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Reason and Revelation Volume 39 #2

Proof of Bible Inspiration: The Passover

Fifteen hundred years before Jesus Christ came to the planet, on a dark and fateful night in Egypt, oppressed Jews were given curious instructions from God via their leader, Moses:

Now the LORD spoke to Moses and Aaron in the land of Egypt, saying, “This month shall be your beginning of months; it shall be the first month of the year to you. Speak to all the congregation of Israel, saying: ‘On the tenth day of this month every man shall take for himself a lamb, according to the house of his father, a lamb for a household. And if the household is too small for the lamb, let him and his neighbor next to his house take it according to the number of the persons; according to each man’s need you shall make your count for the lamb. Your lamb shall be without blemish, a male of the first year. You may take it from the sheep or from the goats. Now you shall keep it until the fourteenth day of the same month. Then the whole assembly of the congregation of Israel shall kill it at twilight. And they shall take some of the blood and put it on the two doorposts and on the lintel of the houses where they eat it. Then they shall eat the flesh on that night; roasted in fire, with unleavened bread and with bitter herbs they shall eat it…. And thus you shall eat it: with a belt on your waist, your sandals on your feet, and your staff in your hand. So you shall eat it in haste. It is the LORD’s Passover. For I will pass through the land of Egypt on that night, and will strike all the firstborn in the land of Egypt, both man and beast; and against all the gods of Egypt I will execute judgment: I am the LORD. Now the blood shall be a sign for you on the houses where you are. And when I see the blood, I will pass over you; and the plague shall not be on you to destroy you when I strike the land of Egypt. So this day shall be to you a memorial; and you shall keep it as a feast to the LORD throughout your generations’” (Exodus 12:1-14).

The average Jew no doubt connected the symbolic significance of being fully clothed for travel with their imminent hasty exodus from the land. The smearing of animal blood on their doorposts might have seemed odd, but it was specifically explained as the means by which God would “pass over” them when executing the plague against the firstborn of Egypt:

And it shall be, when your children say to you, “What do you mean by this service?” that you shall say, “It is the Passover sacrifice of the LORD, who passed over the houses of the children of Israel in Egypt when He struck the Egyptians and delivered our households” (Exodus 12:26-27).

However, two additional directives were given, one of which must have raised eyebrows:

In one house it shall be eaten; you shall not carry any of the flesh outside the house, nor shall you break one of its bones (Exodus 12:46).

Later generations of Israelites would have understood the significance of remaining in their homes while eating—since the blood on their doors kept their firstborn from being slain:

[N]one of you shall go out of the door of his house until morning. For the LORD will pass through to strike the Egyptians; and when He sees the blood on the lintel and on the two doorposts, the LORD will pass over the door and not allow the destroyer to come into your houses to strike you (Exodus 12:22-23).

But the second directive pertaining to the breaking of the bones of the lamb must have perplexed even that first generation of Israelites. The stipulation was repeated to the Israelites after their departure from Egypt:

On the fourteenth day of the second month, at twilight, they may keep it. They shall eat it with unleavened bread and bitter herbs. They shall leave none of it until morning, nor break one of its bones. According to all the ordinances of the Passover they shall keep it (Numbers 9:11-12).

Successive generations of Jews, no doubt, would have been very careful in butchering, carving, and eating the Passover lamb to avoid breaking bones. But why? Undoubtedly, Israelite children would have asked their parents, “Why does God not want us to break any of the lamb’s bones?” The parents would have had no definitive answer—since God had not explained Himself. No clue was given to the Jews through the centuries that might explain the significance of refraining from breaking the bones of the Passover lamb.

Over five centuries later, King David wrote an inspired psalm in which he expressed his gratitude for the protection and care of God in dealing with his enemies.1 In that Psalm, David extols the goodness of God in providing him with protection from his enemies—even to the point of preserving the bones of his body from being broken by those who wished him bodily harm:

Many are the afflictions of the righteous, but the LORD delivers him out of them all. He guards all his bones; not one of them is broken. Evil shall slay the wicked, and those who hate the righteous shall be condemned. The LORD redeems the soul of His servants, and none of those who trust in Him shall be condemned (Psalm 34:19-22).

No Jew in David’s day would have had any reason to extract more meaning from the psalm than that which appears at face value, i.e., God cares for His people (in this case, David) and guards them amid the onslaught of the wicked.

