Preparing for Passover – 9th Nissan

Please read: Matthew 21:1-11, Mark 11:1-11, Luke 19:28-44 and John 12:1-19

Six days before the Passover, Jesus came to Bethany, where Lazarus lived, whom Jesus had raised from the dead.  Here a dinner was given in Jesus’ honor. Martha served, while Lazarus was among those reclining at the table with him. Then Mary took about a pint of pure nard, an expensive perfume; she poured it on Jesus’ feet and wiped his feet with her hair. And the house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume.
But one of his disciples, Judas Iscariot, who was later to betray Him, objected, “Why wasn’t this perfume sold and the money given to the poor? It was worth a year’s wages.” He did not say this because he cared about the poor but because he was a thief; as keeper of the money bag, he used to help himself to what was put into it.

“Leave her alone,” Jesus replied. “It was intended that she should save this perfume for the day of my burial. You will always have the poor among you, but you will not always have me.” John 12:1-8 NIV

9th Nissan: Six days before the Pesach – the Pesach sacrifice was slaughtered on Nissan 14th. In the ancient world when one counted a sequence, one counted the day that started the sequence as #1-the ancients had no concept of a ‘0’ place value. Therefore, counting as the ancients counted, six days before Nisan 14th, would be Nisan 9th.

The journey from Jericho to Bethany is 17 miles (27.3 kilometers) with an elevation increase of about 3,400 feet (1,060 m).

These pilgrims travelling to Jerusalem for Pesach (Passover) would have spent most of the day walking uphill. Before He reached Jerusalem, Yeshua turned off to visit with His dear friends in Bethany.

The last time He had been in Bethany, Yeshua had raised Lazareth from the dead. Many had joined the sisters in mourning for four days before Yeshua arrived and brought Lazareth back to life, so all knew of this incredible miracle that had been done in their midst. They had likely heard that He was on His way from Jericho and spent most of the day preparing to welcome Him with this dinner in His honour.

Lazareth was among those who ate with Him, Martha served and Mary expressed her love in a most extravagant way that changed the atmosphere of the whole house. In defending Mary’s actions Yeshua quotes from Deuteronomy 15:11 There will always be poor people in the land. Therefore I command you to be openhanded toward your fellow Israelites who are poor and needy in your land. The command to be openhanded towards the poor is for all people in all times, but this was the only time Mary had opportunity to prepare Yeshua’s body for burial and be that living example of the joy set before Him (Hebrews 12:2).

Now a large crowd of Judeans knew He was there and came, not only for Yeshua but also to see Lazarus, whom He had raised from the dead. 
So the ruling kohanim (chief priests) made plans to kill Lazarus also, because on account of him many of the Jewish people were going and putting their trust in Yeshua. John 12:9-11 TLV

Some of the pilgrims who had come from Jericho would have told this in Jerusalem, less than two miles away, where pilgrims were earnestly asking about Him (John 11:55). Great numbers of the people wished to see the man that had been raised from the dead, and even more so, the Man who had raised him.  Messianic expectations were running at an all-time high. In the celebration of Pesach (Passover), the Festival of Redemption, the people had an eschatological hope. It was believed that the Ultimate Redemption, which was to be brought about through the Messiah, would take place at Passover. The expectation was that Messiah would be a second Moses who would lead Israel out from under the bondage of the nations. Hence, two of Yeshua‘s talmidim had earlier asked to sit at His right hand and left hand in the kingdom to come. For most of the Jews, putting their trust in Yeshua involved such messianic expectations for this coming Pesach.

Scholars estimate that the usual population of Jerusalem was around 40,000 and it could escalate to six times that number during Pesach. It was a time of much overcrowding, much religious fervor and heightened expectations of a Messianic overthrow of the Romans, so it was also a time when extra Roman soldiers were assigned to the city and their army was on heightened alert, ready to crush anything that looked like it could become an insurrection. Having a noisy parade going into Jerusalem at this time of year was not a safe thing to do, and it caused heightened fears among the Jewish authorities who wanted to keep a good reputation with Rome to avoid any Roman reprisals.

10th Nissan

In Exodus chapter 12, the Torah gives instructions for the celebration of Passover. The children of Israel were to choose a lamb for the Pesach sacrifice on the 10th day of the 1st month (Nissan), 4 days before the actual slaughtering was to be done: Tell all the congregation of Israel that on the tenth day of this month, each man is to take a lamb for his family one lamb for the household. … Your lamb is to be without blemish… You must watch over it until the fourteenth day of the same month. Then the whole assembly of the congregation of Israel is to slaughter it at twilight (lit: between the evenings). It is on the 10th day of the 1st month that Yeshua entered Jerusalem, and the people made their choice.

