Was the “Last Supper” a “Passover Meal”?

The Pre-Passover MealSome believe that the last meal which Christ shared with His disciples, is a “Passover meal”. There are valid reasons for this connection to have been made. In this short study, it will be our aim to check whether the “last supper” was a “Passover meal” or not. If it is, indeed a “Passover Meal”, then the communion taken by millions of Christians worldwide every week, signifies this meal. If it was Christ’s last meal that He taught to be kept as a remembrance, it makes a significant difference in how we view the Last Supper of our Lord.

This post is broken down into these parts
1. What we know about the Biblical Passover Commandment
2. Discrepancies in the Gospels? Or a simple misunderstanding?
3. Was the Last Supper a Passover Seder?
4. Was Christ partaking in a Passover meal?
5. Conclusion

Required Reading
What is the Biblical Day, Week, Month, Year? and does it really matter?
Good Friday or Passover?
Did Christ die on a Friday? The fulfillment of the Sign of Jonah

1. What we know about the Biblical Passover Commandment
1. The Passover meal is consumed at the end of the Passover day, at sunset, when the 15th day is starting, and has to be consumed before the next sunrise(Exo 12:8-10). Effectively, it is consumed on the 1st day of Unleavened Bread before the coming dawn. The Passover day would be on the 14th day of the 1st Biblical month, and does not align in anyway to the current Gregorian calendar which is used by everyone today.
2. The meal itself consists of 3 things, namely, a) Lamb roasted in fire b) Bitter Herbs & c) Unleavened Bread(Exo 12:8).
3. The Passover Lamb was killed on the 14th Day of the 1st Biblical Month, which is the Passover Day, in the evening(Exo 12:6)
4. The Passover Lambs were to be sacrificed at the Temple in Jerusalem, and nowhere else(Deut 16:1-7).
5. This was a commandment which was to be kept forever(Exo 12:24).

2. Discrepancies in the Gospels? Or a simple misunderstanding?
At first sight, the Synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark & Luke) seem to be in disagreement with John’s Gospel on whether the Last Supper was a Passover meal or not. While Matthew, Mark & Luke seem to be saying that Christ and His disciples were having a Passover Meal, John witnesses that Yeshua(Jesus’ true name) was crucified on the Day of Passover. If the Synoptic Gospels are correct, and they were having the Passover Meal, the crucifixion would have happened on the day preceding Passover, which is the 1st Day of Unleavened Bread – A High/Special Sabbath day(Lev 23:6,7, Joh 19:31). My belief is that all of the Gospel accounts are correct, and that there are no discrepancies between them. Out of the 3 possibilities that arise from the Gospel accounts, only one could be correct – and all 4 gospels need to agree, while disproving the other 2 possibilities. For a timeline of the time from the Last Supper to Christ’s Death, please go here.

CaptureThe 3 possibilities we are left with are:
A) The Last Supper was a Passover Meal & Christ died on the eve of the 1st Day of Unleavened Bread
B) The Last Supper was not a Passover Meal & Christ died on the eve of the day of Passover
C) The Last Supper was a Passover Meal which Christ & His disciples consumed a day earlier, and Christ died on the eve of the day of Passover

Verses that are in need of inspection – Gospel of Matthew
Mat 26:4,5 And consulted that they might take Jesus by subtilty, and kill him. But they said, Not on the feast day, lest there be an uproar among the people.

Mat 26:17  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?

Mat 27:15  Now at that feast the governor was wont to release unto the people a prisoner, whom they would.

Mat 27:62  Now the next day, that followed the day of the preparation, the chief priests and Pharisees came together unto Pilate,

Verses that are in need of inspection – Gospel of Mark
Mar 14:1,2
After two days was the feast of the passover, and of unleavened bread: and the chief priests and the scribes sought how they might take him by craft, and put him to death. But they said, Not on the feast day, lest there be an uproar of the people.

Mar 14:12-16 And 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? And he sendeth forth two of his disciples, and saith unto them, Go ye into the city, and there shall meet you a man bearing a pitcher of water: follow him. 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 he will shew you a large upper room furnished and prepared: there make ready for us. And his disciples went forth, and came into the city, and found as he had said unto them: and they made ready the passover.

