The death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ are worth considering daily. This week preceding Easter, the week of Passover, when these events are often given more focus, I have spent some time reflecting on the crucifixion and resurrection of our incredible Savior. I want to share with you what I hope will be helpful in your own reflection of the most important story ever told.
First off, I don’t think Good Friday and Easter can be properly understood without understanding some things about Jewish history as they are presented in the Old Testament. God told the Israelites/Jews to observe certain festivals, or “feasts,” every year in order to commemorate things that God had done for them and/or would do for them in the future. One thing that is incredible to me is how Jesus was the exact fulfillment of the festivals that the Jews observed. – So much of the Old Testament points to Jesus Christ; in everything that God had the Jews do, He was pointing ahead to what Jesus would do for them. (Jesus fulfilled the Spring festivals with his death and resurrection and the sending of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, and the others – the ones held in Autumn – are widely expected to be fulfilled at Jesus’ second coming.)
Now to look at some of these festivals that pointed to Jesus:
From the time of the Israelites’ escape from Egypt, the Israelites killed a lamb each year at the Passover festival. This annual Passover was to remind them of that first Passover in Egypt when the Lord killed all the first-born sons except those in the households that had killed a pure, spotless, innocent lamb and had applied the lamb’s blood to their doorposts (Ex 12). For every first born son in Egypt that night, there would be a death – either the son himself, or a lamb in his place. They smeared this blood on their doorposts because they believed (showed faith in) God when He said He would have mercy on those who placed themselves behind the lamb’s blood, and so the annual Passover festival commemorated this event.
Centuries later, Jesus came, and for a few years he proclaimed to the Jews that the Kingdom of God was near. They had been looking forward to their Messiah-King coming and establishing the Kingdom of God that the prophets had talked about. And so, the time had come that many Jews (but not the religious leaders) were ready to crown Jesus as the Messiah that they had been looking forward to for generations.
When the time came, Jesus, as he did every year, made His way toward Jerusalem for the Passover festival. The Jewish Law required that the Israelites observe the annual Passover feast in Jerusalem, so it is likely that the majority of the Jews in all of Israel were in Jerusalem at the time that Jesus went to celebrate His final Passover festival. He rode into Jerusalem on a donkey, and the crowd worshiped him, proclaiming Him to be the Messiah (Jesus knew, however, that these same Jews would soon turn against Him – see his lamentation over Jerusalem in the midst of the Triumphal entry [Luke 19:41-44]). This happened on the 10th day of the month of Nisan – the very same day that the people of Israel were to select their Passover lamb that would be slain for the Passover festival. Thus, figuratively, Jesus was presenting Himself as Israel’s Passover lamb. Now, the religious leaders despised Jesus (primarily because he constantly showed them their hypocrisy), and the last thing they were going to let happen was that Jesus be crowned the Messiah-King. They had already been plotting to have Jesus killed, but seeing the Triumphal entry was the last straw for them, and they moved all the more quickly to plot his death (They knew that they had to arrest him and try Him when there was not a large crowd around, since He was so popular, so they had to get creative with how they would arrest and try Him without the people knowing about it).
For the rest of the Passion Week, Jesus was in and out of Jerusalem. On Thursday evening, Jesus and his disciples had the Passover meal together, then went to the Garden of Gethsemane, just outside of Jerusalem, to pray. After a few hours of them being in the Garden, Judas led the religious leaders and Roman soldiers to Jesus. It was late at night, and they arrested him and immediately began to try him under the cover of the night. He underwent three religious trials throughout that night, and then early in the morning (about 6am) the religious leaders took Him to Pilate (Under Rome’s authority, the Jews were not allowed to carry out capital punishment, so the Jews took him to Pilate so that Pilate would have him killed). Pilate tried him, Herod tried him, and Pilate tried him again, and they could not find anything worth killing him for. Pilot told the Jews that he would release one prisoner to them, either the murderer Barabbas, or Jesus. The Jewish leaders insisted that Jesus be killed, and they stirred up the Jews who were gathered to insist that Jesus be crucified and Barabbas released. So, fearing a riot, Pilate agreed to have him crucified. Barabbas, the guilty, was released while Jesus, the innocent, would be crucified.
Jesus, having just gone through an incredibly emotional week, a long night of trials, and brutal beatings, was led away to be crucified on a cross – the most disgraceful, and one of the cruelest instruments of death ever invented. He was nailed on the cross at about 9am that (Friday) morning. He was on the cross for six hours before He gave up his life. If you’ve seen the Star of Bethlehem video, you’ve seen that there was much that occurred in the heavenly bodies (sun, moon, stars) at that very moment that Jesus died. But one of the most significant pieces of symbolism is that Jesus died at the very time of day that the Passover lambs were being killed. Jesus, the pure, spotless Lamb of God, died to take away the sins of the world. His blood was shed so that whoever would, by faith, put himself/herself “behind” the Lamb’s blood, would pass from death to life. We, the guilty, are released, while Jesus, the innocent, was crucified in our place.
But, as you know, it doesn’t end there.
Another of the Jewish festivals is the “Feast of Unleavened Bread.” Jesus was in the grave on the first days of the Feast of Unleavened Bread. Leavening is used to represent sin in the Bible, and Jesus was the sinless “Bread of Life,” the perfect substitute sacrifice for our sins.
Two days after the Passover in that year came the Feast of Firstfruits. The Feast of Firstfruits was the Jewish celebration of the first-fruits of the barley harvest (the first harvest celebration of the year). During Jesus’ ministry, he had been telling everyone that He was the way to everlasting life, and that if people believed in Him, they would have everlasting life – quite a bold claim! But then these people who believed in Him – the supposed source of life – saw He Himself succumb to death! What must they have been thinking?! They were devastated, to say the least. But then, on the very day of the Feast of Firstfruits, Jesus rose from the dead! “Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep” (1 Cor 15:20). So, Jesus’ resurrection means we can have confidence that Jesus is indeed the way to everlasting life! He was the “firstfruits of the harvest” of everlasting life – we (those who have (figuratively) placed themselves under the cover of the Lamb of God’s blood) are a part of the rest of the harvest of everlasting life in heaven!
The take-home message is this: Those who believe (put faith in the fact) that Jesus’ death was the substitutional payment for their sins, can have a fulfilled life here on earth, and will be resurrected to have everlasting life in heaven after they die! Praise God! What a wonderful Savior!