And when they had approached Jerusalem and came to Bethphage, at the Mount of Olives, then Jesus sent two disciples, saying to them, “Go into the village opposite you, and immediately you will find a donkey tied there and a colt with her; untie them and bring them to Me. And if anyone says anything to you, you shall say, ‘The Lord has need of them,’ and immediately he will send them.”
And this took place in order that what was spoken through the prophet would be fulfilled, saying, “Say to the daughter of Zion,
‘Behold your King is coming to you,
Lowly, and mounted on a donkey,
And on a colt, the foal of a pack animal.’”
And the disciples went and did just as Jesus had instructed them, and brought the donkey and the colt, and laid their garments on them; and He sat on the garments. And most of the crowd spread their garments in the road, and others were cutting branches from the trees and spreading them in the road. And the crowds going ahead of Him, and those who followed, were crying out, saying,
“Hosanna to the Son of David;
Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord;
Hosanna in the highest!”
And when He had entered Jerusalem, all the city was stirred, saying, “Who is this?”
And the crowds were saying, “This is the prophet Jesus, from Nazareth in Galilee.”
Matthew 21:1-11 LSB

And as they approached Jerusalem, at Bethphage and Bethany, near the Mount of Olives, He sent two of His disciples, and said to them, “Go into the village opposite you, and immediately as you enter it you will find a colt tied there, on which no one has ever sat; untie it and bring it here. And if anyone says to you, ‘Why are you doing this?’ say, ‘The Lord has need of it’; and immediately he will send it back here.” 
They went away and found a colt tied at the door, outside in the street; and they untied it.  And some of the bystanders were saying to them, “What are you doing, untying the colt?” 
And they told them just as Jesus had said, and they gave them permission. 
They brought the colt to Jesus and put their cloaks on it; and He sat on it. And many people spread their cloaks on the road, and others spread leafy branches which they had cut from the fields.  And those who went in front and those who followed were shouting:
Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord;
Blessed is the coming kingdom of our father David;
Hosanna in the highest!”

Mark:11:1-10 NASB

When He got near Bethphage and Bethany, at the Mount of Olives, He sent two of the disciples, saying, “Go into the village ahead. As you enter, you will find a colt tied up, that no one has ever sat upon. Untie it and bring it.  And if anyone asks you, ‘Why are you untying it?’ you shall say, ‘The Master needs it.’”
Those who were headed out found things just as He told them.  Then as they were untying the colt, his owners said to them, “Why are you untying the colt?”
They said, “The Master needs it.”  
Then they brought it to Yeshua, threw their cloaks on the colt, and set Yeshua on it.  And as He went along, the people were spreading their cloaks on the road. 
When Yeshua came near the slope of the Mount of Olives, the whole crowd of disciples began to rejoice. They praised God with a loud voice for all the miracles they had seen, saying,
“Blessed is the King who comes in the name of Adonai!
Shalom in heaven and glory in the highest!”
Some of the Pharisees from the crowd said to Him, “Teacher, rebuke Your disciples!”
But answering, Yeshua said, “I tell you that if these keep silent, the stones will shout out!”
Luke 19:30-40 TLV

The next day, the huge crowd that had come up for the feast heard that Yeshua was coming to Jerusalem.  So they took palm branches and went out to meet Him, shouting,
“‘Hoshia-na! Baruch ha-ba b’shem Adonai!
     Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord!’
     The King of Israel!”
Finding a young donkey, Yeshua sat on it, as it is written,
“Fear not, Daughter of Zion!
Look! Your King is coming,
     sitting on a donkey’s colt.”
His disciples did not understand these things at first. But when Yeshua was glorified, then they remembered that these things were written about Him and that the crowd had done these things for Him.

So the crowd, which had been with Yeshua when He called Lazarus out of the tomb and raised him from the dead, kept on telling everyone about it.  It was also for this reason that the crowd came out to meet Him, because they heard that He had performed this sign. So the Pharisees said to each other, “You see that you can’t do anything. Look, the whole world has taken off after Him!” John 12:12-19 TLV

As Jewish pilgrims approached Jerusalem, they sang psalms of ascent – generally recognized as Psalms 120 to 134 – expressing their delight at coming into God’s presence:
I was glad when they said to me,
     “Let us go to the house of the Lord!
(Psalm 122:1).

