New Year’s Day is obviously an important day in our annual calendar. Since our calendar was not in use in Roman times, when did the first day of the year occur in Israel when Jesus lived there?
In Exodus 12, Moses was told by God that the month in which the Passover occurred would be the first month of the year. It was a religious calendar and further events in it are described in Leviticus 23. Passover usually occurred in March or April (those Jewish years only had 360 days, which means that their dates will always be different from our yearly calendar of 365 or 366 days). Jesus would have followed this religious calendar because he based his life on God’s commandments.
So we can imagine Jesus on each New Year’s Day as an adult beginning to prepare to travel to Jerusalem to worship God at the temple during the Passover festival. The Passover lamb was chosen on the tenth day of the month, and he would wish to be there for that occasion. It might take him a week or more to walk from Nazareth to Jerusalem. (The day that Jesus rode into Jerusalem on a donkey, which we call Palm Sunday, was the tenth day of the month and it is not difficult for us to see that Jesus was offering himself as the perfect Lamb who would bring about the salvation the crowds were singing about.)
The actual Passover began on the evening of 14th Nisan (Jewish days began with the evening and lasted until the following evening). On that evening in the year in which he died, Jesus met with his disciples in the upper room, later he was arrested, and when morning came he was tried by Pilate and condemned to death. Mark tells us that Jesus was crucified at nine in the morning, which was fifteen hours after the first day of Passover week had begun. The unusual darkness that occurred that day began at noon and lasted until three in the afternoon. During those hours, Jesus endured the wrath of God against our sins. Shortly after three in the afternoon, he dismissed his spirit.
Three days later Jesus rose from the dead. Leviticus 23 tells us that the feast of first fruits was held on the day following the Sabbath after the Passover lamb was offered – so the feast of first fruits was held on the day that Jesus rose from the dead. The point of the feast was to indicate that a great harvest would soon come. In 1 Corinthians 15, Paul when he describes the risen Jesus says ‘Christ, the first fruits, then those who are his at his coming.’ An empty ritual took place on the same day as its fulfilment was being enjoyed by those who met the risen Saviour, samples of the great number that will yet gather with Jesus in his Father’s presence.
On the first day of that year Jesus knew that he would be going to Jerusalem shortly, not to keep the Passover but to become the real Passover. He also knew that the first month of that year would be the time when the new world would begin with his resurrection as the firstfruits of those who will be raised from the dead. No doubt, he thought and prayed about his upcoming visit as the year began. And we can think about what he accomplished three weeks after that year commenced.