The Passover – Part 2
(To read the first part of this text, click on the Home Page above and go to the Temple Archives page.)
The Custom of Modern Days
The modern synagogue designates the Sabbath before the Passover as ‘the Great Sabbath’, and prescribes particular prayers and special instruction that is to be done before the coming festival. There is no real evidence that this actual name or practice was in use in the time of Jesus, though. It was used to teach the people in the various synagogues about the Passover and what would take place during the festival itself. There is also another tradition that some of the people selected their sacrificial lamb four days before the Passover and kept it tied to a place that was within their view. This was to constantly remind them of what was to come and the significance of it.
The Three Things
According to the Rabbis, there were three things that were implied in the festive command to ‘appear before the Lord’ – ‘Presence’, the ‘Chagigah’, and ‘Joyousness’.
As they were especially applied to the Passover, the first one meant that every person was to come up to Jerusalem and offer a burnt-offering. If possible this offering was to be done on the first day, but could have been any other day. This burnt-offering was to be taken only from ‘Cholin’ (profane substance), or from such things as did not otherwise belong to the Lord such as tithes, firstlings, or things devoted, etc.
The ‘Chigigah’ was strictly a peace-offering and it could be offered two times. The first offering was on the 14th of Nisan, the day of the Paschal sacrifice, and formed part of the Paschal Supper. The second was offered on the 15th of Nisan, which was the first day of the feast of unleavened bread. John 18:28 talks about the second offering, because the Jews were afraid they might be unable to eat it if they contracted defilement in the judgment-hall of Pilate.
The Mishnah laid down some rules in reference to the first ‘Chagigah’ that was given. It was only to be offered if the Paschal day fell on a week-day, not on a Sabbath, and if the Paschal lamb alone would not have been sufficient to give a satisfying supper to the company which gathered around it. As in the case of all other peace-offerings, part of this ‘Chagigah’ might be kept for no more than one night and two days from its sacrifice. Because the first one on the 14th was a voluntary offering, it was lawful to bring it from sacred things such as tithes from the flock. The one on the 15th, however, was obligatory, and had to be brought from ‘Cholin’ (profane substance).
The third demand stated the fact that the people were to appear at the feast with ‘Joyousness’. Each one of them was to offer their sacrifices with a joyous heart because of the blessings that God had bestowed on them. Thus the sacrifices that each Israelite was to offer at the Passover were: his share in the Paschal Lamb, a burnt-offering, the Chagigah (peace offering), and offerings of joyousness.
During just normal times, the priests were divided into 24 courses and only served when it was their time in the Temple. During the festivals, however, they were all on duty and distributed among themselves equally the amount that fell to them of the sacrifices and the shewbread. The course of priests that was on regular duty for that week, though, still offered the public sacrifices for the whole congregation, such as those that were done every morning and evening.
The special preparations for the Passover commenced on the evening of the 13th of Nisan. The head of the house was to search with a lighted candle all places where leaven was usually kept. Then he was to put all of it that he found in a safe place where none of it could be used by accident. Before doing this, he prayed: ‘Blessed art Thou, Jehovah, our God, King of the Universe, who last sanctified us by Thy commandments, and commanded us to remove the leaven. All the 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.’ The search was to be done in complete silence and with a lighted candle. It is to this very search that I Cor. 5: 7 might be talking about when it says to ‘purge out the old leaven.’ If the leaven had not been removed on the evening of the 13th, it might still be done before noon of the 14th of Nisan.
The unleavened cakes were to be the only bread used during the feast. They could be made of wheat, barley, spelt, oats, and rye. The cakes had to be prepared before any fermentation had begun. In order to come within this term ‘leaven’, the cakes had to be prepared from any of these kinds of grain and kneaded with water only.
The Time Of Its Commencement
Early on the 14th, the feast of the Passover began. In Galilee, no work was done all that day; in Judea it was continued till mid-day, with the rule being that no new work was to commence – only work that was already started. The only exception to this was in the case of tailors, barbers, and those engaged in doing laundry. Ten o’clock in the morning was the latest that leaven could be eaten. From that hour to noon it was required to abstain from leaven. Then at noon, all that was left was to be destroyed by burning, immersing it in water, or scattering it to the winds.
To secure strict obedience and uniformity, the exact time for abstaining from and for destroying the leaven was made known: “They laid two desecrated cakes of a thank-offering on a bench in the porch of the Temple. So long as they lay there, all the people might eat leavened; when one of them was removed, they abstained from eating, but they did not burn the leaven; when both were removed, all the people burnt the leaven”.
Choice Of The Lamb
The next thing was to select a proper Paschal lamb. It must be free from all blemish, and must be more than eight days old, or not more than a year old. Each lamb was to serve for a ‘company’, which was to consist of not less than ten, nor more than twenty persons. The company at the Lord’s Passover Supper consisted of Himself and His disciples. Peter and John had been sent early by Jesus to ‘prepare the Passover’. They had been sent to make all the necessary preparations and purchases that were needed. They may have purchased the lamb somewhere in the Holy City. It was only days before that Jesus Himself had driven out all the sellers from the Temple. The priests had built up a brisk and very profitable business for themselves by making it easy for the people to buy their sacrifices right there in the Temple.
