Last Supper =
Passover? Crucifixion = Good Friday?
Traditionally, 'Good' Friday has been assumed to be the
day of the week that Jesus was crucified, using such
passages as Mark
15:42-43, since 'preparation day' was taken to mean
'Friday', and 'Sabbath' was taken to mean 'Saturday':
It was Preparation Day (that is, the day before
the Sabbath). So as evening approached, Joseph
of Arimathea, a prominent member of the Council, who was
himself waiting for the kingdom of God, went boldly to
Pilate and asked for Jesus' body.
However, there is evidence in the bible that the 'Last
Supper' the Jesus ate with his disciples was not the
Jewish 'Passover' feast, as is traditionally claimed.
There is also corresponding evidence that the
'Crucifixion' of Jesus did not occur on ('Good') Friday.
While these are not critical issues, they are
nevertheless intereresting to consider.
Jesus prophesied that he would be dead for 3 days and
But the LORD provided a great fish to swallow Jonah,
and Jonah was inside the fish three days and three
For as Jonah was three days and three nights in the
belly of a huge fish, so the Son of Man will be three
days and three nights in the heart of the earth.
My Comments: There have been various attempts to
re-interpret the terms "three days and three nights" into
non-literal 24-hour time periods (or even periods of
day-light and night-darkness, but it would seem to be
impossible to make a Friday afternoon crucifixion and
Sunday morning resurrection fit into this prophecy.
The Last Supper was not the Passover
As soon as Judas took the bread, Satan entered into
him. "What you are about to do, do quickly," Jesus told
him, but no one at the meal understood why Jesus said
this to him. Since Judas had charge of the money, some
thought Jesus was telling him to buy what was needed for
the Feast, or to give something to the poor. As soon as
Judas had taken the bread, he went out. And it was
Then the Jews led Jesus from Caiaphas to the palace of
the Roman governor. By now it was early morning, and to
avoid ceremonial uncleanness the Jews did not enter the
palace; they wanted to be able to eat the Passover.
My Comments: Judas evidently had more errands to run in
preparation for the 'feast' (of Passover), even while the
'last supper' was wrapping up. This suggests that
the 'last supper' was not the passover. The next day
(during the trials of Jesus), the Jewish religious leaders
also were looking forward to the 'Passover' -- which had
evidentally not yet occured.
The Crucifixion took place on the Preparation day for
Now it was the day of Preparation, and the next day was
to be a special Sabbath. Because the Jews did not want
the bodies left on the crosses during the Sabbath, they
asked Pilate to have the legs broken and the bodies
It was Preparation Day (that is, the day before the
Sabbath). So as evening approached, Joseph of Arimathea,
a prominent member of the Council, who was himself
waiting for the kingdom of God, went boldly to Pilate
and asked for Jesus' body.
The next day, the one after Preparation Day, the chief
priests and the Pharisees went to Pilate.
Early on Sunday morning, as the new day
was dawning, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went
out to visit the tomb.
On the first day of
the week, very early in the morning, the women
took the spices they had prepared and went to the
tomb...Now that same day two of them were
going to a village called Emmaus, about seven
miles from Jerusalem...
what is more, it is the third day since all this
My Comments: Jesus was crucified on
the 'day of preparation' (for the Passover), and the next
day was a 'special' Sabbath (not the ordinary 'Saturday'
Sabbath). The Matthew 28:1 reference to 'Sunday
morning' is actual the plural form of the word 'Sabbath'
i.e. σάββατον (sabbaton), suggesting that there were two
Sabbaths that week. The Luke references which say
that Sunday (Resurrection Day) is the 'third day since all
of this took place' i.e. the Crucifixion Day.
Jesus is the Passover Lamb
Get rid of the old yeast that you may be a
new batch without yeast--as you really are. For Christ,
our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed.
My Comments: If Jesus was (figuratively and literally)
the 'Passover Lamb' (and He was!) then it makes sense that
he would have died at the same time as all the lambs were
being killed/prepared for the Passover.
Jesus was resurrected before sunrise on Sunday
Early on the first day of the week, while it was still
dark, Mary Magdalene went to the tomb and saw that the
stone had been removed from the entrance.
