Along with Baptism, meant to signify the beginning of a new life in Christ, the Lord’s Supper is one of the two most important observances in the Christian faith. Whereas Baptism is meant to be a singular event in the life of a Christian, the Lord’s Supper is a repetitive observance. Although for us – the Church of God (Seventh Day) – it is an annual observance, we extend charity to Christians who observe it more frequently. After all, Jesus did not prescribe when or how often it should be observed, but only that when we do so, we do it in remembrance of Him.
Jesus instituted this rite among his apostles during the evening on which He and they ate the Passover meal together just before His arrest, trial, and subsequent crucifixion.
Matthew’s gospel (26:26-30): While they were eating, Jesus took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to his disciples, saying, “Take and eat; this is my body.”
Then he took the cup, gave thanks and offered it to them, saying, “Drink from it, all of you. This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins. I tell you, I will not drink of this fruit of the vine from now on until that day when I drink it anew with you in my Father’s kingdom.” When they had sung a hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives.
Mark’s gospel (14:22-26): While they were eating, Jesus took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to his disciples, saying, “Take it; this is my body.”
Then he took the cup, gave thanks and offered it to them, and they all drank from it. “This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many,” he said to them. “I tell you the truth, I will not drink again of the fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it anew in the kingdom of God.” When they had sung a hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives.
Luke’s gospel (22:14-20): When the hour came, Jesus and his apostles reclined at the table. And he said to them, “I have eagerly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer. For I tell you, I will not eat it again until it finds fulfillment in the kingdom of God.” After taking the cup, he gave thanks and said, “Take this and divide it among you. For I tell you I will not drink again of the fruit of the vine until the kingdom of God comes.”
And he took the bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to them, saying, “This is my body given for you; do this in remembrance of me.”
In the same way, after the supper he took the cup, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood, which is poured out for you.”
The Lord’s Supper is not a commemoration of the Passover. Rather, it is a commemoration of Christ’s sacrificial death for our sins.
Each year, we take the Lord’s Supper, in the evening, one day preceding the day of the official Jewish Passover.
The reason we do it that way is because we believe it is likely that, on the year of His crucifixion, 30 A.D., that’s what Jesus did.
To explain why can get a little complicated. It has to do with discrepancies between the calendars kept by various sects among the Jews.
Of the various factions among the Jews that emerged under Hasmonean rule, three are of particular interest: the Pharisees, Sadducees, and Essenes.
The most important of the three were the Pharisees because they are the spiritual fathers of modern Judaism. Their main distinguishing characteristic was a belief in an Oral Law that God gave to Moses at Sinai along with the Torah. The Torah, or Written Law, is comparable to the U.S. Constitution in the sense that it set down a series of laws that were open to interpretation. The Pharisees believed that God also gave Moses the knowledge of what these laws meant and how they should be applied. This oral tradition was codified and written down three centuries later in what is known as the Talmud.
The Pharisees also maintained that an after-life existed and that God punished the wicked and rewarded the righteous in the world to come. They also believed in a messiah who would herald in an era of world peace.
Pharisees were in a sense blue-collar Jews who adhered to the tenets developed after the destruction of the Temple; that is, such things as individual prayer and assembly in synagogues.
The Sadducees were elitists who wanted to maintain the priestly caste, but they were also liberal in their willingness to incorporate Hellenism (Greek culture and its trappings) into their lives, something the Pharisees detested. The Sadducees rejected the idea of the Oral Law and insisted on a literal interpretation of the Written Law; consequently, they did not believe in an afterlife, since it is not mentioned in the Torah. The main focus of Sadducee life was rituals associated with the Temple.
The Sadducees disappeared around 70 A.D., after the destruction of the Second Temple. None of the writings of the Sadducees has survived, so the little we know about them comes from their Pharisaic opponents.
These two “parties” served in the Great Sanhedrin, a kind of Jewish Supreme Court made up of 71 members whose responsibility was to interpret civil and religious laws.
A third faction, the Essenes, emerged out of disgust with the other two. This sect believed the others had corrupted the city and the Temple. They moved out of Jerusalem and lived a monastic life in the desert, adopting strict dietary laws and a commitment to celibacy.
The Essenes are particularly interesting to scholars because they are believed to be an offshoot of the group that lived in Qumran, near the Dead Sea. In 1947, a Bedouin shepherd stumbled into a cave containing various ancient artifacts and jars containing manuscripts describing the beliefs of the sect and events of the time.
