Was Lord’s supper an actual Passover meal, and when should we celebrate Passover—at the beginning or end of the 14th?

Matthew 26:17, Eat the Passover. 

When did the disciples keep the Passover or the last super?Since Yeshua had to be hanging on the cross during the time that the Jews were offering the Passover lamb in the Temple, which was the same time that ancient Israel was killing their Passover lamb, it seems impossible that ­Yeshua could keep Passover with his disciples at this exact time. Yet Scripture mandates that Passover be kept on the fourteenth day of the first month. How do we resolve this difficulty?

Let’s look at some scriptures relating to this subject:

  • Matthew 26:17 reads, “Now the first of the unleavened bread the disciples came to Yeshua, saying unto him, Where do you want us to prepare for you to eat the Passover?” (italicized supplied words not in the original Greek have been removed). Mark 14:12 reads the same.
  • Luke’s account says, “Then came the day of Unleavened Bread, when the Passover must be killed” (22:7).

The Scripture shows us that in the Gospel narrative the terms “Unleavened Bread” and “Passover” are synonymous and interchangeable (Luke 22:1). Furthermore, we see that the “Passover [lamb] was killed on the Day of Unleavened Bread” (Luke 22:7). In a strict letter-of-law Torah sense, this is impossible since Passover and Unleavened Bread were two separate appointed times falling on two separate days, though the days were adjoining each other. In the Gospel accounts, however, the writers use the colloquial term Passover to designate both appointed times—a common practice in the first century.

The Gospels further tell us that Yeshua commanded his disciples to go and prepare a place to keep Passover (Luke 22:8). The disciples asked Yeshua where to go to prepare for it (Luke 22:9). Yeshua reiterates that he will be eating the Passover meal with them (Luke 22:11). The disciples make the room ready for the Passover meal (Luke 22:13). And finally, Yeshua calls this meal the Passover. He tells his disciples in Luke 22:15, “With desire I have desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer.” (Mark and Matthew’s accounts of these events corroborate this.) The word Passover (pascha, Strong’s G3957) in the Greek can refer to the Passover day, Passover meal or the Passover lamb. The context in which the word is used has to determine which one of its several meanings is applicable here. It seems that the context here would point to a meal.

John 13:2–30 offers further proof that the Passover meal that Yeshua was doing was not at the end of the fourteenth and the beginning of the fifteenth, which would have made it the evening of the Sabbath (Heb. erev Shabbat)—in this case, the high Sabbath or the first day of the Feast of Unleavened Bread. When Judas left the supper (verse 27), the disciples figured that he was departing to purchase more supplies for the Passover meal, which was yet to come (verse 29). Furthermore, for them to think this means that they knew that the shops were open from which to buy supplies (and therefore it was not the Sabbath or Shabbat). This would not have been the case had the last supper been at the end of the Passover as it was approaching the beginning of the fifteenth, which was still 24 hours off. 

Since Yeshua could not partake of the Passover meal on the afternoon of the fourteenth, and since the Gospels tells us that it was evening when he celebrated Passover with his disciples, and since we know it occurred on the fourteenth of the month of the abib, when was the Lord’s supper or last supper? It had to have been at the end of the thirteenth and at the beginning of the fourteenth after sundown. They simply kept it earlier on the same day (at the beginning of the fourteenth rather than at the end). At the end of that same day, he was hanging on the cross as the Passover Lamb. After the Lord’s supper Yeshua and his disciples went to the Garden of Gethsemane where he was arrested by the Jewish leaders later that night. During the evening and into the morning he was put on trial before the Jewish leaders and afterwards he stood before Pilate, after which he was nailed to the cross sometime between the third and sixth hour (according to the Gospel accounts). At 3 p.m. (Luke 23:44-46), he proclaimed the famous words: “Eloi, Eloi …” and shortly after that exclaimed, “Father receive my spirit …” whereupon he died. 

