During the Exodus from Egypt, God gave the following instructions for Passover:
Sundown begins a new day for the Jews and this new day would be the High Sabbath for the Feast of Unleavened Bread. This is in commemoration of the night the Jews left Egypt. They then traveled for seven more days until they came to the Red Sea. Then, there was another High Sabbath.
Keep in mind, that during this time, there are two High Sabbaths, but in addition, during that week, there would have been a weekly Sabbath. That makes a total of three Sabbaths during an eight day period. When you read the Bible about Jesus’ passion, it is important to determine which Sabbath the Gospel writers are referring about.
Now that we have the background and references for what the Jews are to do, let’s turn our attention to Jerusalem at the time of Christ.
On the tenth day of Nisan, the high priest would depart from the temple mount and leave behind him, priests of Israel standing shoulder to shoulder. They would have ten foot palm branches in their hands and would make a path for him all the way out the north city gate. After the high priest exited the city, he would walk outside the wall toward Bethlehem. His purpose was to select a Passover lamb for the high priest. The pathway, among the priests of Israel, would remain so that when the high priest returned, nothing would hinder his trip to the temple mount.
As high priest left the north gate, he would leave several priests at that gate with palm branches. Then a small entourage would travel with him to Bethlehem to select his Passover lamb. All of the Passover lambs for the high priest were raised in Bethlehem and groomed, waiting for the high priest to select the most perfect Passover lamb as the symbolic sacrifice for all Israel.
In the city of Jerusalem during the Passover, there were about 150,000 pilgrims who had come to celebrate. On the previous day they would have gone to the temple mount to wash and purify themselves for the festivities. Every year, they would be doing a rehearsal of when the Messiah would come, always with the idea that maybe this would be the year; they wanted to be ready. Those people, on their way into Jerusalem, would have cut down cedar boughs and palm branches. Those pilgrims would be staying in every available house or bedroom throughout the city in preparation for the Passover events.
The entire city would be jam packed with people, all of them with palm branches. They were waiting for moment the high priest returned with his Passover lamb. So that at the instant when he entered the gate, all the priests would begin shouting Hosanna in the highest. Blessed is He that comes in the name of the Lord. This was a signal for all of the residents in the city to shout Hosanna in the highest. Blessed is He that comes in the name of the Lord. When this happened there would be bedlam and riotous yelling in the streets of Jerusalem.
Jesus, on the ninth of Nisan stayed with his good friend, Lazarus, in Bethany that night. There he was anointed with spikenard in preparation for his burial. The next morning, the tenth day of Nisan, he instructed his twelve disciples to get all of the other disciples, which could probably have numbered over a hundred, and gather at the north gate of Jerusalem. Then Jesus sent some of his disciples to get a donkey and put their tunics on it for Him to ride.
On the tenth day of Nisan, Jesus entered the north gate riding the donkey. At that moment the high priest was returning from Bethlehem and was walking along the outside wall of Jerusalem. Jesus’ disciples begin shouting Hosanna in the highest, blessed is He that comes in the name of the Lord.
The other priests, who couldn’t see, but hearing the shouting by the gate, begin their uproar and waving their palm branches. The whole place was in tumult. The residents and pilgrims in the city, heard this shouting, grabbed their palm branches and moved toward the street leading to the temple mount. They also raised their voices in the cry, Hosanna in the highest, blessed is He that comes in the name of the Lord.
When the priests see that it is only Jesus instead of the high priest, they try to silence the crowd. They ask Jesus to tell everyone to shut-up. Jesus answers, if they keep quiet, the stones will cry out (Luke 19:40 NIV). Jesus continues on toward the temple mount and he passes the crowd and the people behind him continue shouting. There is nothing the priests could do to stop it. Jesus arrived at the temple. Over the next four days He continued His ministry of teaching and healing in the temple. He was there for everyone to inspect. He was the Messiah and would become the Passover lamb. During these four days, the Pharisees, Sadducees, Scribes, and experts of the law tried to find something wrong with Jesus. They failed.
Continuing that week, as the sun goes down on the thirteenth day of Nisan, it turns into the fourteenth day. The Jewish day begins at sundown, and it goes through the night, through the next day, and ends at sundown of the following day. After sundown when the Jewish fourteenth day began, that was the Day of Preparation. During that evening, Jesus reclined with his disciples around the Last Supper. Even though this was an evening (the fourteenth day), it is BEFORE Passover. For us, it is necessary to keep in mind that the Last Supper, the time in the Garden of Gethsemane, the arrest by temple guards, the trial before Pilate, the crucifixion, and being placed in the tomb, all took place on the Day of Preparation (sundown to sundown).
Keep in mind, this is NOT the Passover feast. How do we know this? During the Last Supper, Judas leaves and the others thought he went to buy something. Passover is a High Sabbath. You cannot buy anything, all preparations must be completed before hand. The Last Supper was on the fourteenth day of the month, the Day of Preparation. (Mark 15:42 and John 19:14 NIV)
Later that night, Jesus was arrested and taken to the house of Caiaphas. From there He was taken to the north wall of the temple mount where Pilate’s judgment hall was located. There the accusers brought Jesus, but they didn’t go in because they didn’t want to be defiled for the Passover, which was to be the next day. They wanted to eat the Passover, which has not yet happened. Their Passover lamb had not yet been killed.
Pilate examines Jesus, but Jesus is not very helpful. Then Pilate goes to the portico to face the accusers. He tells them this man has done nothing against Rome. But the people keep shouting their accusations. Pilate goes back to Jesus and says that he had the power to kill him. Jesus says, ‘You would have no power … if it were not give from above’.
Pilate walks out of the judgement hall, where his wife tells about her dream to have nothing to do with this innocent man. Pilate now sits in his judgement seat. Doing that is like a judge banging the hammer down. The next thing he says will become law, it is the verdict (John 19:13 NIV).
At this very moment, the high priest, who has been inspecting the Passover lamb for four days, utters the words that Pilate now speaks. ‘I find no fault in him’ (Luke 23:4 NIV compare Acts 13:3 NIV). But God is in control, and the accusers continue shouting that Jesus must be killed. Pilate relents for fear of a riot, and Jesus is led to Golgotha by Roman soldiers where he is crucified.
Every year, the high priest, in the late afternoon of the Day of Preparation and after he has sacrificed the Passover lamb, he would say, ‘I thirst’. The other priests would give him something to drink. On the cross, as the sun neared the western horizon, Jesus said, ‘I thirst’, and after they gave him something on a sponge, Jesus cried out, ‘It is finished’ and gave up his spirit. He died on the Day of Preparation, and was buried just before sundown. Remember that at the next sundown a new day would begin, which would be the actual Passover. Jesus had just become the Passover lamb who takes away the sin of the world.
Jesus’ blood had been shed, and anyone who accepts the sacrifice of God’s Passover lamb, will not perish but have eternal life (John 3:16).