Mar 15:6  Now at that feast he released unto them one prisoner, whomsoever they desired.

Mar 15:42  And now when the even was come, because it was the preparation, that is, the day before the sabbath,

Verses that are in need of inspection – Gospel of Luke
Luk 22:7-13
Then came the day of unleavened bread, when the passover must be killed. And he sent Peter and John, saying, Go and prepare us the passover, that we may eat. And they said unto him, Where wilt thou that we prepare? And he said unto them, Behold, when ye are entered into the city, there shall a man meet you, bearing a pitcher of water; follow him into the house where he entereth in. 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 he shall shew you a large upper room furnished: there make ready. And they went, and found as he had said unto them: and they made ready the passover.

Luk 22:15,16 And he said unto them, With desire I have desired to eat this passover with you before I suffer: For I say unto you, I will not any more eat thereof, until it be fulfilled in the kingdom of God.

Luk 23:16,17  I will therefore chastise him, and release him. (For of necessity he must release one unto them at the feast.)

Luk 23:54  And that day was the preparation, and the sabbath drew on.

Verses that are in need of inspection – Gospel of John
Joh 13:1,2
Now 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. And supper being ended, the devil having now put into the heart of Judas Iscariot, Simon’s son, to betray him;

Joh 13:27-29 And after the sop Satan entered into him. Then said Jesus unto him, That thou doest, do quickly. Now no man at the table knew for what intent he spake this unto him. For some of them thought, because Judas had the bag, that Jesus had said unto him, Buy those things that we have need of against the feast; or, that he should give something to the poor.

Joh 18:28  Then 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.

Joh 18:39  But ye have a custom, that I should release unto you one at the passover: will ye therefore that I release unto you the King of the Jews?

Joh 19:13,14 When Pilate therefore heard that saying, he brought Jesus forth, and sat down in the judgment seat in a place that is called the Pavement, but in the Hebrew, Gabbatha. And it was the preparation of the passover, and about the sixth hour: and he saith unto the Jews, Behold your King!

Joh 19:31  The Jews therefore, because it was the preparation, that the bodies should not remain upon the cross on the sabbath day, (for that sabbath day was an high day,) besought Pilate that their legs might be broken, and that they might be taken away.

Joh 19:42  There laid they Jesus therefore because of the Jews’ preparation day; for the sepulchre was nigh at hand.

Out of the above verses, John is very clear that the “Last Supper” happened at the start of the Day of Passover. The Passover lambs would be killed at the Temple of Jerusalem on the following day from Noon till Evening, and the meal would be taken afterwards at Sundown as it ushered in the 1st Day of Unleavened Bread.

But why do the Synoptic Gospels give a different story. Or do they? According to Matthew, Mark and Luke – the disciples came to Yeshua and asked about the Passover meal, on the 1st day of Unleavened Bread. At first sight, a person who knows about the Passover may become quite confused, as it seems to be implying the Passover was killed on the 1st day of Unleavened Bread. It would be too late to prepare for a Passover meal on the first day of the feast of unleavened bread, as the Passover was eaten between Sunset and Dawn(refer above graphic). Also it seems to be in direct conflict with their own words where they mention the day of Christ’s crucifixion as “the Day of Preparation”(Mat 27:62, Mar 15:42, Luk 23:54) which was another name for the Day of Passover – as that was when they prepared for the Passover. These verses from the Synoptic Gospels tend to agree with John’s words in 19:14,31&42 as well.

There is a valid reason why the Passover and the 1st Day of Unleavened Bread seem to be mixed up in the Synoptic Gospels. In the 1st Century AD, The Passover & the Week of Unleavened Bread were not counted as 2 different feasts but one. Josephus, the famous 1st Century Historian regarded the feast to last 8 days beginning on the 14th (Antiq II, 15.1). So, when the Synoptic Gospels speak of the 1st Day of Unleavened Bread, it is in fact speaking of the Passover – the Day of Preparation – which all 4 Gospels agree to in Mat 27:62, Mar 15:42, Luk 23:54, Joh19:14,31&42.

