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The Last Supper and Timing of
The Feast of Unleavened Bread/Passover

Was the Last Supper a Passover Observance?

This is part three of a four-part study on the question of whether the Last Supper was a true Passover observance. Go back to part two - Showbread.
Last Supper

There is abundant evidence that the Last Supper was a true Passover observance:

"Now 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? And he said, Go into the city to such a man, and say unto him, The Master saith, My time is at hand; I will keep the passover at thy house with my disciples. And the disciples did as Jesus had appointed them; and they made ready the passover." (Matt 26:17-19)
"And the first day of unleavened bread, when they killed the passover, [by Jesus' time the terms passover and unleavened bread had come to be used interchangeably] his disciples said unto him, Where wilt thou that we go and prepare that thou mayest eat the passover? ... And wheresoever he shall go in, say ye to the goodman of the house, The Master saith, Where is the guestchamber, where I shall eat the passover with my disciples? ... And his disciples went forth, and came into the city, and found as he had said unto them: and they made ready the passover." (Mark 14:12,14,16)
"Then came the day of unleavened bread, when the passover must be killed [this could only be on Nisan 14, as specified in Exodus]. And he sent Peter and John, saying, Go and prepare us the passover, that we may eat. ... And ye shall say unto the goodman of the house, The Master saith unto thee, Where is the guestchamber, where I shall eat the passover with my disciples? ... And they went, and found as he had said unto them: and they made ready the passover. ... And he said unto them, With desire I have desired to eat this passover with you before I suffer:" (Luke 22:7-8, 11, 13, 15)

The verses above make it very clear from Jesus' own words that the last supper that He shared with His disciples was a true Passover observance. There is the problem that John refers to Passover being observed the next day. However, twice he referred to it as "the Jew's Passover:"

"And the passover, a feast of the Jews, was nigh." (John 6:4)
"And the Jews' passover was nigh at hand: and many went out of the country up to Jerusalem before the passover, to purify themselves." (John 1:55)

It is interesting to look at John's references to "the Jews." Matthew, Mark and Luke together used the term "the Jews" a total of 16 times whereas John used it 64 times. He often used it to refer not to the Jewish people as a whole but to the Jewish leadership. Here are some examples:

"Then the Jews sought him at the feast, and said, Where is he? And there was much murmuring among the people concerning him: for some said, He is a good man: others said, Nay; but he deceiveth the people. Howbeit no man spake openly of him for fear of the Jews." (John 7:11-13)
"These words spake his parents, because they feared the Jews: for the Jews had agreed already, that if any man did confess that he was Christ, he should be put out of the synagogue." (John 9:22)
"Now Caiaphas was he, which gave counsel to the Jews, that it was expedient that one man should die for the people." (John 18:14)

Who did he give counsel to? We are told specifically who was at that meeting:

"Then gathered the chief priests and the Pharisees a council, and said, What do we? for this man doeth many miracles. If we let him thus alone, all men will believe on him: and the Romans shall come and take away both our place and nation. And one of them, named Caiaphas, being the high priest that same year, said unto them, Ye know nothing at all, Nor consider that it is expedient for us, that one man should die for the people, and that the whole nation perish not." (John 11:47-50)

It is clear that John spoke of Passover being a day later than the other three gospel writers. Matthew, Mark and Luke are referred to as the synoptic gospels. (Synoptic means "see with the same eyes." Think of the words "synonym" and "optical".) John was speaking of the Passover "of the Jews" - the day when many of the leadership of the nation observed it. It seems that there was a difference of one day in observance of Passover by different groups.

In contrast, the correct time for Passover is referred to in Numbers:

"And in the fourteenth day of the first month is the passover of the LORD." (Num 28:16)

From the context and other scripture, we can see that the fourteenth day is not the day to observe Passover meal, not the day of the celebration. Rather, Numbers 28:16 is designating the time for the Passover sacrifice. Note that this verse appears within the section of Numbers 28-29 which, in fact, has the purpose of specifying the time for all of the set sacrifices.

"Command the children of Israel, and say unto them, My offering, and my bread for my sacrifices made by fire, for a sweet savour unto me, shall ye observe to offer unto me in their due season." (Num 28:2)

The section then goes on to list all the set times for offerings (except for the freewill and thank offerings). This list of what animal(s) were to be sacrificed and at what day and time includes:

  1. daily or continual burnt offerings (Num 28:3-8)
  2. weekly offerings for sabbath days (Num 28:9-10)
  3. monthly offerings for the beginnings of months (Num 28:11-15)

It then goes into the annual feasts starting with the Passover sacrifice:

"And in the fourteenth day of the first month is the passover [sacrifice] of the LORD.: (Num 28:16)

It continues specifying what is to be offered on each day of the seven-day feast and on the Feast of First Fruits:

"But ye shall offer a sacrifice ... After this manner ye shall offer daily, throughout the seven days ..." Num 28:19,24)
"... in the day of the firstfruits ... a new meat offering ..." (Num 28:26)

Similarly ( I won't list them all), chapter 40 lists what is to be offered and when for each of the fall feasts. The two chapters dealing with sacrifices ends with:

"And Moses told the children of Israel according to all that the LORD commanded Moses." (Num 29:40)

Summary

From the evidence above, I believe that the Last Supper was a true Passover observance and that it happened in the early hours of the night of Nisan 15, the correct time for the beginning of the feast of unleavened bread after the sacrifice of the Passover in the afternoon of Nisan 14.

The timing of events connected to observance of the Passover can be better understood in this diagram of Passover Timing. Be sure to take a look - it lays it out very clearly.

Let's now look at what the New Testament says about unleavened and leavened bread and which was used at the Last Supper. Go to part four (of this four-part study) unleavened bread.

 


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