quoted Isaiah 56:7 as He drove out the “leaven” of money changers, and refers to the temple as “My House” (Matthew 21:13). When Jesus cleared the money changers off the temple grounds, He was literally “cleaning house.”
- The Sacrifice of the Passover Lamb = Jesus’s Crucifixion
The third and the fourth Passover rituals are switched in the final week of Jesus’s life. In the Passover sequence the sacrifice comes before the Passover meal, but Jesus eats the Passover Meal with the disciples before He is crucified.
Jesus’s death on the cross is portrayed as the sacrifice of the Passover Lamb offered as a substitutionary sacrifice on Israel and humanity’s behalf to reconcile us in peace to God (Matthew 27:33-50; Mark 15:22-37; Luke 23:33-46; John 19:16-30). The apostle Paul explicitly identifies Jesus as “our Passover” (1 Corinthians 5:7).
In the gospels, Matthew and John establish that the timing of Jesus’s death coincided with the sacrifice of the national Passover Lamb which took place in the afternoon the day before the Passover Feast.
Leviticus 23:5 declares the holy day of Passover to begin “at twilight,” “on the fourteenth day of the month.” It was on this day and at this time the Israelites had slaughtered their lambs and painted the blood on their doorposts in Egypt, the night of the first Passover. The wording “at twilight” can be a little confusing. The Hebrew literally says, “between the evenings.” Exodus 12 gives several additional details as to the observances of Passover and the same phrase, “at twilight” is used to describe the time to slay the Passover lambs in Exodus 12:6.
For centuries, Jewish tradition has understood the phrase “between the evenings” to mean only lambs offered from the sixth hour (12pm) to the eleventh hour (5pm) were accepted on Passover.
Matthew indicates that Jesus was crucified and hung on the cross from the sixth hour to the ninth hour (Matthew 27:45). And Matthew marked the time of Jesus’s death at around “the ninth hour” (3:00pm) (Matthew 27:46). Matthew’s Jewish audience would have instantly recognized this significance.
John (who most likely did not have an exclusively Jewish audience) appears to indicate that Jesus’s death took place on the Day of Passover when he reported that Caiaphas’s officers did not enter the Praetorium when they brought Jesus to Pilate so they would not defile and disqualify themselves from celebrating the Passover feast later that day:
“Then they led Jesus from Caiaphas into the Praetorium, and it was early; and they themselves did not enter into the Praetorium so that they would not be defiled, but might eat the Passover.”
At first, John’s remark about when this occurred seems at odds with Mark and Luke who both report that Jesus and His disciples ate the Passover meal on the Passover, which was the day before Jesus’s arrest, trial, and crucifixion. Mark and Luke each say:
“On the first day of Unleavened Bread, when the Passover lamb was being sacrificed, His disciples said to Him, ‘Where do You want us to go and prepare for You to eat the Passover?’”
“Then came the first day of Unleavened Bread on which the Passover lamb had to be sacrificed. And Jesus sent Peter and John, saying, ‘Go and prepare the Passover for us, so that we may eat it.’”
So, was Jesus killed on the day of Passover (Nisan 14) as John seems to suggest? Or was He crucified the day after Passover (Nisan 15) as Mark and Luke indicate?
There are several ways these apparent incongruities can be reconciled.
First, Jesus could have celebrated the Passover with His disciples a day early so He would have the opportunity to reveal to them the things He needed to reveal. If so, He celebrated a personal Passover with His disciples the day before the national Passover.
Second, it is possible that the various religious factions had different days that they celebrated the Passover. The Pharisees may have had one day for Passover (which Mark and Luke describe) and the Sadducees may have had another day for Passover—the next day (which John and possibly Matthew describe).
A third possibility is that Jesus celebrated Passover on the scripturally prescribed day of Passover—Nisan 14 (Exodus 12:6) as reported by Mark (Mark 14:12) and Luke (Luke 22:7-8) and that John’s reference to Passover generally referred to the Passover sacrifices for the feast of Unleavened Bread prescribed in Numbers 28:17-24. These sacrifices began on Nisan 15. Recall how Passover and Unleavened bread could be used synonymously by the Jews. This would mean John’s reference to the Passover in John 18:28 could be a reference to Unleavened Bread sacrifices described in the book of Numbers.
According to this third interpretation: Jesus celebrated Passover on the night of Passover (Nisan 14) as described by Mark and Luke, and He was crucified on Nisan 15 while the remaining “Passover” sacrifices were being offered during the feast of Unleavened Bread.
This third possibility seems to fit the best. And it will be the one that this commentary will generally follow unless otherwise noted.
In any case, the Gospel accounts all indicate that Jesus, our Passover Lamb (1 Corinthians 5:7), was killed as the Passover lambs were being slaughtered—if not technically for the Passover itself, then during the Passover celebration during the sacrifices for Unleavened Bread (Numbers 28:14-19).
