The night before the crucifixion of Jesus Christ, He had a meal with the disciples and instituted the practice of taking the bread and the wine, in remembrance of Him. Most of us, call it Communion. The meal they had is believed by some to be a Passover Seder. To see what really happened with this meal, we need to understand Jewish history and customs, especially of that era, otherwise we tend to “westernize” things. Then we need to look at the verses involved, in the light of the true perspective found in understanding how it was for them at that time.
As we do this, note that some Bible verses taken alone, will compel one to believe it was a true Passover Seder meal. But we must consider “all the verses on the matter” and realize that Jesus and the disciples did not go early and sacrifice a lamb, which would be needed for a Passover Seder. The lambs had to be sacrificed at the Temple and that was not done until the next day. Jesus was actually sacrificed on the correct day as the lambs were sacrificed for Passover (Nisan 14). Jesus became our Passover Lamb.
First, let us understand that there was an official “Preparation Day” before every Passover. On this day, the place of celebrating Passover was made ceremonially clean and the preparations were made for the Seder meal. I believe that two days were actually involved, with one day before the official Day of Preparation, with a certain amount of early preparation (Nisan 13) and the second one, the official one (Nisan 14), doing the final preparation as the lamb had to be taken to the priest at the Temple, sacrificed, returned, and prepped for the meal that would follow. At the sunset of Nisan 14, it became Passover (Nisan 15), a High Sabbath, the night of eating the Seder, including the sacrificed lamb.
The following is a list of facets of a modern Passover Seder meal.
1. Kiddush and the first cup (first of 4 cups of wine)--prayer of sanctification and a blessing is recited with the 1st cup of wine, to set apart the day to God. 2. U-r'chatz (the washing of hands)--no blessing is recited. One family member takes a pitcher of water, bowl, and towel to each person at the table to wash their hands. 3. Karpas (means parsley, celery, green herbs)--dip the green vegetable in a bowl of salt water and eat. The green vegetable reminds people Passover is in the spring, and the salt water symbolizes the tears and pain of slavery. 4. Yachatz (breaking of matzah)--middle of 3 pieces of matzah (unleavened bread) is broken in two with the larger portion wrapped in a napkin and set aside as afikomen (it is hidden & that matzah eaten at the end of the meal), the other piece is left with the other two unbroken matzah. 5. Maggid (telling of the story of the Exodus)--4 questions, concludes with 2nd cup of wine, the wine of wrath. The story of the Exodus is told and a tiny bit of wine is poured out for each plague. First half of the Hallel (Psalms 113-118) is recited responsively. Then the 2nd cup of wine is taken. 6. Rachtzak (washing of hands with a blessing)--ceremonial cleansing. 7. Motzi (the blessing over the unleavened bread)--the upper matzah and remainder of the broken middleare blessed, broken into pieces and distributed. 8. Matzah (unleavened bread is eaten)--the upper matzah and remainder of the middle matzah are eaten. 9. Maror (bitter herbs are blessed and eaten)--usually symbolized by romaine lettuce and horseradish. 10. Korech (matzah and bitter herbs eaten together)--dip the matzah in horseradish and charoset (apple & nut mixture) and eat it. In many seders, steps #8-10 are combined. 11. Shulchan Orech (the meal is eaten)--roasted lamb served with bitter herbs and matzah (in Jesus' day), today it can vary a lot and usually has much more variety as a sumptuous meal. 12. Tzafun (afikomen found, ransomed, and eaten)--children search for and find the afikomen (Matzah) and the finder gets a reward. Everyone gets a small piece of the afikomen to eat. 13. Barech (grace after the meal)--3rd cup of wine is the cup of redemption, and it is sipped. An extra cup of wine is also poured for the prophet Elijah, and a child opens the door of the house to see if he is there to announce the coming of Messiah. 14. Hallel (Psalms 113-118)--every seder ends with reciting or singing a portion of the Hallel and the 4th cup of wine is taken. The fourth cup is the cup of acceptance or praise. 15. Nirtzak (all is finished)--the seder is complete, guests as they are leaving say "L'shanah haba'a b'irushalayim!" which means, "Next year in Jerusalem!"
We see no record or signs of a Passover Seder meal happening with Jesus and the disciples that night. There was no lamb to be eaten, because it was not the time of the sacrificing of the lambs yet.
