Book: The Christian Passover

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The last Passover that Jesus observed with His disciples is described in great detail by the Gospel writers. As we learned in the previous chapter, Mark and Luke both record that Jesus observed this Passover on the day that the lambs were sacrificed. This day is designated in the Greek text as “the first of the unleaveneds,” which was a common term for the 14th day of Nisan, the first month of the Hebrew calendar. All Jews of that century understood that this term referred to Nisan 14.

Many scholars and teachers have misinterpreted Mark’s and Luke’s reference to the killing of the Passover lambs. Some view their words as evidence that the temple sacrifice of the lambs was taking place when Jesus sent His disciples to prepare the Passover. Since the lambs were traditionally sacrificed at the temple during the afternoon of Nisan 14, they claim that Jesus and the disciples observed a late Nisan 14/early Nisan 15 Passover, as did the Pharisaic Jews.

The error in this interpretation is clearly exposed by examining the Passover account in the Gospel of John. The chronological evidence that John presents allows no room for such an interpretation. Let us examine John’s account.

Jesus Did Not Eat the Traditional Passover

As we begin our study, it is important to understand that John wrote his Gospel much later than Matthew, Mark and Luke wrote their Gospels. After the first three Gospels were written, false teachers rose up in an organized effort to stamp out the truth of God by subverting the early Christians. John was inspired to write his Gospel to preserve the true teachings of Jesus Christ and the true facts about His life and identity. Because of this, John recorded many facts and details that are not found in the other three Gospels. There is evidence in early historical works that at the time John was writing his Gospel, the 14/15 Passover controversy was already a major problem. That would explain why John describes Jesus’ last Passover and the subsequent events in greater detail than the other Gospel writers.

The Gospel of John makes a clear distinction between the Passover of the Jews and the Passover that Jesus kept. The sequence of events that John records conclusively shows that Jesus did not observe the Passover at the traditional time. Unlike the other Gospel writers, John does not record the preparations for Jesus’ last Passover. Instead, he begins with the events that took place at the Passover table, giving special emphasis to the footwashing that Jesus administered to His disciples, and to the words that He spoke during and after the Passover meal (John 13-17). John records that after the Passover, Jesus went to the Garden of Gethsemane, where He was betrayed by Judas and taken to stand trial before Caiaphas, who was the high priest of the Jews (John 18:1-14). Next, John records that Jesus was taken to the judgment hall of Pilate, the Roman governor. John states that it was early in the morning when He was condemned and brought before Pilate. His account makes it clear that at the time of this event, the Jewish religious leaders—the priests, scribes, Sadducees and Pharisees—had not yet eaten their Passover. Here is the testimony of John:

“Now then, they [the Jewish leaders and priests] led Jesus from Caiaphas to the judgment hall, and it was early. But they did not go into the judgment hall, so that they would not be defiled, but that they might eat the Passover” (John 18:28).

John relates that Jesus was brought before Pilate the morning after He had eaten the Passover with His disciples. But when the religious leaders of the Jews brought Jesus to Pilate, they had not yet eaten their Passover. They did not enter into Pilate’s judgment hall because they wanted to remain ceremonially clean in order to conduct the temple sacrifice of the Passover lamb and to east their traditional Passover at the time they were accustomed to observing it. Apparently, this type of defilement would have extended beyond the end of the day. Otherwise they could have been cleansed by sunset and, after bathing, could have eaten their Passover.

John shows that the Passover they were preparing to eat was recognized as the official observance of the Jews: “(Now it was the preparation of the Passover, and about the sixth hour [6 AM]). And he [Pilate] said to the Jews, ‘Behold your King!’ But they cried aloud, ‘Away, away with Him! Crucify Him!’ ” (John 19:14-15).

When John identifies that day as “the preparation of the Passover,” he is referring to the traditional Nisan 15 Passover, because the time for the domestic Passover was past! Jesus and the disciples had already observed the domestic Passover the night before. John’s words are most significant because they rule out any possibility that Jesus’ last Passover took place on the night of Nisan 15—the traditional time of the Jews’ Passover. The sequence of events that John records shows that a full day passed between Jesus’ last Passover and the traditional 15th Passover observed by the religious leaders of the Jews.

Remember, John was present at Jesus’ last Passover. John was a participant at Jesus’ last Passover, and an eyewitness of all the events that followed. His record of the sequence of events that took place in the hours between Jesus’ last Passover and His crucifixion conclusively shows that Jesus observed the Passover at the beginning of the 14th.

John makes it clear that the religious leaders were going to eat their Passover lambs on the night of the 15th—the first day of the Feast of Unleavened Bread—by telling us that their Passover day was a “Sabbath” and a “high day.” (The Jews used the term “high day” to distinguish an annual Sabbath from a weekly Sabbath.) Here is John’s account: “The Jews therefore, so that the bodies might not remain on the cross on the Sabbath, because it was a preparation day (for that Sabbath was a high day [a holy day]), requested of Pilate that their legs might be broken, and the bodies be taken away” (John 19:31).

