Deferring Death Until the Time Appointed
“After these things Jesus … would not walk in Jewry, because the Jews sought to kill him.
Now the Jews’ feast of tabernacles was at hand. … then went he also up unto the feast …
but as it were in secret” (John 7:1, 2, 10).
by Paul Lagno
The fourth Passover season of Jesus’ Ministry brought his public ministry to an end. Jesus’ post-resurrection appearances were only to the disciples, exhibiting his glorious change of nature. The focus of those manifestations was to establish the church by preparing his followers to receive the holy Spirit during Shavuot (Pentecost). The promise of receiving the holy Spirit reached those Jews who had the right heart attitude to receive it at the proper time.
Jesus’ ministry was “to the lost sheep of the house of Israel,” but it also rewarded true faith exhibited by others (Matthew 10:6, 5:21-28). He exposed the gross error and corruption of the Jewish leadership, primarily the sects of the Pharisees and Sadducees. Pointed words of truth and condemnation were directed at those who rejected him and ultimately crucified him. The parables and lessons of his last days were directed at the Pharisees and Sadducees in Jerusalem. The lessons and warnings also benefit spiritual Israel during the Gospel age.
According to Second Temple period writers Josephus, Philo of Alexandria, and Pliny the Elder, there was another principal sect of Jews called the Essenes who had considerable influence among the people of Judea. There is no mention of this sect in the New Testament, but they are clearly described by the writers mentioned above, and others who place a representative group at Qumran, depositors of the Dead Sea Scrolls, found beginning in 1947. The Scriptural philosophies of this group permeated the synagogues of the diaspora. These Essenes lived in communities scattered across Judea and were known for their asceticism and dedication.
According to Josephus, the Essenes were a separatist group sharing material possessions who occupied themselves with disciplined study, worship, and work. Their primary teachings included the rejection of the corrupt temple rulership and the imminent emergence of the promised Messiah.
The Passover Lamb
Jesus knew he had the authority from God to lay down his life at the proper time as the Paschal lamb (John 10:17, 18). In John 7, Jesus was encouraged by his disciples to come with them to Sukkot (the Feast of Tabernacles) in Jerusalem, six months before the last Passover season of his ministry. He knew God’s exact timing for him to die and recognized that if he went publicly into Jerusalem too early, he would likely be killed before the time indicated in prophecy. “My time is not yet present … I go not up [publicly] yet unto this feast: for my time is not yet … come” (John 7:8). Jesus went to the feast secretly, to avoid early conspiracies to kill him.
During this joyous feast he taught many, and “there was a division among the people because of him. And some of them would have taken him; but no man laid hands on him. Then came the officers to the chief priests and Pharisees; and they said unto them, Why have ye not brought him? The officers answered, Never man spake like this man” (John 7:43-46).
It seems that from mid October to late December, Jesus was in and around Jerusalem, probably staying at the Bethany home of Mary, Martha, and Lazarus. John chapters 7-10 contain rich lessons of truth Jesus taught in the presence of those who felt threatened and wanted to kill him. After Hanukkah (The Feast of Dedication) he narrowly escaped with his life following a confrontation with Jewish leaders (John 10:22-39).
December, 32 AD
Jesus left Jerusalem in late December (John11). He went down past Jericho, likely to the place where John had baptized him 3 years earlier. There, on the banks of the Jordan River, he ministered to many who would believe on him. Possibly many were of the Essene Jewish sect. Sometime between February and April, he received news that his friend Lazarus was near death. He used the news to give the important lesson that death is like sleep. Two days later he returned to his dear friends in Bethany.
John 11:17-44 relates the touching story of raising Lazarus, causing many more in and around Jerusalem to believe in Jesus as their Messiah. Conversely, after this ultimate miracle, Jewish leaders plotted a justification for killing Jesus.
At this apex of his ministry, Jesus halted his public appearances in Judea and relocated to Ephraim, located in the wild, uncultivated hill country thirteen miles northeast of Jerusalem.
This is now the Arab town of Taybeh. There is no record of Jesus’ activities during his stay in Ephraim but it was probably about one month. Surely, he was quietly contemplating his last “going up” to Jerusalem and the fate he knew awaited him.
Matthew records this third occasion when Jesus predicted his death and resurrection. “Behold, we go up to Jerusalem; and the Son of Man shall be betrayed unto the chief priests and unto the scribes, and they shall condemn him to death, and shall deliver him to the Gentiles to mock and to scourge and to crucify him. And the third day, he shall rise again” (Matthew 20:17-19).
This last “going up” (Hebrew, aliyah) to Jerusalem is well documented. There were miracles, public teaching, and parables with the backdrop of the recent miracle — raising Lazarus from the dead. Jesus evidently would not travel far on the Sabbath, so his arrival in Bethany would be on the day following Sabbath, Sunday afternoon, Nisan 9, 33 AD.
That evening Mary took occasion to anoint Jesus’ with expensive perfume. This remarkable act of love would have followed the raising of her brother, Lazarus, by many weeks. Mary had greeted Jesus on that occasion with weeping grief, imploring, “if thou hadst been here, my brother had not died,” moving Jesus also to tears (John 11:32-35). Raising her brother would have deepened her gratitude, leading to this devoted offering. This expensive gift occasioned the rebuff of Judas, joined by others. But Jesus recognized it as an anointing, on 10 Nisan, for his approaching death — just as Passover lambs were selected on 10 Nisan.
