The Truth About Passover
Is the Lord’s Supper the same as Passover? Some claim that the Jews observed Passover on the wrong day. They say Christ ate His last supper with His disciples the evening before the Jews observed Passover because He wanted to restore the observance to its original date. Others dispute this claim maintaining that Christ introduced an entirely new ceremony for His followers which they prefer to call the Lord's Supper.
Christ's sacrifice is fundamental to our acceptance of Him as saviour and central to how we worship God. He told us to take the wine and bread in remembrance of Him (Luke 22:19). It is a memorial of His sacrifice to be observed year by year.
Most of us keep a memorial service according to the example set by Christ on the night before the Jews kept their Passover (John 13:15). References to the ‘Jews Passover’ in the New Testament (John 2:13, 11:55) seem to confirm that the Jews had it wrong and that Christ was restoring Passover to the day ordained by God. Many believe this to be the case, but did the Jews make a mistake? Have they really been observing Passover on the wrong date all these years? Scholars and religious leaders continue to debate this subject and even within the Churches of God there is a enough disagreement to raise concerns.
It was Christ who told us to worship God in spirit and in truth (John 4:23-24). And where there is disagreement over something so fundamental to our faith we need to, “Prove all things; hold fast that which is good.” (1 Thessalonians 5:21). We cannot rely on men telling us what to believe when they themselves cannot agree. It is important to understand what we are required to observe and when it is to be observed. Therefore we must seek the truth using the only reliable source of information - the Bible.
The purpose of this paper is to help you discover what the Bible says so that you can worship God in spirit and in truth.
Old Testament Observance
The ancient Israelites kept the Passover in association with seven Days of Unleavened Bread as a memorial of their exodus from slavery in Egypt. The cruel Egyptian taskmasters had been reluctant to let their slaves leave Egypt until God brought a series of plagues upon them. The final plague took place on the night God ‘passed over’ the Israelites to execute God’s judgment on the Egyptians. All Egyptian families lost their firstborn, but the Israelites were not affected because they had smeared the blood of lambs that God had told them to sacrifice on their door-posts and lintels. After the death of their first-born the Egyptians were anxious for the Israelites to leave Egypt. This was the beginning of the Israelites’ exodus to the promised-land. As a memorial of these events God ordained that the Passover be observed annually for all their generations. Because they were thrust out by the Egyptians in haste they did not have time to leaven the bread they took with them. That is why God also ordained the Feast of Unleavened Bread to be kept as a memorial. It is a seven day event during which no leavened bread is to be eaten.
Did the Jews get it Wrong?
The Jews are an identifiable remnant of ancient Israel who for various periods of time in their history turned their backs on God’s ways and ignored His ordained Holy Days including Passover. Whenever this happened later generations had to restore them. For example Ahaz king of Judah shut up the temple and turned the people to paganism. He was followed by Hezekiah who re-introduced Passover (II Chronicles 28:24-25 and 29:1). Similarly, after years of Baal worship under kings Manasseh and Amon, Josiah restored the observance of Passover in accordance with the book of the covenant found while repairing the temple (II Kings 22 and 23, specifically 23:21-23).
It has been claimed that while restoring Passover on one of these occasions the Levites misinterpreted the instructions originally given to Moses. Consequently they have celebrated Passover a day later than was originally ordained. Those who claim this believe Christ observed Passover on the night before the Jews in order to restore it to its intended date.
Some claim that confirmation of the correct day to observe Passover can be found in the traditions of a small modern-day community of Samaritans. They apparently have an unbroken history of keeping their form of Passover for more than 2,500 years. It is maintained that the Samaritan tradition also confirms the time of day when the lambs are to be sacrificed. The New Bible Dictionary which says the Samaritan Passover is kept “in close conformity to the Pentateuch” also says that the Samaritans interpreted the time for the sacrifice of the Passover lambs to be between sunset and dark.
The Jews on the other hand do not have an unbroken history of Passover keeping. Their Rabbis and the Pharisees have determined the time for sacrificing the lambs to be between the ninth hour (3pm) and sunset. And that was the practise in Judah at the time of Christ.
Whose interpretation of scripture can be relied on? Do we trust the Samaritans with their unbroken record of Passover observance, or the Jews with their chequered history of Passover observance?
Do Samaritan Traditions Provide Proof?
Because some have used Samaritan traditions to confirm their arguments about the day on which the Passover is to be kept and the time that the lambs are sacrificed, we need to determine if Samaritan traditions are a reliable source of information. What does the Bible say?
According to the Bible the Samaritans were a collection of captives from various non-Israelite countries who were moved into the land vacated by the northern tribes of Israel after they themselves had been moved out by the King of Assyria, “And the king of Assyria brought men from Babylon, and from Cuthah, and from Ava, and from Hamath, and from Sepharvaim, and placed them in the cities of Samaria instead of the children of Israel: and they possessed Samaria, and dwelt in the cities thereof.” (II Kings 17:24). At the Samaritan's request the King of Assyria sent a priest back from the northern tribes in Assyria to teach the Samaritans the religion of the former inhabitants of the land, “Then the king of Assyria commanded, saying, Carry thither one of the priests whom ye brought from thence; and let them go and dwell there, and let him teach them the manner of the God of the land.” (verse 27).
