Question Box: Was the Last Supper also the Passover?

Question or Topic Scripture
Was the Last Supper also the Passover? Matthew 26:17-18

I just do not understand the verses that refer to the last meal that Christ shared with his disciples before he died. Most of the references speak of this meal as the Passover, for example:
  1. Matthew 26:17-18
  2. 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?
  3. 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.

Was this supper, at which our Memorial Service was instituted, the Passover or not?

Answer


Let me first assure you that you are not alone in the confusion that you have encountered on this subject. Many scholars have debated this question for centuries without ever arriving at a clear consensus of opinion.

The Debate

The difficulty centers primarily on one basic question: How could Christ (our Passover) be put to death at the time when the Passover lamb is normally slain, if he ate of the Passover with his disciples on the previous evening?

Adam Clarke, in his commentary, writes extensively on this matter. He begins his comments with this statement. "Every candid person must allow that there are great difficulties relative to the time in which our Lord ate the last Passover with his disciples". He proceeds to introduce and discuss the following optional opinions on the subject:

  1. Our Lord did not eat the Passover on the last year of his ministry.
  2. Our Lord did eat it that year; and at the same time with the Jews.
  3. He did eat it that year, but not at the same time with the Jews.
  4. He did eat a Passover of his own instituting, but widely differing from that eaten by the Jews.

His conclusion was that the first two of these opinions do not appear to have solid support, but that the last two are the most likely, and they may even be harmonized.

Our Challenge

When we take a good look at the possibilities and the various pros and cons that are related to each, we find it very hard to reach our own positive conclusion. We would be interested in hearing from our readers on this subject. Is there enough evidence available to us so that we may clearly develop a positive position? Are there any critical teachings that require that we accept only one answer? Did Christ eat the Passover with his disciples?

Some Considerations

1. The Passover was on the fourteenth day of the month. The first day of the month was established by the appearance of the new moon. Depending on the weather, it was often difficult to be sure of this time. The Sanhedrin had established a procedure for solemnizing the date based on the evidence of witnesses as to the appearance of the new moon. Once they had set the date the Jews were obligated to observe if, even their original decision was proved to be wrong.

2. When the actual date was in doubt, it was apparently permissible for the Jews to eat of the Passover on either of the two evenings involved. When one considers the number of lambs that would have to be slain, having a choice of days may have actually been very practical.

3. There appear to be some inconsistencies between what we are told about the last supper, and the normal customs of the Passover meal. For example, the identification of the bread and the wine with his body and blood did not follow the customary discourse. In addition, Christ and his disciples were sitting or reclining, not as instructed in Exodus 12:11 – "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". There are other variations, such as the fact that were not supposed to go out of their doors until morning. It was still night when they went out to the Mount of Olives, and when he was arrested. Remember that Peter betrayed him three times before the cock crew twice.

4. Some of the evidence in the book of John clearly indicates that the last supper was before the Passover. See: John 13:1-2 and 19:14. Also in John 18:28 we read: "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".

5. The time of the meal was not fixed. Dr. Thomas stated that the law did not require the Passover to be killed on the evening of the 14th day, but "between the evenings". He concludes therefore that "Jesus could both eat the Passover, and be slain as such". (I have been unable to verify his interpretation of the word evening).

Suggestion

When we consider all of the options that exist, and take into account some of the various considerations that have been presented, what conclusions could we make that would have the least number of objections? We present the following as a suggestion:

There is evidence to support the idea that there was some confusion in the exact date of the Passover that year. Jesus and the disciples may have been correct in exercising their right to eat of their Passover meal on the evening of the previous day, even though the Jews in general would feel obligated to observe the date that had been officially solemnized by the Sanhedrin.

Jesus chose the observance of this Passover meal with his disciples, to institute the Memorial Service. Any changes from the original observance were intended to leave his disciples with this occasion to remember him in the spirit, not after the letter. (Even as indicated by I Corinthians 5:8 "Therefore let us keep the feast, not with old leaven, neither with the leaven of malice and wickedness; but with the unleavened bread (principles – Diaglott) of sincerity and truth".)

This would be the last Passover. The types in that annual feast would be fulfilled as Christ our Passover was sacrificed for us. Christ was the "Lord of the sabbath", and presumably also of the Passover. He had the right to change the method and purpose of the observance.

After their own Passover meal, Jesus was taken to be crucified. The disciples still had intentions of keeping the official Passover with the Jews, so they avoided possible defilement by not going into the judgment hall.

Jesus, the Passover lamb, was crucified on the same day that the Jews were observing the feast. This is consistent with John 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".

We suggest then, that Jesus did eat of the Passover with his disciples that year, but not at the same time, nor in the same way that the Jews eat of their Passover.

Conclusion?

The degree of difficulty on this question is great. It would be presumptuous to attempt to present any very positive conclusions, (as we have previously stated). We have attempted to present some of the reasons for the confusion and to offer a suggestion. We hope to stimulate your own thinking process, and to provoke some positive feedback. We would appreciate any help that you may have.

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