We can rule out a crucifixion and death on the day after Passover (1st Day of Unleavened Bread) because of the above reasons. Furthermore, Mat 26:4,5 & Mar 14:2 witnesses that the Chief Priests & Scribes wanted to refrain from putting Yeshua to death on the Feast (The 1st Day of Unleavened Bread was a High/Special Sabbath day where courts would have not operated). Also, we see that the Synoptic Gospels witness that Pilate released a prisoner on the Feast Day(Mat 27:15, Mar 15:6, Luk 23:16,17) which agrees with Joh 18:39 to be the Passover.

3. Was the Last Supper a Passover Seder?
But why then does Christ say “With desire I have desired to eat this passover with you before I suffer” as seen in Luke’s Gospel? Some conclude that Yeshua had the Passover a day before the prescribed time, because of such verses.

Some of the many similarities that are spoken of, between the Passover Meal and the Last Supper are as follows:
(1) The Last Supper took place in Jerusalem
(2) Held in a room made available to pilgrims for that purpose
(3) The meal was held during the night
(4) Christ celebrated the meal with his “family” of disciples
(5) They were reclining while they ate
(6) Bread was broken during the meal
(7) Wine was consumed
(8) A hymn was sung
(9) The symbolic significance of the meal was discussed

Of the above mentioned similarities, most could be part of any meal. The fact remains that the Last Supper was not taken on the eve of Passover, as we have already tested. The eve of Passover, leading to the 1st day of Unleavened Bread, was the time when the Passover meal was commanded to be consumed(Ex 12:2,6, Lev 23:5, Num 9:3). Messiah was crucified on the day of Passover(John 18:28, 19:14) and He died on the evening of the same day (Mat 27:46-50, Mar 15:33-37, Luk 23:44-46). The Last Supper was eaten, the evening before Passover eve, at the start of the Day of Passover. The Biblical Passover meal consisted of Lamb killed at the Temple in Jerusalem on the Day of Passover, Bitter Herbs & Unleavened Bread. None of which are mentioned by the Gospel writers. Even the Bread mentioned by authors of the Synoptic Gospels is regular bread(G740-Artos) and not “unleavened bread”(G106-Azumos). Furthermore, Christ and His disciples could not have been partaking of a seder similar to a Passover meal today, as some believe – reason being, the Passover Seder was created after the destruction of the Temple in 70AD by the Rabbis, and was not in use before.

4. Was Christ partaking in a Passover meal?
The question then remains, why did Yeshua speak of a Passover Meal? A little known fact about the evening before the Passover (evening that starts the 14th of the 1st Biblical Month) is that the Jews in the 1st Century, and even today celebrate the start of the Passover with a meal. Evidence of this tradition can be seen in The Jerusalem Talmud (Jer. Pes. 27d) reckoned that “the Pesach (Passover) of that time to actually begin on the 14th”. The Foundation Compendia Rerum Iudaicarum ad Novum Testamentum, edited by Safrai, Stern, Flusser and Van Unnik, produced the work entitled “The Jewish People of the First Century” which states of the evening before Passover (evening which starts the 14th of Abib/Nisan) “The eve itself was a sort of feast because the paschal sacrifice was offered that afternoon” (Volume 2, page 809). The Last Supper was most probably a Pre-Passover Meal that was shared in anticipation of the Passover ahead.

Luk 22:15,16 And he said unto them, With desire I have desired to eat this passover with you before I suffer: For I say unto you, I will not any more eat thereof, until it be fulfilled in the kingdom of God.

As we see in Luke’s testimony, this Pre-Passover meal was the closest Christ would be to sharing a Passover meal with His disciples. He had desired to eat the Passover together with His disciples before He suffered, but knew that He would not be alive the next evening. He wishes to share this missed Passover Meal with them, when He returns again and tells them He would not partake of it till then. Looking at this verse in this sense aligns with all of the other verses, as the Last Supper is clearly not a Passover Meal, but a Pre-Passover meal.

5. Conclusion
The Last Supper was a meal shared at the beginning of the 14th Day of the 1st Month of the Biblical Year. Although the Synoptic Gospels and John’s Gospel seem to be contradicting each other, they all agree that Christ died on the Passover and the Last Supper was held the night before. The Last Supper may seem like a Passover seder, but there isn’t enough evidence to prove the likeness of this theory. The Last Supper would have most probably been a Pre-Passover meal shared in celebration of the ushering in of the Passover day, and the upcoming Sacrifice, through which we came out of slavery to Sin, just as the Israelites came out of slavery to Egypt.

