WHY DID JESUS HAVE TO DIE ON PASSOVER? WHY DID HE HAVE TO DIE A PHYSICALLY, PAINFUL DEATH? AND WHAT WAS THE PURPOSE AND SIGNIFICANCE OF HIS DEATH? It was during a verse-by-verse study of the book of Galatians some 20 years ago that God revealed to me truths to these and other questions that have changed my wife and I’s life forever. I discovered that the original Gospel message proclaimed by Paul centered around two primary figures: Jesus and Abraham. The reason Abraham is one of the two central figures in the writings of Paul is because it was to him that the promise was made that Jesus’ incarnation, death and resurrection fulfilled.
There is more to this study that I am working on in a book, which will provide much more details, which I am planning on completing this year, but the foundational ideas are discussed here in this article.
A BRIEF NOTE ON COVENANTS
To understand how the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ (Heb. Yeshua HaMoshiakh) is the fulfillment of God”s promise to Abraham, we have to examine the Abrahamic covenant. Before doing this, it should be said that not all biblical covenants are the same. There are actually four different types of covenants, but in this article, I want to discuss only two of them:
- Parity/Mutual Covenant: It is a covenant made between two individuals, who voluntarily accept the terms. Covenantal terms are “brother” or “friend”; and
- Suzzerain/Vassal Covenant: a one-sided disposition imposed by a superior party (such as a King) upon an inferior party (such as a people or nation that the king has conquered or aided). Covenantal terms are “lord/master” and “servant/slave.”
As you can see the purposes of these two covenants are not the same, neither are the covenantal terms the same. And this is important because the Abrahamic covenant that we are going to examine is an example of a Parity/Mutual Covenant; whereas, the covenant that God made with Israel on Mt. Sinai was a Suzzerain/Vassal Covenant. And the significance of these differences will be seen later on in this article.
JESUS – OUR PASSOVER LAMB
It is known by most Christians that Jesus died during the feast of Passover. For example, we read in the Gospel of Matthew,
On the first day of Unleavened Bread the disciples came to Jesus and asked, “Where do You want us to prepare the Passover so You may eat it?” (HCSB, Matthew 26:17)
As Jesus unwrapped and broke the Afikomen, a portion of broken matzah that had been wrapped up in a linen cloth and hidden during the meal. As He broke it up, Jesus said, “Take, eat; this is My body” (Matthew 26:26d). And then He took the 3rd cup of the meal, called the cup of redemption, and said,
Drink from it, all of you; for this is My blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for forgiveness of sins. But I say to you, I will not drink of this fruit of the vine from now on until that day when I drink it new with you in My Father’s kingdom. (Matthew 26:27-29)
Jesus and His disciples on this night did not complete the Passover. Jesus said that He would not drink the final cup until He drinks it with us when His Father’s Kingdom is established here on earth during His future earthly 1,000 year reign. As a result, the Passover was not completely fulfilled.
It was after this that Jesus and His disciples went to the Garden of Gethsemane to pray, and it was there that Jesus was betrayed and arrested. The following morning Jesus was being crucified outside the city of Jerusalem.
PASSOVER BEFORE PASSOVER?
Although most Christians are familiar with this account of Jesus’ last Passover meal (referred to as “The Last Supper”) and there are a growing number of experiencing the Passover meal for themselves, and learning other insights and connections between Jesus and the meal, but there’s a large number of Christians who are not familiar with the fact that there was a significant day “a Passover of types” that happened BEFORE the “Passover” was officially named in Exodus 12, which laid the foundation for the Exodus Passover, including the reason for the incarnation and death and resurrection of Jesus Christ (Heb. Yeshua HaMoshiakh).
430 YEARS BETWEEN EVENTS
In Exodus 12:40-41, Moses records,
Now the time that the sons of Israel lived in Egypt was four hundred and thirty years. And it came about at the end of four hundred and thirty years, TO THE VERY DAY, that all the hosts of the LORD went out from the land of Egypt. (Emphasis Mine)
This same passage is alluded to in Galatians 3:17-18,
What I am saying is this, the Law, which came four hundred and thirty years later, does not invalidate a covenant previously ratified by God, so as to nullify the promise. For if the inheritance is based on law, it is no longer based on a PROMISE; but God has granted it to Abraham by means of a PROMISE.