When Christ spoke to the Samaritan woman He met at the well He said that the Samaritans did not know what they worshipped, “Ye worship ye know not what: we know what we worship: for salvation is of the Jews.” (John 4:22).
Those who have used Samaritan tradition to confirm their arguments about Passover tend to forget that the priest sent back from the Assyrian captivity to teach the Samaritans was not a Levite. Prior to the captivity Jeroboam had replaced the Levites with his own priests and established their own version of the Holy Days so the northern tribes under his leadership would no longer go up to Jerusalem to celebrate Passover with the Jews, “And he (Jeroboam) made an house of high places, and made priests of the lowest of the people, which were not of the sons of Levi.” (I Kings 12:31). This is why Israel went into captivity (I Kings 13:33-34) and there is no biblical evidence that the northern tribes turned back to God, or reinstated His Holy Days. Because Israel had turned from God the dispossessed Levites did not remain in Samaria, they moved to Judah (II Chronicles 11:14-17) as many others did later from a number of tribes when they saw that God was with the Jews i.e. under King Asa of Judah (II Chronicles 15:9).
It can be confirmed from the Bible that the priest sent to the Samaritans from the northern tribes in Assyria was a not Levite. He would have been one of Jeroboam's false priests teaching a corrupt version of God's Holy Days. Regardless of what day the modern-day Samaritans keep Passover, or when they kill the lambs, their traditions have no credibility in the debate on Passover. It is interesting to note that some writers over the last 50 years have used the Samaritan traditions to 'prove' a 14 Abib (Nisan) Passover and others to 'prove' a 15 Abib (Nisan) Passover. Josephus said that the Samaritans claimed to be of Israelite descent when things were going favourably for Judah and it was to their advantage, and to be of non-Israelite descent when things were not going well for Judah (Antiquities of the Jews Book IX, XIV, 3 also Book IX, VIII, 6 and Book XII,V, 5) . He confirms that the Samaritans were taught the law and worship of God by the priests of Israel sent back from Assyria because of a plague they were suffering at the time. When Alexandra the Great invaded the city of Shechem at Mount Gerizzim it was described by Josephus as inhabited by 'apostates of the Jewish nation'. The traditions of the Samaritans cannot be used as credible proof of when Passover should be kept, or when the lambs should be sacrificed. The oracles of God were after all entrusted to the Jews, not the Samaritans (Romans 3:2).
If the Jews kept Passover on the wrong day then surely either Christ, or Paul would have mentioned it, but neither of them did! That alone speaks volumes!
Words and Phrases
Some problems with interpreting the original instruction given to Moses in Exodus have arisen because the Hebrew language has been through periods of ‘extinction’ and 'revival' during which meanings of words and phrases may have been altered, or lost. Many Hebrew words and phases have multiple meanings and translations of the original Hebrew into other languages like English may not adequately express the true meanings. Words and phrases translated as; ‘even’, ‘morning’ and ‘morrow after’ are often subject to debate and their meanings need to be determined correctly in our search for the truth.
Terminology is another problem. For example, in ancient Israel the Holy Days were grouped into three 'times' or seasons, “Three times in the year all thy males shall appear before the Lord GOD.” (Exodus 23:17). The first season was often referred to as 'Passover', or 'Unleavened Bread'. Sometimes the word ‘Passover’ was used specifically for the Passover ceremony in which the lambs were sacrificed, or for the Passover meal itself, and also in a broader sense for the Passover season which includes the preparation day, the sacrifice, the meal and the seven Days of Unleavened Bread. Correct usage often needs to be determined by the context.
In Christ's time the preparation day, when the lambs were killed, was referred to as the first day of Unleavened Bread, meaning the firstday of the 'Unleavened Bread season' even though it technically was not the first Day of Unleavened Bread (Matthew 26:17, Mark 14:12 and Luke 22:7-8). The preparation day was given some prominence as the time of cleansing when leaven was removed from the home. And later that same day the lambs were sacrificed. Some began a process of self purification even earlier (John 11:55). Today some Jews go through an intensive cleaning process that culminates in a ritual called ‘bidikat chametz’, which is the final check for leaven that takes place after sunset at the beginning of the fourteenth day of Abib (Nisan).
We can see that finding the correct interpretation of the instruction that God gave Moses has its difficulties.
Were Moses' Instructions Interpreted Correctly?
Do modern day Jews who keep Passover after sunset at the beginning of 15 Nisan have the right day? What does the Bible tell us? According to the instruction the Passover lambs were to be sacrificed in the evening on the fourteenth day and eaten that same night, “And ye shall keep it (the lamb) up until the fourteenth day of the same month: and the whole assembly of the congregation of Israel shall kill it in the evening. And they shall take of the blood, and strike it on the two side posts and on the upper door post of the houses, wherein they shall eat it. And they shall eat the flesh in that night, roast with fire, and unleavened bread; and with bitter herbs they shall eat it.” (Exodus 12:6-8).
How can we determine if the word 'evening' means the evening that began the fourteenth day, or the evening that ended it?
Between the Evenings
The word 'evening' is more correctly translated 'between the evenings'. Some define 'between the evenings' as between sunset and dusk. Others define it as between the time the sun begins its descent i.e. after midday and sunset, or from when the day begins to lose its heat (i.e. 2-3pm in the afternoon) and sunset. If 'between the evenings' is from sunset to dusk as some maintain, then the lambs would have been sacrificed after sunset at the beginning of the fourteenth day. But if it is defined as after mid-day, or from the time when the sun begins to lose its heat and sunset, then the lambs must have been sacrificed in the afternoon before sunset at the end of the fourteenth day which is when they were sacrificed in Christ’s time. The later time is supported by the Pharisees and Talmudists.
