On the Last Passover and the day
of our Lord's crucifixion
This is a question that has been debated over and over again, and its
solution, as I think will appear clearly from the following, depends upon
dispelling some misunderstandings as to some of the terms that the Scripture
uses. Obviously, the first thing to be done is go to the Scriptural record and
see what it says in all the passages that have bearing on this, and which are
obviously Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, Acts, and portions of the Old
Testament, and seek to interpret Scripture by Scripture.
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. ... Matthew 26:17-19
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. And in the evening he cometh with the twelve ... Mark
Then came the day of the 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. And when the
hour was come, he sat down, and the twelve apostles with him. 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. Luke 22:7-16
Thus, the Scriptures state clearly, so far,
1.—- that it was the first day of unleavened bread,
2.—- the day when
the passover was killed
3.—- and that He ate the passover with His
John's Gospel does not state that the Supper was the Passover, but neither
does he give the Institution of the Lord's Supper. He is writing after the other
Gospels were already known, and assumes their contents. And, when touching the
Supper, he focuses rather on the family aspect of it all, and on the
Servant and Priestly function of the Lord. Therefore, he does not mention that
they had eaten the Passover. His purpose is different: he focuses on the
supper as such and on the teaching at that supper (chaps. 1316) and the
Lord's intercession for His own (chap. 17).
The problem lies in that there is not only silence, but that there are
Apparent discrepancies in
Now before the feast of the passover, when Jesus knew that his hour was come
that he should depart out of this world ... John 13:1
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. ... John
From these two texts, it seems that the supper was before the passover
and that the Lord Jesus was crucified before the passover was eaten. So there is
an apparent discrepancy here. Is it real?
The answer —-and it will be proven straight from the Bible—- lies in that
the term passover is used of different things:
1.—- of the passover lamb, which was killed during the first day of
unleavened bread, in the afternoon, and eaten that evening after sunset. This is
what we have in Matthew, Mark and Luke.
2.—- of the passover feast and its sacrifices which were partaken of
during the whole week, also known as the Feast of Unleavened Bread. This is what
we find in John.
The solution in
In Numbers 28:16-25 we already see the command to hold The Feast of
Unleavened Bread with certain special sacrifices each day besides those that
were daily normative, and we can note the close association of the sacrifice of
the Passover (on the fourteenth) with the next sacrifices (from the fifteenth
till the twenty-first).
But it is in Deuteronomy and Acts where we have the main key to the apparent
contradiction in John:
Observe the month of Abib, and keep the passover unto the Lord thy God: for
in the month of Abib the Lord thy God brought thee forth out of Egypt by night.
Thou 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.
Thou shalt eat no leavened bread with it; seven days shalt thou eat unleavened
bread therewith, even the bread of affliction; for thou camest forth out
of the land of Egypt in haste: that thou mayest remember the day when thou
camest forth out of the land of Egypt all the days of thy life. ...
Now about that time Herod the king stretched forth his hands to vex certain
of the church. And he killed James the brother of John with the sword. And
because he saw it pleased the Jews, he proceeded further to take Peter also.
(Then were the days of unleavened bread.) And when he had apprehended him, he
put him in prison, and delivered him to four quaternions of
soldiers to keep him; intending after Easter [i.e., the Passover] to bring him
forth to the people. Acts 12:1-3
We can observe in 2 Chronicles the close
association of the Seven Days with the Passover. But in Deuteronomy 16:1-3
itself the association is quite clear: the whole set of sacrifices to be eaten
during the seven days is designated as it, i.e., the
passover, in a general way: "Thou 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. Thou shalt eat no leavened bread
with it; seven days shalt thou eat unleavened bread therewith."
As we see in Acts 12:4, Herod intended to take Peter to the people (obviously
for a public execution) after Easter. It clearly refers to "the days of
unleavened bread" mentioned in Acts 12:3. Now, it is unfortunate that the King
James Version uses the popular designation of Easter for these days, because it
is used as a translation of the original pascha, that is, the same word
translated elsewhere as passover.
