Crucifixion Predicted in the Messiah Prophecies?

 

Often asked is the question of whether crucifixion was predicted in the prophecies. When Jesus of Nazareth was asked this question, he pointed to prophecies to be fulfilled by the Messiah.[1]

Prophecies are seldom as clear as Micah’s Bethlehem prophecy predicting the Ruler of Israel would come from Bethlehem or Zechariah’s prophecy foretelling the King of Israel would come riding on the foal of a donkey.[2] Some are delivered in perplexing, oracle-style prophecies often requiring knowledge of historical context, analogies or symbolisms, and intermingling the present and future.[3]

Three parashahs or passages from the Old Testament, the Tenakh, are the focus of potential crucifixion prophecies – Psalms 22:1-24, Isaiah 52:13-53:12 and Zechariah 12:8-14. Historical and modern medical analysis are consistent with them.

Historical context substantiating these prophecies first comes from Cicero, Rome’s most celebrated orator and lawyer. In a murder prosecution case, he described how a victim of a Roman crucifixion was first scourged, “exposed to torture and nailed on that cross” – it was “the most miserable and the most painful punishment appropriate to slaves alone.”[4]

Jewish historian Josephus wrote several accounts about the terrors of crucifixion and how it became a commonplace means to kill Jews, convicted or innocent. Rescued victims did not even survive an attempted crucifixion as attested by his own personal experience.[5]

Modern forensic medical expert analysis of a crucifixion provides further context. The act of merely trying to take a breath added to the excruciating pain of being nailed to a cross by pulling at the nail wounds driven through nerves in the wrists while pushing up full body weight on nailed feet. Many of the crucifixion victims most likely died by asphyxiation. Add to that the psychological suffering from enduring scorn, humiliation, taunting and insults.[6]

Psalms prophecies might include the well-known yet controversial, Psalms 22, depicting a man whose “bones [are] out of joint,” “heart has turned to wax,” “tongue sticks to the roof of my mouth,” and “they have pierced my hands and feet.” The parashah also describes the psychological torture of enduring agony and humiliation.

Zechariah 12:10 succinctly says the Messiah will be killed and “… they will mourn for him as one mourns for an only child, and grieve bitterly for him as one grieves for a firstborn son.” While both Judaism and Christianity have disagreements, even among themselves, on the exact meaning of the prophecy, they agree the Messiah would be killed by being “thrust through” or “pierced.” Gospel accounts describe Jesus being pierced by nails and thrust with a spear.[7]

Isaiah chapters 52-53 parashah of “My Servant” describes the manner of death that is wholly consistent with a Roman crucifixion. His plight is depicted to have a physical “appearance was so disfigured beyond that of any man and his form marred beyond human likeness.” Graphically, the parashah describes the mental anguish of “My Servant” who experiences “suffering of his soul,” is “despised and rejected by men” and is considered “stricken by God, smitten by him, and afflicted.”[8]

Hebrew word chalal in Isaiah 53:5 is one of those words that have multiple meanings, in this case, over 20 definitions and variations. The primary definition in a negative context is “to profane, defile, pollute, desecrate” and in a positive sense, “begin.”[9]

Virtually all Bibles translate chalal, in about a 50/50 split, as either “pierced” or “wounded” including the Jewish Publication Society and the William Davidson translation of “wounded.” However, The Complete Jewish Bible translates chalal as “pained” with Rabbi Rashi’s commentary, “…he was chastised so that there be peace for the entire world.

Jewish authorities are virtually silent on the Isaiah 52-53 parashah’s graphic depiction being consistent with that of a  crucifixion and thus it does not foretell the death of “My Servant.” However, certain verses within this parashah of Isaiah are acknowledged in the Talmud and by Rabbi sages as Messiah prophecies.[10]

Rabbi Jose the Galilean quoted Isaiah 53:5 declaring the prophecy referred to “King Messiah” who would be “wounded” for our transgressions. Jose the Galilean was a Talmud contributor recognized for his authority on sacrifices and the Temple. Independently he wrote the Messiah would be wounded for our transgressions quoting from Isaiah 53.7.[11]