The fact that this Sabbath was a high day, or holy day, confirms that it was the first day of the Feast of Unleavened Bread, the 15th day of the first month. The commands of God in Leviticus 23 clearly distinguish this day from the day that God ordained for the Passover: “In the fourteenth day of the first month, between the two evenings [ben ha arbayim], is the LORD’S Passover. And on the fifteenth day of the same month is the Feast of Unleavened Bread to the LORD...” (Lev. 23:5-6).

John’s testimony adds greatly to the accounts of Matthew, Mark and Luke. By establishing a full day’s difference between the Passover that Jesus observed and the later Passover of the religious leaders, John contradicts all claims that Jesus observed a late 14/early 15 traditional Passover. Nowhere in the New Testament do we find any indication that Jesus observed the Passover at any other time than the time that is commanded in Exodus 12.

There is no doubt or question that Jesus observed His last Passover on the night of Nisan 14. This Scriptural fact poses a major problem for the advocates of a 15th Passover. Not willing to acknowledge the 14th as the Passover day that God ordained, they have devised a number of ways to explain the timing of Jesus’ last Passover. Some speculate that Jesus’ last Passover was not a real Passover. Those who have convinced themselves that the only Passover God ever commanded was the 15th, discount Jesus’ last Passover as only a commemorative meal. In their view, it was not the Passover!

Others teach that Jesus observed His last Passover on the 14th because He was instituting the Christian Passover. They claim that He established a new Passover day—different from the Passover day that had always been observed. Still others teach that Jesus’ observance of the 14th was an exception to His usual practice. They view His last Passover as a “pre- Passover meal.” They claim that it was kept a day early because Jesus was going to be crucified and would not be able to keep it on the 15th.

Samuele Bacchiocchi, a well-known writer, sides with those who view Jesus’ last Passover as an early observance. Because he assumes that all Jews of New Testament times observed the traditional Passover on Nisan 15, he views Jesus’ observance of the 14th as “an early Passover meal.” In his book God’s Festivals in Scripture and History, he shows the reasoning that led him to this conclusion. His statements reveal the dilemma that all advocates of a 15th Passover face when they read the Gospel accounts. Notice what he writes:

The date of the Last Supper. During His ministry, Christ participated in several Passovers, the last being the occasion in which He instituted the Lord’s Supper and offered Himself as the true Paschal Lamb for our redemption. A problem exists as to the date of the Last Supper, the exact date of which affects the nature of the meal. According to Matthew, Mark and Luke, Christ ate the Passover meal with His disciples on the day when ‘they sacrificed the passover lamb’ (Mark 14:12; cf. Luke 22:7; Matt. 26:17), which is Nisan 14. [He assumes that it was the afternoon of the 14th, when the Passover lambs were being sacrificed at the temple.] He was crucified the following day, Nisan 15. This means that the Last Supper was most likely a Passover Supper since it was partaken at the time the Jews ate their Passover meal” (p. 55, emphasis added).

When we analyze this view of Jesus’ last Passover, we find that it does not fit the Scriptural and historical records. The Gospel accounts clearly show that Jesus’ last Passover took place on the same day as His crucifixion, and that was THE DAY BEFORE the traditional Passover of the Jews. The records of history verify that the traditional Jewish Passover was eaten on Nisan 15. Since Jesus was already dead and in the tomb before the Jews’ Passover, He could not have been crucified on Nisan 15.

In presenting this view of Jesus’ last Passover, Bacchiocchi is well aware that it conflicts with the Gospel records. The Gospel of John clearly shows that Jesus was crucified before Nisan 15, which was an annual Sabbath, or “high day”: “And so, when Jesus had received the vinegar, He said, ‘It is finished.’ And bowing His head, He yielded up His spirit. The Jews therefore, so that the bodies might not remain on the cross on the Sabbath [which was rapidly approaching], because it was a preparation day [the afternoon of the 14th] (for that [coming] Sabbath was a high day [Nisan 15, the first day of the Feast of Unleavened Bread]), requested of Pilate that their legs might be broken and the bodies be taken away” (John 19:30-31).

Like many scholars, Bacchiocchi has misinterpreted the words of the Gospel writers because he views their accounts solely from the perspective of the traditional Jewish Passover. As a result, he concludes that Matthew, Mark and Luke place Jesus’ last Passover late on Nisan 14 and His crucifixion on Nisan 15. Because John contradicts this interpretation, he perceives John’s account as a “discrepancy” in the Gospels. To resolve this conflict, he proposes a different view of Jesus’ last Passover and crucifixion. Although this interpretation correctly places the two events on Nisan 14, the conclusion that Bacchiocchi draws from Jesus’ observance of the 14th is totally unfounded. He states: “However, according to the Gospel of John, Jesus was crucified on the day the Passover lamb was sacrificed (John 19:14; 18:28), Nisan 14. This means He ate the Last Supper with His disciples the day before the official Passover meal [of the Jews]. In this case, Jesus’ meal with his disciples may have been either a specially arranged Passover meal or a farewell fellowship meal [pure speculation] unrelated to Passover, because it was partaken of the evening before the official Passover” (Ibid., p. 55, emphasis added).

