The accepted answer on How long was Jesus in the tomb? would only have been possible if the Last Supper was not the Passover meal, which I had always thought it was. Was the Last Supper in fact not the Passover meal?
Two things are clear from scripture:
The "last supper" was in fact a passover meal. Multiple references in Mark 14, Matthew 26 and Luke 22 make it clear that the disciples prepared a passover meal. In Matthew Jesus says "I am going to celebrate the Passover with my disciples at your house." In Luke it reads "So they prepared the Passover. When the hour came, Jesus and his apostles reclined at the table.". Other elements of the meal are drawn directly from Passover practice. Clearly this was a Passover meal.
It is also clear that this was done on the day before Passover. John 18 and 19 indicate that it was "the day of preparation for the Passover".
There are a number of possible reconciliations of this. Some speculate that Jesus was a part of a minority Jewish sect that celebrated Passover on a different day. Others that he celebrated Passover a day early because he knew he wouldn't be able to do it on the right day (I don't know what Jewish Law would have said about that, but Jesus was never one to get hung up on legal technicalities).
My new understanding of the Last Supper is mostly based on the information at http://www.therefinersfire.org/celebrating_passover.htm.
The key verses which indicate that Christ was actually crucified on the day before the Passover feast are John 18:28 and John 19:14.
John 18:28 NIV
Then the Jewish leaders took Jesus from Caiaphas to the palace of the Roman governor. By now it was early morning, and to avoid ceremonial uncleanness they did not enter the palace, because they wanted to be able to eat the Passover.
John 19:14 NIV
It was the day of Preparation of the Passover; it was about noon.
“Here is your king,” Pilate said to the Jews.
The day of preparation would be when they slaughter the Passover lamb, which would then be eaten that night.
Jesus entered Bethany six days before the Passover (John 12:1). I believe John is referring to the Passover Seder on the 15th of Nisan. That would make Jesus there on the 9th of Nisan. Then the next day He entered Jerusalem (John 12:12) on the 10th of Nisan (Palm Sunday). The multitude acknowledged Him as the Messiah and shouted “Hosanna![d]” (save now) “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!”[e]“Blessed is the king of Israel!” In doing so they were also choosing Him as the True Lamb of God, on the same day as lambs are chosen for the Passover Seder.
He was examined for 4 days (10th, 11th, 12th and 13th of Nisan) (Sunday, Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday) just like all Passover Lambs were examined for four days to make sure they were without spot or blemish. He was tested over and over by being asked question after question and they could not find any fault with His answers.
I believe the Last Supper was early on Thursday (by the Jewish day) the 14th of Nisan. Probably shortly after sundown, which began a new day. It was a Passover Meal, but it was a day earlier than the normal Passover Seder. God allows exceptions for good reasons, see Numbers 9:6-11 and II Chronicles 30:2-15. Jesus knew that He was going to die late on the 14th of Nisan as the True Lamb of God. Therefore, He would not be able to celebrate it on the 15th Nisan. In Luke 22:14 we read 14 When the hour came, Jesus and his apostles reclined at the table. 15 And he said to them, “I have eagerly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer. And by having it a day early He was able to institute the Holy Communion which we cherish.
Then here is some of what happened after the Last Supper that day, He went to the Garden of Gethsemane to pray, was betrayed with a kiss, arrested, deserted and denied by those closest to Him, tried, struck, spat upon, had his beard pulled, tried again, mocked, crowned with thorns, scourged, made to carry His own cross, crucified, and entombed all done sometime before sunset on that Thursday the 14th of Nisan (the day I believe John refers to as the day of preparation for the Passover). I believe He died on the cross just outside the walls of Jerusalem at the same time that the Passover Lambs were being slain inside the walls of Jerusalem.
Then Friday the 15th of Nisan was the First Day of Unleavened Bread, a Special Sabbath or John calls it a High Sabbath.
[Matthew 26:17, Mark 14:12 and Luke 22:7 are very confusing. I believe they take place on Wednesday the 13th of Nisan. Since the Passover Seder for Jesus and his Apostles was a day early, the killing of the lamb for them had to be moved forward one day. Also The First Day of Unleavened Bread comes the day after the sacrifice of the Passover Lamb (Leviticus 23:4-8) however the day of the killing of the lamb commonly became known as the first of unleavened bread because it was the day they rid their homes of all leavening before the official start of the feast.]
Then the 16th of Nisan was the regular weekly Sabbath.
Then Jesus arose before dawn on the 17th of Nisan the first day of the week or to us Resurrection Sunday also the day of the Firstfruit Wave Offering.
(From Palm Sunday to Saturday in the tomb was 7 days, the number meaning complete, then Resurrection Sunday was the 8th day, the number for new beginnings.)
Was the Last Supper not the Passover meal?
Before answering this it is necessary to lay some background.
It is entirely critical to get the correct day of crucifixion before attempting anything else: until you have the day of crucifixion you cannot tell whether the Last Supper was a Passover meal according to the Conventional Jewish Calendar of the time.
