The Last Supper And The Sign Of Jonah (1)

Have you ever been to Mini Israel Park? This Park (located not far from the ancient village of Emmaus) is a wonderful attraction that offers hundreds of exact replica models of the most important sites of Israel. There are trivia questions and answers on almost every site and under every model; thus, during this Passover, I discovered that one of the questions about Jerusalem’s Old City is:  Did you know that the Last Supper of Jesus and His disciples was in fact, a Passover Seder? I don’t recall seeing this question in Mini Israel before, therefore I applaud Israel for recognizing Jesus as a Jew. The question is, however, do we really know it?

It is certainly too big a question to try and solve here – whether Jesus was crucified on that specific day, and at the time when the Passover lambs were slain in the Temple court, or whether it was the night of Seder when Jesus and His disciples had their last Supper and therefore it was Seder indeed. This question has been the subject of much discussion for a long time. Many respected scholars have commented on this topic over the years, so of course, I don’t expect you to accept my view as the only correct one. Thus, the purpose of these articles is not to prove anything or to give the final answers, the purpose is, first of all, to make it clear that this subject should not be a stumbling stone. Far too many people stumble over this ‘three days and three nights’ question, and I wanted to show that there are various possibilities to present the final days of Jesus as a very solid and non-controversial story. My second goal here is to bring some Hebrew insights into this discussion. Without knowing the interpretations and customs connected to Passover that existed among Jews at the time of Jesus, we can really miss a lot, and this is precisely where the explanation of the discrepancies we find in Scripture (for instance between the Synoptic Gospels and John) should be sought.

So, first we will discuss the traditional view: Jesus was crucified on Friday, 15th of Nisan, and the Last Supper was indeed the Passover Seder. According to this traditional view, the Passover meal takes place on Thursday night. Thursday day was 14th of Nisan, but at sundown it became the 15th of Nisan.  At sundown, at the beginning of the 15th of Nisan, at the time of the Passover meal, Jesus and His disciples gathered in the Upper Room in Jerusalem to celebrate the Feast. After the meal, very late that night or sometime after midnight, Jesus was arrested on the Mount of Olives.  At dawn, when the first lamb of the daily sacrifice is tied to the altar, Jesus is condemned by the Jewish court and sent to the Roman governor, Pilate. It should be noted that the word Pesach does not exclusively apply to the Passover lamb on the eve of the feast, but is used in scripture and in the Talmud in a wider sense for the entire festival, including the chagigah sacrifices which were offered on the 15th of Nisan.  Thus, at 9 am (the 3rd hour) when Jesus is crucified on the cross, the first lamb of the daily Chagigah sacrifice is offered up on the altar in the Temple. At the 9th hour, or 3pm, the hour of the second daily sacrifice, Jesus dies on the cross.

We all are aware of the difficulties bound up with this traditional approach (personally, I have always been perplexed by the fact that when Judah left, some thought, because Judas had the money box, that Jesus had said to him, “Buy those things we need for the feast[1]. In today’s Israel, everything would be closed during the Feast, but even if something was open, no pious Jew would think of doing something with the money, if it indeed was the Feast). However, the main question is:  How can we make three days and three nights if He died on Friday and was resurrected on Sunday? Hardly 40 hours have passed between his death and resurrection – so where are these three days and three nights? Where is the Sign of Jonah?


I love reading old commentaries of the earlier Jewish believers in Jesus (David Baron, Alfred Edersheim and others). Here is what David Baron writes on this subject: “The expression ‘three days and three nights’ is an Old Testament idiom carried over into the New Testament, and means not necessarily three whole days and three whole nights, but in round numbers a period of about three days.”[2]  In the case of Jonah, Baron continues, we have no means of knowing exactly how long he was in the belly of the fish. However, it can be proved from some other scriptures: for instance, in the book of Esther we read that Esther says to Mordecai: “Go, gather all the Jews who are present in Shushan, and fast for me; neither eat nor drink for three days, night or day. My maids and I will fast likewise” – but already “on the third day” she appeared before Ahaseurus.[3] To this argument, he adds: “I might point out also the fact that 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.[4] 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.”[5]

I have to admit that these arguments sound pretty convincing to me. However, if you are still not convinced, in my next post I will present my personal view of Jesus’ crucifixion (of course, you don’t have to agree with it). I think we have to remember that Jesus and his disciples were Galilean Jews who came to Jerusalem for Passover, and therefore we need to understand the differences between the Galilean Jews and Judean Jews – and to look there for the answers.