Bacchiocchi fails to consider that during Jesus’ day a majority of the Jews were observing the domestic Passover at the beginning of the 14th, as commanded by God in Exodus 12. There is ample historical evidence that the 14th Passover was the predominant practice in New Testament times. Bacchiocchi ignores that evidence and acknowledges only the “official Passover” of the Jews, which was not the Passover that God had ordained but the traditional Passover that the Pharisaic sect of the Jews and some of the priests ate on the night of the 15th. The official Passover of Judaism was observed a day later than the true Passover of God!

Because Bacchiocchi recognizes no other Passover than the traditional Nisan 15 observance, he concludes that Jesus’ observance of the 14th was “a special paschal meal” kept a day early in anticipation of His crucifixion. Notice: “An Early Passover Meal. A plausible resolution of the discrepancy is to assume that the last Supper was a special paschal meal eaten the evening before the official Passover meal. The anticipation of the paschal meal could have been motivated by the fact that Jesus knew He would suffer death at Passover in fulfillment of the type provided by the slaying of the paschal lamb on Nisan 14. He knew He could not possibly eat of the paschal lamb at the usual time [assuming that Jesus kept the traditional Nisan 15 Passover] and Himself be sacrificed as the true Paschal Lamb when the lambs were slain [referring to the afternoon of Nisan 14]. It was more important that Christ’s death should synchronize with the death of the Passover lambs [at the temple] than that His eating of the Passover meal synchronize with the official time of the Passover meal” (Ibid., p. 56, emphasis added).

Because Jesus did not eat His last Passover at the same time as the Jews, Bacchiocchi concludes that Jesus was observing “an early Passover meal.” His reasoning is based on the assumption that the traditional Passover of the Jews was observed at the correct time. But our study of the Passover ordinances in Exodus 12 has demonstrated that the traditional Nisan 15 Passover was not in accord with the commands of God. Bacchiocchi errs greatly when he looks to Jewish tradition as his standard for determining whether Jesus observed the Passover at the correct time. The evidence of Scripture and history shows that Jesus’ observance of Nisan 14 was not “an early Passover meal” but was precisely on time. It was the traditional Nisan 15 Passover that was observed on the wrong day. Those who judge Jesus’ observance of the Passover by Jewish tradition are basing their faith on the practices of men rather than on the Word of God and on the example of the Son of God.

Because he has chosen the wrong standard, Bacchiocchi has grossly misinterpreted the accounts of Jesus’ last Passover and crucifixion. He erroneously concludes that Jesus’ crucifixion in the afternoon of Nisan 14 was timed to coincide with the temple sacrifice of the Passover lambs for the traditional Jewish 15th Passover. He overlooks the fact that the time of Jesus’ death was set long before the temple sacrifice was instituted. Jesus’ sacrifice of Himself as the Lamb of God was planned from the foundation of the world—it was not timed to synchronize with a tradition of men.

Bacchiocchi’s interpretation of the Gospel accounts is based not only on Jewish tradition but also on the views of the early Catholic fathers. After the days of the apostles, their teachings began to lead true believers away from the observance of the Christian Passover on Nisan 14. Bishops arose in the early churches, promoting the Catholic sacrament of the Eucharist as a replacement for the Passover ceremony that Jesus had instituted. Under the influence of Judaizers, many believers had already forsaken Nisan 14 in favor of a Nisan 15 Passover. After persuading them to adopt the Eucharist, the next step was to move the observance from Nisan 15 to Easter Sunday. This was accomplished by the decree of the Nicene Council in AD 325. At that time, the sacrament of the Eucharist on Easter Sunday became the official Catholic replacement for the Christian Passover.

In his book, Bacchiocchi explains the Roman Catholic view of Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection, and concludes that it was within the authority of the Catholic Church to institute the observance of Easter as a Christian practice. Those who read his book God’s Festivals in Scripture and History need to be aware that his view of the Scriptures has been molded by Catholic theology. His reasoning may appear to be logical, but the teachings that he is promoting do not conform to the Word of God.

In Old Testament times, Satan inspired the followers of Baal and Asherah to deceive the children of Israel in order to draw them away from God’s commands for the Passover. In our times, Satan is still doing his handiwork by causing great confusion over the Christian Passover. In addition to the 14/15 controversy, the devil is deceiving people today with a host of unscriptural Christianized pagan counterfeits! Among these substitute religious rites are the Lord’s Supper, Communion, and the Eucharist. Satan’s tactics are the same and his goals are the same—to keep the world in deception and to lure true Christians away from the teachings of Jesus Christ. As always, he has accomplished it through false doctrines. People choose to believe false doctrines because they do not love the truth of God (II Thess. 2:10).

