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It’s Maundy Thursday already here in Australia – the anniversary of when Jesus celebrated the Passover with His disciples the night before His crucifixion.

This message is to share some thoughts on the origin and meaning of the “bread and wine” symbolism used at the last supper, especially in the context of first century Judaism.

During Jesus’ last meal with His disciples He prayed over bread and wine and said “This is my body” and “This is my blood” (Matthew 26:26–28; Mark 14:22–24; Luke 22:19–20). For many Christians, especially Gentile (non-Jewish) believers, that could only mean that Jesus referred to himself: Bread and wine were tokens of Jesus body and blood. To many Christians later in history these words would mean that the bread and wine literally became His body and blood when believers consumed them.

The traditional understanding of the bread and wine is that Jesus was telling His followers to eat bread and drink wine as if they were his own flesh and blood. The celebration of “Holy Communion” or “breaking bread” was to be a memorial of Jesus’ voluntary death as a sacrifice offered for the sins of mankind. The bread and wine were intended to be visible reminders of His body which was nailed to the cross and His blood which was shed there.

But is that plausible within the context of first century Judaism? What Jew would tell another to drink blood, even symbolic blood? The thought of drinking blood, even animal blood, was blasphemous. To imagine drinking human blood and consuming it with human flesh could only make the blasphemy worse. Yet there is no hint in the accounts of the last supper that Jesus’ disciples were shocked or even puzzled by this saying.

So what did Jesus mean?

The meal table played an important role in Jesus’ teachings. In contrast to the meals of the Pharisees in which only the ritually pure could participate and from which the blind, crippled and diseased were excluded together with the “sinners” (including those with heretical doctrines), Jesus was welcoming and inclusive. He taught “when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind” (Lk 14:12). He ate with “sinners” and refused to wash His hands after being in contact with common people and before eating.

Jesus’ meals were also meant to be a taste of the kingdom to come. The prophets taught that in the kingdom to come God would “share His table” with “all peoples” on his holy mountain (e.g. Isaiah 25:6–8). Jesus shared that hope:

“Many shall come from east and west, and feast with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in the kingdom of God.” (Matthew 8:11; Luke 13:28–29)

Unlike the Pharisees, Jesus’ meals were inclusive. He avoided any exclusive practices that would divide the people of God from one another and accepted all the people of God at His table, including tax agents and other suspicious characters, and even notorious sinners. The meal for him was a sign of the kingdom of God and everyone was to have access to it.

It’s important that we see the last supper not only in the context of Jesus teaching about the Kingdom of God, but also in the immediate context. Jesus had just created a furor at the Temple by driving out the animals being sold for sacrifices, and the money-changers. He objected to merchants selling sacrificial animals in the vast outer court of the Temple (and no doubt He objected even further to the fact that the chief priests were making a personal fortune from this trade).

The Gospels record several dramatic moments when Jesus challenged religious practices:

1. His first recorded miracle was to convert water used for ritual purification into wine which was to be drunk in celebration (John 2:1-11. Note especially verse 6).

2. He declared all foods clean (Mark 7:19)

3. By refusing to wash His hands before a meal He declared all people clean. In other words, there was no need to wash away their ‘contamination’ before He could eat. (Luke 11:37-40; Matt 15:2; Mark 7:1-4).

4. He worked on the Sabbath (John 5:16-18).

5. By driving sacrificial animals from the Temple courts He declared an end to animal sacrifices.

To the priests and the religious authorities this last action was the most radical of them all, and threatened their livelihood.

Soon after this “cleansing” of the Temple, Jesus again celebrated a meal as a foretaste of the kingdom, just as he had before. But he added a new dimension of meaning, related to His actions at the Temple. Jesus said over the wine, “This is my blood,” and over the bread, “This is my flesh”.

In the context of His actions at the Temple, Jesus’ words can have had only one meaning. He cannot have meant, “This is my own body and blood”; that would have been shocking and would have been understood as blasphemous. Jesus’ point was that, as true worship and sacrifice could not be practiced at the Temple it was no longer possible or necessary to perform animal sacrifices. The common elements of a meal were to be the new ‘offerings’ to God: wine would replace the blood of sacrifice, and bread would replace the flesh of sacrifice. These were His substitutes for the animal sacrifices at the Temple. When he said, “This is my blood, this is my flesh,” he meant that the wine and bread were replacing the blood and flesh of animals being sacrificed at the Temple.

Jesus was in effect saying that by sharing meals in anticipation of the kingdom, He and his followers offered more acceptable worship than what was offered in the Temple. The wine was better blood, the bread better flesh, than Temple sacrifices that were being controlled by the religious authorities to line their own pockets.