It was not far from Bethany (house of dates) to Bethphage (house of figs) where two disciples were instructed to go to get the donkey colt for Yeshua to ride into Jerusalem, the city of David, through the East Gate. This is the only time He is recorded as having ridden anywhere instead of walking. It signified that Yeshua was coming as the prophesied king: “Say to the daughter of Zion, behold your king is coming to you, gentle and mounted on a donkey, even on a colt, the foal of a beast of burden.” (Zechariah 9:9). A king going to war rode a horse, or sat in a chariot pulled by horses, but a king coming in peace rode a donkey as he was conveyed to his palace – Yeshua was conveyed by this donkey to the temple, which, as a twelve-year-old, He had described as “My Father’s house“. The Triumphal Entry was reminiscent of David’s son Solomon riding on a donkey to his coronation (1 Kings 1:28-40). The presence of a donkey also harkened to Abraham’s journey to sacrifice his son Issac (Genesis 22:1-19). The spreading of cloaks was an act of homage for royalty (see 2 Kings 9:13) as the people recognised Yeshua as the blessed king coming in the name of the LORD and hoped to see Him miraculously deliver them from harsh Roman rule.

There was another procession into Jerusalem as the pilgrims were pouring in for Passover. This one came through the West Gate. Pontius Pilate was governor of the Roman province of Judea from AD 26 to 36, under the rule of Emperor Tiberius, who reigned from AD 14 to 37. For most of the year Pilate resided in his splendid palace in Caesarea Maritima (on-the-sea), but he came to Jerusalem with legions of chariots, horses, and foot soldiers, dressed for battle and armed with swords and spears to reinforce the Fortress Antonia (which overlooked the Temple) and “maintain the peace” during each of the three Jewish pilgrimage festivals – Passover, Shavuot (literally ‘weeks’, or Pentecost); and Sukkot (‘tabernacles’) – when the city swelled with pilgrims and religious fervor.  Part of the governor’s role when visiting major cities in his province was presiding over court sessions and ensuring his deemed punishments are carried out against those he finds guilty of crimes against the empire.

New Testament scholars Marcus Borg and John Dominic Crossan in their book, The Last Week, describe Pilate’s procession into Jerusalem:

All of this was a painful slap in the face to the Jews, reminding them of their subjugation and yet, all the “important people” of the city (like the chief priests), and those who wanted to be upwardly mobile, attended this procession with a great show of welcome to the governor under whose authority they personally ruled and prospered even while their people suffered.

Pilate entered the city proclaiming the power of the Empire. Yeshua’s procession proclaimed the Kingdom of God. Pilate’s military procession was a demonstration of both Roman imperial power and imperial theology.  The emperor was not just viewed as the ruler of Rome, but also declared to be the son of god. It began with Augustus who ruled from 31 BC to 14 AD. His father was said to be the god Apollo. Inscriptions refer to him as son of god, lord, savior, and one who had “brought peace on earth.” His successors had continued to take on the divine titles. Yeshua’s procession deliberately countered what was happening on the other side of the city. Pilate’s procession embodied the power, glory, and violence of the empire that ruled the world. Yeshua brought an alternate vision of the Kingdom of God where love rules, leadership is exercised through service and the meek inherit the earth.

Zachariah’s prophesy contained more than just details about riding on a donkey, it went on to proclaim Israel’s King’s victory over all the armies of the world and rule over the whole earth – this is the deliverance they were expecting from their Messiah:

Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion! Shout aloud, O daughter of Jerusalem! Behold, your king is coming to you; righteous and having salvation is he, humble and mounted on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey. I will cut off the chariot from Ephraim and the war horse from Jerusalem; and the battle bow shall be cut off, and he shall speak peace to the nations; his rule shall be from sea to sea, and from the River to the ends of the earth. As for you also, because of the blood of my covenant with you, I will set your prisoners free from the waterless pit. Return to your stronghold, O prisoners of hope; today I declare that I will restore to you double. 
Zechariah 9:9-12 (NIV)

The people were crying out: “‘Hoshia-na! Baruch ha-ba b’shem Adonai!
     Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord!’
     The King of Israel!”

It’s a phrase found in the Hebrew Scriptures, Psalm 118, which rejoices in the Lord’s triumph. It is one of the Messianic Psalms that Yeshua quoted from when teaching the people:

Open to me the gates of righteousness,
    that I may enter through them
    and give thanks to the Lord.
20 This is the gate of the Lord;
    the righteous shall enter through it.
21 I thank you that you have answered me
    and have become my salvation.
22 The stone that the builders rejected
    has become the cornerstone.