We can be thankful that God has preserved His truth for us. Neither Satan nor men can destroy the truth of God! Satan may try to bury the truth under an avalanche of lies and false doctrines, but the truth of God always prevails. Yes, the truth of God’s Word is available and can be understood in spite of mistranslations or misrepresentations. By carefully studying His Word, we can find and understand the truth of God.

Understanding the Gospel Accounts of Jesus’ Last Passover

Was the meal that Jesus ate on the night of Nisan 14 “an early Passover meal,” as Bacchiocchi claims? The Gospel of Mark gives us the answer. Let’s begin our study with a translation of Mark 14:12 that accurately conveys the meaning of the Greek text: “And on the first of the unleaveneds, when they were killing the Passover lambs, His disciples said to Him, ‘Where do You desire that we go and prepare, so that You may eat the Passover?’ ”

As we learned in Chapter Eighteen, “the first of the unleaveneds” is designating the 14th of Nisan—the first day of the eight-day festival requiring the removal of leaven and the eating of unleavened bread. That was the day God ordained for killing the Passover lambs, as recorded in Exodus 12.

The next words in Mark 14:12 are most significant because of the intrinsic meaning of the Greek verb: “...when they were killing the Passover....” The English words “they were killing” are translated from the Greek verb ethuon. The verb root is thuo. The verb ethuon reflects the following case and action: third person plural—”they”; imperfect—showing action that was not completed but was taking place at that very moment— “were killing”; active indicative—showing action being done personally at that moment by the subject—“they.”

Mark’s use of the Greek verb ethuon shows that THE LAMBS WERE BEING KILLED AT THAT VERY MOMENT AS JESUS SENT HIS DISCIPLES TO PREPARE THE PASSOVER! Mark is not referring to the temple sacrifice of the Passover lambs, which traditionally took place in the afternoon of Nisan 14. Since Jesus ate the Passover the night before the traditional observance, Mark can only be referring to the domestic sacrifice of the lambs at the beginning of Nisan 14.

The word “they” in Mark 14:12 refers to those who were killing the Passover lambs at houses, tents, or inns where the domestic Passover would be kept. Mark’s record of the killing of the lambs at the time that Jesus sent His disciples to prepare the Passover confirms that many Jews in New Testament times were observing the domestic Passover. Clearly, Jesus and His disciples did not observe a “special paschal meal” at a different time from other Jews in Jerusalem. Mark’s testimony exposes this teaching as a false doctrine of men.

When Mark’s account is combined with Luke’s account, the meaning becomes even clearer. Here are Mark 14:12 and Luke 22:7 combined in a literal translation: “On the first day of the unleaveneds, in which it was obligatory to kill the Passover lambs, when they were killing the Passover lambs, His disciples asked Him, ‘Where do You desire that we go and prepare, so that You may eat the Passover?’ ”

There is no question that these verses are referring to the domestic sacrifice of the lambs at the beginning of Nisan 14, as commanded by God. That is when the disciples were accustomed to keeping the Passover. Because the Jewish religious authorities were watching for Him, Jesus had not previously sent His disciples into Jerusalem to prepare for the Passover. They knew that it would soon be time to eat the Passover, but they did not know where Jesus wanted them to make the necessary preparations. Since the domestic killing of the Passover lambs was happening before their very eyes, the disciples asked this urgent question, “Where do You desire that we go and prepare, so that You may eat the Passover?

Consider for a moment! If you were one of the disciples and could see the Passover lambs being killed at the houses, inns or tents at that very moment, and you knew that the Passover was at hand, wouldn’t you ask the same question?

The events that the Gospel writers were inspired to record show that the domestic Passover was a common practice. The disciples were obviously accustomed to keeping the domestic Passover at the beginning of the 14th or they would not have asked Jesus at that time, “Where do You desire that we should go and prepare so that You may eat the Passover?

The records of history verify that the domestic Passover was widely observed at that time. The great multitude of Jews who assembled in Jerusalem each year to keep the Passover made the domestic sacrifice of the lambs an absolute necessity. As we learned in Chapter Seventeen of this book, the temple could not possibly accommodate the vast number of lambs required for everyone to keep the Passover within the allotted time. It would have taken several days for all the lambs to be killed before the altar. Those Jews who practiced the teachings of the Pharisees took their lambs to the temple, but a majority of the Jews killed their lambs at houses, tents and inns in Jerusalem and other cities within the greater festival area. When we examine the three Gospel accounts that record Jesus’ instructions to His disciples, it is obvious that the domestic sacrifice of the Passover was being observed by the disciples. The evidence is overwhelming!