No where else does Jesus speak of His own death as an ‘atonement’. In sharing bread and wine at the last supper He is not speaking of His own death as a human sacrifice. We should remember too that this was Passover and Paul makes a connection with the timing and speaks of Jesus as “Christ our Passover lamb” (1 Cor 5:7). But the Passover lamb was not offered as an atonement or as a sacrifice for sin. It was not a sin offering. Every part of the lamb was to be consumed in a meal in which everyone was to participate: the whole family together with neighbours. There had to be enough people present to ensure that nothing was left over (Exodus 12:4, 10). This was a festive meal, a celebration of freedom. People often confuse the Passover lamb with the sin offerings and think of “Christ our Passover lamb” as a sacrifice for sins. This has led to further confusion about the meaning of the “body” and “blood” references during the last supper.

For many Christians the primary focus of Communion is on the death of Christ as an atonement for sins. This is especially so in relation to the communion ‘cup’ as a symbol of shed blood. However, it’s important to note that the Passover lamb was not sacrificed as an atonement, and Jesus’ reference to the wine as a symbol of blood was to the “blood of the covenant”. Sacrifice in confirmation of a covenant was never for atonement.

Jesus is, however, saying that this is a radical change in the way God is to be worshipped. He says of the wine: “This is my blood of the covenant.” (Matthew 26:28; Mark 14:24. Compare Luke 22:20 and 1 Corinthians 11:25, which speaks of “new covenant.”)

When Jesus referred to His blood as ‘the blood of the [new] covenant’, He was referring to the sacrifice which sealed a covenant. He is undoubtedly linking the blood with which Moses sealed the covenant in Exodus 24:8 and the new covenant of Jeremiah 31:31-34. The words in Jeremiah refer to the community of God’s people receiving God’s law in their hearts and minds and is contrasted with the exodus from Egypt which was being celebrated at that time in the Passover meal (“It will not be like the covenant I made with their forefathers when I took them by the hand to lead them out of Egypt”). Jesus undoubtedly had Jeremiah’s words in mind at this Passover-celebration from Egypt, and Jeremiah revealed that the new covenant will be different to the old, as the new community of the covenant-people will be different from the old community. The emphasis again is on the Kingdom which Jesus is inaugurating.

For Jesus the ‘last supper’ was the first of a new type of Passover – a remembrance of the deliverance from the bondage of sin and the institution of the new covenant and a new community of covenant-people. The Kingdom of God had been inaugurated and this meal was a foretaste of the Messianic banquet of which he had spoken so many times.

30 Responses to “The meaning of the last supper”

  1. on 20 Mar 2008 at 8:01 amJohnO


    In general, I greatly agree with the thrust of your post. I think the five points you make are Jesus’ intramural debate within Judaism about interpretation and tradition of Moses. I don’t think he declares the end, or misappropriation of sacrifices (as if it was wrong or outdated) – I think he declares the end of the Temple its uncleanness. At the same time, he seems to be linking himself as gathering a new temple around him, of believers in which God’s eschatelogical spirit dwells (as it dwells in himself).

    The covenant is undoubtedly the “new” one, all the NT writers understand him in that way. I think Jesus’ death necessitates being seen in three ways, blood for the covenant (not atoning), passover (not atoning), and sacrificial (atoning). Certainly the comments made by the Gospel writers, such like he was taken out of the camp as the lamb of the offering was, sees a replacement of the previously judged levitical system. As you state, the blood for covenant is not atoning, neither is passover. But, passover did save the people from the impending judgment that was coming to Egypt. Just as the Christians would be saved from the impending judgment to come on Jerusalem.

  2. on 20 Mar 2008 at 2:11 pmbob smith









  3. on 20 Mar 2008 at 8:14 pmSteve


    I agree that in the NT, outside the Gospels, Jesus’ death is seen in three ways: blood for the covenant (not atoning), passover (not atoning), and sacrificial (atoning).

    However, I don’t see anything in the teachings of Jesus to suggest that He saw His own death as atoning. If I’m wrong perhaps you could correct me in this.

    I am familiar with the statement by John the Baptist in John’s Gospel (1:29) where the Baptist says of Jesus “Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” but this seems to be an isolated exception and is possibly the only reference in the Gospels to an atoning sacrifice.

  4. on 21 Mar 2008 at 4:18 amWolfgang

    Hi Steve,

    would the following statement made by Jesus himself deal with this topic?

    Mk 10:45 “For even the Son of man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give his life a ransom for many.”

    Do his words “give his life a ransom for many” touch on the matter of atonement?


