The Passover death of Jesus provides a problem for believers in the Bible, but one that has a satisfactory answer. In crucifixion, the victim’s arms are stretched and tied or nailed to the crossbeam, called the patibulum. This puts enormous pressure on the diaphragm and labors breathing. Relief comes from standing on your toes, which is hard to endure under normal circumstances, but increased when your feet are spiked to the main pole, the stipes. Eventually, the victim collapses and the difficult breathing resumes. It’s a slow death by exhaustion that typically took a few days, sometimes a week, to claim the life of its victim.
Jesus Christ Is Our Passover
Jesus was crucified on the Passover (Matthew 26:2; Mark 14:1-2; John 18:28). This is not at all incidental. Jesus is our once and for all Passover sacrifice by dying on the cross (First Corinthians 5:7). Every Passover lamb offered, since Exodus 12 onward, typified the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross. The first Passover was on the occasion of the final Egyptian plague. The Angel of Death covered the land and took the life of every firstborn child. It gave exception if the doorposts of the house were painted with the blood of a perfect lamb, which was to be eaten indoors. When the Angel of Death saw the blood, it moved over the house and left all inside unharmed. Death passed over those with the lamb’s blood on their houses. Likewise, spiritual death that is the result of sin passes us over when we are covered by the blood of the Lamb of God.
Jesus being crucified on the Passover was intentional and deliberately done by God, but it was also the Jewish Preparation Day, as well (Matthew 27:62; Mark 15:42; Luke 23:54; John 19:14). This was the day before the Sabbath, which meant all final preparations for the Sabbath day had to be finished before sunset of that day when the Sabbath began. As an accommodation to the Jews, the Romans would break the legs of anyone still on a cross late in the afternoon on any given Preparation Day. That way the victim would die much sooner and could be buried before sunset and not on the Sabbath. The thieves crucified alongside Jesus had their legs broken, but when the soldiers came to Jesus, they noticed that He was already dead (John 19:33). According to Scripture, he died during the ninth hour (Matthew 27:45; Mark 15:33; Luke 23:44), which would be 3:00 PM our time.
The Hour Of His Death
To make sure Jesus was dead, a soldier ran a spear through His side. That his bones would not be broken and his side being pierced were not happenstance, but clearly were part of God’s plan. The proof is that they were both prophesied. The full event reads from John’s account thusly: “Therefore, because it was the Preparation Day, that the bodies should not remain on the cross on the Sabbath (for that Sabbath was a high day), the Jews asked Pilate that their legs might be broken, and that they might be taken away. Then the soldiers came and broke the legs of the first and of the other who was crucified with Him. But when they came to Jesus and saw that He was already dead, they did not break His legs. But one of the soldiers pierced His side with a spear, and immediately blood and water came out. And he who has seen has testified, and his testimony is true, and he knows that he is telling the truth, so that you may believe. For these things were done that the Scripture should be fulfilled, ‘Not one of His bones shall be broken.’ And again another Scripture says, ‘They shall look on Him whom they pierced.’” (John 19:31-37). The first prophecy comes from Psalm 34:20 and harkened back to the premise that none of the Passover lambs should ever have their bones broken (Exodus 12:46; Numbers 9:12). The second prophecy comes from Zechariah 12:10.
All of these details help give the answer to a difficult question. By now it’s undeniable that Jesus by necessity must have been nailed to the cross on the Passover. By this same necessity He must have died on the cross on the same Passover. But how can Jesus be nailed to the cross on the Passover and die on the cross on the same Passover when it took several days for crucifixion to claim the life of its victim? The answer is that while Jesus died on the cross, He voluntarily laid down His life, even choosing the exact moment when it would have happened. The narrative in John even points this out. It says about His moment of death that He bowed his head and gave up His spirit (John 19:30). Upon closer examination, that is backwards from how it should occur. Normally one would expire and then slump. But Jesus did it the other way around, and He did this to show that His death was voluntary, even selecting the moment He would die for sins.
