The Last Passover

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We must now look at the difficulties presented in the four gospels as to the last passover.
The main question to answer is, Did our Lord keep this passover on the same night as did the Jews? The first three gospels would appear to say that He did; whereas John speaks of the Jews at the trial refusing to go into the judgment hall “lest they should be defiled; but that they might eat the passover” (John 18:2828Then led they Jesus from Caiaphas unto the hall of judgment: and it was early; and they themselves went not into the judgment hall, lest they should be defiled; but that they might eat the passover. (John 18:28)). Again, in John 19:1414And it was the preparation of the passover, and about the sixth hour: and he saith unto the Jews, Behold your King! (John 19:14), we read, “and it was the preparation of the passover, and about the sixth hour.”
If our Lord ate the passover at the same time as did the Jews, these expressions certainly present a difficulty; but it is believed that if we suppose, on the other hand, that it was not eaten at the same time, the difficulties are much greater. Because, 1. It is expressly stated in the three synoptical gospels that the first day of unleavened bread had come (Matt. 26:1717Now the first day of the feast of unleavened bread the disciples came to Jesus, saying unto him, Where wilt thou that we prepare for thee to eat the passover? (Matthew 26:17); Mark 14:1212And the first day of unleavened bread, when they killed the passover, his disciples said unto him, Where wilt thou that we go and prepare that thou mayest eat the passover? (Mark 14:12); Luke 22:77Then came the day of unleavened bread, when the passover must be killed. (Luke 22:7)), which could be no other time than when the Jews prepared for the passover. Mark adds that the day was “when they killed the passover;” and Luke, “when the passover must be killed;” evidently referring, not to themselves alone, but to the nation generally.
2. If the time had been anticipated by our Lord, He would have had to tell His disciples to go and prepare the feast, and we should doubtless have had some questioning on their part as to its being before the time; but both Matthew and Mark relate that the disciples came to Him, asking where they should prepare the feast; and this they did, as we have seen above, when the usual time had arrived — the first day of unleavened bread.
3. The first three evangelists all call it, “The passover.”
5. We believe our Lord would not have broken the law by partaking of the passover at an acknowledged wrong time.
We therefore believe that our Lord partook of the passover with the Jews. Still the difficulties presented in John’s gospel must be duly considered.
It is believed that these difficulties will be greatly lessened when it is remembered that though the lamb was eaten in one night, the paschal feast lasted seven days; and also that on the 15th Nisan there was the chagigah, or free-will offerings. From Numbers 28:19-2419But ye shall offer a sacrifice made by fire for a burnt offering unto the Lord; two young bullocks, and one ram, and seven lambs of the first year: they shall be unto you without blemish: 20And their meat offering shall be of flour mingled with oil: three tenth deals shall ye offer for a bullock, and two tenth deals for a ram; 21A several tenth deal shalt thou offer for every lamb, throughout the seven lambs: 22And one goat for a sin offering, to make an atonement for you. 23Ye shall offer these beside the burnt offering in the morning, which is for a continual burnt offering. 24After this manner ye shall offer daily, throughout the seven days, the meat of the sacrifice made by fire, of a sweet savor unto the Lord: it shall be offered beside the continual burnt offering, and his drink offering. (Numbers 28:19‑24), we find that bullocks were offered at the paschal feast; and in Deuteronomy 16:22Thou shalt therefore sacrifice the passover unto the Lord thy God, of the flock and the herd, in the place which the Lord shall choose to place his name there. (Deuteronomy 16:2), we read, “Thou shalt therefore sacrifice the passover unto the Lord thy God, of the flock and the herd.” The ‘herd’ could not refer to the paschal lamb, and yet both are called the passover. From this we learn that the term “passover” referred to the feast generally, and was not restricted to the paschal lamb.
It has been thought by some that this verse points out that the supper narrated in this chapter was at some time before the Jews ate the passover, indeed, before our Lord ate it. But if this is so, it does not really bear on our question; which is, Did our Lord eat the passover at the same time as did the Jews?