Rabbi Maimonides similarly identified the Messiah as the subject of Isaiah 52:15 and 53:2. The Rabbi expounded the Messiah could be identified by his origins and his wonders. Talmud tractate Sanhedrin 98b quotes Isaiah 53:3 as the basis for one of the names of the Messiah.[12]

Rabbi Moshe Kohen ibn Crispin said “My Servant” in Isaiah 52:13 refers to “King Messiah.” Crispin is renowned for his twelfth century authorship of Sefer ha-Musar meaning the Book of Instruction. Crispin boldly disagreed with the prevailing Jewish view that “My Servant” is a metaphor referring to the nation of Israel.[13]

Six of the 15 verses of the Isaiah 52-53 parashah – Isaiah 52:13,15, 53:2, 3, 5, 7 – are considered by various Jewish authorities to be prophecies about the Messiah. For this reason, it becomes challenging to claim the entire parashah is not a prophecy about the Messiah.

Jesus of Nazareth himself referred to the prophecies describing the manner of death for the Messiah. Days before entering Jerusalem for the last time, Jesus forewarned his Disciples predicting in precise detail of what he was about to endure as foretold by the prophets: 

LK 18:31-32 “Jesus took the Twelve aside and told them, “We are going up to Jerusalem, and everything that is written by the prophets about the Son of Man will be fulfilled. He will be turned over to the Gentiles. They will mock him, insult him, spit on him, flog him and kill him.”(NIV)

History, Judaism and Christainity affirm that Jesus of Nazareth was subjected to the horrific physical and psychological designs of a crucifixion consistent with accounts of historians and modern forensic science analysis. Is crucifixion predicted in the Messiah prophecies foretelling the manner of suffering and death by the Messiah?

Rabbi Crispin profoundly summed up the challenge for each person to arrive at his or her own conclusion about the prophecies:

“… if any one should arise claiming to be himself the Messiah, we may reflect, and look to see whether we can observe in him any resemblance to the traits described here:  if there is any such resemblance, then we may believe that he is the Messiah our righteousness; but if not, we cannot do so.”[14] – Rabbi Crispin

 

Updated February 5, 2023.

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This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.

REFERENCES:

[1] Luke 18:31-34; 22:37.
[2] Micah 5:2; Zechariah 9:9.
[3] Psalms 78:1-3; Hosea 12:10. Boucher, Madeleine I. “The Parables.” Excerpt from The Parables. Washington, DE:  Michael Glazier, Inc. 1980.  PBS|Frontline. n.d. <http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/shows/religion/jesus/parables.html>   Bugg, Michael. “Types of Prophecy and Prophetic Types.” Hebrew Root. n.d. <http://www.hebrewroot.com/Articles/prophetic_types.htm>
[4] Cicero, Marcus Tullius. In Verrem Actionis Secundae M. Tulli Ciceronis Libri Quinti.  “Secondary Orations Against Verres. Book 5. 70 B.C.  The Society for Ancient Languages  University of Alabama – Huntsville.  10 Feb. 2005. <https://web.archive.org/web/20160430183826/http://www.uah.edu/student_life/organizations/SAL/texts/latin/classical/cicero/inverrems5e.html>  Quintilian, Marcus Fabius. Quintilian’s Institutes of Oratory. 1856. Trans. John Selby Watson. Book 8, Chapter 4. <https://web.archive.org/web/20170815223340/http://rhetoric.eserver.org/quintilian/index.html>
[5] Josephus, Flavius. Wars of the Jews. Book II, Chapter XIV. Book V, Chapter XI. <http://books.google.com/books?id=e0dAAAAAMAAJ&printsec=frontcover&source=gbs_ge_summary_r&cad=0#v=onepage&q&f=false>  Chkoreff, Larry. International School of The Bible. “Is There a New World Coming?” crucifixion. image. 2000. <http://www.isob-bible.org/world-new/04world_files/image019.gif>
[6] Cilliers, L. & Retief F. P.  “The history and pathology of crucifixion.”  South African Medical Journal.  Dec;93(12):938-41.  U.S. National Library of Medicine|National Institute of Health. <http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/14750495>  Zugibe, Frederick T.  “Turin Lecture:  Forensic and Clinical Knowledge of the Practice of Crucifixion.”  E-Forensic Medicine. 2005. <http://web.archive.org/web/20130925103021/http:/e-forensicmedicine.net/Turin2000.htm>  Maslen, Matthew W. and Mitchell, Piers D.  “Medical theories on the cause of death in crucifixion.” Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine.  J R Soc Med. 2006 April; 99(4): 185–188.  doi:  10.1258/jrsm.99.4.185.  National Center for Biotechnology Information. Search term Search database. <http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1420788>  Alchin, Linda.  “Roman Crucifixion.”  Tribunes and Triumphs. 2008.  <http://www.tribunesandtriumphs.org/roman-life/roman-crucifixion.htm> Zias, Joe. “Crucifixion in Antiquity – The Anthropological Evidence.” JoeZias.com. 2009. <http://web.archive.org/web/20121211060740/http://www.joezias.com/CrucifixionAntiquity.html>  Champlain, Edward. Nero. 2009. <https://books.google.com/books?id=30Wa-l9B5IoC&lpg=PA122&ots=nw4edgV_xw&dq=crucifixion%2C%20tacitus&pg=PP1#v=onepage&q&f=false>
[7] The Compete Jewish Bible – with Rashi Commentary. Zechariah 12:10 <http://www.chabad.org/library/bible_cdo/aid/63255/jewish/The-Bible-with-Rashi.htmSoncino Babylonian Talmud. Sukkah 52a. <http://www.halakhah.com/rst/moed/16b%20-%20Succah%20-%2029b-56b.pdf>  Chkoreff, Larry. International School of The Bible. “Is There a New World Coming?” crucifixion. image. 2000. <http://www.isob-bible.org/world-new/04world_files/image019.gif>
[8] Isaiah 53:3.  Soncino Babylonian Talmud.  Sanhedrin 98a. Soncino Babylonian Talmud. footnotes: Isaiah XLIX:7, XVIII:5, I:25, LIX:19, LIX:20, LX:21, LIX:16, XLVIII:11, LX:22; footnote #31. <https://israelect.com/Come-and-Hear/sanhedrin/sanhedrin_98.htmlSoncino Babylonian Talmud. Sanhedrin 38a, footnote #9 to Isaiah 8:14. <https://israelect.com/Come-and-Hear/sanhedrin/sanhedrin_38.html>
[9] The Complete Jewish Bible – with Rashi Commentary. <http://www.chabad.org/library/bible_cdo/aid/63255/jewish/The-Bible-with-Rashi.htm> Jewish Publication Society (JPS) translation. 1917. Benyamin Pilant. 1997. <http://www.breslov.com/bible> William Davidson Talmud, The. Talmud Bavli. The Sefaria Library. <http://www.sefaria.org/texts/Talmud> Isaiah 53:5. NetBible. Hebrew text. <https://classic.net.bible.org/verse.php?book=Isa&chapter=53&verse=5> Chalal <02490> NetBible. definitions. <https://classic.net.bible.org/strong.php?id=02490> H2490. Lexicon-Concordance Online Bible. n.d. <http://lexiconcordance.com/hebrew/2490.html> Isaiah 53:5. BibleHub. 2022. <https://biblehub.com/lexicon/isaiah/53-5.htm > <https://biblehub.com/lexicon/isaiah/53-5.htm > <https://biblehub.com/isaiah/53-5.htm> 
[10] Sanhedrin 98a footnotes: Isaiah XLIX:7, XVIII:5, I:25, LIX:19, LIX:20, LX:21, LIX:16, XLVIII:11, LX:22; footnote #31. <https://israelect.com/Come-and-Hear/sanhedrin/sanhedrin_98.htmlSoncino Babylonian Talmud. Sanhedrin 38a, footnote #9 to Isaiah 8:14. <https://israelect.com/Come-and-Hear/sanhedrin/sanhedrin_38.html>
[11] The Babylonian Talmud. Rodkinson. “Part I.  Historical and Literary Introduction to the New Edition of the Talmud, Chapter 2.”  pp 10, 12-13.  <http://www.sacred-texts.com/jud/t10/ht202.htmThe Babylonian Talmud. Derech Eretz-Zuta. “The Chapter on Peace.”  Yose the Galilaean. Neubauer, Driver & Rolles. The Fifty-third Chapter of Isaiah According to the Jewish Interpreters. Quote. Siphrej. pp 10-16. <https://books.google.com/books?id=YxdbAAAAQAAJ&pg=PP1#v=onepage&q=Jose&f=false>
[12] Moses Maimonides. Neubauer, Adolf. And Driver, Samuel Rolles.  The Fifty-third Chapter of Isaiah According to the Jewish Interpreters. 1877. “Letter to the South (Yemen).” pp xvi, 374-375.  <http://books.google.com/books?id=YxdbAAAAQAAJ&pg=PP1#v=onepage&q=advent&f=false> Isaiah 53:3. Soncino Babylonian Talmud. Ed. Isidore Epstein. Sanhedrin 98b, footnote #31. <https://israelect.com/Come-and-Hear/talmud/index.html>  CR Neubauer, Driver & Rolles. The Fifty-third Chapter of Isaiah According to the Jewish Interpreters. pp 12-16.
[13] Crispin, Moshe Kohen ibn. Neubauer, Driver & Rolles. The Fifty-third Chapter of Isaiah According to the Jewish Interpreters “Sefer ha-Musar.” pp 99-101.
[14] Crispin. “Sefer ha-Musar.” p 114.