The most important documents, often only parchment fragments that had to be meticulously restored, were the earliest known copies of the Old Testament. The similarity of the substance of the material found in the scrolls to that in the modern scriptures has confirmed the authenticity of the Bible used today.
In Bible times, time was reckoned in the following ways: Days started and ended at sunset (Genesis 1:5); Weeks started at day one and ended on day seven, the Sabbath (Leviticus 23:15-16); Months began with the sighting of the new moon (Deuteronomy 16:1); and Years started in the middle of the month in which barley would be harvestable (Leviticus 23:4-14).
The oldest known calendars appear to have been based on the observation of the moon, that is, lunar based.
Typically, the lunar month on the Jewish calendar began when the first sliver of moon became visible after the dark of the moon. In ancient times, the new months used to be determined by observation. When people observed the new moon, they would notify the Sanhedrin. When the Sanhedrin heard testimony from two independent, reliable eyewitnesses that the new moon occurred on a certain date, they would declare the rosh chodesh (first of the month) and send out messengers to tell people when the month began.
As time and knowledge grew, it became evident that merely observing the changing moon and its cycles did not accurately account for a full year.
At the time in which Christ lived, the Pharisees and the Sadducees operated off Luni-Solar calendars, while the Essenes used a completely Solar calendar, based on a Solar calculation which had 12 months equaling 364 days. So, in addition to the theological differences among the Pharisees, Sadducees and Essenes, they also differed as to the ecclesiastical calendar and the correct dates of the various religious feasts.
The problem with strictly lunar calendars is that there are approximately 12.4 lunar months in every solar year, so a 12-month lunar calendar is about 11 days shorter than a solar year and a 13-month lunar year is about 19 days longer than a solar year. The months drift around the seasons on such a calendar: on a 12-month lunar calendar, the month of Nissan, which is supposed to occur in the Spring, would occur 11 days earlier in the season each year, eventually occurring in the Winter, the Fall, the Summer, and then the Spring again. On a 13-month lunar calendar, the same thing would happen in the other direction, and faster.
To compensate for this drift, the Jews used a 12-month lunar calendar with an extra month occasionally added. The month of Nissan occurs 11 days earlier each year for two or three years, and then jumps forward 30 days, balancing out the drift. In ancient times, this month was added by observation: the Sanhedrin observed the conditions of the weather, the crops and the livestock, and if these were not sufficiently advanced to be considered “spring,” then the Sanhedrin inserted an additional month into the calendar to make sure that Passover would occur in the spring (it is, after all, referred to in the Torah as Chad he-Aviv, the Festival of Spring!)
Because the Essenes used a Solar calendar, their sacred year always began on the vernal equinox, which is, by definition, Wednesday, the first day of the first month, which may be called by one of two names, Nissan or Abib. Consequently, the Essene Passover would always begin at evening on a Tuesday, thirteen days after the vernal equinox.
To outsiders, the Essenes would appear to observe the vernal equinox and (regardless of whatever the previous day was) declare that day to be Wednesday, Nissan 1. However, within the Essene community this would be entirely self-consistent. Their 364-day year had exactly fifty-two 7-day weeks and since the vernal equinox varied by less than 6 hours one year to the next, for all practical purposes the Essenes never really adjusted their calendar – it was never off by more than a few hours and any observation errors would likely be attributed to occluded viewing conditions when the sun’s position and daytime transit duration could not be observed and measured. But to outsiders, comparing the Essene date and day of the week to other calendar systems, the Essenes would appear to be resetting their calendar to Nissan 1 every vernal equinox.
Understandably, due to the different calendar keeping systems, the Essenes and everyone else would disagree on what the actual date was.
Jewish observance of Passover varied depending on their postponement rules. It always began on the evening of Nissan 14th (by the Jewish sacred calendar), but the day of the week on which Nissan 14th fell varied because the postponement rules varied when the Jewish Civil year was recognized to have begun, and thus when (6 months later) the Jewish Sacred year began.
There is clear archaeological and historical evidence the Essenes lived in Jerusalem and Judea and observed the Old testament feasts on a 364-day solar calendar.
This is noteworthy because it is confirmed by careful analysis of New Testament scriptures.
It was a very rare occurrence for the Essene Passover date to precede the more commonly practiced Jewish Passover date by a single day – but that was the case in the year 30 A.D., which we believe was the year in which Jesus was crucified.
Our practice of mimicking what occurred in the year in which Jesus was actually crucified has nothing to do with trying to continue the Essene tradition, but everything to do with timing our observance to coincide with the timing of Jesus’ observance of Passover in the year of his crucifixion – that is, one day before the Passover observance of the Jewish leaders and the larger Jewish majority.