Matthew’s Account: “Now on the first of the unleaveneds, the disciples came to Jesus, saying to Him, ‘Where do You desire that we prepare for You to eat the Passover?’ And He said, ‘Go into the city to such a man, and say to him, “The Teacher says, ‘My time is near; I will keep the Passover with My disciples at your house.’ ” ’ Then the disciples did as Jesus had directed them, and prepared the Passover” (Matt. 26:17-19).

Mark’s Account: “And on the first day of the unleaveneds, when they were killing the Passover lambs, His disciples said to Him, ‘Where do you desire that we go and prepare, so that You may eat the Passover?’ And He sent two of His disciples and said to them, ‘Go into the city, and you shall meet a man carrying a pitcher of water; follow him. And whatever house he shall enter, say to the master of the house that the Teacher says, “Where is the guest chamber, where I may eat the Passover with My disciples?” And he shall show you a large upper room, furnished and ready. There prepare for us.’ And His disciples went away, and when they came into the city, they found it exactly as He had said to them; and they prepared the Passover” (Mark 14:12-16).

Luke’s Account: “Then came the day of the unleaveneds in which it was obligatory to kill the Passover lambs. And He sent Peter and John, saying, ‘Go and prepare the Passover for us that we may eat.’ But they said to Him, ‘Where do You desire that we prepare it?’ And He said to them, ‘Watch, and when you come into the city, you will meet a man carrying a pitcher of water; follow him into the house that he enters; and you shall say to the master of the house, “The Teacher says to you, ‘Where is the guest chamber, where I may eat the Passover with My disciples?’ And he shall show you a large upper room furnished; there prepare.” Then they went and found everything exactly as He had said to them; and they prepared the Passover” (Luke 22:7-13).

These three Gospel accounts make it absolutely clear that Jesus observed the domestic Passover at the same time that thousands of other Jews were observing it. Jesus specifically told the disciples to prepare THE PASSOVER. IT WAS THE PASSOVER THAT JESUS ATE, NOT SOME OTHER TYPE OF MEAL! JESUS HIMSELF SAID, “I WILL EAT THE PASSOVER WITH MY DISCIPLES.” Jesus did not eat a “pre-Passover meal,” kept a day early—it was the commanded time for observing the Passover!

Jesus’ own words to His disciples testify that this was the observance of the Passover—not a “pre-Passover meal.” The word “Passover” is used eleven times in the three Gospel accounts. The use of the word “house” in two of the accounts shows that this was the domestic Passover. Jesus did not command Peter and John to go to the temple to sacrifice a Passover lamb. He commanded them to follow a certain man to a certain house and prepare the Passover at that house. Not once is the temple mentioned, nor is a temple sacrifice of the Passover remotely indicated in these accounts. There is no question that Jesus kept the domestic Passover at the beginning of the 14th day of the first month, as commanded in Exodus 12.

In their study papers and doctrinal presentations, the advocates of a 15th Passover ignore these direct statements of Jesus about His last Passover. They refuse to acknowledge Jesus’ own words. But ignoring these Scriptures cannot change the reality of what the Gospel writers recorded! Their accounts make it explicitly clear that Jesus’ last Passover was not a pre-Passover meal or a special supper, kept a day earlier than the commanded time. Nor did Jesus change the Passover from the day that it had always been observed, as some advocates of a 15th Passover claim. These misleading teachings are completely contradicted by Jesus Christ’s own statements as recorded in the Gospels.

Jesus gave these instructions to Peter and John: “And you shall say to the master of the house, ‘The Teacher says to you, “Where is the guest chamber, where I may eat the Passover with My disciples?” ’ And he will show you a large upper room furnished; there [in that house] prepare” (Luke 22:11-12).

The Gospel accounts do not specify whether the disciples’ preparations included killing the Passover lamb. It is possible that Peter and John killed the lamb themselves. However, since the guest chamber was furnished and ready, it is more likely that the master of the house had already killed the lamb by the time Peter and John arrived. In that case, they would have begun roasting the lamb and setting out the other foods for the meal, making sure that the unleavened bread and wine were ready. They completed whatever was necessary to prepare the Passover. Luke records, “Then they went and found everything exactly as He had said to them; and they prepared the Passover” (Luke 22:13).

The length of time required for preparation was determined by the size of the lamb. According to God’s commands, the Passover lamb could not be more than a year old (Ex. 12:5), and it could not be less than eight days old (Lev. 22:27). The older the lamb, the more it would weigh and the longer it would take to roast. Conversely, the smaller the lamb, the more quickly it could be roasted. When we consider the events that followed the Passover, it is clear that Jesus did not have time for a long, extended meal. It is probable that the lamb for Jesus’ last Passover was a very small lamb, which would require less time for roasting. If the lamb was only eight days old—the minimum age for a Passover lamb—it would weigh 10-12 pounds and would require only one and a half hours of roasting.

