How could Jesus eat the Passover meal if He were already dead?


by Shawn Brasseaux

According to Scripture, Christ Jesus ate a Passover meal with His Little Flock in Matthew 26:17-29, Mark 14:12-25, Luke 22:7-38, and John 13:1-30. Yet, some verses indicate Passover was not actually observed until a day later, when Jesus was already dead. How could this be? Is there any way to reconcile these seemingly incongruous timelines?

Here is what the Bible says about Jesus’ trial in John 18:28: “Then led they Jesus from Caiaphas unto the hall of judgment: and it was early; and they themselves went not into the judgment hall, lest they should be defiled; but that they might eat the passover.” According to this verse, Israel’s religious leaders have not eaten the Passover meal yet. Verse 39 quotes Pontius Pilate’s words during Jesus’ trial: “But ye have a custom, that I should release unto you one at the passover: will ye therefore that I release unto you the King of the Jews?” Again, it seems Passover is future. Finally, verse 14 of John chapter 19: “And it was the preparation of the passover, and about the sixth hour: and he saith unto the Jews, Behold your King!” No doubt they are preparing for the Passover. It is approaching.

Let us establish a few time markers. Christ was crucified at “the third hour,” three hours after 6 a.m., or 9 a.m. (Mark 15:25). He died near “the ninth hour,” or 3 p.m. (Mark 15:33-34,37). At this time, the priests were slaughtering the Passover lambs for the nation Israel to eat at roughly 6 p.m. (Abib 14th at even or sunset; Exodus 12:6). In order to fulfill the type, Christ had to expire exactly when the lambs did: “Purge out therefore the old leaven, that ye may be a new lump, as ye are unleavened. For even Christ our passover is sacrificed for us” (1 Corinthians 5:7). Since Jesus is the true Passover lamb, He had to die on Passover, thus necessitating He hold an early Passover with His saints. This is precisely what He did!

Recall Leviticus 23:5: “In the fourteenth day of the first month at even is the LORD’S passover.” Although Passover was the most important religious celebration in Judaism, and was usually observed on the 14th of the first month (Abib, roughly April) at even, the date of the feast could be moved if for a valid reason. Jesus moved Passover for His disciples in a similar manner. He was God, so He had the authority to move it. Also, there was an Old Testament precedent that we need not forget.

Seven hundred years prior to Christ, King Hezekiah and Judah observed Passover on the 14th of the second month, since they were not ready for the first month. “For the king had taken counsel, and his princes, and all the congregation in Jerusalem, to keep the passover in the second month” (2 Chronicles 30:2). Verse 15: “Then they killed the passover on the fourteenth day of the second month: and the priests and the Levites were ashamed, and sanctified themselves, and brought in the burnt offerings into the house of the LORD.” As Hezekiah and Judah held a late Passover, so Jesus and His disciples held an early one.

Passover was actually the evening immediately following Christ’s afternoon death, meaning He died at the very time the Passover lambs were being slaughtered. Therefore, in order for Him to eat the Passover with His disciples, He had to hold an early Passover just hours before His trial and crucifixion. The rest of Israel would not eat Passover until the following evening, which, by that time, He was already dead and buried.

Also see:
» Was Jesus crucified on Friday?
» Do Mark 15:25 and John 19:14 contradict?
» What is a “propitiation?”
» Should we observe the Lord’s Supper?
» Are Christians obligated to observe the Passover?