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12 thoughts on “Was the “Last Supper” a “Passover Meal”?

  1. ayash

    I always pondered on if the meal was a passover or not. Currently, I am doing research on John chp 6.51-58. These verses could be not scriptual which may affect the way we should break bread and pour the wine(libation).

    Reply
    1. HisCreation

      I know what you mean. It would be nice to have clarification for “physical” purposes, but if you continue reading down to verse 63, Yeshua says, “The words that I speak to you are Spirit and are life.” So in the big picture of things, verses 51-58 are spiritually speaking. 🙂

      Reply
      1. ayash

        After doing some studying on the matter, I feel that communion is a pagan ritual that is catholic/gnostic influence. I agree, the entire book of the gospel of John is dealing with spiritual matter, but verse 51-58 contradicts what scriptures says about consuming blood or canabalism. Even in Acts 15.9, the apostles(including John) commanded the gentiles to stay away from blood. Many “biblical scholar” agree that John 6.51-58 was a later addition. John 6.54 My flesh is food indeed, and my blood is drink indeed” sounds like gnostic influence . The book of Luke 21, says to break the bread and pour the wine signifying his brutal death. Also in the book of Mark, the NKJV says14.22, omit “take eat”.

  2. ayash

    Many Blessing on your research. We should search things out Acts 17.11. By the way this is a good article on the memorial meal was not a Passover. However, in John 6.4,it says the passover was near. How did the lad have access to the barley loaves before the waving of the sheaf offering before first fruits? I assuming that there was no monopoly on the barley harvest.

    Reply
    1. rameshdesilva Post author

      Dear Ayash,
      There are quite a few different view points i have heard about John 6:4. Whatever the explanation, the child had bread(ortos) with him… not unleavened bread(Azumos). And since it was before the day of Unleavened Bread, it was permitted by God’s Word.

      May you be a blessing to everyone around you!

      Reply
  3. Arch

    Should not everything to do with the passover be completed on the 14 th of Abib?
    Passover is a 24 hour event ?.
    Unleavened bread is 15-21st?
    Where does scripture say passover gets its name ?
    If this occurs on 15 then passover is 15 not 14 ?
    How could the lambs be eaten at midnight on 15th in Egypt and Israel leave at night of 15th if the could come out of their houses till morning ?
    Think answer A is the only one that fits all scripture as I understand it !

    Reply
    1. rameshdesilva Post author

      Dear Arch,
      14th eve Sundown is the start of the 15th, as a biblical day is from Sundown to Sundown. 14th eve to 15th Sunrise is the time separated for the eating of the Passover meal.
      Exo 12:6-11 And 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. And they shall take of the blood, and strike it on the two side posts and on the upper door post of the houses, wherein they shall eat it.
      And they shall eat the flesh in that night, roast with fire, and unleavened bread; and with bitter herbs they shall eat it. Eat not of it raw, nor sodden at all with water, but roast with fire; his head with his legs, and with the purtenance thereof. And ye shall let nothing of it remain until the morning; and that which remaineth of it until the morning ye shall burn with fire. And thus shall ye eat it; with your loins girded, your shoes on your feet, and your staff in your hand; and ye shall eat it in haste: it is the LORD’S passover.

      If the Last Supper was eaten at the time prescribed by God(14th eve to 15th morn), Yeshua would have died on the eve of the 15th.

      Be a blessing to everyone around you!

      Reply
  4. seth

    I had been taught by the student of a Messianic Rabbi that it was rabbinical tradition for rabbis to eat a “teaching” seder with their disciples on the eve of the Passover so that those disciples could then share what they had learned with their families at the actual Passover seder.

    Shalom B’Yeshuah

    Reply
    1. rameshdesilva Post author

      Dear Seth,
      I have also heard the same, but did not put it into the article as I could not find a reference from a historical document which could substantiate same. If you do know of a reference, please let me know… will be more than happy to enter it in, with credit.
      Be a mighty blessing to everyone around you!

      Reply
  5. Pingback: Good Friday or Passover? | Bible things in Bible ways

  6. Pingback: Holy Communion and the Bread & Wine on the Table of Shewbread/Presence | Bible things in Bible ways

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