But to make this supper a distinct occasion from when our Lord ate the supper is fraught with difficulty. It is true that the Lord’s supper is not here named, doubtless for some wise reason, but this does not touch the question, as many other things which undoubtedly took place are also omitted. On the other hand, it is very improbable that the pointing out of Judas should have taken place on two separate but similar occasions, especially when we consider these words: “Then said Jesus unto him, That thou doest, do quickly.... He then, having received the sop, went immediately out; and it was night. Therefore, when he was gone out, Jesus said, Now is the Son of Man glorified,” and so forth (John 13:27, 30, 3127And after the sop Satan entered into him. Then said Jesus unto him, That thou doest, do quickly. (John 13:27)
30He then having received the sop went immediately out: and it was night. 31Therefore, when he was gone out, Jesus said, Now is the Son of man glorified, and God is glorified in him. (John 13:30‑31)
). This is evidently the last time Christ met with Judas as a disciple; and in the other gospels it is also clearly marked out as being on the occasion of the paschal supper.
We must therefore conclude that the supper narrated in John 13 was the passover supper. The words “before the feast,” in John 13:11Now before the feast of the passover, when Jesus knew that his hour was come that he should depart out of this world unto the Father, having loved his own which were in the world, he loved them unto the end. (John 13:1), may mean no more than before commencing the feast, in contrast with “during supper” (as it should be rendered) in John 13:22And supper being ended, the devil having now put into the heart of Judas Iscariot, Simon's son, to betray him; (John 13:2).
The feast, as we have seen, lasted seven days; this therefore is no real difficulty.
It is asked, How is this to be reconciled with the thought that they had already eaten the passover? But this is assuming that nothing but the paschal lamb is called the passover; whereas we have already seen that the herd for the feast was also called the passover, and the feast began on the fifteenth of Nisan, the very day in which they spoke.
Lightfoot considers that this passage is a proof that they had already eaten the paschal lamb, and were in the midst of the feast; because it was then early in the morning, and there would have been time to have washed away by ablution the impurity before the evening. But if in the feast, and just about to eat the free-will offerings, they could not.
This latter verse refers to the Sabbath; it was the preparation for the Sabbath, or, as we should say, Friday, in relation to the Jewish Sabbath on Saturday; so that the common name for Friday became “Preparation-day”* (Mark 15:4242And now when the even was come, because it was the preparation, that is, the day before the sabbath, (Mark 15:42)). And so John 19:1414And it was the preparation of the passover, and about the sixth hour: and he saith unto the Jews, Behold your King! (John 19:14) may mean that it was the day before the Sabbath in the Passover week: ‘it was the preparation of the paschal Sabbath.’
Κυριακη Lord’s-day Sunday. Δευτερα
Second day
Third day
Fourth day
Fifth day
It has been thought that this implies that the passover must have fallen on the Sabbath; and if so, that Christ had eaten it, but that the Jews had not. But this is only a supposition, and we can easily understand that the Sabbath that fell in the passover week was always “a high day,” especially when it fell on the fifteenth of Nisan, as in this case it did.
These then are the passages in John which seem to favor the thought that the Jews had not at the trial eaten the paschal lamb. The reader must judge whether they are satisfactorily explained; and there may, of course, be better ways of explaining them: while, on the other hand, it is thought impossible to interpret the plain statements of the first three gospels so as not to mean that the usual time for the passover had arrived. It is, therefore, believed that our Lord partook of the passover at the same time as did the Jews.
To this, however, it has been further objected, that as Christ was the Lamb of God sacrificed for us — our Passover — He must have suffered on the right day, and, therefore, He must have kept the passover on a previous day.
It has been supposed that the paschal lamb might be slain any time between the evening of the 14th and the evening of the 15th, because we read (Ex. 12:66And ye shall keep it up until the fourteenth day of the same month: and the whole assembly of the congregation of Israel shall kill it in the evening. (Exodus 12:6), margin) that it was to be slain “between the two evenings.” But the same chapter says, “Ye shall let nothing of it remain until the morning,” clearly confining it to one evening and a night. Besides, the other passages where the same phrase occurs entirely precludes this meaning. Thus of the daily lambs we read, “The one lamb thou shalt offer in the morning, and the other thou shalt offer between the two evenings” (Ex. 29:3939The one lamb thou shalt offer in the morning; and the other lamb thou shalt offer at even: (Exodus 29:39), Hebrew). The evening lamp too was to be lit “between the two evens” (Ex. 30:88And when Aaron lighteth the lamps at even, he shall burn incense upon it, a perpetual incense before the Lord throughout your generations. (Exodus 30:8), margin). The phrase, therefore, cannot embrace twenty-four hours.