Over 1,000 years later, Jesus assumed bodily form on Earth (Hebrews 10:5). At the end of His 33 years, He was taken by the Romans at the behest of the Jews and crucified in keeping with Roman execution protocol. Here is John’s inspired report of the final details:

Therefore, because it was the Preparation Day, that the bodies should not remain on the cross on the Sabbath (for that Sabbath was a high day), the Jews asked Pilate that their legs might be broken, and that they might be taken away. Then the soldiers came and broke the legs of the first and of the other who was crucified with Him. But when they came to Jesus and saw that He was already dead, they did not break His legs. But one of the soldiers pierced His side with a spear, and immediately blood and water came out. And he who has seen has testified, and his testimony is true; and he knows that he is telling the truth, so that you may believe. For these things were done that the Scripture should be fulfilled, “Not one of His bones shall be broken” (John 19:31-36).2

Why did the Jews request that Jesus’ legs be broken? Archaeologist Vassilios Tzaferis3 explains:

Normally, the Romans left the crucified person undisturbed to die slowly of sheer physical exhaustion leading to asphyxia. However, Jewish tradition required burial on the day of execution. Therefore, in Palestine the executioner would break the legs of the crucified person in order to hasten his death and thus permit burial before nightfall. This practice, described in the Gospels in reference to the two thieves who were crucified with Jesus (John 19:18), has now been archaeologically confirmed. Since the victim we excavated was a Jew, we may conclude that the executioners broke his legs on purpose in order to accelerate his death and allow his family to bury him before nightfall in accordance with Jewish custom.4

This explanation squares with the biblical text: the reason given for the Jews’ request was their concern that the body of Jesus not remain on the cross once the Sabbath ensued. So the breaking of the leg bones of a crucifixion victim was directly connected to the hastening of the victim’s death. Further, the inspired writer juxtapositions the criminals’ status with Jesus’ status on the point of whether they were still alive. The soldiers broke the legs of the criminals, but the reason given for not breaking Jesus’ legs was that they “saw that He was already dead” (vs. 33).

Observe that both David’s words in Psalm 34 as well as John’s late first century quotation of those words in John 19 constitute ambiguous prophecies. Granted, John connected the Davidic messianic prophecy with the condition of Christ on the cross. But more than likely, neither he, nor David, nor any other Jew from 1,500 B.C. to A.D. 30 was able to fathom any further significance and “put it all together.” It was not until the apostle Paul wrote his letter to the church of Christ at Corinth (Cir. A.D. 55-57) that the wonder of Bible inspiration on this point achieved clarity.

In a context in which Paul urged the congregation to take public action against an immoral member, he added a remark that had relevance to their predicament, but which had a marvelous, broader significance for all Christians for all time: “For indeed Christ, our Passover, was sacrificed for us” (1 Corinthians 5:7). Just as Jesus predicted, the Passover found its fulfillment in the kingdom of God (Luke 22:16).5 After more than a millennium and a half of obscurity and virtual silence, suddenly the mysterious Mosaic prohibition was solved. The rationale for refraining from breaking any of the bones of the Passover lamb under the Law of Moses was that one day in the distant future, the Lord of Heaven and Earth would assume human form and take upon Himself the sins of the world by being executed on a Roman cross. And as that unjust sentence was being carried out, when Roman soldiers would ordinarily bring their sadistic torture to the culmination and climax of death by breaking the leg bones of the victim, they found that “He was already dead.” This incredible bit of minutia—this miniscule detail that went virtually unnoticed by those gathered on that occasion outside Jerusalem at the far flung outer extremities of the mighty Roman Empire—was of monumental significance and earth-shaking import. How could Moses or David have known that centuries far beyond their own day, unknown, unnamed Roman soldiers in first century A.D. Palestine would refrain from breaking the bones of the Messiah because “he was already dead”? They could not have known—not without supernatural assistance.

Three incredible details—the bones of the Passover Lamb of Mosaic religion were not to be broken, Jesus’ bones were not broken by the Romans, and His sacrifice on the cross enabling Him to be our Passover—intertwined to bring to fruition marvelous meaning from the mind of God for all mankind. In revealing the Old Testament, the Holy Spirit had in mind the coming of Christ and anticipated minute details about Him that neither the Old Testament prophets nor the New Testament apostles grasped:

Of this salvation the prophets have inquired and searched carefully, who prophesied of the grace that would come to you, searching what, or what manner of time, the Spirit of Christ who was in them was indicating when He testified beforehand the sufferings of Christ and the glories that would follow. To them it was revealed that, not to themselves, but to us they were ministering the things which now have been reported to you through those who have preached the gospel to you by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven—things which angels desire to look into (1 Peter 1:10-12).

