CHRIST IN THE PASSOVER #4
From the book of the same name by Ceil and Moishe Rosen
PASSOVER IN THE TIME OF CHRIST
GOING UP TO JERUSALEM
At Passover, a constant stream of humanity ribboned the
highways leading into first-century Jerusalem. Devout Jews poured
in from distant corers of the world to worship Jehovah in the
mountain of His holiness. If all possible, those Jews who lived
within a few days' journey came up to Jerusalem three times a
year: at Passover, at Pentecost, and at the Feast of Booths. But
for many who live very far from J erusalem, the lengthy
pilgrimage at Passover was the fulfillment of a once in a
lifetime dream. Weeks before the holiday, the trickles began -
from Asia Minor, from Egypt, from Africa, from Italy, from
Greece, from Mesopotamia 1 and soon the stream became a river.
The current of this river flowed upward. Whether the first part
of the journey was by boat or by land, no one ever went down to
Jerusalem. 2 The holy city sat like a crown 2,610 feet above sea
level, and the Temple was its brightest, most prominent jewel. In
order to reach this destination, all travelers first had to go
through the surrounding valleys. The contrasting loftiness of
that final ascent built a sense of holiness and awe within the
pilgrims as they climbed ever upward.
By mule, in ox cart, on foot they came: families, schools
1 See Acts 2:9-11.
2 Even in modern times the Hebrew word used for visiting
Jerusalem is 'Aliyah,' which means "going up."
of disciples following their teachers, solitary travelers banded
together in caravans for safety from robbers and wild animals. As
they drew near, their joyful voices rang out and echoed through
the valleys below in the Pilgrim Psalms or Songs of Ascent:
"As the hart panteth after the water brooks, so panteth my soul
after thee, O God "(Psalm 42:1).
"How amiable are thy tabernacles, O LORD of hosts! My soul
longeth ... for the courts of the LORD" (Psalm 84:1-2).
"I was glad when they said unto me, Let us go into the house of
the LORD. Our feet shall stand within thy gates, O Jerusalem"
"Behold, how good and how pleasant it is for brethren to dwell
together in unity!" (Psalm 133:1).
Behold, bless ye the LORD ... ye servants ... which by night
stand in the house of the LORD" (Psalm 134:1).
HOW MANY WENT TO
The number of permanent residents in the Jerusalem that
Jesus knew was about six hundred thousand. A conservative
estimate of the vast multitude of Passover pilgrims is about TWO
MIOLLION, who swelled the city's population to almost four times
its normal size. Those who came from afar arrived at least a week
or two in advance, because anyone coming from a country outside
of Israel could not worship in the Temple before undergoing seven
days of ritual purification.
At Passover, Jerusalemites and their visitors, despite
vastly differing cultural backgrounds, rejoiced in the unity of
their Jewishness. It was a time for renewal of family ties.
People were reunited with blood kin whom they had not seen for
months or even years. Pilgrims without relatives or friends at
Jerusalem found themselves being welcomed as family members into
homes where they had never been, by people they had never met.
The earliest to arrive camped around the Temple site, as the
tribes had once camped around the tabernacle in the wilderness,
but this space was limited. The area surrounding Jerusalem was
too rocky and hilly for pitching large numbers of tents, so all
residents who were able opened their homes to the visiting
worshipers. They were forbidden by custom to charge rent, but it
was a joyful obligation. Almost every home had guests.
Jerusalemites often entertained exotic visitors who had
tales to tell of distant places and different cultures. Usually
the host and his household were given hospitality gifts, exciting
things that brought the sight, smell, and feeling of adventure.
PRIOR TO PASSOVER
During the four weeks before Passover, the synagogues and
academies placed much emphasis on teaching and reinforcing the
holiday's meaning. Jerusalem was filled with excitement and
expectancy, and all the citizenry prepared for the festivities
and the influx of visitors. Members of the Sanhedrin busied
themselves with arrangements for the repair of roads and bridges
leading into the city. Housewives scrubbed and polished, and they
sewed new garments for everyone in the household. Vendors in the
marketplaces expanded their stock in eager anticipation of
increased business. Even the beggars, huddling at the gates in
their rags, dreamed of a season of bounteous compassion and
generosity, prompted by the worshipers' piety.
One preparation custom involved whitewashing the tombs
around the city. The people of that time buried their dead in
caves and sealed off the openings with large stones, so that wild
animals would not desecrate the bodies. But the numerous caves
around Jerusalem were used for other purposes as well. People
kept livestock in caves, 1 and also used them for shelter. It
was possible that a traveler, seeking refuge at night or during a
spring rainstorm, might blunder into a burial site. Since this
contact with a dead body would defile him, he would have to
undergo an elaborate ritual cleansing before being able to
worship in the Temple. For this reason, they marked the tomb
entrances and surrounding areas with a white, chalky material to
warn people. This whitewash wore of and needed replacing
periodically, and it was the custom to do these repairs at the
These freshly painted tombs provided Jesus with the imagery
He used to rebuke the Pharisees in Matthew 23: 27-28. They
thought of themselves as a repository of truth and light, but
there was an infectious spirit of death to their
self-righteousness. Their outward piety looked good and right,
but men were to be warned away from their teachings, because
following them would only lead to death and decay.