[1] John 13:29

[2] David Baron, Types, Psalms and Prophecies, Keren Ahvah Meshihit, 2000  p.361

[3] Esther 4:16-5:1

[4] Mat.27:63-64

[5] D.Baron, Types, Psalms and Prophecies, p.363

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:

Join the conversation (28 comments)

Leave a Reply

  1. Stephen Funck

    Dr. Blum, Excellent. Observations. It is recorded the “Pious Ones” – Essene observed the Passover the day before and Passover lambs are being sacrificed on both days. Many who write about this are unaware of the documented record. Seating was on divans – cushions or on the floor (no one expect high officials sat on chairs). People sat in circles around the food dishes. Our normal image is totally erroneous.
    Questions not one asks: How many were with Jesus? How could the upper room been available? The image of Jesus with the twelve is culturally impossible. He is the leader of a group of brotherly love, celebrating the great family supper. The disciples could not have left their families behind. The rest of His followers had to be there. The total could easily been over 250. Sitting in tight circles they could fit in a room 30 by 40. The prepared available room with the city packed tight with pilgrims is a miracle. There were 500 guest houses owned by synagogues and towns. There is documentation of Essene in that part of the city and tradition of their involvement. Could this have been an Essene guest house awaiting their arrival? The man went for water while he was gone word came the group was delayed and would not arrive. See for a fictional account of how it could have been. .

  2. Chris Whitaker

    Hello Julia and others

    There is an easy way to estimate the year as it was 46 years since the start of the rebuilding of the Temple by Herod. In 19 or 20 BC Herod declared that he was going to demolish the old Temple and rebuild a magnificent new one. Counting 46 years from 19 or 20 BC would bring us to 26 or 27AD more or less. Another tradition is that the day of the Passover on the 14th of Nisan fell on a Friday and in 27 AD this was the case.

    The next problem is the sequence of events between returning to Bethany 6 days before the Passover and His crucifixion. The day of the Passover is the 14th Nisan so 6 days before the Passover would have been the 9th as the method of counting at that time always counted the first and last day. The following day, the 10th Nisan was the day Jesus entered Jerusalem, this was also the day that the High Priest was to bring the Passover Lamb into the temple. Following the chronology of the synoptic gospels, each day up to and including the day of the Passover on the 14th can be accounted for, therefore Jesus must have eaten the Passover or Last Supper on the evening after the 14th which became the 15th at sunset.

    If the 10th was Palm Sunday then Jesus ate the last supper on the Thursday and according to tradition was crucified on the Friday. The problem with this is Jesus would have traveled from Jericho to Bethany on the Sabbath day, more than a Sabbath days journey, and was crucified on the 15th Nisan, the first day of the Feast of Unleavened Bread and therefore a Sabbath Day. The Jews wanted the crucified men taken down before the Sabbath so it is unlikely that they would have had anyone crucified on a Sabbath. Another anomaly is if the Friday was the day of the Passover then Nisan 10th would have been a Monday.

    If we take the Gospels of Matthew Mark and Luke the following order of events is revealed:-

    On the 10th day of Nisan Jesus made His Triumphal Entry into Jerusalem.
    Matt 21:1 – 17, Mark 11:1 – 11, Luke 19:28 – 46
    On this same day Jesus may have cleansed the Temple (Matt and Luke) but Mark has it on the next day.

    The 11th day, Jesus curses the Fig Tree.
    Matt 21:18 – 19, Mark 11:12 – 14

    The 12th day
    In the morning Peter commented that the Fig Tree had withered away. Mark 11:20 – 24…
    This is the same comment stated in Matt 21:20 – 22 but dose not clarify it was in the morning after the curse… Jesus leaves the Temple and predicts the destruction of Jerusalem Matt 24:1 – 2 just after His comment on the widow’s two mites Mark 13:1 – 2 Luke 21:5 – 6. This would possibly be the end of the day and the Mount of Olives discourse on the signs of the times and the end of the age came that night or the next day. Matt 24:3 to 25:46 Mark 13:3 – 37 Luke 21:7 – 36

    The 13th day the plot to kill Jesus. “You know that after two days is the Passover, and the Son of Man will be delivered up to be crucified” Matt 26:2. Day 1 the 13th and day 2 the 14th.
    And the chief priests and elders plotted to take Jesus and kill Him but they said, “Not during the feast, lest there be an uproar among the people” Matt 26:3 – 5 Mark 14:1 – 2 Luke 22:1 – 2
    The Anointing at Bethany Matt 26:6 – 13 Mark 14:3 – 9

    The 14th day Passover
    Preparation for the Passover and the start of the meal. Matt 26:17 – 30 Mark 14:12 – 26 Luke 22:7 – 38
    It is now the 15th day and the 1st day of the Feast of Unleavened Bread and Jesus is still alive and at liberty so what did I get wrong?

    I would like to offer a novel view for the cause of the three hours of darkness when Jesus was crucified.

    The synoptic gospels indicate that Jesus was still at liberty on the day of the Passover, to be more precise the day the Passover Lamb was to be killed and prepared for the feast that started as the Sun set.

