The First Passover

John’s Testimony

“No man ascended to heaven, but he that came down from heaven, even the Son of man” (John 3:13).

by Douglas Rawson

The First Passover

Four Passover seasons occurred during our Lord’s earthly ministry. These occurred in 30, 31, 32, and 33 AD. These Passovers are found in John 2:13, John 5:1, John 6:4, and John 11:55. Here we consider the first Passover, recorded in John 2:13.

This was not the first of all Passovers for Jesus, for he would have observed many of them in his youth with his parents. It was a requirement of the law, and his parents were devout. This devotion was also in Jesus, in a pure and perfect sense, even as a child. A well-known incident showing this devotion occurred when Jesus was twelve years of age. Luke says this. “His parents went every year to Jerusalem at the feast of Passover. And when he was twelve years old, they went up after the custom of the feast” (Luke 2:41, 2).

Jesus was no ordinary 12-year-old boy. Jesus was hungry for spiritual things. He probably wanted to know the meaning of Passover. Was it just a memorial of the Israelites escaping bondage in Egypt, or was there a greater meaning? To this end, Jesus listened and asked questions of Jewish experts who were at the temple. “After three days they found him in the temple, sitting in the midst of the teachers, both hearing them, and asking them questions” (Luke 2:46).

This description shows the humility of Jesus. As a perfect human being his mind was superior to theirs, but this did not promote pride or arrogance. He would listen and ask questions. He was like a sponge, wanting to soak up everything he could.

The Spirit of God

The Bereans were like this, as they examined the scriptures daily to prove what they heard was true (Acts 17:11). Jesus was like the Bereans, but on a higher level. He wanted to know the Father’s will as best he could, even at the age of twelve. A fuller understanding would wait until his baptism at the river Jordan. Then Jesus would receive the holy Spirit, and enlightenment, without measure. “He whom God hath sent speaketh the words of God: for he giveth not the Spirit by measure” (John 3:34).

We do not receive a full measure of the Spirit, but any measure is better than none. If we had no measure of the Spirit, we would be without a deep appreciation of God’s Word. We might have a faint understanding, because many scriptures are very clear, but more is required if we are to be a true child of God, walking in the footsteps of Jesus. Casual understanding is not sufficient. Thus, we should pray for the holy Spirit. We pray for this invisible power or influence in accord with the will and wisdom of our Heavenly Father. We leave receiving the correct measure in our Lord’s hands, but we should ask.

Jesus at Thirty

At thirty years of age, Jesus became spirit begotten after his baptism at the river Jordan. Thereafter, he would observe Passover in a new way, different from any time before this age. Unlike the final Passover season of Jesus’ life, we know relatively little about this first one. John mentions the occasion in John 2:13, 23, but Matthew, Mark, and Luke do not record it. Those first three gospels are sometimes termed the Synoptic Gospels, viewing the ministry of Jesus in a similar way.1

(1) “Since the 1780s the first three books of the New Testament have been called the Synoptic Gospels because they are so similar in structure, content, and wording that they can easily be set side by side to provide a synoptic comparison of their content. … John has a different arrangement and … perspective on Christ” (, Synoptic Gospels).

John’s Gospel, written after the others, often includes things the others do not, and passes over things the others mention. What would be the point of repeating details that were already written by others? John does not mention the genealogy of Jesus, the circumstances of his birth, the visit of the wise men, the baptism of Jesus, or his temptations in the wilderness. John’s narration about Jesus begins after the wilderness experience, when Jesus encountered his first disciples (John 1:29-46).

John gives few details, except to associate it with the cleansing of the temple. “The Passover of the Jews as at hand, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem. (14) And he found in the temple those that sold oxen and sheep and doves, and the changers of money sitting: (15) and he made a scourge of cords, and cast all out of the temple, both the sheep and the oxen; and he poured out the money changers’ and overthrew their tables” (John 2:13-15).

Questions have arisen respecting this cleansing of the temple. Matthew, Mark, and Luke write of a cleansing at the end of our Lord’s ministry, while John writes about this cleansing at the start of our Lord’s ministry. Are these two versions of one episode? Or were there two cleansings, one early, and one later? Br. Russell mentions both views but favors one cleansing at the end of Jesus’ ministry. In either case, John gives us details unique to the account in John 2. He tells us that our Lord made a whip of cords to drive out the money changers. He poured out the coins. Most importantly, he tells us that Jesus told them if they destroyed this temple, he would raise it up in three days. These details are not included in the other Gospels.

