The Passover of the New Covenant

Two days before the Passover, Jesus reminded His disciples of the approaching feast and correlated it with His impending death.

You know that after two days is the feast of the Passover, and the Son of man is to be crucified (Matthew 26:2).

The Passover is celebrated to commemorate the time when the Jews were freed from their bondage in Egypt (Exodus 12:42) and the night when God delivered them from the death that destroyed all the firstborn of Egypt (Exodus 12:21-23).

The Apostle John tells us that six days before the Passover Jesus came to Bethany (John 12:1). The two days Jesus mentions in Matthew 26:2 are the last two days of this six day period.

Jesus previously had to leave the area because after He had raised Lazarus from the dead, the religious leadership was plotting to kill Him (John 11:53,54). Jesus ministered in other places up until He knew it was time for His crucifixion. –

And Jesus going up to Jerusalem took the twelve disciples apart in the way, and said to them, Behold, we go up to Jerusalem; and the Son of man shall be betrayed to the chief priests and to the scribes, and they shall condemn Him to death, And shall deliver Him to the Gentiles to mock, and to scourge, and to crucify Him: and the third day He shall rise again (Matthew 20:17-19).

Within this six day period, Jesus made His triumphant entry into Jerusalem (Matthew 21:1-11), and a supper was made for Him at Simon the leper’s house in Bethany (Matthew 26:6). (I am sure that Jesus had healed Simon of his leprosy or no one would be eating with him.)
     Here we are shown the woman, Mary, Lazarus’ sister (John 12:3) adoring Jesus by pouring out the fragrant oil from the alabaster box. This event ignites covetous Judas to go to the religious leaders to betray the Lord into their hands (Mark 14:3-11).

Apparently the plot to kill Jesus had intensified since His return to Jerusalem and in the two days before the Passover the religious leadership was planning to have Jesus arrested, but subtly, by “craft” and put Him to death, but not “on the feast day, lest there be an uproar of the people” (Mark 14:1,2, Matt. 26: 5). Luke’s account does not mention the two days, only that the Passover was drawing nigh and the chief priests and scribes were plotting how to kill Him “because they feared the people” (Luke 22:1,2).
     Judas arrived at just the right time to help them devise a plot that would enable Jesus to be taken in a way that would not arouse the wrath of the people who revered Jesus as a prophet and the prophesied messiah.

The second day of the two days before the Passover that Jesus mentions in Matthew 26:2, is the first day of the Passover when the animals are killed before the actual Passover meal which begins on the evening after the animals are prepared during the day.
    We need to keep in mind that according to Hebrew time keeping practices in that era, the next day always began at sunset. The Passover commenced on the evening of the 14th of the month Nisan, our equivalent of March and April (Leviticus 23:5).
    The preparation day began on the evening of the 13th. All four of the gospel accounts mention the preparation day before the Passover.

And the feast of unleavened bread, when they killed the Passover, (the preparation day),His disciples said to Him, “Where do you want us to go and prepare so You may eat the Passover?” (Mark 14:12).

Matthew’s account is also a match. Jesus gives the disciples Peter and John (Luke 22:8) their instructions and they did what they were told and made ready the Passover (Matthew 26:17-19, Mark 14:12-16).
     Luke’s account is the same. He begins by affirming again that it is the day when the Passover is killed. “Then came the day of unleavened bread, when the Passover must be killed (Luke 22:7-13).
     This shows us once more that this day is not the day of the Passover feast, but the day before the feast which is the preparation day when the animals are sacrificed and prepared.
     Mark also says that this day is the preparation day (Mark 14:12). Matthew’s account as well confirms this day as the first day of the feast of unleavened bread (Matthew 26:17) - the preparation day.

We know that Jesus ate with His disciples every day. The Apostle John records a meal that Jesus shared with His disciples …before the feast of the Passover…(John 13:1). John goes on to tell us that it is at this supper Jesus washed the feet of His disciples and tried to prepare them for His death (John 13 - 17).

Jesus and some of His disciples were Galileans. The Galileans and the Samaritans held a meal referred to as Passover on the day before the traditional Passover, which would be the evening of the preparation day, and this is the meal that John is referring to in his gospel. This meal was to commemorate the fact that not all Hebrews were under the threat of death in Egypt, only the firstborn. Jews who were not Galileans did not keep this feast which was called “the Last Supper” – Seudah Maphsehket. It was called the last supper because the participants would fast until the Passover meal they would eat the following evening on the fourteenth.

After this meal before the traditional Passover, John’s account correlates with the other three Synoptic Gospels and we follow Jesus to the Mount of Olives to the garden there called Gethsemane where Jesus is arrested (John 18:213, Matt. 26:4757, Mark 14: 43-53, Luke 22:47-54).

