The question whether the crucifixion of Christ took place oil the day of the Jewish Passover, or on the day before, has, since the second century of the Church, engaged the minds of the attentive readers of Holy Writ, This is due to the fact that there seems to be an irreconcilable conflict between the synoptic gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke, and the gospel according to John in respect to this particular question. All the gospel writers are manifestly agreed as to the day on Which Jesus was crucified, namely Friday, but they seem to differ as to the date, The whole controversy hinges upon the one question, did Christ’s crucifixion take place on Friday the 15th Nisaii, the date of the Jewish Passover, or on Friday the 14th Nisan, which was the day before the date of the Passover, known as the day of preparation. The Jews celebrated the Paschal supper on the evening of the 14th Nisan, which formed, strictly speaking, part of the 15th, as the Jewish day began at sunset. This 15th Nisan formed the first and great day of the seven days of the feast, and was considered peculiarly solemn, like unto the Sabbath as far as cessation from labor was concerned. Exodus 12:16. Consequently this question whether or not the death of Jesus took place on the day of the Jewish Passover is necessarily related to the question whether the last supper of Jesus and His disciples took place on the evening between the 14th and 15th Nisan, at the time when all Israel celebrated the Paschal Supper, or did it take place the evening before, between the 13th and 14th Nisan. It is in connection with this question that there seems to be a conflict between the synoptics and John.
It is generally held that, according to the synoptic gospels, Jesus was crucified on Friday, the 15th Nisan, the day of the Jewish Passover, which implies of course, that on the evening before, Jesus had celebrated the Paschal feast with His disciples in conformity with Jewish law and practice. This seems to be the idea expressed in such passages as. “Then came the day of unleavened bread, when the passover must be killed. And he sent Peter and John saying, Go and prepare us the passover, that we may eat.” “And the first day of unleavened bread, when they killed the Passover, his disciples said unto Him, Where wilt thou that we go and prepare that thou mayest eat the passover?” And “Now the first day of the feast of unleavened bread the disciples came to Jesus, saying unto Him, where wilt thou that we prepare for thee to eat the passover?” All these passages seem to emphasize that the last supper of Jesus and His disciples took place at the time when the Jews celebrated the Paschal supper, and hence that Jesus was crucified on the day of the Passover.
John’s gospel, on the other hand, would lead us to the conclusion that the Friday of Jesus death was the 14th Nisan, the day of the preparation of the Paschal supper and the Paschal feast in general. This seems to be the meaning of, “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.” From this passage of John it is very evident that the Jews had not yet eaten the Passover, which they would have, if the Lord’s Supper had been instituted at the time that the Paschal supper was regularly held. This passage clearly designates the day of Jesus condemnation and death as the day prior to the Jewish Passover. So also . “And it was the preparation of the Passover, and about the sixth hour; and he saith unto the Jews, Behold your King,” From this verse also, it is evident that according to John it was not the day of the Passover, but the preparation of the Passover, when Jesus is tried before Pilate. (In verse 31 we read “The Jews, therefore, because it was the preparation, that the bodies should not remain upon the cross on the sabbath day, (for that sabbath day was an high day,) besought Pilate that their legs might be broken, and that they might be taken away.” Also in this verse it is evident that John places the time of Christs crucifixion and death not on the Passover, but on the day of the preparation, and that he emphasizes the solemnity of the coming Sabbath is due to the fact that that year the weekly Sabbath coincided with the great Sabbatic day of the 15th Nisan, the day of the Passover. Therefore the apostle adds, “(for that sabbath day, was an high day)”. See also verse 42 where we read “There laid they Jesus therefore because of the Jews’ preparation day; for the sepulchre was nigh at hand.” It is also evident from John that the night in the which the Lord instituted the Lord’s supper, was not the night of the Passover. In Chapter 13:1 we read “Now before the feast of the Passover, when Jesus knew that His hour was come. . . .” Some commentators have sought to explain “that in this verse the feast of Passover meant the morning of the 15th, and that the phrase: “before the feast of Passover,” must therefore mean the evening of the 14th, and so the hour of the Paschal supper (agreeably to the Synoptics). (If John had said: “before the feast of Unleavened Bread” this meaning could have been admissible ( ). But how can we for a moment imagine John placing the Paschal supper before, and consequently outside of, the feast of Passover? How can we hold that, writing for Greek readers, he designated the Paschal feast by saying: “Before the feast, a supper (or even: the supper) being ended,” without designating this solemn feast more clearly.” F. Godet. That the night of the institution of the Lord’s Supper, and consequently the day of the crucifixion, was not that of the Passover is also evident from the 29th verse of John 13 where we read that the apostles, when Judas was dismissed, thought that he was going cut to buy some things needed for the feast. “What shop would have been open in Jerusalem on that night, (if it were the night of the Passover) when every family, rich or poor, was gathered round the Paschal table?” Godet. From all these passages of the gospel of John it is evident that Jesus was crucified on the 14th Nisan, the preparation day of the feast Passover. That Jesus did not eat the legal Passover with His disciples; but that He died on the day on which the Jews were preparing to celebrate it.