Accursed By God When Jesus Was Crucified?

 

Crucifixion of Jesus of Nazareth is the fact that serves as proof for Judaism that he is not the Messiah. Jewish belief holds that a person who is hanged is accursed by God; therefore, Jesus was accursed by God disqualifying him as the Messiah:[1]

“The very form of his punishment would disprove those claims in Jewish eyes. No Messiah that Jews could recognize could suffer such a death; for “He that is hanged is accursed of God” (Deut. xxi. 23), ‘an insult to God’ (Targum, Rashi).” – JewishEnclopedia.com

Scriptural basis is found in the Law of Moses, Book of Deuteronomy. Very plainly it says that anyone who is hanged on a tree is accursed of God:

  • DT. 21:23 “his body shall not remain overnight on the tree, but you shall surely bury him that day, so that you do not defile the land which the LORD your God is giving you as an inheritance; for he who is hanged is accursed of God.(NKJV)

Hanging of a victim was not intended to be the Jewish form of execution; instead, death was to be accomplished first by stoning, then the corpse was to be publicly hanged briefly for a day. Contrary to the Roman humiliation component of crucifixion, the Jewish-style hanging was not intended to humiliate, but rather to send a message. The Babylonian Talmud defines the process:[2]

MISHNAH

“All who are stoned are [afterwards] hanged. (Soncino)

Gemara:

“The rabbis taught: It reads [Deut. xxi. 22]: “And he be put to death, and thou hang him on a tree.””

“The rabbis taught: If the verse read, “If a man committed a sin, he shall be hanged,” we would say that he should be hanged until death occurs, as the government does; but it reads, “He shall be put to death and hanged,” which means he shall be put to death and thereafter hanged.”(Rodkinson)

Connecting “tree” and “cross” is made through translations of the Deuteronomy Hebrew text word `ets meaning “a tree or wood timber.”[3] Some 300 years before Jesus was crucified, Jewish Hebrew translators of the Septuagint LXX used the Greek word xulon meaning “tree” or “wood.” Jewish and Christian Bibles alike nearly all translate `ets as “tree” or “pole.”[4]

Crucifixion involved a victim being hanged from its wood cross-timber beam attached to an upright wood pole. Therein lies the connection of the Deuteronomy Law to a cross being a “tree” or “pole.”[5]

Thousands of Jews were crucified by the Romans.[6] Some were executed as judicial punishment for committing commonly recognized serious crimes such as murder, robbery and insurrection; however, reasons for crucifixions expanded with time.