There has been much debate over what appears to be a discrepancy between John’s account and the other three gospels as to whether Jesus actually ate the Passover on the fourteenth, which John’s record seemingly negates. John tells us that there was a hurried trial before the high priest the night of Jesus’ arrest. Then He was taken before Pilate early in the morning (John 18:28, Matthew 27:1, Mark 15:1), on the preparation day (John 19:14). This is still the thirteenth, therefore John is telling us that Jesus could not have eaten the Passover that evening.

The religious leaders that had delivered Him to Pilate would not enter the judgment hall, because according to their tradition being in the presence of the Gentiles would defile them and this would disqualify them from eating the Passover (John 18:28). Here John shows us again that Jesus was in custody before the traditional Passover.

Pilate finds no fault in Him, and when he learns that Jesus is a Galilean, Pilate sends Him to Herod whose district is Galilee, and who happened to be in Jerusalem at that time. Herod finds no fault in Jesus either and sends Him back to Pilate (Luke 23:4-15).
     Pilate is unsuccessful in his attempts to release Jesus. We are shown that it is a custom of the governor (Matt. 27:15) to release a prisoner on the Passover, and at the Jew’s insistence, Pilate releases the criminal, Barabbas (Matt. 27:15,26, Luke 23:21, John 18:39,40, Mark 15:6,15).
     John’s account shows us that Barabbas was released on the preparation day while Jesus was in custody, and there was no way that Jesus could have kept the Passover according to John’s account. By nine am on the preparation day John tells us Jesus was crucified (John 19:14), and Barabbas was released (John 18:39,40).

The religious leadership had succeeded in whisking Jesus away privately before the Passover and avoided inciting a public riot. Remember, it was the Pharisee’s intention to have Jesus arrested before the Passover and in this respect Matthew’s and Mark’s accounts correlate with John’s (Matthew 26:4,5, Mark 14:1,2). When the people finally realized Jesus had been arrested, they were led to believe that He could not be the Messiah, their promised deliverer, in spite of the many miracles they had witnessed. They failed to realize that God’s plan of redemption for them was designed to happen in another way first, (Isaiah 53), before Jesus would return the second time to deliver them physically (Zechariah 14).

In correlating all of this, it’s important to understand that Passover (the 14th) was the beginning of the feast of unleavened bread which lasted seven days. The first day of the feast of unleavened bread was a “high day.” It began on the fifteenth (Lev. 23:6) and was also a Sabbath. This explains why the religious leadership was in such a hurry to have the bodies removed and buried before this Sabbath began and this is why they requested that the victim’s legs be broken to hasten their deaths. A healthy strong body could remain impaled alive for days. Jesus had already died (John 19:31-33), possibly because He had been so weakened through the severity of His beatings, and His legs were not broken. This fulfilled the prophecy that the legs of the righteous Messiah would not be broken (Psalm 34:20).

We note also that all four gospels agree again on another vital point. All of the gospels record Joseph of Arimathea coming to Pilate in the evening to request Jesus’ body for burial, which was the beginning of the preparation day before the Sabbath (Mark 15:42, 43, Matthew 27:57, Luke 23:54, John 19:31,42). Therefore all four Gospels record that Jesus’ had to have been buried on Friday.

Jesus would have had to have been dead by Passover night, the night when Joseph requested Jesus’ body from Pilate. Because John’s account places Jesus’ crucifixion on the preparation day, this allows for the fulfillment of Jesus’ prophecy that He would be dead three nights (Matthew 12:40) Thursday, Friday and Saturday.

The Gospel accounts also show that Jesus rose from the dead early in the morning on the first day of the week, which would be Sunday morning. This is confirmed by the epistle of Barnabas, Paul’s traveling companion (the Epistle of Barnabus, Chapter 12: 9,10). Barnabas’s epistle was included in the earliest, most complete manuscripts of the Bible, the Codex Sinaiticus. Barnabas states specifically in this record that Jesus rose from the dead on the “eighth day” the day after the Sabbath, which was also a Sabbath (Le 23:39). This is why the early church met on Sunday morning.

Because of the frequent references to the Passover in the other three gospels, it has been assumed by many that Jesus was eating the Passover meal, while John tells us that Jesus, the Lamb of God was slain on the same day the animals were sacrificed.

The three gospels tell us that Jesus arrived in the evening to the room that John and Peter had prepared (Luke 22:14, Matthew 26:20, Mark 14:17). It is very possible, that when Jesus arrived in the evening, it was for the Galilean Last Supper Passover with His disciples, and it is very likely that the preparation day mentioned in the Synoptic gospels was the preparation for that day, not the traditional Passover the following evening.

Matthew confirms that Jesus was already dead on the preparation day that preceded the Jews’ Passover. He records the Pharisees coming to Pilate “the next day, that followed the day of the preparation,” to request that Jesus’ tomb be sealed (Matthew 27: 62-66), thus revealing that Jesus was already dead on the preparation day, the day the animals were slaughtered for the Passover.