Jerusalem was a commercial city as well as the seat of
government and religion. The most common meeting grounds to
befriend strangers and offer them hospitality were the gates of
the city, the marketplaces, and the synagogues.
THE CITY OF JERUSALEM
The Jerusalem of Jesus' time had about three hundred sixty
synagogues. The city was small enough geographically not to need
neighborhood divisions. Rather, the congregations consisted of
people with like interests, like trades, and like stations in
life. Thus, there were synagogues of potters, synagogues of
tentmakers, synagogues of Greek-speaking Jews, and so forth.
The synagogue was not only a place of learning. It
1 Such a stable at Bethlehem sheltered Mary and Joseph at the
birth of Jesus.
took the place of the community center, the grange, the hiring
hall, the fraternal lodge. Here people in the trades met their
foreign counterparts and exchanged knowledge, and artisans were
introduced to new methods and designs. Passover was a time for
seeking new apprentices, and those who came early for the holiday
might join the craftsmen in their trades.
In the marketplaces, the tables and blankets of wares held a
larger than usual and more colorful variety of goods. Many of the
travelers brought trade goods to be used for currency; food
producers supplied extra commodities, often of a more luxurious
nature than their everyday products, to meet the increased needs
and festive mood. Here was a rare spice, an exotic ointment;
there, a delicate piece of woven material, a familiar homespun
made intriguingly different by the startling brilliance of some
new dye, a new kind of carpenter's tool, a cleverly designed
potter's wheel, a finely crafted silver wine goblet, or an
elaborately concocted food to tease the nostrils.
At Passover, Jerusalem was filled with itinerant rabbis and
teachers, who often brought along their whole academies. These
scholars enriched the homes of their hosts with the benefit of
their knowledge and inspiration. All rabbis were learned in
matters of the Law, and at this time they had the opportunity to
compare notes and share interpretations and precedents of both
Jewish and Roman law.
It was a time for making business deals, and a time for
servants who had made the decision to undergo the ritual which
would indenture them for life to their masters' households. It
was a time for those of the priestly class to renew their
acquaintance with Temple customs; their sons might have an
opportunity to sing with the Levitical choir, or they might find
a bride of equal station. It was a matter of prestige to marry a
daughter of Jerusalem, for those women were not of peasant stock
and often came from priestly, scholarly, or merchant families. In
general, it was a time for seeking wives and for arranging
THE PEOPLE TOGETHER
Passover season was an ideal time to sit in the marketplace
or at the gates and enjoy the skillful art of conversation.
Jewish people of that time usually did not play physical games
for recreation and entertainment, as did the Greeks and Romans.
Rather, they delighted in songs, storytelling, word games,
riddles, the exchange of news, and long discussions on religious
matters. In those crowded public places, one could hear
interesting bits of news. Sometimes they were merely
entertaining, other times rather useful. One might learn of
battles, of uprisings, of scandals among rulers, of a
particularly lenient tax collector at one of the tollgates, or of
a wealthy merchant seeking a son-in-law.
Jerusalem was a beehive of activity. Crowds thronged the
streets, their voices blending with the lowing of cattle and the
bleating of sheep and goats. Vendors hawked their wares; people
shouted greetings to one another. There was a good-natured air of
festivity. Then, amid the bustle and din, a change in the wind
might cam-down the sound of the Temple services - the music, the
chanting of the priests. People then turned their eyes upward to
the towering structure high atop Mount Moriah, which dominated
the landscape in all directions. They saw the smoke from the
sacrifices curling upward against the sky, and they remembered
their real purpose for being there: the worship of Jehovah, the
true and living God. That was the scene; those were the sights,
the sounds, the smells that greeted Jesus and the disciples as
they entered Jerusalem the week before the Passover.
LEAVEN PUT OUT
A crucial part of the final preparations that last week
before the feast was the emoval or storing away of all leaven
from each Jewish home. That included bread, all leavening
agents, and any cereals or grains that had the capacity of
becoming leavened. There was also the ceremonial cleansing of the
pots and utensils in the house.
On the night before Passover eve, (THAT WOULD BE the
BEGINNING of the 14th for the Pharisee Jews observed the Passover
on the late afternoon of the 14th into the evening of the 15th -
an INCORRECT observance - see all my in-depth studies on the
Passover - Keith Hunt) a search was made for any leaven that
might have been overlooked. At that time, the head of the
household went through the house, inspecting it with a lighted
candle or lantern in complete silence. If he found any leaven, he
disposed of it or locked it away where it would not be touched
until after the Passover and the eight days of unleavened bread,
which followed. Then the head of the house repeated an ancient
prayer, which Orthodox Jews still use today: "All leaven that is
in my possession, that which I have seen and that which I have
not seen, be it null, be it accounted as the dust of the earth."
