Jesus enters Jerusalem on Palm Sunday

The prophetic pattern of the Old Testament

What is this “giving witness of Jesus” that inspires the spirit of prophecy? Why is this mentioned in the context of a wedding, “the marriage supper of the Lamb,” and why does the angel say that those are the true words of God? The angel says that John “and his comrades” hold the testimony of Jesus. Naturally those giving the witness are also inspired to prophesy. That was the first declaration of the Church through Peter: “You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God!” found in Matthew 16, 16.

Revelation 19, 9-10 — And the angel said to me, ‘Write this: Blessed are those who are invited to the marriage supper of the Lamb.’ And he said to me, ‘These are true words of God.’ Then I fell down at his feet to worship him, but he said to me, ‘You must not do that! I am a fellow-servant with you and your comrades who hold the testimony of Jesus. Worship God! For the giving witness of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy.’

The greatest witness of Jesus is given by the Mosaic Law. The Old Testament points at the Messiah and his redemptive mission mainly in parables or prophetic types. The writer of the Letter to the Hebrews declares that the old commandments and liturgies of the Law were a prophetic representation of something that was yet to come. When we give witness of Jesus we unveil the realities that the Old Testament represents, showing how Jesus came to fulfill the Law, and how the Law itself — every letter of it — shows that he is the Christ.

Hebrews 10, 1-2 — Since the law has only a shadow of the good things to come and not the true form of these realities, it can never, by the same sacrifices that are continually offered year after year, make perfect those who approach. Otherwise, would they not have ceased being offered, since the worshippers, cleansed once for all, would no longer have any consciousness of sin?

Matthew 5, 17-18 — ‘Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets; I have come not to abolish but to fulfill. For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth pass away, not one letter, not one stroke of a letter, will pass from the law until all is accomplished.

Moses is a prophetic type of Jesus. He showed us in a small scale how the Christ will come one day to liberate mankind from the slavery to sin. Moses liberated the people of Israel and gave them the Law. In the same manner the Christ came to liberate us from sin and give us the “law in our hearts” that is the gift of the Holy Spirit. Notice a simple pattern here: Moses gave the Law to Israel in the first Shavu’ot, fifty days after the first Pesach or Passover. Christ gave the Holy Spirit to the Church fifty days after Calvary in the first Pentecost. The first is the prophetic model of the other.

Right after the Flood when Noah offered a first sacrifice, God promised him that the seasons will continue for as long as the earth lasts.

Genesis 8, 21-22 — The Lord smelled the soothing aroma; and the Lord said to Himself, “I will never again curse the ground on account of man, for the intent of man’s heart is evil from his youth; and I will never again destroy every living thing, as I have done. “While the earth remains, Seedtime and harvest, And cold and heat, And summer and winter, And day and night Shall not cease.”

Those are of course the natural seasons but Genesis mentions other seasons also.

Genesis 1, 14-19 — And God said, ‘Let there be lights in the dome of the sky to separate the day from the night; and let them be for signs [“sacred convocations” מִקְרָא , miqra, pron. mik-raw’][1] and for seasons [ “divine appointments” מוֹעֵד , moed, pron. mo-ade’][2] and for days and years, and let them be lights in the dome of the sky to give light upon the earth.” And it was so. God made the two great lights—the greater light to rule the day and the lesser light to rule the night—and the stars. God set them in the dome of the sky to give light upon the earth, to rule over the day and over the night, and to separate the light from the darkness. And God saw that it was good. And there was evening and there was morning, the fourth day.

In the standard translations of the Old Testament the phrase “for signs and seasons” conveys merely the astronomical sense of the phrase. That is why many who read the text with a critical attitude, may believe that Genesis was written by some ancient simpleton who made up a story about God making the Sun and the Moon as a sort of useful calendar in the sky. When we investigate the meaning of these two words however, they reveal a much richer significance.

“Let there be lights in the dome of the sky to separate the day from the night; and let them be for sacred convocations and for divine appointments and for days and years,   and let them be lights in the dome of the sky to give light upon the earth.”

Reading that verse of Genesis in this way, is much closer to the original meaning. Here God is obviously suggesting that he has a timetable for mankind besides the routine succession of the natural seasons. He has plans that will be fulfilled at their appointed times. The sacred convocations are the annual celebrations of the liturgy that also follow the rhythm of the seasons.