The 14th Nisan was the day the Passover lambs were sacrificed starting in the afternoon. Andrew Steinmann claims the day when the Passover [lambs] were prepared was on the 13th Nisan to eat in the evening, i.e. to eat on the fourteenth, (“From Abraham to Paul – A Biblical Chronology”, page 278). With respect to him and his very important book, this is not correct for three reasons:
Firstly, at the Passover meal, leavened bread could not be eaten. Even today, leaven must be removed from the houses, hotels, etc. on the morning of the 14th (see Wikipedia: Removal of chametz). If they ate the Passover meal on the evening following the 13th (i.e. on the 14th after the sunset closing the 13th) then they would eat the Passover before they had removed all the leaven!
Secondly, it was the 15th which was called the first day of the Feast of Unleavened Bread:
The feast of Unleavened Bread succeeds that of the Passover, and falls on the fifteenth day of the month, and continues seven days (Josephus, Antiquities, chapter 10, section 5).
But if the Passover meal was eaten after the sunset closing the 13th, then why was the 14th Nisan not called the first day of Unleavened Bread? Furthermore, what could they eat during the daylight hours of the 14th? Not leavened bread, because they had already started eating unleavened bread.
The Passover meal was usually finished before midnight, though it could be eaten anytime before morning light. It makes absolutely no sense that there should be a gap of 18 hours from 12 midnight 14th Nisan to the beginning of 15th Nisan at sunset 6 pm, i.e. between the usual end time of the Passover meal and the earliest possible time for the beginning of the week of Unleavened Bread. Such a gap could not possibly represent any feature of the escape from Egypt.
Thirdly and most significantly, it is the testimony of all that the sacrifice of the Passover lamb was made on the afternoon of the 14th Nisan. These are the testimonies:-
- Of Josephus, in Antiquities chapter 10:
In the month of Xanthicus, which is by us called Nisan, and is the beginning of our year, on the fourteenth day of the lunar month, when the sun is in Aries, [for in this month it was that we were delivered from bondage under the Egyptians,] the law ordained that we should every year slay that sacrifice which I before told you we slew when we came out of Egypt, and which was called the Passover; and so we do celebrate this Passover in companies, leaving nothing of what we sacrifice till the day following.
- Of Philo:
(149) And this universal sacrifice of the whole people is celebrated on the fourteenth day of the month, which consists of two periods of seven, in order that nothing which is accounted worthy of honour may be separated from the number seven.
- And of the Talmud Pesachim 108a:
"As ben Beteira maintained that when the Torah says the Paschal lamb must be sacrificed “bein ha’arbayim” (Exodus 12:6), which literally means: Between the evenings, but is often rendered: In the afternoon, the term refers to any time between the evening of yesterday and the current evening of the fourteenth." (See Sefaria: Pesachim 108a)
So the Passover meal was eaten after the sunset of the 14th Nisan i.e. on the 15th Nisan.
The first fruits
Our Lord rose from the dead and appeared on Sunday as the first fruits of them that slept after the Sabbath Day (1 Corinth 15:20, Leviticus 23:11, Matt 28:1).
It is commonly said our Lord rose on "the third day" (Matt 16:21, Acts 10:40, 1 Cor 15:4). In other passages it says "after three days" (e.g. Mark 8:31). These two phrases must have the same meaning. Matthew 16:21 is from a parallel passage to the one containing Mark 8:31, recounting the time Peter said "Thou art the Christ", and yet Matt 16:21 uses "the third day" and Mark 8:31 uses "after three days". The two phrases have the same meaning. (See also Genesis 42:17-18, Matthew 27:63-64).
What is important to remember is the Jews used "inclusive counting": our Lord was including the remainder of the day on which he was speaking as one day within the three-day count.
The meaning of "on the third day" and "after three days"
In Luke's Gospel, our Lord was told Herod wanted to kill him. He replied
"Go ye, and tell that fox, Behold, I cast out devils, and I do cures to day and to morrow, and the third day I shall be perfected." (Luke 13:32)
Clearly, for the Lord Jesus and the Jews "the third day" signified the day after tomorrow.
The same meaning for "the third day" is found in Leviticus 7:15-17 where a peace offering must be eaten the same day it is sacrificed, a voluntary offering can be eaten the following day as well, but the remainder cannot be eaten the third day but must be burnt. Again, "the third day" here means "the day after tomorrow".
Three days and three nights
Jesus said he would be in the grave for "three days and three nights" in Matthew 12:40. This claim must harmonize with (the much more common phrase of) rising from the dead "on the third day", and "in three days" (John 2:19-20).
Maybe the Jews did not have a term such as a "24-hour day" to distinguish it from a "day" meaning the period of the hours of daylight and thus used the phrase "a day and a night" to mean a 24-hour day.
"Three days and three nights" is an idiomatic expression meaning a period including time from three consecutive 24-hour days. It is similarly used in Esther 4:16, where the fast ended on the third day (Esther 5:1). If the expression "three days, night or day" in Esther 4:16 were to be taken literally then the fast would have ended on the fourth day.