The Jewish Encyclopedia says, “The animal was slain on the eve of the Passover, on the afternoon of the 14th of Nisan, after the Tamid sacrifice had been killed, i.e., at three o'clock, or, in case the eve of the Passover fell on Friday, at two”. The Jews today observe the Passover meal they call Seder, after the sunset that begins the fifteenth day. Josephus (Wars of the Jews, Book VI, 9, 3) also confirms that the Passover sacrifice was made between the 9th and 11th hour (3-5pm modern time) which coincides with the gospel account of the time Christ died. Christ instigated the Lord's Supper in the first part of the fourteenth day and died in the latter part of the day before sunset when the lambs were killed, prior to the Passover which the Jews kept.
So does the Hebrew word translated 'even', 'evening' or 'between the evenings' mean before or after sunset? The meaning is clarified in Leviticus. Although the passage refers to the Day of Atonement observed on the tenth day of the seventh month the meaning of the word is defined as a principle for all days, “Also on the tenth day of this seventh month there shall be a day of atonement... ...It shall be unto you a sabbath of rest, and ye shall afflict your souls: in the ninth day of the month at even, from even unto even, shall ye celebrate your sabbath” (Leviticus 23:27 & 32). The same word translated 'evening' in Exodus 12 is translated 'even' in Leviticus. Atonement is on the tenth day that runs from ‘even’ on the ninth day to the next ‘even’. If ‘even’ is between sunset and dusk then it would have read ‘in the tenth day at even, from even to even' instead of the ninth day. This instruction clearly confirms the principle that ‘even’ is defined as prior to sunset, not after sunset.
Reckoning Unleavened Bread
The principle that ‘even’ is before sunset should also be applied when reckoning the Days of Unleavened Bread. We know that the first and last days of Unleavened Bread are Holy Days, “And in the first day there shall be an holy convocation, and in the seventh day there shall be an holy convocation to you;” (Exodus 12:16). We also know that the first Holy Day falls on the fifteenth day of the month, not the fourteenth, “And on the fifteenth day of the seventh month ye shall have an holy convocation; ye shall do no servile work, and ye shall keep a feast unto the LORD seven days:” (Numbers 29:12). Furthermore, Unleavened Bread lasts for seven complete days reckoned as follows, “In the first month, on the fourteenth day of the month at even, ye shall eat unleavened bread, until the one and twentieth day of the month at even.” (Exodus 12:18).
If the first day of Unleavened Bread is the fifteenth as shown in Numbers 29:12, then the reckoning of the days in Exodus 12:18 must be from the 'even' that is prior to sunset on the fourteenth day until the ‘even’ prior to sunset on the twenty-first day. If ‘even’ was between sunset and dusk then it would have read ‘in the fifteenth day of the month, in the even, ye do eat unleavened things until the two and twentieth day of the month, at even’. Clearly 'even' must refer to the time before sunset.
Similarly with the Passover. The lambs were sacrificed in the evening on the fourteenth day which is prior to sunset at the end of the fourteenth day, “And ye shall keep it (the lamb) up until the fourteenth day of the same month: and the whole assembly of the congregation of Israel shall kill it in the evening. And they shall take of the blood, and strike it on the two side posts and on the upper door post of the houses, wherein they shall eat it. And they shall eat the flesh in that night, roast with fire, and unleavened bread; and with bitter herbs they shall eat it.” (Exodus 12:6-8). They ate the lambs with unleavened bread because the fifteenth day was the first Day of Unleavened Bread. The lambs were killed on the fourteenth day in the evening before sunset so they could be roasted and eaten after sunset which is the early part of the fifteenth day. The fifteenth day of Abib (Nisan) was the First Day of Unleavened Bread.
Passages that say Passover was kept on the fourteenth day are examples of when the word Passover is used in reference to the ceremony in which the lambs were killed, not the meal (Numbers 9:5, see also Leviticus 23:5, Joshua 5:10, Ezra 6:19, Ezekiel 45:21). This is confirmed by the following passage, “Moreover Josiah kept a passover unto the LORD in Jerusalem: and they killed the passover on the fourteenth day of the first month.” (II Chronicles 35:1 see also 30:15). The ceremony took place on the fourteenth “at the going down of the sun” (Deuteronomy 16:6) which indicates the time when the sun is descending in the afternoon, rather than after it had set. If they were to kill the lambs after sunset it would have said “when the sun is down” as expressed in Leviticus 22:7, or “as soon as the sun was down” as in Joshua 8:29. The only way the lambs could be killed at the going down of the sun on 14 Abib (Nisan) is in the afternoon on the fourteenth day prior to sunset. No other time fits the description!
One passage in Deuteronomy that provides instruction about the Days of Unleavened Bread refers to the Passover lambs, “which thou sacrificedst the first day at even” (Deuteronomy 16:4). The term ‘first day’ refers to the first day of the Passover ‘season’, which is the preparation day rather than first day of Unleavened Bread, which is how it has been used in some New Testament references, “And the first day of unleavened bread, when they killed the passover, his disciples said unto him, Where wilt thou that we go and prepare that thou mayest eat the passover?” (Mark 14:12). And “Now the first day of the feast of unleavened bread the disciples came to Jesus, saying unto him, Where wilt thou that we prepare for thee to eat the passover?” (Matthew 26:17).
