On the Celebration of Passover: Some Liturgical and Calendrical Issues Addressed. Part Two — The Chronology of the Last Supper and the Crucifixion



Jewish Calendar

The question whether the Last Supper of Yeshua was a Passover Seder is immediately linked to the question what was the actual date of the crucifixion. Although there are difficulties on both sides of the two alternatives — a 14th Nisan or a 15th Nisan crucifixion — yet it seems that a crucifixion on the 14th of Nisan offers the best possible solution of the difficulties involved. The reasons are the following.

When we accept a crucifixion on Nisan 14, we face a problem with the synoptic setting of the Last Supper, which seems to be that of a Passover Seder. We can remove this problem by accepting a crucifixion on Nisan 15, but the question is whether this remedy is not worse than the disease. For now we face not only a conflict about a calendar date between the Synoptics and John, but certain additional difficulties over and above that conflict, on which I’ll expound below.

Besides that, it seems that the Synoptics are less united in their dating of the Last Supper than often is thought, and the Gospel of Luke may be a dissenting voice here. In Luke 22:1 it is said that “the feast of unleavened bread drew nigh, which is the Passover”. A few verses later, 22:7, it is said: “Then came the day of unleavened bread, when the Passover must be killed”. Bullinger’s Companion Bible has the following comment on this verse: “came = came near; for the preparation had not yet been made”. This is in accordance with the Greek tense used here, and it should be noted that the text doesn’t say that the day of the unleavened bread had already come, was already there. To be clear, the text doesn’t exclude this, but simply doesn’t say it. It can therefore be understood as saying that the arrival of this day was imminent. I also think it must not be excluded that Luke is making here a subtle allusion to Yeshua’s death, and that by saying that on the day of the unleavened “the Passover must be killed” he means that both the Passover lamb and Yeshua must be killed on that day, i.e. the 14th of Nisan. If that is true, then of course Yeshua must be crucified on the 14th of Nisan, not on the 15th.

In the following verses the disciples are instructed where to prepare for the Passover, and they are told to say to the housemaster (in :11): “Where is the guestroom where I may eat the Passover with my disciples?”. And it is reported that they made ready the Passover (in :13). The verb “make ready” (Gr. etoimazo) used here doesn’t mean to say that they slaughtered and roasted the Passover lamb, but that they made ready the upper room and provided all things necessary for the celebration of the Passover.

After that Luke introduces us to the evening of the Last Supper (in :14). The next verse, Luke 22:15, is of particular interest here. Brian Huie’s explanation of it, in his article “Was the “Last Supper” the Passover Meal?” sheds some unexpected light on it. Huie says:

Luke 22:15 has been used to support the assertion that Messiah and his disciples ate the Passover meal. In this Scripture, Yeshua says: “With fervent desire I have desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer”. The Greek phrase translated “with fervent desire I have desired” is epithumia epethumesa. It literally means “with desire I desired”.

The first word of this phrase, epithumia, is a noun. According to the Exegetical Dictionary of the New Testament, usually this word “has the ambivalent sense, desire, strive for, long to have/do/be something”. It can also be “used for (forbidden) desire” (p. 27, vol. 2). Messiah uses epithumia in this sense in Luke 22:15.

In the article “The Lord’s Supper”, the New Bible Dictionary says that “[…] Lk. 22:15 may be read as an unfulfilled wish” (p. 707). Christ truly longed to eat that coming Passover with his disciples, but his desire could not be realized […], since Christ was destined to be sacrificed as our Passover lamb on the afternoon before the Passover meal.

In his Bible translation, Ferrar Fenton accurately captures the meaning of Messiah’s words in these verses:

Luke 22:15-16: “And He said to them: ‘I have longingly desired [epithumia epethumesa] to eat this Passover with you before my suffering; however, I tell you that I shall not eat of it, until it can be administered in the Kingdom of God’”. (Ferrar Fenton, The Holy Bible in Modern English, Oxford University Press — Oxford 1938) [1]

Luke thus seems to depict the Last Supper of Yeshua and the disciples as a preparatory meal for the Passover, not as the Passover itself. This doesn’t take away the fact that the Supper was held in close relation to the Passover. In fact it was celebrated at the beginning night of the 14th of Nisan, the night that is known to us for the ceremony of b’dikat chametz, when the final search for chametz is done that ends the whole process of removing chametz and the kashering of utensils for Pesach. During this night and the following morning is the last occasion to eat leavened bread, because tradition and rabbinic law prescribe that the prohibition of chametz will run from noon on.