Many Jews including priests were crucified for non-criminal, nefarious reasons such as simple hatred, spitefulness or merely for entertainment.[7] Jews of the Roman era could not conceivably have viewed these hapless victims of crucifixion as being accursed by God. In fact, Jewish practice was to take great care in burying the crucified Jews before sunset:[8]

“Nay, they proceeded to that degree of impiety, as to cast away their dead bodies without burial, although the Jews used to take so much care of the burial of men, that they took down those that were condemned and crucified, and buried them before the going down of the sun.” – Josephus, Wars

Jesus of Nazareth was crucified like any other Jew by the Romans. Following customary Jewish practice after a crucifixion death, his body was taken down from the cross and buried with care by none other than two prominent Jewish Council members.[9]

A person accursed by God, according to the Talmud, was to have committed an offense so reprehensible, the punishment deserved an execution death by stoning, but execution was not enough. The corpse was to be hanged publicly whereby all would know the person was accursed by God.[10]

MISHNAH

“… the sages say:  only the blasphemer and the idolater are hanged. (Soncino)

“…but thou shalt surely bury him the same day for he is hanged [because of] a curse against God, – as if to say why was he hanged? – Because he cursed the name [of God]; and so the name of the name of Heaven [God] is profaned.(Soncino)

Gemara

“The sages, however, say: that as with a blasphemer who has denied the cardinal principle of our faith (i.e., he does not believe in God), the same is the case with an idolater who denies the might of God…” (Rodkinson)

An exception to Jewish Law was needed to distinguish the crucifixion of Jesus from that of other crucified Jews. Sanhedrin 43a describes after-the-fact that an exception was made for “Yeshu, the Nasarean.”[11] The exception:  Jesus was connected to the government, presumably the royal lineage of King David.

Gemara[12]

“…On the eve of the Passover Yeshu [#34 the Nasarean] was hanged…But since nothing was brought forward in his favour he was hanged on the eve of the Passover!.…With Yeshu however it was different, for he was connected with the government [or royalty, i.e., influential].’” – Soncino Babylonian Talmud translation

Rather, Jesus was different, as he had close ties with the government, and the gentile authorities were interested in his acquittal.” – William Davidson Talmud translation

Caiaphas and the Jewish leadership found Jesus guilty of blasphemy for claiming to be I AM.[13] Problem was, Rome had prohibited executions by the Jewish theocracy.[14] The exception justified the Jewish leadership to hand over Jesus to the Romans to be executed and hanged on a tree.

Rome did not recognize a Jewish court verdict, especially for the capital Jewish crime of blasphemy. Instead, the Jewish leadership handed Jesus over to the Roman government under the accusation of failure to pay taxes and insurrection.[15] Either crime would result in the same outcome – crucifixion on a cross, a wooden tree.[16]

Indeed, Jesus was judged by the Roman government for insurrection. However, the plan seemed to backfire when neither Tetrarch Herod nor Procurator Pilate found any guilt in Jesus despite admitting to Pilate that he is a King.[17]

Not guilty of any Roman crimes, Pilate still condemned Jesus to crucifixion at the strong behest of the Jews. Pilate was compelled to wash his hands of the aberrant circumstances saying, “I am innocent of this man’s blood.”[18]

Does the crucifixion of Jesus mean that he was hanged on a wooden pole and thus accused by God?

 

Updated October 24, 2022.

Creative Commons License

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.

REFERENCES:

[1] “Jesus of Nazareth.” Jewish Encyclopedia. 2011. <http://www.jewishencyclopedia.com/articles/8616-jesus-of-nazareth> “God Cannot die!” TorahOfMessiah.com. 2012. <https://web.archive.org/web/20140331233206/http://www.torahofmessiah.com/godcantdie.html>
[2] Soncino Babylonian Talmud.  Sanhedrin 45b. Babylonian Talmud. Rodkinson. Chapter VI, Mishna V.
[3] “H6086.” Lexicon-Concordance Online Bible.  n.d.  http://lexiconcordance.com/search6.asp?sw=6086&sm=0&x=42&y=16> Benner, Jeff.  “Mechanical Translation of the Torah.” Deuteronomy 21:23. <http://www.mechanical-translation.org/mtt/D21.html>
[4] Net.bible.org. Deuteronomy 21:22, Hebrew text “`ets <06086>”  “Septuagint text, Greek “xulon <3586>” <http://classic.net.bible.org/strong.php?id=3586Bible Hub. 2017. Deuteronomy 21:22. <http://biblehub.com> Josephus, Flavius. Antiquities of the Jews. Book XII, Chapter II. The Complete Works of Josephus. 1850. <http://books.google.com/books?id=e0dAAAAAMAAJ&printsec=frontcover&source=gbs_ge_summary_r&cad=0#v=onepage&q&f=false>  “Septuagint.”  Septuagint.Net. 2014.  <http://septuagint.net>  “Septuagint.”  Encyclopædia Britannica. 2014.  Benner, Jeff A. “The Great Isaiah Scroll and the Masoretic Text.” Ancient Hebrew Research Center.  2013.  <http://www.ancient-hebrew.org/31_masorite.html> Lundberg, Marilyn J. “The Leningrad Codex.”  USC West Semitic Research Project.  2012.  <https://web.archive.org/web/20170403025034/http://www.usc.edu/dept/LAS/wsrp/educational_site/biblical_manuscripts/LeningradCodex.shtmlThe Complete Jewish Bible with Rashi Commentary. Devarim – Deuteronomy, Chapter 21. <http://www.chabad.org/library/bible_cdo/aid/9985#showrashi=true> Benner, Jeff, “Mechanical Translation of the Torah.” 2017. Deuteronomy 21. <http://www.mechanical-translation.org/mtt/D21.html>
[5] The Babylonian Talmud. Trans. Michael L. Rodkinson. 1918. Mishnah IV Gemara. <http://www.sacred-texts.com/jud/talmud.htmSoncino Babylonian Talmud. Ed. Isidore Epstein. 1935-1948. Sanhedrin 46b Gemara.<https://israelect.com/Come-and-Hear/talmud/index.html>
[6] Josephus, Flavius. Wars of the Jews. Book II, Chapters V, XIII, XIV; Book IV, Chapter V; Book V, Chapters VI, XI. The Complete Works of Josephus. 1850. <http://books.google.com/books?id=e0dAAAAAMAAJ&printsec=frontcover&source=gbs_ge_summary_r&cad=0#v=onepage&q&f=false>  Josephus.  Antiquities of the Jews. Book XX, Chapter VI.2. The Complete Works of Josephus. 1850. <http://books.google.com/books?id=e0dAAAAAMAAJ&printsec=frontcover&source=gbs_ge_summary_r&cad=0#v=onepage&q&f=false>
[7] Josephus. Wars. Book V, Chapter XI.  Ciantar, Joe Zammit. Times Malta. “Recollections on Crucifixion – Part one.” image. 2022. <https://timesofmalta.com/articles/view/recollections-on-crucifixion-part-one.861097
[8] Josephus. Wars. Book IV, Chapter V.
[9] Matthew  27:57-61. Mark 15:42-47. Luke 23:50-56. John 19:38-42.
[10] Soncino Babylonian Talmud.  Sanhedrin 45b – 46a. Babylonian Talmud. Rodkinson. Chapter VI, Mishna V. 
[11] Soncino Babylonian Talmud. Ed. Epstein, Isidor. “Introduction to the Seder Nezikin.”  Soncino Babylonian Talmud.  Shachter & Freedman. “Introduction to Sanhedrin.” Soncino Babylonian Talmud. Sanhedrin Chapter VI, Folio 43a. Greenberg, Eric J. “Jesus’ Death Now Debated by Jews.” Jewish Journal. 2003. Reprinted from The Jewish Week.  <http://jewishjournal.com/news/world/8546>
[12] Soncino Babylonian Talmud Sanhedrin 43a; footnote #34; “Glossary” > “Baraitha” and “Tanna, Tana.”  Epstein. “Introduction to Seder Nezikin.” Soncino Babylonian Talmud.  Visotzky, Rabbi Burton L. Sage Tales – Wisdom and Wonder from the Rabbis of the Talmud. 2011. p153. <https://books.google.com/books?id=pMJYU2DTZ4UC&pg=PA153&lpg=PA153&dq=Talmud+exception+for+Jesus+of+Nazareth&source=bl&ots=ir-xCPF6a0&sig=_Nx3mW86y5dgWQWtuQmV-VidP6w&hl=en&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwimzZi8yNvZAhXH44MKHf5AAEsQ6AEIXjAG#v=onepage&q=Talmud%20exception%20for%20Jesus%20of%20Nazareth&f=false> Talmud 43a. Sefaria. n.d. <https://www.sefaria.org/Sanhedrin.43a?lang=bi>  “Jesus.” Names for God. n.d. <https://namesforgod.net/jesus
[13] NASB. Luke 22:67-70. CR Matthew 26:63-65; Mark 14-63-65.
[14] Josephus, Flavius. Antiquities of the Jews. Book XX, Chapters IX. The Complete Works of Josephus. n.d <http://books.google.com/books?id=e0dAAAAAMAAJ&printsec=frontcover&source=gbs_ge_summary_r&cad=0#v=onepage&q&f=false>
[15] Luke 23:1-3.
[16] Josephus.  Antiquities. Book XX, Chapter V.  Josephus.  Wars. Book II, Chapters V, XIV. Ashby, Carol. Life in the Roman Empire. n.d. “Crime and Punishment.” <https://carolashby.com/crime-and-punishment-in-the-roman-empire>
[17] Matthew 27:11; Mark 15:2; Luke 23:3, 13-15; John 18:33-38.
[18] NRSV, NASB.  Matthew 27:24; Matthew 27:24-26; Mark 15:11-15; Luke 23:20-25; John 19:4-15. Josephus. Antiquities. Book XVI. Chapters II, VI; Book XVII, Chapter XIII; Book XIX, Chapter V-VI. Josephus, Flavius. Against Apion. Book II. The Complete Works of Josephus. 1850.  <http://books.google.com/books?id=e0dAAAAAMAAJ&printsec=frontcover&source=gbs_ge_summary_r&cad=0#v=onepage&q&f=false>