Slaying Of The Lamb
While Jesus was still outside the city with the other disciples, Peter and John completed the preparations for the sacrifice. They led their sacrificial lamb up the Temple-mount with all the other people. Here they were grouped into three divisions. The evening sacrifice had already been offered earlier, but because it was the Passover, the Paschal sacrifice had to be offered before the incense was burned or the lamps were trimmed. The following is the way the Paschal sacrifice was offered:
The first of the three festive divisions, with their Paschal lambs, was admitted within the Court of the Priests. Each division consisted of not less than 30 persons, because the 3 x 10 was the symbolic number of the Divine and of completeness. Immediately after they were admitted, the massive gates were closed behind them. The priests made three blasts from the silver trumpets when the Passover was slain. The scene was a most impressive one. Priests stood in two rows, one holding golden bowls and the other silver, all along the Court up to the altar of burnt-offering. In these bowls were the blood of the Paschal lambs that each Israelite had slain for himself. The priests caught the blood and filled the bowl and handed it to his colleague, receiving back an empty bowl. It was in this way that the bowls with the blood were passed up to the priest at the altar.
While all this was going on, the Levites led in the singing of a most solemn hymn of praise. The offerers either repeated after them or just responded to what they sang. Every first line of a Psalm was repeated by the people, while to each of the other lines they responded by a ‘Hallelujah’, or ‘Praise Ye The Lord’. This song service consisted of the ‘Hallel’, which comprised Psalm 113 to 118.
Below is a sample of how this praise service would have actually been done.
The singing of the ‘Hallel’ at the Passover dates back to the very earliest antiquity. The Talmud talks about its being very suitable for the purpose because it recorded the goodness of God towards Israel, but especially talked about their deliverance from Egypt. Psalm 113 appropriately opened with ‘Praise ye Jehovah, ye servants of Jehovah’. This particular one was called the ‘Common’ to distinguish it from the ‘Great Hallel’, which was only sung on rare occasions and comprised Psalms 120 to 136.
According to the Talmud, the ‘Hallel’ recorded five things: “The coming out of Egypt, the dividing of the sea, the giving out of the law, the resurrection of the dead, and the lot of the Messiah.’ The Egyptian ‘Hallel’ was sung on eighteen days and one night in the year. These eighteen days were: the Passover Sacrifice, the Feast of Pentecost, and each of the eight days of the Feasts of Tabernacles and of the Dedication of the Temple. The only night in which it was recited was that of the Paschal Supper, when it was sung by every Paschal company in their own houses.
Completion Of The Sacrifice
If the ‘Hallel’ had been finished before the service of one division was completed, it was repeated a second or even third time. The Mishnah remarks that usually the Great Court was crowded by the first two divisions, and it rarely happened that they got further than Psalms 116 before the services of the third division were completed.
Next, the sacrifices were hung up on hooks along the Court, or laid on staves which rested on the shoulders of two men (except on the Sabbath). Then they were flayed, the entrails taken out and cleaned thoroughly. The inside fat was separated, put in a dish and salted. Then it was placed on the fire of burnt-offering. This completed the sacrifice. The first division of offerers were then dismissed, then the second entered, and finally the third. Each time the service was conducted in precisely the same manner. Then the whole service was concluded by burning the incense and trimming the lamps for the night.
When everything had been finished, the priests washed the Great Court of all the sacrificial blood that had been shed. This was not done if the Passover had been slain on the Sabbath. In that case, the three divisions waited – the first in the Court of the Gentiles, the second on the Chel, and the third in the Great Court – so they would not needlessly carry their burdens on the Sabbath. As a general rule, though, the religious services of the Passover ‘made void the Sabbath’. In other respects, though, the Passover or 15th of Nisan, was to be observed like a Sabbath with no work being allowed. The one exception to this rule was preparing the necessary articles of food. This explains how Jesus’ words to Judas during the Paschal Supper could be misunderstood by the disciples as implying that Judas was to buy the things that they needed for the feast.
Our Lord’s Celebration Of The Feast
The sun was probably descending over the horizon when Jesus and the other ten disciples descended once more over the Mount of Olives into Jerusalem. She must have been bustling with activity. They probably walked with many other pilgrims who were trying to get to the city in time for all the festivities. There were probably tents all around the city to handle the overflow of people who had come. The gorgeous gold of the Temple was reflected in the sun’s rays, and one could see the smoke rising from the altar of burnt-offering.
The courts were now crowded with people who were offering their sacrifices. The streets were thronged with people, and all the houses were filled to the brim with as many people as could stay there.
This was the last fleshly day-view he would have of the Holy City until His Resurrection, and only once more would he look at the beloved city with the light of the moon. He was getting ready to ‘accomplish his death’ in Jerusalem, fulfill prophecy, and offer Himself up as the true Passover Lamb – ‘the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world.’
It must have been hard for the disciples to believe that this glorious Temple would one day be torn down, and all the traditions that went with it would be gone. Satan was getting ready to do what he hoped would be the once and for all getting-rid-of the Son of God who came to take away the sins of the world.