The Jerusalem Talmud quotes rabbi Eleazar ben Azariah, who lived around A.D. 100, as saying: “A day and night are an Onah [‘a portion of time’] and the portion of an Onah is as the whole of it” (from Jerusalem Talmud: Shabbath ix. 3, as quoted in Hoehner, 1974, pp. 248-249, bracketed comment in orig.). Azariah indicated that a portion of a twenty-four hour period could be considered the same “as the whole of it.” Thus, in Jesus’ time He would have been correct in teaching that His burial would last “ three days and three nights,” even though it was not three complete 24-hour days. (cf Hoehner, Harold W (1974), “Chronological Aspects of the Life of Christ—Part IV: The Day of Christ’s Crucifixion,” Bibliotheca Sacra, 131:241-264, July.)
The Jews counted the number of days in precisely the same way as they (usually) counted the number of years for the reign of a king: the reign length was the number of New Year's Days in his reign plus 1. (This was not always their practice - sometimes they copied the practice of surrounding nations.) So a king could have reigned for literally one year and two days, but if that contained two New Year's Days then the Jews recorded that he reigned for "three years". This practice is found in the Old Testament and was made clear by Edwin Thiele in "Mysterious Numbers of the Hebrew Kings".
It follows from all that since our Lord rose from the dead on Sunday morning then he was crucified on Friday. A Friday crucifixion makes "the day after tomorrow" a Sunday. (I'm sorry but I cannot take seriously the suggestion that He rose from the dead after Saturday sunset and hid away (in the sepulchre?) until Sunday morning.)
It used to be a commonly held view that the date of the crucifixion was arrived at by assuming the Last Supper was a Passover meal and therefore was eaten in the evening after the lambs were sacrificed on the afternoon of the 14th Nisan. For example, William Hendriksen in his Commentary on the Gospel of John claims the Friday was on the 15th Nisan. But Hendriksen et al. were relying on older inaccurate astronomical calculations. Modern astronomical calculations confirm that the Friday at Passover for both AD 30 and AD 33 fell on the 14th Nisan.
Another problem with this is that the 15th Nisan was the first day of the Feast of Unleavened Bread and was itself a special Sabbath Day (Lev 23:7). If the Friday was a 15th Nisan then it now seems to me disastrous for understanding John's account of the day of crucifixion, such as wanting to quickly bury our Lord because the next day was a Sabbath (John 19:31). This is incomprehensible if the day of crucifixion itself was 15th Nisan and therefore itself a special Sabbath day.
But what if the Friday (daytime) was the 13th Nisan? The problem with this is that the Sunday would then be the 15th Nisan and the first day of the week of Unleavened Bread, and the Sunday would then be a special Sabbath day or holy convocation and the women would obviously not have brought spices on that day. It would also mean that the first fruits wave offering would not be permissible until either the next day, Monday, or until the following Sunday after the weekly Sabbath which would have been the Sabbath during the week of Unleavened Bread (Lev 23:11). (Depending on their interpretation of "sabbath" in Lev 23:11, some Jewish religious leaders in the New Testament era believed the wave offering of the first fruits needed to be after the special Sabbath/holy convocation (i.e. always on the 16th Nisan) and some believed it needed to be after the weekly Sabbath (i.e. after Saturday) which happened during the week of Unleavened Bread (i.e. always on the Sunday).)
In consequence, if Christ is truly the first fruits then he must have risen from the dead on the 16th Nisan, on the second day of the Feast of Unleavened Bread, the day after what it turns out was a High Sabbath (John 19:31), being both the weekly Saturday Sabbath day and a special Sabbath being the first day of Unleavened Bread, the 15th Nisan.
From the above reasoning, the only remaining possible option is that our Lord was truly, in terms of timing, our Passover Lamb, dying precisely during the time the lambs were being sacrificed on the afternoon of Friday 14th Nisan, and the first fruits of them that slept (1 Cor 15:20), rising from the dead on the second day of the Feast, the day after the Sabbath (Lev 23:11), on Sunday the 16th Nisan.
(Before continuing, I think it is worth meditating the wonder of this: that the day of our Lord's resurrection, because he died on a Friday which was the 14th Nisan, and rose on a Sunday which was the 16th Nisan, that none of the Jewish religious leaders, no matter what their interpretation of "sabbath" in Lev 23:11, could have objected to the Apostle Paul likening our Lord's resurrection to the first fruits offering, "the first fruits of them that slept" (1 Cor 15:20). And Friday plus 14th Nisan is the only possible combination for which this is true.)
The above argument means the Last Supper could not have been a Passover meal according to the Conventional Jewish Calendar, because the lambs had not yet been sacrificed.
The Mystery of the Last Supper
But the Last Supper was a Passover meal: this is clear from the synoptic gospels. However, it was eaten before the lambs were sacrificed on the 14th Nisan (John 18:28).
How can this apparent contradiction be resolved?
Colin Humphreys in his book “The Mystery of the Last Supper”, takes the reader right back to Moses and examines the calendar the Jews used in the OT.
