bread, between the evenings, Christian Passover, Law Moses, Law of Moses, animal sacrifice, Abraham covenant, Israel exodus
There has been a controversy over the timing of the Passover. The issue revolves around whether the original Passover in Egypt took place on the night that separated the thirteenth and fourteenth of Abib or the fourteenth and fifteenth of Abib. Those who have debated the issue typically focus on the phrase “between the evenings”, which is the literal meaning of the Hebrew words spoken to instruct Israel when to kill the Passover lamb.
“Now you shall keep it [the lamb] until the fourteenth day of the same month. Then the whole assembly of the congregation of Israel shall kill it at twilight” [between the evenings] (Ex 12:6).
Generally speaking modern day Judaism observes Passover with the “mo’ed” (appointment), or festival the evening beginning the fifteenth of their first month, Abib. When the temple stood they killed the Passover lambs beginning the previous afternoon, the afternoon of the fourteenth. As soon as possible after the lambs were killed they were roasted, but it took a few hours to roast the lambs. The meal wasn’t ready until after dark, which was the mo’ed, observed in the evening which began the fifteenth of their first month.
However, Jesus/Yeshua apparently ate a Passover meal about 20 hours before the Jews killed the Passover lambs. “So they went and found it just as He had said to them, and they prepared the Passover. 14 When the hour had come, He sat down, and the twelve apostles with Him. 15 Then He said to them, "With fervent desire I have desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer” (Luke 22:13-15). He, our Passover lamb (I Cor 5:7), was killed the next day at about three in the afternoon, their ninth hour (Luke 23:44-46). This is the same time the Jews typically killed their Passover lambs in preparation for their meal. The Jews had their Passover dinner later that evening. So it appears Christ ate His Passover meal about a day before the rest of the Jews.
In studying this situation some have concluded that the original Passover was really killed on the evening Messiah ate it, not like the Jews did it. The Jews were therefore doing it wrong. They had created their own tradition, rather than keeping it according to the instructions of their Creator.
Others have concluded that the original account is not contrary to the practice of the Jews. One just needs to consider all instruction in the Law as to when to keep the Passover, rather than focusing on just those scriptures that describe the original Passover. Those that take this approach see the Passover lambs as being killed on the afternoon of the fourteenth and everyone leaving their homes early the next morning while it was still dark.
There are two clear reports that relate the Passover with the time Israel walked out of Egypt. Unfortunately they seem to conflict. The first is in Exodus 12, which mostly quotes the instruction of the Creator. The second is in Numbers 33, Moses account of Israel’s travel in the wilderness.
Ex 12:48 "And when a stranger dwells with you and wants to keep the Passover to the LORD, let all his males be circumcised, and then let him come near and keep it; …” 50 Thus all the children of Israel did; as the LORD commanded Moses and Aaron, so they did. 51 And it came to pass, on that very same day, that the LORD brought the children of Israel out of the land of Egypt according to their armies.”
Num 33:3 “They departed from Rameses in the first month, on the fifteenth day of the first month; on the day after the Passover the children of Israel went out with boldness in the sight of all the Egyptians.”
It is generally understood that Israel marked their days from sundown to sundown. The day started with the evening. With this reckoning in mind Exodus 12 indicates the Passover in the evening was the “very same day” that Israel marched out of Egypt.
If one examines the Numbers account with this same perspective Israel would not have left Egypt for almost 24 hours after the Passover. It was not the very same day, but “the day after”.
Some that study this matter focus on the meaning of “between the evenings” to determine the date and time of the Passover. Rather than focus on that expression, let’s examine how Israel reckoned a day. It is frequently taught that Israel considered that a day went from one sunset to the next. In fact, the evidence of common practice in scripture does not support this.
It is apparent the day for religious purposes begins with the dark of the evening before. “So the evening and the morning were the first day.” (Gen 1:5b) This is how the Creator thinks of a day. However, the Creator doesn’t sleep here. When one does sleep here, a different reckoning is natural, even automatic. Did Israel naturally determine that the day began with sunset?
