This commenced in the Paschal night itself and lasted for seven days. The Feast of Unleavened Bread derived its name from the Mazzoth, or unleavened cakes which were the only kind of bread that was allowed for the whole week. In Deuteronomy 16:3, this was called ‘the bread of affliction’, because it did not taste good and symbolized the hardship and affliction that the people of Israel had endured in Egypt. This was not to be remembered as just bad, though. They were also to be reminded of their fantastic deliverance by God from the horrendous state that they were in at the time. The bondage was to be remembered in connection with the deliverance.
The unleavened bread was to remind them that when their time for deliverance had come, it was very sudden and they left in such haste that their bread did not have time to rise and be prepared as they usually would have done it. So the Passover was not nearly as much about Israel’s bondage as their deliverance from that bondage.
The First Day of The Feast
The 15th day of Nisan was the first day of ‘unleavened bread’. It was considered a very holy day and the only work that was to be done was just what was necessary for enjoying the festival. After the regular morning sacrifice the public offerings were brought. They were made on each of the seven days of the festive week. They consisted of two young bullocks, one ram, and seven lambs for a burnt-offering. Then there were the appropriate meat-offerings, and one goat for a sin-offering. The public sacrifices were meant for the whole congregation. After these were over, the private offerings from each individual were brought. This was commonly done on this first day, but could be done on any of the other days of the feast also.
The private sacrifices were a burnt-offering that had to be of the value of at least one meah of silver (1/3 denar), the offering of Chagigah (festivity), which had to be the value of at least two meahs of silver, and then there was the ‘sacrifice of joyousness’ in which everyone was required to offer. Both the Chagigah and ‘offerings of joyousness’ were peace-offerings. They required laying on of hands, sprinkling of blood, burning of the inside fat and kidneys on the altar, and the proper setting aside of what went to the priest (the breast as a wave-offering and the shoulder as a heave-offering). The wave-offering belonged originally to Jehovah, who gave His portion to the priests, while the heave-offering came to them directly from the people. The rest was used in the offerers in their festive meals, but was only good during two days and one night from the time of sacrifice.
Tradition allowed that the poor could spend even less than one meah on their burnt-offerings. Things devoted to God, such as firstlings and tithes could be used for this purpose, and it was even lawful for priests to offer what had come to them as priestly dues. All of these offerings were not to be a heavy yoke of bondage for the people, but a joyous festival of celebration.
The law was very explicit on one point, though – the Chagigah might not be offered by any person who had contracted Levitical defilement. This was the reason that when Jesus was being judged by Caiaphas right before his crucifixion, the Jews would not go into the judgment hall because they would be defiled and could not eat the Passover Meal. Below we will discuss the history of the last real Passover.
The Day Of Our Lord’s Betrayal
It was very early on the 15th day of Nisan when Jesus was delivered into the hands of the Gentiles by Judas Iscariot. The previous night he and his disciples had partaken of the Paschal Supper. Every one of the disciples participated except Judas, but he had already separated himself spiritually by then. He had left before the Supper to make arrangements for turning over Jesus for 30 pieces of silver. He was doing all this while Jesus was teaching and partaking of the rites that would forever after that night turn into the institution of the Lord’s Supper. Even though the Sanhedrin had to violate almost every fundamental principle of their own judicial administration, they felt that they had to capture Jesus at any cost. They must have felt like they would not have another opportunity like this one, and they must act quickly.
The Arrest of Our Lord
Some of them hastily gathered the Temple guard under its captains. They knew that they could readily get a detachment of Roman soldiers from the fortress Antonia if they told them that it was to secure a dangerous leader of rebellion and prevent the possibility of any uprising. After the crowd got assembled, it didn’t take much for it to become fanatical. Even though there was a brilliant full moon, they carried torches and lamps just in case Jesus should hide in a dark corner of the Garden of Gethsemane and they couldn’t find him readily. They were prepared for a skirmish, and instead got one who surrendered willingly with no violence at all. Jesus only asked that his followers be free from any wrongdoing.
They led him back to the city to the Palace of the High Priest that was on Mount Zion, almost opposite of the Temple. What happened then was utterly horrible. In their treatment of Jesus, the Sanhedrin not only violated the Law of God, but grossly violated every ordinance of their own law. They murdered Stephen openly not long after Jesus died, so the threat of the Roman Law would not have kept them from killing Jesus right then if they had chosen. They had a deeper motive in mind, though. They wanted to stop the whole movement that Jesus had started, so they thought it best to carry the case to Pilate and they hoped the movement would be stopped in the Roman courts. They wanted a public condemnation and execution, and they thought if they got that it would go a long towards annihilating the whole movement. Then they thought that maybe people would be afraid to pursue this new way of living.
