The Passover Lamb was the first sacrifice that Israel, as a nation, was commanded to make. Juxtaposed against the drama unfolding in the Exodus narrative, the Passover sacrifice strikes an indelible impression on the mind of the reader.
In that story, the stakes are very high. Death is coming to the land of Egypt. Even the Israelites will not be spared as the LORD comes to strike the firstborn of man and beast. It is a judgment from heaven, a terror in the night.
Merits of innocence and guilt are not considered. Faith and creed are irrelevant. The righteous will perish with the wicked. Previous plagues had shown particularity, sparing the Jews in the midst of Egypt. The tenth plague, however, will be completely impartial. Just as in life itself, death knows no boundaries, the tenth plague will strike Egyptian and Jewish homes alike.
Only those who are within homes marked by the blood of a lamb will be spared. Had the Egyptians imitated the ritual slaughter of the Pesach, marking their homes with the blood in like manner, they too would have been spared. The only criteria for salvation, in this instance at least, is the blood on the doorway.
Who's Blood Is It?
Christianity has traditionally interpreted the Passover and particularly the blood on the doorway as a type of Messiah's redeeming work. One midrash interprets the situation in an identical manner, except that the blood symbolized by the lamb's blood is Isaac's.
"What did God see [when he passed over the Israelites houses]? He saw the blood of the binding of Isaac: as it is said, 'God will see for himself the lamb . . .'" Genesis 22:8, Macoby, 1988
In that midrash, the blood of the Passover lamb symbolizes the sacrifice of Abraham's only son. The blood of Isaac serves as an atonement. God remembers Isaac's sacrifice when he sees the lamb's blood, and in the merit of Isaac's willing self-sacrifice, he spares the blood-marked house from wrath.
The Christian interpretation is the same, but the names have changed. The blood of the Passover lamb symbolizes God's only begotten son. The blood of Yeshua serves as an atonement. God remembers the Messiah's sacrifice when he sees the lamb's blood, and in merit of Messiah's willing sacrifice, he spares that house from wrath.
His Appointed Time
"These are the appointed times of the LORD, holy convocations which you shall proclaim at the times appointed for them. In the first month, on the fourteenth day of the month at twilight is the LORD's Passover." Leviticus 23:4,5
Moed is the Hebrew word for "appointed time." It is often translated as "festival," but the actually meaning is "appointment." Passover and The Feast of Unleavened Bread are moedim, "appointed times." They are the LORD's appointed times for doing business with man. The idea of Passover as an "appointed time" is expressed by the words of Yeshua as he prepares to meet his own appointed time in Jerusalem. In Mathew 26:17,18, Yeshua calls Passover "my appointed time." In saying this, the Master has identified the appointed time of the Festival of Unleavened Bread as his appointed time.
Paul concurs. Paul identifies all of the Biblical Festivals as the Appointments of the Messiah. In Colossians 2:16-17, Paul gives the festivals, new moons and Sabbaths (as well as other aspects of Torah observance) an eschatological value, shadows of things to come. The appointed times, Paul says, are a shadow of things to come. He further adds that their very substance is Messianic in nature.
Paul's messianic and eschatological interpretations of the festivals were not novel. Jewish tradition has always taught that the redemption from Egypt foreshadowed the great and final redemption brought about through the Messiah. Jewish commentators and haggadists regarded Moses as a type of the Messiah that is coming. The Passover Seder meal is rife with Messianic allusion and eschatological expectations, even to the point of setting a chair at the table for Elijah, the heralder of the Messiah.
In his letter to the Corinthians, Paul adjured the gentile believers to keep the Feast of Unleavened Bread on the basis that "Messiah our Passover Lamb has been sacrificed." (1 Corinthians 5:7). It is a passing statement in a larger context. Paul does not feel the need to explain or defend his words, because his interpretation of Messiah as Passover Lamb was certainly not his own. Clearly, the First Century believers regarded the Passover sacrifice of a lamb as finding a type of Messianic satisfaction in the death of the Master. Judaism has always expected the Messiah to bring the great salvation at the appointed time of Passover.