Gen 19:33 'So they made their father drink wine that night. And the firstborn went in and lay with her father, and he did not know when she lay down or when she arose. 34 It happened on the next day that the firstborn said to the younger, "Indeed I lay with my father last night; let us make him drink wine tonight also, and you go in and lie with him, that we may preserve the lineage of our father." '
The phrase 'the next day' indicates a change in the day from the reference point, i.e. "that night". The previous night was not part of this next day. This does not indicate their day began in the evening.
The phrase 'the next day' indicates a change in the day from the reference point, i.e. "that night". The previous night was not part of this next day. This does not indicate their day began in the evening.
When talking to ancient Israel the Creator recognized that they considered a day differently than He did and was careful to explain His expectations in terms they would understand. He explained it the same way we would explain it today to someone who didn’t know. For instance, the day of Atonement is the tenth day of their seventh month (Lev 23:27). However, they needed to observe Atonement beginning on the ninth day at evening. "It shall be to you a sabbath of solemn rest, and you shall afflict your souls; on the ninth day of the month at evening, from evening to evening, you shall celebrate your sabbath" (Lev 23:32). Notice, He also emphasized that it was to be observed from evening to evening. There are many examples that indicate this is not how Israel would normally have recognized a day. We’ll look at some shortly.
The primary meaning of the Hebrew is actually ‘in the ninth day in the evening’. The evening after the daylight is considered part of that day. If the Creator were explaining the timing of Atonement to someone who started their days at evening He would have just said ‘Atonement is the 10th day, from evening to evening’. If someone typically considered the day to begin at evening the instruction of Leviticus 23:32 would indicate that Atonement was on the 9th day of the month.
Israel had to be told to observe from evening to evening. As a result they observed the appointed times (Heb. mo’edim) of the Creator according to His standard. However, in their daily lives this does not appear to be how they divided days.
Consider what Leviticus 23:32 does not say. It does not say to observe Atonement beginning at the end of the ninth day or after the ninth day. It does not say to observe Atonement at the beginning of the tenth day at evening. It also does not say Atonement begins with the evening of the tenth day. In fact, they were to afflict their souls IN or ON "the ninth day ", but not until evening. The evening before the tenth day was still considered the ninth day by the standard reckoning of Israel.
If Israel was counting with their Creator, or started the new day at sundown, they would have called that evening the tenth day of the month at evening. The Creator reckons days beginning at sundown. The weight of evidence indicates Israel did not. The Creator felt the need to specifically tell Israel; “from evening to evening, you shall celebrate your sabbath". They didn’t normally track days that way. They did understand and respect that the Creator's mo’ed included the previous evening.
When one sleeps here the natural inclination is to begin the day with the sun rise. When one considers the matter from outer space it is natural to end the day with sun set when the light disappears. Beginning the day in the morning is the natural way humans would do it.
Exodus 12 describes the festival of Unleavened Bread in the same terms that describe Atonement. It begins in the first month in the 14th day in the evening according to the Hebrew. The evening is in the 14th day just like the 14th day is in the first month. “In the first month, on the fourteenth day of the month at evening, you shall eat unleavened bread, until the twenty–first day of the month at evening.” (Ex 12:18) According to the above, if we use the evening to evening reckoning (evening begins the date) to figure the days, Unleavened Bread would begin with the fourteenth and continue through the end of the twentieth. This is contrary to the clear meaning of other scriptures in Exodus 12 Leviticus 23 and Deuteronomy 16.
When the ancient Hebrews were referring to the dark after a day they called it the evening 'in' (ending) that day, not the evening of the following day. This is not what would be expected if ancient Israel universally connected the previous evening with the following day as is done in Genesis 1. In their observance of the “mo’edim”, the Creators’ appointed times, they certainly included the previous evening and omitted the following evening, but it is apparent in general practice, an evening was most closely connected with the date of the daylight before it. In the case of Passover, the evening of the fourteenth was the evening at the end of the fourteenth day. It was still dated with the fourteenth day, not the fifteenth day even though it was included with the mo’ed that fell on the next day. Passover is never connected with the date of the fifteenth, because Israel reckoned their days to start with daylight, not the evening before. The Creator instructed in terms they would understand. The explanation works well for us now, unless we’ve been mislead into thinking the Israelites started their days at sundown.