My Comments: The 'first day of the week' is Sunday,
and Jesus was resurrected before daylight on Sunday
morning. Jesus was dead for three days (Thursday
afternoon, Friday, Saturday) and for three nights
(Thursday night, Friday night, Saturday night). He
fulfilled his own prophecy.
IVP New Testament Commentary on these issues
The Jewish opponents refuse to enter the praetorium to
avoid ceremonial uncleanness (v. 28). There is no law in
the Old Testament against entering a Gentile's home, but
in later teaching it is laid down that "the
dwelling-places of gentiles are unclean" (m. Oholot
18:7; cf. Brown 1994:1:745; Beasley-Murray 1987:327).
The opponents sought to avoid defilement because they
wanted to be able to eat the Passover (v. 28). Since
Jesus has already eaten with his disciples a meal that
the Synoptics say was the Passover (Mt 26:17 par. Mk
14:12 par. Lk 22:8; 22:15), this verse raises questions.
Many interpreters argue either that John has shifted the
chronology in order to have Jesus dying at the very time
the Passover lambs are being sacrificed--making the
point dramatically that he is the Lamb of God who takes
away the sin of the world (for example, Lindars
1972:444-46; Barrett 1978:48-51)--or that his chronology
is historically accurate (especially Brown
1994:2:1351-73; cf. Robinson 1985:147-51) and therefore
the meal he shared with his disciples was not Passover.
Others have attempted to maintain that the meal in all
four Gospels is the Passover. One solution suggests that
John is referring here not to the Passover meal itself,
but to the Feast of Unleavened Bread, a week-long
celebration that took place in conjunction with it. This
longer celebration can be referred to as Passover, as it
is, for example, in Luke: "Now the Feast of Unleavened
Bread, called the Passover, was approaching" (22:1; cf.
Josephus Antiquities of the Jews 14.21). These Jewish
opponents, then, wish to be able to take part in the
seven-day feast about to begin (cf. Carson 1991:589;
Ridderbos 1997:457). Alternatively, some suggest that
"John has in mind the lunchtime meal known as the
chagigah, celebrated during midday after the first
evening of Passover" (Blomberg 1987:177). But although
the term Passover may be applied to the whole sequence,
including the Feast of Unleavened Bread, the expression
"eat the Passover" is not a natural way to refer to
keeping the whole feast nor to eating the chagigah, but
rather a way to refer to the Passover meal specifically.
For example, the references in the Synoptics just cited
use exactly the expression here (esthio to pascha) to
speak of sharing in the Passover meal. Furthermore,
there is no evidence the term Passover was used to refer
to the Feast of Unleavened Bread apart from the Passover
itself (Morris 1971:778-79, but cf. Blomberg 1987:177 n.
Another solution to the discrepancy is that different
calendars were followed. The main calendar used was a
lunisolar calendar, but some groups, apparently
including the community at Qumran, used a solar calendar
of 364 days (cf. Schürer 1973-1987:1:587-601; Vanderkam
1992). The main drawback to this solution is the lack of
evidence for Jesus' having followed the solar calendar
(cf. Vanderkam 1992:820). The other main proposal is
that the Galileans and the Pharisees reckoned days from
sunrise to sunrise, while Judeans did so from sunset to
sunset. This means the Judeans, including these
opponents, would slaughter their lambs late Friday
afternoon, whereas Jesus and his disciples had theirs
slaughtered late Thursday afternoon (Hoehner 1977:83-90;
cf. Morris 1971:782-85). It has also been suggested that
the slaughtering of the lambs actually took place over
two days because of the volume of lambs involved
(Hoehner 1977:84). According to these solutions, Jesus
has already eaten Passover, but the opponents have yet
to do so. A major drawback to theories of different days
for celebrating Passover is "the lack of any hint of
such a distinction in the gospels themselves" (Blomberg
My Comments: Different interpretations of these events
Suggested Crucifixion Week Chronology
|Day of Week &
till Sunday sunset
|Jesus Jerusalem entrance (Sunday
till Monday sunset
till Tuesday sunset
till Wednesday sunset
till Thursday sunset
|Last Supper (Wednesday evening)
Day of Preparation / Crucifixion (Thursday daytime)
Passover begins (Thursday afternoon)
till Friday sunset
|Passover continues (meal Thursday
Special Sabbath / Start of Feast of Unleavened Bread
till Saturday sunset
till Sunday sunset
|Feast of Firstfruits begins (Saturday
Resurrection (Sunday morning)
There are lots of websites that debate this issue, and go
into much more detail on the various issues, but I first
read about these ideas from two (paper!) books:
in Chronological Order by F. LeGard Smith (1984)
Traditionally the last supper is believed
to have occurred on Thursday evening, followed by the
crucifixion on Friday afternoon and the resurrection on
Sunday morning. However, such reckoning raises at
least two questions. First, in an action-packed
final week, what reason is there to believe that there
would be a whole day of either actual inactivity or
activity which is left unrecorded? Second, and far
more important - If Jesus is crucified on Friday
afternoon and thereafter hurriedly put into the tomb,
how can there be sufficient time to match Jesus' own
prediction that He would remain in the tomb for three
days and three nights before being resurrected?