The significance of these two prophecies demonstrate the voluntary nature of Jesus’s death. The reason all of the Passover lambs were to have no broken bones is because they prefigured how Jesus would not need His bones broken because He would have already been dead based on laying down His life. Also, it was because He was already dead that the soldier speared His side. From this would flowed blood and water. While the crucifixion is a bloody mess, in a purely technical sense blood flowing from scourging and such is not a case of shedding blood, but from this spearstrike blood was indeed shed. And remember that without the shedding of blood there is no remission of sins (Hebrews 9:22). This soldier’s spear is not incidental, but indispensable for salvation. That’s because it proves that Jesus was already dead, and from laying down His life.
When I speak of the voluntary nature of Jesus’s death, I mean more than He was willing to die, but that He selected the exact moment when He would die – when He would lower His head and then give up the spirit. Jesus mentions this in His ministry. As the Good Shepherd, Jesus lays down His life for His sheep. He says in John, “As the Father knows Me, even so I know the Father; and I lay down My life for the sheep. And other sheep I have which are not of this fold. Them also I must bring, and they will hear My voice, and there will be one flock and one shepherd. Therefore My Father loves Me, because I lay down My life that I may take it again. No one takes it from Me, but I lay it down of Myself. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it again. This command I have received from My Father” (John 10:15-18). The Resurrection proves that Jesus laid down His life on the cross just as He said He would.
Based On Sinless Perfection
Jesus Christ was sinless even though He was tempted. This last part is important because infants are sinless, but they do not face temptation. Because of a lack of an exercise of their senses, they are not yet able to discern good and evil. They have yet to reach an age when they would be accountable. All infants, regardless how cute they are as babies, when they come of age will chose to serve sin due to a plague of weakness that hampers all of humanity. The single exception of course is the sinless Messiah, our Lord Jesus Christ.
The wages of sin is death, and while this is principally spiritual, there is also a physical component to it (Romans 5:12). That is why sinless infants can die. Because of universal sin, there was also a universal fear of death. But Jesus became a man so that He could live sinlessly so that death would have no claim over Him. Thus, by choosing to die, He could reclaim His life again in resurrection. Jesus conquered sin and death on His part so that He can do the same on our part (Hebrews 2:14-15).
Because Jesus was sinless, the devil had no clam over Him (John 14:30), which means He is not subject to death in the same sense of other mortal humans. Jesus had an appointed hour to die, that is, to lay down His life. There were occasions when a mob wanted to take Him, but were not able to because His hour had not yet come (John 7:30, 8:20). One occasion, Jesus preaches in His home town of Nazareth, but is rejected. Luke records, “So all those in the synagogue, when they heard these things, were filled with wrath, and rose up and thrust Him out of the city. And they led Him to the brow of the hill on which their city was built, that they might throw Him down over the cliff. Then passing through the midst of them, He went His way” (Luke 4:28-30).
As His life and ministry neared its end, Jesus prepared to come to Jerusalem particularly to die on the cross on the Passover day. His dedication to the focus of his time on earth is seen in how from that point on, “He steadfastly set His face to go to Jerusalem” (Luke 9:51). Near the end Jesus is journeying toward Jerusalem, preaching and healing as He went. A group of Pharisees warned Him to turn around because Herod wanted to kill Him. Jesus says The Prophet cannot die outside of Jerusalem (Luke 13:33). That’s because Jesus not only had an hour given to lay down His life and die, but a place of execution, as well. The hour of His voluntary death was as indelibly written as was His subsequent resurrection. That’s why Peter said on Pentecost that it was impossible for Jesus to stay dead (Acts 2:24).
Not only was it needful for Jesus to be crucified on the Passover, but it was also necessary for it to be on the Preparation Day. It proves Jesus died on the cross the same day He was put up on it, even though this sort of death took days. this indicates that Jesus chose the moment of His death and voluntarily laid down His life so that He could take it back again. This verifies that Jesus is sinless, and that the devil had nothing on Him. That is why Paul could argue that the resurrection of Jesus Christ proves that He is the Son of God (Romans 1:4).