To a large degree they had the same problem we do when talking of a particular Sabbath and they handled it the same way. If we are to meet someone early on a Sabbath, are we talking early in the morning or the previous evening? If we put a Gregorian date with a Sabbath we typically just use the daylight date. If we want to refer to the previous evening we typically specify the previous evening or use the previous date. Typically they specified the previous "date" just as we do. Certainly they turned in to bed and rolled out of bed much earlier than we typically do in the western world. If they stayed up into the night, that was still considered the same day as the daylight just past. That is more or less how we do it as well.
Ruth 2:17 'So she gleaned in the field until evening, and beat out what she had gleaned, and it was about an ephah of barley. 18 Then she took it up and went into the city and her mother–in–law saw what she had gleaned. So she brought out and gave to her what she had kept back after she had been satisfied. 19 And her mother–in–law said to her, "Where have you gleaned today? And where did you work? …." '
Ruth probably gleaned until it was difficult to see in the evening. She separated most of the chaff and then went home and apparently had something to eat. It must have been fully dark when Naomi asked where she had “gleaned today”. The day did not change at evening.
The ancients were not totally incapacitated after dark. Like Ruth, Lot was able to prepare a meal, after dark, described as a banquet (Gen 19:1-3). Jacob also came out of the field in the evening, likely hungry (Gen 30:16). It was not unusual for people to continue limited activities in the evening. We don’t end the day with sundown largely because we continue our activities beyond it. Without religious requirements or influence why would the ancients look at it some other way?? See more examples of day reckoning.
Umberto Cassuto, a Jewish rabbi and Old Testament scholar, in his commentary Genesis, volume 1 states: "It will then be seen that throughout the [Hebrew] Bible there obtains only one system of computing time: the day is considered to begin in the morning; but in regard to the festivals and appointed times, the Torah ordains that they shall be observed also on the night of the preceding day." (Pg. 29) Mr. Cassuto’s analysis is even relied on by the Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament in its examination of Hebrew "'ereb", evening.
Mr. Cassuto’s analysis evidently discounted Genesis 1. However, it generally reflects the practice in Scripture. Unless scripture is clearly talking of a God day or a "mo'ed", there is no basis to assume that ancient Israel grouped the evening with the following daylight as a single day. Even when talking of a "mo'ed", the evening before is still usually considered the previous day.
So even though Numbers 33:3 indicates “They departed from Rameses in the first month, on the fifteenth day of the first month; on the day after the Passover…” this doesn’t mean the Passover evening/night was not on the mo’ed of the fifteenth. The ‘day after the Passover’ began with the daylight after the Passover, the fifteenth day of the month, the Passover being on the fourteenth day, but evening. This is exactly how Lot’s daughters, Moses and many others reckoned their days. Since it was a mo'ed, the Creator considered the evening and the next daylight the same day. Israel recognized the boundaries of the mo'ed, but that didn’t change how they typically reckoned their days.
The lamb was kept until the fourteenth day (Ex 12:6). This was the morning of the fourteenth day, not the evening before the fourteenth day. The Creator spoke in terms that were familiar to them. The lamb was not to be slain before the morning of the fourteenth day.
The meaning of “between the evenings” indicated in Exodus 12:6 and Leviticus 23:5 when the Passover was killed will be examined in Part II of this study. However, generally the disagreement is whether it includes a time before sundown or after sundown. For purposes of determining the general time of the sacrifice this phrase is not critical. In either case the fourteenth day begins with the morning of the fourteenth day. The fourteenth day in the afternoon and the fourteenth day in the evening are the same general time. The actual meal would be eaten the same evening.
The reality is that the Creator is explaining the timing of His appointments in their terms. The day begins in the morning. The following evening is linked to that day. When the occasion is clearly a mo’ed the record might indicate the evening and the morning are the same day, as in Exodus 12:48-51, but typically the morning is considered a new day, as in Numbers 33.
More Timing Markers
Some claim that there was no time for everyone to come from their scattered homes, organize themselves for a march and leave the daylight after the Passover. With little notice this might have been a problem. However, they were told to be ready to leave (Ex 12:11). It appears they were assembled for the Passover. “…the whole assembly of the congregation of Israel shall kill it at twilight” (Ex 12:6b). Numbers 14:5 uses these same words when talking of an assembled group.