Did Yeshua celebrate an actual Passover service or was it simply a memorial dinner, or a fellowship meal often referred to as the Lord’s supper? There are valid arguments on each side of this issue. Perhaps it doesn’t really matter. For us now, the big question is how could Yeshua keep the Passover (as he said he did) with his disciples on the fourteenth of Abib as Torah commands and still be hanging on the cross on the same day as the spiritual fulfillment of the Passover Lamb?

The Gospel accounts are clear about the fact that Yeshua was keeping a “Passover” meal, for he says so, yet we have seen that it had to have been an early meal on the same day. It was not the main meal that was to be held later at the end of the fourteenth into the fifteenth of Abib as the Torah instructs in Exodus chapter 12. 

Alternative “Passovers”

What was the precedence for such a meal? Does Torah make allowances for another Passover celebration at another time? The answer is yes.

For example, we know that Torah says, “Speak unto the children of Israel, saying, If any man of you or of your posterity shall be unclean by reason of a dead body, or be in a journey afar off, yet he shall keep the Passover unto YHVH. The fourteenth day of the second month at even they shall keep it, and eat it with unleavened bread and bitter herbs” (Num. 9:10–11). Here we see that Torah allowed for a Passover to be held 30 days after the first one for individuals who met the criteria. We could ask the question: what would happen to a woman who was in her monthly impurity at Passover and 30 days later during the second Passover she was again in her monthly impurity? Was she excluded from keeping Passover because she was not ritually clean in time? No doubt, some grace-allowance was made for such a case. 

Moreover, the Torah gave the judicial authorities of Israel liberty to make rulings in these types of cases, which would be as binding as the written Torah itself (Deut 17:8–13). We see recorded in Torah an example of this process in action regarding the daughters of Zelophehad (Num 27:1–11; 36:2–13). What about a man who knew he was about to die just prior to Passover and wanted to partake of one last Seder? Such would have been the case with Yeshua. What’s more, as the Messiah and the Word of Elohim incarnate and the One who gave the Israelites the Torah, while in his preincarnate state, YHVH-Yeshua had the legal prerogative to make such judicial rulings.

Some Bible scholars have suggested that the last supper was really a discipleship “graduation banquet”? According to Messianic Jewish Scholar David Stern, the translator of the Complete Jewish Bible and author of the Jewish New Testament Commentary, “The last supper is understood by most scholars to have been a Passover meal or seder. Many Passover themes are deepened, reinforced and given new levels of meaning by the events in the life of Yeshua the Messiah and by his words on this night.” Stern goes on to say, however, that Messianic scholar, Joseph Shulam “has suggested that it may have been not the seder but a se’udat-mitzvah, the celebratory banquet accompanying performance of a commandment such as a wedding or b’rit milah.” He then says that it was typical for a Jewish teacher to have a sort of graduation dinner or banquet of completion with his students or talmudim upon the completion of their course of study (p. 77). The Jewish Encyclopedia seems to corroborates this in its article on Gamaliel II (http://www.jewishencyclopedia.com/view.jsp?artid=52&letter=G), the great Jewish sage, who was the recognized leader of Palestinian Jewry in the first two centuries of the second century a.d., who held an early Passover seder (“on the first evening of Passover” or at the beginning of the fourteenth) with other Torah scholars. The Jewish Encyclopedia writes, 

Still another liturgical institution goes back to Gamaliel—that of the memorial celebration which takes the place of the sacrifice of the Passover lamb on the first evening of Passover. Gamaliel instituted this celebration (Pes. x. 5), which may be regarded as the central feature of the Pesach Haggadah, on an occasion when he spent the first Passover night with other scholars at Lydda in conversing about the feast and its customs (Tosef., Pes. x. 112). The memory of the lost sanctuary, which the celebration of the Passover evening also served to perpetuate, was especially vivid in Gamaliel’s heart. Gamaliel and his companions wept over the destruction of Jerusalem and of the Temple when they heard the noise of the great city of Rome, and at another time when they stood on the Temple ruins (Sifre, Deut. 43; Mak., end; Lam. R. v. 18). (emphasis added)

The problem with these Passover alternatives is that they don’t line up with the facts that are recorded in the Gospels. First, the Gospel writers refer to the last supper as Passover, and second, this meal fits the description of a typical Jewish Passover seder as we will see below. Therefore, as the saying goes, if it looks, walks, acts and sounds like a duck, it must be a duck!

