At first glance, it’s very difficult to reconcile the timing of Pesach events detailed in Leviticus 23, and the related details in the Gospels. The first thing we need to come to grips with is that even the original Greek manuscripts of the new testament contain a flagrant blurring of the definitions. In the one blank page between Malachi and Matthew, 300 years have passed by. Jewish tradition had muddied the language, and even our original source texts turned from Hebrew to Greek.
The first three Appointed Times of spring (Pesach, Unleavened Bread, and First Fruits) are suddenly collectively referred to simply as “Passover” or “Unleavened Bread” with little concern about technical accuracy. Just as modern Americans might just say “the Holidays” in mid-November and assume without thought that Thanksgiving and Christmas are being referred to. If that same person used the phrase “the Holidays” in mid-December, they’d simply assume Christmas and New Year’s Day. Nobody gets bent-out-of-shape because the context is familiar to everyone. However, most Christians are far from familiar with the biblical requirements of Hebrew month one and the related instructions. Those of us who have actually practiced these appointed times, and enjoy the beauty of the specifics, have to refrain from groans when we see the casual inaccuracy and lack of detail in certain verses in the Gospel narratives.
For example, this English translation of Matthew 26:17, “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?”” Or this baffling translation of Luke 22:7, “On the first the day of Unleavened Bread, on which the Passover lamb had to be sacrificed…” An uncountable amount of faithful people read past these sentences every day, and this jumbled nonsense does not even give them pause. This speaks volumes of the ignorance of both the translators and the reader (not meant to be a term of judgement, but it is the truly the right word to use.) According to the authorized list of Appointed Times in Leviticus 23, the feast of Unleavened Bread is a seven-day celebration that begins the day AFTER the Passover. The two are very closely related, but nevertheless are two separate things, and happen in a very specific order. If you have already arrived on the “first day of Unleavened Bread”, and you are suddenly asking when to eat the Passover, you are already a day behind schedule, and the makeup date (according to the official rules) is now one entire month away. The correct translation of Matthew 26:17 should be, “Now, the Unleavened Bread was near…”, and Luke 22:1 is “The day of Unleavened Bread was near.” Suddenly, have a far less of a problem in the narrative, and the question about where to prepare to eat the Pesach is actually a very good question.
We have a trickier blurring in Mark 14:1, “It was now two days before the Passover, and the Feast of Unleavened Bread…” This translation seems to be perfect, however the corresponding verse in John 12:1 says it was six days before the Passover! In Mark’s case, the author is counting down to the 10th day of the month, the day the Passover Lamb is chosen (also the day of Messiah’s final entry into Jerusalem). But in John’s case, the author is counting down to the actual day of the Lamb being slain. Both events are simply referred to as “The Passover”, only the context of each narrative and the extra work to synchronize the Gospels lets us align the events properly and make sense of what happened when.
This issue of language, tradition, and time reminds us of an important fact. The New Testament was not written in a vacuum. Yeshua, Peter, Paul, and the entire early church either passionately kept the Law of Moses or were struggling with how to integrate it into their formerly pagan lives. In 2 Peter 3:16 there is a warning that Paul’s letters are hard to understand, unless you have a solid foundation in the Law of Moses. If you don’t, he warns, we’ll twist Paul’s letters and other scriptures to our own destruction. The first five books contain Yah’s instructions. That’s where the details are found. The Gospel’s are indeed the Greatest Story Every Told, but it was never meant as stand-alone instruction manual.
Even without the details found in the Torah, the common theme of all of this “springtime in Jerusalem” language gives us what we need to know. Pesach is a season of preparation. Pesach is not an event that comes as a surprise to anyone. Great care is chosen to pinpoint the start of the new year and the new month. The Levites would blow the silver trumpets on the day of the new moon, alerting all of Israel of the new month, and non-Levites would respond with the blowing of ram’s horns. The focus of month one is the Pesach meal, occurring at the rise of the full moon at the perfect center of that month. All of Psalm 81 encapsulates the spirit of these very festive and joyful preparations. Here’s the how it opens:
Sing aloud to God our strength;
shout for joy to the God of Jacob!