The resolution of both questions appears to be found in
recognizing that the last supper took place on Wednesday
evening, followed by the crucifixion and burial on
Thursday. Acceptance of that assumption requires
an understanding of the Passover, the Feast of
Unleavened Bread, and the way in which the Jews reckon
time. As for the reckoning of time, the Jewish day
begins at sunset on the previous evening. This
means, for example that our Wednesday night is actually
Thursday, and our Thursday night is actually Friday.
Passover is observed on the 14th day of the month of
Nisan, corresponding to March-April...The Passover is
followed by the seven-day Feast of Unleavened Bread...By
God's direction (Leviticus 23), a lamb is to be
slaughtered late on the 14th day (Passover) and the
Passover meal eaten that evening, which would be the
beginning of the 15th day, the first day of the Feast of
Unleavened Bread. The entire 15th day is then to
be observed as a special Sabbath, or high holy day,
regardless of the day of the week on which it might fall
in any given year. (If the 15th day is a Friday, then
both that Friday and the next day, Saturday, are
observed as Sabbaths.)...
John's account eliminates any doubt that this supper
occurred prior to the actual Passover meal. When
Jesus tells Judas during the supper to do what he is
about to do, some of the other disciples "thought Jesus
was telling him to buy what was needed for the
Feast." Furthermore, the Jews who have obtained
Jesus' arrest will not enter Pilate's palace for fear
that they will be ceremonially unclean, and therefore
unable to eat the Passover. Most convincing is the
fact that the day of Jesus' crucifixion is plainly
stated to be "the day of Preparation of Passover Week" -
the day on which the paschal lamb is slain for the
Passover meal taken during the evening of that day.
The most meaningful result of moving away from the
traditional timeframe is seeing how Jesus' crucifixion
becomes the perfect "type" of the Passover Lamb.
Under Hebrew law, the paschal lamb is chosen on the
tenth day and then "kept up" until the 14th day, when it
is sacrificed for the sins of the people. If
Jesus' triumphant entry into Jerusalem is counted as the
tenth day, Thursday would be the 14th day, and thus the
day on which Jesus is crucified. Far more
important than this possible parallel is the fact that
Jesus, as the perfect Lamb of God, does not celebrate
the Passover with some other ordinary sacrificial lamb,
but rather becomes Himself the Lamb who is slain -
precisely at the appropriate hour!
There is therefore strong evidence that the last supper
takes place on the evening prior to the Day of
Preparation, which by modern reckoning would be
Wednesday night (1454-1456).
the Bible edited by Walter A. Elwell (1989)
The Passover Meal (John 13:1-30). The Synoptics record
that during his last week of ministry, during the
Passover festival, Jesus enjoyed a final meal with his
disciples (Mark 14:12-25). Each synoptic writer
terms this "the Passover" (Matt. 26:17; Mark 14:12; Luke
22:7-9) ordinarily served after dusk on the Jewish date
of 15 Nisan. John mentions such a meal (13:2,26)
and indicates through mention of the betrayal of Judas
(13:21-30) that this meal is the synoptic Passover (cf.