  5. on 21 Mar 2008 at 6:34 amSteve


    I think what’s commonly called ‘the ransom saying’ in Mark 10:45 and Matt 20:28 may be the only saying of Jesus in the whole of the Gospels which might appear to be a reference to his death as an ‘atonement’. The context of this saying is a dispute between the sons of Zebedee about who would be greatest in the kingdom of God. Jesus called His disciples together and taught them about true greatness, culminating in this saying where He sets Himself forward as an example of selfless service and clarifies what He meant earlier about drinking from the cup he drinks and being baptised with the baptism with which He is baptised. The Greek word lyton, translated as ‘ransom’, was used of the price paid to free slaves and the related verb lytoo was used of deliverance in a general way. When used metaphorically it does not imply that payment is given to any individual, although the term stresses that freedom is accomplished at a great cost. When Jesus said the Son of Man came to “give his life” he is not referring solely to His death. The words immediately preceeding this – the Son of Man came to serve – reveals that He has in mind a life of service, and not simply the culmination of that life.

    In a nutshell, I believe Jesus is saying that he came to give the whole of his life in service, in order to set people free.

  6. on 21 Mar 2008 at 6:35 amWolfgang

    Hi Steve,

    the difficulty – as I see it — for determining the meaning of Jesus’ statements at the last supper is to determine to what he was referring with “THIS” and with “MY blood” and “MY body” in connection with whether or not his statements involve the use of a figure of speech. Also, in order to gain an accurate understanding, one may need to first determine whether the assumptions made in connection with the last supper somehow being linked to the passover meal are even correct.

    My take on the matter is that the last supper of Jesus with his disciples had NOTHING to do with the passover meal, in other words, Jesus was NOT eating a passover meal at the time with his disciples seeing that the annual passover meal was eaten at the time Jesus himself was already dead and buried.

    As Jesus was making those statements in connection with his actions while eating bread and drinking wine, it seems from his further instructions that the purpose of such type of breaking bread together and sharing the cup of wine together was FOR REMBRANCE of him, and in particular of his death (which he had once again mentioned to his disciples at the beginning of the meal, when he explained to them that he had greatly desired to eat the passover meal with them BUT that he would NOT eat it with them anymore, seeing that he apparently knew now that he would already be dead by the time for the passover meal … cp. Luke’s record) .. which is later on also emphasized by Paul in his corrective instructions to the Corinthian believers (cp 1Co 11)

    Viewing the matter from this angle, I am wondering if those thoughts concerning the last supper and its meaning which you posted above are pointing in the right direction ….


  7. on 21 Mar 2008 at 10:02 amJohnO


    It is impossible that a meal in Jerusalem during Passover week had nothing to do with passover. Every meal the entire week would be “passover-like”, even if it wasn’t the exact passover day, meal, and process. The whole week would be discussion about passover/exodus and its relation to the current Jewish reality.


    I was going to suggest the ransom passage as well. I absolutely agree that Jesus is thinking of his whole life here, but isn’t the pinnacle of his life his submission and death on the cross? That would then be intimately included in the ransom saying. I’m actually delivering a paper on Jesus and Atonement at this year’s theological conference. If you’re not attending, I’ll definitely send it when it’s complete.

    Also, we have to be sure not to think of atonement only in a metaphysical/legal transaction of God erasing sin in a book in heaven. We have to also think of it as a life-changing reality here and now. I think one of the biggest things that I have been able to learn and apply to the NT is the historical idea of God’s judgment. Israel sinned, broke the covenant, and God took them out of the land in judgment. They technically came back. But they were never truly autonomous, or restored in glory. The Maccabeans thought they finally accomplished this in their military victories and re-establishing the temple as a place of sacrifice (Channukah). But they were rather quickly taken over by foreign rule. So in a metaphoric, and real, sense John the Baptist and Jesus are saying repent and return to God, this is why you are under foreign rule, you never really came back to restoration and glory when you came out of exile. Return to God’s covenant (in the case of the last supper – the new covenant) and join his fold again that he may forgive your sin and restore you. That forgiveness of sin, in many texts biblical and extra-biblical, is linked with the idea of returning from exile. And that is also atonement – Jesus restoring people to God throughout his ministry and in his death.

  8. on 21 Mar 2008 at 10:51 amRay

    In responce to #2,

    Can you imagine what would happen if a disciple at the Lord’s
    supper, would have said to the brethren, “If you don’t believe
    Jesus is God, then you can not partake of this covenant.” or
    “If you don’t confess Jesus is God, then you don’t’ belong here.”
    or What if he stood up and said, “Jesus is God the Son, and if
    you don’t agree with that, then…well, we’re not going to discuss
    it.” ?

    I’m wondering if that would have been the last time he ate with
    Jesus, were it not for the grace of God.