Notice that the PROMISE was an intricate part of the Abrahamic covenant, not the covenant God made with Israel on Mt. Sinai. Why is this important? Because as we shall see, Jesus did not die to do away with the commands, laws, judgments, statutes that God gave to Israel through Moses (Exodus – Deuteronomy), but to fulfill the promise God made to Abraham when He entered into covenant with him 430 years BEFORE Mt. Sinai. Nor is this idea only discussed by the Apostle Paul.
THE PROPHECY OF ZACHARIAH
In the Gospel of Luke, Zachariah is struck dumb by the angel Gabriel because he didn’t believe the message that God was going to bless him and Elizabeth with a son, who they were to name him “John” (Heb. Yochanan), who was to be a Nazarite from birth, and what he would accomplish for God. But once John (Yochanan) is born, Zachariah is then filled with the Holy Spirit, and prophecies. His prophecy is in two parts: the first part is about the coming Messiah (Luke 1:68-75) and the second part is about John (Luke 1:76-79). It is the first part of his prophecy that I want to focus:
Blessed be the Lord God of Israel, for He has visited us and accomplished redemption for His people, and has raised up a horn of salvation for us in the house of David His servant — As He spoke by the mouth of His holy prophets from of old — Salvation from our enemies, and from the hand of all who hate us; TO SHOW MERCY TOWARD OUR FATHERS, AND TO REMEMBER HIS HOLY COVENANT, THE OATH WHICH HE SWORE TO ABRAHAM OUR FATHER, to grant us that we, being delivered from the hand of our enemies, might SERVE HIM WITHOUT FEAR, IN HOLINESS AND RIGHTEOUSNESS BEFORE HIM ALL OUR DAYS. (Emphasis Mine)
There’s two points to make regarding Zachariah’s prophecy:
- Zachariah connects Jesus’ coming as a fulfillment to the oath which God swore to “Abraham our Father;” and
- Zachariah states that Jesus came to provide “Salvation from our enemies, and from all who hate us,” “to show mercy toward our fathers, and to remember His holy covenant.” But for what purpose? So that we “might serve Him without fear, in holiness and righteousness before Him all our days.”
It’s interesting that Christians are usually taught that we cannot be “holy” or “righteous,” when Zachariah prophesied that the whole point of Jesus’ coming was to provide the means so that we can “serve Him without fear, in holiness and righteousness before Him all our days.”
ABRAHAM SAW THE DAY OF CHRIST?
In John 8:31, Jesus begins his discussion with Jews “who had believed Him,” but during this discussion they quickly turn against Him when He tells them that “the truth shall make you free” (John 8:32). In fact, this discussion downgrades to the point where they are accusing Him of being “a Samaritan and having a demon” (John 8:48). It degrades even further when Jesus says, “Truly, truly, I say to you, if anyone keeps My word he shall never see death” (John 8:51). These once “Jewish believers” then respond,
The Jews said to Him, “Now we know that You have a demon. Abraham died, and the prophets also; and You say, “If anyone keeps My word, he shall never taste of death.’ Surely You are not greater than our father Abraham, who died? The prophets died too; whom do You make Yourself out to be?” (John 8:52-53)
three verses later, Jesus responds by saying,
“Your father Abraham rejoiced to see My day, and he saw it and was glad.” The Jews therefore said to Him, “You are not yet fifty years old, and have You seen Abraham?” Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was born, I AM.” Therefore they picked up stones to throw at Him; but Jesus hid Himself, and went out of the Temple. (John 8:56-59)
In this passage, Jesus says that “Abraham rejoiced to see My day,” but when did Abraham see “His day”? In addition, Jesus clearly identifies Himself by the first of the two personal names God gave to Moses at the burning bush. It was clear from the crowd’s reaction that they knew He was claiming to be God.
In order to understand how Jesus’ incarnation, death and resurrection are connected to the Abrahamic covenant, let’s go back and examine this moment in Abraham’s life.