Another clue is contained in Luke’s gospel. In chapter twenty-two, verse sixteen, Jesus says that he will not eat again “until it be fulfilled in the kingdom of God.” He was beginning a fast. Since it was the custom to fast until the Passover the next evening, here Luke is giving us an indication that this meal was the Galilean Last Supper Passover.

Because the majority of the Jews did not keep the Last supper, a Galilean tradition, the writers of the synoptic gospels probably thought it would be better in the interests of the Jews they were trying to bring to Jesus, to let the Jews assume that this meal was the traditional Passover. John’s gospel was written many years later and he didn’t have the same concern at that time. I believe John did not mention Jesus’ sharing the bread and wine was because the event had already been recorded in the previous gospels and John wanted to focus on what the other accounts had omitted.

All the accounts coordinate with these facts; - on the preparation day, Jesus arrived in the evening to eat a Passover meal with His disciples - the Galilean Last Supper which was also referred to as Passover. Now let’s return to the events of that evening.

In Luke’s account of the meal that was eaten in that room, Jesus begins by saying this: With desire I have desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer (Luke 22:10). “This Passover.”
     That Passover was the Galilean Last Supper that was also referred to as Passover. But Jesus’ reference to “Passover” has a much greater significance that goes far beyond the traditional meaning of the word.

And as they were eating, Jesus took bread, and blessed it, and broke it, and gave it to the disciples, and said, “Take, eat; this is My body."
And He took the cup, and gave thanks, and gave it to them, saying, “You drink all of it;
For this is My blood of the New Testament (Covenant), which is shed for many for the remission of sins” (Matthew 26:26-28).

Mark’s and Luke’s accounts also record this event (Mark 14:22-25, Luke 22:19,20).

During this meal, at the beginning of the preparation day, when the animals are being sacrificed and prepared for the Passover of the Old Covenant, Jesus introduces the symbols of His sacrifice; the bread, representing His broken body, the wine, His blood.

We know that this may not be the traditional Passover feast, and if so, Jesus knows that He will not return to this upper room the next day to eat the Passover. The Passover He is referring to is the Passover of the New Covenant. The broken bread of His body, the poured out wine of His blood, are the elements of the New Passover that delivers us from the destroyer, from death, when we put the blood of His sacrifice upon the doorposts of our hearts by faith. As the Passover of the Old Covenant is a memorial of the Jew’s deliverance from bondage and death, so the Passover of the New Covenant is a memorial of Jesus’ death that sets us free from the bondage of sin and death.

While the people were preparing to celebrate Passover, the true Lamb of God was being sacrificed for them. On the day when the Passover of the Jews is eaten, the blood of the Lamb of God had literally being poured out to be placed on the doorposts of our hearts; and the prisoner is released; our captive souls are set free into eternal life.

The uniqueness of the Galilean Passover was that it recognized that only the firstborn were under the curse of death that night so long ago. The blood of a lamb that was placed on the doorposts of their houses at God’s direction, spared the lives of the firstborn. But all of them would not be spared from the eventual reality of death in their lifetimes. Jesus knew that His blood placed on the doorpost of our hearts by faith, spares everyone who believes from the curse of death. The Passover that God instigated through Israel was designed to be a foreshadow of an even greater deliverance.

The gospel accounts show us that after this meal that Jesus referred to as “Passover,” He and His disciples sang a hymn together before they left for the Mount of Olives where Jesus would be arrested and the prophecies concerning His death and resurrection would begin to be fulfilled.

Now we can still debate whether Jesus ate the Passover on the fourteenth, or the Last Supper Passover on the preparation day before the Passover, but the principle remains the same; He was introducing a New Passover. He was fulfilling the prophecies that God would be doing a new thing, (Isaiah 43:19,Jeremiah 31:31).

Jesus did not need to keep the Passover of the Old Covenant this time, because He was instigating the prophesied New Covenant. There was going to be a change in the Covenants, just as God had foretold (Jeremiah 31:33, 32:39-40). The old wine bottles were about to be replaced by the New (Matthew 9:17) – a Covenant that His followers would remember every time the bread and wine are ingested in His name – the Passover of the New Covenant.

Today, some Christians keep the traditional Passover in order to maintain the traditions of their Hebrew roots. But in view of the fact that Jesus did not keep that last Passover, but instead, initiated the New Covenant on the day of the Galilean Passover, we have to ask the question; would it be more appropriate to celebrate the Passover of the New Covenant, especially in view of all the glory it represents – the instigation of the gift of eternal life, bestowed upon us through the loving sacrifice of our Passover Lamb?

Copyright 2020 by H.D. Shively

Hebrew Roots | Cafe Logos Homepage