If it Looked Like a Passover Sedar, Then It Must Have Been One

We believe that Yeshua kept an actual Passover seder or “Pascal supper” as Alfred Edersheim calls it in his book, The Temple—Its Ministry and Service (p. 193), albeit, an early one. The Gospel record is clear on ths. Consider the following:

Here is a brief overview of the Passover seder and which parts, if any, Scripture shows that Yeshua did with his disciples during his last supper with them (as taken from the Hoshana Rabbah Biblical Discipleship Resources Messianic Passover Haggadah).

1. Kiddush and the First Cup

During the Kiddush, the first of four cups of wine is blessed and drunk. This first cup is called the Cup of Sanctification. Before the wine is drunk, a blessing is recited: “Blessed are You, YHVH our Elohim, King of the Universe, who creates the fruit of the vine.” Yeshua partook of this first cup in his Paschal Supper (Edersheim, p. 194).

2. Ur’chatz (the washing of hands)

Yeshua changed this custom and washed his disciples’ feet instead (John 13:1–14).

3. Karpas (the eating of the green vegetables)

This refers to the place in the Seder when the celebrants dip a green vegetable in salt water and eat it (John 13:26-27). The oldest will sit on the left side of the table and will dip the sop. From this, we can conclude that Judas was the oldest disciple. According to Alfred Edersheim, the sop and bitter herbs are synonymous (The Temple and Its Service, p. 194).

4. Yachatz (the breaking of the bread)

The middle piece of three pieces of bread, or matzot, is ceremonially broken in two. Matzoh (plural is matzot) is unleavened bread. The larger piece is wrapped in a napkin and set aside as the afikomen, the matzoh that is eaten at the end of the meal. This can be seen in Luke 22:19 when it is recorded, “he took the bread and gave thanks and broke it, and gave unto them saying, This is my body which is given for you …”

5. The Maggid (the telling of the Passover story and the Exodus)

6. The Second Cup (the Cup of Deliverance from the wrath or judgments of Elohim)

The Maggid concludes with the second cup of wine, which is called the Cup of Deliverance. Yeshua partook of this second cup at the Garden of Gethsemane (Luke 22:42-44). In telling the story of the Exodus, each person is to see the Exodus as if Elohim personally redeemed them! This is based upon Exodus 13:8.

6. Rachtzah (the washing of hands with a blessing)

7. MotziMatzoh(the eating of the unleavened bread)

Yeshua did this in Matthew 26:26

In John 13:23, we can see that the disciples were leaning or reclining. This practice is still a tradition in modern Passover Seders. This custom symbolizing freedom from the bondage of Egypt, a picture of sin. The Israelites in one day went from being slaves to being a kingdom of priests (Exod. 19:6). Only kings and those who live in ease recline while eating, and the Believers in Yeshua are kings and priests before Elohim (Rev. 1:6; 5:10).

8. Maror (bitter herbs are blessed and eaten)

Maror is bitter herbs. These bitter herbs are symbolized by romaine lettuce and horseradish. [According to Kasdan in God’s Appointed Customs, p. 28 Yeshua fulfilled this in Matt. 26:23.]

9. Korech (the matzah and maror are eaten together)

10. Shulchan Orech (the festival meal)

Yeshua instructed the disciples to prepare for the Passover in Luke 22:8, which could have included purchasing a Passover lamb, which they would have eaten during the Shulchan Orech part of the Seder. The primary meaning of the Greek word pascha is paschal sacrifice or lamb. The meal or service itselfis a secondary meaning.

