Old Testament background
The Jewish feasts of
Passover, Unleavened Bread, and First Fruits were grouped together in one
week. Scripture speaks about them in Ex. 12, Lev. 23, Num. 9 and 28, and
Ancient Israel marked a day
from sunset to sunset. Passover lambs were killed before sunset (the end) of
the 14th of Abib (Nisan), and eaten after this sunset (the
beginning) of the 15th of Abib (pronounced Aviv). The weeklong
feast of Unleavened Bread also started after sunset on the 15th
of Abib (so unleavened bread was used at the Passover meal). First Fruits
took place on the Sunday in the week of Unleavened Bread.
On the first and seventh day
of Unleavened Bread (the 15th and 21st Abib) no
regular work should be done – except for the concession to prepare food (Ex.
12:16) – but these days are not called Sabbath in the books of Moses. Both
feasts were linked to a date, not a day of week; therefore, they could take
place on any day of the week.
Converting the solar
Gregorian Calendar (the one we use) back to the lunar Jewish Calendar of the
first century is an exercise riddled with uncertainties. Date calculators
may differ due to different programming. It seems best to stick to biblical
data and avoid debate about theories two millennia after the fact.
a. Date and time
In the vernacular, Passover
and (the week of) Unleavened Bread were used as synonyms (Matt. 26:17, Mark
14:12, Luke 22:7). Mark says, “Now on the first day of Unleavened Bread,
when they killed the Passover lamb, his disciples said to him, ‘Where do you
want us to go and prepare, that you may eat the Passover?’” Because Passover
and Unleavened Bread meant the same thing, John 18:28 may indicate that the
accusers of Jesus protected their ritual purity so that they may partake of
the rest of the weeklong feast, and John 19:14 (“Now it was preparation of
the Passover”) may likewise refer to the whole Passover week. When John
referred to “the feast,” he meant the whole feast (John 2:23, 4:45, 7:14,
37, and 13:29).
John 19:31 says that the day
following Jesus` crucifixion was a “great” (or special) Sabbath. This mean
that the weekly Sabbath was special for being part of the feast. The
synoptic gospels confirm that Jesus was buried shortly before the Sabbath
began at sunset, without specifying what kind of Sabbath it was. If it was
not the weekly Sabbath they probably would have said so.
The gospels recorded:
that the disciples prepared the Passover for the
first day of Unleavened Bread, after sunset on the 15th of Abib
(Matt. 26:17, Mark 14:12, Luke 22:7);
that Jesus was crucified on the day of Preparation
(Matt. 27:62, Mark 15:42, Luke 23:54, John 19:14, 31, 42). Because no
cooking could be done on the weekly Sabbath, people had to prepare food on
Friday, which became known as the day of Preparation.
Some think that the day of
Preparation refers to the day before Unleavened Bread started. Jews had to
clean out all leaven from their homes before this feast. This scenario
places Jesus' early Passover meal on Wednesday night, and his crucifixion on
Thursday. Thus his prophecy to be 3 days and 3 nights in the earth (Matt.
12:40) could be literally fulfilled.
and Luke recorded that Jesus predicted three times his death, followed by
his resurrection on THE THIRD DAY. According to Luke, Jesus repeated this
phrase after he was raised from the dead (Luke 24:45). So, 10 verses speak
about the third day, and one of "three days and three nights." This is ample
evidence that part of a day was counted as a day: Friday evening was Day 1,
Saturday was Day 2, and Sunday (starting after sunset on Saturday) was Day
Moses was 80
years old at the Exodus, and 120 when he died (Ex. 7:7, Deut. 34:7). Thus,
the entire sojourn in the wilderness was 40 years. However, they were
already about two years away from Egypt, when the Lord said they will wander
for another forty years as punishment for their disobedience (Numbers
14:34). So, eventually, God shortened their sentence by two years. Why would
he not have done the same for his Son? He died after 6 hours on the cross;
the bones of the robbers had to be broken to hasten their death. The 3 days
and nights in the tomb were shortened to 1.5 days. God is sovereign and
merciful. We can't fault him for that.
However, it is
impossible that Jesus was first crucified (on Preparation day before
Passover) and then ate Passover with his disciples (when his body was in the
tomb). The gospels describe the Passover meal in the upper room first, and
then the trial and crucifixion on the day of Preparation. Let’s maintain
this biblical sequence. In this context, day of Preparation means the day
before the weekly Sabbath. The women rested on this weekly Sabbath, and went
to the tomb on the first day of the week (Luke 23:56 – 24:1). They rested on
the Sabbath “according to the commandment,” referring to the 4th
of the Ten Commandments, namely to observe the weekly Sabbath.
The synoptic gospels used
Jewish time (starting at sunrise): Jesus was crucified on the 3rd
hour (9 am), and died at the 9th hour (3 pm). John used Roman
time (starting at midnight and noon). Jesus was sentenced to death on the 6th
hour (6 am). John 1:39 and 4:6 should be interpreted accordingly.
synoptic gospels agree that Jesus told Peter and John to prepare the
Passover meal in a secretly designated house; then the synoptic gospels
describe what happened at that meal. Luke quotes Jesus saying at this meal,
“I have eagerly desired to eat this Passover
with you before I suffer” (Luke 22:15).
During or after the Passover
meal, Jesus instituted the sacrament of Holy Communion. “Before the feast of
the Passover” in John 13:1 only mean “before the weeklong feast of Passover
started with the Passover meal.” The gospel of John agrees with the synoptic
gospels on what happened at that meal: 1. the issue about true greatness was
addressed; 2. the traitor was identified, and 3. Peter was warned about his
There are other indications
that they indeed celebrated the Passover when Holy Communion (the Lord’s
Supper) was instituted. Jesus gave new meaning to elements used at the
Passover meal. Although there is no direct reference to the Passover lamb,
Jesus’ referral to his blood that would be shed can be linked to the
blood of the lamb that was applied to the doorposts with the first Passover
in Egypt. Jesus said that the unleavened bread symbolized his body.
Judas dipped bread in the same dish as Jesus – a referral to the
bitter sauce used at the Passover. To identify the traitor to John, Jesus
dipped a piece of bread in the dish and gave it to Judas.
Jesus and the disciples ate
Passover (like all Jews) after sunset on the 15th Abib. During or
after the Passover meal, he instituted the Lord’s Supper. He was crucified
the next day, the day of Preparation for the weekly Sabbath, which was
special for being part of the feast. All the arguments for moving the
Passover meal to Wednesday, and the crucifixion to Thursday have no biblical