The instruction in Deuteronomy also makes it clear that unleavened bread was to be eaten with the Passover lamb. It indicates that the lamb was eaten in remembrance of that night which is the first of the seven days of Unleavened Bread, “Thou shalt therefore sacrifice the passover unto the LORD thy God, of the flock and the herd, in the place which the LORD shall choose to place his name there. Thou shalt eat no leavened bread with it; seven days shalt thou eat unleavened bread therewith, even the bread of affliction; for thou camest forth out of the land of Egypt in haste: that thou mayest remember the day when thou camest forth out of the land of Egypt all the days of thy life. And there shall be no leavened bread seen with thee in all thy coast seven days; neither shall there any thing of the flesh, which thou sacrificedst the first day at even, remain all night until the morning. Thou mayest not sacrifice the passover within any of thy gates, which the LORD thy God giveth thee: But at the place which the LORD thy God shall choose to place his name in, there thou shalt sacrifice the passover at even, at the going down of the sun, at the season that thou camest forth out of Egypt” (Deuteronomy 16:2-6).
If the Passover meal took place in the evening at the beginning of the fourteenth day then the number of days they ate unleavened bread would be eight instead of the seven as indicated here and in Exodus 13:6-7, 23:15, 34:18, Leviticus 23:6, Numbers 28:17 and Deuteronomy 16:3. There is no instruction to eat unleavened bread for eight days. This confirms that the Passover lamb was eaten after sunset on the first day of Unleavened Bread.
The instruction given to Moses and recorded in Exodus 12:1-20 is clearly backed up by further instruction given in Leviticus and Deuteronomy. From the sunset that began the fifteenth day to the sunset that ended the twenty first day was a total of seven days during which no leavened bread was to be eaten. The first day and last days were Holy Days. The Passover lambs were sacrificed ‘at even’ i.e. prior to the sunset that ended the fourteenth day so they could be eaten after sunset when the fifteenth day began. The Passover meal was eaten on the first day of Unleavened Bread, which is the day the Israelites kept as a memorial of the night God 'passed over' them. They ate that original Passover dressed and ready to leave Egypt in the morning on the first Day of Unleavened Bread (i.e. the fifteenth day). They burned any left over meat as no flesh was to remain the next morning.
When They Left Egypt
There are differing opinions as to when the Israelites left Egypt. They were instructed not to go out of their houses until morning, “and none of you shall go out at the door of his house until the morning.” (Exodus 12:22). Yet it says that they came out by night, “Observe the month of Abib, and keep the passover unto the LORD thy God: for in the month of Abib the LORD thy God brought thee forth out of Egypt by night.” (Deuteronomy 16:1). How could they come out by night if they were to remain in their houses until morning? It also says that they left on the 15 Abib (Nisan) which is the 'morrow' after Passover, “And they departed from Rameses in the first month, on the fifteenth day of the first month; on the morrow after the passover the children of Israel went out with an high hand in the sight of all the Egyptians.” (Numbers 33:3).
Some have concluded that God must have passed over at midnight on 14 Abib (Nisan) and the Israelites remained in their houses until morning. During the following daylight hours of 14 Abib (Nisan) they spoiled the Egyptians so they could leave Egypt after sunset on 15 Abib (Nisan). They claim that if the Israelites were to remain in their houses until morning it would have been impossible to leave by night unless they waited until the following night which was 15 Abib (Nisan). They interpret the ‘morrow after passover’ to mean a full twenty-four hour day after the Passover. But it is simply referring to the daylight hours, from morning to evening, that followed the hours of darkness within the same twenty four hour period, which is how ‘morrow’ is defined elsewhere, “And it came to pass on the morrow, that Moses sat to judge the people: and the people stood by Moses from the morning unto the evening” (Exodus 18:13).
If God passed over at midnight on 15 Abib (Nisan) as the Jews believe, how is it possible to come out by night on the 15th if they remained in their houses until morning?
The answer is simple. The Hebrew word ‘boqer’ (Strongs 01242) translated as ‘morning’ has a range of meanings including – ‘early’, ‘break of day’ and ‘coming of day light’. There is a period of time prior to sunrise when it is light that is called morning, but because night was reckoned from sunset to sunrise, it is still technically part of the night. God passed over at midnight on 15 Abib (Nisan) and the Israelites departed at first light before sunrise, a time that is called morning but still technically part of the night.
It is the time of day when Christ rose up to pray ‘in the morning… …a great while before day’ (Mark 1:35). A time known as the fourth watch of the night, from 3 o’clock in the morning until 6 o’clock approximately (Strongs 4404 which is the Greek equivalent of Hebrew word ‘boqer’ Strongs 01242) also described as ‘early, when it was yet dark’ (John 20:1).
From the evidence provided in the Bible it is clear that the Passover occurred on the night of 15 Abib (Nisan) and the Israelites were able to make a hasty exit from Egypt early in the morning before sunrise. They left at daybreak in the sight of the Egyptians who were preparing their dead for burial on the ‘morrow’ (i.e. the following daylight hours) after Passover, “And they departed from Rameses in the first month, on the fifteenth day of the first month; on the morrow after the passover the children of Israel went out with an high hand in the sight of all the Egyptians. For the Egyptians buried all their firstborn, which the LORD had smitten among them: upon their gods also the LORD executed judgments.” (Numbers 33:3-4).
