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Unlocking the Secrets of the Feasts
The Prophecies in the Feasts of Leviticus
By Michael Norten
Thomas NelsonCopyright © 2015 Michael Norten
All rights reserved.
The First of the Spring Feasts
The First Passover
Many Christians are familiar with the events of the first Passover, but we are confronted with some very intriguing facts when we study the particulars. When we read that God caused ten plagues to torment the Egyptians after the Pharaoh stubbornly refused to let the Jews leave Egypt, we are tempted to just absorb the story and move on to the next event. But God was doing much more to the Egyptians than just pressuring Pharaoh to release the Jews. He was teaching them about their many false gods and administering harsh judgment for their idolatry. As an example, when God turned the Nile to blood, He was attacking their worship of Khnum, their god of the river. Likewise, the plague of frogs that followed was an attack on Heqt, the frog-headed goddess of resurrection. She was the wife of Khnum. The other plagues also were attacks relating to other gods. Lice stopped the Egyptians' sacrifices because of cleanness issues, and swarms of flies were a sign against Beelzebub, prince of the air, because flies were always flying around his ears. Livestock suffered disease for punishment against Apis, the sacred bull, while boils were opposed to Imhotep, the god of medical cures. Hailstones showed the weakness of Nut, the sky goddess; locusts opposed Nepri, the grain god; darkness was an attack against Re, the sun god; and the death of the firstborn attacked all of the gods.
We read in Exodus 12:2–3: "This month shall be the beginning of months for you; it is to be the first month of the year to you. 'Speak to all the congregation of Israel, saying, "On the tenth of this month, they are each one to take a lamb for themselves, according to their fathers' households, a lamb for each household.'" The lamb was an attack on the Egyptian god Amon, the head of all their gods. He was presented in human form, but his animal was a ram. The month of the Passover was also in the month of Nisan, the month when the Egyptians celebrated the deity of Amon.
I wondered if there was also any significance to taking a lamb on the tenth day of the month for the household. I became more curious when I read further in the Exodus passage. It states in Exodus 12:6: "You shall keep it until the fourteenth day of the same month, then the whole assembly of the congregation of Israel is to kill it at twilight." Why the fourteenth day? I discovered two very interesting answers. One, each day that the lamb was in captivity was to remind them of one hundred years of captivity in Egypt for a total of four hundred years. Two, for four days the lamb would become a pet to the family, so when it was sacrificed, they would know the gravity of the penalty of their sins. It is also important to note that the fourteenth was the full moon, which the Egyptians considered the pinnacle of Amon's power. Sacrificing the lamb demonstrated that Amon had no power at all.
We read further in Exodus 12:7: "Moreover, they shall take some of the blood and put it on the two doorposts and on the lintel of the houses in which they eat it." Many of us have heard that if you were to connect the smears of blood on the doorway, it would form a cross. It is a legitimate observation, but it would seem if a smear of blood were also on the threshold, this would represent a more complete picture of the cross. However, when I stumbled upon Hebrews 10:29, it became clear to me why the blood of the lamb was not to be placed on the threshold. The author of Hebrews states, "How much severer punishment do you think he will deserve who has trampled under foot the Son of God, and has regarded as unclean the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified, and has insulted the Spirit of grace." While pondering this image, I surmised that there might be many more pictures that God had provided for us.
I visited with David Schiller, a teacher of the Torah at a messianic congregation, Eitz Chaim, in Richardson, Texas. He shared with me many fascinating things about the Passover lamb. He explained that there is historical evidence that the lamb was roasted upright on a pomegranate pole with a crossbar through its shoulders. This obviously would bring to mind the cross. The pomegranate pole was used, because as a dry wood it would not boil. Boiling was prohibited in preparing the lamb. Schiller mentioned another observation from tradition: the pomegranate is symbolic of royalty and the priesthood. Another notable point is that the entrails were tied around the head so everything could be roasted evenly without boiling. This resembles the crown of thorns. Other sources verified Schiller's descriptions. One very captivating article on this subject is "The Crucifixion of the Paschal Lamb," written by Joseph Tabory for Jewish Quarterly Review (see Bibliography for more information). Another good explanation of the parallels can be found in Alfred Edersheim's book The Temple: Its Ministry and Services (see chapter 12, "The Paschal Feast and the Lord's Supper").
We must remember that the feasts not only provide historical teachings and spiritual implications but also prophetic applications. When each Jewish family was choosing their lamb on the tenth day of Nisan for Passover, God was revealing His Lamb at the triumphant entry of Jesus, the fulfillment of Zechariah 9:9. Dr. Harold Hoehner, a professor of mine when I was at Dallas Theological Seminary, did extensive work on the dates and chronology of the life of Jesus Christ. Based on the most accurate historical evidences, he came to the conclusion that Jesus' triumphant entry was on the tenth day of Nisan, or March 30 AD 33. He wrote of his discoveries and analysis in the article "Daniel's Seventy Weeks and New Testament Chronology," which appeared on page 135 of the January-March 1975 edition of Bibliotheca Sacra (see Bibliography). Along with these observations, we must take note that on the fourteenth day, at the same hour the lamb was being sacrificed at the Temple, Jesus, the Lamb of God, was also being crucified on the cross. This is why the historical observation of the lamb sacrificed upright on a pole, as Christ was sacrificed upright on a cross, paints such a meaningful picture.