    I think behaviour like that, were it to happen, would make a supper
    with Jesus something one might not want to partake of.

    I believe words do matter. “How forceful are right words.”, Job said.

    God communicates to us with words. He illuminates words by his
    spirit to us. Right words do matter. Right words can impart peace,
    clarity, and vision.

    I believe Jesus is the Son of God, and that he is as God is. God communicated his character through the life of Jesus. God imparts
    his life to us through the life of Jesus.

  9. on 21 Mar 2008 at 12:23 pmWolfgang

    Hello John O.,

    you mentioned above:

    It is impossible that a meal in Jerusalem during Passover week had nothing to do with passover. Every meal the entire week would be “passover-like”, even if it wasn’t the exact passover day, meal, and process. The whole week would be discussion about passover/exodus and its relation to the current Jewish reality.

    It seems to me that it would be a good idea to consider matters from a biblical perspective rather than from some interpreters’ ideas and assumptions about what they think the “then current Jewish reality” was about.

    What is “Passover Week”? Have you ever read about it in the Scriptures? What does the Scriptures say about the regular daily meals and the distinct passover meal?


  10. on 21 Mar 2008 at 1:09 pmJohnO

    Passover week was the time in which Jerusalem doubled, tripled, quadrupled in size because of all the people who made the trip. It’s silly to ignore the history and culture of the first century. Nor is it assumptions – it is credible history that has been done over the last five or six decades.

  11. on 21 Mar 2008 at 10:38 pmSteve


    The synoptists are unanimous that the last supper was a Passover meal – Mark even specifies that it was on the day when the Paasover lambs were sacrificed (Mk 14:12) – and the comment in John 18:28 that appears to contradict this can easily be reconciled with the Synoptists once we understand the terminology related to the Feasts of Israel.

    John refers to a claim by the Chief Priests that defilement would make it impossible for them to eat the Passover (Jn 18:28). According to Edersheim (The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah) by the second temple period Passover day and the feast of unleavened bread which followed Passover were referred to collectively as “Passover”. John’s reference is to the priests being unable to join in with the festival meals during the week-long “Passover” festival, and not to the Passover meal itself which had already happened the night before. Any other interpretation puts John in conflict with Matthew, Mark and Luke

    Paul provides some additional commentary (in 1 Corinthians) which confirms this. The following list shows some of the elements of the Passover meal which are referred to in the Gospels or in Paul’s letter.

    1. Jesus referred to the meal as the Passover: “I have eagerly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer” (Luke 22:15).

    2. Paul refers to the use of unleavened bread (1 Cor 5:7-8) as an aspect of the Passover meal with significance to Christian Communion.

    3. The ‘cup of blessing’ (1 Cor 10:16 KJV or ‘cup of thanksgiving’ NIV) was the third of four cups of wine which were drank at Passover (the four cups were the cup of sanctification, the cup of wrath, the cup of blessing or redemption, and the cup of acceptance or praise). Luke specifically refers to two of these cups (Luke 22:17 and 20).

    4. Paul refers to the lamb which was a central feature of the Passover meal in his comment that “Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed” (1 Cor 5:7 NIV – the Greek word pascha strictly speaking means simply ‘Passover’ [so KJV et al]. It may also refer to the Passover lamb or meal and clearly has the meaning of ‘lamb’ here as it “has been sacrificed”).

    5. Jesus used the words “do this in remembrance of me” (1 Cor 11:24-25 and Luke 22:19). The purpose of the Passover was that “you may remember the time of your departure from Egypt” (Deut 16:3).

  12. on 21 Mar 2008 at 10:54 pmSteve


    Unfortunately I won’t be able to attend the Theological Conference but I am very interested in reading your paper. I too am delivering a paper soon on the atonement: at the Australian Restoration Fellowship Conference in July. My subject is: “The Cross and the Kingdom: salvation and atonement in Jesus’ Gospel of the Kingdom”.

    I agree with your comments, especially that the pinnacle of Jesus’ life of submission was death on the cross.

    I also agree that we have to also think of it as a life-changing reality here and now. I think this deserves more emphasis in teaching on the atonement than it often receives.

    Your comment about God’s judgment in this context is also interesting, especially that forgiveness of sin is linked with the idea of returning from exile, and that for Jesus ‘atonement’ meant restoring the covenant people to God. There is a tendency amongst some theologians and church-people in general to first read Paul and then to read the Gospels with Paul in mind (and to read into the Gospels Hellenistic ideas which we may have read into Paul). I think we need to first understand the Gospels, and then to read Paul with Jesus’ teachings in mind. Paul is much better understand within a Jewish framework, in my opinion.