Luke 23:52-54 This man went to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus. Then he took it down, wrapped it in linen, and laid it in a tomb that was hewn out of the rock, where no one had ever lain before. That day was the Preparation, and the Sabbath drew near.
John 19:30-31 So when Jesus had received the sour wine, He said, "It is finished!" And bowing His head, He gave up His spirit. Therefore, because it was the Preparation Day, that the bodies should not remain on the cross on the Sabbath (for that Sabbath was a high day), the Jews asked Pilate that their legs might be broken, and that they might be taken away.
Another understanding of Jewish commandments and customs, comes from knowing that there were two Sabbaths involved. Every Passover Day (Nisan 15) is a High Sabbath. Every week also has a weekly Sabbath, the 7th day. These are two different Sabbaths, and both occurred that week.
Here is a list of the seven annual Holy Days that are High Sabbaths. These are strict days to be taken as unto the Lord and for no work to be done.
Nisan 15, Passover Day and first day of the seven days of unleavened bread. Nisan 21, LastDay of Passover and of the seven days of unleavened bread. Sivan 6, Pentecost (Feast of Weeks, Shavuot) 50 days after the first festive Sabbath. Tishri 1, Day of Trumpets (Yom Teruach) (Rosh Hashanah). Tishri 10, Day of Atonement (Yom Kippur). Tishri 15, Feast of Tabernacles (Sukkot). Tishri 22, Last Great Day, conclusion of Sukkot (Shemini Atzeret).
So let us now take a deeper look into some of the verses involved.
John 18:28 Then they led Jesus from Caiaphas to the Praetorium, and it was early morning. But they themselves did not go into the Praetorium, lest they should be defiled, but that they might eat the Passover.
This shows the timing of the crucifixion to be “before” the Passover meal, the Seder. Jesus did not take the meal early. Jesus is God. And God is responsible for instituting Passover in the first place. If Jesus was going to sacrifice a lamb and have the Seder, He would do it on the right day. The following verses show the Passover Day was yet to come.
John 19:41-42 Now in the place where He was crucified there was a garden, and in the garden a new tomb in which no one had yet been laid. So there they laid Jesus, because of the Jews' Preparation Day, for the tomb was nearby.
The Preparation Day was the one where the lambs were sacrificed and then eaten that night at the Passover Seder. Remember the Preparation Day was Nisan 14, and at sunset it became Passover, Nisan 15.
The following verses are further confirmation showing that it was pre-Passover and on Preparation Day.
John 19:13-16 When Pilate therefore heard that saying, he brought Jesus out and sat down in the judgment seat in a place that is called The Pavement, but in Hebrew, Gabbatha. Now it was the Preparation Day of the Passover, and about the sixth hour. And he said to the Jews, "Behold your King!" But they cried out, "Away with Him, away with Him! Crucify Him!" Pilate said to them, "Shall I crucify your King?" The chief priests answered, "We have no king but Caesar!" Then he delivered Him to them to be crucified. So they took Jesus and led Him away.
In the following verses we can see that the disciples thought that Judas might have been leaving to go buy something for the Passover meal to come.
John 13:26-30 Jesus answered, "It is he to whom I shall give a piece of bread when I have dipped it." And having dipped the bread, He gave it to Judas Iscariot, the son of Simon. Now after the piece of bread, Satan entered him. Then Jesus said to him, "What you do, do quickly." But no one at the table knew for what reason He said this to him. For some thought, because Judas had the money box, that Jesus had said to him,"Buy those things we need for the feast," or that he should give something to the poor. Having received the piece of bread, he then went out immediately. And it was night.
If they had had the feast that night, the disciples would never have thought that Jesus was sending Judas to buy something for the feast. In the preceding verse 4, it says that Jesus “rose from supper” so the meal was already over by the time Jesus sent Judas away. Jesus knew very well that Judas was about to betray him. Also note, Judas could not go and purchase anything on the Passover. The shops would be closed because of being a Sabbath.
Next, let us consider something very important. Would Jesus sin? Of course not. The bread of a Passover Seder must be “unleavened.” It is called matzah. The bread used by Jesus when instituting the bread and the wine ceremony was “leavened bread”. This is serious proof against it being a Seder meal. For some reason, some Christians seem to feel cheated in it not being a Seder meal. If a Christian wants to have a Seder meal, I do not have a problem with it. But one must remember, Jesus came to fulfill Passover. We still celebrate Passover every time we take Communion, but as being fulfilled by the Lamb of God, who came to take away the sins of the world.