Mark 14:17-21). However, John's date cannot be 15
Nisan (Passover) for later he will say that Jesus is
crucified on 14 Nisan when the temple lambs are being
slaughtered (19:14). Hence the Johannine record
shows the meal to be on the Day of Preparation, on night
prior to the Passover feast.
Scholars have solved this riddle in a variety of ways.
The easiest and most popular solution is simply to
say that one Gospel tradition or the other is incorrect.
But critics can find fault with each account:
Would the Sanhedrin hold a trial on a feast day as the
Synoptics contend? Or has John moved the cross to
14 Nisan to develop a paschal emphasis for Jesus' death
(cf. 19:32-37)? Recent studies have urged that
both narratives might be accurate due to competing
calendars in the first century. Hence ceremonial
meals may have been sponsored on more than on night
during the festival week.
Are We by Dare Hunt (1993)
[Chapter 16: Forget "Good Friday": When Was The "Last
Supper" and the Crucifixion? (p168)]
Mark says, "Now when the even [i.e., sunset was
approaching] was come [after Christ had died], because
it was the preparation [of the Passover lamb], that is,
the day before the sabbath [the first day of the Feast
of Unleavened Bread, which began at sunset after the
Passover lamb had been slain], Joseph of Arimathaea ...
went in boldly unto Pilate, and craved the body of
Jesus" (15:42,43). Luke agrees: "And that day was the
preparation, and the [special] sabbath drew on" (23:54).
John gives even more detail:
Then led they [the rabbis] Jesus from
Caiaphas unto the [Roman] hall of judgment ... and
they themselves went not into the judgment hall, lest
they should be defiled; but that they might eat the
Passover [so it hadn't been eaten as yet]. And it was
the preparation of the Passover... 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 [i.e., the first day of
unleavened bread]), besought Pilate that their legs
might be broken, and that they might be taken away
(John 18:28; 19:14,31).
So, as we noted in the last chapter, the Passover lambs
were indeed being slain at the very time that Christ,
the Lamb of God who fulfilled all of the relevant Old
Testament types and prophecies, died on the cross. How,
then, could Christ have "taken the Passover" with His
disciples the night before? He didn't. The Last Supper
did indeed occur the night before the crucifixion, but
it was not the Passover. This often overlooked fact is
clear from John's account, which is a bit more precise.
While the other gospels refer to "the sabbath" drawing
nigh, John alone explains that the sabbath which began
at sunset the day Christ was crucified "was a high day."
In other words, it was not the ordinary weekly sabbath
which always began Friday at sunset. It was, in fact,
the first day of the Feast of Unleavened Bread (the
fifteenth of Nisan), of which the first and last days
were special sabbaths during which no work was to be
done (Exodus 12:14-16).
John also clarifies the fact that the "last supper" was
not the Passover: "Now before the feast of the Passover,
when Jesus knew that his hour was come ... supper being
ended, the devil having now put into the heart of Judas
Iscariot ... to betray him." So the "last supper"
actually took place the night before the Passover. How
could it have taken place both "the first day of
unleavened bread" and "before the feast of the
Although technically the Feast of Unleavened Bread began
with the fifteenth of Nisan after sunset of the
fourteenth (the Passover lamb was slain just before
sunset, roasted, and eaten that night), the days of
unleavened bread were also counted from the fourteenth
of Nisan because the eating of unleavened bread began
"on the fourteenth day of the month at evening" (Exodus
12:18). Though they were two separate feasts, the
Passover and Feast of Unleavened Bread were treated as
one inasmuch as they overlapped. The Passover lamb,
though "prepared" (i.e., slain and the roasting process
begun) just before sunset on the fourteenth, was not
eaten until that night, which was then the fifteenth.