In Egypt, the Egyptian Calendar had each month start on the day the moon disappears and the day starts at sunrise (because the last crescent moon is seen in the morning), i.e. about 2 days before the Mesopotamian style calendars. The only change to this calendar commanded to Moses on leaving Egypt was to change the first month of the year to the one of the spring equinox (Exodus 12:1-2). Humphreys argues this was the only calendar, the Mosaic Calendar, used by the Israelites/Jews right up to the Babylonian Captivity.
(To understand why Moses writes "and there was evening and morning", indicating each 24-hour day started at sunset, in Genesis chapter 1, it needs to be realized that the first few chapters of Genesis originated, not with Moses, but in Mesopotamia (where the day began at sunset). Moses incorporated inspired scripture which had been written earlier by someone in Mesopotamia. See Who documented biblical events before Moses? for details.)
During the Babylonian Captivity, it was the elite and the nobility (or their children) who went into Babylonian Captivity. The poorer Jews were left in the land of Judaea.
The Babylonian Calendar was different to the Egyptian Calendar, and the Mosaic Calendar. For the Babylonians, the first day of the month was the day of the first sighting of the new crescent moon in the evening. For the Babylonians the new day and date change was at sunset (because the new crescent moon is seen in the evening), and the month started about two days later than the Egyptian and Mosaic Calendars.
The Jewish elite in Babylon adopted the Babylonian Calendar as their own. When they came back after the Babylonian Exile they brought back the new Calendar. But for the more ordinary Jews who had not been taken to Babylon but remained in Judaea and Galilee, a significant number of them retained the Mosaic Calendar.
After the Babylonian Exile there thus existed in Judaea two different calendars where the date of each day differed by about two days each month - the difference in days being the difference between the disappearance of the old crescent moon and the appearance of the new crescent moon.
The Temple, ruled by the elite, used the Babylonian-influenced calendar. People such as the Galilean fisherman, and maybe most in Galilee, used the Mosaic Calendar.
And yet everyone sacrificed the Passover lamb on the 14th Nisan and ate the Passover meal after sunset according to their own calendar. The upshot of all this, according to Colin Humphreys, is that our Lord Jesus ate the Passover on the day of the month instituted by Moses, but the Temple and most of the Jews sacrificed the lambs and ate the Passover two days later.
So, taking AD 33 as an example, for the Temple and most of the Jews, the 14th Nisan was on Friday when the lambs were to be slaughtered; but for our Lord Jesus and many others the 14th Nisan was on Wednesday of the same week. He and his disciples celebrated the Passover meal which was the Last Supper according to their Mosaic Calendar in the evening of Wednesday (which for them was still 14th Nisan).
(You can check for yourself online that the last appearance of the old crescent moon was on Wednesday morning 18th March AD 33 at "The Jewish Calendar" by Rita Gautschy: and so the moon did not appear on Thursday morning making it 1st Nisan: this would make Wednesday 1st April the 14th Nisan, during the afternoon of which the lambs were killed according to the Mosaic Calendar, and the Passover eaten after sunset which was still 14th Nisan.)
Our Lord was arrested in the night and early hours of Thursday, and finally crucified on Friday morning, which was the 16th Nisan in the Mosaic Calendar, but the 14th Nisan in the Majority Calendar, and died at the time the majority of the lambs were being slaughtered on Friday afternoon, 14th Nisan Majority (Babylonian influenced) Calendar.
On page 221, Humphreys gives evidence that some Jews, according to the Jewish “Tosefta Pesahim”, were bringing lambs to the Temple to be slaughtered before the official day of the 14th Nisan. In the Moses tradition in Egypt, the lambs were slaughtered outside the front door of the place where the meal was going to be eaten. It is this killing of the lamb themselves that the disciples might have been talking about when they spoke of “preparing the Passover” (Matthew 26:17, Mark 14:12, Luke 22:7-8), killing the lamb, not at the Temple, but at the front door of the place where they were going to eat.
So, according to Colin Humphreys, the Last Supper was a Passover meal, according to the Mosaic Calendar.
The two calendars revealed by the actions of the disciples
On Friday afternoon it is clear there was a bit of a rush for Joseph of Arimathaea to get our Lord buried and the stone rolled across the tomb before sunset, because for the Jewish authorities at sunset the Sabbath day started (John 19:31-42).
And we also see that Mary Magdelene was very keen to get back to the tomb to perform the rituals of the Jews for His body (Matthew 28:1, Mark 16:1, Luke 24:1, John 20:1) rising early, even just before dawn. But the question is... Why didn't she go to the tomb immediately after sunset on Saturday night, when the Sabbath day officially ended, according to the Jewish Calendar of the Jewish authorities? Why did she feel the need to wait until the dawn of Sunday morning? The mystery is resolved once we appreciate there were two calendars in operation. On Friday evening, Joseph of Arimathaea acted according to the requirements of the Babylonian-based calendar of the authorities: he either believed in this calendar himself or he obeyed it so as not to get into trouble with the authorities. But Mary Magdalene acted according to the requirements of the Mosaic Calendar in which the date and day changes at dawn: for the disciples the sabbath day did not end until the dawn on Sunday morning. The women on Sunday morning left where they were staying, possibly at Bethany or Bethphage, before dawn, taking advantage of the allowance of a "Sabbath Day's journey" in order to reach the tomb as soon as possible. By the time they had reached the tomb the sabbath day had ended. The actions of the disciples is evidence of two calendars in operation.