Following next are verses from the Old Testament pertaining to only unleavened bread being allowed. It is called the Seven Days of Unleavened Bread.
Numbers 28:17-18 And on the fifteenth day of this month is the feast; unleavened breadshall be eaten for seven days. On the first day you shall have a holy convocation. You shall do no customary work.
Remember, at sunset of the day Jesus was crucified, it became Nisan15, Passover Day, which was the time of the Passover Seder meal and the first day of the Seven Days.
The next selection of verses involves the bread used the night before the crucifixion and it will be shown that in every one of them, the bread used was “leavened bread.” If it were really already Passover, there would have been no leaven in the house, nor any leavened bread consumed but only “unleavened bread.”
Here are the verses.
Matthew 26:26 And as they were eating, Jesus took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to the disciples and said, "Take, eat; this is My body."
Mark 14:22-26 And as they were eating, Jesus took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them and said, "Take, eat; this is My body." Then He took the cup, and when He had given thanks He gave it to them, and they all drank from it. And He said to them, "This is My blood of the new covenant, which is shed for many. Assuredly, I say to you, I will no longer drink of the fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new in the kingdom of God." And when they had sung a hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives.
Luke 22:19 And He took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to them, saying, "This is My body which is given for you; do this in remembrance of Me."
John 13:26 Jesus answered, "It is he to whom I shall give a piece of bread when I have dipped it." And having dipped the bread, He gave it to Judas Iscariot, the son of Simon.
1 Corinthians 11:23 For I received from the Lord that which I also delivered to you: that the Lord Jesus on the same night in which He was betrayed took bread;
1 Corinthians 11:26 For as often as you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord's death till He comes.
In all these verses, the bread Jesus used was leavened bread. This would never have been the case at a Passover meal. Let us look at the literal word used in the verses referring to the bread Jesus used that night. The Greek word used in the original text was “ἄρτον.” (“artos” in Latin) means “bread or loaf” according to Strong's Exhaustive Concordance. The word comes from “airo” which means bread (as raised) or a loaf -- (shew-) bread, loaf.
This type of raised bread, “aptov” is used in many places, including our verses of interest: Matthew 26:26, Mark 14:22, Luke 22:19, 24:30, John 6:48, 51, 1 Corinthians 11:23, 26,27.
The Greek word “ἄρτον” in all of its 97 uses in the New Testament refers to “leavened bread” or as a “general reference to food” such as in the Lord’s prayer.
Let’s see what Thayer’s Greek Lexicon says about “unleavened bread.” The Greek word used in the New Testament for it is, “azumos.”
1) unfermented, free from leaven or yeast 1a) of the unleavened loaves used in the paschal [Passover] feast of the Jews 1b) metaphorically free from faults or the "leaven of iniquity"
This word is used 9 times in the New Testament in the following verses.
Matthew 26:17: the first day of the feast of unleavened bread the disciples came to Jesus
Mark 14:1: the feast of the passover, and of unleavened bread: and the chief priests and
Mark 14:12: the first day of unleavened bread, when they killed the passover
Luke 22:1: Now the feast of unleavened bread drew nigh, which is called the Passover.
Luke 22:7: came the day of unleavened bread, when the passover
Acts 12:3: also. (Then were the days of unleavened bread.)
Acts 20:6: after the days of unleavened bread, and came unto them
1 Corinthians 5:7: lump, as ye are unleavened. For even Christ our
1 Corinthians 5:8: wickedness; but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth.
None of the New Testament writers used “azumos” as the bread Jesus used when instituting Communion on the night before His crucifixion. They all used “ἄρτον.”
Earlier in this message it was shared of what is involved in a modern day Passover meal. Look again at points 4, 7 and 8.
4. Yachatz (breaking of matzah)--middle of 3 pieces of matzah (unleavened bread) is broken in two with the larger portion wrapped in a napkin and set aside as afikomen (it is hidden & that matzah eaten at the end of the meal), the other piece is left with the other two unbroken matzah. 7. Motzi (the blessing over the unleavened bread)--the upper matzah and remainder of the broken middle are blessed, broken into pieces and distributed. 8. Matzah (unleavened bread is eaten)--the upper matzah and remainder of the middle matzah are eaten.