    For Jesus concepts such as ‘salvation’ were almost certainly more ‘national’ than ‘personal’. Salvation for the individual would come as being part of the restored people of God. There is a subtle irony in John’s Gospel where even the High Priest Caiaphas appears to have realised this, or at least to have articulated what John believed to be true: “It is better for you that one man die for the people than that the whole nation perish” (Jn 11:50).

  13. on 22 Mar 2008 at 2:05 amWolfgang

    Hi Steve,

    from your note above it seems you understand that there were several passover meals of which the last supper was “A passover meal”, or did yoiu mean to say that the last supper was THE annual one passover meal which we read about in OT Scripture which Israelites were to keep as a memorial?

    You then mention a passage from Lk 22 and claim that Jesus himself called the last supper the passover meal

    1. Jesus referred to the meal as the Passover: “I have eagerly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer” (Luke 22:15).

    Why did you not quote what Jesus really said and left out the very important and qualifying statement he made in the words which close that very sentence? Jesus said he would NOT eat this passover meal (for which he had made preparations in the morning of that day when he sent out disciples to find and prepare a room)? Now, did Jesus eat of the meal served at the last supper or did he “not henceforth” eat of that meal?

    You also mention the use of “UNLEAVENED bread” as being eaten during the annual passover meal (which was one single meal, not various daily meals during the wekk of the following fest of unleavened bread) … but the gospel records indicate by their use of the particular word that the bread eaten during the last supper was regular bread rather than the specific unlevaned bread …

    You mention “the cup of blessing” … do you read anything about several cups being served during the last supper? Are there even instructions in the OT record concerning the annual memorial passover meal involving several cups? Should we align our interpretations with Jewish traditions at the time or with what the Scriptures prescribed to be done at the Passover meal? Did Jesus follow “Jewish traditions” in these matters or did he follow the instructions of the Scriptures?

    You mention Paul’s reference to the passover lamb in 1Co 5 …. was Paul speaking about the last supper there? No! To what was Paul making reference and what was he addressing in this passage? Seems clear to me that he was addressing evil behavior among the Corinthian church, and then — perhaps because it was about Passover time when this epistle was written and delivered to Corinth (?) — he made a comparison and explained to the believers in Corinth that as the Israelites had reason with the upcoming passover for “cleaning house” and doing away all unclean leaven, so we — the Church believers — have Christ as being our “our passover” and thus reason and motivation for “cleaning up” OUR LIVES and doing away with all malice and wickedness and instead we should “keep the feast” and live it with “the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth”!!

    As for “the lord’s supper” being a memorial, Paul does add that by doing the memorial you declare the Lord’s death until he come … ” Yes, the purpose of the original passover meal was a memorial of the Israelites’ departure and deliverance from Egypt … but the memorial of the lord’s supper was for declaration of the Lord’s death and its accomplishments.


  14. on 22 Mar 2008 at 11:36 amJohnO


    I’d love to see your paper as well, I’ll shoot you an email

  15. on 22 Mar 2008 at 12:07 pmRay

    Suppose the Last Supper was just before the Jewish Passover

    Jesus always kept the law by the spirit of it rather than by the letter, but he always kept it.

    Is there anything in the OT law about if a family had urgent business and could not be at the feast of Passover, could they
    partake of it ahead of time?

    I suppose a family could take a lamb with them wherever they went
    and at the time of the Passover they could kill the lamb and eat it,
    or would that not work well if they were travelling?

    Is there anything in the Bible about that situation?

  16. on 22 Mar 2008 at 3:05 pmKaren

    Many of the detailed instructions about celebrating Passover come, not from the Bible, but from the Mishnah, part of the Talmud which was written down in the 2nd – 3rd c. (but certainly known orally at the time of Jesus). So you won’t find many details in the Bible outside of Exodus 12 and Numbers 9, although there are scattered references to it throughout the OT. How it was celebrated at the time of Moses is somewhat different from how it was celebrated at the time of Christ, just as it’s somewhat different now, although still retaining the core elements.

    If you’d like to read about the development of Passover, this article from the Jewish Encyclopedia is a good place to start: http://www.jewishencyclopedia.com/view.jsp?artid=98&letter=P&search=Passover

  17. on 22 Mar 2008 at 3:10 pmKaren

    P.S. This year Passover begins on Saturday evening, April 19th. If you haven’t already done so, I encourage all of you to attend a Seder (a real one, not a ‘Christian’ one). Most Jewish families are delighted to have a ‘stranger in their midst’ at this time of year, and you will learn a great deal. Plus, the food is usually excellent. 🙂

  18. on 22 Mar 2008 at 7:21 pmRay

    The timing of the Last Supper and Passover is all new to me.
    I saw the verse you gave (Mark 14:12) which seems to say
    that it was the exact day when Israel killed the passover lamb.