The convocations of spring season:

  • Pesach, the Passover on the 14th day of the month of Nisan
  • then fifty days of Chag Ha’Matzot the Feast of the Unleavened Bread
  • then the celebration of the reception of the Law, the Shavu’ot, at Pentecost

followed by the convocations of the fall season:

  • Rosh HaShanah, the “head of the year” on the 1st day of the holy month of Tishrei
  • Yom Kippur, the “day of atonement” on the 10th day of Tishrei
  • Sukkot, or the “feast of tabernacles” celebrated from the 15th to the 22nd day of Tishrei

and later, during the winter season:

  • Hanukkah, the festival of lights celebrating the Dedication of the Temple for eight days starting on the 25th day of the month of Kislev.

John 10, 22 — At that time the Festival of the Dedication took place in Jerusalem. It was winter, and Jesus was walking in the temple, in the portico of Solomon.

fbThe celebration of Passover and the Lamb of God

We do not know the exact date of the birth of Jesus but we have a few very strong clues from Scripture.

Luke 2: 8-14 — 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. But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid; for behold, I bring you good news of great joy which will 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.” And suddenly there appeared with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among men with whom He is pleased.”

If it was lambing season that would be enough reason for shepherds to be out in the field at night. Lambing season occurs early in the spring.[3] Lambs are born when pastures are plentiful so that the can feed properly and grow strong. Another reason to support the birth of Jesus in the spring is the Roman census. For that particular census all the able bodied men had to travel to their city of birth. It is highly unlikely that the authorities would have sent the population traveling long distances in the dead of winter. So most likely the Lamb of God was born during the lambing season. But there’s more! In the Old Testament, Moses received precise instructions as to how to pick a lamb and when to sacrifice it.

Exodus 12, 3-5 — Speak to all the congregation of Israel, instructing them that in the tenth day of this month [Nisan] they shall take to them every man a lamb, according to the house of their fathers, a lamb for an house […] Your lamb shall be without blemish, a male of the first year: you shall take it out from the sheep, or from the goats.

The idea was to have a lamb about one year old, born on the previous spring. About the time of Jesus’ death on the Cross, there was an appointed hour to kill the lambs for the Passover supper. The appointed time was the 13th day of Nisan, when all the men who were going to celebrate the Passover in Jerusalem, gathered in the Temple at three in the afternoon to slaughter all the lambs at the same time. Jesus died at that exact hour.

The Lamb of God was born when lambs are born and died at the time when lambs are slaughtered. During the sacred convocation of Pesach, God kept his divine appointment, determined from times immemorial to save mankind from sin.[4]

Chag Ha’Matzot, the unleavened bread offer

John 20, 1; 11- 18 — Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene came to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the tomb. […] But Mary [Magdalene] stood weeping outside the tomb. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb; and she saw two angels in white, sitting where the body of Jesus had been lying, one at the head and the other at the feet. They said to her, ‘Woman, why are you weeping?’ She said to them, ‘They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him.’ When she had said this, she turned round and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not know that it was Jesus. Jesus said to her, ‘Woman, why are you weeping? For whom are you looking?’ Supposing him to be the gardener, she said to him, ‘Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.’ Jesus said to her, ‘Mary!’ She turned and said to him in Hebrew, ‘Rabbouni!’ (which means Teacher). Jesus said to her, ‘Do not hold on to me, because I have not yet ascended to the Father. But go to my brothers and say to them, “I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.”’ Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples, ‘I have seen the Lord’; and she told them that he had said these things to her.

The Magdalene finds Jesus in the Garden

St John reveals a few important points here. First, it was early Sunday morning when Mary Magdalene goes to the tomb. There she finds Jesus but “supposing him to be the gardener” she is not allowed to recognize him until she hears her own name in the familiar voice of her teacher. “When he has brought out all who are his own, he goes on ahead of them, and his sheep follow him because they know his voice.” (John 10, 4) Later on we will see why Jesus conceals his identity for a little while. That delay in allowing others to recognize him, is fraught with meaning.

The great clue in this passage is hidden in the words of Jesus “Do not hold on to me, because I have not yet ascended to the Father.” He is in fact waiting for the hour when the priest offers the firstfruits of the barley harvest. That offer must remain untouched by any other until the priest offers it to God at the appointed hour on the first day after a Sabbath. Christ is waiting for the right hour to ascend untouched since the first light of the day, to the Father. Once again the prophetic model of the Mosaic Law meets the long awaited reality in the New Testament.