Appointment in Jerusalem
Yeshua knew that the Feast of Unleavened Bread was his appointed time. It was therefore necessary, if he was to meet the appointment, that he go up to the appointed place. Jerusalem is the city of God's Temple. It is the place God chose to put His Name. Jerusalem is the appointed place.
Preparations for the appointed time of Passover and Unleavened Bread began well in advance of the actual festival. This was especially so in Jerusalem. The city needed to prepare for a massive influx of pilgrims. Six weeks prior to the festivals the roads were repaired, wells dug, ritual baths prepared, graves whitewashed, and a host of other details that needed to be attended to. Within the city itself, special ovens for roasting the thousands and thousands of Passover lambs had to be erected. Accommodations and lodgings for the pilgrims needed to be made ready. The city was turned upside down!
As the pilgrims approached the city, their multitudes converged until their throngs filled the roads into Jerusalem. Their voices rose together singing the psalms of ascent as they went up to Jerusalem to keep the appointed time in the appointed place.
It is within this context that we must see the Master and his disciples approaching Jerusalem. They are one group with in a multitude of many groups.
Choosing the Lamb
In First Century Judaism, Messianic expectations were running at an all time high. This expectation was only heightened at Passover. In the celebration of Passover, the Festival of Redemption, the people had an eschatological hope. It was believed that the Ultimate Redemption, which was to be brought about through the Messiah, would take place at Passover. Messiah is to be a second Moses who will lead Israel out from under the bondage of the nations.
Word about the Master had spread. The people were wondering if he might not be the Messiah after all. "So they were seeking for Yeshua, and were saying to one another as they stood in the temple, "What do you think; that He will not come to the feast at all?"" (John 11:55) As the Master and his disciples came down the Mount of Olives in their approach to Jerusalem, the crowd of pilgrims realized who it was traveling in their midst. The throngs of pilgrims streaming into Jerusalem became a multitude throwing down their coats and branches to spread a path for Yeshua as he entered the city.
In Exodus chapter 12, the Torah gives the instructions for the celebration of Passover. The children of Israel were to choose a lamb for the Pesach sacrifice on the 10th day of the 1st month, 4 days before the actual slaughtering was to be done. According to John's chronology, it is the 10th day of the 1st month as Yeshua enters Jerusalem, and the people make their choice.
By their shouts, they herald him to be the long awaited Messiah. They are shouting: "Save us, I pray! Blessed is he that cometh in the name of the LORD! Blessed is the Kingdom that comes! Our father David! Save us from the highest. Save us son of David! Blessed is the King that comes in the Name of the LORD, even the King of Israel!" With these acclamations the people have made it clear; they have reached a decision; they have made a choice; they have chosen the Messiah. By mass acclamation Yeshua is designated the Messiah. Unwittingly, the crowds have chosen their Passover lamb on the day the lambs were to be chosen.
Checking for Blemish
The Torah further instructs that the lamb must be checked for blemishes. Only a perfect, spotless and unblemished lamb would suffice for the Passover.
In the Gospels, Yeshua goes to the Temple to teach. While there, he is approached by the Pharisees, the Sadducees, Herodians and the Teachers of Torah. Each various group poses difficult questions, trying to trap him in his words. Essentially, they are looking for any blemish, theological, halachic, or otherwise, which might disqualify him as Messiah. Matthew 22 preserves the narrative of these tests. He meets each question soundly, and no one can find fault with him. He is without blemish.
Casting Out Leaven
The Torah further instructs that before the Festival begins, all leaven must be cast out of the homes of the Israelites. To this very day, this regulation is observed with rigor. Before the day of Passover, the observant family spends weeks cleaning house. Every trace of leaven is removed. Breadcrumbs under the refrigerator are sought out and eliminated. Coat pockets are emptied out. Couch cushions overturned and vacuumed. Cupboards are emptied and cleaned. Anything defined as leaven is removed from the house.