In the experience narrated by Matthew, Mark, and Luke, at the closing Passover season, Jesus had ridden into Jerusalem in the manner of a king, fulfilling Zechariah 9:9, “Thy King cometh unto thee: he is just, and having salvation; lowly, and riding upon an ass, even upon a colt the foal of an ass.” That presentation of Jesus at Jerusalem occurred on Nisan 10. Mark 11:11,15 show that the next day Jesus cleansed the temple, thus following the time Jesus had assumed the office of King.2

(2) The author favors the view that Jesus cast out the money changers from the temple only on this latter occasion. Some editors favor the view that John supplements the other Gospel accounts by adding what he observed at the first Passover season (before Matthew had become a disciple). In this case there were two cleansings of the temple, one early, another late. There were two occasions for various things that Jesus experienced: feeding the multitudes, being anointed by a sensitive woman, and the draught of fishes. Our suggestion is that these dual episodes represent things that pertain to the First Advent of Christ, and again, to the Second Advent of Christ. Though not the conclusion of the author, he kindly acknowledges, “There is merit with this thought, and it deserves to be mentioned.”

There is a nice antitypical picture in this cleansing concerning our Lord’s return. In this case, the temple (the sanctuary class) are the people of God or spiritual Israel. He cleanses the antitypical temple by telling us to come out of Babylon in Revelation 18:4. We cannot be clean from the standpoint of truth and conscience if we stay in Babylon, believing in their rituals and superstitions.

This cleansing work allows us to see the proper picture of Passover as Jesus must have seen it at the start of his ministry. He must have recognized in the spiritual meaning, first the deliverance of the firstborn class, the church, and later the deliverance of mankind. We call this “two salvations.” He knew that he was that Passover lamb that must die in order for there to be two deliverances.

Specific Details Missing

In John 2, nothing is said about the details of Jesus’ Passover observance in 30 AD. However, we can imagine our Lord reflecting on the various symbols. This must have given him comfort and strength in the path that his Father laid out for him.

As the Passover lamb that was roasted with fire, he knew that his path would not be an easy one. He knew that others would follow him in faith, standing under the blood as the Israelites did on that first Passover night. He knew they would have faith in him, the ransom sacrifice, and this faith would not waiver. They would not want to come out from under the blood. Their faith would deliver them during their lifetime and through the Gospel Age. This is the requirement, to stand under the blood, through faith, if one wants atonement with God.

As a result of the faith of the firstborn class, the whole world is delivered, as represented by the Israelites leaving Egypt and crossing the Red Sea. Crossing the Red Sea was their final deliverance from Pharaoh and the forces of evil. This pictures mankind’s deliverance after a final test at the end of the Millennial Age, the 1000 years of Christ’s reign. What a glorious time that will be. Mankind will sing songs of praise just as the Israelites sang a song of deliverance to God after Pharaoh and his men were destroyed in the Red Sea (Psalms 136:15).

Thus, the Passover showed two interrelated deliverances. The firstborn were passed over by standing in their blood-marked homes with staff in hand and sandals on their feet. The death of the firstborn would not fall upon them. The second deliverance was of the nation of Israel as they passed through the Red Sea.

Jesus’ First Miracle

Jesus saw both deliverances. His first miracle, changing water to wine, showed this. It occurred after his baptism and wilderness experience, and before this first Passover.

In this miracle six waterpots represented the church, or firstborn class, who are presently imperfect, shown by the number six. The pots were filled with water as we are filled with the spirit of truth. Out of these same pots the guests at the wedding drank the best wine — showing what the world will receive in the next age.

Along with the number of waterpots, six, their size is also interesting. Each one contained two or three firkins. Two and three are used in the Bible many times as symbolic numbers showing the holy Spirit (two), and redemption in Jesus (three). We need the holy Spirit and we need Jesus as our Savior. The world also needs the holy Spirit, and Jesus, if they want the life and joy that the wine will bring.

Jesus Understood

Jesus understood the deep meaning of the Passover celebration. Even though, as Christians, we are not under the commands of the law, we are thankful that we also understand the deep meaning of this celebration and the relationship to our Lord’s memorial that he instituted at his last Passover. The various components of Passover — the lamb, blood, roasting, unleavened bread, manner of dress, and morning deliverance — his disciples did not understand at that time. That deeper understanding would wait until Pentecost.

We are thankful that we now understand these details because of our faith and consecration to be dead with him, thus receiving of the Spirit. Let us continue to walk with staff in hand, remembering that our Passover lamb, without blemish, brings us deliverance — provided that we stand under the blood of mercy and atonement.

Let us remember the words of Paul: “Continue in the faith, grounded and steadfast, and not moved away from the hope of the gospel which ye heard, which was preached in all creation under heaven; whereof I Paul was made a minister” (Colossians 1:23).

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