Therefore, this is a clear example of the use of the word Passover to
refer in a general way to the seven day period of the Feast of Unleavened Bread,
connected with the Paschal Lamb, which was sacrificed on the day before this
very same period, on the very day when the leaven was thrown out of all the
houses (cf. Ex 12:15-20).
So, the whole celebration was designated in a general sense "the passover".
Not only passover lambs were sacrificed, but also animals of the herd:
oxen, for instance, to provide for the days of the Unleavened Bread. Eating the
sacrifices of the week of Unleavened Bread was designated in a general way as
eating the passover, as employed in John 18:28. It was a common
designation. Therefore, John 18:28 does not refer to a desire that the Jews had
of eating the Passover Lamb, which had been done the previous night, but
of eating the passover in the sense of partaking that day of the
sacrifices of the herd eaten every day of the seven day Feast of
Unleavened Bread (the passover feast).
This is also seen in the prophetic passage of Ezequiel 45:21, thus:
In the first [month], in the fourteenth day of the month, ye shall have the
passover, a feast of seven days; unleavened bread shall be eaten.
Again we see that the passover is taken to mean the seven day feast as a
Keil says, in his Commentary on Deuteronomy 16:1-3:
Israel was to make ready the Passover to the Lord in the earing month (see at
Ex 12:2). The precise day is supposed to be known from Ex 12, as in Ex 23:15.
... (to prepare the Passover), which is used primarily to denote the
preparation of the paschal lamb for a festal meal, is employed here in a wider
signification, viz. "to keep the Passover". At this feast they were to
slay sheep and oxen to the Lord for a Passover, at the place, etc. In v. 2, as
in v. 1, the word "Passover" is employed in a broader sense, and includes not
only the paschal lamb, but the paschal sacrifices generally, which the Rabbins
embrace under the common name of chagiga; not the burnt-offerings and
sin-offerings, however, prescribed in Num 28:19-26, but all the sacrifices that
were slain at the feast of the Passover (i.e., during the seven days of
the Matzoth, which are included under de name of pascha) for the
purpose of holding sacrificial meals. This is evident from the expression "of
the flock and the herd"; as it was expressly laid down, that only a yearling
animal of the sheep or goats, was to be slain for the paschal meal on the
fourteenth of the month in the evening, and an ox was never slaughtered in the
place of the lamb. But if any doubt could exist upon this point,
it would be completely set aside by v. 3: "Thou shalt eat no leavened bread
with it; seven days shalt thou eat unleavened bread therewith." As the word
"therewith" cannot possibly refer to anything else than the "Passover" in
v. 2, it is distinctly stated that the slaughtering and eating of the Passover
was to last seven days, whereas the Passover lamb was to be slain and consumed
in the evening of the fourteenth Abib (Ex 12:10). ...
So also in Luke we have the same use, in chapter 2, verses 41-43:
Now his [Jesus'] parents went to Jerusalem every year at the feast of the
passover. And when he was twelve years old, they went up to Jerusalem after the
custom of the feast. And when they had fulfilled the days, as they returned, the
Child Jesus tarried behind in Jerusalem; and Joseph and his mother knew not of
it. ... Luke 2:41-43
The phrase should be observed: "And when they had fulfilled the days,
..." ¿Which days? The context is very clear, the days of the feast of
the passover, which is taken as all the period of the paschal sacrifice of
the lamb, and the seven days of unleavened bread and the sacrifices associated
with them, according to Deuteronomy 16:1-3.
And finally, we have the statement in Luke that should make this point
evident, clear and final:
Now the feast of unleavened bread drew nigh, which is called the Passover.
Therefore, when John refers in chap. 13:1 to "before the feast of the
passover", and in 18:28 to the fact that the accusers of the Lord Jesus "went
not into the judgment hall, lest they should be defiled; but that they might eat
the passover", in 13:1 he is referring not to the Passover Supper
but to the seven days of the Feast connected with it, and in 18:28 to the
sacrifices of that day in which the Lord was crucified, as prescribed in Numbers
28:16-25, identified as passover in a general way in Deuteronomy 16:1-3,
and thus spoken of.