This explanation of Luke’s version of the Last Supper is important, for it softens the opposition between John and the Synoptics by showing that at least one of the Synoptic Gospels can be harmonized with the Passover and crucifixion chronology of John.

More important, however, are the inconsistencies which we run into by accepting the view that the Last Supper was a real Passover Seder, and particularly so because these inconsistencies are not only a matter of conflicting assertions between the Synoptics and John. On the presupposition of this scheme of events at least one striking inconsistency can be found within the Synoptic Gospels themselves, in Mark 15:46. Mark tells us there that Joseph of Arimathæa “bought fine linen”. It is clear that this never can have happened on the Yom Tov day of Pesach itself. And yet it is made to be so by those who hold that according to the synoptic accounts Yeshua was crucified on that day and that this indeed was the case.

Some have tried to reason a way out of this by proposing that the buying of the linen was done after nightfall, “when even was come”, according to Mark. 15:42, and that there was a day in between the high day of the 15th of Nisan and the weekly Sabbath mentioned in that verse. The phrase: “because it was the preparation day” is then applied to the yet begun or beginning next day, Nisan 16, and, consequently, Nisan 17 is held by them to be the weekly Sabbath. But this proposal is dismissed by Luke’s own account in Lk. 23:54: “And that day was the preparation, and the Sabbath drew on”. So if Joseph of Arimathæa bought the linen after nightfall he transgressed the law of the Sabbath, and if he bought it in daytime he transgressed the law of Yom Tov. There is no way out here, except by assuming that the crucifixion occurred on a day that was neither a Sabbath nor a Yom Tov, and that the linen was bought on that same day, which for all the reasons mentioned cannot be another day than the 14th of Nisan.

There is no conflict between Mark and Luke here, for the phrase “when even was come” need not to refer to a time after nightfall, but can signify the late part of daytime. It is the time toward the end of the day, and on Nisan 14 particularly it was “even” after 3 PM, the time Yeshua died and when the slaughtering of the Passover lambs which was to be done “in the evening” or “at even” according to Ex. 12:6 and Lev. 23:5, was begun. Dt. 16:6 explains that this even is “at the going down of the sun”, and a further explanation of this expression can be derived from the laws of the evening sacrifice. It is clear from Ex. 29:38-41 that the evening sacrifice is to be brought on the same day as the preceding morning sacrifice:

Exodus 12:38-41

38Now this is that which thou shalt offer upon the altar; two lambs of the first year day by day continually. 39The one lamb thou shalt offer in the morning; and the second [hasheni] lamb thou shalt offer at even [beyn ha‘arbayim]: 40And with the one lamb a tenth deal of flour mingled with the fourth part of an hin of beaten oil; and the fourth part of an hin of wine for a drink offering. 41And the second [hasheni] lamb thou shalt offer at even, and shalt do thereto according to the meat offering of the morning, and according to the drink offering thereof, for a sweet savour, an offering made by fire unto HaShem.

For the evening sacrifice to be the second offering of the day this sacrifice has to be brought before sunset on the same day. Otherwise the day has ended and a new day has begun and the evening sacrifice would be the first instead of the second offering of the day, and the order prescribed in the passage above would be reversed.

Those who favour the position that the Last Supper was a Passover Seder and that Yeshua was crucified on the 15th of Nisan sometimes try to harmonize John with their understanding of the Synoptics. An ingenious, or rather sagacious, way of doing so is to explain the verses in John that refer to the Passover (i.c. Jn. 18:28; 19:14, 31, 42) by considering them as referring to the Chagigah offerings that were made during the Passover season. A basis for this explanation is found in Dt. 16:2-3, where the sacrifices made during the whole week of the unleavened bread are called “Passover”:

Deuteronomy 16:2-3

2Thou shalt therefore sacrifice the Passover unto HaShem thy God, of the flock and the herd, in the place which HaShem shall choose to place his name there. 3Thou 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.