It is during these days of casting out the leaven that Yeshua enters the Temple and casts out the moneychangers. In so doing the Master kept the command of cleansing the home by cleansing his Father's house.
The Biblical day begins at sunset. If we follow John's chronology, Yeshua and his disciples were settling into the upper room for his Last Seder as the Jerusalem sunset marked the beginning of the 14th day of the first month. In Exodus 12, the Israelites are commanded to kill the Passover Lamb on the 14th day of the 1st month. That meant that the following afternoon the Passover lambs were to be slaughtered in the Temple. This being so, Yeshua's celebration of the Seder is a day early. He hosts his Last Seder a day early so that he and his disciples can have one last Seder together. When the proper time for the Seder arrives the following evening, Yeshua will already be buried.
Time of Slaughter
A short time later, Yeshua is hung on the cross. It is the third hour, 9:00 AM by our reckoning when he is crucified (Mark 15:25).
On that day the Temple was crowded with pilgrims bringing up their lambs for the Passover slaughter. All the priesthood of Israel was also at the Temple for this festival. Because of the great number of lambs to be slaughtered, the afternoon continual offering was performed early.
The Mishnah reports to us, "The daily burnt offering (afternoon) was slaughtered at the 8th hour and a half (2:30) and offered up at the ninth hour and a half (3:30), but on the eve of Pesach it was slaughtered at the seventh hour and a half (1:30) and offered up at the eighth hour and a half (2:30)." (Pesachim 5:1) Thus the slaughter of the Passover Lamb was performed during the ninth hour.
The lambs were killed and their blood applied to the altar in an old-fashioned fire line style. Lines of priests stood ready with gold and silver basins for passing the blood to the altar. Again we turn to the Mishnah for the details.
"An Israelite slaughters the Passover Lamb and a priest received the blood, hands it to his fellow, and his fellow to his fellow, each one receiving a full basin and handing back an empty one. The priest nearest the altar tosses the blood in a single act." (Pesachim 5:6) The Passover lambs were killed in three consecutive waves. While the slaughter was being performed, the Levites in the Temple chanted the Psalms 113-118, the same Hallel which Yeshua and his disciples would have sung the night before (Pesachim 5:1-7).
The Death of the Lamb
When the 9th hour arrived, a long blast of the shofar signaled the Levites began their chanting of the Hallel (Psalms 113-118). The gates to the inner court were opened, and the first crowd of Israelites with their lambs ready rushed in. Within minutes, the clean and spotless courtyard around the altar was stained red with blood. Gutters flowed with red. The base of the altar seemed to bleed, even gush forth as basin after basin of blood was splashed against it in quick succession.
The dead lambs were hung on hooks, forearms spread in a crucifixion pose as they were skinned and prepared for roasting.
The Levites continued chanting the Hallel. The sound of their voices, joined by the voices of the thousands of Pilgrims who had gathered at the Temple, filled the entire city of Jerusalem. Indeed, they were heard outside the walls, a short distance away, where Yeshua had then been hanging on the cross for six hours. As they chanted, "The cords of death entangled me . . . precious in the Sight of the LORD is the Death for his Righteous Ones . . . Open for me the Gates of Righteousness . . . The stone the builder's rejected has become the capstone," Yeshua died. It was the 9th hour, the very hour at which the Passover lambs were being slain in the temple. Yeshua, the lamb, died.
This is the story of the Exodus and the Passover lamb of Egypt. Paul tells us that Messiah our Pesach has been sacrificed. It is by his blood, applied to the doorposts of our lives that we are spared the fate of the Egyptian firstborn. By his blood, applied to our lives, the last judgment passes over us.
Work Cited: Macoby, Hyam. 1988. Early Rabbinic Writings. Cambridge University Press, Great Britain.