Passover Reversed and Fulfilled

The Passover Feast was a joyful celebration, recalling Israel’s deliverance from the oppression of Egypt. It was also a solemn event, in which the blood of the sacrificed lamb pictured the passing over of God’s judgment on the sins of his people. But it is almost as though both aspects get reversed in the events described in Matthew 27:1–10.

This Passover leads to bondage and death. The original Passover brought deliverance for God’s people. Matthew has been careful to place his account of Christ’s suffering and trial within the observance of the Passover feast, Matthew 26:2, 5, 17, 19; 27:15. The original Passover had obtained freedom for God’s people from the oppressive, murderous rule of the pagan Pharaoh. More importantly, the Passover was the great picture of redemption in the Old Testament. It became clear that the God of Israel was not the divine Pharaoh, but the Lord.

This Passover brought condemnation to the Messiah. Because the Sanhedrin had no authority to execute criminals (aside from Gentile trespassers into the Temple), they, who had condemned Jesus for blasphemy (because he acknowledged being the Messiah), now bring him before Pilate. Pilate is the representative of the Roman rule, with its confession, “Caesar is lord.” The leaders of Israel humbly submit to Pilate’s jurisdiction, asking his approval for a death penalty that they have reached for religious reasons (even though the case they present to the governor is somewhat different). Without realizing it, they are surrendering their authority, and handing it over to a pagan ruler. Since the death of the Messiah concludes the validity of the ceremonial system of the Old Testament, this act of surrender can be seen as the last “valid” official act of the body. The feast that celebrated freedom and deliverance has become the occasion for false accusations and the execution of a conspiracy to put to death the Messiah.

This Passover sacrifice accomplished far more than the original in Egypt. God is sovereignly working in and through even the sinful actions of men, see Acts 2:23. Despite their plans to avoid the feast as the time to murder Jesus, the Father will have his Son sacrificed as the Passover Lamb. Countless thousands of lambs had been sacrificed at this feast during the previous millennium and a half. But now the last sacrifice was to be made. Those offerings were pictures, anticipations. Here is the heavenly reality. This sacrifice would actually remove all of the guilt of all of the sins of every one of God’s people. This reversed Passover provides you with forgiveness. This Passover, seemingly marred by betrayal and murder, will actually set free the redeemed, not just from slavery, but from the death of sin. “The institution of Passover finds its roots in the Exodus narrative…. Remarkably, Jesus typologically identifies himself as the ultimate Passover lamb and the Lord who promised to liberate Israel from slavery (Mt. 26:26). In other words, Jesus is both the sacrificial lamb and Israel’s God in the flesh.” (G. K. Beale and Benjamin L. Gladd, The Story Retold: A Biblical-Theological Introduction to the New Testament, p. 64)

This Passover results in the Field of Blood. Remorse, without faith in Christ, is hopeless. The reversal of the Passover is further seen in the death of Judas. Judas felt deep remorse over what he had done, but that remorse never led him to trust in the Mediator. His sin was no worse than Peter’s but Peter’s tears were those of repentance. Instead of turning to the Messiah, Judas returns to the chief priests and elders, and receives no counsel, no way of forgiveness. They shrug his regret off as his responsibility. You can weigh the responsibility of the various parties: Judas, Peter, the Sanhedrin, Pilate, the soldiers. But the reason that the Lord was crucified was because of your sins and mine. Without trust in the Mediator there is no hope, and Judas hurls the coins into the Temple and turns to suicide. Conviction of sin, apart from knowledge of and trust in the Mediator, destroys hope. Matthew’s account pushes you to ask, when you sin, how do you seek to resolve it? Don’t despair! Turn to the Savior.

Trust the Savior whose life was valued at 30 pieces of silver. The coins in the Temple present a problem. Though it was not wrong to take them out of the treasure to arrange for the death of the innocent Son of God, now it is suddenly “blood money,” and cannot be allowed to contaminate the treasury or the hands of the high priests. So the potters field is purchased as a burial ground. The thirty pieces of silver become a profound insult to the Lord and his Anointed. The price of a field is the value of the Messiah. Matthew emphasizes that even this action was a fulfillment of prophecy (Zechariah may be cited under the name of a more important prophet whose book headed the volume, or he may be combining the reference to Zechariah 11 with Jeremiah 19:1–13 or 18:2–12; 32) “In the passion narrative of Matthew, as in that of Mark, the fulfillment of the divine will is fully disclosed by Jesus’ own references to the Scriptures…. [Matthew’s] affirmation of the Old Testament is not introduced for its own sake….[H]e is concerned to establish or confirm the belief that the history of Jesus, in its origin, purpose, unfolding and consummation, was to be understood as the action of God in fulfilling his own word to the prophets.” (Ned B. Stonehouse, The Witness of Matthew and Mark to Christ,pages 191–192) The price of the Messiah becomes a burial plot for strangers and foreigners. But the death of the Messiah means the breaking down of the barrier. Because he was betrayed, because he died as the Passover Lamb, you and I, once strangers, are welcome among the people of God. Like Judas, you can cry that your sins have betrayed innocent blood. But instead of focusing on that, instead of descending into despair, trust the sacrifice of the perfect Passover. Live in the true Exodus, as those who are united to your Savior by faith.

The actions of the priests and of Judas seem to reverse the Passover from celebrating freedom and picturing forgiveness. But the cynicism and despair of these men is, in turn, reversed by heaven, and this becomes the great Passover that draws you to God as his forgiven people in Christ Jesus.

About jwm

I serve as pastor of Trinity Presbyterian Church, Newberg, Oregon.
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