Passover and The Lord’s Evening Meal
info This commentary was written by a volunteer for our Bible translation project. It’s not an official view of our project; we are not a religious denomination and we do not establish doctrine. These commentaries reflect a variety of views and some disagree with each other.
- The First Passover
- The Seven Days of Passover
- Nissan 14 – The Day of Preparation
- The Reason for Confusion about the Days
- The End of Passover, the Lord’s Supper, and the Partaking of Sacraments?
- A Second Passover Date
The First Passover
What most call ‘the day of Passover’ isn’t really a day at all, it’s a seven-day festival. For notice the first instructions from God on this, as found at Exodus 12:2, 3, 5-8 (LXX):
‘This will be your first month. It is to be the first one [in your] year.
So tell the whole gathering of the children of IsraEl that on the tenth day of this month, each man should select a lamb (depending on the size of his family) for his household … So, choose a perfect male yearling lamb from [your herd] of lambs and kids, and keep it nearby until the fourteenth day of this month. Then the whole gathering of the children of IsraEl must slaughter [their lambs] toward the evening, and they must gather the blood and put it on the top and both sides of the doorframes of the houses where they will be eating [the lamb]. Then that night, they must roast the flesh over a fire and eat it with fermentation-free bread and bitter herbs.’
Verses 15 and 16 continue:
‘You will eat fermentation-free bread for seven days.
And starting on the first day, you must remove all fermentation from your homes. For if anyone eats fermentation between the first and seventh days, that person must be destroyed in IsraEl.
The first day will be called holy, and the seventh day will be your holy day.
You aren’t to do any hired work then. The only work that you may do will be for the things that you require.’
Also, notice the same laws as they are found in Leviticus 23:5-8:
‘On the fourteenth day of the first month, between the evenings, is Jehovah’s Passover.
Then the fifteenth day of that month is the Feast of Fermentation-free bread, so you must eat fermentation-free bread for seven days. The first [of these] days must be a Holy Assembly for you, and you must not work for anyone on that day.
And you must offer whole-burnt offerings to [Jehovah during those] seven days.
Then the seventh day will be [another] Holy Assembly for you, [during which] you must not work for anyone.’
The Seven Days of Passover
So from the above, we can see that the seven days of Passover started after sundown on Nissan 14, which was when each day started for the children of IsraEl. And that evening (the first full moon closest to the spring equinox as observed in JeruSalem) is when the IsraElites were to begin a week of eating meals that included yeast-free bread.
Then on the following afternoon (which was the same day on the Jewish calendar), the lambs were to be slaughtered and roasted, then eaten after sunset that evening, which was the start of the second day (Nissan 15).
Why did each new day for the IsraElites start at sunset rather than at midnight, as is the common custom today?
Because, in the First Chapter of Genesis, we read that each of God’s creative days started in the evening preceding the day (‘So came the evening and the morning of the second day.’).
Then, according to God’s Law, the lambs were to be selected and set aside on the tenth day of the month of Nissan (See Exodus 12:3). And since Nissan 14 began after sunset, they therefore sacrificed the lamb and splashed its blood on their doorposts late in the day on the following afternoon, more than 20 hours after Nissan 14 began.
So, after sunset that evening (the start of Nissan 15), they were to eat the lamb and then leave Egypt the next morning.
Therefore, IsraEl started their trek out of Egypt on the morning of Nissan 15 (see Deuteronomy 16:6), after the Passover meal had been eaten, and after the angel had ‘passed over’ their houses.
Nissan 14 – The Day of Preparation
Thereafter, in the years that followed, the IsraElites gave names to each of the seven days of Passover. Nissan 14 was referred to as ‘Preparation,’ because that’s when the people prepared for the Passover meal by taking the lambs to the priests who slaughtered them as a sacrifice.
Note that these lambs were traditionally kept inside the tent or home and tied to a bedpost for four days prior to the Passover festival, and then they were sacrificed late in the afternoon of Nissan 14.
So among the IsraElites, Nissan 15 was the day they called Passover, because that’s when the actual Feast was to be held, according to God’s Law (see Numbers 28:17).