Our Lord's obedience even to the details of Moses' Law
Some have suggested our Lord was not particularly fussy about following conventions or legalistic rules. On the contrary, I put it to you that if our Lord Jesus had not celebrated Passover on the day that he did according to the Mosaic Biblical Calendar then he could not have been your Saviour or my Saviour or anybody's Saviour. He had to obey the Law of Moses in every detail, to be the spotless, sinless sacrifice.
When they celebrated the Last Supper it was our Lord Jesus and his disciples who were following the exact biblical pattern for the Passover meal given by inspiration to Moses and established through him as the pattern for all future generations. If Jesus had followed the Babylonian Calendar used by the Temple authorities, it would have been contrary to the law of Moses, there would have been a stain, a blemish on his otherwise sinless life. He could not have been our Saviour.
It follows from this that our Lord and his disciples, in the celebration of Passover, followed the Mosaic Calendar every year, and Joseph and Mary did too. Our Saviour throughout his life obeyed the Law of Moses in every detail.
Finally, notice what is said in Matthew 28:1 :-
"In the end of the Sabbath, as it began to dawn toward the first day of the week, came Mary Magdalene and the other Mary to see the sepulchre."
I guess most readers of this have known for many years that the Jewish day and date changes at sunset. And I guess we have all read Matthew 28v1 without really giving it much thought.. I know I have for nearly forty years. It tells us that Matthew was not using the Conventional Jewish Calendar based on the Babylonian Calendar. The Babylonian-based calendar was not the only calendar in use at the time. Matthew was using the Mosaic Calendar (when each day ended and the date changed at dawn rather than at sunset) rather than the Babylonian-based Conventional Calendar when the day changed at sunset.
Another verse to examine is Mark 14:12:
"And the first day of unleavened bread when they killed the Passover lamb..."
Here Mark cannot be using the Conventional Calendar in Mark 14:12, because in that calendar the lamb was certainly not killed on the first day of Unleavened Bread. There was no way the lamb was killed and eaten the same day: in the Babylonian-based Conventional Calendar the Passover was killed on the afternoon of the 14th and the Passover meal was eaten after sunset which was the 15th. With the Mosaic Calendar (when the day and date change at dawn) the Passover was killed in the afternoon and eaten after sunset on the same day, exactly as is being said in Mark 14:12.
The complexity of having two calendars running side by side is left out of the four gospel accounts. Amongst other reasons, maybe limited space did not allow for it. The synoptics were written before the destruction of the Temple. When John wrote his gospel after the destruction of the Temple he wrote his account of the last week in harmony with the Conventional Jewish Calendar, maybe because the Mosaic Calendar was not so well attested in the literature, which was written by the elite. It was the elite who would write the Talmud.
For more on this see "The Mystery of the Last Supper" by Colin Humphreys. See also an article by Rabbi Israel Drazin "Biblical days started at daybreak not sunset".
The following is a defence of the idea that the Last Supper was the "conventional" Passover meal held on the Thursday evening. In this case the Thursday would have been 14th Nisan and the Thursday evening (and Friday daytime) would have been 15th Nisan.
I no longer believe this view is possible: the killer blow is that for AD 30 and AD 33 the Friday was not the 15th but rather the 14th Nisan. Hendriksen believed the crucifixion was on Friday 15th Nisan AD 30. But in that year Friday was on 14th Nisan: Hendriksen (and others) who have thought the Friday was 15th Nisan were using incorrect astronomical data. In AD 33 also Friday was on 14th Nisan, not 15th Nisan. This completely ends the possibility that the Last Supper was a conventional Passover meal for these two years.
On the 14th the Passover lambs were sacrificed. The Last Supper could not have been a "conventional" Passover meal on the Thursday evening because the lambs were not yet sacrificed.
Having read "The Mystery of the Last Supper" by Colin Humphreys I now believe this resolves what has been a centuries long controversy.
Please do not mark this post up: it would be a meaningless vote. I only leave this post in situ because it summarizes William Hendriksen's attempt, which I think gets as close as any other attempt to justifying the view that the Last Supper was a conventional Passover meal.
I will post another answer briefly explaining Colin Humphreys' position. Thank you.
Was the Last Supper not the Passover meal?
Consider a few verses:-
It was just before the Passover Festival. Jesus knew that the hour had come for him to leave this world and go to the Father. Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end. (John 13:1, NIV)
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. (John 18:28)
And it was the preparation of the Passover, and about the sixth hour: and he saith unto the Jews, Behold your King! (John 19:14, KJV)
So it was before the feast of the Passover that Jesus ate the Last Supper with his disciples ((John 13:1); he was brought out to the people by Pontius Pilate the sixth hour during the preparation of the Passover (John 19:14); and the religious leaders did not want to go into the hall of judgment (John 18:28) because they did not want to defile themselves because they wanted to eat the Passover. What could be clearer? But not so fast.