Josephus account also reinforces that they were already assembled and ready to depart. “Accordingly, he having got the Hebrews ready for their departure, and having sorted the people into tribes, he kept them together in one place: but when the fourteenth day was come, and all were ready to depart they offered the sacrifice, and purified their houses with the blood, using bunches of hyssop for that purpose; and when they had supped, they burnt the remainder of the flesh, as just ready to depart.” (Ant 2.14.6)
Israel was told before the Passover that they should ask the Egyptians for gold, silver and clothing (Ex 11:2-3). This was probably taken care of before they assembled for the Passover. The account in Exodus 12 begins the account by indicating they had done (perfect tense) what Moses asked (vs. 35). This would reinforce that they had taken care of this earlier. The KJV and NKJV indicate they ‘borrowed’ items. A better rendering would be they asked items from the Egyptians.
Consider as well that Passover is designated a 'chag ', a joyous festival. "So this day shall be to you a memorial; and you shall keep it as a feast (Heb. chag) to the LORD throughout your generations. You shall keep it as a feast (chag) by an everlasting ordinance" (Ex 12:14, see also 34:25). It is also a mo’ed (Lev 23:5). If the Passover were eaten the evening before the fourteenth, this would put the chag of Passover in the unique position of being the only "mo’ed", not to mention 'chag', on which there was no assembly, no Sabbath and no special offering (Num 28:16). Yet it is a special memorial day?!
Certainly the Passover lamb was assumed, but if that were done the evening before the 14th daylight, there was a whole day on which to offer other sacrifices, the day (daylight) of the fourteenth. Based on the many sacrifices expected the other "mo’edim", it seems at least a goat sin offering would have been required. Additional sacrifices are specified even for Atonement beyond what is described in Leviticus 16, including another sin offering goat besides the one over which the lot was cast (Num 29:11).
Even the New Moon, which is not designated a Sabbath or mo’ed of the Creator had offerings required on it by the Law (Num 28:11-15). Also every day of Unleavened Bread and every day of Tabernacles requires not only special offerings, but also specifically requires the regular daily offerings. The account regarding Passover is silent about all these offerings.
It is also notable that this 'chag' of Passover is not specifically mentioned with the three required in Exodus 23:14-17. "Three times you shall keep a feast (chag) to Me in the year" (Ex 23:14). Verses 15-16 mention Unleavened Bread (Heb. Matstsah), the Feast of Weeks (Pentecost/ Heb. Shavuot) and Tabernacles/Ingathering (Heb.Sukkot). If the Passover was not intended to be offered the evening between the fourteenth and fifteenth, it was apparently discontinued according to this scripture. Only three are required and Passover, if it was not during the ‘chag’ of Unleavened Bread, is not included in Unleavened Bread. Unleavened Bread is only seven days (Lev 23:6, Ex 12:15-17), not eight.
This explains why there is no command to observe the day of Passover. The Passover was a sacrifice, not a day. It did not define a separate festival, chag day on its own. It was a chag with the departure day of Unleavened Bread, the fifteenth.
These problems disappear if we understand that the evening before the fifteenth of Abib was dated with the fourteenth. Although the Creator starts His days with the evening, Israel likely began their days with the arrival of daylight. Passover was on the fourteenth day, but in the evening according to Israel’s reckoning. The instruction was written to Israel’s reckoning.
The phrase “between the evenings” does not associate a different day with an evening. The evening is associated with the day before it. Assuming “between the evenings” indicates the short period between sunset and dark, it does not change which date that evening is associated with. Between the evenings of the fourteenth day of the month would immediately follow the fourteenth day, daylight, just like: “In the first month, on the fourteenth day of the month at evening, you shall eat unleavened bread, until the twenty–first day of the month at evening” (Ex 12:18) immediately followed the fourteenth day. The evening of Passover is the same evening that began the chag of Unleavened Bread.
The evening before the fourteenth day was the evening of the thirteenth day. The fourteenth day according to the common reckoning did not begin until people rolled out of bed that day, which was typically about sunrise. The first hour of the day was about 6AM. The sixth hour was about noon.
The Passover lamb was to be kept until the fourteenth day (Ex 12:6). This began with the daylight of the fourteenth day for Israel. The sacrifice could not be killed before the morning of the fourteenth day. It could not be killed the evening before the fourteenth day.