    So, is it that Jesus was betrayed the same night in which the passover lamb was killed? That would mean the Last Supper
    was the same night the passover lamb was killed. That would
    mean that Jesus was condemned by the high priest and accused
    by the false witnesses, spit on and beaten (Mark 14:65), and denied by Peter 3 times, all this during the same night that Israel
    ate the passover lamb?

    That’s what it looks like to me now. Is this correct?

    I used to think that when Jesus was killed on the cross it was the day the passover lamb was killed.

    Now, it looks like it was the first day of unleavened bread that Jesus
    was instituting the Last Supper, was betrayed, falsely accused, condemed by the high priest, and denied by Peter, which was the
    same night the passover lamb was killed.

    It was during this week of unleavened bread when the bread of life
    was given for our salvation.

    Is that it?

    This would mean that Jesus was arrested on the fourteen of Nisan,
    the day that the passover lamb was killed, and this first day of unleavened bread began his ‘giving his body and blood’ as the
    Passover Lamb of God.

    Have I got it right?

  19. on 23 Mar 2008 at 2:08 amSteve


    You asked: “from your note above it seems you understand that there were several passover meals of which the last supper was “A passover meal”, or did yoiu mean to say that the last supper was THE annual one passover meal which we read about in OT Scripture which Israelites were to keep as a memorial?”

    I believe the last supper was THE annual passover meal. This is clear to me for the reasons I have already given, and the fact that both Mark and Luke say the last supper was eaten on the same day the lambs were slain.

    That this was indeed the Passover meal is confirmed by the other Gospels:

    “Go into the city to a certain man and tell him, ‘The Teacher says: My appointed time is near. I am going to celebrate the Passover with my disciples at your house.’ So the disciples did as Jesus had directed them and prepared the Passover” (Matt 26:18-19).

    In answer to your question about Luke 22:15-16 (“Why did you not quote what Jesus really said and left out the very important and qualifying statement he made in the words which close that very sentence?”) I think the NIV has the sense of it correct when it says:

    And he said to them, “I have eagerly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer. For I tell you, I will not eat it AGAIN until it finds fulfillment in the kingdom of God.”

    In other words, this would be the LAST TIME Jesus would eat the Passover until it finds its fulfillment in the Kingdom of God. There is no implication in these words that Jesus did not participate in the meal. Would Jesus have said “I am going to celebrate the Passover with my disciples” and then changed His mind?

    If I’ve understood you correctly you are suggesting that that having prepared the Passover they then did not eat it, or at least Jesus did not eat it. But the evidence is that Jesus DID share in the meal:

    Speaking of the betrayer Jesus said “”It is one of the Twelve,” he replied, “one who dips bread into the bowl with me” (Mk 14:20). Did Jesus dip bread into the bowl but then not eat it? To answer affirmatively would be conjectural.

    John has Jesus adding this comment: “But this is to fulfill the scripture: ‘He who shares my bread has lifted up his heel against me.'”(John 13:18).

    The word translated “bread” in the Gospels is the regular word for bread and can include leavened or unleavened bread.

    It seems plain enough that Jesus participated in the meal, and that it was the regular annual Passover meal, for which the lambs had been slain that day.


    In answer to your first question (“Is there anything in the OT law about if a family had urgent business and could not be at the feast of Passover, could they partake of it ahead of time?”) the Law of Moses made provision for anyone who could not celebrate Passover because of ceremonial uncleanness or because they were traveling by allowing them to celebrate it A MONTH LATER, but not earlier (Numbers 9:10-11).

    To answer your questions in your second post, it seems clear to me that Jesus and the disciples ate the regular Passover meal on the evening of the 14th Nisan, after the lambs were slain. Jesus was arrested later that night and crucified the following day. In the Law this was called the first day of the feast of Unleavened Bread, but in the time of Jesus the terms ‘Passover’ and ‘Feast of Unleavened Bread’ were used interchangeably for the whole period which included (first) the Passover day and then (subsequently) the feast of unleavened bread. See for example Mark 14:1 (“the Passover and the Feast of Unleavened Bread were only two days away” – strictly speaking the Passover would be two days away and the FoUB would be 3 days away, except that the terms had come to be used interchangeably) and Mark 14:12 where it says it was customary to kill the lambs on the first day of the feast of unleavened bread (strictly speaking the lambs were killed at Passover and the first day of the FoUB was the following day).