In the blue corner we have the traditional view that the Last Supper was the Passover or at least it was eaten immediately after the Passover meal (see the answer of user900). For a defence of this position I shall rely on the Greek scholar and Bible Commentator, William Hendriksen, and his Commentary on John.
And in the red corner we have Colin Humphreys and his best selling book, “The Mystery of the Last Supper – Reconstructing the Final Days of Jesus”. I shall not comment on this position except to attack it. But, still, I give the name of the book for those who want to pursue the idea. A favourable review of Humphrey’s book is here:- https://www.evangelical-times.org/book/the-mystery-of-the-last-supper/
Before looking at various texts and arguments let me lay out the generally accepted views of what is meant by the Passover meal. The Passover meal was kept in commemoration of the night the Israelites left slavery in Egypt as described in Exodus 12:1-17 and Leviticus 23:1-8.
The Passover lamb was killed on the evening of the 14th day (Ex 12:6). The day following began the Feast of Unleavened Bread which lasted seven days (Lev 23:5-6). Strictly speaking there were two events, the Passover meal followed by the feast of Unleavened Bread lasting seven days.
But there are two problems with this:
Firstly, a comparison of Exodus 12:1-17 with Leviticus 23:1-8 can lead to some confusion: For instance, in Leviticus (23:6) the Feast of Unleavened Bread begins on the 15th, but in Exodus (12:18) it begins on the 14th. In Exodus the Feast starts on the 14th and lasts until the 21st “for seven days”, but actually that is eight days. And unleavened bread was eaten at the Passover meal (Ex 12:8). And in Ezekiel we read “In the first month, in the fourteenth day of the month, ye shall have the Passover, a feast of seven days; unleavened bread shall be eaten. (Ezekiel 45:21) So the terms “week of unleavened bread” and “Passover” can sometimes be used interchangeably.
Secondly, neither the Greek New Testament nor the Hebrew Old Testament uses the term “afternoon” with the single possible exception, in some but not all translations, of Judges 19:8. Even though Exodus 12:6 speaks of killing the lambs in the evening, the actual practice of the Jews in the New Testament era was to kill the lambs in the afternoon (Josephus, Jewish Wars, Book 6, chapter 9, note 3). In this case evening was therefore interpreted as the time after the sun started going down from its zenith at midday.
It would seem that the festival was eight days as long as you include the slaughtering of the lambs during the afternoon of the first day but that the eating of the festival was seven days remembering that the Passover meal was to be eaten after sunset when the first day had ended and a new day had begun.
Rather than try to understand this perfectly it is probably better to know what the Jews actually did in New Testament times.
According to Josephus, the lambs for Passover were sacrificed on the 14th Nisan: in his book “Antiquities” he relates “when the fourteenth day was come, and all were ready to depart they offered the sacrifice, and purified their houses with the blood” (Josephus, Antiquities, chapter 14, Paragraph 6).
And he also tells us the lambs were sacrificed from “the ninth hour till the eleventh”, that is in the afternoon (Josephus, Jewish Wars, Book 6, chapter 9, paragraph 3).
And Josephus speaks in one place of the Feast of Unleavened Bread lasting eight days, when strictly it was only seven days (Antiquities, chapter 15, paragraph 1): clearly he here includes the Passover (or is it the day of the afternoon sacrifice?) as part of the Feast of Unleavened Bread.
In Luke 22:1 just as in Ezekiel 45:21 the whole week is called Passover: ”Now the feast of unleavened bread drew near which is called Passover” (Luke 22:1). In Acts 12:3,4 "Passover" ("Easter", KJV) clearly means the whole week. And sometimes the whole week including the Passover is called the Feast of Unleavened Bread (Matt 26:17, Mk 14:1, Mk 14:12, Luke 22:7).
With this in mind let us examine the three verses mentioned at the start:-
On John 13:1
There is a huge difference between the NIV translation and say the ESV:
It was just before the Passover Festival. Jesus knew that the hour had come for him to leave this world and go to the Father. Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end. (John 13:1, NIV)
Now before the Feast of the Passover, when Jesus knew that his hour had come to depart out of this world to the Father, having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end. (John 13:1, ESV)
William Hendriksen argues for a translation very similar to the ESV, but perhaps more clear:
"Now Jesus, knowing (already) before the feast of the Passover that his hour to depart out of this world (and to go) to the Father had arrived, having loved his own on the world, loved them to the uttermost." (John 13:1, Hendriksen)
In the ESV and in Hendriksen’s translation “before the feast of the Passover” indicates when Jesus knew. It does not indicate when the events described actually happened.