Peter and John completed the preparations, and at the appointed time Jesus and the other disciples came to eat the Passover. If the lamb was very small, the Passover meal could have been ready as early as 7:30 PM. The subsequent events of that night indicate that the Passover meal began early and probably ended by 9 or 9:30 PM. Luke records Jesus’ words at the beginning of the Passover meal: “Now when the hour had come, He sat down, and the twelve apostles with Him. And He said to them, ‘With earnest desire I have desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer. For I tell you that I will not eat of it again until it be fulfilled in the kingdom of God’ ” (Luke 22:14-16).

In summary, the New Testament clearly reveals that:

1) Jesus kept the Passover, not a “pre-Passover meal.”

2) Jesus observed it at the time commanded by God.

3) Jesus ate this Passover at the beginning of the 14th day.

4) The lamb that was eaten at Jesus’ last Passover was not sacrificed at the temple.

Jesus kept the Passover at the time He had always observed it, according to the commands in Exodus 12. If He had not done so, He would have been disregarding and opposing the very instructions that He gave as the Lord God of Israel. Had Jesus chosen at any time during His life in the flesh to obey the traditions of men instead of the commandments of God, He would have sinned. And if He had sinned, He could not have become our Savior!

In view of the evidence in the Gospel accounts, there is no question that Jesus kept the Passover on the night of the 14th, as commanded by God. On the other hand, the religious leaders of the Jews combined their Passover observance with the first day of the Feast of Unleavened Bread, and ate their Passover on the night of the 15th. Because they had replaced the commandment of God with their own tradition, they did not recognize Jesus as the true Passover Lamb of God. Instead, they condemned Jesus Christ to die, proclaiming that they were willing to let His blood be on them and their children. In rejecting the only Savior Who could bring them salvation, they sentenced themselves to remain in their sins and to suffer the judgment of God.

Jesus Institutes New Passover Ordinances

As the Gospel writers recorded the time of Jesus’ last Passover, so they recorded the manner in which it was observed. Their accounts do not focus on the observance of the Old Testament Passover but on the new ceremony that Jesus instituted at that time. They relate the order of the new ceremony and the meaning of the new symbols that Jesus instituted in place of the Passover supper.

Some writers have compared Jesus’ observance of the Passover with the Jewish practice of the Seder meal, as do Ceil and Moishe Rosen in their book Christ in the Passover. The Seder meal was adopted by the Pharisaic Jews after the destruction of the temple in AD 70. When they could no longer sacrifice their Passover lambs at the temple, they substituted a token shank bone for the roast lamb of the Passover, as was first practiced by the Jewish exiles in Babylon. There is no Scriptural basis for the Jewish Seder, just as there is no foundation in Exodus 12 for the temple sacrifice of the Passover lambs. Christians who are truly following Jesus Christ will not seek to imitate the practices of the Jews but will imitate Jesus’ own example and teachings.

The Gospel accounts reveal the three new Passover ordinances that Jesus taught His followers to observe. Each of these ordinances is a vital component of the Christian Passover, in which all true Christians are commanded to participate. These three ordinances are (1) the footwashing, (2) the unleavened bread, and (3) the wine.

1) The Footwashing. The first ordinance of the Christian Passover is the footwashing. Jesus commands His followers to wash one another’s feet, as He did the disciples’. Today, very few professing Christians observe His command. The ceremony of footwashing has been rejected and impugned as “beneath the dignity” of church members. They cannot bring themselves to stoop down and wash one another’s feet. By refusing to follow the example of Jesus Christ, they are esteeming themselves above the Lord and Master Whom they profess to serve.

Although Catholics do not practice a form of the ordinance of footwashing, the popes traditionally wash the feet of twelve seminary students on the eve of Easter. Many Catholic bishops and priests also practice this rite at Easter. But this token footwashing during the religious festival of Easter does not fulfill the command of Jesus. The observance of Easter has no place in the worship of Jesus Christ. This religious holiday, which was adopted from paganism by the early church fathers, is an abomination to God!

If we are truly followers of Christ, we will fulfill the ordinances of the Christian Passover exactly as He commanded, including the footwashing. Jesus said that if His followers do not wash one another’s feet, they will have no part with Him. He commands every one of His followers to take part in the footwashing ceremony. The fact that John records the account of the footwashing in great detail shows the importance of Jesus’ command.

Some confusion has arisen over the time of the footwashing due to a mistranslation of John 13:2, which reads: “And supper being ended...” (KJV).

This King James translation makes it appear that the footwashing took place after the Passover meal. However, the words in the Greek text were not translated correctly. The Greek participle that is translated “being ended” in John 13:2 is genomenou. It is a second arist participle. While the second arist participle is past tense, it does not mean that the supper had ended. Rather it shows that when the supper began, Jesus rose from the supper to wash the disciples’ feet. A correct translation of this Greek participle is “when supper began.” In The Interlinear Greek-English New Testament, Berry uses the translation “supper taking place.”

Since the root of genomenou is genomai, which means “to come into being,” it is obvious that the time being designated was at or near the very beginning of the Passover meal.

