The Messiah Born at Passover

But thou, Beth-lehem Ephratah, though thou be little among the thousands of Judah, yet out of thee shall he come forth unto me that is to be ruler in Israel; whose goings forth have been from of old, from everlasting.1

Written by Lynda Cherry, author of The Feasts and Festivals of the Messiah.

President Gordon B. Hinckley once said, “There would be no Christmas if there had not been Easter.”2  Remarkably, what we celebrate at each of these events—the birth, atonement, death, and resurrection of the Savior—actually occurred at Passover.

Elder Bruce D. Porter, of the Seventy, said:

An ancient Hebrew tradition held that the Messiah would be born at Passover. We know that that April in the meridian of time indeed fell in the week of the Passover feast—that sacred Jewish commemoration of Israel’s salvation from the destroying angel that brought death to the firstborn sons of Egypt. Each Israelite family that sacrificed a lamb and smeared its blood on the wooden doorposts of their dwelling was spared (see Exodus 12:3–30). Thirty-three years after Christ’s Passover birth, His blood was smeared on the wood posts of a cross to save His people from the destroying angels of death and sin.3

Some have wondered, on a practical level, why Mary and Joseph would have traveled to Bethlehem when they did, as Mary was so near to the time of her labor and delivery. Luke tells us that Caesar Augustus had decreed that “all the world should be taxed.”4 The “tax” referred to was actually a census from which taxes would be determined. Each head of a family was to register in the town of his ancestry, and thus, Joseph would register for the census in Bethlehem, the city of David.5 It appears that Joseph timed his civic duties to align with the spiritual requirement to present himself at the temple for the Passover feast.

As discussed previously,the population of Jerusalem and its envi- rons swelled into the millions during the feast days. Bethlehem, only about six miles from Jerusalem, would have been crowded with pil- grims, who, like Joseph, combined their Passover responsibilities with their duties to the Roman government. It is not surprising then, that there was no room at the inn (or anywhere else) for Mary to find a private shelter. Families would be camped out everywhere throughout the land in a festive spirit of reunion and community. Did Mary and Joseph meet with relatives within the city or its outskirts? Was there another woman present to help Mary through her pains? We do not really know. What we do know is that the birth of Jesus would fulfill prophecies of promise to the very letter (or jot and tittle). In order to do so, there would be miraculous signs in the heavens, and special witnesses called to testify as they came to know that the Messiah had been born in Bethlehem, as long foretold.

Alfred Edersheim wrote:

There is . . . testimony which seems to us not only reliable, but embodies most ancient Jewish tradition. It is contained in one of the smaller Midrashim . . . the so-called Messiah-Haggadah (Aggadoth Mashiach) opens as follows: “A star shall come out of Jacob. There is a Boraita in the name of the Rabbis: The heptad in which the Son of David cometh . . . and the Star shall shine forth from the East and this is the Star of the Messiah.”7

The first book of Genesis states that there should be “lights in the firmament of the heaven to divide the day from the night; and let them be for signs, and for seasons, and for days, and years.”A Passover evening is bright with the light of a full moon. If Jesus was born at Passover, His birth would have been flooded with light: the light of a full moon, the light of the great star, and the light of the “glory of the Lord.” How fitting this light would be in heralding the birth of He who called Himself “The Light of the World.”9


When we consider the sense of hopeful expectation that accompanied the Passover at the time of Jesus’s birth, we might see the events as having more significance than we had previously understood. The angelic annunciation to the shepherds, for example, is better understood when we realize that the shepherds watching over the flock were likely priests who had responsibility for the flock designated for the temple.10

Alfred Edersheim explained that:

There was near Bethlehem, on the road to Jerusalem, a tower known as Migdal Eder, or the watchtower of the flock. Here was the station where shepherds watched the flocks destined for the sacrifice in the temple . . . It was a settled conviction among the Jews that the Messiah was to be born in Bethlehem, and equally that he was to be revealed from Migdal Eder. The beautiful significance of the revelation of the infant Christ to shepherds watching the flocks destined for sacrifice needs no comment.11

The flock mentioned in the scripture, then, was apparently the one used for temple sacrifices, and the shepherds thus had responsibility for the most important flock in the region.

Gerald Lund explained:

Sometimes in translation the power of the original language is considerably lessened. While the words, in English, of the angel to the shepherds are beautiful and significant, we miss much of the electrifying impact the original words must have had on those men of Judea . . . In essence, here is [the] pronouncement: “Unto you is born this day in the city prophesied to be the birthplace of the Messiah, Yeshua [or Jesus], the Savior, who is the Anointed One (the Messiah), and who is also Jehovah, the God of your fathers.”12

Consider the weight of responsibility that lay upon the shepherds that night. It was springtime, and lambing season. The historian Josephus tells us that 250,000 lambs might be sacrificed for the Passover at that time.13It’s hard to comprehend the numbers, and the earnest care the shepherds must take. They must watch the ewes care- fully, not only to aid in the birthing process, but also, and most importantly, they must mark and separate the firstborn male, as it would be destined for the temple altars. These lambs must be inspected to make sure that they were perfect, without blemish, stain or crooked- ness. This was a sacred duty in which there could be no variance or turning aside. Yet, with the angelic announcement, certain shepherds did turn away from the ewes so that they might witness and testify that they had seen the birth of the Lamb of God, the Messiah for whom they had been waiting.14


  1. Micah 5:2.
  2. Hinckley, “The Wondrous and True Story of Christmas,” Dec. 2000 Ensign.
  3. Porter, “Come Let Us Adore Him,” Dec. 2013 Ensign.

  4. Luke 2:1.
  5. Luke 2:4
  6. See Chapter 1—Temple-Centered Holy Days.
  7. Edersheim, The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah, 147.
  8. Genesis 1:14
  9. John 8:12
  10. Edersheim, The Life and Time of Jesus the Messiah, 131
  11. Ibid.
  12. Lund, Jesus Christ, Key to the Plan of Salvation, 16-18.
  13. Josephus, War 6.9.3, 422–27
  14. See Haymond, “Who Were the Shepherds in the the Christmas Story?”; Pack and Smith, “Who Were the Shepherds,”; Wersen, “Keeping Watch: The Rabbinical Shepherds of Bethlehem,” 109 War 6.9.3, pp. 422-427.