Unfortunately, many Christians don’t understand God’s Laws concerning the Passover or His Laws about the offering of sacrifices in general. For many believe that Jesus and his Apostles ate the Passover Feast on the 14th day, and many also believe that Passover was just one day. But notice that when Jesus sent his Apostles off to ‘prepare’ for the Passover, he didn’t say anything about a lamb. All he told them was to prepare a room (see Mark 14:12-16).
And no, the Jews couldn’t just go to a local market to buy a pound of lamb for the Passover on the following afternoon. Rather, what they call the ‘Paschal Lamb’ had to be offered by each family or group personally at the Temple, where it was to be sacrificed by a Priest, who then offered up its fat and its blood to God and who also received his portion of the meat (the breast and right shoulder).
That year (33 CE), Nissan 14th apparently started on the evening of what we now call ‘Thursday,’ which was the beginning of ‘Friday’ on the IsraElite calendar. For, following the words found in Genesis Chapter One, in the account about the six ‘days’ of creation, each day started in the evenings. So it was in the evening following the daylight hours of Nissan 13 that Jesus instituted his ‘supper’ or ‘evening meal.’
Then the account in Matthew goes on to tell us that on this particular Thursday evening, Jesus and his Apostles ate just unfermented bread with a ‘sop’ and bitter herbs (no lamb). This was appropriate, because it was the same day that he (Jesus) as ‘God’s Lamb’ was to be slaughtered, since he died on the following afternoon at about the same time that IsraEl’s Passover lambs were being slaughtered at the Temple.
We can clearly see that Nissan 14 was the Day of Preparation that preceded the Passover from the following scriptures:
‘Early the next morning, they led Jesus from CaiAphas’ [home] to the Governor’s Palace; but they didn’t go inside, because they didn’t want to become unclean (so they could eat the Passover).’
‘Now, it was about the sixth hour of the day of Preparation for the Passover. And [Pilate] said to the Judeans:
See, your King!’
‘And because it was the Jewish Preparation, they laid Jesus there, since the tomb was nearby.
Matthew 27:62, 63
‘Then the next day, after the Preparation, the Chief Priests and Pharisees gathered and came before Pilate, saying:
Lord, we remembered that while he was alive that impostor said,
Yet, in three days I will be raised.’
‘So, choose a perfect male, yearling lamb from [your herd] of lambs and kids, and keep it nearby until the fourteenth day of this month. Then the whole group of the children of IsraEl will slaughter it that evening (that is, before sunset on the following evening). And they will gather the blood and put it on the top and both sides of the doorframes of the houses where they will be eating [the lamb]. Then that night (Nissan 15), they will roast the flesh over a fire and eat it with fermentation-free bread and bitter herbs.’
The Reason for Confusion about the Days
However, the accounts in Matthew, Mark, and Luke would seem to contradict the above scriptures, because Jesus told his disciples to prepare for the Passover on the previous day. So, most assume that Nissan 13 was the day of Preparation, and that Nissan 14 was the Passover… NOT TRUE! Notice from the above scriptures, that:
• According to John 18:28, those who brought him before Pilate hadn’t yet eaten the Passover [lamb] yet, though it was the morning after Jesus’ Passover supper and his arrest.
• According to John 19:14, Jesus was brought before Pilate on the day of Preparation (Nissan 14).
• According to John 19:42, Jesus was buried on the day of Preparation (Nissan 14).
• According to Matthew 27:62, 63, it was the day after Jesus’ death (Nissan 15th) that the Chief Priests and Pharisees went before Pilate and asked him to post guards at Jesus’ tomb… and Matthew called the previous day (Nissan 14) the Preparation.
The reason why Jesus had to send his Disciples to prepare for the Passover on Nissan 13 is because Nissan 14 was a ‘holy day’ and they could not have done the necessary work of preparing the room after sunset, since that would have been in violation of the Sabbath laws… for the first day of Passover was a day of sacrificing that was to be treated like a Sabbath.
Notice that this understanding hasn’t really changed anything. It just gives us a better idea why the first day of Passover (Preparation) was a ‘holy day,’ why no lamb was mentioned as being eaten during Jesus’ last supper, and why it was appropriate for him to be slaughtered on the following afternoon (when the Passover lambs were slaughtered).