11. Tzafun (the eating of the afikomen)

12. Barech (the blessing after the meal). 

13. The Third Cup (the Cup of Redemption)

At the conclusion of Barech, the blessing for wine is recited over the third cup. Then the cup is drunk. This is the cup of redemption (Luke 22:20; 1 Cor. 10:16) and is a picture of communion (Edersheim, p. 195).

14. Hallel (psalm of praise)

In ancient times, Psalms 115-118 were chanted in special praise to Elohim. The fourth cup is now filled, and a door is opened for Elijah to enter and proclaim the coming of Messiah.

15. Nirtzah (conclusion of the seder)

A final song is sung and ends with the phrase, Next Year in Jerusalem! This can be seen in Matthew 26:30 and Mark 14:26. 

The scriptural account of the last supper shows us that there were enough elements of the Passover seder contained in it for this meal to qualify, for all intents and purposes, as a Passover seder.

“Between the Evenings”

The scriptural account of the last supper shows us that there were enough elements of the Passover seder contained in it for this meal to qualify, for all intents and purposes, as a Passover seder.

“Between the Evenings”

Let’s now clear up the confusion that exists in the minds of some people as to whether Yeshua’s early Passover meal met the Torahs legal requirements for actually being a Passover sedar. Was Yeshua’s early Passover meal within the Torah’s guidelines for keeping the Passover? Yes, clearly so. Here is why. As noted above, the Gospel accounts refer to the last supper as “the Passover,” and Yeshua himself calls it a Passover. Therefore, in the minds of Yeshua and the apostolic writers, Yeshua’s last supper was Passover meal. But what does the Torah say?

The problem in the minds of some Bible students is that the Torah specifies that Passover is to be kept at the end of the fourteenth day of the first month of the biblical calendar going into the fifteenth. Again, as noted earlier, this would have been impossible for Yeshua to do, since he was hanging on the cross at the end of the fourteenth day as the fulfillment of the Passover lamb, and he then went into the grave as the sun was setting going into the fifteenth day. Therefore, Yeshua kept an early Passover—still on the fourteenth day, but at the beginning of the day, not at the end of the day. At that time, he instituted the Lord’s supper communion ritual and the foot washing ceremony. How is this possible, yet still be within the perimeters of the Torah’s instructions regarding the timing of the Passover meal?

In Exodus 12:6 we read,

Now you shall keep it until the fourteenth day of the same month. Then the whole assembly of the congregation of Israel shall kill it at twilight [see “between the evenings,” KJV marginal notes; “betwixt the evenings,” J.P. Green; “between the two evenings,” Bullinger’s The Companion Bible; and The NIV Study Bible].

The phrase “in/between the evenings” (Heb. beyn h’arbim) can have several meanings. Understanding this will help to explain why the Gospel writers call the meal that Yeshua had with his disciples “the Passover.” 

So what is the meaning of twilight (Heb. erev) with the addition of the English word between or the Hebrew word beyn?, The Jews of Yeshua’s time interpret the word erev in relationship to when to observe Passover as being the time from high noon when the sun is at its zenith when it starts to descend toward the horizon until approximately 6 PM when it disappears behind the horizon (The Life Time of Jesus, by Alfred Edersheim, p. 813; Hendrickson, 2002). 

From 12 noon onward, however, is not the literal meaning of the Hebrew word phrase “between the evenings” however, since two evenings are implied. Between the evenings (or beyn h’arbim [arbim is the plural of erev]) means “between the evening of the thirteenth day of the first month going into the fourteenth day of the first month and the fourteenth day going into the fifteenth day.” That is to say, the entire daylight portion of the fourteenth day or Passover day could be the period between the two evenings. With this understanding, it we see that even though Yeshua and his disciples kept an early Passover (at the beginning of the fourteenth day), it still fell within the Passover time period (i.e. “between the evening”) that the Torah prescribes, even though the majority of the Jews at that time were eating their Passover meal at the end of the fourteenth going into the fifteenth.