In Genesis 12: 1-3, we read,
Now the LORD said to Abram, “Go forth from your country, and from your relatives, and from your father’s house, to the land which I will show you; and I will make you a great nation, and I will bless you, and make your name great; and so you shall be a blessing; and I will bless those who bless you, and the ones who curses you I will curse. And in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed. (Emphasis Mine)
This final line, “and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed,” is quoted by Paul in his Galatian letter, and he identifies this line as the first proclamation of the gospel message:
And the Scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, preached before the gospel to Abraham, saying, “In you shall all the nations be blessed.” So then they which be of faith are blessed with faithful Abraham. (Galatians 3:8-9)
Interestingly, though, the word “covenant” does not appear anywhere in these first three verses. Although I believe God “called” Abraham here, it is not until Genesis 15, many years later, when the “covenant” is used.
ABRAM IS PROMISED DESCENDANTS AND LAND
In Genesis 15:1, God speaks to Abram again in a vision, in which He says, “Fear not, Abram: I am your shield, and your exceeding great reward.” It’s been quite a number of years since the LORD promised to give Abram a son and to make him “a father of many nations.” As a result, Abram responds rather upset at the seemingly broken promise:
And Abram said, “LORD God, what will you give me, seeing I am childless, and the heir of my house is Eliezer of Damascus?” And Abram said, “Since You have given no offspring to me, one born in my house is my heir.” (Genesis 15:2-3)
Since Abram hadn’t had any children of his own, then Eliezer, his servant, would inherit. Now this is the first time “Eliezer” appears by name. In Genesis 14, we discover that Abram had 318 trained servants who had been “born in his own house” (Genesis 14:14). So apparently, Eliezer was the oldest of those 318 servants.
God then responds to Abram’s accusation of not giving him and Sarai any children by telling him,
“This man will not be your heir; but one who shall come forth out from your own body, he shall be your heir.” And He [God] took him outside and said, “Now look toward the heavens, and count the stars, if you are able to count them.” And He said to him, “So shall your descendants be.” (Genesis 15:5)
After answering Abram’s complaint and providing him with a visual to help his faith, we are then told, “Then he believed in the LORD; and He reckoned it to him as righteousness” (Genesis 15:6). This one verse is quoted or referenced five times in the New Testament, four times by Paul and once by James (Romans 4:3, 9, 22; Galatians 3:6; James 2:23).
The LORD then goes on to say, “I am the LORD who brought you out of Ur of the Chaldeans, to give you this land to possess it.” Although Abram was able to apparently believe for a child, land was another issue. Abram then says, “O LORD God, how may I know that I shall possess it?” It is this question that initiates the blood covenant which God makes with Abram.
GOD’S COVENANT WITH ABRAM
Abram is quite familiar with this type of blood covenant, and so he gathers the specific animals that the LORD requires for this covenant:
And He said unto him, Take me a heifer of three years old, and a she-goat of three years old, and a ram of three years old, and a turtle dove, and a young pigeon. And he took him all these, and divided them in the midst, and laid each one against another: but the birds divided he not. (Genesis 15:9-10)
So Abram gathered the animals together, and then cut the animals in two lengthwise, placing each half opposite the other, forming an aisle of blood. Abram then waited for the time of the covenantal ritual. But as he waited, we read,
And when the fowls came down upon the carcasses, Abram drove them away. And when the sun was going down, A DEEP SLEEP FELL UPON ABRAM; and, lo, a horror of great darkness fell upon him. (Genesis 15:11-12; Emphasis Mine)
It says, “a deep sleep fell upon Abram.” The last time that God caused “a deep sleep” to fall upon someone was back in Genesis 2, when God was creating woman: “So the LORD God caused a deep sleep to fall upon the man, and he slept…” (Genesis 2:21). We can infer from this that God is about to do something creative here. This is not just putting Abram to sleep, but this is the initial act needed for God to form a brand new creation.
THE VERBAL PART OF THE COVENANT
In Genesis 15:13-16, we are given the verbal part of the covenant. In these verses, we read,
And He said unto Abram, “Know of a surety that your seed shall be a stranger in a land that is not theirs, and shall serve them; and they shall afflict them four hundred years; and also that nation, whom they shall serve, will I judge: and afterward shall they come out with great substance. And you shall go to your fathers in peace; you shall be buried in a good old age. But in the fourth generation they shall come here again: for the iniquity of the Amorites is not yet full.”