The record of Exodus 12 emphasizes a single day. There is no statement directly indicating two days are to be set aside as everlasting ordinances. In order to read it that way Passover must be a separate 24 hour day and a separate ‘chag’. Verse 6 instructs Israel to keep the lamb until the fourteenth day. This day starts, by common reckoning, the morning of the fourteenth day. The Passover was killed that evening at the start of the mo’ed.
A ‘chag’ is a joyous celebration and the evening of the Passover was to be a joyous memorial as indicated by Exodus 12:14 quoted above. It kicked off a seven day festival in which unleavened bread was eaten and no leavened bread was to be eaten. A summary is given at the end of chapter 12.
Ex 12:48-51 "And when a stranger dwells with you and wants to keep the Passover to the LORD, let all his males be circumcised, and then let him come near and keep it; and he shall be as a native of the land. For no uncircumcised person shall eat it. 49 One law shall be for the native–born and for the stranger who dwells among you. 50 Thus all the children of Israel did; as the LORD commanded Moses and Aaron, so they did. 51 And it came to pass, on that very same day, that the LORD brought the children of Israel out of the land of Egypt according to their armies."
Verse 51 refers directly back to the observance of the Passover on the evening of the fourteenth day. This was “the very same day”, the mo’ed, that Israel departed Egypt. Exodus 12 is not jumping back and forth from one memorial day to another. It is describing events and conduct of a single memorial day that began with the sacrifice of the Passover and concluded with Israel departing Egypt. That day was an extraordinary day that was designated a mo’ed, a chag and a Sabbath (Lev 23:6-7).
Ex 12:17 "So you shall observe the Feast of Unleavened Bread, for on this same day I will have brought your armies out of the land of Egypt. Therefore you shall observe this day throughout your generations as an everlasting ordinance. "
Some have been under the impression that this was a different day than that indicated in verse 14. The many references in this chapter to a single special day dictate against this. In this particular case, verse 15 and 16 both refer to multiple days, the entire festival of Unleavened Bread. Verse 17 may do the same even though it also refers to a single day. The closest previous reference to a single day is in verse 14. The day being referred to in verse 17 is ambiguous unless it references back to verse 14.
Ex 12:41 "And it came to pass at the end of the four hundred and thirty years––on that very same day––it came to pass that all the armies of the LORD went out from the land of Egypt."
Again a "same day" is referenced. We’ll examine this more closely in Part II that focuses on some details and related matters.
Ex 12:42 "It was a night of watching by the LORD, to bring (Hiphil infinitive, causative action) them out of the land of Egypt; so this same night is a night of watching kept to the LORD by all the people of Israel throughout their generations." (RSV)
That night was a night of special guarding by their Creator. It was not the night of marching, but guarding and protection by the Lord in the process of bringing Israel out of Egypt. Israel was protected from the Death Angel. The Hiphil form of the Hebrew verb indicates a causing action. This night set up the circumstances which ultimately result in the action indicated by the verb. Their departure started the next morning. The actions that enabled their departure were put in place the night before.
With the same care their Creator guarded them, Israel was to keep and guard the traditions the Creator established this night throughout their generations. It is all revolving around the same 24 hour mo’ed day.
Unfortunately, the Hebrew behind ‘watching’, (Heb. ‘shimmur’, Str. 08107) is rare enough that the meaning is somewhat clouded. Strong’s indicates it to be ‘observance’, but the more thoroughly researched lexicons connect it with ‘vigil’ or ‘watching’ (Brown, Driver, Briggs, Gesenuis Lexicon of the Old Testament, pg.1037, Dictionary of Classical Hebrew Vol 8 pg. 486).
The Hebrew and Aramaic Lexicon of the Old Testament Vol 4 refers to the Samaritan Targum: “the night of watchers, or of the watched, the guarded, the watch…” The word is actually in the plural, which in this case indicates intensity, a solemn watch. They also indicate when connected with ‘night’ it indicates ‘a watch thought the night’. This agrees with the Septuagint.
