When was Jesus' Last Supper? (Q&A)

Q:   In your review of "The Temples that Jerusalem Forgot" by Ernest Martin, the article was interesting. I came on this page of the web looking for what the word meaning of the “common hall” was in the Bible [Matt. 27:27 KJV]. 

I disagree that the Last Supper was the night before the crucifixion. In John 19:14, it states, "And it was the preparation of the Passover, and about the sixth hour: and he [Pilate] saith unto the Jews, Behold your King." With Jesus on the cross the third hour, then this has to be the day before the crucifixion, at least. If you look at John 4:6, the passage with the woman at the well, it's also the sixth hour. Any commentary I've read states that this was noon . If it's noon here, then in John 19:14 it is also noon. In John 13:1 it states, "Now before the feast of the Passover, when Jesus knew that his hour was come that he should depart out of this world unto the Father, having loved his own which were in the world, he loved them unto the end." This is just before the Last Supper. In Josephus it states that the 14th, "The Lords Passover" had become a feast day during the time of Jesus. This is twice that the Bible states that the Last Supper was not the evening before the crucifixion.  Before the feast means before the feast. The 14th was a feast day, but not a holy day. I have been working on this question off and on for about four years. Take a look at another possibility. Please read www.holyweekrevisited.com  --Joseph L.

A:  Many Gentile Christians are misled by the phrase, "the preparation of the Passover" in John 19:14.  It appears to them to indicate a day of preparation before the beginning of the Passover holiday itself.  But as with so many other details of Jewish observance, what may seem logical to us as Gentiles is no guarantee of a correct understanding of the culture of that day.  The only way to correctly understand it is according to the original Jewish understanding.  Among the Jewish people, the "Preparation" was their name for the day preceding the Sabbath (i.e. Thursday evening and Friday until sunset).  This, by the way, is still the name for Friday in Greece today (Paraskeue, which means “Preparation”).  The "preparation" day in John 19:14 therefore refers not to a day preceding the Passover celebration, but to the Preparation day (the Friday) that fell in the Passover week.  This Preparation day was especially important, because the Sabbath that fell during the Passover week was considered a "high" Sabbath (as explained in John 19:31).  What this means is that the Preparation day of the Passover always falls within the Passover week, and never before it.  As a result, these events could only have happened after the evening Passover Seder meal (Jesus’ Last Supper) held on the first evening of Passover, and not before.

This same verse, therefore, also specifies the day of the week on which Jesus was crucified (Preparation = Friday), which agrees with Luke 23:54, which specifically says that he was crucified on the preparation day just before the Sabbath.  This confirms that Jesus was crucified on a Friday, and that the preparation they were both referring to was the day of preparation that immediately preceded the Sabbath. 

The time of day mentioned in John 19:14, “the sixth hour,” is 6 am Roman time, the time system used by John, who at the time of writing was living in the diaspora, in Ephesus, and was writing mostly to Gentile believers who had never been to Israel, and so were not familiar with the Jewish timekeeping system.  The Romans started counting the hours at midnight just as we do today, and then started over again at noon.  This means that the “sixth hour” in John 4:6, in the story of the woman at the well, was 6 pm, after a long day of traveling by Jesus and the disciples. 

But Mark, along with the other synoptic gospel writers (Matthew and Luke), used the Jewish system of counting the hours, which starts at 6 am.  The “third hour” in this system is 9 am, which is when Jesus was hung on the cross (Mark 15:25).  Applying these two different systems of counting the hours to the gospels makes the sequence of events work out perfectly. 

With regard to John 13:1, many have been led by this verse to suppose that the meal described here was not a Passover Meal, but took place before the Passover.  But despite the fact that John's account has a different focus than that of the other gospel writers, all are referring to the same meal.  This can easily be seen by looking at what follows in John 18, where Jesus ends up in the Garden of Gethsemane that same night and is betrayed by Judas, just as in the other gospels. 

A translation that more accurately reflects the original Greek verb tenses solves the problem:  "But Jesus, knowing before the feast of Passover that his hour had come in which he would depart from this world to the Father, having loved his own who were in the world, showed them love to the end" (John 13:1).  The idea expressed here is not that the events that follow took place before the Passover, but rather that Jesus already knew before the Passover that the time of his death had come, yet he continued showing love to his disciples right up until the end.  In other words, the knowledge that his death was near did not change his behavior, as it would for most other people. 

You mention Josephus’ reference to a celebration on the 14th of Nisan.  Let’s take a look at that in detail:  “And they offered the sacrifice which was called the Passover on the fourteenth day of the same month [Nisan], and feasted seven days...” (Antiquities 11.4.8 [110]).  Here he states that the sacrifice of the Passover lambs took place on the 14th of Nisan, which is exactly what was commanded in the Bible (Exodus 12:6).  Then that evening, which becomes the 15th of Nisan after the sun sets, they ate the Passover meal (the Seder), again exactly according to the Bible (Exo. 12:8, Lev. 23:6, Num. 28:17). 

Taking this evidence into account, it is clear that Jesus’ last Passover with his disciples took place on a Thursday evening, and he was crucified the next morning (Friday morning).

(For more on this topic, see the Index category Passover.)

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