(See the timeline charts of Jesus’s Passover week at the conclusion of this article).
Centuries earlier, Isaiah when prophesying of the Messiah, said that He would be “Like a lamb that is led to slaughter” (Isaiah 53:7).
Peter, reflecting upon the meaning of Jesus’s death, wrote “with precious blood, as of a lamb unblemished and spotless, the blood of Christ” (1 Peter 1:19).
Jesus fulfilled the role of the Passover lamb. This sacrifice was a peace offering. Peace offerings were to be eaten the same day and the next, but anything remaining on the third day was to be burned with fire (Leviticus 19:6). It is worth pointing out that Jesus was raised on the third day following His crucifixion.
- The Passover Meal = Jesus’s Last Supper with His Disciples & the Future Messianic Banquet
The third and the fourth Passover rituals are switched in the final week of Jesus’s life. In the Passover sequence the Passover meal comes after the lamb is sacrificed, but Jesus is crucified after He eats the Passover Meal with the disciples.
Jesus’s Last Supper with the disciples (Matthew 26:17-30; Mark 14:12-26; Luke 22:7-30) was a celebration of the Passover. The gospels mention many elements that are commonly incorporated in Passover Seders.
To learn more about Passover Seders, see the third article of this series: “The Passover Seder.”
To learn how Jesus used elements from a Seder, see the fourth article of this series:
“Jesus’s Last Supper as a Passover Seder.”
In Jesus’s observance, He kept the Passover with His disciples as an obedient memorial to God’s deliverance of Israel from slavery in Egypt. But stunningly, Jesus also revealed to the disciples that the Seder, the entire Passover customs, even the original Passover itself, were all foreshadows of God’s deliverance of His people from sin and death.
These would be accomplished through His own sacrificial death—the breaking of His body and spilling of His blood (Matthew 26:26-28). And upon His final victory He will celebrate the true Seder at the Messianic Banquet. Christ will return and when He does, He will celebrate the ultimate Passover Feast with His followers in the New Heaven and the New Earth.
Jesus explained this to His disciples when He said: “I have earnestly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer; for I say to you, I shall never again eat it until it is fulfilled in the kingdom of God” (Luke 22:15-16).
It is possible that Jesus was referring to the Messianic banquet prophesied by Isaiah when he spoke those words,
“The Lord of hosts will prepare a lavish banquet for all peoples on this mountain;
A banquet of aged wine, choice pieces with marrow,
And refined, aged wine.”
This future feast may also be what John envisioned when he recorded the angel’s message:
“Blessed are those who are invited to the marriage supper of the Lamb.”
- The Feast of Unleavened Bread = The Death and Burial of Jesus
Jesus was most likely crucified as the “Passover” sacrifices were taking place during the first day of the feast of Unleavened Bread (John 18:28, Numbers 28:17-24). He died after being on the cross for only a few hours and His body was taken down the day He died. This means that His body was also buried on the first day of Unleavened Bread.
Jesus is the second piece of Matzah from the Passover Seder that is hidden and found. During this service there are three pieces of Matzah. The second is hidden in the middle of the meal and later is found by any children who are participating. In the Trinity, as the Son of God, Jesus is the Second Person. Like the second piece of unleavened bread in the Seder, Jesus’s body was hidden (buried) in the earth and later found (rose from the dead).
Astoundingly this second piece of Matza is named “Afikoman” which is GREEK for “That which comes after.” It usually refers to dessert. But in this case, it symbolizes Christ’s resurrection and His return. This piece is also broken in half in the Seder service.
- The Festival of First Fruits = Jesus’s Resurrection
Jesus was most likely crucified on the day after Passover. Jesus was in the grave during the Feast of Unleavened Bread. And Jesus returned to life on the day of First Fruits.
First Fruits was the day after the first Sabbath after Passover (Leviticus 23:11). John tells us that Jesus was crucified the day of Passover (John 19:14, 31,42). And all four gospel writers tell us that Jesus rose from the grave three days later on the day “after the Sabbath” (Matthew 28:1); “when the Sabbath was over” (Mark 16:1); “on the first day of the week” (Luke 24:1; John 20:1). This makes the day that Jesus rose from the dead the same day as First Fruits.
When discussing the centrality of the resurrection to the believers in Corinth, the Apostle Paul uses the Festival of First Fruits to explain the resurrection (1 Corinthians 15:20-24):
“But now Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who are asleep.”
(1 Corinthians 5:20)
Jesus is the first of many who will return to life. Jesus is the first “harvest” of new life. There will be more. Paul explains, how just as death came through a man, so too has resurrection come through a man (1 Corinthians 5:21), “For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ all will be made alive” (1 Corinthians 5:22).
