Now on the first day of Unleavened Bread the disciples came to Jesus, saying, “Where will you have us prepare for you to eat the Passover?” He said, “Go into the city to a certain man and say to him, ‘The Teacher says, My time is at hand. I will keep the Passover at your house with my disciples.’” And the disciples did as Jesus had directed them, and they prepared the Passover.
(Matthew 26:17-19 ESV)
The Jewish calendar was filled with religious celebrations. Two of these were the Passover and the Feast of Unleavened Bread. Combined these two back-to-back observances lasted eight days and were often referred to as one with the first day being the actual Passover. Both of these celebrations commemorated the Israelites escape from bondage in Egypt.
Interestingly on this day the disciples had not yet prepared a place for Jesus to eat the Passover. But it seems that Jesus already had a place in mind and He directed two disciples, Peter and John, to make the arrangements to eat at the house of a certain man. Jesus was seemingly keeping the details from most of the disciples because He knew that Judas had already agreed to betray Him and He didn’t want His arrest to happen before He had a chance to celebrate one final Passover with His disciples [Luke 22:15].
Some people think they’ve found an inconsistency in the Bible because these events happened on Thursday when the actual Passover was on Friday, the next day. Jesus was arrested, tried, and sentenced to death early on Friday morning before the rest of Israel had eaten the Passover [John 18:28; 19:14]. Critics will therefore claim that either Jesus broke one of God’s commandments – on which day of the year to celebrate the Passover [Exodus 12:6] – or the Bible has an error. But not so fast.
We must remember that Jews reckoned their days from sundown to sundown. The day of the Passover would have started at sundown on what we call Thursday and it would have lasted until sundown on what we call Friday. So Jesus did celebrate the Passover on the correct day, albeit about 20 hours earlier than the rest of Israel. However, there is a very interesting and valid reason for this.
At the first Passover God commanded the Israelites, who were still slaves in Egypt, to slay a perfect male lamb and smear its blood on the doorposts and lintel of their homes. When God passed through Egypt, killing the firstborn of every family as punishment for Pharaoh’s refusal to let the Israelites leave Egypt, He would “pass over” any home that had the lamb’s blood around the door (hence the celebration is called “Passover”), sparing their firstborn. It was the lamb’s blood that saved them from God’s wrath [Exodus 12].
Two thousand years later Jesus fulfilled the Passover by becoming the sacrificial “lamb” whose shed blood saves people from experiencing God’s wrath for their sin. Jesus would not be able to celebrate Passover at the usual hour – at the end of the day – because He would already be dead.
Even more interestingly, God commanded that the Passover meal consist of a lamb, unleavened bread, and a dip of bitter herbs [Exodus 12:8]. In the account of Jesus’ last supper the bread and the dip are mentioned, but not the lamb. Why? Because Jesus was the lamb.
The Passover was always meant to foreshadow the atoning death of the Messiah – Jesus Christ. He was the Lamb of God whose death atoned for the sins of the world [Matthew 27:46; John 1:29; 1 Corinthians 5:7].
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