    You asked “That would mean that Jesus was condemned by the high priest and accused by the false witnesses, spit on and beaten (Mark 14:65), and denied by Peter 3 times, all this during the same night that Israel ate the passover lamb?” Yes, that is correct. It’s apparent from the Gospels that Jesus was arrested late that night and a preliminary (but unlawful) ‘trial’ was conducted very late during the night at Caiaphas’ house. The ‘legal’ trial in the Chamber of Hewn Stone in the Temple compound was conducted later during daylight, in the early hours of the morning, to comply with the legal technicalities, but it was a mock trial because the verdict had already been made.

    Matt 27:1 and Mark 15:1 record a trial “very early in the morning” when the Sanhedrin reached a decision. Luke records this trial fully (22:66; 23:1) saying that it was “at daybreak”. This was because the interrogation by the Sanhedrin during the night could not legally be called a trial.

    No one would have got much sleep that night.


    Thanks for the link to an interesting article.

  20. on 23 Mar 2008 at 4:29 amWolfgang

    Hi Steve,

    you concluded above

    It seems plain enough that Jesus participated in the meal, and that it was the regular annual Passover meal, for which the lambs had been slain that day.

    On what day in the afternoon were the lambs slain? on what day did Jesus die in the afternoon? Were the lambs slain before the annual passover meal or after the meal?


  21. on 23 Mar 2008 at 4:41 amWolfgang

    Hi Karen,
    you mentioned above

    Many of the detailed instructions about celebrating Passover come, not from the Bible, but from the Mishnah, part of the Talmud which was written down in the 2nd – 3rd c. (but certainly known orally at the time of Jesus). … How it was celebrated at the time of Moses is somewhat different from how it was celebrated at the time of Christ, just as it’s somewhat different now, although still retaining the core elements.

    Indeed … and that was the reason why I asked in an earlier reply to Steve whether we should believe that Jesus kept the passover in accordance with “Jewish [man’s] tradition” or in accordance with the instructions God gave to Moses which we find in the Scriptures in connection with the original passover meal? In other words, is it a good idea to interpret the gospel records on the basis of Jewish traditions ascribing to Jesus that he lived in accordance with such traditions? or would it be a better idea to interpret the gospel records in light of what we can read in the OT Scriptures?


  22. on 23 Mar 2008 at 5:37 amSteve


    The lambs were slain “between the evenings” (Exo12:6; Lev 23:5; Num 9:3, 5). and eaten during the night. In other words, the lambs were slain on the afternoon of the 14th Nisan and before commencement of the 15th Nisan at evening (the Jewish day beginning with the appearance of the first three stars), and the meal would then be eaten that night, the beginning of the 15th Nisan.

    According to the Samaritans this was between actual sunset and complete darkness (i.e. between 6.00 and 7.00 pm) but from Josephus (Wars, vi. 9, 3), and the Talmud we learn that at the time of ot he second Temple, it was regarded as the interval between the sun’s commencing to decline and its actual disappearance. This allows a sufficient period for the numerous lambs which had to be killed. According to Edersheim the usual Evening Sacrifice began around 2.30pm but on feast days began an hour earlier.

    To put that in modern terms, the lambs were slain sometime approximately between 1.30pm and 7.00pm on Thursday, and the meal eaten on Thursday night. Jesus was arrested late that night and crucified around 9.00 am on Friday morning.

    The lambs were slain BEFORE the Passover meal as they had to be eaten that night. There had to be sufficient for everyone present to have a portion, with nothing remaining.

    I personally believe that Jesus would only have been interested in keeping the Law according to Moses, and not Jewish traditions. However, as the disciples were instructed to “prepare the Passover” it’s possible that their preparations also included traditional elements such as sufficient wine for four cups, the bitter herbs, etc.

  23. on 23 Mar 2008 at 7:44 amWolfgang

    Hi Steve,

    thank you foryour further comments on the timing of the slaying of the passover lambs and the time of eating of the annual passover lamb.

    I also do think that the passover lambs were slain during the afternoon (perhaps more toward the late afternoon, evening) of Nisan 14 and eaten that evening, which then also marked the beginng of Nisan 15.

    I too would agree that Jesus was not interested in keeping Jewish traditions, but rather was interested in keeping the instructions as given in the Law / the books of Moses.

    Now then, what day and time did Jesus die?


  24. on 23 Mar 2008 at 8:08 amSteve


    The Jews reckoned the hours of the day from sunrise. Hence “the third hour” would be 9.00 am, the sixth hour would be midday, etc.

    Jesus was crucified at the third hour (Mark 15:25), i.e. around 9.00 am and died six hours later around 3.00 pm (“the ninth hour” Matt 27:46), on Friday 15th Nisan.