Ex 12:42 “It is a watch kept to the Lord, so that he should bring them out of the land of Egypt; that very night is a watch kept to the Lord, so that it should be to all the children of Israel to their generations.” (LXX)
This fits well with the instruction to eat dressed and ready, in haste (vs. 11). They were to be on the alert.
The KJV and NKJV versions translate it observance, which gives a feeling like the observance of a festival or memorial. Indeed, the second occurrence of the word in this verse includes that thought, but the first is intending the care and protection of the Creator towards Israel. Because of His care, protection and guarding on this memorial night they are to guard and keep or observe the traditions He established.
Since verse 41 mentions the departure from Egypt some assume verse 42 is also talking of the departure happening at night. However, the departure was during the day(Num 33:3) in the late afternoon (Deu 16:6), the daylight after the Passover night (Ex 12:48-51). The following verse (42) is talking of the Passover evening. Its context is just as relevant to that same day as is verse 41. This night was not a night of marching, but watching.
Israel spent the night wide eyed and watching in anticipation to see what would happen. Would the firstborn of the Egyptians really all die? Would they be protected? Would Pharaoh really send them out or would he change his mind again before they actually got away? There was much to anticipate. It is all revolving around the same 24 hour day, the special memorial day.
There is no indication in Luke or anywhere else that Jesus/Yeshua kept the Passover differently from the norm until just before His death. There were evidently sects that did deviate, but we hear nothing about this in the Apostolic Writings. The account in Luke 21 was quoted at the beginning of this document. The disciples were told to prepare the Passover. “When the hour came” Yeshua and the disciples sat down to eat. “When the hour came” indicates an anticipated time that cannot help but be connected with the Passover for which they had just prepared. Shortly into the conversation Yeshua indicates that He has had a great desire to “eat this Passover with you”. “This Passover” indicates something He is dealing with at that time rather than ‘this coming Passover’, something coming in the future.
Mark 14:12-17 “and on the first day of unleavened [bread], when the Passover they killed, His disciples say to Him, Where desirest thou that going we should prepare that thou mayest eat the Passover?” (EGNT)…16 “So His disciples went out, and came into the city, and found it just as He had said to them; and they prepared the Passover. 17 In the evening He came with the twelve. 18 Now as they sat and ate…”
The account in Mark, as well, leads the reader to assume that they are having a Passover meal. They prepared the Passover and then they all came and ate. This was not a place they frequented often. Those preparing had to find a man carrying a pitcher of water in order to locate the room. The purpose for the room was to eat the Passover. They left after the meal. This room was not intended as sleeping quarters in order to assure them being on time the next day. There was no reason given for all of them to eat there this night if they were not doing a Passover meal.
They began preparation “on the first day of unleavened”. Actually ‘unleavened’ here is plural. It is obviously making a connection to the days of Unleavened Bread, but not necessarily precisely to the mo’ed of Unleavened Bread. To begin preparation on the first day of the mo’ed would make the disciples too late. The Passover was to be eaten the evening that began the mo’ed. The evening of the mo’ed, (“In the fourteenth day of the first month at even is the LORD’S Passover” Lev 23:5), unleavened bread was to be eaten. It appears that the Jews in practice typically removed any leaven by noon the day the Passover was slain(Babylonian Talmud: Pesachim 11b). So the fourteenth of the month was an unleavened day also, in that sense, even though the whole day was not unleavened. Certainly the evening was and likely the afternoon too. So we would conclude that the disciples came to Yeshua earlier on the fourteenth to find out where to prepare the Passover. The meal that evening must have been the intended Passover. Verse twelve connects it with the killing of the Passover.
The account in Matthew 26:17-20 is very similar to that in Mark. It also indicates the disciples sought instruction as to where to prepare the Passover on the first of the unleavened days. They prepared the Passover and Yeshua came and ate with the twelve disciples in the evening. Again, this preparation was either after the fourteenth day and too late, or on the fourteenth day before evening. That evening would have been the anticipated Passover.
All these accounts agree very well. Unfortunately there are two problems. This meal did not take place on the day when the Jews were killing their Passover lambs, as Mark and Luke claim (Mark 14:12, Luke 22:7). The Jews killed their Passover lambs the next day when Yeshua was killed. The next day was the fourteenth day of the first month. The day that Yeshua and the disciples were preparing and eating their meal was the day before, i.e., the thirteenth.
