The Last Supper And The Sign Of Jonah (2)

The precise nature of the last meal that Jesus shared with his disciples, as well as the day and the date of His crucifixion, have been among the most debated topics throughout the history of the New Testament. In my last post, I discussed the traditional understanding of the story: The Last Supper was indeed the Passover meal (Seder) that took place on Thursday night, and on Friday, Jesus was crucified. This view seems to be supported by the Synoptic Gospels. However, there is a well-known problem of discrepancy between the synoptic Gospels and the Gospel of John, which apparently dates all these events a day earlier than the Synoptics. Numerous attempts were made to harmonize all the Gospels, in particular with the help of the ‘different calendars’ concept: If different calendars were in use, then the feast days were calculated differently by different groups. First, the scholars distinguished between the Pharisaic date of the Passover and the Saduccean date a day earlier, which might lie behind the Gospel of John. Even more evidence points to the fact that the Essenes also used their own calendar. The famous story of the man with a water jar[1] is based on that: a man carrying water could only have been an Essene; Essenes had their communities in various towns, and also in Jerusalem, and since they used a different calendar, their guest rooms were still available. That’s why Jesus knew that a room would be available for the Last Supper – and He may have followed their calendar as well.

We are going to discuss the alternative scenarios today. Once again, I want to emphasize that I don’t claim to have the final answers, nobody can be one hundred percent certain exactly how and when these events took place, however, we don’t have to stumble over this story: there are several plausible scenarios presenting the final days of Jesus. Moreover, even though I will share with you some Hebrew insights here, I still want us to remember that there is always the possibility that we are missing something.  “The secret things belong to the Lord[2]

 

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Personally, I don’t think it was the traditional Passover meal. Why?  First of all, as I’ve already mentioned, I have always been perplexed by the fact that when Judah left in the middle of the Last Supper “some thought, because Judas had the money box, that Jesus had said to him, “Buy those things we need for the feast[3]. In today’s Israel, everything would be closed during the Feast, but even if something was open, no pious Jew would think of buying something with the money on the Feast day. However, the most important argument, I believe, is found in a rule in the Mishnah:

A paschal lamb is invalid if it was slaughtered for those who will not eat it… [4]

The paschal lamb had to be eaten during the Passover meal.  The eating of the paschal sacrifice was the principal part of  Seder, and therefore the meal that happened BEFORE the sacrifice, by definition, could have not been Seder.

However, if it was not Seder, what was it? What was the nature of this meal? Before we actually start our discourse, let me share with you some additional quotations from Mishna, from the same tractate Pesachim:

… The sages say that in Judah they would work on the day before Pesacĥ until noon, whereas in the Galilee they did not work at all. As far as the [previous] night is concerned: Bet Shammai prohibit whereas Bet Hillel permit until sunrise.[5]

Where it is customary to work until noon on the day before Passover, people may work; where it is not customary to do so, people may not. When someone goes from a place where they do work to a place where they do not (or from a place where they do not to a place where they do) we apply the more severe restrictions of both the place where he comes from and the place he is going to…[6]

We see that there were different festival traditions in different places. As we all know, Jesus and his disciples were Galileans, therefore they would have observed the Galilean traditions. There were several differences between Judean and Galilean Passover observance, but the most important one was a special fast – the Fast of the Firstborns, in remembrance of the firstborn Israelites who were saved from death (that is why we read in Mishna that “in the Galilee, they didn’t work at all” on Passover day). The fast took place on Nisan 14, on the day of Passover[7].

In Hebrew, the last meal before the fast is called seudah maphsehket  (if you have ever been in Israel for Yom Kippur, you would know that seudah maphsehket, the last meal before Yom Kippur fast, is a very special event indeed).  Thus, in the Galilean tradition, there had to be this special meal at the beginning of Passover (Nisan 14th) called seudah maphsehket. After this meal, there would be a whole day fast – and the next meal would be the Passover meal, the Seder. In this sense, this meal was indeed the Last Supper[8].