On John 18:28
Then they led 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. (John 18:28)
This is more difficult: but these religious leaders were hypocrites, and I think we can rely on them to ignore the spirit of the law, just so long as they felt they could keep the letter of the law. And who shall decide the exact interpretation of the law except they themselves? And when the law says that none of the lamb shall be left until the morning, who decides when the morning starts? It is clear to see that they wanted a very quick decision from Pilate. With this in mind..
The Passover lamb had to be eaten during the night, it could not be left until morning. And it was already morning when they first delivered Jesus to Pontius Pilate (Mark 15:1), so the dawn had already started when they chose not to enter the judgment hall (John 18:26). But after this Pilate sent Jesus to Herod, and after Jesus had been sent back to Pilate by Herod it was still (only) about the sixth hour, that is about 5am or somewhere between 5am and 6am. So at the time the Jews chose not to enter the judgment hall, even though the dawn had started, they felt there was still time to eat the Passover before the start of sunrise, which I suppose they themselves had decided was the time after which the Passover could not be eaten.
On John 19:14
And it was the preparation of the Passover, and about the sixth hour: and he says unto the Jews, Behold your King!
In John’s Gospel the term “unleavened bread” is never used, but only “Passover”. When John speaks of the whole week of festival he uses "Passover", eg John 2:23.
Where Scripture speaks of the “preparation of the Passover” (John 19:14) it means preparation day of the Passover week, meaning the Friday of Passover week. “Preparation Day” was the day of preparation for the Sabbath day (John 19:31). Even today, in the Greek language the literal meaning of the word for “Friday”, Παρασκευή -Paraskevi, means “preparation”.
This is confirmed in Mark’s Gospel:
And now when the even was come, because it was the preparation, that is, the day before the Sabbath.. (Mark 15:42).
There is no contradiction between John’s Gospel and the other three. The Passover lambs were slaughtered on the afternoon of Thursday the Nisan 14th, the Last Supper which was the Passover meal was eaten after sundown on Thursday the 15th Nisan, our Lord was crucified on Friday the 15th Nisan and rose again the third day. And to understand what “third day” means we can read what our Lord said:
And he said to them, “Go and tell that fox, ‘Behold, I cast out demons and perform cures today and tomorrow, and the third day I finish my course. (Luke 13:32)
Was the Last Supper not the Passover meal?
John 18:28 - they did not enter into the Praetorium so that they could eat the Passover ...
Which means: NO, the Passover feast had not been eaten yet.
It is possible to resolve all contradictions by removing the traditional beliefs, and considering the fact that weeks can have double Sabbaths involving high holy days.
The Consummate Refutation of Christianity—if the Last Supper was a Passover Feast
On it's face, the question presupposes that the many thousands of Passover Lambs had already been sacrificed.
If Jesus' death wasn't the fulfilment of the Passover Sacrifice, then consequently—all New Testament theologies and apologetic arguments are irretrievably lost.
In other words, The traditional doctrine that the Last Supper was a Passover feast is antithetical to Jesus being the fulfilment of the Passover laws and promises.
There are simply way too many contradictions and direct textual statements that contradict this Tradition—and yes, that theology is only a Tradition.
If the Last Supper was actually a Passover feast, then Jesus and his disciples broke many Passover laws. See the Hermeneutics post: According to the Gospels, Was the Last Supper Actually a Passover Feast?.
The Last Supper was not a Passover seder. The Passover seder occurred immediately before the Last Supper during the same evening. This is only evident when we closely examine the Gospel of Luke.
In Luke 22:7, it is written,
Then came the day of Unleavened Bread during which the Passover lamb must be killed.
Ἦλθεν δὲ ἡ ἡμέρα τῶν ἀζύμων ἐν ᾗ ἔδει θύεσθαι τὸ πάσχα TR, 1550
This "day of Unleavened Bread" refers to Nisan 14, as the Jews reckoned even this day, although properly "the Passover" (Exo. 12:6), as the first day of the Feast of Unleavened Bread. In fact, they often called the entire "Feast of Unleavened Bread" by the name "Passover."1
Thus, on Nisan 14, the day on which the Passover lamb was to be slaughtered, the Lord Jesus Christ commands the apostles Peter and John to "go prepare the Passover so we may eat" (Luke 22:8). They then went to Jerusalem and found the man Jesus instructed them about (Luke 22:10-12), "and they prepared the Passover" (Luke 22:13).
In Luke 22:14, it is written,
And when the hour came, he reclined, and the twelve apostles [reclined] with him.
Καὶ ὅτε ἐγένετο ἡ ὥρα ἀνέπεσεν καὶ οἱ δώδεκα ἀπόστολοι σὺν αὐτῷ
The Lord Jesus Christ and the twelve apostles reclined and began to eat the Passover seder.2 He says to the twelve, "I have earnestly desired to eat this Passover with you before my suffering" (Luke 22:15). Then he says to the twelve, "I will not eat of it anymore until it be fulfilled in the kingdom of God." But, that Jesus ate then and there, it is certain (cp. Matt. 26:21; Mark 14:18).
