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When Christ Ate the Passover.
It must be acknowledged that one of the most difficult questions of solution presented in the history of the Lord's ministry is the time when he ate the supper which must have been, in some sense, at least, a passover. That the supper described by John in chapter XIII, is not the feast at the house of Simon the Leper in Bethany, as Lightfoot insists, but the paschal feast described by Matthew, Mark and Luke at which the Lord's Supper was instituted, is, I think, evident to any one who makes a comparison of the accounts. As far as John gives an indication of the time, the supper was just before, or at the passover, and from this feast the Lord retired to the garden of Gethsemane. At this feast Judas was exposed and the fall of Peter predicted, events that took place, according to the other Gospels, the evening of the paschal supper. The authorities are therefore almost unanimous in the view that John describes the feast that took place at the guest chamber in the city of Jerusalem.
A far more difficult question is whether the Lord's paschal feast was eaten at the regular time of the Jewish passover, or one day before. If we were to read only the first three Gospels we would conclude that he ate the Jewish passover at the regular time. If we were to read only John's account we would be compelled to conclude that the Savior died on the day the passover lamb was slain, before the Jews ate the passover. Matthew, Mark and Luke each speak of “the first day of unleavened bread, when they killed the passover,” as the day when the disciples “made ready the passover.” It is not to be denied, however, that there are difficulties even in their accounts. “The first day of unleavened bread” was strictly the Jewish day that began in the evening with the passover feast; that day was a legal Sabbath and it would have been unlawful to conduct judicial business upon it, for Simon Cyrenian to carry the cross, or for Joseph of Arimathea to bring a hundred pounds weight of myrrh and aloes to embalm and bury the body of Christ. These things were all done on the day on which the Savior was crucified.
In Exodus 12:16 it is said: “And in the first day (of unleavened bread) there shall be a holy convocation, and in the seventh day there shall be a holy convocation to you; no manner of work shall be done in them, save that which every man must eat, that only may be done of you.” The prohibition of all regular work, except the dressing of food, shows that the first day of unleavened bread was a Sabbath, and it was always so regarded by the Jewish writers. I cannot believe that all the violations of the law could have been made by devout Jews, which have to be admitted, if the passover was eaten by the Jewish nation the evening before Christ was crucified.
I suspect, from these circumstances, that there is something in the language which alludes to the time in the first three Gospels that must be interpreted in the light of Jewish usages, which we do not fully understand. They were written with especial reference to Jewish Christians, who understood all the customs of the Jews in that age, and who, in view of that fact, would probably put a different interpretation on “the first day of unleavened bread when the passover was killed” from that which seems most probable to us, under 209the conditions of our limited knowledge. It is objected, however, to the view that the Lord ate the passover before the regular time that this would not be in accordance with the Jewish law. It may be replied that, whether he kept the regular passover or not, he departed from the law. It enjoined that no one should go out until the morning. He sent Judas out from the supper table, and a little later went out himself with his disciples beyond the Kedron to Gethsemane.
I now pass to a consideration of the statements of John. 1. From John 13:1 it seems that the supper took place “before the passover.” 2. In 13:29 the disciples suppose that the Lord told Judas to buy some things needed for the feast, which would be impossible if the real passover feast had begun. 3. In 18:28 the Jews refuse to enter the presence chamber of Pilate lest they should be so defiled that they could not eat the passover, a passage irreconcilable with the view that they had eaten it the evening before. 4. In 19:14, on the day of the crucifixion, it is stated that it was “the day of preparation of the passover,” language irreconcilable with the fact that it had been eaten the night before. 6. It is said in 19:31 that it was the “preparation,” and that the next day, the Sabbath, “was a high day,” a statement understood to mean that it was a double Sabbath, not an ordinary Sabbath, but one that coincided with the day following the eating of the passover, which was hallowed as an annual Sabbath.
From these premises I accept the conclusion of Alford, which I condense, as follows: 1. That on the evening of the 13th of Nisan (that is, the beginning of the 14th), the Lord ate a meal with his disciples, at which it was announced that one should betray him, and from which he went to Gethsemane; 2. That in some sense this meal was regarded as eating a passover; 3. That it was not at the regular time of the Jewish passover, but the evening before, since the disciples understood when Judas left that he went to buy something, which could not have been done during the first Jewish day after the passover feast began, as it was a Sabbath. 4. On that night the Lord was seized, and on the next day, before the Jews ate the passover, but the day the paschal lambs were slain, the Lord, our Passover, was crucified. “His hour,” of the coming of which he so often speaks, was the hour when he should die, as the passover for man, on the very day when the paschal lambs were slain.
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