Passover – an Appointed Time for the Crucifixion?

 

Crucifixion of Jesus of Nazareth didn’t happen on just any day of the year…the timing is simply too hard to ignore. His execution was either a 1-in-365 happenstance incident or of divine design.

Friday Nissan 15, Jesus was crucified on the first day of the Jewish Passover that began at sunset the previous evening with the Feast of Unleavened Break commemorating the event when the sacrifice of an innocent lamb had once been required of God for salvation from the slavery and tyranny of Egypt. Merriam-Webster defines a sacrifice as “an act of offering to a deity something precious.”

Determining whether or not the timing of the crucifixion was merely a coincidence or if the timing had a deeper significance starts with a basic understanding of an appointed time. Clues are found in the story of how the Hebrew Law came to be given by God at Mt. Sinai.

_ _ _ _ _

God told Moses with His voice from the burning bush at the base of Mt. Sinai to return to Egypt after a 40-year exile. Along with his brother Aaron, they were to confront the mighty Pharaoh of Egypt with a clear and succinct message:

Ex 5:1 …”Thus says the LORD God of Israel: ‘Let My people go, that they may hold a feast to Me in the wilderness.’”(NKJV)

Initially, Pharaoh was not willing to give up his slave labor force, but he paid a big price for taking that stance. Suffering through several plagues, Egypt’s ruler was finally looking to stop the misery and commanded, “‘Go, serve the Lord your God.”

Having an afterthought, he asked, “Exactly who is going with you?” Pharaoh realized he was about to make a big mistake if he let all of his Hebrew slaves leave. On the other hand, if he only released the Hebrew men to go have this feast, he could hold their families hostage.[1]

Moses countered with a shocking response that ruined Pharaoh’s scheme: “We will go with our young and our old, with our sons and our daughters, and with our sheep and our cattle we will go, because we are to hold a pilgrim feast for the Lord.”[2]

‘No way!’ was the essence of Pharaoh’s response saying, “‘No! Go, you men only, and serve the Lord, for that is what you want,” then Moses and Aaron were driven out of Pharaoh’s presence.”[3] The 9th plague of deep darkness for three full days came next, but Pharaoh still didn’t relent.

Leading up to the horrible night of the 10th plague, God offered protection for the Hebrews if they followed a precise sacrificial ritual. Each family was to choose one of their unblemished lambs, sacrifice it, splash its blood on the door posts of their homes, and roast the lamb for a family feast at sunset.[4]

Livestock value to both the Egyptians and Hebrews was very significant, especially for the enslaved Hebrews. Sheep were the source of clothing, food and milk, even as pets. For a household to lose a single lamb meant losing this valuable survival source.

