My dear readers, since I’ve received a number of questions regarding the Last Supper, I’ve decided, once again, to address the issue on these pages. 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. Was Jesus crucified on that specific day, and at the specific time when the Passover lambs were slain in the Temple Court? If so, then the Last Supper could not be a Seder—the festive meal that marks the beginning of the Passover. However, if it was the first night of the Passover, when Jesus and His disciples had the Last Supper, in this case, it was Seder indeed. So, what was this supper?
This question has been the subject of much discussion for a long time. Many respected scholars have commented on this topic over the years, and of course, I don’t expect you to accept my view. The purpose of these articles is not to prove anything or to give the final answers: I merely want to show that there are various possibilities to present the final days of Jesus as a solid and non-controversial story. Towards this end, I would like to bring some Hebrew insights into the discussion. Without knowing the Passover customs that existed at the time of Jesus, we can really miss a lot, – and this is precisely where many answers and explanations of the discrepancies in Scripture (for instance between the Synoptic Gospels and the Gospel of John) should be sought.
Let us first discuss the traditional view: Jesus was crucified on Friday, 15th of Nisan, and the Last Supper was indeed a Passover Seder. According to this traditional view, the Passover meal takes place on Thursday night. The day of Thursday 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.
This view seems to be supported by the Synoptic Gospels. However, we are all aware of the difficulties bound up with this traditional approach. First of all, 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 promising is the fact that the Essenes also used their own calendar. The famous story of the man with a water jar 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.
There are several other problems connected to this 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”. 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 of course is: where is the sign of Jonah? 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 – where is the sign of Jonah?
Personally, I don’t think it was the traditional Passover meal. Why? We read in the Mishnah:
A paschal lamb is invalid if it was slaughtered for those who will not eat it… 
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.
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…
We see that there were different festival traditions in different places – and if people travel, the more severe restrictions would apply. As we all know, Jesus and his disciples were Galileans – and the most important difference between Judean and Galilean Passover observance was a special fast – the Fast of the Firstborn, 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 Galilean fast took place on Nisan 14, on the day of Passover.
In Hebrew, the last meal before the fast is called seudah maphsehket (if you have ever been in Israel for Yom Kippur, you 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.
If you like the articles on this blog, you might enjoy also my books, you can get them from my page: https://blog.israelbiblicalstudies.com/julia-blum/ . My last book “Unlocking the Scriptures”, with the Hebrew insights into the Torah and Jewish Background insights into NT, is available on Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/s?k=unlocking+the+scriptures+by+julia+blum&crid=2IHYED6W7ZVYI&sprefix=julia+blum+%2Caps%2C689&ref=nb_sb_ss_i_4_11
 Mark 14:13
 John 13:29
 Mishna, Tractate Pesachim, Chapter 5 Mishna 3
 Mishna, Pesachim, Chapter 4, Mishna 1
 You can read more about it in: David H. Stern, Jewish New Testament Commentary, Jewish New Testament Publications, 1995, p. 77
 Initially, I am indebted to Tom Bradford from TorahClass.com for this idea.