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Let us now try to figure out the days of the week when all of this was happening. We will definitely need the sign of Jonah here, because there is no question that we can’t get three full days and nights from 3 pm on Friday till the early hours of Sunday. Sunday is a given, so 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 Firstborns. Jesus and the disciples ate this meal on Wednesday night, at the beginning of the Passover, as the day changed to Nisan 14.  Then Jesus was 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, Jesus died on the cross; and on Sunday, Nisan 17 – the Feast of Firstfruits[9] – Jesus was resurrected.

I would like to finish this article with the words from a wonderful study of L.  Piperov: “Crucifixion on 14th Nisan, Thursday, followed by the Day of Resurrection, by Sunday dawn, on 17th Nisan, would be an amazing confirmation of the Lord Jesus’ own prophetic words based on the prophet Jonah (Jonah 1:17):

For as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of a huge fish, so the Son of Man will be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth (Matt. 12:40; NIV)

Note that the Lord Jesus said days and nights, not nights and days! Indeed, arrest on late Wednesday night, followed by the terrible ordeal, including trial/humiliation/crucifixion and death and burial before sunset on the next day, Thursday (Day One in the heart of the earth), and Resurrection shortly before dawn on Sunday, correspond … accurately to these words”[10]

[1] Mark 14:13

[2] Deut. 29:29

[3] John 13:29

[4] Mishna, Tractate Pesachim, Chapter 5 Mishna 3

[5] Mishna, Tractate Pesachim, Chapter 4 Mishna 5

[6] Mishna, Pesachim, Chapter 4, Mishna 1

[7] You can read more about it in:  David H. Stern, Jewish New Testament Commentary, ­ Jewish New Testament Publications, 1995, p. 77

[8] For this idea, I am indebted to Tom Bradford from TorahClass.com

[9] Lev.23:10

[10] Lyuben Piperov, A Tale of Two Gospels, p.22; this study on Bible codes also confirms  Thursday, 14th Nisan as the  day of the Crucifixion

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.

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  1. Yeshua HaDerekh

    I agree that the “last supper” was the meal before the fast of the firstborn which would have occurred on Thursday evening. Yeshua ate nothing since He was on the cross the next day (the 14th) and He was a firstborn son. I disagree with the timeline. Yeshua died on the 14th (Friday) and was buried before sundown (the day of preparation). He remained in the tomb on the Sabbath and rose after sunset (which was Sunday the 16th, also Yom HaBikkurim). Yeshua ascended to His Father and presented Himself as the firstfruits offering. The sign was not that a dead man was in the tomb for 3 days…the sign was His Resurrection. You do not need 72 hours for a sign. BTW, a part of a day is counted as a whole. So we have 3 days from Friday to Sunday. We also have 2 witnesses on the road to Emmaus. They said it was the 3rd day since these events…Sunday was the 3rd day, Saturday was the 2nd day and the events occurred on Friday.

  2. Mangi Mfunga Mangi

    I would like to thank you very much for the detailed subject.Please may I join the Hebrew university of Jerusalem for full time studies? What are principles required in order to be admitted to the University? Online studies by using smartphone it’s somehow a difficult task to me because at the same time I’m too busy to my daily routines as practitioner.How can you help me to know the truth in the Bible (The Holy Scriptures)

  3. Patrick

    Julia,

    If this is accurate and it makes good logic to me, how does this fit with the timing of the synoptic view of that day?

  4. Christopher P. Kelley

    The Hebrew verse MOST QUOTED in the NT is from the Psalm, where David says,
    “Thou wilt not leave my soul in Sheol, [LXX: Hades]
    NOR SUFFER THY HOLY ONE TO SEE CORRUPTION.”
    The Rabbis understood & taught that corruption of a corpse set in on the 4th day.
    No embalming fluids were used to forestall this.
    Hence in St John 11, the sisters of Lazarus say, “LORD, by this time there will be a
    STENCH!” — Lazarus had been in his tomb four days.
    Peter & others who quote the Psalm understand it to apply to JESUS, Who was, as God,
    taking His Sabbath-rest from all His labors, on the Sabbath of that week, in the Tomb.
    Buried late on Friday, that was Day One. The Sabbath (of the week) was Day 2.
    The First Day of the Week (ask ‘Sunday’ / the Lord’s Day), counted as the Third Day.
    This was of CRUCIAL importance to the Apostolic Preaching. This point must not be
    minimized.