Raise a song; sound the tambourine,
the sweet lyre with the harp.
Blow the rams horn at the new moon,
towards the full moon, on our Pilgrimage day.
For it is a statute for Israel,
a rule of the God of Jacob.
He made it a decree in Joseph
when he went passed over the land of Egypt.
I’m going to first list the types of preparations that are prescribed in the Torah, in the order of their timing, and then we’ll look at how these same events played out in the Gospels.
The 10th day of the month is when each family inspects and chooses the most perfect lamb for their sacrifice. If you were not a shepherd by trade, you can imagine the preparations needed to buy such lamb and then to keep it healthy for four straight days. Imagine the sound of hundreds of thousands of these lambs, one for each home and hotel room, in a crowded city like Jerusalem. The 14th day is a “preparation day” when each family would bring their lamb to a priest at the temple to have it ritually slain. The lamb (and some blood for the doorpost, I assume) would then be taken home to eat for the Pesach ritual meal. Meanwhile, the house is prepared for the Pesach, removing all “leavened bread” from the house. (This is the origin of spring cleaning.) Very late on the 14th, almost at sundown, each home would prepare that lamb over a fire. Finally, as the sun is setting, and the moon is rising, you would eat that lamb. Since the sun has now set, we have now entered the 15th day of the month. The 15th is considered a “chag”, a pilgrimage day, as referred to in Psalm 81. At minimum, one representative from each home was supposed to be in Jerusalem on this day, but most arrived several days earlier for obvious reasons. The preparation needed for such a long trip (by camel, perhaps) is also a big deal. Remember that more Jews lived in Alexandria, Egypt, than in Jerusalem in Messiah’s Day.
This 15th, the first day of Unleavened Bread is considered a “High-Sabbath”—a day of rest focused entirely on the themes of the Holiday. These High-Sabbaths are usually SEPARATE from the 7th day Sabbath. (Occasionally, a High-Sabbath and a weekly Sabbath will overlap, but its far more common for there to be two Sabbaths in the same week during the biblical High-Holidays.) There are actually seven such High-Sabbaths each year, and every Sabbath, whether High or weekly, is proceeded by a “preparation day”. Since markets are closed, and regular chores are not done, it is typical for a double load of preparation to happen before each Sabbath. For those of us who practice the Sabbaths as directed, this aspect is immediately obvious, even if not expressly stated in the instruction manual. The Exodus introduction to the pattern of the Manna (Exodus 16) also introduced Israel to the seventh day Sabbath. The Manna collection clearly teaches this principle—collect double on preparation day, there won’t be Manna on the Sabbath itself.
For the weeklong feast of Unleavened Bread, there is also a second High-Sabbath on the final day. YHWH invented the concept of a seven-day-week and likewise introduced the concept of “days off”. This is yet another way Yah blessed the world, even if unbelievers are ignorant of the source.
Veering slightly off subject, there is a third Holy day (but not a High-Sabbath) embedded within the week of Unleavened Bread. It is traditionally called “First Fruits”, and it always occurs on the first day of the week (Sunday). Leviticus 23 schedules First Fruits on the day after the WEEKLY Sabbath that follows the first High Sabbath of Unleavened Bread. First Fruits begins a 7-week count to yet another Holy day called Shavuot (more commonly known by it’s Greek name, Pentecost.) Shavuot (which means “weeks“) also always occurs on a Sunday (the day after the weekly Sabbath.) The main event of First Fruits is for the High Priest to take the very first bit of the barley harvest, and to waive it before YHWH (at the Temple) as an both a ritual offering as well as the official authorization to begin the entire harvest season. He does that before the sun comes up, in the darkness before the workers get to the fields.
The Gospel of John contains the most coherent and sequential timeline of “Passion Week”, and it is worth looking the events of this week in order. Get your Bible out or click the links. I won’t cut and paste every chapter or verse, and I’ll interject details from other Gospels where appropriate.