For the Egyptians, cattle were valued in much the same way and even more so. Cattle were part of Egyptian religion and represented a status of wealth. Losing a significant portion of livestock, which included sheep and cattle, would be disastrous.[5] 

At midnight, the angel of death passed over any home with the lamb’s blood splashed on the doorposts thereby sparing the associated lives of the Hebrew’s firstborn and their livestock. The 10th plague was devastating for the Egyptians – every firstborn died, including within their livestock. With the death of his own son that night, too, Pharaoh’s resolve was finally broken.

Salvation from the plague of death set the stage for what would become Israel’s first legally mandated Feast observance, “It is the LORD’s Passover.” Every year thereafter, the Passover was to be observed as a celebration festival to remember how God delivered the Hebrews from Egyptian tyranny:[6]

Ex 12:14 ‘So this day shall be to you a memorial; and you shall keep it as a feast to the LORD throughout your generations. You shall keep it as a feast by an everlasting ordinance.(NKJV)

A few weeks later, God handed down the Law to Moses at the top of Mt. Sinai. The Law defined the observance of three annual Festivals or Feasts starting with the Passover using similar terms as for the weekly Sabbath, each was called “a holy assembly” or “holy convocation.”

According to the Law, the Passover opened the annual festival cycle beginning with the Feast of Unleavened Bread to be observed at its appointed time in the month of Abib aka Nissan 14th in the the place God was yet to reveal:[7]

Lev. 23:4-7‘These are the feasts of the LORD, holy convocations which you shall proclaim at their appointed times.

‘On the fourteenth day of the first month at twilight is the LORD’S Passover.

‘And on the fifteenth day of the same month is the Feast of Unleavened Bread to the LORD; seven days you must eat unleavened bread.

‘On the first day you shall have a holy convocation; you shall do no customary work on it. (NKJV)

For the Passover, the primary component was the sacrifice of the paschal lamb. The Feast to be held at its appointed time and the week that followed were intended to be a time of solemn celebration in remembrance of God’s miraculous deliverance from slavery and tyranny.

Add to the timing factor of the crucifixion of Jesus, the circumstances factor. The events surrounding the crucifixion were controlled solely by his archenemies, the Jewish leadership – out of the control of Jesus, his Disciples or any alleged Christian conspirators.

Found to be innocent by the government rulers Tetrarch Herod and Procurator Pilate, at the urging of the Jewish leadership Jesus was still crucified on the eve of Passover at the appointed time for the sacrifice of lambs. Was it just a coincidence or a divinely appointed time?

 

Updated December 15, 2022.

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This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.  

NKJV = New King James Version translation.
NET = NETBible translation

REFERENCES:

[1] NET.
[2] NET.
[3] Quotes from NET translation. Exodus 10[iv] Exodus 12.
[4] Mock, Robert. Destination Yisra’el. “The First Pesach in the Land of Egypt.” photo. 2017. <https://destination-yisrael.biblesearchers.com/destination-yisrael/2017/04/the-history-of-the-passover-in-the-days-of-the-nazarene.html&gt
[5] Benner, Jeff A. “Ancient Hebrew Livestock.” Ancient Hebrew Research Center. 2022. <https://www.ancient-hebrew.org/culture/ancient-hebrew-livestock.htm> Cownie, Emma. Emmafcpwnie.com. 2018. “Why cattle mattered in the Ancient World.” <https://emmafcownie.medium.com/why-cattle-mattered-in-the-ancient-world-4e27b1c37e58> “Cattle in the ancient world of the Bible” Women In The Bible. 2006. <https://womeninthebible.net/bible_daily_life/cattle_ancient_world/#:~:text=Cattle%20were%20an%20important%20status%20symbol.%20In%20biblical,as%20well%20as%20for%20ploughing%2C%20threshing%20and%20transport.> Broyles, Stephen. The Andreas Center. 2010. <https://www.andreascenter.org/Articles/Sheep%20and%20Goats.htm> “Sheep in History. Sheep101.info. 2021. <http://www.sheep101.info/history.html
[6] Exodus 13, 34.
[7] Exodus 12; Deuteronomy 16; Leviticus 23. “Abib” and “Nisan.”  Jewish Encyclopedia. 2011.