Let's take a closer look at the lamb. A number of years ago I heard Jimmy DeYoung, an outstanding news commentator and Bible teacher, make a presentation at a Bible prophecy conference. Since it was during the Christmas season, he was teaching about the birth of Jesus in the first chapter of Luke. He read to us Luke 2:8–12: "In the same region there were some shepherds staying out in the fields and keeping watch over their flock by night. And an angel of the Lord suddenly stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them; and they were terribly frightened. And the angel said to them, 'Do not be afraid; for behold, I bring you good news of a great joy which shall be for all the people; for today in the city of David there has been born for you a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. This will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in cloths, and lying in a manger.'"
Dr. DeYoung then asked the audience a surprising question: "Did you ever wonder why this was a sign?" This left us all speechless. I had to admit to myself that I had never even questioned it. Why was it a sign? Dr. DeYoung had us turn to the book of Micah. We were all familiar with Micah 5:2, which prophesied that the Messiah would be born in Bethlehem, but many of us were not familiar with Micah 4:8, which prophesied that He would be announced at the tower of the flock (Migdal Eder). Dr. DeYoung, who had lived in Jerusalem for a number of years, told us that Migdal Eder was a two-story tower that had been built in a pasture outside Bethlehem. The remains of the tower had recently been discovered.
Dr. DeYoung explained that the shepherds in the field had not all been the lowly shepherds that we had always assumed. They were actually priests from the temple who were doing shepherding work to assist in the birthing of the sacrificial lambs so that they would be unblemished for sacrifice. While the shepherds were keeping watch over the flock from the top floor of the tower, the shepherd-priests would bring the pregnant sheep in from the field to the tower's bottom floor, where the sheep would give birth. As soon as a lamb was born, the priests would wrap it with strips of cloths made from old priestly undergarments. This was done to keep the lamb from getting blemished. The priests would then place the lamb onto a manger to make sure it would not get trampled. Wow! So when these shepherd-priests went into Bethlehem and saw the baby Jesus wrapped in cloths, lying in a manger, they must have exclaimed, "There is the Lamb of God, prepared for sacrifice, unblemished!" They had to be excited beyond description, because they were the only ones who could have understood the sign. It was just for them from God. It was personal!
I presume that Jesus' swaddling cloths were from the same source as the lambs' cloths. Mary's cousin, Elizabeth, was married to the priest Zacharias. Elizabeth could have given her the cloths made from the priestly undergarments. It is highly probable that the first clothes that Jesus wore were the clothes of a priest. What a sign! I was so intrigued by this that I did some further research. These historical observations and parallels were confirmed by many messianic rabbis and the renowned historical writer Alfred Edersheim. I also sought out help from Bob Ibach, an experienced archaeologist, who had done some digs in Israel. He found the written account and pictures of the discovery of "the tower of the flock," Migdal Eder. This whole insight made the account of the announcement of Jesus' birth astounding and even more exciting!
More and more facts began to unfold in my research. I was talking further with David Schiller, my Jewish teacher and friend, about what I had learned about the shepherds and the lambs. He amazed me with some more historical insights. He explained that each Jewish family would put the family name around the neck of their lamb that they took to the Temple to be sacrificed. They did this to make sure they received their own lamb back for the Passover dinner. I wondered if there was any significance to this piece of trivia. As I was contemplating this, Schiller pointed out to me a particular object found in most of the paintings of Christ on the cross. There was a small sign at the top of the cross that looked like four letters: "INRI." I discovered that this was an abbreviation of the sign that Pontius Pilot placed on the cross as seen in John 19:19: "Pilate also wrote an inscription, and put it on the cross. It was written, 'JESUS THE NAZARENE, THE KING OF THE JEWS.'" I learned that the letters were the first letters of each of the nouns in the inscription in Latin. I contacted my daughter Ruth, who is very good with Latin, and asked her to show me the inscription in the Latin Vulgate. That confirmed it: "Iesus Nazarenus Rex Iudaeorum" (INRI).
Then Schiller opened my eyes to an incredible observation. Since the inscription had been in three languages—Latin, Greek, and Hebrew—he transliterated it for me from Hebrew to English. I saw before me these words: "Y'Shua HaNatzri VMelech HaYehudim." I was absolutely stunned when I took the first letters of each of these words. It spelled "YHVH," the Tetragrammaton form of the name of God! YHVH and YHWH can be used interchangeably. When this technique of abbreviating is used, the title on the cross in the actual Hebraic script undeniably reveals the name of God. In English, the name is pronounced "Yahweh!" Just like the Jews put their family name on their lamb for sacrifice at the Temple, God put His name on His Lamb for His family, which includes you and me! God gave us so many pictures in order that we could understand the magnitude of His loving grace!