Therefore, the day for memorializing Jesus’ death remains the same, Nissan 14.
Why should Christians view this date (Nissan 14) as being so important? Notice that Paul wrote (at 1 Corinthians 5:7): ‘Clean out that old fermentation so you can be something new that isn’t fermenting, because the Anointed One (who is our Passover) has been sacrificed.’
So, Passover was the time when:
• God accepted IsraEl as ‘His inheritance’
• God saved their firstborn with the blood of lambs
• God led them from their captivity in Egypt
• The blood of the ‘Lamb of God’ was shed to inaugurate the New Sacred Agreement
• Jesus himself asked his Apostles to remember his sacrifice… the first day of Passover.
For more information on the Lord’s supper or evening meal, such as when it should be celebrated and who should partake, please see the link The New Covenant.
The End of Passover, the Lord’s Supper, and the Partaking of Sacraments?
It is interesting that Jesus spoke of some future day when the Passover will be fulfilled. For he said (at Luke 22:16): ‘Because I say to you; I won’t eat it (the Passover) again until it’s fulfilled in the Kingdom of God.’
So when Jesus returns and brings the Kingdom of God, it will no longer be necessary for Christians to do anything in remembrance of him, since he will already be here. And like the Festival of Pentecost, which is never mentioned again in the Bible after the outpouring of God’s Holy Breath in 33-CE; it seems as though that day will no longer be considered as holy.
However, this doesn’t appear to be true of the holiday of Temporary Structures (Booths or Tents), which is celebrated on the 15th day of the month of Tishrei, and which the Jews call Sukkot. This was when the IsraElites were to assemble in JeruSalem to offer the first-fruits of their harvest. So, it was the last sacred holiday of their year, which came immediately after Yom Kippur (1st day) and Rosh Hashanah (10th day).
For notice what we read at ZechariAh 14:16-19:
‘Then, all who remain from the nations That marched against JeruSalem Will ascend each year to bow to the King – To the Almighty Jehovah –
And observe the feast of the Pitching of Tents.
‘Then to all who won’t come [in that Day]
To bow before the Almighty From all the tribes of the earth,
Will have many bad things come upon them,
And they’ll not receive any rain.
‘And if the tribe of Egypt won’t come;
The same downfall will happen to them That the Lord will bring to the nations…
Those that would not observe
The feast of the Pitching of Tents.
‘For, this will be Egypt’s sin,
As well as the sin of all nations…
When they refuse to ascend To observe the feast of the Pitching of Tents.’
A Second Passover Date
Of course, attending the Passover Festival was a life-or-death matter for the people of IsraEl, because God told them (at Numbers 9:13):
‘If anyone is clean and is not away on a trip, he must be sure to keep the Passover.
Any person who doesn’t offer the gift to Jehovah at the proper time is guilty and must be cut off from his people.’
So we must assume that:
As with the Passover, observing the Lord’s Supper or Evening Meal at the proper time is very important for Christians.
However, when people were unable to observe the Passover in ancient times – as when they were ceremonially unclean or they were away from JeruSalem (where the lambs had to be offered) on a trip – they were allowed to celebrate it 28-days later, on the evening of the next full moon.
Instructions concerning this are found at Numbers 9:10-12, where we read:
‘Tell the sons of IsraEl that whenever a man among you or your descendants has become unclean because of touching a dead body, or is far away on a journey, he must still keep the Passover to Jehovah.
However, he must do it on the evening of the fourteenth day of the second month.
[The Passover sacrifice] must be offered then and eaten with fermentation-free bread and bitter herbs.
They must not leave any of it over until the next day, nor may they break any of its bones.
They must offer the sacrifice just as they would on the Passover.’
As the result; when circumstances don’t allow a Christian to remember the death of Jesus on the 14th day of Nissan (which appears to be a most appropriate time for doing so); as was true of the Passover in ancient IsraEl, it should likely be celebrated twenty-eight days later. However, this apparently doesn’t disallow Christians from meeting together and partaking of the sacred bread and wine on other occasions, for this appears to be what First-Century Christians did at their ‘Love Feasts’ (see Jude 12, and 1 Corinthians 11:20, 26).