Can you imagine any of that going on at a time with leavened bread? It would be impossible for any Jew to use leavened bread when unleavened bread is required. As stated previously, no leaven was even allowed in the house.
In all fairness to this study, we must admit that there is a troubling section of verses.
Matthew 26:17-20 Now on the firstday of the Feast of the Unleavened Bread the disciples came to Jesus, saying to Him, "Where do You want us to prepare for You to eat the Passover?" And He said, "Go into the city to a certain man, and say to him, 'The Teacher says, "My time is at hand; I will keep the Passover at your house with My disciples."'" So the disciples did as Jesus had directed them; and they prepared the Passover. When evening had come, He sat down with the twelve. (Mark 14:12)
I believe this was not the first day “of the feast,” but rather the first day “of two days of preparation” for the feast. It looks like they were considering the preparation days as part of the feast. I believe the words in italic are misleading because two days of preparing for the coming Passover were observed (13th and 14th of Nisan). This was to prepare things for the Passover feast on the 15th. With this understanding, we can see that it was on the 13th of Nisan, the first day of the two days of preparation.
It is important to know that sometimes Nisan is called Abib. It is the same month, but comes from a language change that happened over the course of time. Also note, that when studying the Old Testament, it might seem that Passover was Nisan 14. But notice it says at “twilight” – this is the time of day when one day passes into the next in the Jewish measuring of time. Here is an interesting passage of verses from the Old Testament to show it and also help understand why the Jews that wanted Jesus killed and removed quickly in order to be able to still have their Passover.
Numbers 9:1-14 Now the LORD spoke to Moses in the Wilderness of Sinai, in the first month of the second year after they had come out of the land of Egypt, saying: "Let the children of Israel keep the Passover at its appointed time. On the fourteenth day of this month, at twilight, you shall keep it at its appointed time. According to all its rites and ceremonies you shall keep it." So Moses told the children of Israel that they should keep the Passover. And they kept the Passover on the fourteenth day of the first month, at twilight, in the Wilderness of Sinai; according to all that the LORD commanded Moses, so the children of Israel did.
Now there were certain men who were defiled by a human corpse, so that they could not keep the Passover on that day; and they came before Moses and Aaron that day. And those men said to him, "We became defiled by a human corpse. Why are we kept from presenting the offering of the LORD at its appointed time among the children of Israel?" And Moses said to them, "Stand still, that I may hear what the LORD will command concerning you." Then the LORD spoke to Moses, saying, "Speak to the children of Israel, saying: 'If anyone of you or your posterity is unclean because of a corpse, or is far away on a journey, he may still keep the LORD'S Passover. On the fourteenth day of the second month, at twilight, they may keep it. They shall eat it with unleavened bread and bitter herbs. They shall leave none of it until morning, nor break one of its bones. According to all the ordinances of the Passover they shall keep it. But the man who is clean and is not on a journey, and ceases to keep the Passover, that same person shall be cut off from among his people, because he did not bring the offering of the LORD at its appointed time; that man shall bear his sin. And if a stranger dwells among you, and would keep the LORD'S Passover, he must do so according to the rite of the Passover and according to its ceremony; you shall have one ordinance, both for the stranger and the native of the land.' "
Touching or being near a corpse, would cause anyone to be defiled. And other things could cause a Jew to become “unclean.” I believe that the fear of being seen unclean and keeping the Passover had the Jewish priests under great stress. All would see whatever they did. The Lord in the above verses said that if anyone were defiled (unclean), they could not keep the Passover at the appointed time, but had to delay it for one month. Consider the next verse.
John 18:28 Then they led Jesus from Caiaphas to the Praetorium, and it was early morning. But they themselves did not go into the Praetorium, lest they should be defiled, but that they might eat the Passover.
The Jewish leadership would not publicly enter the Praetorium lest they be defiled and unable to celebrate the Passover. It would seem that by entering into a Gentile place, they felt that they would be defiled.
Matthew 27:62-66 On the next day, which followed the Day of Preparation, the chief priests and Pharisees gathered together to Pilate, saying, "Sir, we remember, while He was still alive, how that deceiver said, 'After three days I will rise.' Therefore command that the tomb be made secure until the third day, lest His disciples come by night and steal Him away, and say to the people, 'He has risen from the dead.' So the last deception will be worse than the first." Pilate said to them, "You have a guard; go your way, make it as secure as you know how." So they went and made the tomb secure, sealing the stone and setting the guard.