From this passage, we learn the following:
- Abram’s physical descendants will be “a stranger in a land that is not theirs, and shall serve them;”
- The people in this other country will “afflict them four hundred years;”
- God will judge this nation, and afterward Abram’s descendants will come out of that country with “great substance” (or wealth).
These three points, of course, is God prophesying what we know now as Israel’s “Exodus from Egypt.” And everything that God foretold here happened just as He said that it would 430 years later. In addition to these three points, Abram is told:
- Abram will die (“go to your fathers”) in peace, and shall be buried in a good old age. In fact, he died at the age of 175 years old. He not only gave birth to Ishmael and Isaac, but after Sarah had died, Abraham took another woman, Keturah, as a wife, and with her, he had 6 more sons: Zimran, Jokshan, Medan, Midian, Ishbak, and Shuah (Genesis 25:1-2). We are told he died “in a ripe old age” and was “satisfied with life” (Genesis 25:8).
- In addition to this, we learn that God is going to bring Abram’s descendants back to the land to bring judgment against the Amorites. He is waiting the four generations to do this because “the iniquity of the Amorites is not yet full.”
THE NON-VERBAL PART OF THE COVENANT
Not only is there a verbal part to this covenant, but there is also a non-verbal part. The non-verbal part is presented in the next two verses:
And it came to pass, that, when the sun went down, and it was dark, behold a smoking furnace, and a burning lamp passed between those pieces. On that day the LORD made a covenant with Abram, saying, “To your descendants I have given this land, from the river of Egypt as far as the great river, the river Euphrates:…” (Genesis 15:17-18)
Now, although in the verbal portion here, God is promising this land to Israel, an amount of land that Israel has NEVER occupied in its history. But there’s more to the non-verbal part of this covenant, “a smoking furnace andis a burning lamp” passing “between [the] pieces,” than an elaborate “I promise,” which is how this non-verbal portion is seen by most Christians.
I am fully aware that I am about to contradict almost every Christian theologian and minster whose work I have studied and read on this passage. They believe this is just an “elaborate I promise” from God, who by passing “between the pieces” changed this conditional covenant into an unconditional one.
However, I would like to propose a different approach. I would like to propose that when God “walked between the pieces” that He walked them both for Himself AND as Abram’s legal proxy (representative). When two people, PERSON A and PERSON B, would enter into this type of covenant, the two would walk in a figure 8 through the pieces until they had walked through them all, and then they would meet in the middle.
Then PERSON A and PERSON B would exchange promises of blessings on what the one would do for the other, and then promises of cursings on what would happen to the other if he were to violate this covenant, even if it were to take to the 3rd or 4th generation.
Abram was expecting to “walk between these pieces” with God, but when the time came, God caused Abram to fall into “a deep sleep,” and in this “deep sleep,” God caused Abram to see what happened in a vision. So what is the significance of God walking between the pieces:
- FOR GOD HIMSELF. He is promising to keep the covenant, and He is also promising to kill in a physically, painful manner the other ritual participant, if he violates or breaks the covenant.
- FOR GOD (AS THE LEGAL PROXY FOR ABRAM AND HIS SEED): He is promising to take the responsibility upon Himself for Abram and his seed to provide whatever is necessary for them to keep and obey the covenant.
- Secondly, God is promising that if Abram or his seed should sin (break the covenant), then God is agreeing to die a physically, painful death illustrated by the pieces of animals that He walked through.
Two things need to be pointed out. First of all, this is the only covenant in all the Hebrew Scriptures (“Old Testament”) in which God personally participates in the blood ritual part of the covenantal process. He does not do this in any other covenant.
Secondly, it needs to be pointed out that even though it was God who walked between the pieces, the Scriptures emphatically note that it was “ON THAT DAY” that “God entered covenant with Abram.” Abram did NOT walk through the pieces. He killed and cut up the animals, but when the time came for the actual covenant ritual, Abram is in a “deep sleep,” therefore, he cannot claim that he has earned any right to any of the promises from God. This covenant is entirely “a covenant of grace.” Abram had to receive the things he needed the same way every believer today does, “by grace through faith.”