From the foregoing the seeming conflict between the synoptical narratives, and the gospel of John, must have become apparent. Can these seeming conflictions be harmonized? According to Godet and others the presentation of John, that Christ was crucified on the 14th Nisan, the day before the Passover, is and remains the only possible one. The objections that Jesus died on the day of the feast are numerous. How could the priests and their officers go forth from Jerusalem to lay hands on Jesus in Gethsemane at the very time when the whole people were celebrating the Paschal feast within their dwellings? How could tribunal sittings of the Sanhedrin be held during the time of the Paschal feast and supper? How could Joseph of Arimathea buy fine linen, to wrap up the body of Jesus, if the day were a solemn feast day on which nothing was to be bought or sold?. How could Simon be coming from out of the country on the Sabbatical morning of the 15th Nisan? . Why did the women put off embalming the body of Jesus that evening in order to rest, because of the sabbath, if the very day on which these things took place was itself a Sabbatic day? . In harmony with John’s gospel we read in “And that day was the preparation, and the Sabbath drew on.”
“The only point at which the synoptical account seems really to conflict with that of the Gospel of John, is the date of the disciples question, where wilt Thou that w\e go and prepare that Thou mayest eat the Passover?; ; . But here everything depends on the precise time of the question put by the apostles. If it is supposed that it was put on the morning of the 14th Nisan, all possibility of harmony certainly disappears. For the evening which followed that morning, on which the last supper of Jesus took place, could have been no other than that between the 14th and 15th, that of the Paschal feast among the Jews, which inevitably places the death of Jesus on the morrow following that feast, and so on the 15th. But Strauss has remarked, (Das Leben Jesu, 1864, p. 533) that the procuring of the room and the articles necessary for the Paschal feast could not have been put off till the morning of the day on which the feast took place to secure a room. Also Clement of Alexandria, to designate the previous day, that of the 13th uses the term pro- preparation, or preparation for the preparation. The day of the preparation (for the feast) was the 14th, but that on which the arrangements needed for this preparation were made was the 13th. Now, of these measures the most essential was to secure a room. It is therefore probable, to say nothing more, that it was on the afternoon of the 13th that the disciples referred to the Lord the steps to be taken with this view,. Are the expressions used by the evangelists opposed to this idea? Luke says: The day of unleavened bread
was come. . . .” These terms apply to the afternoon of the 13th, to the time of sunset, as well as to the morrow morning, and even better. For it was exactly at this time, on the evening of the 13th, between six and seven, that lamps were lighted to ransack the darkness corners of the houses, and to remove from them the last particles of leaven. Matthew says: On the first day of the feast of Unleavened Bread, the disciples. Mark says: “The first day of unleavened bread, when they killed the Passover. . . .” Mark’s somewhat more detailed expressions are solely intended to put Gentile readers more completely in possession of the object of the feast. They may as well as those of Matthew, with which they are synonymous, refer to the last hours of the afternoon of the 13th, which, according to the Jewish mode of reckoning, began the 14th.”
An interesting coincidence, which can hardly be accidental, presents itself here. On the evening between the 13th land 14th Nisan, before the stars appeared in the sky, people went from every house to draw water from the fountain with which on the morrow to knead the unleavened bread. This custom no doubt explains the sign which our Lord gives to His two disciples, Peter and John, when, on sending them to the city, He says: “Behold, when ye are entered into the city, there shall a man meet you, bearing a pitcher of water; follow him. . . . .” This coincidence fixes at the same time the hour when the disciples were sent; it was evening when the stars were about to appear. The 14th had therefore begun. In reality, it was the beginning of the first day of unleavened bread.” F. Godet.
“It will be objected that it was rather late to buy and prepare the lamb. But from the 10th Nisan it must have been put aside and kept in a particular place. It was needed only to take and roast it, which could certainly be done between six and eight o’clock. The other necessary articles belonged to the furniture of the room, or might easily be procured by the host or His disciples.” (F. Godet, Commentary on St. John’s Gospel.)
Hence we conclude that it is the very clear presentation of the gospel of John that the time of
Christ’s crucifixion and death was on Friday afternoon, the 14th Nisan, the day of the preparation for the Passover, and that consequently Jesus’ last supper with His disciples was not held at the time the Jewish Passover was eaten, but rather the evening before the feast. This fixes the time of Christ’s death at the very hour when the Passover lamb was slain, and thus He became our Passover.