In an email, a reader asked: “Was the last supper in the upper room a Passover Seder?” and each year that question seems to come up as Passover and Easter approach. Many churches and Messianic congregations seem to conflate the two events (the last supper and the Passover), but they were really separate events during the week of Jesus’ confirmation of the New Covenant during Passover week in 30 CE. Understanding chronology helps to sort things out and answer the question.
The synoptic gospels seem to indicate that it was a Passover meal, and those references have been interpreted to mean that it was the Passover Seder during which the Paschal lamb was eaten and the exodus from Egypt was recalled. However, there is no mention of a lamb being eaten at the supper in the upper room. On the other hand, the Book of John specifically says that the trial of Jesus took place before Pilate on the Day of Preparation for the Passover (John 19:14). This means that the supper in the upper room, which took place before the trial, could not have been the Passover Seder, which was observed by the Jewish authorities after the trial and crucifixion. So, which is correct, was the “last supper” a Passover Seder, as the synoptic gospels seem to indicate, or not?
With the correct chronology of the Passion Week at hand, the answer is easy to see. Let me explain.
The synoptic gospels (Luke for certain, and probably the others) follow one calendar, the Book of John follows another. In the synoptics, the day begins at sunset. In John, the day begins at sunrise. That means that there is a twelve-hour offset between the days. Some have speculated that the synoptics were following the Pharasean calendar, whereas John was aligned with the Sadducean (priestly) calendar. In the synoptics, the first day of the Feast of Unleavened Bread, which is also called “the Passover” (Luke 22:1), is observed on the evening of the 14th day of Nisan as prescribed by Exodus 12:18. This “Passover” meal (i.e., the first meal of the Feast of Unleavened Bread) coincides with the day of preparation for the Passover mentioned in John, the day before the Paschal lamb was slain (Mark 14:12). So, when all of this is plotted out graphically, it can be seen that the “last supper” in the upper room was eaten on the day before the main memorial Passover meal featuring the eating of the Paschal lamb.
The Passover meal featuring the eating of the Paschal lamb was eaten on the evening following the “last supper,” after the crucifixion and while Jesus was in the tomb. Thus, Jesus did not change the observance of the traditional Passover as commanded for Jews in the Law. However, his actions and words did give additional meaning to the Passover Seder for those who would be under the new covenant. Jesus’ command to his disciples during the “last supper” to “this do in remembrance of me” (Luke 22:19), referring to the eating of unleavened bread symbolic of his body uncontaminated by the commission of sin and the drinking of wine symbolic of his blood shed for remission of the sins of those under the new covenant being instituted by his death and resurrection (Matthew 26:29, Luke 22:20), forever after brought the Passover Seder to its full new covenant meaning. Many Jewish followers of Yeshua (Jesus) observe the fulfilled Passover in their Seder each year.
It should also be noted that the crucifixion took place on a Thursday, not a Friday, and that the year of the Crucifixion was 30 CE. That year can be calculated from Daniel’s “Seventy Weeks” prophecy, which requires that Jesus’ ministry began in 28 CE. It is a simple calendar calculation to locate all seventy weeks in history, as follows (using Pentecost as shorthand for Feast of Weeks; image shows page 93 from Daniel Unsealed; click on image to enlarge):
Once the start of Jesus’ public ministry is confirmed as beginning in the year 28 CE, it is a simple matter of calculating the three Passovers mentioned in the Book of John, the first occurring in 28 CE, the second in 29 CE, and the third being the Passover of the Crucixion in 30 CE, to verify that the Crucifixion took place in the year 30 CE. You can read a full explanation of the prophecy of the “Seventy Weeks” in Chapters Six and Seven beginning on page 83 of the book Daniel Unsealed.