The night before Jesus was crucified He met with the disciples to prepare them for what was about to happen. When He gathered with them in the upper room, rather than defining the purpose of His death with an abstract theological discourse, Jesus explained the significance of His death by eating a meal – the Passover. Have you ever wondered why Jesus chose that feast as the time of His death? Jesus laid down His life – in a very real sense He chose what day to die. He could have selected the Day of Atonement later that fall, for example, but He didn’t. He chose the Passover. Why that day?
In this series we have been tracing the theme of Jesus as a divine warrior, waging war against the enemy of God’s people – Christus Victor. In the experience of Israel, there was one event above all that encapsulated the triumph of God over Israel’s enemies – the Exodus. As Moses celebrated it in song,
“I will sing to the Lord, for he has triumphed gloriously;
the horse and his rider he has thrown into the sea.
The Lord is my strength and my song,
and he has become my salvation;
this is my God, and I will praise him,
my father’s God, and I will exalt him.
The Lord is a man of war;
the Lord is his name” (Exodus 15:1-3).
Each year on the Passover Israel remembered God’s deliverance from the brutality of Egyptian slavery through the miracle of the Exodus. Jesus chose this time, this meal, because in some sense, His death was to accomplish a triumphant deliverance.
We are given a preview of what is to take place in the event known as the Transfiguration. All three synoptic gospels record this event, including the appearance of Moses and Elijah. But it is only Luke who explains what these representatives of the Law and the Prophets were discussing with Jesus. “And behold, two men were talking with him, Moses and Elijah, who appeared in glory and spoke of his departure, which he was about to accomplish at Jerusalem” (Luke 9:30-31). They spoke with Jesus concerning His “departure” – or in Greek – His exodos, His exodus, which He was about to accomplish. They understood that in His death and resurrection Jesus was going to achieve another mighty act of liberation.
As Jesus made His way toward Jerusalem for the Passover, Messianic expectations were at a fever pitch, as they often were during that festival. Luke 19:11 says that the disciples “supposed that the kingdom of God was to appear immediately.” The multitudes celebrated Jesus’ entrance into the city with these words: “Blessed is the King who comes in the name of the Lord!” (Luke 19:38). But what did the disciples and the multitudes mean by these Hosannas? They knew the Messiah was to come and liberate them from their enemy. But did they understand who that true enemy really was, and what genuine liberation would look like?
As Luke recounts that final week, the bright expectations gave way to darkness. Suddenly reemerging after his complete defeat in the temptation was the devil. “Then Satan entered into Judas called Iscariot” (Luke 22:3). Working through Judas as his accomplice, Satan set into motion the events that precipitated Jesus’ arrest. Later, Jesus warned Peter that Satan had his sights set on him. “Simon, Simon, behold, Satan demanded to have you, that he might sift you like wheat” (Luke 22:31). And in the gloom of the garden as the soldiers and chief priests came to arrest Him, Jesus saw a greater opponent lurking in the shadows. “This is your hour, and the power of darkness” (Luke 22:53). Jesus knew that the powers of darkness were about to unleash everything they had against Him to stop Him from His work of liberation.
On the surface they were successful. Jesus died a cruel, horrifying death. What about all the talk of the coming kingdom, liberation, and victory? Was Jesus wrong? Or, was Jesus in some strange and unforeseen way really winning a victory?
Let’s look at one other story in Luke. Two men who had been to Jerusalem during the Passover were on the way to Emmaus, when suddenly a stranger appeared to them, and asked them what they were talking about. Incredulous, they replied,
“Are you the only visitor to Jerusalem who does not know the things that have happened there in these days?” And he said to them, “What things?” And they said to him, “Concerning Jesus of Nazareth, a man who was a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people, and how our chief priests and rulers delivered him up to be condemned to death, and crucified him. But we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel” (Luke 24:18-21).
These men were disappointed because they thought Jesus was coming to redeem Israel but failed. In their interpretive grid, they could only see the Messiah as a conquering king, not as one who would suffer first in order to conquer. Notice Jesus’ response:
“O foolish ones, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into his glory?” And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself (Luke 24:25-27).
Jesus did indeed redeem Israel. But He did so not by breaking the military yoke of Rome, but by overcoming Israel’s true oppressor through stripping him of his greatest weapons, sin and death. Through His sinless life, His faithful death, and His glorious resurrection, Jesus shattered the bondage of sin and death. Paul put it like this: “He disarmed the rulers and authorities and put them to open shame, by triumphing over them in him” (Colossians 2:15). Or, as the writer of Hebrews beautifully explained, “Since therefore the children share in flesh and blood, he himself likewise partook of the same things, that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, and deliver all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery (Hebrews 2:14-15).
In the stories of Jesus’ exorcisms the Bible often comments that the demons cried out when they saw Him. Can you imagine how the forces of darkness must have screeched when they realized that what they saw as their greatest victory, killing the Lord’s Anointed, was in fact the very means by which they would be destroyed (1 Corinthians 2:8)? And what better day could Jesus have chosen to depict the deliverance of His people than the Passover?
Through Jesus you and I can be liberated from the evil one and be part of the kingdom of God (Colossians 1:13-14). We can share in the victory of Jesus as we are united in Him, His death and His resurrection (Romans 6:1-6). And as we face the fury of the evil one, whose power is irretrievably broken but not yet completely destroyed, we can be more than conquerors through God’s love (Romans 8:37-39) as we wait for our King to win the final victory (1 Corinthians 15:24-26).