As we continue reading the account, it is clear that the context supports this translation, and is consistent with the Greek. We are told that Jesus rose from supper (verse 4). After washing the disciples’ feet, Jesus sat down again (Greek “reclined”) to eat (verse 12). Jesus said, “The one who is eating bread with Me...” (verse 18), shows that the meal was in progress. Jesus dipped the morsel and gave it to Judas, who ate it (verse 26). All these verses show that the footwashing took place at the beginning of the meal, soon after the disciples were seated at the table. In performing this act, Jesus took upon Himself the duty of a lowly servant of that day, who was required to wash the feet of his master’s guests when they arrived.

Here is the full account of Jesus’ washing of His disciples’ feet, translated as accurately as possible in order to capture the full significance of what Jesus was doing: “When supper began (the devil having already put into the heart of Judas Iscariot, Simon’s son, that he should betray Him), Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into His hands, and that He came from God and was going to God; rose from supper and laid aside His garments; and after taking a towel, He secured it around Himself. Next, He poured water into a washing basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet, and to wipe them with the towel which He had secured.

“Then He came to Simon Peter; and he said to Him, ‘Lord, are You going to wash my feet?’ Jesus answered and said to him, ‘What I am doing you do not understand now, but you shall know after these things.’ Peter said to Him, ‘You shall not wash my feet, not ever.’

“Jesus answered him, ‘If I do not wash you, you have no part with Me.’ Simon Peter said to Him, ‘Lord, not my feet only, but also my hands and my head.’ Jesus said to him, ‘The one who has been washed does not need to wash anything other than the feet, but is completely clean; and you are clean, but not all.’ For He knew the one who was betraying Him; this was the reason He said, ‘Not all of you are clean.’

“Therefore, when He had washed their feet, and had taken His garments and had sat down again, He said to them, ‘Do you know what I have done to you? You call Me the Teacher and the Lord, and you speak rightly, because I am. Therefore, if I, the Lord and the Teacher, have washed your feet, you also are duty-bound to wash one another’s feet; for I have given you an example, to show that you also should do exactly as I have done to you.

“ ‘Truly, truly I tell you, a servant is not greater than his lord, nor a messenger greater than he who sent him. If you know these things, blessed are you IF YOU DO THEM’ ” (John 13:2-17, emphasis added).

These words of Jesus Christ convey how vitally important it is for every Christian to participate in the footwashing ceremony. Do you claim that Jesus Christ is your Lord? Is He your Teacher? Does the profession of your lips match your obedience to Jesus Christ? If not, why not?

If you do not keep the Christian Passover—and if you do not participate in the footwashing as part of this observance—YOU HAVE NO PART WITH JESUS CHRIST. Remember Jesus’ warning: “Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but the one who is doing [practicing] the will of My Father, Who is in heaven” (Matt. 7:21).

Was not Jesus teaching the will of God the Father? Did not Jesus say we should be practicing footwashing as part of the Christian Passover? He absolutely commands it! Anyone who professes the name of Christ and claims to love Him should be keeping His commandments. Jesus Himself said so: “If you love Me, keep the commandments—namely, My commandments” (John 14:15). Are you keeping the commandments of Jesus Christ? If not, you should be! If you are truly seeking the will of God and salvation through Jesus Christ, you must be willing to obey Him in every respect. (See Appendix X for a more in-depth study on the timing of the footwashing ceremony.)

The Gospel of John records that after the footwashing, Jesus sat down with His disciples to eat. During the meal, He gave a morsel to Judas Iscariot. After Judas had eaten it, Satan entered into Judas, and he left to betray Jesus (John 13:26-27).

Most people assume that the morsel which Jesus gave to Judas was a small piece of unleavened bread. However, it is possible that it was a morsel of the roasted Passover lamb, or a small bit of bread with meat or bitter herbs. By this act, Jesus was signifying the end of the Passover supper. Then He instituted the new Passover symbols of the unleavened bread and the wine.

2) The unleavened bread. The second ordinance of the Christian Passover is the breaking and eating of the unleavened bread as the symbol of Christ’s body: “And He took the bread, and after giving thanks, He broke it and gave it to them, saying, ‘This is My body, which is given for you. This do in the remembrance of Me’ ” (Luke 22:19). Mark and Matthew also show that the unleavened bread symbolized the body of Jesus. Here is Mark’s account: “And as they were eating, Jesus took bread, and after blessing it, He broke it and gave it to them, and said, ‘Take, eat; this is My body’ ” (Mark 14:22). Matthew records: “And as they were eating, Jesus took the bread, and blessed it, then He broke it and gave it to the disciples, and said, ‘Take, eat; this is My body’ ” (Matt. 26:26).

The apostle Paul wrote this account of Jesus’ last Passover: “For I received from the Lord that which I also delivered to you, that the Lord Jesus in the night in which He was betrayed took bread; and after giving thanks, He broke it, and said, ‘Take, eat; this is My body, which is being broken for you. This do in the remembrance of Me’ ” (I Cor. 11:23-24).