    A high day according to a local Rabbi is when a ceremonial Sabbath falls on the seventh day of the week. However another source clams it to be the Sabbath day that starts the count of the Omar, a 50 day period leading up to the day of Pentecost and was always the first weekly Sabbath after the first day of the Feast of Unleavened Bread.

    If the High Sabbath mentioned by John is the start of the count of the Omar then the events of the feast of unleavened bread must unfold in the following manner.

    Nisan 14 the disciples prepared the Passover. After sunset, now Nisan 15, Jesus with His disciples eat the Passover, and sends Judas out to betray Him. After supper they go to the Garden of Gethsemane and Jesus prays for about three hours, then allows His disciples to sleep. When Jesus is arrested after sunset, must now be the following day, Nisan 16. Jesus is arrested tried and finally crucified, died and was laid in the tomb “and that day was the preparation for the Sabbath drew on.”

    If the gospels are to be taken as accurate and Jesus ate the Passover according to the Law of Moses, the day of preparation that Jesus was placed in the tomb could not have been the preparation for the Passover but must have been the next preparation day. As the woman went to the tomb on the first day of the week, the previous day must have been the High Day. The next ceremonial Sabbath after the Passover would be Friday the seventh day of the Feast of Unleavened Bread but in 27AD the following day was the High Sabbath, and the women would not have gone to tend a dead body on either Sabbath day. The only conclusion that one can make is the day of preparation must have been the Thursday with Friday and Saturday as back to back Sabbaths.

    If the writers of the gospels were using Roman terminology then the sixth and ninth hour may also be a Roman term equal to six and nine o’clock on our clocks today. In the Passover week the Sun sets in Jerusalem around six o’clock and it would go dark. But where dose it say that it came light at the ninth hour? The only reference to the ninth hour is that is when Jesus died. The only year that will fit with the above is 27AD, the Passover falling on the evening of April 11th , the crucifixion on the 16th and the entombment on the 17th. The High Sabbath beginning at sunset on the 18th to the 19th and resurrection sometime after sunset.

    1. Julia Blum

      Thank you for your comment, Chris. I think, it is a very plausible scenario indeed. I have another opinion, though, and it will be presented tonight or tomorrow in my next post. However, nobody can know for sure when and how these events happened. Maybe you are right, maybe I am right, maybe neither one of us is right. “The secret things belong to the Lord”.

  3. David Russell

    Hello Professor Julia and others,
    I am interested to learn more from part two and thoroughly enjoy your posts each week, and occasionally go back and read ones by Dr. Eli from the Gospel of John. Could you clarify a couple points: First, Celebrating Passover vs. the notion that Yeshua is our Passover so, believers do not need to observe the conventional Passover; second, on the first day of the week, Mary goes to the tomb to anoint the body of Yeshua. He is risen at this time. Is this Sunday morning as we understand it according to the calendar then? Thanks again, and also thanks to Ms. Val Smith for her post!
    David Russell

    1. Julia Blum

      Hello David, I’ll start with your second question. Yes, the First Day of the week is Sunday – it’s still called Yom Rishon , First Day, even in Modern Hebrew. As for celebrating Passover, I think it depends on whether we speak of Messianic or Christian believers. The commandment to observe Passover was given to the people of Israel; therefore I do believe that the Messianic believers have to observe it – and usually, they do.

  4. Lev Azkhar

    Yahshúa Ben David was crucified Wednesday the 9th, in the year 32 of our era, right after 3 pm (ninth hour).
    He was in the heart of the earth 3 days and 3 nights just as He said. He resurrected after 3 pm on Saturday the 12th.
    On sunday morning was not in the grave.
    He was dead Wdnesday night, Thursday day time and night, Friday day time and night, and Saturday day time until after 3 pm. 72 hours in total. JUST AS HE SAID.
    If you want to know how I figured out this in The Bible, get in touch with me through an email.

    1. Julia Blum

      Yes, Lev, I know several people who share your belief. At some point, I too was inclined to this opinion. My current view will be presented in my next post, on Thursday.

  5. Val Smith

    Hi Julia
    I have known that Yeshua and his disciples were meeting to share the Passover meal since I was a child (70 now). I am not alone, it has been widely taught in the established churches. ( I happened to go to a Methodist Sunday School) We were given a good foundation in O.T. scripture to bring to our understanding of the Jewish Messiah and our Saviour, whom you amazingly share with us. This education is continued today. What I didn’t know was that Jews continued to accept Yeshua and remained Jews, even the early Apostles. That is quite a revelation, but shouldn’t be. It is really important to understand and still know that we are bound together by God’s grace, as His people whom he loves, despite our disagreements and many failings.

