The Jewish Festivals are Prophetic
The Jewish festivals found in Leviticus 23 appear to be prophetic types, and are, in one way or another, fulfilled in the person and work of Jesus. We view the first four “Spring” festivals fulfilled in His first coming, and the three additional “Fall” festivals fulfilled in His second coming. Additional Old Testament prophecies, such as Psalm 22 and Zechariah 12:10, also help to paint a prophetic portrait of our Messiah’s last days on earth. The Apostle Peter wrote, “As to this salvation, the prophets who prophesied of the grace that would come to you made careful searches and inquiries, seeking to know what person or time the Spirit of Christ within them was indicating as He predicted the sufferings of Christ and the glories to follow” (1 Peter 1:10–11).
There was no doubt that the Savior of the world was born to die in order to fulfill many direct prophecies and types, especially that of the Lamb of God. This is a direct comparison to the Passover lamb whose blood was applied on the doorposts of Israelite homes in order to protect their first-born males from the tenth plague.
John, in Revelation 13:8, describes Jesus as the lamb who was slain: “All who dwell on the earth will worship him, everyone whose name has not been written from the foundation of the world in the book of life of the Lamb who has been slain.” Peter adds, “…but with precious blood, as of a lamb unblemished and spotless, the blood of Christ. For He was foreknown before the foundation of the world, but has appeared in these last times for the sake of you…” (1 Peter 1:19–20).
The predicted role of Jesus as the suffering and sacrificial Lamb of God, who would die for sin and rise from the grave, was not peripheral to the plan of God. Rather, it is at the very heart of who He was and what He came to accomplish. Isaiah had already used the prophetic imagery of the Passover lamb in his well-known 53rd chapter: “He was oppressed and He was afflicted, yet He did not open His mouth; like a lamb that is led to slaughter, and like a sheep that is silent before its shearers, so He did not open His mouth.” (Isaiah 53:7)
It goes without saying that there is considerable debate regarding the chronology of the last week of Jesus. There are disagreements among scholars in minor issues, and also in some major areas, such as the date of the crucifixion and the Last Supper. We might create more problems than we solve, but hopefully we will produce more light than heat!
Monday, Nissan 11: Three Days Before the Passover
Having spent the night in Bethany, Jesus gets up in the morning and heads back to Jerusalem. On the way, Jesus curses a fig tree. His disciples ask Him about it, and Jesus uses it as a teaching moment, sharing with them the power of faith. As a result, He continues to receive the support of the common people.
The Last Week of Jesus’ Life
The agenda for the last week of Jesus’ life in the New Testament is established by Jesus Himself in Luke 18:32–34. This is the third time Jesus declares what was about to happen to Him during His final week. It obviously does not contain all that will happen, but gives us the focal points. There are eight points outlined which form the backbone that holds the gospel accounts together. Notice how the themes harmonize with those of Isaiah 53.
- Jesus is to go to Jerusalem.
- He will fall into the hands of the Jewish leaders.
- He will be condemned to death.
- The Gentiles will abuse Him.
- He will be mocked, spit upon, and scourged.
- The Gentiles will kill Him.
- He will rise from the dead.
Tuesday, Nissan 12: Two Days Before the Passover
Knowing that the time was drawing near for His death, Jesus spent His time teaching His followers what they still needed to learn. Many of the familiar parables were spoken during this time. As such, with only two days left, Tuesday was a day of teaching and controversy in the Temple area.
Jesus tells three parables in succession: the parable of the two sons, the parable of the tenants, and the parable of the wedding banquet (Matthew 21:28–22:14). Immediately following this, Jesus is approached by various Jewish groups—Sadducees, Pharisees, Herodians, and others—all trying to make Him stumble, so to speak. Matthew puts it this way: “Then the Pharisees went out and laid plans to trap Him in His words” (Matthew 22:15). This was all part of the required testing period for the Lamb. Jesus perfectly demonstrated His purity and power before God, man, and even government in the way He answered their questions.
The Jewish leaders challenge Jesus on the topics of taxes, marriage, the greatest commandment, and more. Having seen the depths of their depravity in the lengths to which they would go to trap Him, in chapter 23 of Matthew Jesus grieves over the hardness of heart He sensed on the part of the Jewish leaders. He concludes with a lament:
Jerusalem, Jerusalem, who kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to her! How often I wanted to gather your children together, the way a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were unwilling. Behold, your house is being left to you desolate! For I say to you, from now on you will not see Me until you say, “Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord!” (Matthew 23:37–39)
Buried in His statement is a challenge to the Jewish people—a challenge that offers some hope to those whom God knows would nationally reject the Messiah.
- The Temple will be destroyed.
- The people will not be destroyed (Abrahamic Covenant) if the leaders will repent and invoke the phrase, “Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord.” This phrase is actually said at Jewish weddings.
- It is linked with Zechariah 12:10, “I will pour out on the house of David and on the inhabitants of Jerusalem, the Spirit of grace and of supplication, so that they will look on Me whom they have pierced; and they will mourn for Him, as one mourns for an only son, and they will weep bitterly over Him like the bitter weeping over a firstborn.” Israel will eventually believe, and the rejection of Christ does not provoke God’s rejection of the Jewish people.
This leads Jesus to the Olivet Discourse where He gives the details of the Great Tribulation and His Second Coming. After completing His discourse, Jesus once again predicts His death. In Matthew 26:1–5, we read about the growing conspiracy among the Jewish leaders as they plot to kill the Messiah. But, they wait until after Passover—two days away—because it might cause a riot. “And they plotted together to seize Jesus by stealth and kill Him. But they were saying, ‘Not during the festival, otherwise a riot might occur among the people’” (Matthew 26:4–5).
This is significant—God used the fear of the leaders to keep events on His timetable. If Jesus were to die at any other moment, it would be improper, because it would not allow the prophecies to follow the Old Testament pattern and types found in Exodus and in the festivals. He had to die on Passover in order to be the Lamb of God predicted by Isaiah 53 and to fulfill the typology of the Exodus.
It would be completely consistent for Satan, however, to try to change God’s plan and attempt to have Jesus killed at the wrong time and in the wrong way. This would show that the Word of God is not true. Or at the very least, that Jesus is not the promised Messiah.
 Mitch Glaser and Zhava Glaser, The Fall Feasts of Israel (Chicago: Moody Press, 1987).