  5. Dorothy Healy

    As I read all these thoughtful and interesting comments I appreciate afresh how wonderfully we are made – each with the ability to form our own opinions from different perspectives as we interact with the Word of God. In the end, I don’t think it is so important exactly when Jesus was crucified – only that He was, and that he rose again and is seated at the right hand of the Father, and will come again in glory ….! Hallelujah!!

  6. Christopher P. Kelley

    Jan Wolniak, above, raises an important point from St Luke 24, which needs to be weighted more fully.
    The event of the Walk to Emmaus (down a steep Roman road that can still be followed, in part) takes place “that same day” – the First Day of the Week, following the Resurrection.
    The two say that it is “three days since these things took place” — with reference to the Crucifixion. Sunday-Sabbath-Friday (Paraskeva, the Day of Preparation for the Sabbath).
    NASA provides the evidence that the Paschal Moon rose over Jerusalem on Friday, April 3, 33AD, at 6:20pm.
    It was a “Blood Moon.”
    There was no other blood moon during the time of the Praefect Pontius Pilate that fell at Passover.
    This is the Blood Moon to which St Peter, quoting Joel, clearly had reference in his sermon on Pentecost, recorded in Acts 2. His reference clearly “resonated” with the “dwellers in Jerusalem” and unsettled them.
    GOD had set the Moon in its course for THAT FRIDAY.
    AS Dr Richard Larsen has demonstrated, with the help of sophisticated astronomical programs, if you happened to be ON the Moon at 3pm, Good Friday, looking toward the Earth (& the Sun), at that very moment, the Moon went into eclipse (not yet visible from Jerusalem). At that instant the Sun would have appeared to be in the zodiacal constellation of Ares, the Ram. “The Heart of the Ram Eternal” (Jesus) had
    just stopped!
    These are scientific facts.
    Whatever JESUS meant by His reference to Jonah, He did not contradict these facts. The facts enhance the veracity of Scripture; they in no way diminish it.

    A further point: In St Luke’s Gospel, the Lord’s Seder, in the Upper Room, is the SEVENTH Meal (Supper), NOT the “last”. The Supper at Emmaus is the EIGHTH — the “Messianic Meal”. And of course, in St John’s Gospel, there are meals after the Resurrection as well.
    It is not scriptural to refer to the Lord’s Seder as a “last supper.”

  7. henrietta wisbey

    Dear Julia
    The words from Hosea 6:1,3 come to mind:
    Come and let us return to the Lord
    for He has torn and He will heal us
    He has smitten and He will bind us up.
    After two days will He revive us
    In the third He will raise us up
    and we will live in His sight.
    Then shall we know if we follow on to know the Lord
    His going forth is prepared as the morning
    and He shall come to us as the rain
    as the early and the latter rain upon the earth.

    The theme of three days runs throughout Scripture., very often with reference to new life following a period of confinement. or concealment.
    I was particularly exercised by the reading from Gen.22:4,5
    Then on the third day Abraham lifted up his eyes
    and saw the place from afar
    Then he assures the young men with him
    I and the lad will go yonder and worship
    and come again unto you..
    I was so struck by that wonderful promise
    Completely fulfilled in Yeshua and of course waiting further fulfilment.
    I am reminded of your series on hidden Messiah
    when Christ opens their understanding and minds to see all that was written.
    I just love the way in which all these things dovetail together
    and we begin to see patterns and events unfold in the light of future happenings
    reminding us to be watchful and to wait to see what God the Lord would say unto us..
    P.S The words from Hosea are so full and rich in meaning and significance.
    May your series continually prompt us to seek and to see more!
    Henrietta

  8. Jan Wolniak

    I thougth that counting distance between days including starting day was Jewish tradition. That’s why counting from friday to sunday is three days. Is the same in Lev 23,16 ?
    The disiples who go to Emaus said that “it is now fthe third day since these things happened” (Luke 24,21).
    What day they think about ?