Four human writers, each engaging his own mind to report inspired minutia, were nevertheless overseen by a single divine Mind (2 Peter 1:21). The Holy Spirit did just what Jesus said He would do: teach and explain things to them they could not grasp at the time (John 14:26; 15:26; 16:12-13). Indeed, who could have ever sorted out these profound mysteries? No mere human. What Moses wrote (Exodus 12:43-46; Numbers 9:11-12), followed by what David wrote (Psalm 34:19-20), supplemented by what John reported (John 19:31-36), and brought to climactic fulfillment with what Paul wrote (1 Corinthians 5:7), could only have been orchestrated by the infinite, eternal mind of Deity Who transcends time and place.

“Who has declared this from ancient time?

Who has told it from that time?

Have not I, the LORD?

And there is no other God besides Me,

A just God and a Savior;

There is none besides me” (Isaiah 45:21).

Endnotes

1 Scholars and commentators on the Psalms uniformly identify as the historical context of Psalm 34 the incident in 1 Samuel 21 in which David, in his efforts to elude Saul’s retribution, took refuge among the Philistines. See, for example, the classic treatments of the Psalms by Joseph Alexander (1873), The Psalms Translated and Explained (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 1975 reprint), p. 145; H.C. Leupold (1969 reprint), Exposition of the Psalms (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker), p. 278; F. Delitzsch (1976 reprint), Psalms (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans), pp. 407ff.; Albert Barnes (1847), Notes on the Old Testament: Psalms (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 2005 reprint), p. 287ff.

2 Another Messianic psalm depicts the Messiah as being in such a depleted, emaciated, if not stretched, condition that His bones were “out of joint” and that He could count His bones (Psalm 22:14,17).

3 Prominent Greek archaeologist who excavated numerous sites within Israel including Ashkelon, Beth Shean, Capernaum, Kursi, Tel Dan, and in Jerusalem. He was a member of the Supreme Archaeological Council in Israel and served as the Director of Excavations and Surveys at the Israel Antiquities Authority from 1991 to 2001.

4 Taken from his article which reports his excavation of Second Temple tombs in Jerusalem, one of which contained the remains of a crucified man in his 20s: Vassilios Tzaferis (1985), “Crucifixion—The Archaeological Evidence,” Biblical Archaeology Review, January/February, 44-53, https://www.biblicalarchaeology.org/daily/biblical-topics/crucifixion/a-tomb-in-jerusalem-reveals-the-history-of-crucifixion-and-roman-crucifixion-methods/#end04. See also Alok Jha (2004), “How Did Crucifixion Kill?” The Guardian, April 8, https://www.theguardian.com/science/2004/apr/08/thisweekssciencequestions; Kristina Killgrove (2015), “This Bone Is The Only Skeletal Evidence For Crucifixion In The Ancient World,” Forbes, December 8, https://www.forbes.com/sites/kristinakillgrove/2015/12/08/this-bone-provides-the-only-skeletal-evidence-for-crucifixion-in-the-ancient-world/; Biblical Archaeology Society Staff (2011), “A Tomb in Jerusalem Reveals the History of Crucifixion and Roman Crucifixion Methods,” Bible History Daily, July 22, https://www.biblicalarchaeology.org/daily/biblical-topics/crucifixion/a-tomb-in-jerusalem-reveals-the-history-of-crucifixion-and-roman-crucifixion-methods/; Erkki Koskenniemi, Kirsi Nisula, and Jorma Toppari (2005), “Wine Mixed with Myrrh (Mark 15.23) and Crurifragium (John 19.31-32): Two Details of the Passion Narratives,” Journal for the Study of the New Testament, 27[4]:379-391.

5 Observe that Jesus was not referring to the Lord’s Supper in Luke 22:16—as He did in Matthew’s (26:29) and Mark’s (14:25) accounts where “fulfill” is not used—but to the Passover. The Passover, as originally instituted by God, had as its initial and partial meaning the recollection of the Israelites being shielded from the destroyer in Egypt (Exodus 12:23). But its ultimate and complete significance lay in the achievement of Christ on the cross. The aorist passive subjunctive verb that Luke used to report Jesus’ comments (pleirothei) means “to make full, complete, perfect,” “to consummate” (as in Matthew 5:17), and “to realize, accomplish” (as in Luke 1:20; 9:31; Acts 3:18). Perschbacher notes: “from the Hebrew, to set forth fully” and in the passive of time “to be fully arrived” [Wesley Perschbacher (1990), The New Analytical Greek Lexicon (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson), p. 332.] The Complete Jewish Bible (CJB) captures accurately the import: “For I tell you, it is certain that I will not celebrate it again until it is given its full meaning in the Kingdom of God.” Likewise the New Century Version (NCV): “I will not eat another Passover meal until it is given its true meaning in the kingdom of God.” The full and true meaning of the Mosaic Passover is only seen in Jesus’ sacrifice for sin.




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