If ‘morrow’ meant a full twenty four hour later why did God tell them to eat the Passover lamb dressed with their sandals on and staves in their hands so they could leave in haste? “And thus shall ye eat it; with your loins girded, your shoes on your feet, and your staff in your hand; and ye shall eat it in haste: it is the LORD’S passover.” (Exodus 12:11).
Spoiling the Egyptians
What about spoiling the Egyptians? Didn't the Israelites need the daylight hours after the Passover to spoil the Egyptians? No! The instruction to spoil the Egyptians was given when God told Moses that there would be one last plague. God had told Moses about the last plague prior to 10 Abib (Nisan) so the Israelites could select their lambs four days prior to the Passover. God said, “And the LORD said unto Moses, Yet will I bring one plague more upon Pharaoh, and upon Egypt; afterwards he will let you go hence: when he shall let you go, he shall surely thrust you out hence altogether.” (Exodus 11:1). Then He told Moses to ‘speak now’, not later, but now! Telling them to spoil the Egyptians while they were still in favour with them, “Speak now in the ears of the people, and let every man borrow of his neighbour, and every woman of her neighbour, jewels of silver, and jewels of gold. And the LORD gave the people favour in the sight of the Egyptians.” (Exodus 11:2-3).
Then Moses informed Pharaoh’s servants about the impending plague, “And Moses said, Thus saith the LORD, About midnight will I go out into the midst of Egypt: And all the firstborn in the land of Egypt shall die, from the firstborn of Pharaoh that sitteth upon his throne, even unto the firstborn of the maidservant that is behind the mill; and all the firstborn of beasts. And there shall be a great cry throughout all the land of Egypt, such as there was none like it, nor shall be like it any more. But against any of the children of Israel shall not a dog move his tongue, against man or beast: that ye may know how that the LORD doth put a difference between the Egyptians and Israel. And all these thy servants shall come down unto me, and bow down themselves unto me, saying, Get thee out, and all the people that follow thee: and after that I will go out. And he went out from Pharaoh in a great anger.” (Exodus 11:4-8). God said that Pharaoh would not hearken (verse 9).
After the last plague the Israelites were no longer in favour. The Egyptians were ‘urgent’ to ‘thrust’ them out of the land, telling them to ‘take their flocks’ and ‘be gone’! That is why the Israelites had been instructed to eat the lambs fully dressed and ready to move in haste. They were to have their staves in their hands and sandals on their feet, which they would not normally wear inside their houses. Their exit would be so hasty that they would not have time to leaven their bread. The account of their departure in Exodus 12 says that they 'had done' according to Moses instruction! In other words they had already spoiled the Egyptians, “So the people took their dough before it was leavened, having their kneading bowls bound up in their clothes on their shoulders. Now the children of Israel had done according to the word of Moses, and they had asked from the Egyptians articles of silver, articles of gold, and clothing.” (Exodus 12:34-35 NKJV). Both the NKJV and RSV refer to the spoiling of the Egyptians in the past tense as something that had already taken place. The KJV and AV written in the present tense are misleading.
The Israelites did not spend the daylight hours after the Passover spoiling the Egyptians as some teach. God had prepared the Israelites for an early and hasty departure from Egypt by having them ‘spoil’ the Egyptians beforehand. Moses told the Israelites what they had to do at least fours days prior to Passover, which included the instruction to spoil the Egyptians, and they did all that was instructed of them, “And the children of Israel went away, and did as the LORD had commanded Moses and Aaron, so did they.” (Exodus 12:28). God knew that they would no longer be in favour after the plague, “And it was told the king of Egypt that the people fled: and the heart of Pharaoh and of his servants was turned against the people, and they said, Why have we done this, that we have let Israel go from serving us?” (Exodus 14:5).
The Israelites did not need to delay their exit in order to spoil the Egyptians.
Prepared for Hasty Departure
Having shown that the Egyptians were spoiled well before 14 Abib (Nisan) we will now look at how they were organized for an orderly but hasty departure at a prearranged time known well in advance.
The Israelites had been told that they would come out of Egypt more than six hundred years earlier, “And he said unto Abram, Know of a surety that thy seed shall be a stranger in a land that is not theirs, and shall serve them; and they shall afflict them four hundred years; And also that nation, whom they shall serve, will I judge: and afterward shall they come out with great substance.” (Genesis 15:13-14 and Exodus 3:1-22). God had a covenant (agreement) with Abraham to that effect (Exodus 6:5-6). Obviously Joseph knew about the covenant when he asked that his descendants bring his bones out with them (Genesis 50:24-25). When they cried out to God He heard them (Exodus 2:23-24). With signs and wonders (Exodus 4:1-9) God made sure the Israelites would listen to Moses (Exodus 3:18) and believe him (Exodus 4:29-31). He was instructed to take the Israelite leaders with him before Pharaoh (Exodus 3:18) and although they were discouraged by Pharoah's reaction (Exodus 5:3-21, 6:9) they were soon convinced once the plagues started.