    1. Julia Blum

      You might be right , Jan. I wrote several times that I didn’t try to convince anybody in anything, I just wanted to show that the events of Jesus’ last days could be presented without discrepancies and contradictions – and if we see discrepancies and contradictions, we might be missing something. In my previous post, I quoted David Baron’s arguments in defense of the traditional view (Friday crucifixion). Baron wrote: ” the Jews who heard the Lord use the expression did not understand it to signify literally ‘three days and three nights’ for after the Crucifixion they came to Pilate saying, “Sir, we remember, while He was still alive, how that deceiver said, ‘After three days I will rise.’ Therefore command that the tomb be made secure until the third day.” So we see that, throughout the Old and New Testament, part of a day is counted as a whole day. Therefore, Baron concludes: Jesus indeed “may be said to have been in the grave ‘three days and three nights’: Friday, to which legally belonged the night of what we shall call Thursday; Saturday, consisting of the night of Friday and the day of Saturday; and Sunday to which belonged the night of Saturday and the very early morn of Sunday.”

  9. Phil B

    I was wondering how you arrived at Firstfruits being on the 17th Nisan? I understand the discussion of whether it falls after the festival Shabbat or the weekly Shabbat, but Josephus seems to show that in the first century, as in Judaism now, it was the former: ‘But on the second day of unleavened bread, which is the sixteenth day of the month [Nisan], they first partake of the fruits of the earth.’ (Ant. 3.10.5. [3:250])

    1. Julia Blum

      There are several points that can be mentioned here, Phil. First, I don’t think we can completely and in everything rely on Josephus. Second, even if the Jewish tradition observed the First fruits on Nisan 16, after the Festival Shabbat, it still doesn’t prove that it was the original God’s meaning of this verse. And if God meant it to be observed after the weekly Shabbat, Jesus’ resurrection would definitely comply with this meaning , of course.

  10. Pavel

    Dear Julia,
    My English is bad,so I can`t write a lot. Also the things are somehow hidden… but who is seeking will find them .
    The lack of knowledge always is something we can`t ignore…
    I can see in a lot of your explanation things that solve those problems.
    I only quote : “Your work in the Lord is not in vain”
    God bless you!
    Pavel

    1. Julia Blum

      Dear Pavel, thank you for your kind words, I am really touched. I hope to hear from you more on these pages ( and don’t worry about your English, it’s absolutely ok).

  11. Luis Enrique Antolín

    I don’t intend just to speak about this concrete matter of the exact day of crucifixion but I consider that makes sense to speak about symbolism,so important in tha case of Holy Scriptures.

    Resurrectio’s day is said to be the first day of the week,probably that is connected in a symbolical way with the first day of Creation,so Resurrection as meaning the New Creation.

    According to that symbolical way,Friday would be the last day of Creation, the day when human being was created.In such a meaning, the death of Jesus on Friday would be equivalent to the end of the first and at the same time old Creation, the end of the first and at the same time old human being.

    Greetings,Julia.

    1. Julia Blum

      I understand you point, Luis, this symbolism is beautiful and profound indeed, – however, I don’t think we can make our conclusions based on the symbolism. Besides, I didn’t try to prove anything – I just wanted to present a plausible theory how and when these events happened. It makes sense to me; but of course, there are other theories and other explanations, and my concept might be completely wrong. Still, there are details that it’s good to know: the difference between Judean and Galilean Passover, the Fast of the Firstborn, seudah mafseket etc.

  12. Lori Kovac

    This article really helps and solidifies my understanding of the timeline of Jesus’ ordeals, death, crucifixion and resurrection. However, we must avoid contentious arguments, as they so often lead to the alienation of those who might be saved.

    1. Julia Blum

      Thank you Lori, I am really glad you found this article helpful.

  13. Jerry Akinwe

    Dear Julia,
    Your piece has been very helpful to me. It fully agrees with a write up I did shortly before the Passover this year.

    See excerpts below. I hope it makes sense.