Concerning the day when the Lord was crucified, whether it was Friday or
Thursday, the following should be noted:
First, we have the question of the Resurrection of the Lord being "three days
and three nights," "after three days" or "at the third day" after His death,
which obviously has to do with which day He was crucified (He died on the same
day He was crucified, as we can see from all the Gospel narratives). To
elucidate this, we should follow the usus loquendi of that time and
nation, the way they used it, and not our own understanding.
What would an American think if he heard a Catalan say to another Catalan:
"D'avui en vuit portarem la família al Zoo. [Eight days from today we will take
the family to the Zoo.]"? If we were on the 2nd of the month, he would count and
say: Ah!, he is taking his family to the Zoo on the 10th. Right? Wrong!! His
Catalan friend would rightly understand the 9th. You see, we Catalans count our
days inclusive, like the Jews. But the Jews had other conventions as
well, and we should not reason from our ways to decide on these issues, but
should follow their conventions. Now, if we follow their conventions, and
the plain meaning of Scripture, the Lord was crucified on Friday. But besides we
have the clear statements of the Scripture.
Secondly, we have seen that "the Passover" as a common
designation included the seven day period of the Unleavened Bread. Now, in
Scripture we have a few times a particular day mentioned, the Preparation day
(paraskeuhv), which was the Friday, when the Jews did all their preparation for
the Sabbath (that it is so is made clear by Mark to his gentile readers in this
very connection in Mk 15:42: "And now when the even was come, because it was the
preparation, that is, the day before the sabbath ...").
So, the Preparation of the Passover was not, as it is sometimes wrongly
understood, "the day when they prepared the passover" (which had been the
previous day). Rather, the Preparation of the Passover meant "the
Preparation Day of the Passover Feast", i.e., the day before the Sabbath of the
Passover, or Passover Friday! It was the day before the Sabbath (cf.
again Mark 15:42), not a Sabbath (i.e., an extra Sabbath), but
the Sabbath, i.e., the normal costumary Sabbath, the Seventh Day
of the Week. This Sabbath was also "an high day" because it was the Sabbath of
the Passover Feast, i.e., of the seven-day period as seen in Deuteronomy 16:1-3.
It was because of the Sabbath that was going to begin that the bodies were taken
down from the crosses; and it was thus that the women "returned, and prepared
spices and ointments; and rested the sabbath day according to the
commandment" (Luke 23:56), "and when the sabbath was past", the women
went early (no hint that more than a sabbath took place, i.e., it was the
costumary Sabbath, but with a special solemnity because of being within the
Passover week, and therefore with special sacrifices and Temple activities, "an
This standard Sabbath was therefore within and happened almost at the
beginning of "the Feast", deriving its special solemnity from the fact of being
the sabbath of the Feast. It should not be confused with the special day of rest
and holy convocation which marked the end of the Festal period, the
seventh day of the Feast of Unleavened Bread, which had a special character in
itself of "day of rest", and which, depending on the year, would coincide with a
normal Sabbath or not, but which had the character of a Sabbath (Num 28:25).
This special final day of the Feast had no connection at all with the
standard Sabbath that the Lord spent in the tomb, and which was right by the
beginning of the Feast. The solemn day of holy convocation marked rather its
Therefore, the Lord was crucified on Friday, the very same day in which He
was taken down from the cross when that day (the day of the Preparation of the
Passover, the Friday of the Passover) was hastening to its end. It was on a
Friday that the Lord was buried. The Jews counted a fraction of a day as a whole
day (a day and a night) to all legal purposes. So Friday was the first day the
Lord spent in the tomb. Saturday was the second day. And on that first day of
the week which followed the Sabbath day, which was therefore the third day —-in
the diverse ways the Jews had to reckon and communicate and get understood
amongst themselves—- the Lord Jesus arose from the dead. Even if He spent only
a small fraction of that day in the tomb, it was legally counted as a whole
Then, the women went early on "the first day of the week" —-and found that
the Lord had risen!! Hallelujah!