In John 12:1, we get our first solid foothold on the timing, “6 days before Pesach”. That would make it the 9th day of the month. The year of Messiah’s death, it’s a Friday, and Messiah goes to the home of Simon (who seems to have been a now-healed leper) to meet Mary, Martha, and Lazarus (who was quite dead earlier this same week) for a weekly Sabbath evening meal. Once the sun goes down, it will be considered the 10th day of the month, and the remaining verses of John 12 align with Pesach-themed events of that day.
Yeshua is chosen as “The Messiah” which in Hebrew means “The One Anointed with Oil”. (The word “Christ” means the same in Greek). Mary has the privilege of doing this anointing herself, with literal oil, this very evening at Simon’s house.
The next morning, still the 10th, the Lamb of God is examined and chosen by the rest of the Jerusalem faithful, as Messiah rides into the city on a donkey. One could call this “Palm Shabbat”, much more accurate that “Palm Sunday”.
As we are beginning to see, Palm Sunday is a Catholic myth, as are Good Friday and Easter Sunday. The dates have all been corrupted by Catholic tradition, and although Sunday is correct for the day of the Messiah’s resurrection, it’s never called “Easter” in our Bibles. All of these “adjustments” are not accidental, they were purposefully made by the Roman Empire to obscure the connections between the New Testament and the Old. Think about the incredible amount of preparation we’ve already discussed, the prayerful devotion, soul searching, and sacrifice which the faithful would voluntarily offer to honor God before partaking in the Pesach meal. Compare that substance to the quick and easy “communion service”, the simple eating a wafer with a teeny glass of juice. This McRitual was also invented by Rome to offer a replacement to the entire Passover rite. Christian culture is suffering from this 2000 year old bait-and-switch from organic nutrition to fast food.
Sorry. Where were we? Oh yes, day 10.
For the following two days, Messiah continues to teach Pesach themed lessons, as all hearers are certainly in Jerusalem to choose their own personal lambs and prepare their hearts and homes for Pesach. For both locals and travelers, this entails removal of “leaven” from your homes, and more importantly false ideas and false practices from your hearts. Messiah does the same, as he cleanses “His Father’s House” of corruption, in Matthew 21:12, Mark 11:15, and Luke 19:45. On the 11th and 12th of the month (Sunday and Monday in modern vernacular) Yeshua is incessantly quizzed by the religious leaders, as they continue to inspect the True Lamb of God for sin and blemish. Spoiler alert…they find neither, and therefore decide he must be put to death. Messiah is clearly the right man for the job.
On the 13th day of the month, what we would call Tuesday, the disciples find the upper room, and begin the preparation for the Pesach meal. That meal actually won’t happen that night, but the next night, during the late evening of the 14th. Messiah knows this, and tells his still clueless disciples, “I have earnestly desired to eat the Pesach with you, before I suffer, but I will not eat it until it is fulfilled in the Kingdom of God.” The night of the 13th, the night of the Last Supper, was not just an ordinary night, but before we’ll look closer at that in the next article in this series.
On this evening, Judas is exposed as a traitor, and like any other leaven, he is removed from the house.
As Judas leaves in John 13:29, the disciples assume he is leaving to purchase items related to the actual Pesach meal, as they are all still in preparation mode. This is a fair assumption, since after the actual Pesach meal, all the shops and markets would be closed. Judas would certainly not be alone on the night of the Last Supper in doing last-minute Pesach shopping.
After the Last Supper, it’s now sundown and it’s officially the 14th day of the month (what we would consider pre-dawn Wednesday morning.) After a very long prayer and one last act of hard-fought submission to Yah’s will, Messiah is arrested and the kangaroo court begins. We learn in John 18:28 that the High Priest would not even enter the house of Pilate, as he did not want to be defiled so he himself could eat the Pesach later that same day. We get another clear benchmark in John 19:14, “It was the day of preparation for the Passover.” Messiah was convicted by all secular and religious powers around high noon that Wednesday (which in Roman time was considered “the sixth hour”) and died on the cross, sometime before sundown. These events are all still occurring on the Wednesday the 14th, with sundown looming.