The other problem is that John’s account agrees that this meal was before the Passover. “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. 2 And during supper, when the devil had already put it into the heart of Judas Iscariot, Simon’s son, to betray him…” (John 13:1-2)
John’s account is significantly different from the others. John knew that Messiah was crucified on the preparation day of the Passover, i.e., the 14th when the Passover was slain in the afternoon (John 19:14-16). The preparation of the other Gospel accounts was not when the great bulk of the Jews were doing it. The Jews prepared and killed the Passover on the fourteenth in the afternoon and on towards evening. So the synoptic gospel accounts are talking of events that took place on the thirteenth, even though they claim to be preparing the Passover because it was “when they killed the Passover lamb” (Mark 14:12b, see also Luke 22:7).
How could all three writers be confused about the timing of these events? Certainly they knew the Jews were observing Passover a day later than Yeshua and the disciples ate this meal. They knew the Jews did not want to deal with Yeshua during the festival (Mat 26:5, Mark 14:2). If that evening was indeed the Passover it would also have been the mo’ed, the start of the festival. The Jews would have taken Yeshua on the Feast, just what they had determined not to do.
If the evening of their supper was the Passover, that was the memorial ‘chag’ (Ex 12:14) and would have started a High Sabbath (Lev 23:6-7). The synoptic writers all also recognize that a Sabbath came immediately after the death of Messiah (Mat 27:62, Mark 15:42, Luke 23:54). None of them indicate the day of their meal was a Sabbath. So they were not using a different calendar. They are purporting to have a Passover meal in isolation from the greater Jewish community and the mo’ed with which the Passover is associated. At the same time these accounts make no mention of the Jews Passover after their meal or the practice of the bulk of the rest of the nation. They ignore the Passover that the greater community was observing. There is no explanation of these difficulties. They simply ignore it. When it comes to this Passover, Matthew, Mark and Luke are in their own little world. It seems they are trying to mislead us.
These inconsistencies have led some to reexamine Exodus 12 and determine that the original Passover must have been the evening after the thirteenth day as Yeshua and the disciples did it. Messiah was therefore restoring the original practice. This author held to that perspective for an extended period of time, but it simply doesn’t fit the record we are given in the Law. It is highly unlikely that is what the synoptic writers were trying to tell us. It is clear the original Passover was done on the fourteenth day in the evening in accord with Israel’s standard reckoning. That is more or less when the Jews were still doing it when they crucified Messiah.
To those who think Yeshua was restoring the day of the original Passover we would ask, “Would the Messiah knowingly celebrate Passover on the wrong day?” Certainly He must have participated in earlier Passover celebrations. Why did He not restore the correct Passover day on the occasion of His first Passover as Messiah? Why is there no direct statement affirming this restoration like there is a direct account of believers participating in the bread and wine Memorial as opposed to the Passover meal?
Details of the “Passover meal”
It is interesting that there is no mention of meat at Yeshua’s last ‘Passover’ supper. It is highly unlikely the Passover preparation of Peter and John included an animal sacrifice. The Lamb had to be held until the fourteenth day of the month. Their preparations were done on the thirteenth day. Even though the synoptic gospel writers indicated they were doing a Passover meal they did not treat the following hours as a Sabbath. The Passover was at the beginning of a mo’ed. The occasion of the Passover made that day a chag, a mo’ed and a Sabbath (Ex 12:14, 23:14-15, Lev 23:5-7). John’s account indicates that some of the disciples thought Judas might have left the meal in order to buy something (John 13:29). This makes little sense if their Passover meal was on a Sabbath.
The Law also required the Passover lamb to be sacrificed at the temple (Deu 16:5-6). Yeshua would have done it according to the Law. The Levite was to oversee all sacrifices (Lev 17:3-4, Deu 12:3-14). In the Talmud, tractate Pesachim 64b is a record indicating at one Passover 1,200,000 lambs were slain in the temple area. The priests must have had a hand in doing this in order to count. Since the priests considered the next day to be the appropriate day to sacrifice the Passover it is unlikely they would have cooperated with the disciples if they wanted to sacrifice their lamb a day early.