So here are a couple of perplexing problems:
- How does an eternal Spirit, without beginning or end, and without any physical form or body, die a physically, painful death?”
- Answer: The incarnation: God had to take on human flesh. This is the reason for the incarnation, for if God had not done this, then He could not have kept His promise that He made when He “walked between the pieces.”
- How does God exact justice (His part of the process) on Himself (as Abram’s legal proxy) and on a seed (representative) of Abram at the same time since we know the Jews did, in fact, sin time and time again?
- Answer: This individual who must die must be someone other than God the Father, but at the same time, fully God (because it was God who walked between the pieces), AND He must be fully a Jewish man (because it was the descendants of Abram who violated the covenants of God).
Only Jesus is the perfect mediator, because only He represents both sides of the covenant equally: God and “Abraham and his seed.”
And this is why Jesus had to die such a physically, painful death on Passover. This promise to Abram was made on Passover 430 years before it was known as “Passover.” And just as God kept the verbal part of the covenant in regard to Abraham’s descendants being enslaved and then freed, and God judging the nation that enslaved them, culminating with plagues until the death of the first born on Passover 430 years after Abraham’s time during the Exodus, so God fulfilled the non-verbal part of the covenant also on Passover on a wooden cross outside of the city of Jerusalem, but this time about two thousand years after the promise was made to Abraham.
A CHANGE IN COVENANTS
Since Jesus’ death was not to “annul,” “set aside,” or “do away with” the commandments of God, but to fulfill His promise to Abraham, we see that change of focus indicated in the final meal that Jesus shared with His disciples.
Greater love has no one than this, that one lay down his life for his friends. You are My friends, if you do what I command you. No longer do I call you slaves, for the slave does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all things that I have heard from My Father I have made known to you. (John 15:13-15)
The Abrahamic covenant is THE relationship covenant of the Hebrew Scriptures (“Old Testament”), NOT the Mosaic covenant (see my article “PROOF: The Siani Covenant is NOT the Relationship Covenant”). And in the Abrahamic covenant, there was more intimacy expressed between Abraham and God, then what we see between Israel and God at Mt. Sinai. Consequently, since Jesus is getting ready to go to the garden of Gethsemane, and ultimately to the cross, Jesus changes the focus to the appropriate covenant. Remember, that the term “friends” was the covenant term for the Parity/Mutual Covenant (i.e., the Abrahamic covenant) and the terms “master” and “servant/slave” were the covenant terms for the Suzzerain/Vassal Covenant (i.e., Mosaic Covenant).
Jesus says, “You are My friends” (Abrahamic covenant), if you do what I command you.”
Notice obedience in this covenant is still expected. Then He says, “No longer do I call you slaves (covenantal term for the Mosaic covenant), for the slave does not know what his master (other covenantal term for the Mosaic covenant) is doing, but I have called you friends, for all things that I have heard from My Father I have made known to you” (just as God made known to Abraham, his friend, His plans before destroying the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah).
Our covenant relationship with God (salvation) is not founded and based on the Mosaic Covenant, but the renewed Abrahamic Covenant. Instead of it being based on a vision and a promise, entry into the covenant is now based on our acceptance of a historical event: the blood Jesus (Heb. Yeshua) shed at His death and His bodily resurrection from the dead So has God totally disregarded the Hebrew Scriptures (“Old Testament”) as Christians teach and began a whole new program? Absolutely not! To say that God would do away with His covenants would be to slander the holiness and integrity of God and, ultimately, it would be the same as calling Him “a sinner” (a covenant-breaker).
Jesus died to fulfill His promise to Abraham, not to do away with the commandments given to Moses on Mt. Sinai. In changing the focus of covenants did God do away with the Mosaic covenant? Absolutely not! The commandments of God were never for the purpose of justification, but they do have a part to play in our spiritual development.