“Christ [is] the first fruits, after that those who are Christ’s at His coming”
(1 Corinthians 5:23)
In other words, as believers in Jesus we have hope that we will continue to live after we die. Jesus said something like this to the disciples: “because I live, you will live also” (John 14:19). Christ’s substitutionary death as the Passover lamb accomplished our forgiveness of sins. Christ’s resurrection as the first fruits from the dead yields our eternal life. “Unless a grain of wheat fall into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, bears much fruit” (John 12:24). As believers, we are the fruit that comes after Christ, the first fruit. Jesus is the first born of the dead (Colossians 1:18). And Jesus is not just the firstborn of the dead among men, He is the first fruits of all creation. Creation itself is groaning for its redemption (Romans 8:22-23).
“I am the resurrection and the life; he who believes in Me will live even if he dies, and everyone who lives and believes in Me will never die.”
There also may be some significance to the particular Jewish date on which Jesus rose from the dead.
There are two possible timelines of Jesus’s Passion that are most Biblically plausible. Despite the Church’s traditional celebration of these events on certain days (i.e. “Good Friday”), the Bible is not clear on which of these two timelines it is. (Note Jewish days begin at sunset).
Jewish Date Roman Day Passion Event Jewish Holy Day
Nisan 10 Sunday Triumphal Entry Selection Day
Nisan 14 Thursday Last Seder Passover
Nisan 15 Thursday Night Gethsemane/Arrest Unleavened Bread
Nisan 15 Friday Crucifixion Unleavened Bread
Nisan 15 Friday Burial Unleavened Bread
Nisan 16 Saturday In the Grave Unleavened Bread/Sabbath
Nisan 17 Sunday Resurrection First Fruits
Jewish Date Roman Day Passion Event Jewish Holy Day
Nisan 10 Sunday Triumphal Entry Selection Day
Nisan 14 Thursday Evening Last Seder
Nisan 14 Friday Crucifixion Passover Preparation
Nisan 14 Friday Burial Passover
Nisan 15 Saturday In the Grave Unleavened Bread/Sabbath
Nisan 16 Sunday Resurrection First Fruits
Jewish Date Roman Day Passion Event Jewish Holy Day
Nisan 10 Saturday Triumphal Entry Selection Day/Sabbath
Nisan 13 Wednesday Last Seder
Nisan 14 Thursday Crucifixion Passover
Nisan 15 Thursday Evening Burial Unleavened Bread
Nisan 15 Friday In the Grave Unleavened Bread
Nisan 16 Sabbath In the Grave Sabbath
Nisan 17 Sunday Resurrection First Fruits
If Jesus’s resurrection took place on Nisan 16, there is at least one event in the Old Testament that also took place on Nisan 16 that foreshadows it.
- Manna ceased to come from Heaven
Before entering the Promised Land, the sons of Israel observed Passover on the plains of Jericho on Nisan 14 (Joshua 5:10). On the day after the Passover [Nisan 15], on that very day, they ate some of the produce of the land, unleavened cakes and parched grain (Joshua 5:11). Then, “the manna ceased on the day after they had eaten some of the produce of the land [Nisan 16], so that the sons of Israel no longer had manna, but they ate some of the yield of the land of Canaan during that year” (Joshua 5:12).
Resurrection Parallel: Jesus is the bread from Heaven (John 6:51). The Old Manna stopped on the same date that the New Manna came back to life. Also, the Wilderness Manna stopped appearing once the Israelites had access to the grain of the Promised Land.
If Jesus’s resurrection took place on Nisan 17, there are at least two events in the Old Testament that also took place on Nisan 17 that foreshadow it.
- Noah’s Ark came to rest on Mount Ararat
Genesis 8:4 says that the Ark stopped floating “on the seventeenth day” of “the seventh month.” So, we know it was the seventeenth. However, Nisan is the first month, not the seventh. But just before the first Passover, God changed the ordering of the months (Exodus 12:1).
Resurrection Parallel: Just as God had rescued Noah from the flood and gave humanity through Noah a fresh start, God rescued Jesus from the grave and gave humanity a new beginning.
- God delivers the Jews from Haman’s evil plot
When the Jews lived under Persian rule, the king’s evil advisor Haman plotted genocide against the Jews to wipe them out. He announced his wicked decree to the officials on Nisan 13 (Esther 3:7, 12). Mordecai learned of the treachery and quickly informed Queen Esther, who called upon the Jews to fast for three days (over Passover no less!)—the days of Nisan 14, 15, 16 (Esther 4:15-16). On the third day (Nisan 16), Esther went to the King to make her fateful and famous petition to him to host a banquet with Haman (Esther 5:1). The banquet was that same day (Esther 5:4). At that banquet, the King and Queen Esther invited Haman to a second banquet the next day (Esther 5:7-8). On the next day (Nisan 17), Haman attends the second banquet, is ordered to publicly praise the Jew, Mordecai, and is executed on his own gallows. Israel is delivered the next day (Esther 6:1-7:10)
To learn more about the Passover Seder and how it points to Jesus, see the third and fourth articles of this series: “The Passover Seder”, and “Jesus’s Last Supper as a Passover Seder”.
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