Matthew does not call it Passover and the First Day of the Unleavened Bread, but it was. And now these “holy men” have no problem secretly going on the Passover Sabbath to wherever Pilate was. This is just a side note, but it shows just how politically motivated and hypocritical they were. The day before when public eyes were on them, they would not enter the Praetorium, but now secretly they had no problem going wherever Pilate was and on the Sabbath itself!
John 19:31 Therefore, because it was the Preparation Day, that the bodies should not remain on the cross on the Sabbath (for that Sabbath was a high day), the Jews asked Pilate that their legs might be broken, and that they might be taken away.
This shows timing, that the next day was Passover when the Seder meal would be taken, but it also shows more. The Jewish leadership wanted it all out of the way by Passover. It was okay for all these events to be done on the day before, but then they wanted to get it done and out of sight and mind by Passover. Were they merely afraid of an unclean cloud on their holy day or were they possibly also afraid of a public outcry? They motivated the crowds with their lies and actions, but how long would their momentum last? The longer it was in the public eye, the people might have turned on them.
From John 19:31 we clearly see that it was a Preparation Day and that the next day was the Passover Sabbath. This one verse alone is enough proof to show that Jesus did not eat the Passover meal early. Would the very One who made the ordinance of Passover in the first place, keep it in error? Of course not.
Jesus fulfilled Passover. He created a new facet to it. We still celebrate Passover, but as believers who see the fulfillment of it.
Luke 22:20 Likewise He also took the cup after supper, saying, "This cup is the new covenant in My blood, which is shed for you.”
Matthew 26:26-29 And as they were eating, Jesus took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to the disciples and said, "Take, eat; this is My body." Then He took the cup, and gave thanks, and gave it to them, saying, "Drink from it, all of you. For this is My blood of the new covenant, which is shed for many for the remission of sins. But I say to you, I will not drink of this fruit of the vine from now on until that day when I drink it new with you in My Father's kingdom."
The blood of the sacrifices before Jesus came, only bought time for the forgiveness of sins. When Jesus being crucified said, “It is finished” on the cross that day, it was finished. His blood paid the price for our sins.
When Jesus said to take the bread and the wine in remembrance of Him and His sacrifice for us, it was in the verbiage of continuance, to keep doing it. And we see in Matthew 26:29 that Jesus will not drink of the cup of the vine again until He drinks it with us in the Father’s kingdom. This is pointing toward the Marriage Supper of the Lamb. This is awesome. Jesus instituted a New Covenant on the cross. When He shed His blood for us, He literally saved us from eternal damnation. Every Jew who truly stayed right with God unto that time, and for every believer who would choose Jesus as their Messiah and Savior from that time on, receive the pardon. And as we honor Him together as a loving church, a loving bride, until the Marriage Supper of the Lamb, we are declaring our faithfulness and thankfulness to Him.
On the eve of the crucifixion that night, Jesus Christ instituted the honoring of the New Covenant, His blood shed for us, His body given willfully. He was accomplishing what He came for and longed for. The disciples could not grasp the fullness of it at the time. But in time, they certainly did.
And those who chose Jesus, continued on with it. Paul told about it in the first letter to the Corinthians.
1 Corinthians 11:23-26 For I received from the Lord that which I also delivered to you: that the Lord Jesus on the same night in which He was betrayed took bread; and when He had given thanks, He broke it and said, "Take, eat; this isMy body which is broken for you; do this in remembrance of Me." In the same manner He also took the cup after supper, saying, "This cup isthe new covenant in My blood. This do, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of Me." For as often as you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord's death till He comes.
Did Jesus and the disciples get to have a Passover Seder meal the night before the crucifixion? No. The timing made it impossible, for the lambs were not even being sacrificed at the Temple yet. And because it was still Preparation Day, the bread was “leavened,” which would have been sinful at a Passover Seder meal. We can see that Jesus did keep the Passover, but not with a Seder meal. Jesus Himself, became the Passover Lamb of all time. One sacrifice for all. And on the eve of that fateful and yet soul-saving day, Jesus Christ instituted the honoring of the New Covenant with the bread and the wine. And one day, we who are His, will celebrate His great victory with Him at the Marriage Supper of the Lamb in His Father’s kingdom. We, all who are His, are the fruit of His love and sacrifice. We are His reward.