The Jewish writers are not agreed as to the exact time meant; some say it is between the beginning and ending of sunset; others, that it is between sunset and full darkness; but all confine it to the evening of one day. Josephus (Wars, vi. 9, 3) says that the time of killing the passover was from the ninth hour to the eleventh, which would be about three o’clock until five.
Another thing which confirms the restricting of the killing of the passover to one of our evenings is, that one of the feasts lasted twenty-four hours, and there the wording is quite different. The tenth day of the seventh month was the day of atonement, but it was to commence “in the ninth day of the month at even, from even unto even shall ye celebrate your Sabbath” (Lev. 23:27,3227Also on the tenth day of this seventh month there shall be a day of atonement: it shall be an holy convocation unto you; and ye shall afflict your souls, and offer an offering made by fire unto the Lord. (Leviticus 23:27)
32It shall be unto you a sabbath of rest, and ye shall afflict your souls: in the ninth day of the month at even, from even unto even, shall ye celebrate your sabbath. (Leviticus 23:32)
). “From even unto even” is quite a different phrase from “between the two evenings;” and this latter, we believe, must be restricted to one of our evenings.
Evening—13th Nisan end 14th Nisan begins- Passover lamb killed. Night -
14th Nisan
Christ arrested.
Morning -
14th Nisan
Trial, condemnation, and crucifixion.
Noon -
14th Nisan
Darkness begins.
3 o’clock -
14th Nisan
Death of Christ
Evening -
14th Nisan ends. 15th Nisan begins.
And this perhaps sufficiently meets the difficulty.
The chronological tables will give the events of the last passover and the trial of our Lord in detail. It may however be helpful to glance at the mode adopted by the Jews in taking the paschal supper at the time of our Lord being on earth, as given by Lightfoot and others.
1. When all were seated, the head of the feast gave thanks, and they drank off the first cup of wine mingled with water. 2. All washed their hands. 3. The table was spread with the paschal lamb, unleavened bread, bitter herbs, a dish of thick sauce (said to signify the mortar with which they made bricks in Egypt). 4. They all dipped a portion of the bitter herbs in the sauce and ate it. 5. All the dishes were removed from the table; and the children or proselytes were instructed in the meaning of the supper. 6. The dishes were then brought back, and the president said, “This is the passover which we eat because the Lord passed over the houses of our fathers in Egypt.” And holding up the bitter herbs he said, “These are the bitter herbs that we eat in remembrance that the Egyptians made the lives of our fathers bitter in Egypt.” He then spoke of the unleavened bread, and then repeated the 113th and 114th Psalms, concluding with a prayer. They all drank the second cup of wine. 7. The governor then broke one of the cakes of unleavened bread, and gave thanks. 8. They then all partook of the paschal Iamb. 9. As a finish of the supper they took a piece of unleavened bread, and a piece of bitter herbs, dipped them in the sauce and ate them. 10. They afterward drank the third cup of wine, called the cup of blessing. 11. The governor rehearsed Psalm 115;116;117, and 118., and a fourth cup concluded the whole.
It should be noted that in Matthew and Mark, Judas the betrayer is spoken of before the Lord’s supper, but in Luke he is spoken of after the Lord’s supper. Mark is the most exact as to chronological order; and we learn from 1 Corinthians 11:2525After the same manner also he took the cup, when he had supped, saying, This cup is the new testament in my blood: this do ye, as oft as ye drink it, in remembrance of me. (1 Corinthians 11:25), that it was when or after the paschal supper had ended that the Lord’s supper was instituted. The paschal supper may be said to end with the piece of unleavened bread dipped in the sauce (No. 9 above). This was probably what our Lord handed to Judas, who went out immediately he had received the sop (John 13:3030He then having received the sop went immediately out: and it was night. (John 13:30)), being told to go by Christ. And so he would not be present at the Lord’s supper. See the tables for the various details.