In John 19:31, we get another confirmation that our timing is correct. “Since it was the day of Preparation, and so that the bodies would 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.” Because the moment of Pesach and the corresponding High Sabbath is approaching quickly, both Nikodemus (a righteous Pharisee) and Joseph (from Arimathea) take Messiah’s body, hastily wrap him in a cloth, and put him in the closest tomb—Joseph’s own tomb. This is detailed in John 19:42. Messiah was not just the Lamb of God, he was also the Unleavened Bread of Life. He is swallowed by sheol (the grave) at the exact moment millions of Pesach lambs were being swallowed by the faithful around their dinner tables.
Now that Sundown has passed, we have now entered into the 15th day of the month—it’s now Thursday, the first High Sabbath of Unleavened Bread. In Matthew 27:62, we have another time stamp confirming this timetable, “The next day, after the day of preparation.” We are reminded in the subsequent verses, that Messiah said he would rise on the third day, and even the Pharisees were taking that threating promise seriously. They went to Pilate that night (as the true faithful were taking the feast seriously) and continued in their power-play. They told Pilate, “Therefore order the tomb to be made secure until the third day…” The clock has now started on Messiah’s prophesy of the sign of Jonah (Matthew 12:39-40). Messiah would remain in the heart of the earth for EXACTLY three days and three nights. The 15th was day #1.
As mentioned earlier, on a High-Sabbath, the markets would be closed, so Mary Magdalene, James’s mother Mary, and Salome all had to wait until that Sabbath was over to get spices to purchase the spices to prepare Messiah’s body. This shopping trip had to wait until Friday the 16th as it says in Mark 16:1. Messiah’s death was quite the surprise, so the ladies were going to have to re-do what Nikodemus and Joseph simply did not have time to do due to the rush of the approaching the High Sabbath one full day earlier. Plus, they were men, so you know it had to be redone. The ladies did not actually go to the tomb in Mark 16:1, they only had time to do the shopping. The 16th day was now complete, as was day # 2 of Messiah’s time in the heart of the earth.
Night came, and now we are entering into the regularly scheduled weekly Sabbath. The markets and all of Jerusalem would completely shut down again—their second day of rest this week. There are zero details about what occurred on this day, other than that Luke 23:56 confirms, “On the Sabbath, they rested according to the commandment.” It is worth noting the contrast of this Sabbath, one of utter grief and disappointment, with the Sabbath one week prior, the triumphal entry of Messiah. This miserable Sabbath, the 17th of the month, was day three of Messiah’s time in the heart of the earth. I don’t know what this means, but it’s worth noting that Noah’s flood began on the 17th of the month (Genesis 7:11), and the ark came to rest on the mountain top on the 17th as well (Genesis 8:4).
The weekly Sabbath having ended at sundown, that night then begins the first day of the week, what modern folks would call Sunday. Three compete days and three complete nights are now fulfilled. We have also arrived at the day of First Fruits, the beginning of the barley harvest, and the start of the 50-day feast of Shavuot. All three original ladies, plus Joanna and perhaps others, go back to the tomb before the sunrise, bringing the spices they purchased the previous Friday. The planning was to finally prepare Messiah Yeshua’s body properly. I hope they kept their receipts, because Messiah was, and remains, alive. In 1 Corinthians 15:20, Paul refers to this miracle of like this, “But in fact, Messiah has been raised from the dead, the first-fruits of those who have fallen asleep.” When Mary encounters Messiah in the darkness, he tells her not to touch him, as he had not yet ascended to his Father. This is another allusion to Messiah as the first fruits, who had not yet completed the ritual of presenting himself as the offering before YHWH. He must have done that before the sun rose, as later that same day he was inviting others to touch him (Luke 24:39.)
In the next article, we’ll look closer at the events of the Last Supper itself, and I’ll suggest some ways we can both honor Messiah’s last meal, as well as the Pesach itself.
I hope this has been a blessing to you. Amen