Through Moses God instructed the Israelites well in advance so Moses could bring them out of Egypt “according to their armies” (Exodus 6:26, see also 7:4 and 12:17). The terminology indicates that the Israelites had a social structure through which information could be disseminated (Exodus 6:14-25). They resided in family, or tribal groups with their possessions (livestock) in the land of Goshen (Genesis 47:27). The instruction to take a lamb “according to the house of their fathers” (Exodus 12:3) indicated that they were to be in their family groups. Further detail of what is meant by the expression “according to the house of their fathers” is given in the Book of Numbers when the census took place at Sinai. God said, “Take ye the sum of all the congregation of the children of Israel, after their families, by the house of their fathers... ...thou and Aaron shall number them by their armies. And with you there shall be a man of every tribe; every one head of the house of his fathers” (Numbers 1:2-4). Each family had its own leader, “These were the renowned of the congregation, princes of the tribes of their fathers, heads of thousands in Israel.” (Numbers 1:16). And its own standard, “Every man of the children of Israel shall pitch by his own standard, with the ensign of their father’s house: far off about the tabernacle of the congregation shall they pitch.” (Numbers 2:2). This social structure existed prior to the exodus (Exodus 6:14-25). This confirms that at the time of the exodus the Israelite's social structure enabled quick communication throughout the entire nation to accomplish an orderly departure at the predetermined time.
At the time of the plagues they remained at home in Goshen where they were protected (Exodus 8:22). Had they, or their livestock remained outside the land of Goshen during the hail storm they would have been killed (Exodus 9:24-26). They would not have ventured out of Goshen during the three days of darkness just before the final plague (Exodus 10:22-23).
The instruction in Exodus 12 was given at least four days prior to the Passover (Exodus 12:1-13) possibly earlier. They knew that the lambs were to be slaughtered as the sun was going down in the afternoon of 14 Abib (Nisan) and that they would depart at first light in the morning of 15 Abib (Nisan) after God passed over. In other words they knew at least four days in advance the exact date and time of their departure from Egypt. This gave them all the time they needed to prepare. By the sunset that ended 14 Abib (Nisan) their livestock was already close at hand and they ate the meal that followed fully clothed with their shoes on ready for a hasty departure (verse 11) as soon as it was light the next morning. The entire population of the three million was fully informed and prepared so that a well coordinated departure was able to take place at the predetermined time. God is not the author confusion (I Corinthians 14:33).
Night to be Much Observed
We have shown that the Passover occurred on the night of 15 Abib (Nisan) and the Israelites made a hasty exit from Egypt early in the morning before sunrise while it was still night. That was the night God said they were to observe for all their generations, “It is a night to be much observed unto the LORD for bringing them out from the land of Egypt: this is that night of the LORD to be observed of all the children of Israel in their generations.” (Exodus 12:42). The night the Israelites ate the Passover lamb and left Egypt was the night to be much observed. In other words the Passover was the night to be much observed.
Jews Observed Passover on the Right Day
From biblical evidence we have shown conclusively that the Jews observe Passover correctly on 15 Abib (Nisan) and did so in Christ’s time. We have shown that the Samaritan traditions cannot be relied on. We have successfully determined the meanings of difficult words and phrases translated as ‘even’, ‘morning’, ‘morrow after’ and ‘between the evenings’. We have explained the use of terminology concerning the Holy Day seasons and shown how the Days of Unleavened Bread and Passover are reckoned according to scripture. We have confirmed the time the lambs were sacrificed. We proved that the Israelites sacrificed their lambs in the afternoon of 14 Abib (Nisan), and ate the Passover meal after sunset on 15 Abib (Nisan). They left Egypt before sunrise on 15 Abib (Nisan) the first Day of Unleavened Bread and did not have to delay their departure to spoil the Egyptians.
Diagram to show order of events on 14 and 15 Nisan
Although Passover was not observed continuously throughout the Jews’ history they did not misinterpret the instructions and it was restored without error. Jesus Christ did not have to restore Passover to 14 Abib (Nisan) as some teach.
New Testament Observance
The Jews did not misinterpret the instructions given to Moses. They kept the Passover on the day that had been ordained by God. Passover commemorated the exodus of Israel from Egypt and out of slavery.
The Israelites were saved by the blood of the lamb as an example for us today, “Now all these things happened unto them for ensamples: and they are written for our admonition, upon whom the ends of the world are come.” (I Corinthians 10:11). Sacrificing the lambs foreshadowed the sacrifice of the Lamb of God by whose blood we are saved. The Passover was ordained by God. It was part of the law that foreshadowed 'greater things to come' (Hebrews 10:1). The physical freeing of Israel from Egyptian slavery foreshadowed the salvation of all mankind.
Christ's sacrificed fulfilled the law by opening up the way for salvation to every one. He was the substance of what was foreshadowed. By establishing the New Testament observance He put the focus on the sacrifice which is central to the salvation of mankind.
The Last Supper
When Christ and His disciples arrived in Jerusalem as the Days of Unleavened Bread approached He told them to prepare for the Passover,“Now the first day of the feast of unleavened bread the disciples came to Jesus, saying unto him, Where wilt thou that we prepare for thee to eat the passover? And he said, Go into the city to such a man, and say unto him, The Master saith, My time is at hand; I will keep the passover at thy house with my disciples. And the disciples did as Jesus had appointed them; and they made ready the passover.” (Matthew 26:17-19).