    In Matt 27:62, Mark 15:42, Luke 23:54 John 19:14, 31, 42 we read that Jesus was crucified on “The Preparation Day”. This was the usual term for the day before (i.e. in preparation of) the Sabbath. Luke is the clearest on this: “It was Preparation Day, and the Sabbath was about to begin.” John’s terminology “the day of Preparation of Passover Week” means that it was Friday in Passover week, and not the day for preparing Passover.

    In John 19:14 we read that Pilate passed sentence “about the sixth hour”. I think John was using Roman time here, which would make this around 6.00 am. We shouldn’t be surprised by this early hour. Commenting on the early hour of Jesus’ trial, A.N. Sherwin–White remarks: “There is ample evidence about the arrangement of the upper-class Roman official’s daily round” to know that Pilate would be “at his official duties even before the hour of dawn” and would have enjoyed “the elaborately organised leisure of a Roman gentleman” by an early hour. ( Roman Society and Roman Law in the New Testament, page 45.)

  25. on 23 Mar 2008 at 11:09 amWolfgang

    Hi Steve,

    your above statement is rather confusing …

    To clarify your answer to my earlier question: You do say that Jesus died at about the 9th hour, that is in the afternoon, and you do say that it was on Friday, 15th Nisan.

    Now, according to OT scriptures, 15th Nisan was the first day of the Feast of Unleavened Bread, a holy convocation, a high sabbath …. how does what the Scriptures have to say about the 1st day of the Feast compute with your interpretation of putting the crucifixion on this 1st day of the Feast of Unleavened Bread?

    It seems to me, that Christ died on 14th Nisan, at the 9th hour, on the day BEFORE the 1st day of the Feast, which also was a sabbath day.


  26. on 23 Mar 2008 at 3:13 pmRay

    In responce to 19:

    Steve, Thank you.

  27. on 23 Mar 2008 at 9:29 pmSteve


    I’m sorry if I’ve made this confusing. It seems quite simple in my own mind!

    Yes, I believe that Jesus died around 3.00pm on Friday 15th Nisan. Yes, this was the first day of the feast of unleavened bread. Yes, this was a holy convocation (Ex 12:16). So, what’s the problem?

  28. on 24 Mar 2008 at 3:41 amWolfgang

    Hi Steve,

    the problem is that all the activity mentioned on the day of crucifixion happened when it was supposedly a high sabbath … why would the Jews be concerned with having a burial prior to the beginning of the sabbath when the very day already was a sabbath, in particular not just a regular weekly one, but a high one?

    I wonder if anyone else here has also understood that the crucifixion took place on the first day of the Feast of Unleavened Bread? anyone care to comment?


  29. on 24 Mar 2008 at 4:30 pmSteve


    The first day of the feast of unleavened bread was not “a high sabbath”.

    The high days were the regular Sabbath (Saturday) which occurred during the week of the festival of unleavened bread, and the final day of the festival. I would argue that the high day mentioned in John 19:31 was the second day of the festival, the regular Sabbath during the festival which was regarded as a special day because it was when the Sheaf was offered.

    I don’t see a problem with the crucifixion happening on the first day of the feast of unleavened bread. The Roman soldiers carried out the crucifixion. Did the Jews do anything contrary to the commandment not to do any ‘servile work’?

  30. on 25 Mar 2008 at 9:16 amRay

    When I think about this that Jesus said:

    Not that which goeth into the mouth defileth a man;
    but that which cometh out of the mouth, this defileth
    a man.

    (Matthew 15:11)

    I’ve heard it said that by this, Jesus declared all foods to be clean.

    I wonder what men thought of that when they heard it from Jesus
    back then.

    “We heard Jesus say that all foods are now clean.”

    “How can this be, when Jesus himself keeps the law and refrains
    from eating certain meats?”

    “He keeps the law of Moses, but not as the Pharisees.”

    “They’ve seen him eat with sinners, and who knows what was on
    their table.”

    “Brother, what would you eat if you were on a far journey, into another country? Would you eat a pork sandwich that was sold
    on the streets?”

    “I would fill my wineskins with water, and fill my belly with as much
    as I could drink, if the next city or well was far away.”

    “But what if you were hungry, and weary from your journey?”

    “If Jesus said it would not defile me, I suppose I could eat it.
    but I don’t think I want to know what pork tastes like. I might
    get to liking it myself, or even just knowing what it tastes like
    might be a stumbling block to me. I might think I should tell my
    brother what it’s like and he might want to eat it.”

    “But if you told him what Jesus said, wouldn’t it be alright for him
    to eat?”

    “I think that would be up to him. It would be up to his conscience
    before God. What the man might say about the matter may be of
    more importance of what the food itself is. Isn’t what a man might
    say about it in his heart of more importance than the food he actually eats?”


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