23 This is the Lord’s doing;
    it is marvelous in our eyes.
24 This is the day that the Lord has made;
    let us rejoice and be glad in it.
25 Save us, we pray, O Lord!
    O Lord, we pray, give us success!
26 Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!
    We bless you from the house of the Lord.
27 The Lord is God,
    and he has made his light to shine upon us.
Bind the festal sacrifice with cords,
    up to the horns of the altar!
28 You are my God, and I will give thanks to you;
    you are my God; I will extol you.
29 Oh give thanks to the Lord, for he is good;
    for his steadfast love endures forever!

Psalm 118:19-29

By verse 22 of this Psalm, the rejected stone has become the “cornerstone”. This is a marvelous work — by God’s doing — which then launches the day of salvation, verse 23-24. This day of salvation is the long-anticipated deliverance that Israel thought might never come. Verse 25 captures the hope: “Save us, we pray, O LORD! O LORD, we pray, give us success!”

Now this salvation and success was to come through a person — the Messiah of God — the one sent to rescue His people. So goes the shout in verse 26: Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!

Without doubt, this rambling crowd in Jerusalem, taking its cues from Psalm 118, is declaring Yeshua to be the kingly Messiah come to deliver Israel. That’s why Luke records the Pharisees telling Yeshua to rebuke His disciples. Do you hear what they are saying? They think you’re the Messiah come to save us. Tell them to shut up. Anger and fear are closely related, fear of how the Romans might respond if they understood the significance of what the crowd was shouting aroused murderous anger in the Jewish leaders. Their security weas dependent on maintaining Pilate’s favor. The Hope of Israel had come, but the religious leaders responded out of fear instead of faith, and so failed to recognize the day and take hold of that which would lead to shalom (peace, restoration, wholeness and wellbeing).

Those who were shouting so joyfully in recognizing Yeshua as Messiah, failed to fully understand the significance of Him riding a donkey instead of a horse. They expected Him to march into the city and overthrow Rome, to destroy all their instruments of war. They wanted to be free from Gentile oppression, even if by force, even if by threats and plagues and a split sea, as they recounted so well from Moses’ deliverance from Egypt. They wanted another exodus, one that expelled and annihilated the Romans, and every other Gentile army.

As He drew near and saw Jerusalem, He wept over her, saying, “If only you had recognized this day the things that lead to shalom! But now they are hidden from your eyes.  For the days will come upon you when your enemies will surround you with barricades and hem you in on all sides.   And they will smash you to the ground—you and your children within you. And they won’t leave within you one stone upon another, because you did not recognize the time of your visitation.” Luke 19:41-44 TLV

Instead of sounding the battle cry as He drew near to Jerusalem, Yeshua wept. For all their praises, these people had not understood what He’d come to deliver them from.

As the road from Bethany crossed the ridge and dipped down the western slope of the Mount of Olives, Jerusalem was spread out before them with its magnificent gilded white marble temple flashing resplendently in the spring sunlight. And yet this vision evoked not awe in Yeshua but heartsickness. He wept over her. The word translated “wept” is the Greek verb klaiō, “weep, cry, bewail.”  Yeshua burst into sobbing. He wept for their blindness, and for the pain of plunder, death and total destruction of Jerusalem this would lead to in 70AD.

And Jesus entered Jerusalem and came into the temple area; and after looking around at everything, He left for Bethany with the twelve, since it was already late. Mark 11:11 NASB

By the time of Christ, ceremonial cleanliness by water had become institutionalized into a purity ritual involving full immersion in a mikveh. Purification through full immersion in a Mikveh was required of all Jews before they could enter the Temple or participate in major festivals. Hundreds of thousands of pilgrims converged on Jerusalem for Passover and other major feasts. So, even with all the Mikvehs around the temple (large and small) it may still have taken some time waiting to go through the purification process before Yeshua could enter the temple that afternoon. It was already late by the time He entered the temple courts, and everything was coming to an end for the day. The remnants of the day’s activities were keenly observed before Yeshua led the twelve back to Bethany.

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In the comments section below share your thoughts on what you have read and answer some of the following questions…

* Describe a time when you witnessed someone express their love for Jesus in an extravagant way, and how others responded to this.
* Two kingdoms were on display – Rome and the kingdom of God – describe significant differences between them.
* What reasons did the chief priests have for being so upset that many of the people were putting their trust in Jesus?
* What was the significance of Jesus’ Triumphal Entry into Jerusalem being on 10th Nissan ?