It was the preparation day for Passover which is sometimes called the first day of Unleavened Bread even though it is not technically one of the seven Days of Unleavened Bread. It is in the afternoon of that day that the Passover lambs are sacrificed, “Then came the day of unleavened bread, when the passover must be killed” (Luke 22:7). The Jews sacrificed the lambs at 3pm in the afternoon of 14 Abib (Nisan) and observed the Passover after sunset when 15 Abib (Nisan) began.
Christ said that He desired to eat Passover with His disciples but obviously couldn't because He was going to die before the Passover meal was due to take place. However He did have supper with His disciples after the sunset that began 14 Abib (Nisan), “And when the hour was come, he sat down, and the twelve apostles with him. And he said unto them, With desire I have desired to eat this passover with you before I suffer: For I say unto you, I will not any more eat thereof, until it be fulfilled in the kingdom of God.” (Luke 22:14-16).
It was the night before Passover that He ate the last supper and by His example introduced His disciples to a new observance, “For I have given you an example, that ye should do as I have done to you.” (John 13:15). After supper that same night Christ was taken prisoner and tried. The Jews wanted to avoid killing Him on the First Day of Unleavened Bread when they observed Passover (Matthew 26:3-6) they crucified Him while it was still the preparation day and He died around 3pm in the afternoon and was buried before sunset on the fourteenth day of Abib (Nisan), the first month in the Jewish calendar.
Christ died on the preparation day at the same time the Jews sacrificed their Passover lambs (Matthew 27:45-53 & 62, Luke 23:44-45 & 54, Mark 16:34-37 & 42, John 19:14, 31 & 42). Because the sacrifice of the lambs foreshadowed Christ’s sacrifice it was important that He died at the same time that the lambs were killed. The Apostles confirmed that it was 3pm in the afternoon of the preparation day. If the lambs were sacrificed after the sunset at the start of 14 Abib (Nisan) they would have been sacrificed twenty hours before the sacrifice of Christ.
After sunset when the fifteenth day of Abib (Nisan) began, they observed their Passover Each family celebrated Passover with a special meal. They ate the lamb with bitter herbs and unleavened bread, and related the story of Israel's exodus from Egypt to their children in accordance with the instructions (Exodus 12:8, 14 and 26-27). It was a night to be much observed (Exodus 12:42). It took place after the sunset that began the First Holy Day of the Feast of Unleavened Bread.
What Christ observed with the Apostles was not the Old Testament Passover celebrated by the Jews, but a New Testament observance which He established by example twenty four hours ahead of the Old Testament Passover. It was to become a memorial of His sacrifice which was to take place the next day at the time the Jews sacrificed their lambs for Passover. By doing this He focused the attention of His Apostles on the sacrifice itself because of its significance to the New Covenant. He put the focus where it belonged - on His sacrifice for the future of all humanity, rather than the Passover meal that followed, which celebrated a past event.
Christ set a precedent for us to follow by washing His Apostles feet, introduced the ceremony of eating the bread and drinking the wine, which He indicated were symbols of the New Covenant to be taken in remembrance of Him, “And he took the cup, and gave thanks, and said, Take this, and divide it among yourselves: For I say unto you, I will not drink of the fruit of the vine, until the kingdom of God shall come. And he took bread, and gave thanks, and brake it, and gave unto them, saying, This is my body which is given for you: this do in remembrance of me. Likewise also the cup after supper, saying, This cup is the new testament (covenant) in my blood, which is shed for you.” (Luke 22:17-20). He obviously knew that His hour had come and He was going to die the next day. Undoubtedly, after Christ died the next day the disciples did as they (and Christ) had always done and observed the Passover on the night of 15 Abib (Nisan) for which they had prepared as per Christ's instruction (Matthew 26:17-19).
The foot washing described in John 13:1-7 depicts the humbleness of the divine nature that Christ shares with His Father and will share with us.
He was their master and teacher yet He willingly washed their feet, “If I then , your Lord and Master, have washed your feet: ye also ought to wash one anther’s feet. For I have given you an example, that ye should do as I have done to you.” (John 13:14-15). Christ was the prime example of that humility when He emptied Himself of His position in the God-head to become the sacrificial lamb for the family of God.
Bread and Wine
He also, “…took the cup, and gave thanks, and said, Take this, and divide it among yourselves: For I say unto you, I will not drink of the fruit of the vine, until the kingdom of God shall come. And he took bread, and gave thanks, and brake it, and gave unto them, saying, This is my body which is given for you: this do in remembrance of me. Likewise also the cup after supper, saying, This cup is the new testament in my blood, which is shed for you.” (Luke 22:17-20).
The bread representing His flesh is eaten to symbolize the divine nature given to believers when they are baptized. That divine nature is the Holy Spirit that is in both Christ and the Father. It was made available through Christ to mankind as a down payment on the promise of eternal life, “I am the living bread which came down from heaven: if any man eat of this bread, he shall live for ever: and the bread that I will give is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world… ...Whoso eateth my flesh, and drinketh my blood, hath eternal life… …He that eateth my flesh, and drinketh my blood, dwelleth in me, and I in him.” (John 6:51-56).