What day of the week was Nisan 14? While we refer to
Nisan 10 as Sunday, it began on Saturday after sunset
when the sabbath ended. Remember, the Jewish day begins
at sunset. Thus Nisan 11 began at sunset Sunday, the
twelfth Monday, the thirteenth Tuesday, and Nisan 14,
the day of preparation, began Wednesday at sunset. The
"last supper," then, took place Wednesday night, the
beginning of Nisan 14, which was called the day of
preparation. The following afternoon, in the "evening"
of Nisan 14, the Passover lambs were slain shortly
before sunset. Christ was on the cross and "gave up the
ghost" at the same time that Thursday afternoon.
Thursday? Not "Good Friday"? Indeed not. A Friday
crucifixion doesn't fit the facts. Not only the
prophecies but the Old Testament types as well had to be
fulfilled. One of those types was known as "the sign of
the prophet Jonas [Jonah]." It required Jesus to be in
the grave "three days and three nights."
Chronology of Jesus
According to John,
however, the Passover meal was to be eaten on the last
evening before Jesus was crucified, so that the Last
Supper was eaten on the evening of 14th of Nisan and the crucifixion was on
the 14th, at the same time that the lambs for the
Passover were being slaughtered in Herod's Temple of Jerusalem, so that the Jews could celebrate the Passover
that evening (starting Friday night). Various attempts
have been made to harmonize the two reports. Perhaps the
most likely theory is that Jesus, knowing he was to be
dead at the appointed time for the Passover meal, chose
to hold the Passover meal with his disciples a day
early, thus holding to the account of John. Some
scholars have recently suggested rejecting Thursday as
the day of the Last Supper and support a non-Passover
Last Supper on Tuesday or Wednesday, thus providing more
time for the events that occurred between the Last
Supper and the Crucifixion.
According to Orthodox
theology, the Last Supper celebrated on Thursday evening
was not the Jewish Passover meal. This can be seen from
the Biblical text itself since Jesus gave a piece of
(leavened) bread to Judas, which would have been a
direct violation of Jewish Passover regulations, also
since, as the article mentions, Jesus dies the next day
at the same time that the Passover lambs are slaughtered
(no Passover meal without Passover lamb). Instead, Jesus
as God's Passover Lamb puts an end to the old and
institutes a new concept, the Christian Eucharist.
Evidence to the contrary...Friday Crucifixion
To be fair, there are other passages that provide evidence
for the contrary (traditional) interpretation of the
Passover, Last Supper, and Crucifixion:
On the first day of the Feast of Unleavened Bread, the
disciples came to Jesus and asked, "Where do you want us
to make preparations for you to eat the Passover?"
On the first day of the Feast of Unleavened Bread, when
it was customary to sacrifice the Passover lamb, Jesus'
disciples asked him, "Where do you want us to go and
make preparations for you to eat the Passover?"
Then came the day of Unleavened Bread on which the
Passover lamb had to be sacrificed. Jesus sent
Peter and John, saying, "Go and make preparations for us
to eat the Passover."
My Comments: These three other writers place the Passover
on the same day as the Last Supper.
Evidence to the contrary...Wednesday Crucifixion
Women bought spices for
Jesus's burial before
Sabbath and brought them to the tomb after the Sabbath.
It was Preparation Day,
and the Sabbath was about to begin. The women who
had come with Jesus from Galilee followed Joseph and saw
the tomb and how his body was laid in it. Then they went
home and prepared spices and perfumes. But they rested
on the Sabbath in obedience to the commandment. On
the first day of the week, very early in the morning,
the women took the spices they had prepared and went to
When the Sabbath was
over, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and
Salome bought spices so that they might go to anoint
My Comments: In order to purchase and prepare
burial spices both before and after a Sabbath, there must
have been more than one Sabbath! This suggests that
Mark records the women as doing so after the Passover
Sabbath, and Luke records them doing so before the regular
Saturday Sabbath. This also suggests that the
Crucifixion was on a Wednesday, since there had to be a
the Sabbath days in order to purchase the necessary
An alternate theory is that the women prepared spices on
the day of the Crucifixion (as stated in Luke), rested for
the Sabbath day(s), and then purchased more
spice Saturday evening (according to Mark) -- after the
regular weekday Sabbath was completed i.e. no need to
introduce two Sabbath days with a 'gap' day in the
middle. If this is true, the Wednesday theory would
lose some evidence, and either the Friday or Thursday
theory would fit.