The fact is, if we were to project forward the Essene Passover dates from the year 30 A.D. to the present day, it would rarely fall exactly one day before the Jewish Passover.
Nevertheless, each year, on the evening of the day immediately preceding the Jewish Passover date on our annual calendar, we gather to commemorate Jesus’ sacrifice for our sins by taking the Lord’s Supper.
Why don’t we simply celebrate Easter Sunday like most denominations? The short answer is that Jesus’ death and resurrection has little to do with Easter, which had its origins in ancient pagan religions beginning some 2,000 years before Jesus’ incarnation. Easter became an official Christian holiday associated with Jesus in A.D. 325 when Christian leaders came together at the Council of Nicea and set a date for the celebration of Jesus’ resurrection which would be the first Sunday after the full moon (the Paschal – or Passover – Full Moon) following the March equinox.
It’s a much longer and involved story, but basically as Christianity spread throughout the pagan worshipping countries, where people had for centuries been worshipping their pagan gods and celebrating holidays or rituals, it was hard to get them to change their traditions. So Christianity slowly incorporated into their practices some of their special days that were close to significant events in Christian history. Hence, we have Easter associated with Jesus’ resurrection and Christmas associated with his birth, but neither of those dates are actual dates of events in the life of Jesus.
What was the significance of Jesus’ Passover meal with his disciples?
Matthew’s Gospel (26:17-20) sets the scene: Now on the first day of the Feast of Unleavened Bread the disciples came to Jesus, saying to Him, “Where do you want us to prepare for you to eat the Passover?” And 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.'” So the disciples did as Jesus had directed them; and they prepared the Passover. When evening had come, He sat down with the twelve.
What evening was Matthew referring to? The evening of the Passover.
What is Passover? When did it start?
The Old Testament book of Exodus (12:23-24) explains: For the Lord will pass through to smite the Egyptians and when He sees the blood on the lintel and on the two doorposts the Lord will pass over the door and will not allow the destroyer to come to your houses to smite you. And you shall observe this event as an ordinance for you and your children forever. Verse 42 further states: It is a night to be observed by all the sons of Israel throughout all generations.
Leviticus 23:4-8 further explains: These are the appointed times of the Lord’s holy convocations which you shall proclaim at the times appointed for them. In the first month on the fourteenth day of the month at twilight is the Lord’s Passover. Then on the fifteenth day of the same month there is the Feast of Unleavened Bread to the Lord; for seven days you shall eat unleavened bread. On the first day you shall have a holy convocation; you shall not do any laborious work. But for seven days you shall present an offering by fire to the Lord. On the seventh day is a holy convocation; you shall not do any laborious work.
Notice there are 2 holy days or convocations, also known as Sabbaths, mentioned above. They are distinguishable from the “weekly” Sabbath (the seventh day of the week) and they may or may not coincide with that day. Yet they are still “Sabbaths.”
When did Jesus eat the Passover meal with his disciples in A.D. 30? The answer, we believe, is that Jesus observed the Essene date for the Passover, which in that year occurred one day before the “official” Passover date recognized by the Jewish ruling council (the Sanhedrin) and therefore the larger Jewish community.
Passover itself was not a Sabbath; but because the 24-hour period overlapped with the beginning of the Feast of Unleavened Bread, by Jesus’ time the terms “Passover” and “Feast of Unleavened Bread” had become virtually synonymous and were used interchangeably.
Parallel accounts of this passage are in Mark chapter 14 and Luke chapter 22.
Notice that in none of the accounts did anyone question that this might not be the “correct” day or that they might be having it early. Not the disciples. In fact, it was they who raised the question to Jesus about the Passover and where they could have it. Not the man whose house they used. Everyone appeared to believe this was the appropriate time to have the Passover meal.
Notice also that the gospel of John does not give us quite the same detail about the preparation day as did the other three gospels.
John 13:1 relates: Now before the Feast of the Passover, when Jesus knew that His hour had come that He should depart from this world to the Father, having loved his own, who were in the world, He loved them to the end.
When was this date, exactly? Let’s get some more clues by looking at the day after Jesus and the disciples ate – the actual day of Jesus’ crucifixion.
Matthew 27:45 informs us: Now from the sixth hour until the ninth hour there was darkness over all the land, and about the ninth hour, Jesus cried out with a loud voice, saying, “Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani?”; that is, “My God, My God, why have your forsaken me?” Then in verse 50: And Jesus cried out again with a loud voice, and yielded up His spirit.