1 Corinthians 15, 20-28 — But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have died. For since death came through a human being, the resurrection of the dead has also come through a human being; for as all die in Adam, so all will be made alive in Christ. But each in his own order: Christ the firstfruits, then at his coming those who belong to Christ. Then comes the end, when he hands over the kingdom to God the Father, after he has destroyed every ruler and every authority and power. For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. The last enemy to be destroyed is death.

Leviticus 23:10-11 — Speak to the people of Israel and say to them: When you enter the land that I am giving you and you reap its harvest, you shall bring the sheaf of the firstfruits of your harvest to the priest. He shall raise the sheaf before the Lord, so that you may find acceptance; on the day after the sabbath the priest shall raise it.


The firstfruits of Pentecost, the Shavu’ot

Shavu’ot is the day when all the Jewish nation remembers the divine gift of the Torah, the Mosaic Law. That day on 33 a.D. all the Christians were gathered at the Cenacle in Jerusalem. This is the same Cenacle where Jesus and his disciples celebrated the Passover, the evening of Holy Thursday. One more time the divine appointment meets the sacred convocation, the Holy Spirit descends on the Church at the exact time when the Priests make the wheat offering at the Temple, early in the morning.

Acts 2, 1-4 — When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability. […] But Peter, standing with the eleven, raised his voice and addressed them: ‘Men of Judea and all who live in Jerusalem, let this be known to you, and listen to what I say. Indeed, these are not drunk, as you suppose, for it is only nine o’clock in the morning.

St Paul later teaches that this is, so to speak, a shadow of a shadow. Because the gift of the Holy Spirit is only the firstfruits of a greater reality that we are waiting to receive one day.

Romans 8, 22-24 — We know that the whole creation has been groaning in labor pains until now; and not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly while we wait for adoption, the redemption of our bodies.

— Note: I have split this article in two, to make it a bit easier to read —

Continued in You know neither the day nor the hour. 6

[1] a. convocation, sacred assembly Isaiah 1:13 (after קְרֹא), Isaiah 4:5; usually explicitly קֹדֶשׁ ׳מ, technical term in P for religious gathering on Sabbath and certain sacred days, Exodus 12:16 (twice in verse) + 14 t. Leviticus 23; Numbers 28:1; Numbers 29, + (plural) Leviticus 23:2,4,37. b. (verbal noun, as Aramaic Infinitive, Ges§ 45e, compare 115 d) convoking, הָעֵדָה ׳מ Numbers 10:2 reading Nehemiah 8:8. Brown-Driver-Briggs Hebrew and English Lexicon, Unabridged, Electronic Database.

[2] a. appointed time: in General with prefix לְ, at an or the appointed time Genesis 18:14; Exodus 13:10 (J), Exodus 23:15; Exodus 34:18; Joshua 8:14 (all J E), Genesis 17:21; Genesis 21:2 (P), 1 Samuel 9:24; 1 Samuel 13:8 (after אשׁר insert either אָמַר ᵐ5 ᵑ7 or שָׂם Dr), 1 Samuel 13:11; 2 Kings 4:16,17; Habakkuk 2:3; Daniel 8:19; Daniel 11:27,29,35; דוד ׳למ at he time appointed with David 1 Samuel 20:35 (Thes SS place appointed); with prefix בְּ Hosea 2:11; Leviticus 23:4; Numbers 9:2,3,7,13; Numbers 28:2 (P); with מִן 2 Samuel 20:5; מ׳עַד עֵת 2 Samuel 24:15 unto the time appointed (but dubious, see Dr); with verbs ׳בא מ Psalm 102:14; ׳לקח מ Psalm 75:3; ׳שׂים מ Exodus 9:5 (J); ׳העביר המ Jeremiah 46:17; the stork ׳ידעה מ Jeremiah 8:7 knows her appointed time; צאתך ׳מ Deuteronomy 16:6 time of thy going forth (from Egypt). Strong’s Concordance §4150. NAS Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible with Hebrew-Aramaic and Greek Dictionaries. Publ. by The Lockman Foundation

[3] Please see the article Tidings of Great Joy in this same blog.

[4] For more detailed information on the astronomical and historical events surrounding the death of Christ on Calvary please see Rick Larson’s excellent documentary The Star of Bethlehem.