Passover in Jerusalem was the place to be at the time of Jesus — kind of like Times Square on New Year’s Eve. Jerusalem was overflowing with pilgrims from across the Roman world as the Passover feast drew near.
The circumstances of this Passover
Jesus was making his mark in town and making the religious leaders uncomfortable. Talking about the coming destruction of the Temple really didn’t help matters either. The Gospels tell us that the religious leaders were seeking a way to put Jesus to death because they feared losing control of the people.
It was under these circumstances that the Gospel of Luke then tells us that one of the twelve apostles, Judas Iscariot, turned on Jesus. You’ve heard it said, “don’t be a Judas?” That expression came from this story, making the name synonymous with traitors. The Gospels say that Judas was driven by satanic influence and that he sought out the religious leaders in Jerusalem to cut a deal with them. He would disclose the whereabouts of Jesus and turn him over at an opportune time:
He went away and conferred with the chief priests and officers how he might betray him to them. And they were glad, and agreed to give him money. So he consented and sought an opportunity to betray him to them in the absence of a crowd. (Luke 22:4-6)
In the meantime, Passover in Jerusalem was nearly upon the people. It was the day of Unleavened Bread – the day on which the Passover lamb had to be prepared for sacrifice.
So Jesus sent Peter and John, saying, “Go and prepare the Passover for us, that we may eat it.” They said to him, “Where will you have us prepare it?” He said to them, “Behold, when you have entered the city, a man carrying a jar of water will meet you. Follow him into the house that he enters and tell the master of the house, ‘The Teacher says to you, Where is the guest room, where I may eat the Passover with my disciples?’ And he will show you a large upper room furnished; prepare it there.” And they went and found it just as he had told them, and they prepared the Passover. (Luke 22:8-13)
Passover in Jerusalem occurred each year in early spring. It was the main Jewish holiday, celebrating the time in the Exodus when God delivered the Israelites from slavery in Egypt. The Passover meal was eaten in remembrance of the Lord “passing over” the houses of those who had sacrificed a lamb and sprinkled its blood on their wooden doorposts and mantles, while the angel of death visited those who had not sprinkled the blood of the lamb. According to the Hebrew Scriptures, the angel of death was the final of ten plagues sent by God to save the Israelite people from Egyptian bondage.
The theme of the Jewish Passover is remembering the gift of salvation from slavery in Egypt. The Passover lamb was to be perfect, without flaw. The lamb was to have no bones broken when sacrificed. Those who were covered by the blood of the lamb were saved from the angel of death. Remember when John the Baptizer first saw Jesus coming toward him at the Jordan River? He declared, “Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1:29)
It turns out that Jesus’ role as the Lamb of God is central to the Gospel message. Many believe that Jesus was the fulfillment of centuries of Passovers that had been observed before him. For many scholars, the slaying of the Passover lamb in order for the death angel to “pass over” those who are “covered by the blood” is the prophetic picture of Jesus.