The Lord Jesus Christ then receives a cup, gives thanks to the Father, and says to the twelve, "Take this [cup] and divide it among yourselves" ([Luke 22:17]]10). Based on these words, it is arguable that the Lord Jesus Christ himself drank from the cup; however, it seems likely that he did.3
Now, at this point, the Lord Jesus Christ had been eating the Passover seder with the twelve, and he drank a cup of wine and distributed to his apostles. After this, note the following:
In Luke 22:19, it is written,
And when he took bread, giving thanks, He broke [it] and gave [it] to them, saying, "This is my body which is given for you. Do this in my memory."
καὶ λαβὼν ἄρτον εὐχαριστήσας ἔκλασεν καὶ ἔδωκεν αὐτοῖς λέγων, Τοῦτό ἐστιν τὸ σῶμά μου τὸ ὑπὲρ ὑμῶν διδόμενον τοῦτο ποιεῖτε εἰς τὴν ἐμὴν ἀνάμνησιν
Luke 22:19 is the verse which demonstrates the commencement of the Last Supper.
In Luke 22:20, it is written,
Likewise, also the cup after eating the meal, saying, "This is the cup of the New Covenant, with my blood which is shed for you.
ὡσαύτως καὶ τὸ ποτήριον μετὰ τὸ δειπνῆσαι λέγων, Τοῦτο τὸ ποτήριον ἡ καινὴ διαθήκη ἐν τῷ αἵματί μου τὸ ὑπὲρ ὑμῶν ἐκχυνόμενον
Notice that the Lord Jesus Christ had already distributed a cup to the twelve (Luke 22:17) during a previous meal, and after eating that meal (μετὰ τὸ δειπνῆσαι), he takes bread (Luke 22:19) and then another cup (Luke 22:20)! This is the evidence that two meals are involved. Two cups; two meals. The first meal was the Passover seder; the second meal is the Last Supper. They are not the same meal. The Passover seder was not the Last Supper. The first cup was actually the last of the four cups of the Passover seder, thus completing the Passover seder. The second cup was the cup of the Last Supper.
John Gill on Luke 22:19,
Here begins the account of the Lord's supper after the passover was eaten.
Count the cups...it's only in Luke's Gospel, but it's there.
2 It was custom to recline while eating the Passover seder. See Jerusalem Talmud, Tractate Pesachim, Chapter 10, Folio 68b, Halakha 1: ולפי שדרך עבדים להיות אוכלין מעומד וכאן להיות אוכלין מסובין להודיע שיצאו מעבדות לחירות, that is, "Because it is the custom of slaves to eat standing, here [it is the custom] to eat reclining to proclaim that they have gone out from slavery to freedom."
3 See Meyer's commentary on Luke 22:17.
4 The phrase μετὰ τὸ δειπνῆσαι is the preposition μετὰ, meaning "after," followed by the substantive infinitive τὸ δειπνῆσαι, meaning "dining" or "eating (a meal)." It simply refers to eating a meal. Although the KJV translates it simply as "supper," as though it was a noun, it should not be assumed that this "supper" is the "Last Supper," as many may erroneously assume. BDAG defines the verb as, "to eat a meal (without ref. to time of day or type of food), eat, dine."
The entire week of Passover ("pascha") is a feast of unleavened bread, and as the following quote notes, the 14th of Nisan in popular usage is a holiday that was combined with the passover starting on the 15th, and so Jesus eating the passover on the 14th of Nisan was really all part to an 8 day passover period. The next day, the 15th of Nisan, is the Passover Sabbath, and it is treated like a Sabbath in which no work can be done regardless of which day of the week the 15th falls on (see Lev. 23).
. . . pascha can denote the meal that was eaten on the 14th of Nisan, the first month of the Hebrew calendar (Mt. 26:18-19; Lk. 22:8, 13; Heb. 11:28).
But it is also the case that the term pascha can refer to the entire eight-day period which included the feast of unleavened bread — thus from the 14th of Nisan to the 21st. Note this passage:
In the first month, on the fourteenth day of the month, you shall observe the Passover, a feast of seven days; unleavened bread shall be eaten" (Ezek: 45:21; cf. Lk. 22:1, 7; Acts 12:3-4).
F.W. Danker7 notes: “Popular usage merged the two festivals and treated them as a unity, as they were for all practical purposes.”
There were several “feasts” during this period (see 2 Chron. 30:22); the one mentioned in John 18:28 may have been on the day following the main Passover supper. It was called the Chagigah (sacrificial meal). This view is defended by many respectable scholars, e.g., Lenski and Edersheim. Edward Robinson has a clear and detailed explanation of this position that is worthy of serious consideration, and, in this writer’s judgment, this argument carries the greatest weight of evidence8.
Hebrew days run from sunset to sunset, and thus all on the same day Jesus at the Passover meal, was arrested that evening, had his trial that morning, was crucified and died on the cross during the daylight hours. This all occurred on the same day, the 14th of Nisan. There is no problem with Jesus eating the Passover on the 14th since popular usage combined the holiday of the 14th as part of the entire Passover week long holiday.