A Better Understaning of Passover
Apply Torah to the NT

by: Jim Rector

March 2006


The question is can the instruction in the Old Testament that we have proven thus far fit compatibly into the New Testament evidence on the subject of Passover and the Days of Unleavened Bread. The answer is yes, but it does take some effort and explanation. To better grasp the atmosphere of first century Jerusalem at the time of Passover, notice the following passage:

“Days before the Passover began, Jerusalem was a hubbub of commercial activity . . . Of utmost importance to the pilgrims, however, was the purchasing of sheep and goats for sacrifice at the Temple. The animal (preferably a lamb) was selected. The size of the lamb varied since a single individual was forbidden to eat an entire animal. Family groups, or companies of at least ten people, were required to eat the entire lamb at one sitting. No part of the animal was to remain until the next day. Before the family meal . . . the day was filled with preparation for the event. A full contingent of priests–24 divisions instead of the usual one–came early to the Temple ON THE MORNING OF THE 14TH DAY of Nisan. Their first task was the burning of the leaven. This had been searched for by candlelight the night before and then removed for burning the next morning. By midday all work stopped. The afternoon was set aside for the ritual slaughtering of the lambs. The offering of the Passover sacrifice at the Temple began about 3 PM, and was conducted in three massive shifts. When the Temple court was filled with the first group of offerers, the gates of the court were closed. The ram’s horn was sounded and the sacrifice began. Each Jew slaughtered his own lamb. The priests stood in two rows, one holding gold basins, the other silver. After the blood was drained into a basin, it was tossed against the base of the altar. While the offerings were going on, the priests sang the Hallel (Psa. 113-118) . . . Before leaving the Temple, each offerer slung his lamb–wrapped in its own hide–over his shoulder. He then departed with his company to prepare the Passover meal.  Immediately the next division of offerers filed into the Temple court and the ritual was repeated. The Passover meal was held that evening, AT THE BEGINNING OF THE 15TH DAY, in a home or room within the city reserved for the occasion . . . In New Testament times, after Jesus entered His public ministry, He may have participated in as many as four Passover celebrations. His Last Supper occurred during the Passover season, and it may be that Christ was actually dying on the cross as the Passover lambs were being slain.  Paul regarded Christ as the Passover Lamb whose atoning death brought redemption and salvation to mankind” (International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, Vol III, Passover).

During the first century, the Passover was approached with much planning.Notice some of the stipulations of that time. The leaven was searched out on the night of the 13th day or what we would call the beginning of the 14th day. What wasn’t found that night was detected the next morning. Then all of it was gathered for burning. Notice also that work ceased by noon on the 14th day. But even that’s not all. Here is a brief description from Unger’s Bible Dictionary:

“The 14th of Nisan is called the preparation for the Passover, and was commonly known as THE FIRST DAY OF PASSOVER. Handicraftsmen, with the exception of tailors, barbers, and laundresses, were obliged to cease from work, either from morning or from noon. No leaven was allowed to be eaten after noon. On the 14th of Nisan, every Israelite who was physically able, not in a state of Levitical uncleanness, or further distant from Jerusalem than 15 miles, was to appear before the Lord with an offering appropriate to his means . . . The daily evening sacrifice usually killed at the eighth and one half hour (2:30 PM) and offered up at the ninth and one half hour (3:30 PM), was on this 14th day of Nisan killed at 1:30 PM and offered at 2:30 PM, an hour earlier–this to allow the Passover sacrifice to commence at 3 PM. If the 14th of Nisan happened on a Friday, the daily evening sacrifice was killed at 12:30 PM and offered at 1:30 PM, two hours earlier than usual, so as to avoid any needless breach of the Sabbath” (Festivals).

Here we see that the 14th day of Nisan was a very particular and important day. It was all about preparation. The leaven was searched out and burned. Work ceased by at least noon, sometimes earlier, and, quite interestingly, no leaven was consumed from noon onward. In essence, by the first century, the Jews were really observing more than 7 days of Unleavened Bread, even though technically the commandment prescribed only the seven. As a part of the thorough preparation involved for the Passover and Days of Unleavened Bread, and perhaps to make absolutely certain that they obeyed the Law, the Jews went even farther than the Law on the matter of leaven and prohibited it for most of the daylight portion of the 14th day.

Alfred Edersheim confirms the same basic information in His work, The Temple–Its Ministry and Services as follows:

“The special preparations for the Passover commenced on the evening of the 13th of Nisan, with which, according to Jewish reckoning, the 14th day began, the day being always computed from evening to evening. Then the head of the house was to search with a lighted candle all places where leaven was usually kept, and to put what of it he found in the house in a safe place, whence no portion could be carried away by accident . . . Jewish tradition sees a reference to this search with candles in Zeph. 1:12, And it shall come to pass at that time I will search Jerusalem with candles.  If the leaven had not been removed on the evening of the 13th, it might still be done on the forenoon of the 14th of Nisan.

In attempting an accurate chronology of these days, it must always be remembered that Passover was sacrificed between the evenings of the 14th and 15th of Nisan; that is, before the close of the 14th and the beginning of the 15th. The Paschal Supper, however, took place on the 15th itself.

Early on the forenoon of the 14th of Nisan the Feast of the Passover may be said to have begun.In Galilee, no work was done on that day; in Judea, it was continued till mid-day; the rule, however, being no new work was to be commenced, though that which was in hand might be carried on . . . At 12 o’clock the leaven was to be solemnly destroyed, either by burning, immersing it in water, or scattering it to the winds . . . As a general rule, the religious services of the Passover (priestly duties), like all positive religious injunctions, made void the Sabbath. In other respects, the Passover, or rather the 15th of Nisan, was to be observed like a Sabbath, no manner of work being allowed.There was, however, one most important exception to this rule. It was permitted to prepare the necessary articles of food on the 15th of Nisan . . . The first day of Unleavened Bread, or the 15th of Nisan, was a holy convocation . . . The last day of the Passover, as the first, was a holy convocation, and observed like a Sabbath” (The Passover).

These historical comments simply give us some background with respect to first century customs and practices among the Jews. We need to understand this in order to properly understand some of the language in the New Testament concerning the Passover, and especially with regard to the time in and around the death of the Messiah.