Did Jesus Eat Matza: The Passover And The Feast Of Unleavened Bread.

The Jews around the world are still in the middle of that weeklong celebration that has come to be known as Pesach, or Passover—both in the common language and in the liturgy. However, there is some confusion regarding the Passover and its biblical meaning, and today I would like to address this confusion. This might shed some light on the Gospel accounts as well.

 

THE BIBLICAL FEASTS

In Mark 14:1 we read:

After two days it was the Passover and the Feast of Unleavened Bread.

Here we see something that is clearly stated in the Torah: even though “since the destruction of the second Temple, when the offering of the paschal lamb was no more possible, the Passover and the Feast of Unleavened Bread became confounded in the minds of the Jews, and the terms are used by the Rabbis interchangeably, but originally and in the Divine plan they were distinct, though in the most intimate possible relation with one another.”[1]  Let’s examine these verses from Leviticus 23:

On the fourteenth day of the first month at twilight is the Lord’s Passover. And on the fifteenth day of the same month is the Feast of Unleavened Bread to the Lord; seven days you must eat unleavened bread.

Thus, we see that the Torah refers to Passover on the 14th of Nisan, and to the “Festival of Unleavened Bread” on the 15th of Nisan.  The Feast of the Unleavened Bread begins on the evening, when 14th of Nisan becomes 15th of Nisan (Jewish days begin at nightfall, as you may know). What is the “Passover” on the 14th, then?  It is the Passover offering, which was slaughtered on the 14th and eaten that night—the 15th—together with matzah, at the onset of the Festival of Matzahs.

 

THE SHEAF OF FIRST-FRUITS

There is more, however. Let us continue our reading of Leviticus 23.  Next in order to the Passover and the Feast of the Unleavened Bread, we have in this chapter the presentation of the “Sheaf of First-fruits”

He shall wave the sheaf before the Lord, to be accepted on your behalf; on the day after the Sabbath the priest shall wave it.  And you shall offer on that day, when you wave the sheaf, a male lamb of the first year, without blemish, as a burnt offering to the Lord.

The meaning of the words “the day after Shabbat” has been the subject of a centuries- long controversy: whether Shabbat here means a weekly Shabbat or the first day of the Feast of the Unleavened Bread; whether the first-fruits are celebrated on the first day of the week (Yom Rishon, Sunday) or on the second day of the Feast of the Unleavened Bread.   But in any case, these verses should help us better understand the Gospel accounts regarding Jesus’ death and resurrection.  According to the Gospels, on the first day of the week (Yom Rishon, Sunday) Jesus was resurrected.  If Sunday is a given,  then,  to make it simple, we will just count three nights back and arrive at Thursday, and then everything else falls into place. It was on Wednesday Nisan 13 that the disciples prepared this special meal that we call the Last Supper and that was, in fact, seudah maphsehket – the last meal before the Fast of the Firstborn. Jesus and the disciples ate this meal on Wednesday night, at the beginning of the Passover, as the day changed to Nisan 14.  Jesus was then arrested at night, tried and convicted early on the Thursday morning, and then crucified during the day – and all this happened during Passover day, Nisan 14, Thursday. Thus, on Thursday, Nisan 14, the day of the Passover sacrifice, Jesus died on the cross. On Sunday, Nisan 17 – the celebration of the First Fruits – Jesus rose from the death.

 

DID JESUS EAT MATZAH?

Thus, we find three different festivals during that weeklong celebration that we call Passover today.  Do we find all three of them in the last chapters of the Gospels? Jesus died on the day of Passover; Jesus rose from the death on the day of First  Fruits; but did he miss the Feast of Unleavened Bread then, if he died before the Feast began?

Last year, we spoke a lot about the Emmaus story from the last chapter of Luke’s Gospel. We spent some time discussing the meal the disciples had with Jesus   after they had “constrained him and he went in to stay with them”. We read:

Now it came to pass, as He sat at the table with them, that He took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them.  Then their eyes were opened and they knew Him.

Sharing meals has always been a very important part of Jewish community life. At the beginning of the meal, the traditional blessing is always said as the bread is broken: “Barukh attah ‘Adonai ‘elohenu Melekh ha-olam ha-motzi lechem min ha-aretz” – “Blessed are You, Lord our God, King of the Universe, who brings forth bread from the earth”. In the Babylonian Talmud, we read: “The host should break bread” (Berakoth 46). In Jewish tradition, the host – the head of the household – is the one who always says the blessing and breaks the bread. Strangers who are invited to the meal usually wait for directions from their host and quietly receive what is set before them. However, that is not what we see here!

We have already spoken about this meal and about the strange peculiarity that marked this guest’s behavior. Clearly this was not a regular guest!  Instead of waiting for his host’s direction, this stranger is taking the host’s place: He is saying the blessing and breaking the bread! We can imagine that this behavior must have caught the attention of everyone in the house. If you are interested to read more about this meal it and to find out what exactly this unusual authority meant, I can refer you to my article on this blog: “Key Number Four: Blessing the Bread”.