From the phrase “seven days shalt thou eat unleavened bread therewith”, i.e. with the Passover, it is concluded that all the sacrifices brought during the feast of the unleavened bread are called the Passover. Hence it is inferred that the preparation of the Passover mentioned in John could signify the preparation for the Chagigah sacrifices instead of the Pesach sacrifice of the 14th of Nisan. And proof for this could perhaps be derived from the fact that the servants of the high priest “went not into the judgment hall, lest they should be defiled; but that they might eat the Passover” (Jn. 18:28). David Stern comments:

Some scholars believe “the Pesach” refers to the Passover lamb and conclude that Yochanan, unlike the Synoptic Gospels, places the Seder — the first evening of Passover — on Friday evening after the execution of Yeshua in the afternoon. I do not believe that Yochanan’s Gospel reports a different date for the crucifixion from the Synoptics (but see 13:29&N); rather, the meal of 13:1 was the Seder, and it took place on Thursday night; but “the Pesach” in this verse refers to other food eaten during Pesach, specifically the Chagigah (festival sacrifice), which was consumed with great joy and celebration on the afternoon following the Seder. This is the Pesach meal which the Judeans gathered outside Pilate’s palace would have been unable to eat had they entered, because their defilement would have lasted till sundown. If “the Pesach” meant the Passover lamb, defilement in the morning might not have been a problem, since the Seder meal took place after sundown. [2]

This argument should certainly be duly considered. It goes back to Charles C. Torrey, who presented it in the Journal of Biblical Literature in 1931.[3] If his, and, consequently, Stern’s hypothesis is true, we face new problems in direct connection with the Seder. For if the supper of Jn. 13:2 was actually a Seder, then how could some of the disciples think that when Judas went out it was to “buy those things we have need of against the feast” (Jn. 13:29)? If it was Seder night then it was Yom Tov and buying and selling would be out of the question. Moreover, the reference at Jn. 13:1 that the supper took place “before the feast of Passover” cannot be reasoned away by the Chagigah-theory.

In Stern’s Commentary the issue of buying on Yom Tov is addressed by the unconvincing presupposition that in Yeshua’s time the halachah concerning financial transactions may not have been finalized. And Stern doesn’t answer the objection based on Jn. 13:1. When we consider that, on the presupposition that the Last Supper was a Seder it was already night at the time of the footwashing — for the footwashing was performed at “supper being ended” (KJV) or “supper having occurred” (Young’s Literal Translation). Although Bullinger understands this phrase as “supper having been served” or “supper having been laid”, because “washing would naturally precede the meal”, this nevertheless means that it was already after night, for the Seder never starts before nightfall.

When we duly consider Stern’s argument of ritual defilement we must come to the conclusion that it proves nothing. If the defilement ended at sundown then of course the Pesach lamb could be eaten. But this argument neglects that the eating in this case is connected with the slaughtering and roasting of the lambs that had to be done during daytime and for which ritual purity was required as well. If the Jews that were present at Yeshua’s trial before Pilate were to slaughter their Passover lambs in the afternoon of that same day, it is not difficult to understand that were anxious in guarding their ritual purity.

An even stronger case against Stern’s argument may be inferred from the consideration that the nature of the ritual defilement involved by entering the praetorium was probably that of uncleanness caused by a corpse, as is made clear by Barry Smith:

There seems to be only one possibility concerning why entering the praetorium would cause ritual defilement and, as a result, prevent Jesus’ accusers from eating the Passover. The dwellings of Gentiles were considered ritually defiling, because it was assumed that a Jew contracted corpse uncleanness by entering therein, owing to the belief that Gentiles buried their miscarried children within their houses. This type of ritual defilement would prevent a Jew from taking part in the sacrificing of the Passover lamb or the festival offering. [4]

Although Smith in his article attempts to assimilate John’s chronology to the supposedly Synoptic position of a 15th Nisan crucifixion, his just cited argument is destructive for the Chagigah theory, because if indeed corpse uncleanness is the issue in Jn. 18:28, then the participation in the entire festival of seven days was endangered for those who would enter Pilate’s praetorium. And thus the Chagigah-argument is of no avail for excluding the Passover sacrifice of Nisan 14 as the reference of Jn. 18:28.

The synoptic texts that give us Yeshua’s words about the sign of Jonah (Mt. 12:39-41; 16:4; Lk. 11:29-32) have given rise to the assumption that there are two Sabbaths mentioned in the Gospel accounts of the crucifixion, not only the weekly Sabbath but the “annual Sabbath” of the first Yom Tov of Pesach, Nisan 15. This assumption has led to two new theories, with the crucifixion on Wednesday or on Thursday respectively. The Wednesday crucifixion theory places the “annual Sabbath” of Passover on Thursday, and has the resurrection after — or sometimes even during — the weekly Sabbath. In this scheme there is an intermediate day, Friday, between the two Sabbaths. The Thursday crucifixion theory has the “annual Sabbath” and the weekly Sabbath in a successive sequence without an intermediate day. In particular Jn. 19:14 and 19:31 are used as proof-texts for this theory.