Alfred Edersheim wrote of this search: "Jewish tradition
sees a reference to [this] searching out of the leaven in
Zephaniah 1:12." 1 Speaking of judgment, God said in that verse:
"I will search out Jerusalem with candles," meaning He will
search out the leaven of sin and destroy it. The apostle Paul
probably had this search for the leaven in mind when he said in
1 Corinthians 5:7: "Purge out therefore the old leaven [sin],
that ye may be a new lump, as ye are unleavened [cleansed from
sin]. For even Christ our passover is sacrificed for us."
1 Alfred Edersheim, "The Temple, Its Ministry and Services as
They Were at the Time of Jesus Christ," p.220.
At the same time that people throughout the city were
preparing their homes, special attention was being given to the
central subject of the feast, the Paschal lamb. In obedience to
Scripture, a representative of each household chose the sacrifice
lamb on the tenth of Nisan. If someone bought a lamb outside the
Temple, he had to bring it to be inspected by the priests and
declared without blemish or spot; or he could buy a lamb already
certified by the priests within the Temple complex. Most people
bought lambs in the Temple, knowing from bitter experience that
the priests could almost always manage to find some minute
imperfection on any animal brought from the outside.
(INCORRECT here. The writers did not understand that at the
Passover NO Temple or Priest was needed for any part of the
Passover observance. The law of Moses allowed for the Passover to
be observed by families or groups of people within Jerusalem,
free from the Temple or priesthood. The Temple and priesthood
rituals were ADDED by the Pharisees - their own traditions, which
Jesus siad often made void the commandments of God - Mark 7:7
etc. See all my studies on the Passover - Keith Hunt)
On the fourtee of Nisan, the slaughter of the Passover lambs
took place. The priests chose "companies" of not less than ten
people, nor more than twenty. Each group sacrificed one lamb,
which they later ate as their ceremonial meal. The crowds of
worshipers entered by company into the Temple's outer courtyard.
The Levites killed the lambs at the signal of the silver trumpets
sounded by the priests. Then they removed the fat and burned it.
They caught the blood of the sacrifices in bowls, which two rows
of priests passed along to be poured out at the base of the
(Again, this was all Pharisee traditions, which had no basis at
all in the laws of Moses; such Temple practices for the Passover
cannot be found in the books of Moses - see if you can find them
- they ain't there - Keith Hunt)
While all this was happening, the Levitical choir chanted
Hallel, the recitation of Psalms 113 to 118. The congregation
joined in the liturgy by repeating the first line of each psalm
after the Levites sang it. They also chanted the words Hallelu
Yah (praise ye the Lord) at the end of every line. When the
priests came to Psalm 118, the congregation repeated verses 25
1 This is why Jesus cried out in anger: "Ye have made it [the
house of God] a den of thieves" (Matthew 21:13; cf. Mark
11:15-17; Luke 19: 45-46).
"Save now, I beseech thee, O Lose [Hoshia Na, or Hosanna]
O Lose, I beseech thee, send now prosperity. Blessed be he that
cometh in the name of the Lord."
These are the very words that rang out through the streets
of Jerusalem a week before the crucifixion as Jesus rod into the
city on a donkey in fulfillment of Zechariah 9:9.
The two disciples sent by Jesus to prepare the Passover
heard them again as they stood in the court of the priests to
kill their lamb. As their memory of that joyful acclaim mingled
with the reality of the death scene before them, one wonders
whether they began to understand what the Master had been trying
to tell them when He said:
"Behold, we go up to Jerusalem, and all things that are written
by the prophets concerning the Son of man shall be accomplished.
For he shall be delivered unto the Gentiles, and shall be mocked,
and spitefully entreated, and spitted on: and they shall scourge
him and put him to death" (Luke 18:31-33; cf. Matthew 20:18-19,
26:2; Mark 9:31-32, 10:33-34).
(NO, the disciples did not hear per se those words and see those
people going to the Temple, for when all this was supposedly
going on in the afternoon of the 14th of Nisan, Jesus was dying
on the cross. Christ and His disciples HAD ALREADY observed the
Passover the evening before - the BEGINNING of the 14th of the
first month of the sacred year, as the Gospels make very clear.
If you are having trouble putting the correct and true observance
of the Passover, with the Pharisee Passover of the 15th, then you
need to carefully study ALL my studies on the Passover on this
Furthermore, whatever was the "norm" for the Temple and priests
during their rites of following the Pharisees teaching of the
Temple traditions on the 14th, you can be assured that the norm
was not followed on the day Jesus died. People tend to forget
that from about NOON to about 3 pm there was DARKNESS over the
city of Jerusalem. The priests and the people must have been
scared out of their mind. This was no ordinary darkness, but a
miracle of darkness, and so terror must have blown away the
"norm" of Temple observance during those hours. Then when Jesus
died and the earthquake shook the city and rent the curtain in
two, that separated the holy place from the most holy place in
the Temple, there must have been shear hysteria, fear, panic, and
confusion. Everything in the Temple ritual [if any was going on
with that darkness] would have come to a grinding stop! - Keith
To be continued