John 18 & on...
I’m not sure how appropriate it is to say you have a “favorite” account of the death of Christ, but I really have come to appreciate the details of John’s account. His whole book is really chocked full of the fulfillment of Christ, not just as Messiah, but as The Passover Lamb. This doesn’t really seem all that impressive until you go looking for it (parallels with the Passover lamb) in the other gospels. If you do, you won’t find much. From John the Baptist’s proclamation that Jesus was the Lamb of God that takes away the sins of the world (1:29) to the description of the soldiers not breaking Jesus bones, you find many facts in John’s account that are completely left out of the synoptic gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke) that paint a picture of Jesus as The Passover Lamb. We take this connection for granted as New Testament Christians, but the Old Testament does not clearly describe the Messiah as being the Passover Lamb of God with great clarity. It was a mystery to God’s people and must have been so profound for authors like John to see it unfold. I find the prophetic parallels between the Passover lamb (and the individual components of the Seder meal) and Christ to be an amazing piece of art painted by God over the span of hundreds of years.
John 18 starts with the account of Jesus traveling “over the ravine of the Kidron valley” as He and His disciples moved to the garden. The synoptic gospels describe this night as Passover when thousands (some estimate >250,000) of lambs would have been slain. The blood from all of these lambs made the hillside adjacent to where Jesus walked this night a black, dirty mess. In response to this potential health hazard, Herod had an aqueduct built to wash the blood away. This blood would have run down the ravine of the Kidron valley. Imagine the imagery for Jesus as he traveled over this ravine and saw the red tinted water. His blood would soon be shed as the fulfillment and replacement of this very old tradition that started way back in Egypt.
The Passover events started on the 10th day of the month Nissan when the Jews would go and select an acceptable lamb from the herd. This lamb would save them. Naturally as the tradition was performed after the original exodus this was symbolic, but the death of that first lamb did literally save the people as its blood was the sign for the death angel to “passover" that particular household. This selection day (10th day of Nissan) was the same day that the Jewish people selected Jesus as their Messiah. This was the day (Palm Sunday) that he rode into Jerusalem on the foal and the people shouted “hosanna” begging Jesus to be their Messiah and save them. Amazingly, they would turn on Him and kill him only days later.
The parallels between Jesus and the lamb continue throughout the story. This is particularly true if He died on Passover (as the lambs would have). The differing views on when Jesus died makes for a very interesting story for debate and dialogue, but it’s a bit long … how about the short version? There is evidence that different sects of Jews followed different calendars that were off from each other by one day. This means that both groups would have celebrated Passover on the 14th day of the month (Nissan) just as God prescribed but would have done so on two different days (I guess it would be like not honoring leap year and celebrating Christmas one day early). This would explain why Matthew, Mark, and Luke clearly describe the day of the Last Supper as Passover, whereas John describes the next day (when he died) as being Passover (see 18:28). In this scenario Jesus could have celebrated Passover with His disciples and had the opportunity to transform the eating of the bread after dinner (part of the Seder) and the drinking of the cup (one of four such ceremonial drinking episodes in the Seder) into what we know as communion. Additionally, by dying on Passover, the parallel to the Passover Lamb is entirely preserved as He would have died just at the end of the Passover day just like the lambs did. Other narratives describe the sour wine Jesus was given. John is described as being at the cross and he alone mentions that hyssop (used in the original Passover to apply the blood) was used to deliver the wine. Maybe that’s a stretch as a Passover parallel.
The Old Testament Passover was followed three days later by the festival of first fruits. Why such timing? It was spring, and this is when the Jews would honor God with their first fruits. The rich, full reason for the timing of first fruits came three days after Jesus’ death when he rose from the dead on the day of first fruits to become THE first fruit (from the dead) to complete the prophetical fulfillment of the Passover events by The Lamb of God, our Messiah.
All of the other gospel writers wrote their accounts in the first 30 years after the death and resurrection of our Lord. John had an extra 20 years (approximately) to ponder all that he had seen, heard (and probably read in the accounts of the synoptics) and experienced before and after Jesus ascended. The temple was also destroyed between the synoptic accounts and Johns. This was pretty significant in taking away the Jews’ opportunity to sacrifice. I think God particularly inspired John to paint this beautiful picture of Jesus that started thousands of years earlier in Egypt as part of God’s masterful plan of salvation.
It may seem odd to others, but the picture of Messiah that the Jews unknowingly painted of their future Savior (in the specifics of their Passover celebration) is one of the central points of my faith because it shows the supernatural God at work in orchestrating a story that only He could unfold so miraculously. For me, it validates the authenticity and the legitimacy of the Messiahship and deity of Christ. Very impressive work, God. I’m glad we have John’s account, so we get to appreciate it. I’m not 100% certain about the competing calendars and all that, but it is interesting food for thought as we ponder how exactly this whole miraculous event unfolded and how God’s sovereign plan played out in all its wonderfully beautiful layers.
Posted on Thu, June 2, 2011
by Mark Newman