These theories are relevant for the question whether Yeshua was crucified on Nisan 15 or on Nisan 14. For a crucifixion on Nisan 15 is only conceivable at all if that day was not a weekly Sabbath. On a weekly Sabbath a trial and an execution were certainly excluded by Jewish law, and the accounts of the Gospels contain so many details that should be counted as Sabbath transgressions if the crucifixion day happened to be a weekly Sabbath that such a scheme of things can safely be outruled beforehand and without further investigations. If, therefore, it can be scripturally proved that in the year of Yeshua’s crucifixion the 15th of Nisan fell on a weekly Sabbath, it necessarily follows that Yeshua was crucified on Nisan 14, not on Nisan 15.

This proof is actually given us in a very simple way. The point is here that the term ‘annual Sabbath’ is a misnomer, because an annual holy day is never called a Sabbath in any of the Gospels, or in any other part of Scripture. The only one exception to this is Yom Kippur, for a good reason, because on Yom Kippur the work prohibition is of the same severity as on the weekly Sabbath. This distinction is extensively explained in the two article in the series on the Omer, which can be found by the following links:



Now the Gospel of John clearly says that the Sabbath which was approaching after Yeshua’s death on the Cross was an high day, i.e. a Yom Tov (in Jn. 19:31). This can only mean that in the year of Yeshua’s death the first Yom Tov of Passover, Nisan 15, fell on a weekly Sabbath, since we have proved that a Yom Tov was never called a Sabbath on its own account. This is confirmed particularly for the Gospel of John, in which we find mentioned a lot of feast days that are never called Sabbaths. For these reasons the crucifixion can only have occurred on Nisan 14. The Last Supper thus must have preceded the day time of Nisan 14 and therefore could never have been a Passover Seder.



[1] Bryan T. Huie, “Was the Last Supper” the Passover Meal?” Publ. 1997, Revised 2002. An adapted version was republished by Online Truth, downloadable at: http://www.onlinetruth.org/Articles%20Folder/was_the.htm


[2] David Stern, Jewish New Testament Commentary. A companion volume to the Jewish New Testament, Jewish New Testament Publications, Inc. — Clarksville, Maryland 1995 (1992), pp. 206-207.


[3] Charles C. Torrey, “The Date of the Crucifixion according to the Fourth Gospel”, In: Journal of Biblical Literature 50 (1931) 227-241.


[4] Barry D. Smith, “The Chronology of the Last Supper”, Westminster Theological Journal 53:1 (1991) 29-45, p.39. Downloadable at: http://www.biblicalstudies.org.uk/pdf/chronology_smith.pdf


5 Responses to “On the Celebration of Passover: Some Liturgical and Calendrical Issues Addressed. Part Two — The Chronology of the Last Supper and the Crucifixion”

  1. 1 michael March 13, 2011 at 12:51 pm


    Do you understand the 4th Cup?

    After the supper He took the third cup saying, “Drink from it, all of you. This IS my blood of the NEW and everlasting covenant which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.”

    A hymn was sung, which is a combination of several psalms called The Great Hillel, and they went out to the Mount of Olives.

    What happened? The Passover ceremony and ritual was not complete. There was no fourth cup. There was no announcement that it was finished. Could it be that Jesus was so upset with what He knew was about to happen that He forgot? Doubtful!

    Not only Jesus, but also the 11 others had participated in the Passover Seder every year of their lives. No, this was done on purpose. The last supper of Jesus was not over.

    On the Mount of Olives, in the Garden of Gethsemane, the disciples slept while Jesus prayed, “Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will but yours be done.”

    He prayed that three times. Then Jesus was arrested, illegally put on trial by the Sanhedrin, then by Pontius Pilate, sentenced and crucified.

    While on the cross He wept. Jesus, who was in excruciating agony, was so merciful that He prayed for the forgiveness of His executioners. He was offered some wine with a pain killer, myrrh, in it. He refused it.

    “Later, knowing that all was now complete, and so that the Scripture would be fulfilled and the kingdom established, Jesus said, ‘I am thirsty.'” A man dipped a sponge into sour wine; he placed it on a hyssop branch and lifted it up to Jesus lips.

