According to all four of the Gospels, Jesus ate the Passover meal before he was crucified. (Matthew 26:17-29; Mark 14:12-25; Luke 22:7-22; John 13:1-30) This, after all was the Last Supper; not just a minor detail, but a critical event, as it was at this time that Our Lord instituted the Eucharist. A problem arises though in an apparent contradiction that can be found in the Gospel of John during his account of Jesus’ trial before Pilate: “Now it was the Preparation Day of the Passover, and about the sixth hour. And he said to the Jews, ‘Behold your King!’” – John 19:14. If this was the Preparation Day, and the Passover Meal is about to be eaten; how could the meal have taken place the night before?
While all four Gospels agree that Jesus was crucified on the day of preparation; the Gospels Matthew, Mark, and Luke, called the Synoptic Gospels because of how similar they are, make reference to the day being a Preparation Day for the Sabbath. The Gospel of John stands alone in using the term “Preparation Day of the Passover”. Is there a reasonable explanation for this? Did Saint John make a mistake?
Some skeptics who desperately desire to discredit the Bible have gone as far as to accuse Saint John of simply falsely stating that it was the Preparation Day of Passover so that he could draw a parallel to Jesus being crucified on that day, and the sacrifice of the Passover Lamb. This accusation of course falls apart when we see that Saint John was not falsifying anything, and his Gospel does not contradict the Synoptic Gospels at all.
It is worth noting before we go further that the chronology laid out in the Gospel of John is what the Church follows most closely, so if we are to ask “Did Saint John make a mistake?” we might as well ask the same question of the other three Evangelists. Thankfully, all four Gospels are correct, we just need to make sure that 1) We are approaching this correctly, and 2) We are not looking at this purely from a materialistic viewpoint.
Saint John’s use of the phrase “Preparation Day of the Passover” is correct. Jesus was crucified on Friday Morning, before Passover. There are other verses to support this:
“Then they led Jesus from Caiaphas to the Praetorium, and it was early morning. But they themselves did not go into the Praetorium, lest they should be defiled, but that they might eat Passover.” John 18:28
“Therefore, because it was Preparation Day, that the bodies should not remain on the cross on the Sabbath (for that Sabbath was a high day). The Jews asked Pilate that their legs be broken, and that they might be taken away.” John 19:31.
Now let’s look at a verse from the Gospel of Matthew:
“Now on the first day of the Feast of the Unleavened Bread the disciples came to Jesus, saying to Him, ‘Where do you want us to prepare for you to eat the Passover’” Matthew 26:17.
But wait, doesn’t Matthew clearly say “eat the Passover”? Yes, and it refers to the meal as Passover in the other Gospels as well. It was clear that at least in part, the Last Supper was a commemoration if the Passover. This was made clear in the Gospels, but it wasn’t eaten on the Passover. The meal itself wasn’t even the right food for a Passover meal.
First, a key component of the traditional Passover meal (Seder) would have been unleavened bread. The Greek word used for the bread eaten at the last supper is Artos, which is the word used for common leavened bread. Traditionally, no Leaven can be consumed at all at Passover. If Our Lord was eating Passover, as he did many times before, he would have used unleavened bread. There also would have been Lamb. There is no mention of a Lamb being eaten in any of the Gospels. It would not have been possible in the first place for there to have been a Lamb, because a Lamb could not have been slaughtered on the day before Passover.
The First Day of The Feast, is the Thursday before the Feast of unleavened bread, which would have taken place Friday Evening – the beginning of the Sabbath, which would have been Passover. The Last Supper was not the Passover meal, it was a meal eaten in anticipation of the Passover. Why is this important? Why not just call it an anticipatory meal and avoid all the confusion and debate? This is where we get into the heart of the issue, and we need to try to look at it from a spiritual perspective.
God gave the Passover to his people before he brought them out of Egypt, and for hundreds of years Passover was strictly observed every year in commemoration. Everything though changed that night, the day before Passover, when our Lord gathered with his disciples to break leavened bread. On the night before his crucifixion, when by his power, death would be conquered once and for all; he gave us a new Passover, with new meaning. There was no Lamb at the last Supper, because he was now the spotless, unblemished Lamb. It was on that night he gave us the gift of his own body, and blood; gifts that we receive at every Divine Liturgy. Within a few short days of this event, the world both seen and unseen would be changed forever.
Was Jesus crucified before the Passover meal? The answer is “Yes”.