Some believers prefer to celebrate Passover when Yeshua did it—at the beginning of the fourteenth day of the first month instead of at the end of the day. This is acceptable, since Yeshua did it. It is also acceptable to do it at the end of the fourteenth going into the fifteenth when the Israelites did it and as the Torah commands.

 

4 thoughts on “Was Lord’s supper an actual Passover meal, and when should we celebrate Passover—at the beginning or end of the 14th?

  1. I learned that the Passover Lamb could NOT be at the Passover meal because He was on the cross and that he said He DESIRED to eat this Passover meal with them, but could not. So, this clears it up somewhat-hard to get the notion of the last supper actually being the Passover meal till now, thanks!

  2. This was a very thorough teaching. I think John is the one who dates this meal most correct, he was there. I think the other three are emphasizing other things than the connection with the Egypt Passover. Jeshua was to take over the role of the lamb, so he could not eat the “Seder” meal, which was eaten after his death, on the start of Aviv 15. I find no way he was allowed by the Torah to eat the lamb on any other day than the 15th. except one month later, as you say. Yes he says he would love to eat the Passover with them, but he could not. They prepared for it, but it was not eaten with Jeshua. This was the day of preparation, All leavened bread should be removed during the day. It was still allowed to eat leavened bread until the evening. And that is an extra clue for me regarding the meal, it could not be a Seder in advance, because they ate regular bread, arthos, not matza. Jeshua took over all details regarding the lamb in Egypt but he was dead and in the grave when the Passover lamb was eaten

    • One thing that most people miss when discussing the Passover and the we must keep in mind when throwing around the term “Passover” is this: Scripturally, the word “Passover” can refer to several things.

      1) Passover refers to the 14th day the first biblical month called Nissan/the month of the Abib/Aviv. As you correctly state, that day was a preparation day for the seven day long Feast of Unleavened Bread. During this day, the Israelites finished deleavening their houses. They would also kill the Passover lamb and prepare it for the Passover meal that was to occur at the end of the 14th and lasting into the midnight hour of the 15th, which is the first day Unleavened Bread, which starts of the 15th.

      2) Passover also refers to the lamb that was sacrificed on the Passover day.

      3) Passover can also refer to the meal that was then eaten at the end of the Passover day and continuing on into the 15th.

      4) As I pointed out in my article, Passover can also be a euphemism for the Feast of Unleavened Bread.

      So this begs the following question. When the Gospel writers and Yeshua use the term Passover, which of the four meanings are they intending? For example, when Yeshua says that he desires to eat the Passover with them, to what is he referring? The day, the sacrifice or the meal? Well, it’s clear in the Gospels that they were doing Passover on Passover, but perhaps they weren’t eating the actual lamb, as Yeshua’s question may suggest. I don’t know if they did or didn’t eat it, since I wasn’t there. This I know, the Torah commanded one to eat actual lamb meat on Passover. Yeshua fulfilled all points of the Torah that pertained to him and violated nothing, so I suspect that they actually ate lamb, along with the bread and wine, but again, I wasn’t there, and Scripture doesn’t say.

      One take away point is certain from this: Celebrate the Passover on Passover Day by eating a meal and doing communion as Scripture commands. Most churches don’t even do this. Whether we consider what Yeshua did to be Passover or not is really irrelevant. What we call it is semantics; just do it! Blessings to all who hear and do…

  3. Yeshua’s pesach was for the renewing of the covenant. The graduation of the talmidim came at Shavout with the tongues of fire and I am of the personal belief that the foot washing took place and replaced the second hand washing, as Kefar had already been washed according to Yeshua.
    John

Share your thoughts...