The next day, Monday morning, still Nisan 10, Jesus was welcomed by large crowds as he approached Jerusalem, shouting their enthusiasm for Jesus, fulfilling Zechariah 9:9, “Rejoice greatly, O Daughter of Zion! Shout in triumph, O Daughter of Jerusalem! See, your King comes to you, righteous and victorious, humble and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey” (Berean Study Bible). The common people were ready for Jesus to exert his kingship as Messiah and restore the fortunes of Israel (Acts 1:6).
Jesus knew that this hope was premature, and had earlier given a parable to that effect (Luke 19:11, 12). But he was indeed Messiah, and taught the people as their appointed leader. He also observed the inappropriate conduct in the temple (Mark 11:11), leading him to cast out the money changers the next morning (Mark 11:12,15).
On that Sunday, 10 Nisan, when Jesus was received by enthusiastic crowds, it seemed to be the pinnacle of his success. But Jesus’ response was very different. “Now is my soul troubled; and what shall I say? Father, save me from this hour?” (John 12:27). On the mind of Jesus was his approaching death. But he also knew of the ultimate triumph to come from it (John 12:31-33). The crowds, without recognizing it, were receiving, with acclamation, their Passover lamb (Exodus 12:3).
Several times during the last days of Jesus’ ministry, the words of the Hallel were spoken or sung. Hallel (“praise”) is a Jewish prayer, a verbatim recitation from Psalms 113-118, recited or sung by Jews on the three Pilgrimage Festivals mentioned in the Torah — Pesach, Shavuot, and Sukkot — Passover, Pentecost, and the Feast of Tabernacles. It was sung as well at Hanukkah and Rosh Chodesh — the Feast of Dedication, and the beginning of new months.
It is an act of praise and thanksgiving. All four gospels quote Psalms 118:26 as Jesus was proclaimed King riding into Jerusalem. “So they took branches of palm trees and went out to meet him, crying out, ‘Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord, even the King of Israel!’” (John 12:13, English Standard Version).
After Jesus condemned the polity of Israel, and wept over Jerusalem (Matthew 23:39), he used the same verse pointing to his second presence when Israel would recognize Jesus and the church. Jesus was the “stone the builders rejected,” who would bring salvation to all who pray “Save us, Lord!” (Psalms 118:22,25 NIV). Through his crucifixion and resurrection, Jesus was the “living stone rejected by men but in the sight of God chosen and precious” (1 Peter 2:4 ESV). He became the chief cornerstone (Acts 4:11, Romans 9:33). “Whoever believes on him will not be put to shame” (Romans 10:11 NKJ). What a privilege to realize we are part of his building, the spiritual temple!
Tuesday and Wednesday
Tuesday and Wednesday were the final days of Jesus’ public ministry. They were packed with parables, prophecies, and lessons that are important for us during the last days of the church in the flesh. He was challenged by the Sanhedrin. He gave the parables of the two sons, the vineyard, the marriage feast, the ten virgins, and the talents. He keenly observed the widow giving her two mites. He was questioned about paying tribute to Caesar, marriage in the resurrection, the greatest commandment, and asked others how David’s Son could be his Lord. He denounced the Scribes and Pharisees and predicted the destruction of the temple.
Late on Wednesday he completed his public lessons, departed from the temple, and passed to the Mount of Olives where he spoke to his disciples. It was Jesus’ last day to preach the truth openly.
Thursday was a quiet day in Bethany for Jesus while the plan of Judas to betray him was finalized. It was reserved by him to spend special time with his close disciples. The important lessons of washing each other’s feet, of Peter’s denial, the betrayal of Judas, and the memorial supper would live on through the Gospel Age. His life was willingly yielded as the nation prepared to kill their lambs in the temple, “between the two evenings.” He died at 3 pm, Nisan 14, before the Passover meal the Israelites kept that night, beginning the week of Unleavened Bread, commemorating their freedom from Egyptian bondage.
This writer is persuaded that Jesus ate a Passover according to the Essene calendar one day early.1 Some scholars believe that these Passover meals were lamb-less because proper ritual sacrifice was no longer possible in the corrupted Temple. Various scholars hold that John the Baptist was associated with the Essene community of Qumran.
(1) Editor: The potential connection of Jesus’ last supper with the Essene custom, lamb-less, is an interesting option not much explored among us. The author continues: “There is a multitude of evidence regarding the importance of the Essenes during the lifetime of Jesus. This reference merely scratches the surface.” http://www.encyclopedia.com/philosophy-and-religion/judaism/judaism/essenes
Most likely the ministry of Jesus drew heavily from this sect of Judaism, forming a large nucleus of the early church. This is supported by the fact the Essenes disappeared after the Roman dispersion. Another clue is that the Essenes practiced communal living, and brethren after Pentecost in Jerusalem also “had all things in common” (Acts 4:32).
The strongest evidence that Jesus was associated with the Essenes is found in Luke 22:9-11. Here Jesus sent his disciples to prepare for a Passover meal. Most scholars believe this was in the Essene section of Jerusalem. This is corroborated by the instruction to find a man carrying a jug of water. This would only happen in an Essene neighborhood which did not include women — whereas women in normal Israelite culture had the exclusive responsibility to carry water.
This Essene Passover was the opportune time for Jesus to introduce the memorial of the antitype of the Passover in the symbols of the bread and the cup. It is likely that Psalm 118 was sung with his disciples after the supper on that night. This psalm holds the words full of the many experiences Jesus would have that night and the next day, the meaning still veiled to the natural Jew.
Dear brethren let us “Get rid of the old leaven,” for our Pesach lamb, Messiah, has been sacrificed for us. Let us be keeping the feast “with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth” (1 Corinthians 5:7,8 Berean Study Bible).