But we also have to remember that it was still the Passover week. In any Jewish house, there could be only Matzah on the table during this week. The Blessing on Matzah would have been added to the regular blessing: “Blessed are You, Lord our God, King of the Universe who makes us holy through Your commandments, and commands us to eat Matzah.”   While in Emmaus, Jesus took part in a  regular Jewish meal of Chol Ha-Moed (Passover week) – and this means that, even after his resurrection, Jesus still observed the Biblical Feast of Unleavened Bread.

 

 

 

[1] David Baron, Types, Psalms and Prophecies, Israel, 2000, p.22

 

 

If you’ve  liked the articles on this blog, you might enjoy also my books,  you  can get  them  through my page on this blog,  https://blog.israelbiblicalstudies.com/julia-blum/.

About the author

Julia BlumJulia is a teacher and an author of several books on biblical topics. She teaches two biblical courses at the Israel Institute of Biblical Studies, “Discovering the Hebrew Bible” and “Jewish Background of the New Testament”, and writes Hebrew insights for these courses.

You might also be interested in:

Rosh Hashanah: Happy Birthday,...

By Julia Blum

Beginnings: Noah’s ark

By Julia Blum

Join the conversation (15 comments)

Leave a Reply

  1. CHUA

    Thank you Julia for such a wonderful article. The Passover meal, Jesus’s last supper, holy communion, has been a subject of my interest. And this is my first time reading the blog of the institute, having just signed up as a student.

  2. Crypto Newa

    Hi this is nice article http://cryptonewspro.in

  3. Bill Hawkins

    Ms. Blum, I have read a considerable amount of what you have written on this as well as your answers to commentators on this topic, but I still am confused as to why you believe that during the the year of Jesus’s death, Abib 14 occurred between what we, using the Gregorian calendar, would label sunset Wednesday night through daylight Thursday, and end at sunset Thursday. Perhaps I have missed that section of your work.

  4. Rosalia

    Awesome teachings,Julia.Remain blessed.

  5. James

    So, I don’t understand. If Yeshua was dead at the end of Nisan 14, then He didn’t eat the Passover meal that same evening which became Nisan 15. What was the meal He ate with the disciples then?

    1. Tracy Fisher

      The meal He ate with His disciples was the Passover meal eaten at the start of Nisan 14 (that is the evening of the Wednesday), being the actual time the Israelites ate the meal in the story in Exodus. The Israelites were told to celebrate this meal at this time until they arrived at the ‘place where God was taking them’, that is, Jerusalem in the promised land. When they arrived here they were then to celebrate this meal on the evening of the15th, preparing the meal during the day of the 14th, which was indeed at the very time Jesus was being prepared for His sacrifice. God then provided a time for Jesus to celebrate this meal with His disciples AND fulfil the Spring feast festivals.

    2. Julia Blum

      No, James, in my opinion it was not Seder, it was Seudah Mafseket – the last meal before the fast of Firstborns that the Galileans observed. For more details, you can read my article on this blog :”The Last Supper and the sign of Jonah (2)”. (You can find all the old articles in the archives of this blog. But here is the direct link for your convenience:
      https://blog.israelbiblicalstudies.com/jewish-studies/last-supper-sign-jonah-2-2/

    3. day

      Yeshua was “brought forth from the earth” on First Fruits. The 18th day of Aviv (Nisan) turned out to be the first day of the week in the year 30 CE. (The new moon was dark as it began the month of Aviv.) The moon was full as the seven days of Unleavened Bread began. The 18th day of Aviv (Nisan) was the fourth day. The 15th, 16th and 17th days had past. The 18th, 19th, 20th and 21st remained to be kept by the Torah-observant.

  6. Deedee Gee

    Thank you Julia for this wonderful article. I had believed that the Wednesday evening Passover meal by Jesus with His disciples occurred at the start of 14 Nissan.

  7. shira1947

    I am enjoying the insights taught by Julia Blum.

  8. Marcia New

    Julia, what a great article! Especially pinpointing the day Jesus died! My Christian friends all celebrate “Good Friday” but pay no attention to the Scripture, especially Luke 24:21 (which also clearly pinpoints the day). Very good article!

  9. Chris Whitaker

    Why were the two men on there way to Emmaus during the week of the Feast of Unleavened when Jews are required to stay in Jerusalem until the end of the Feast?

    The obvious answer is the Feast was over and this event happened after the seventh day of the feast, that would be after Nisan 21.

    1. Lois

      I am afraid you are forgetting that the passage says that they said to Jesus, it is now the third day since these things happened and they are referring to his crucifixion ! Therefore it cannot be Nisan 21 but must be the 17th.

      1. Tracy Fisher

        …wouldn’t you leave in utter desolation of the murder of the Messiah or for fear of the same being done to you, being a disciple?

    2. Julia Blum

      Chris, I can only repeat what Lois and Tracy wrote already. Re the timing : they themselves say very clearly that “it is now the third day since these things happened”, so I think there is nothing to argue about . As for the reason – as Tracy wrote, they were both devastated and scared, and I honestly don’t think they cared much about mitzvot at that point. I can refer you to my book, As Though Hiding His Face, it discusses “The road to Emmaus story” at length.