As was the bread of the Old Testament Passover, the bread of this new Passover ceremony was wholly unleavened. Because it represents the sinless body of Jesus Christ, the bread of the Christian Passover must never be leavened. During the Passover and Feast of Unleavened Bread, leaven is used as a type of sin. To partake of bread that is leavened during the Christian Passover ceremony is a violation of the ordinance that Jesus instituted and a denigration of the body of Christ, Who was without sin. (See Appendix Y, Christ’s Last Passover—Leavened or Unleavened, by Ben T. Ambrose.)

After the disciples had eaten the unleavened bread, Jesus instituted the third ordinance of the Christian Passover—drinking of the wine.

3) The Wine. The cup of wine that Jesus passed to the disciples represented His blood, which would be shed to establish the New Covenant: “In like manner also, He took the cup after supper, saying, ‘This cup is the New Covenant in My blood, which is poured out for you’ ” (Luke 22:20). Mark gives a more detailed account of Jesus’ words: “And He took the cup; and after giving thanks, He gave it to them; and they all drank of it. And He said to them, ‘This is My blood, the blood of the New Covenant, which is poured out for many. Truly I say to you, I will not drink again at all of the fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new in the kingdom of God’ ” (Mark 14:23-25). Matthew clearly states the purpose for which Jesus shed His blood: “And He took the cup; and after giving thanks, He gave it to them, saying, ‘All of you drink of it; for this is My blood, the blood of the New Covenant, which is poured out for many for the remission of sins’ ” (Matt. 26:27-28).

No covenant is of any force or effect until it has been sealed with the blood of a sacrifice. Jesus Himself laid down His life (John 10:17-18), and was sacrificed. His own blood was shed to seal the New Covenant, which offers the promise of eternal life. Under the New Covenant, all who repent of their sins can receive forgiveness from God the Father through the blood of Jesus Christ. This remission of sins is granted when the believer fulfills the Scriptural command to repent and be baptized in water. At that time he or she is conjoined into the death of Jesus Christ in a covenant symbolic death through belief and faith in Jesus’ atoning blood. The repentant believer then receives the Holy Spirit through the laying on of hands. At this point, through the grace of God, the believer enters into a special, spiritual covenant relationship with God the Father and Jesus Christ. This relationship requires willing obedience from the heart to the commandments of God as spiritually magnified by Jesus Christ. As the believer strives each day to live by every word of God, he or she remains in fellowship with God the Father and Jesus Christ, and His blood covers every sin (I John 1:6-7).

Every Christian who enters the New Covenant relationship is commanded by God to renew the covenant each year by participating in the Christian Passover ceremony on the 14th of Nisan. In partaking of the symbols of Jesus’ body and blood, the believer is reaffirming his or her personal continued acceptance of His sacrifice for sin, and is renewing his or her commitment to walk in obedience to the commandments of God. Christians who do not participate in this ceremony are cutting themselves off from the covenant relationship and will no longer have their sins covered by the blood of Jesus. His blood is the sacrificial blood of the New Covenant and is applied only to those who continue in the covenant relationship.

The disciples of Jesus did not understand the meaning of the symbols that He offered to them on the night of His betrayal, or the words that He spoke to them at that time. They did not know that He would soon sacrifice His life to establish the New Covenant. When all had partaken of the symbols representing His broken body and His shed blood, the institution of the Christian Passover—the Passover of the New Covenant—was complete. After singing a hymn, or psalm, they departed for the Mount of Olives (Matt. 26:30).

In this chapter, we have seen Scriptural proof that Jesus’ last Passover was indeed a true Passover observance on the 14th day of the first month. After eating the Passover supper with His disciples, Jesus administered the new symbols for the Christian Passover. As the Gospel accounts show, the disciples ate the broken unleavened bread and drank from the cup of wine, which Jesus called “the fruit of the vine” (Mark 14:25).

There is not one word in these accounts to support the Catholic doctrine of transubstantiation, which claims that the prayer of the priest changes a wafer of bread into the actual flesh of Jesus Christ, and the wine into His actual blood. No man has been empowered by God to transform a piece of bread and a cup of wine into the flesh and blood of His Son! The Catholic Mass and other counterfeits of the Christian Passover are nothing more than Christianized versions of Baal and Asherah worship. The Catholic doctrines of Easter, the celebration of the Mass, and the transubstantiation of the wafer, or host, originated in the doctrines of pagan gods and false religions. It is beyond the scope of this book to document the complete paganization of Christianity. However, it is recommended that the reader study the following two books, which are exhaustive works on the subject: The Two Babylons, or Papal Worship by Alexander Hislop; and The Golden Bough by Sir James George Frazer.

In the next chapter, we will answer a very important question: Should the Christian Passover be observed more than once in the year?