NOTES AND REFERENCES
1. Moreover Josiah kept a passover unto the Lord in Jerusalem:
and they killed the passover on the fourteenth day of the first month.
And he set the priests in their charges, and encouraged them to the service of
the house of the Lord, and said unto the Levites that taught all Israel, which
were holy unto the Lord, Put the holy ark in the house which Solomon the son of
David king of Israel did build; it shall not be a burden upon
your shoulders: serve now the Lord your God, and his people Israel, and
prepare yourselves by the houses of your fathers, after your courses,
according to the writing of David king of Israel, and according to the writing
of Solomon his son. And stand in the holy place according to the
divisions of the families of the fathers of your brethren the people, and
after the division of the families of the Levites. So kill the passover,
and sanctify yourselves, and prepare your brethren, that they may do
according to the word of the Lord by the hand of Moses.
And Josiah gave to the people, of the flock, lambs and kids, all for the
passover offerings, for all that were present, to the number of thirty thousand,
and three thousand bullocks: these were of the king's substance. And his
princes gave willingly unto the people, to the priests, and to the Levites:
Hilkiah and Zechariah and Jehiel, rulers of the house of God, gave unto the
priests for the passover offerings five thousand small cattle, and five
hundred oxen. So the service was prepared, and the priests stood in their place,
and the Levites in their courses, according to the king's commandment. And they
killed the passover, and the priests sprinkled the blood from their
hands, and the Levites flayed them.
And they removed the burnt offerings, that they might give according to the
divisions of the families of the people, to offer unto the Lord, as it is
written in the book of Moses. And so did they with the oxen.
And they roasted the passover with fire according to the ordinance: but the
other holy offerings sod they in pots, and in caldrons, and in
pans, and divided them speedily among all the people. And afterward they
made ready for themselves, and for the priests: because the priests the sons of
Aaron were busied in offering of burnt offerings and the fat until night;
therefore the Levites prepared for themselves, and for the priests the sons of
And the singers the sons of Asaph were in their place, according to
the commandment of David, and Asaph, and Heman, and Jeduthun the king's seer;
and the porters waited at every gate; they might not depart from their
service; for their brethren the Levites prepared for them.
So all the service of the Lord was prepared the same day, to keep the
passover, and to offer burnt offerings upon the altar of the Lord, according to
the commandment of king Josiah.
And the children of Israel that were present kept the passover at that time,
and the feast of unleavened bread seven days.
And there was no passover like to that kept in Israel from the days of Samuel
the prophet; neither did all the kings of Israel keep such a passover as Josiah
kept, and the priests, and the Levites, and all Judah and Israel that were
present, and the inhabitants of Jerusalem.
In the eighteenth year of the reign of Josiah was this passover kept. 2
Chronicles 35:1-19 Back to Text
2. ASV, JND and NABS, amongst others, give the normal
translation of "Passover", not "Easter". Pavsca appears in the New Testament in
the following passages: Matthew 26:2, 17, 18, 19; Mark 14:1, 12 (twice), 14, 16;
Luke 2:41; 22:1, 7, 8, 11, 13, 15; John 2:13, 23; 6:4; 11:55 (twice); 12:1;
13:1; 18:28, 39; 19:14; Acts 12:4; 1 Corinthians 5:7; Hebrews 11:28. Back to Text
3. Keil, C. F., in Keil-Delitzsch, Commentary on the Old
Testament, "The Fifth Book of Moses" (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, reprint 1986),
vol. 1, pages 374-375 of the Fifth Section. Back to Text
4. By the way, in modern Greek, Friday is parasceve!
This word appears in the NT in the following passages: Matthew 27:62; Mark
15:42; Luke 23:54; John 19:14, 31, 42. Back to Text
For further reading:
Anderson, Sir Robert, "The Paschal Supper", in The Coming Prince
(Grand Rapids: Kregel Publications, Nineteenth Edition, 1975), pages.
Edersheim, Alfred: The Temple —-its Ministry and Services as they
were at the time of Christ, (Grand Rapids, Eerdmans, Reprint 1983),
especially pages 389-401.
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octubre 1998, 22:08
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