    1. Lev Azkhar

      Hi Val
      Your comment is totally right and refreshing. Specially the las 3 paragraphs. May Adonai bless you

      Lev Azkhar

    2. Julia Blum

      Thank you so much for your wonderful comment, Val, it has touched so many people here – and it has touched my heart as well. Thank you !

  6. Premkumar Samuel

    I think the traditional view is based on the assumption that the Sabbath at sundown was the weekly Sabbath.
    John clearly mentioned that it was a high Sabbath.
    Looking forward to your views on the next post.

    1. Julia Blum

      You are right Samuel, I think you would agree with the scenario that I will offer in my next post.

  7. jane z mazzola

    Dear Julia,
    This is wonderful & insightful. I find every bit of knowing & analysis an exciting opportuniy. Just last week, I attended the 1st Paßover Seder to which I have ever been invited, sponsored by & invited by a Messianic Jewish Faith Community in Pensacola, Fl while I was visiting. It all makes my belief more profound. Also, that maybe there is some Divine orchestration at work. Thank you again. I will look forward to your own interpretations.
    Jane mazzola

    1. Julia Blum

      Thank you, Jane, it’s always a joy to hear from you! I know you have a very inquiring mind, and I am so glad you find my articles helpful!

  8. Steve Barnes

    Why could it not simply be three full days and nights? If partial days are are counted as whole 24 hour days and God is in agreement then could it be God used partial days during the 6 days of creation? For that matter if partial days are kosher then can we start Shabbat early or late and conclude it using the same reasoning?

    1. Julia Blum

      Hi Steve, I just quoted David Baron, it’s his understanding, not mine. Personally, I am with you, I also believe that Yeshua spoke of three full days and nights. In my next post, I will present some different concepts – and they are based, first of all, on the “sign of Jonah”.

  9. David Hereford

    Julia, this is one of those “questions” we don’t discuss hardly at all anymore because we like to keep His unity. You just have this way of bringing to our hearts and minds the things that we have discounted and let reside at a lower level of our conscience.
    Then you show up with words of wisdom and encouragement from Him to live as whole people of God!

    Thank you Sister!

    1. Julia Blum

      Thank you David! You always find the words that really touch my heart.

  10. Karl Frank

    Perhaps one maybe able to shed some light ? Doesn’t the Greek word that is actually used mean “reclining” as in the L-d’s Supper ? Then if that be accurate why have a picture at the top of this article where J-sus and disciples are actually sitting at a table ?

    1. Bill Hawkins

      You mention your text covers the traditional understanding of this period of time. Meaning presumably from sundown at the end of the 14th of Nissan, to near sundown at the end of the 15th of Nissan. If I understand you correctly, you state Jesus was crucified on the 15th of Nissan. How do you reconcile this with the very clear instructions the 15th was a high day, meaning an annual Sabbath, specifically the first day of the Festival of Unleavend Bread. Further, we are told the officials had to break the legs of the two criminals so they would die and be able to be taken down, because the dead had to be buried before the high day John 19:31. I am curious how it can be said Jesus was crucified on the 15th of Nissan, based on the accounts we have in the Gospels.

      1. Rahel

        It is very interesting to explore the different possibilities and rule out the ones that don’t work. I think this is not Julia’s final answer, but she is just taking us through some religious and cultural arguments that help us in figuring out what really happened. I personally think it is of great value to know the Jewish culture – and you will see, Julia also mentioned something about the Galileans – their traditions were different and that might have a role to play in this.
        This post was just a starter, what people usually think and how they validate their decisions. However, I am sure more is coming. The more I study the Holy Scriptures, the more it becomes clear that HaShem works according to patterns. And the Jewish Feast were a shadow for what was/is to come. So for me it makes sense that Yeshua fulfilled the passover exactly the way HaShem ordained it to be kept.
        Looking forward to the next post.

        1. Julia Blum

          Thank you for your questions Bill, – and thank you so much for your answer, Rahel! You are right, this post was just a starter, more is coming . I started with the traditional view – but in my next post, I will present other views as well. As I wrote, I don’t claim to have the final answers, I just want to bring some Hebrew insights into this discussion. I believe they are absolutely necessary if we want to understand when and how the crucifixion happened.

    2. Julia Blum

      Hi Karl, if the Lords supper was the Passover Seder, they were indeed reclining; unfortunately, I am quite limited in my choice of the pictures, therefore not always I can find a picture that would completely correspond to my message. Besides, I am not even sure it was Seder; I will write more about in my next post.

    3. John Moyes

      There is a book called “What really happened the day Jesus Died by Marriat Dinsmore who was an atheist trying to prove the Bible was a myth the result after much searching he became a Christian and wrote the book mentioned above. where he proves that the Biblical account was three literal days and nights. It is hard to dispute his writing and he actually places the reader in Jerusalem at the time. and talks about the three Sabbaths in a row. Well worth reading.