    The day of the week when Jesus was crucified has been in contention till date. But if the scripture must be fulfilled then Friday does not tally. The general observance of Good Friday as the day Jesus was crucified and rising from the dead Sunday morning has made many to postulate that Jesus did not stay in the grave for three days and three nights as foretold in the scriptures. If this is believed, then the scripture will be criticized. But the scripture is absolutely true.

    Jesus had said that as Jonah was in the belly of the fish three days and three nights so shall the Son of man be in the heart of the earth for three days and three nights. Literal reading of the four synoptic gospels which relay the accounts of the events of Christ crucifixion and resurrection can be confusing and misleading if read in isolation and out of context.

    Knowing that Christ was betrayed on the night He had the last Passover super with the disciples and was crucified the following day after a lengthy judgment gives a crucial clue. Another crucial pointer is that there are two types of Sabbath observed by the children of Israel. First, the weekly Sabbath observed from Friday 6pm till Saturday 6pm every week. Second, the annual Sabbath observed on the first and on the seventh day of the seven day feast of the unleavened bread.

    The weekly Sabbath was commanded to be observed as the day God rested from all His works. The annual Sabbath was commanded as a memorial of the deliverance of Israel from slavery in Egypt. The annual Sabbath is part of the 7 day long annual feast of the unleavened bread celebrated just after the annual feast of Passover. Once a year the two Sabbaths are observed all together within the same week. The week that Jesus was crucified happened to be one of such once in a year week having the two Sabbaths together.

    In the Jewish custom, the Passover is celebrated yearly and it is followed by the 7 day feast of unleavened bread. The first and the seventh day of the feast of unleavened bread are Sabbaths during which no one works except cooking meals. The preceding day is day of preparation.

    It is recorded that Jesus died on the day of preparation. Then the women after seeing where his body was laid bought spices the day after Sabbath (this is the Sabbath of the first day of the feast of unleavened bread). Then after the weekly Sabbath (that is on the first day of the week), they went to the tomb wanting to use the spices on the body of Jesus. But lo and behold, Jesus had risen. It is evident here that Jesus rose from the dead sometime between the end of the weekly Sabbath (6pm, Saturday and the dawn of Sunday morning).

    Going by the events that took place after Jesus was crucified and the day he rose from the dead, it can be seen that Jesus was crucified the day preceding the annual Sabbath (first day of the feast of unleavened bread). His body was hurriedly laid in the tomb purchased by Joseph, just before sunset (6pm). The next day after his death was the first day of the feast of unleavened bread which was Sabbath (no work allowed). The women bought and prepared the spices the day following this Sabbath. They were not allowed by law to work on the first day of the feast of the unleavened bread. After preparing the spices, they rested the following day being the weekly Sabbath. At the dawn of the first day of the week, the women came to the tomb but Jesus had risen before then. He rose at the dawn after the weekly Sabbath (Saturday).

    Putting all the events together, it moves one to accept that Jesus was crucified Wednesday. He was crucified Wednesday, everybody rested on Thursday (first day of the feast of unleavened bread). The women bought and prepared spices on Friday in preparation for his embalmment. Everybody rested Saturday (weekly Sabbath). Early Sunday morning, he was no more in the tomb.

    Looking at Wednesday evening to Saturday evening just before the braking into Sunday, it is clear that Jesus actually laid in the grave for three days and three nights.

    Note that the Jewish day starts 6pm till 6pm contrary to the contemporary 12 midnight till 12 midnight used today.

    1. Julia Blum

      Thank you Jerry, your writing makes a lot of sense to me. We ended up with different days ( I still think that we have more evidence to think that He was crucified on Thursday), but the course of our thoughts is similar.

  14. Dr. Doreen Brady- West

    Thank you so much for this very clear and logical explanation.

    Some persons accept a Friday crucifixion because some gospels say the following day was a shabbat.

    I think the following day (which started at sundown on Thursday) was the first day of the feast of unleavened bread , a holy daY.

    1. Julia Blum

      I agree, Dr. Doreen, I also think that the following day was a special Shabbat, the first day of the Feast of the Unleavened Bread, and not just the weekly Shabbat.