In God’s original garden, just east of Eden, He planted a herb bearing seed called hyssop. Although beautiful when it grew – with purple flowers, the full potential of Hyssop was never fully realised in the place of perfection – as its properties were those of cleansing and healing – and as yet no uncleanness or illness existed. Also in Eden God planted trees – and among the other tree in his majestic garden were two unique trees, created or eternally preexisting I do not know – the ‘tree of life and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil’. The tree of life we do know foreshadowed another tree – an eternal tree, without beginning and without end, but which will appear in time once more as it bears the body of The Life Giver near another garden – this one called Gethsemane. The Life Giver – The Eternal Lamb, (1 Peter 1:20) is also without beginning and without end. And it is here, at the Cross, that Hyssop is seen preeminently in the reality of its shadow – a life giving and cleansing plant touching the lips of a deeper life giver – ‘And they filled a sponge with sour wine, put it on hyssop, and put it to His mouth.’ (John 19).
But the shadow pictures of hyssop and the lamb have been seen before. On the night of the first Passover, under God’s direct instruction, hyssop, dipped in blood, is used to mark the doors of Jewish homes. This act is an act representative of cleansing by blood. It is not, it appears to me, a picture of punishment averted by substitution. I think that is to insert into the picture something that is not there, but rather it is a representation of the cleansing efficacy of the hyssop plant used to apply it and the blood applied, in order to mark the doorframe of the house in a cross like fashion. Interestingly, a very early church father – Melito, Bishop of Sardis, suggests that when the destroying angel passed over the home of the Israelites on the first Passover – it was the blood of the ultimate slain Lamb (Christ) they perceived.
Even earlier in the biblical record God had commanded his people to use hyssop in the ceremonial cleansing of people and houses. On one occasion God told the priests to use hyssop together with cedar wood, scarlet yarn, and the blood of a clean bird to sprinkle a person recently healed from a skin disease (probably leprosy). This act would ceremonially cleanse the formerly diseased person and allow them to be restored to the the community (Leviticus 14). Again this is not a picture of substitution but of cleansing.
King David would also later cry out in deep repentance and grief after being revealed as an adulterer and murderer –
Cleanse me with hyssop, and I will be clean;
wash me, and I will be whiter than snow.
Psalm 51 (NIV)
I find it striking to consider that after Jesus was flogged by the soldiers, shortly before he was crucified, they ‘clothed him in a purple robe‘ (John 19) – and it was in that hyssop coloured robe that the blood soaked body of Jesus was presented to the chief priests and their officials by Pilate. The Lamb, the Hyssop and the Blood!
Once more Pilate came out and said to the Jews gathered there, ‘Look, I am bringing him out to you to let you know that I find no basis for a charge against him.’ When Jesus came out wearing the crown of thorns and the purple robe, Pilate said to them, ‘Here is the man!’ (1)
And yet they shout – ‘Take him away! Take him away! Crucify him!’ (John 19)
A short time later as these very same men kill a lamb and celebrate the Passover – the real Passover Lamb whom they have sacrificed is hanging on a cross outside the city!
Jesus, knowing that all things were now accomplished, that the Scripture might be fulfilled, said, ‘I thirst!’ Now a vessel full of sour wine was sitting there; and they filled a sponge with sour wine, put it on hyssop, and put it to His mouth. So when Jesus had received the sour wine, He said, ‘It is finished!’ And bowing His head, He gave up His spirit.
(John 19 – NKJV)
The very last things The Lamb of God sees before giving up his spirit is the red of the wine and the purple of the Hyssop – both symbols of his ultimate cleansing sacrifice. So at the cross – his very final act is to fulfil the true Passover where his blood soaked lips mingle with the bitter wine served on the cleansing stalk of a hyssop plant. This imagery cannot be not accidental. And so he drinks –
Death and the curse were in our cup,
O Christ, ’twas full for Thee!
But Thou hast drained the last dark drop—
‘Tis empty now for me.
That bitter cup—love drank it up;
Now blessings’ draught for me.
The Passover Lamb and the true Hyssop has completed the task set before him to its most bitter end. And in Him we can sing the last verse of old hymn we have just quoted –
For me, Lord Jesus, Thou hast died,
And I have died in Thee;
Thou’rt ris’n: my bands are all untied,
And now Thou liv’st in me.
When purified, made white, and tried,
Thy glory then for me!
Anne R. Cousin (1804 – 1906)
- There are two further things here we should not pass without pausing to consider. Pilate’s assertion – ‘Here is the man!’ and Jesus assertion – ‘It is finished.’ – because both these statements are interconnected. ‘Upon the Cross, in the Gospel of John (which deliberately alludes in its first verse the opening of Genesis: ‘In the beginning …’), Christ says ‘It is finished.’ or ‘It is perfected,’ with Pilate having said a few verses earlier, ‘Behold the human being‘ (John 19:30). Scripture thus opens with God’s setting the stage and announcing his project, and concludes with the fulfilment of this project. From the beginning of the proclamation of the gospel, Adam is spoken of as ‘a type of the one who was to come‘ (Rom. 5:14) — an initial sketch of the fullness that is first manifest and realised in Christ alone.’ (John Behr – ANTHROPOLOGY – From Adam to Christ: From Male and Female to Being Human.’ – The Wheel 13/14 – Spring/Summer 2018.) And so the true Adam restores all that was lost in Eden – cleansing, redeeming and restoring.