Overview: The spring feasts

The first feasts all occur within roughly one week. Nowadays, these three feasts often only carry one name together: Pesach. However, the Tanakh (תַּנַ”ךְ‎, Old Testament) distinguishes them quite clearly.

  • Passover (פֶּסַח, Pesach), on the 14th of the month Nisan: Lev. 23:4-5; Deut. 16:1-8
  • Unleavened Bread (חג המצות, Hag haMatza), from the 15th-21st of Nisan: Lev. 23:6-9; Deut. 16:9-12
  • Firstfruits (ביכורים, Bikkurim): Lev. 23:10-14; Deut. 26:1-4

These spring feasts are preceded by two special days:

  • The first of Nisan, which marks the beginning of the year in the biblical/religious calendar (Ex. 12:1-2).
  • The 10th of Nisan, when the people would go get a Pesach lamb to keep it in their house with their family until the 14th, i.e. until they would be attached to their lamb (cf. wording in Ex. 12:3-6). The reason for this is that the people would feel like a member of their own family – their lamb – had to die in the place of their firstborn sons.

The first of Nissan: the beginning of the year

The first day of the first month (Nisan) was special since a number of important events happened on that day: First, the tabernacle (מִשְׁכַּן‎‎, mishkan) was set up for the first time and the presence of God (שכינה‎‎, sh’khinah) filled it.

The Lord spoke to Moses, saying: “On the first day of the first month you shall erect the tabernacle of the tent of meeting. […] Then you shall bring Aaron and his sons to the entrance of the tent of meeting and shall wash them with water and put on Aaron the holy garments. And you shall anoint him and consecrate him, that he may serve me as priest. You shall bring his sons also and put coats on them, and anoint them, as you anointed their father, that they may serve me as priests. And their anointing shall admit them to a perpetual priesthood throughout their generations.”
In the first month in the second year, on the first day of the month, the tabernacle was erected. […] Then the cloud covered the tent of meeting, and the glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle. And Moses was not able to enter the tent of meeting because the cloud settled on it, and the glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle.
Exodus 40:1-2, 12-15, 17, 34-35

Not only were the tabernacle and the priests consecrated on this day, but also the tenple and the priesthood were restored by king Hezekiah (יחזקיהו, Yekhezkiahu) on the same day, after a long time of idolatry in the kingdom of Judah (2 Chronicles 29:1-36).

This restoration of God’s actions among his people and of the priesthood continues to play out on the first of Nisan. Ezra began his trip to return to Israel from Babylon with the priesthood after 70 years of exile. Their goal was to rebuild the temple and restore Israel (Ezra 7:9). This theme of restoration of the people of God and of mankind starts much earlier, however, as Noah removed the covering of the ark to see dry ground, land on which mankind could live (Genesis 8:13). Similarly, Yeshua started his trip to Jerusalem around that time to restore us, his people, as a holy priesthood, forever.

    Summary: Yeshua’s death and resurrection

    Is it possible that Yeshua was born on the 1st of Nisan? We do not know for sure, although he was most probably born in spring. Nevertheless, it would seem fitting: The new beginning of the year announcing the one bringing a new covenant to renew what was broken.
    What we do know, however, is that Yeshua entered Jerusalem four days before Pesach, on a day Christianity calls Palm Sunday. Jerusalem, God says, is his home (e.g. Isa. 2:3). So on the 10th of Nisan, while everyone was taking their lamb to live in their homes with their children, God took his son, the lamb of God (e.g. see John the Baptist’s exclamation; John 1:29), into his city, his home: Jerusalem.
    Then, Yeshua died on Pesach. While the lambs were brought to the temple for the Pesach sacrifice, Yeshua was taken to the cross. And three days later, we celebrate the first fruits (ביכורים, Bikkurim) of the New Covenant, Yeshua’s resurrection. Finally, these events occurred during the week of unleavened bread (חג המצות, Hag haMatza). As leaven or yeast symbolises sin (1 Cor. 5:6-8), this week without it is a week of purification.

    Additional resources