Was the Last Supper a Passover (Seder) celebration? Many assume it was. However this view has the problem that Jesus was killed the day after the Passover lambs were sacrificed, losing much of the symbolism that is contained in the idea that Jesus is the ultimate Passover lamb.
In fact, when looking at the sequence of events, and how they are described in the various Gospels, and taking into account the only possible dates in history that match with the tradition that Jesus was killed on a Friday, things fall naturally into place.
On this basis, below I have given a table giving my take on the timing of the events surrounding the Last Supper and Jesus’ death and resurrection.
|Hour||Roman Day||Jewish Day||Event||Reference||Comment|
31st March 33
|Nisan 11||Jewish leaders meet to plan Jesus’ arrest.||Matt 26:5
|They wanted Jesus killed before the festival (Passover) so they could avoid an uproar or riot. This meant that there was some urgency, hence the use of Judas. They achieved their aim by killing him the day before, on the day of preparation.|
1st April 33
|Nisan 12||Jewish leaders meet with Judas.||Matt 26:14-16
|Judas looks for a suitable “private” opportunity for them to quietly arrest Jesus, “when no crowd was present”.|
2nd April 33
|Nisan 13||Disciples ask where to prepare the feast||Matt 26:17
Mark 14:12 (Luke 22:7,8)
The first day of the Festival of Unleavened Bread.
Mark (and Luke) is telling his (probably Gentile) readers that this is the Festival during which the Passover Lamb is sacrificed. He is not saying that it was to be sacrificed on the first day of the festival.
– start of Feast of Unleavened Bread
– Preparation Day (for Passover)
|Last Supper taken together (cleaning out leavened bread?)||
John tells us it was before the feast (Passover). He refers to the “evening meal” being in progress, with no mention of it being a Passover meal.
Some thought Judas was going to buy what was needed for the festival, so the festival was still to come.
There is no mention of lamb being eaten at this meal, which is surprising if it was a Seder.
|Night||Jesus and Disciples go to Gethsemane, at the foot of the Mount of Olives||Matt 26:36 (Luke 22:39; Mark 14:32)|
|Jesus is arrested||Matt 26:57|
See Note 2.
|Jesus is tried||John 18:28
|The Jewish leaders wanted to eat the Passover meal, which hadn’t yet happened.|
|Afternoon||Jesus is crucified /
Passover lambs are killed
|Jesus body placed in tomb||John 19:31
|It was still the day of preparation.|
– Passover, and
– Normal Sabbath
|Passover Meal celebrated||Exodus 12:8||The Passover Lamb is eaten along with unleavened bread.|
4th April 33
|Guard posted||Matt 27:62||The day after the day of preparation.|
|Evening||Nisan 16||Jesus in the tomb|
5th April 33
|Jesus rises / Women go to tomb||Mark 16:1-2||Jesus was buried on the 14th, this is now the third day – the 16th.|
- For details of dating of Jesus’ birth (in 5BC), his age when he began his ministry (aged about 33) and his death (in 33AD) see: https://www.biblicalfoundations.org/when-was-jesus-born-and-when-did-he-die/
- If Jesus was crucified on a Friday, as tradition tells us, then this is the only possible date that this could have occurred. Nisan 14 or 15 do not occur on a Friday within a few years either side of this date. Nisan 14, 3793 A.M. = Friday, April 3, 33 A.D. See the Hebrew Calendar Calculator at Utrecht University: https://webspace.science.uu.nl/~gent0113/hebrew/hebrewyear.htm
- The dating used here also corresponds to that argued for in Andreas Köstenberger’s essay on “The Date of Jesus’ Crucifixion” in the ESV Study Bible: https://www.esv.org/resources/esv-study-bible/article-crucifixion-date/. For those who do not have access to that web resource, Köstenberger’s conclusion is given by Justin Taylor at: https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/justin-taylor/the-date-of-jesus-crucifixion/
- For an account of what happened next, see: https://moore.edu.au/resources/what-actually-happened-on-resurrection-day-a-clear-and-simple-account/