We see that Jesus died about 3 p.m. on the next day after his supper with the disciples.
Now consider Matthew 27:62: On the next day which followed the Day of Preparation, the chief priests and Pharisees gathered together to Pilate.
So we know that on the day after Jesus died, which again scripture refers to as having been the Preparation Day, the chief priests came to Pilate to ask him to place a guard at the tomb.
Mark 15:42 Now when evening had come, because it was the Preparation Day, that is, the day before the Sabbath, Joseph of Arimathea, a prominent council member, who was himself waiting for the kingdom of God, coming and taking courage, went to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus.
Luke 23:53-54 Then he took it down, wrapped it in linen, and laid it in a tomb that was hewn out of the rock, where no one had ever lain before. That day was the Preparation, and the Sabbath drew near.
The gospel accounts confirm that the day Jesus was crucified was the Preparation Day, the day the Passover lamb would be slain and cooked for the evening meal, in remembrance of the first Passover, when God delivered the Hebrews from Egypt, but Jesus and the disciples had eaten the Passover meal the night before. Why?
Consider John 19:31: Therefore because it was the 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 might be broken, and that they might be taken away. Verses 41-42: Now in the place where He was crucified there was a garden, and in the garden a new tomb in which no one had yet been laid. So there they laid Jesus, because of the Jews’ preparation day, for the tomb was nearby.
Now there is something here that is a bit different. John says the next day was a high day Sabbath – that is, a special Sabbath – which we now know was the first day of the seven day Feast of Unleavened Bread for the larger Jewish community – and not a weekly seventh day Sabbath.
John also says something else that is interesting. He refers to the day as “the Jews'” preparation day. And that was not the first time either. In John 2:13, concerning a previous Passover, John says, Now the Passover of the Jews was at hand, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem.
Why would John identify it as the “Passover of the Jews” when he was a Jew? Perhaps, because it was not the Passover he observed.
Finally, consider Matthew 12:38-40: Then some of the scribes and Pharisees answered saying, “Teacher, we want to see a sign from you.” But he answered and said to them, “An evil and adulterous generation seeks after a sign, and no sign will be given to it except the sign of the prophet Jonah. For as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the great fish, so will the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth.
We believe Jesus meant precisely what he said concerning the duration of his entombment.
We believe that Jesus was crucified on Wednesday, ironically about the same time when Passover lambs were being slain throughout Jerusalem. Our Savior gave up his spirit around 3 p.m., and his body was entombed by Joseph and Nicodemus before the beginning of the Jewish Passover at sunset Wednesday night. The next day, Thursday, was a high day Sabbath, the first day of the Feast of Unleavened Bread, on which no work was to be performed.
From twilight (or perhaps late afternoon prior to twilight) Wednesday to the same time Thursday, Jesus’ body lay entombed for a 24-hour period – 1 night and day. Because that day was a “Sabbath”, no commerce occurred among the Jewish community.
Mark 16 relates that after the Sabbath was over, the women (Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome) bought spices so that they could go and anoint Jesus’ body.
From twilight Thursday to twilight Friday, Jesus’ body lay entombed for a second 24-hour period – a 2nd night and 2nd day.
The next day, Saturday, was the weekly Sabbath. From twilight (or late afternoon) Saturday, Jesus’ body lay entombed for a third and final 24-hour period – a 3rd night and 3rd day.
HALLELUJAH, CHRIST AROSE!!!
All four gospels confirm that early on Sunday morning when Mary Magdelene, Peter and others went to the tomb in which our Lord’s body had been laid, the stone had already been rolled away and our Savior had risen to life!
It is a fact that in the year 30 A.D. the Jewish and Essene Passovers came within 1 day of each other. It is also true that, from the perspective of secular history, 30 A.D. is the most commonly accepted year of Jesus’ death in that it is consistent with the 18th year of Tiberius’ reign (as reported by Eusebius and consistent with Luke’s account of Jesus’ baptism approximately 3.5 years earlier when He was around age 30 (see Luke chapter 2).
The Essene Passover, of course, is only one possible explanation of why Jesus and his disciples had Passover 1 day before the established Jewish Passover. In any event, we think Jesus knew when the real day for Passover was – after all, He gave the first directions of when and how to celebrate it!
One thing is for sure: Jesus died on a cross for your sins and mine and was resurrected 3 days and 3 nights later and is alive and well for all eternity, having been reunited with His Father. Even now, He continues to intercede for those who are seeking to follow Him, and He will return to reign with His saved children for eternity. Let us always praise Him!