The Passover Dinner
Now we look at the Passover dinner. Exodus 12:8 says: "They shall eat the flesh that same night, roasted with fire, and they shall eat it with unleavened bread and bitter herbs." I learned that the Passover dinners varied slightly from household to household and from different generations, but the main picture and the order of the feast were the same. I consulted the messianic Hagaddah, which gives the order of the Seder and the meaning of each tradition of the feast. Some aspects of the feast captured my curiosity. The most interesting was the four different cups of wine and their meaning as a part of the Jewish tradition. The four cups were to remind everyone of the four promises in Exodus 6:6–7: "Say, therefore, to the sons of Israel, 'I am the Lord, and I will bring you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians, and I will deliver you from their bondage. I will also redeem you with an outstretched arm and with great judgments. Then I will take you for My people, and I will be your God; and you shall know that I am the Lord your God, who brought you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians.'"
I discovered that each cup had its own name in order to designate its significance in the remembrance of the respective key phrases in the aforementioned promises from Exodus. I also became aware that the names of the cups varied somewhat among different rabbis. I will refer to the names that seem most commonly used. The promise that each cup signifies is the most important aspect. The first cup that is taken at the beginning of the observance is often called the "Cup of Blessing or Sanctification." It refers to the phrase "I will bring you out." God promises to separate them from Egypt, which also pictures sanctification in being separated from our sin. Just before the meal the second cup is taken, which is called by some the "Cup of Praise," giving praise to God for His promise, "I will deliver you from bondage." After the meal all participants partake of the third cup, which is called "Cup of Redemption." At the Last Supper, Jesus referred to this third cup in Matthew 26:28: "For this is My blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for forgiveness of sins." This is the cup that we as Christians partake of at communion. We have been partaking of the third cup!
The fourth cup taken at the end of the observance is commonly called the "Cup of the Kingdom." I noticed that Jesus made a change in the Seder, which He observed as the Last Supper. He apparently refrained from drinking from the fourth cup. We read in Matthew 26:29: "But I say to you, I will not drink of this fruit of the vine from now on until that day when I drink it new with you in My Father's kingdom."
It became obvious that Jesus did not want to drink of the fourth cup because everything He did was to fulfill prophecy. Since the kingdom was not yet to be established, He skipped that cup, sang a hymn, and left. I discussed this in correspondence with messianic rabbi Michael Short of Phoenix, Arizona. He confirmed that this observation was accurate, but he said there was another reason that Jesus did not drink of the fourth cup. Hearing what that reason was absolutely astounded me! Rabbi Short revealed that it had to do with the Jewish wedding tradition. When a Jewish lad would propose marriage to a prospective bride, he would offer her a cup of wine. If she drank it, she was accepting the betrothal. He would then inform her that he was to go to his father's house to prepare a place for her. She would typically respond, "When are you coming back?" The prospective groom would reply by saying, "Only my father knows!"
Have you heard this dialogue before? Jesus and His disciples had this very same discussion the night of the Last Supper. After the disciples drank of the third cup, which was symbolically the "Cup of Betrothal," Jesus told them that He was going to His Father's house to prepare a place for them. He said, "I go to prepare a place for you. If I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again, and receive you to Myself; that where I am, there you may be also" (John 14:2–3). Jesus was obviously talking to His future bride, the Church. When the place or chamber that the bridegroom spent time preparing was complete, his father would tell him that it was time for him to retrieve his bride. The bride and groom would then celebrate their togetherness at the father's house for seven days. After the seven days, the bride and groom would come out of the chamber to observe a wedding feast in their honor. The bride and groom would start the feast by drinking together a cup of wine that was called the "Cup of Consummation." This cup, according to Rabbi Short, is the same as the fourth cup of the Seder's "Cup of the Kingdom"!
When Christians take the Cup of Redemption in the communion service, we are actually accepting our betrothal to the Lord. Eventually, in the Kingdom, we will drink the "Cup of Consummation" with our Lord at the Marriage Feast of the Lamb. That will be the fourth cup, the Kingdom Cup of the Last Supper. In reality, the Last Supper was unfinished. So after a long break, it will resume again with all believers present in the kingdom to complete it. If Leonardo da Vinci wants to repaint the Last Supper in its completed form, he will have to come up with a mighty big canvas.
Now let us look at the bread that is referred to in the Seder. It is called matzah. If you purchase matzah bread at a store, it looks a lot like a large saltine cracker. It actually is bread that has no leaven in it, which gives it the flat, cracker-like appearance. The matzah bread is baked in such a way that it is pierced with tiny holes in rows, resulting in a striped appearance with brown spots resembling bruises. Today, since the temple is no longer in existence for sacrificing the lamb, the rabbis have ruled that the matzah bread could suffice for the lamb. This fact ties in beautifully with Isaiah 53:5: "But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities; the chastisement for our peace was upon Him; and by His stripes we are healed" (NKJV; emphasis mine).
Excerpted from Unlocking the Secrets of the Feasts by Michael Norten. Copyright © 2015 Michael Norten. Excerpted by permission of Thomas Nelson.
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