    He drank. (We recall that it was the hyssop branch which was used to paint lambs blood around the Hebrew’s door for the Passover of the angel of death.)

    It was then that Jesus said, “It is finished.” He then bowed His head and gave up the spirit to His Father.

    The fourth cup now represented the lamb’s blood of the first Passover, a saving signal to the angel of death.

    The Lamb of God was now sacrificed. The last Passover supper of Jesus Christ was now complete with the fourth cup. It was finished.

    The tie in with the Passover is unmistakable.

    The Lamb of God was sacrifice and death was about to be passed over come Easter day.

    The promise of eternal life for many was about to be fulfilled.

    Christ’s Passover was finished, but His mission was not until he rose from the dead.

    For more information on Jesus New Covenant and how everything ties together — Passover Meal -> Manna -> Prophecy of the New Covenant -> Bread of Life Meaning — go to The 4th Cup.com and watch the video! You can also read along while the video is playing.

    • 2 messianic613 March 14, 2011 at 12:44 pm

      To Michael:

      Your ideas about the fourth cup are based on a figurative or symbolic explanation of the Gospel texts. I don’t think that such an explanation is required if we don’t presuppose that the Last Supper was a Passover Seder.

      The literal explanation of the texts doesn’t tell us that there were three or four cups at Yeshua’s Last Supper. Matthew and Mark both mention only one cup (in Mt. 26:27 and Mk. 14:23). Luke mentions two cups (in Lk. 22:17 & 20), and calls the second one “the cup after the supper”.

      My teacher Rabbi Elazar Brandt taught me once that in ancient times each complete and formal Jewish meal contained two essential ingredients: bread and wine. The meal was opened by the breaking of bread and the accompanying blessing HaMotzi, as it is still done today. After the meal, which could include all kinds of food, followed the conclusion with a cup of wine, the “cup of thanksgiving”, which was shared among the participants. Grace (Birkat HaMazon) was recited over this cup. In normal cases the cup of thanksgiving was the only cup drunk at a meal. To recite Grace after meals over a cup of wine is a custom that has fallen into oblivion among large sections of Judaism, and which nowadays is only universally followed at the Pesach Seder.

      For more solemn and festive occasions, such as the Friday evening meal, the opening ritual with HaMotzi soon was found to be too simple and sober. A festive meal should be marked by a festive opening ritual over a kind of food that was considered festive. Bread is not particularly festive because it is the normal food for each day. The desired festive ingredient was found in wine. And thus the custom was established of preceding a festive meal with a special cup of wine, which became called the Kiddush cup because it was used to dedicate or sanctify the major meals of Shabbat and Yom Tov and to give them a festive accent.

      A halachic problem with this procedure was that the formal opening of a festive meal had still to happen at HaMotzi. Since bread is the “staff of life” and a far more important food than wine, which is essentially a luxury article, the blessing over bread (HaMotzi) would have to precede the blessing over wine (HaGafen). The solution for this problem was found in the device of covering the bread during Kiddush. The idea behind this device is that what is absent cannot be the subject of a blessing.

      The Passover Seder over time became marked by two additional cups that were required by the format of the Haggadah. The Seder has essentially the same structure as a festive meal, however, since it contains a Kiddush cup before and a cup of thanksgiving after the meal. It is only at the Seder that the cup of thanksgiving is the third cup. At other festive meals it is the second cup.

      Without doubt Yeshua’s Last Supper was held as a solemn farewell meal of our Master and that was the reason it contained a Kiddush cup. That this meal also contained a cup of thanksgiving after the meal was nothing remarkable, since the cup of thanksgiving was part of every formal meal. Therefore one cannot conclude from these things that the Last Supper was a Seder.

      The hymn that was sung after the meal need not have been the series of Psalms known as the Hallel. It was not uncommon that at certain occasions a meal was accompanied by a song or that after a solemn or festive meal those gathered together concluded their meeting with a hymn. Notice that the singing of a hymn at the outgoing of the Last Supper is not found in the Gospel of Luke, which is the only Gospel mentioning the Kiddush cup. This fact suggests that it was not Luke’s intention to depict the Last Supper as a Passover Seder.

      All this being said, I fully concede that the Last Supper was held in anticipation of and with a presentiment of the Seder night, which would follow the next day. But it could not have been the Seder, for the calendrical reasons given above.

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  1. 1 Should the Lord’s Supper be Included in a Messianic Seder? | Grasping Mashi’ach Trackback on March 27, 2011 at 6:23 am

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