And so in the early morning light of the first day of unleavened bread, the saddest scene in Jewish history was carried out. The chief priests and elders were gathered in Fort Antonia with most of the other fanatical people. From where they stood, they would have had a full view of the Temple buildings that stood just below the rocky fort. They could see the morning sacrifice offered, and the columns of smoke that rose as incense toward heaven. Everything had been done except the private burnt-offerings and the Chagigah sacrifice, which must be offered undefiled if one was to share in the Paschal Meal which came afterwards. It was a very strange contradiction that was brought about here. Those people who had not hesitated to break their law in almost every way would not enter in the Praetorium because then they would be defiled and could not offer the Chagigah or partake of the Paschal Meal. How could there have been more inconsistency in how they observed the letter of the law and violated totally its spirit.
On the sixth hour of the afternoon of the first Passover day, there was darkness over the land for 3 hours. At this hour Jesus cried out with a loud voice saying “Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani?” This is interpreted as My God, My God, why hast Thou forsaken Me? After this Jesus died physically and the veil of the Temple was torn in twain from top to bottom, not bottom to top. This was just about the time when the evening sacrifice would have been offered, so the incensing priest standing in the Holy Place must have witnessed the awful sight.
The Sheaf of Firstfruits
Just as it was growing dark on the same day, another noisy throng went from the Sanhedrim outside the city and across the brook of Kedron. Just about this same time, there would been another smaller group of people who were carrying the body of Jesus to the rock-hewn tomb of Joseph of Arimathea. While one of them was turning to go to the tomb, the other noisy throng emerged in a field across the Kedron which had been marked out for the purpose. They were to be engaged in a service that was very important to them – the sheaf of firstfruits.
It was probably because of this festival that Joseph of Arimathea was able to get permission to bury Jesus without there being a lot of flack about it. They could be totally undisturbed as they went about their duties of burying Jesus because of the great festival that was happening at that time. After all, they must have figured that every person or thing that had opposed them was now taken care of, so they didn’t care what happened to Jesus’ body.
The Law instructed that “Ye shall bring a sheaf (omer) of the firstfruits of your harvest unto the priest; and he shall wave the omer before Jehovah, to be accepted for you: on the morrow after the Sabbath the priest shall wave it.” This was to be accompanied by a burnt-offering of a ‘he-lamb, without blemish, of the first year,’ with the appropriate meat- and drink-offerings. Fresh barley was not to be used and sold in the land until after the appropriate offerings had been taken care of. The Passover-sheaf was reaped in public the evening before it was offered, and it was this event that the humongous had gathered to witness. In amazing inconsistency here, the elders took great care to see that everything was done according to traditional ordinance. They had just broken most of the laws in what they had done to Jesus, but they took great care to make sure that none of the laws were broken.
‘The Morrow After The Sabbath’
On the 14th of Nisan, the spot was marked as to where the first sheaf was to fall and be reaped. They did this by tying the barley that was to be cut down in bundles while it was still standing. It was customary for them to choose the sheltered Ashes-valley across from the Kedron, but that was not set in stone. The barley just had to have been grown in an ordinary field in Palestine, and not in garden or orchard land. Also the soil could not be manured (fertilized artificially) or artificially watered.
The time for the cutting of the sheaf was on the evening of the 15th of Nisan just as the sun went down. This event happened on this day whether it was a Sabbath or not. Three men each took a sickle and basket and went to work cutting down the stalks. In order that they might clearly bring out all that was distinctive in the ceremony, they first asked the bystanders three times each of these questions:
Has the sun gone down?
With this sickle?
Into this basket?
On this Sabbath or first Passover-day?
Shall I reap?
After they had been answered yes to each of these questions three times they cut down barley to the amount of one ephah (ten omers, three seahs), which is equal to about three pecks and three pints of English measure. The ears were brought into the Court of the Temple and thrashed out with canes or stalks, so they would not injure the corn. Then they were parched on a pan that was perforated with holes, so that each grain might be touched by the fire. Finally it was all exposed to the wind.
The corn was then ground in a barley-mill, which left the hulls whole. It was passed through sieves until it was sufficiently fine enough that when one of the treasurers plunged his hands into it, none of the flour adhered to his hands. Though one epah, or ten omers, was cut down, only one omer (about 5.1 pints English measure) was offered in the Temple on the second Paschal, or 16th day of Nisan. The rest of the flour could be redeemed and used for any purpose.
The omer of flour was mixed with a ‘log’, or 3/4 pint of oil, and a handful of frankincense put on it. Then it was waved before the Lord and a handful of it was taken out and burned on the altar. The remainder of it belonged to the priest. The above is what is popularly called ‘the presentation of the first or wave-sheaf’ on the 16th of Nisan.
The Last Day Of The Passover
This last day was a holy day and was observed just like a Sabbath. The intervening days were ‘minor festivals’. The Mishnah lays down precise rules as to the kind of work allowed on such days. As a general rule, any thing that was necessary either for the public interest or anything that prevented private loss was allowed. No new work of any kind for private or public purposes could be begun, though. You could irrigate dry soil, or repair trenches that had already been dug for irrigation, but you could not dig new ones.
Any person who was defiled at the time of the Passover, or just had to be gone for some reason, could observe it exactly a month later. The Mishnah says that the second differed from the first Passover in that leaven might be kept in the house along with the unleavened bread, that the Hallel was not sung at the Paschal Supper, and that no Chagigah was offered.