The wine symbolizes the blood of Christ by which man is to be cleansed from sin, “And he took the cup, and gave thanks, and gave it to them, saying, Drink ye all of it; For this is my blood of the new testament, which is shed for many for the remission of sins.” (Matthew 26:27-28). Also, “Jesus Christ, who is the faithful witness, and the first begotten of the dead, and the prince of the kings of the earth. Unto him that loved us, and washed us from our sins in his own blood,” (Revelation 1:5). These new symbols foreshadow the time when mankind will have the very nature of God and be washed from sin to be perfected in God’s image. This has been God’s intention from the outset, “And God said, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness:” (Genesis 1:26). These are the symbols of the New Testament ceremony that Christ formalized during the last supper He had with His disciples.
It is a memorial, a time to reflect on what Christ suffered for us. By His suffering we are healed, “...he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and with his stripes we are healed.” (Isaiah 53:5). He bore our sins so we can be healed spiritually, “Who his own self bare our sins in his own body on the tree, that we, being dead to sins, should live unto righteousness: by whose stripes ye were healed.” (I Peter 2:24). He also bore our sicknesses so we can be healed from the physical effects of sin, “That it might be fulfilled which was spoken by Esaias the prophet, saying, Himself took our infirmities, and bare our sicknesses.” (Matthew 8:17).
It is a time to examine our spiritual condition and then rededicate our lives to Him, “But let a man examine himself, and so let him eat of that bread, and drink of that cup. For he that eateth and drinketh unworthily, eateth and drinketh damnation to himself, not discerning the Lord’s body. For this cause many are weak and sickly among you, and many sleep.” (I Corinthians 11:28-30).
Early Church Observance
The New Testament observance is a solemn memorial of Christ's death which Paul indicated should continue to be observed until Christ returns, “For I have received of the Lord that which also I delivered unto you, That the Lord Jesus the same night in which he was betrayed took bread: And when he had given thanks, he brake it, and said, Take, eat: this is my body, which is broken for you: this do in remembrance of me. After the same manner also he took the cup, when he had supped, saying, This cup is the new testament in my blood: this do ye, as oft as ye drink it, in remembrance of me. For as often as ye eat this bread, and drink this cup, ye do shew the Lord’s death till he come. Wherefore whosoever shall eat this bread, and drink this cup of the Lord, unworthily, shall be guilty of the body and blood of the Lord. But let a man examine himself, and so let him eat of that bread, and drink of that cup. For he that eateth and drinketh unworthily, eateth and drinketh damnation to himself, not discerning the Lord’s body. For this cause many are weak and sickly among you, and many sleep.” (I Corinthians 11: 23-30).
Every year believers are to come together after the sunset that begins 14 Nisan to re-affirm their commitment to the New Testament (covenant) by drinking the wine and eating the bread. Paul's admonition (above) confirms that this was the practice in the New Testament Church more than twenty years after Christ's death which was when he wrote this letter to the Church at Corinth.
Passover, or Lord's Supper?
Because there are three passages in the New Testament that refer to Passover as 'the Jew's Passover', or 'Passover of the Jews' (John 2:13, 6:4, 11:55) some prefer to call the New Testament observance the 'Lord's Supper' which is the name Paul used in I Corinthians 11:20. On the other hand many prefer to retain the name Passover because Christ, who is the Lamb of God (John 1:29, 36), was sacrificed as our Passover (I Corinthians 5:7). Christ used the term 'Passover' when asking His disciples to prepare the room in which they had the last supper (Luke 22:15, Matthew 26:19). He desired to keep the Passover with them, “And he said unto them, With desire I have desired to eat this passover with you before I suffer:” (Luke 22:15) but knew that for the salvation of humanity His Father’s will needed to be accomplished, “…and (he) fell on his face, and prayed, saying, O my Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me: nevertheless not as I will, but as thou wilt.” (Matthew 26:39). He was crucified the next day by the Jews who were yet to celebrate the Passover (John18:28).
Christ established what Paul clearly called the 'Lord's Supper' (I Corinthians 11:20). The Lord’s Supper is a solemn memorial of the sacrifice Jesus Christ made on our behalf and is to be observed in a worthy manner, “When ye come together therefore into one place, this is not to eat the Lord’s supper. For in eating every one taketh before other his own supper: and one is hungry, and another is drunken. What? have ye not houses to eat and to drink in? or despise ye the church of God, and shame them that have not? What shall I say to you? shall I praise you in this? I praise you not. For I have received of the Lord that which also I delivered unto you, That the Lord Jesus the same night in which he was betrayed took bread: And when he had given thanks, he brake it, and said, Take, eat: this is my body, which is broken for you: this do in remembrance of me. After the same manner also he took the cup, when he had supped, saying, This cup is the new testament in my blood: this do ye, as oft as ye drink it, in remembrance of me. For as often as ye eat this bread, and drink this cup, ye do shew the Lord’s death till he come. Wherefore whosoever shall eat this bread, and drink this cup of the Lord, unworthily, shall be guilty of the body and blood of the Lord.” (I Corinthians 21-27). We are to observe the Lord’s Supper in a worthy and somber manner as a memorial. It begins after the sunset that is the start of 14 Nisan.
Passover on the other hand is celebrated by the Jews after sunset on 15 Nisan. To Jews it celebrates liberation from Egypt. To Christ’s followers it celebrates the liberation from sin. For both it is night to be much observed which begins the Days of Unleavened Bread.
While many have by tradition called the Lord’s Supper ‘Passover’ it should rightly be called the Lord’s Supper. The Lord’s Supper and Passover are two different events.