The Parity/Mutual Covenants, such as the Abrahamic covenant, is made with individuals, and this is why each of us must accept Jesus individually in our hearts and lives, because He is now the new entry point into that covenant. On the other hand, the Mosaic covenant is an example of a Suzzerain/Vassal covenant, which is made between a king and a population of people or a nation. Therefore, if this were the relationship covenant, which it is not, but if it were, then God would have to speak to the whole nation of Israel again as He did at Mt. Sinai, due to the type of covenant that it is.
Also in times past, and even today, some atheists and skeptics have taught that the idea of Jesus being the “God-Man” was simply a fictitious belief that Christians have made up based on Greco-Roman mythology, but as we can see, this was not the case at all. It is what historically actually happened because we serve a holy God, who keeps each and every covenant that He makes to a thousand generations:
Know therefore that the LORD your God, He is God, the faithful God, who keeps His covenant and His lovingkindness [i.e., love and grace] to a thousand generations with those who love Him and keep His commandments; but repays those who hate Him to their faces, to destroy them; He will not delay with him who hates Him, He will repay him to his face. (Deuteronomy 7:9-10)
If God were not to keep even one of His covenants, then it would call into question whether God could be trusted in keep His covenant with us as well. But God affirms over and over again, that He does not lie, and that He keeps each and every word of His covenants.
But in considering this covenant, what was the blessing and significance of this covenant to Abram? As a result of this covenant,
- Everything that belongs to God – His Spirit, His power, His resources, His defense, His provisions and blessings, etc., has been given to Abram and to His seed.
- Everything that belongs to Abram – All that he has, all his possessions, all his wealth, his life, all his debts, all of those who would constitute his future descendants, etc. – has been given to God.
Abraham gained God as his “covenant blood brother” or “friend” through this exchange, as well as everything that God is and has at His resource, and God gained the seed of Abram, a man and his family to mold and shape into what would one day become His Kingdom people.
For example, just as Abram and Sarai received the two Hebrewe letter “heys” (H’s) from God’s name (YHVH) to make their names into “Abraham” and “Sarah,” God also received Abraham’s name as part of His own. He is called the “God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob,” because this covenant with Abraham was then passed down to Isaac, and then with Jacob, “the fathers” of the faith.
SO WHERE DOES THAT PUT US GENTILES (NON-JEWS):
This was the mystery spoken of by the Apostle Paul. Paul writes in his epistle to the church at Galatia:
For you are the children of God by faith in Christ Jesus. For as many of you as have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for you are all one in Christ Jesus. And if you are Christ’s, THEN ARE YOU ABRAHAM’S SEED, and heirs according to the promise. (Galatians 3:26-29; Emphasis Mine)
Notice in the last line that Paul does not write, “and if you are Christ’s, then you are heirs according to the promise.” But instead, he tells us that by us being in Christ, THEN we become a part of “ABRAHAM’S SEED,” and it is THEN that we become “heirs according to the promise.” Why? Because the promise made in the book of Genesis was to Abram and to His seed (Genesis 22:18; 26:3-4).
WE ESTABLISH THE LAW
Finally, notice, what Paul writes at the end of Romans 3:
Is God the God of Jews only? Is He not the God of Gentiles also? Yes, of Gentiles also, since indeed God who will justify the circumcised by faith and the uncircumcised through faith is one. Do we then nullify the Law through faith? May it never be! On the contrary, we establish the Law. (Romans 3:29-31)
Paul isn’t out to “nullify the law” but to “establish the law.” The word “law” can be used for anything from a single verse of Scripture, to a passage, to a chapter, to a book, to the first five books of the Bible, to all the Hebrew Scriptures (or “Old Testament”). So to see the word “law” and believe that it always means the same thing would not be correct. This is why we need to examine the context of the word, and how it is being used. In this case, we are establishing the correct view of both the Abrahamic and Mosaic covenants, and in so doing, we are “establishing the law.”
In the next part of the study, I want to explore the meaning of Jesus being “our Passover Lamb” and the “tearing of the Temple veil in half.” What is the significance of these things, and what should they mean for us as believers today?
There is more to this study that I am working on currently. My plan is to completely lay it out and discuss it in a book, but this is one important part of the study.