Can one have a Passover meal without a Passover lamb? Certainly, not in the traditional sense. However, the focus of this occasion does not seem to be the sacrifice of the Passover, but the sacrifice of Yeshua. Of course, the bread and wine are the symbols in place of His body, but they looked forward to His death the next day.
The Passover was typically a family and/or community gathering, a social event. It appears only Yeshua and the twelve attended this meal (Mat 26:20, Mrk 14:17 Luke 22:14). Yet there were women that had traveled with Him from Galilee to help and support Him (Mat 27:55, Mrk 15:41, Luke 23:55). As well, some of the disciples were married (Mat 8:14). Jewish Passover celebrations take care to include the children. This certainly doesn’t seem like a normal Passover occasion. Why are not even any women included in the preparation or serving of the meal?
It is interesting, in both Matthew’s and Mark’s account the disciples asked Yeshua where they should prepare this ‘Passover’ for Him rather than for ‘us’ (Mat 26:17, Mk 14:12). In I Corinthians 11:20 Paul refers to this meal as the “Lord’s Supper”. He is referring specifically to the meal, the supper, not the memorial symbols, because the Corinthians were supposed to be coming together to do the symbols. It was not a normal Passover meal, but a special meal for Yeshua. It provided an opportunity to establish the symbols that would memorialize His death and present His final instructions to the disciples.
The meeting was focused on Yeshua’s sacrifice the next day, not the day on which they ate this meal. There is little attempt to make sure we understand the meeting was done the day before the Passover. The attempt is to connect the meeting with the time of Passover even though the focus was very different.
‘and when He had given thanks, He broke it and said, "Take, eat; this is My body which is broken for you; do this in remembrance of Me." 25 In the same manner He also took the cup after supper, saying, "This cup is the new covenant in My blood. This do, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of Me."’ (I Cor 11:24-25)
We are not in need of the protective symbol of the Passover lamb if we recognize the compassion and protection inherent in the sacrifice of Messiah. In fact, He was the fulfillment of that protection that the lamb foreshadowed. “Christ, our Passover, was sacrificed for us” (I Cor 5:7). Hebrew ‘pesach’ normally translated Passover originally indicated protection and/or compassion (See Isa 31:5 LXX). “Three traditions about the meaning of the stem p-s-h have survived. The oldest, and apparently the most reliable, is “to have compassion”, another is “to protect”, and a third is “to skip over”. Although this last is the interpretation that has gained the widest currency, it is the least likely because the term was originally independent of the Exodus events.” (JPS Torah Commentary, Exodus 12:11)
I Pet 1:18 “knowing that you were not redeemed with corruptible things, like silver or gold, from your aimless conduct received by tradition from your fathers, 19 but with the precious blood of Christ, as of a lamb without blemish and without spot.”
Our Savior expects His life, instruction and death to make significant changes in the life of those who will serve Him. First, Messiah proved that one could lead a sinless life on this earth. He also clarified the intent of the Law of God and corrected allowances in the Law of Moses that perpetuated hard heartedness. He set an example of selflessness that is the guide for His followers and makes apparent that He is faithful to care for them. In turn it is incumbent on the believer to show their faith by their actions. It doesn’t eliminate our need to work.
What does the sacrifice of Messiah do to the Passover ritual?
Let’s think more on the accounts we have of Yeshua’s Passover the night before He was crucified. The accounts in Matthew, Mark and Luke, the synoptic gospels, are very similar.
They prepared the ‘Passover’ meal, ate, did the bread and wine symbols and left. Their purpose was accomplished. There is no mention of the traditional Passover a day later. Of course, Yeshua was arrested that night (Mat 26:46-47). However, Matthew and Mark mentioned the Jews didn’t want to take Messiah during the Feast (Mat 26:5, Mk 14:2). In Matthew 27:59-62 is the account of His burial. “On the next day, which followed the Day of Preparation, the chief priests and Pharisees gathered together to Pilate”. The day after his death and burial was the day after the preparation. So Messiah was killed on the preparation, not the High Holy Day of Passover/Unleavened Bread. Matthew knew it was not the “chag” of Passover. The accounts in Mark and Luke tell the same story.
The occasion of Passover is a ‘chag’ (Ex 12:14). It is the ‘chag’ of the first day of Unleavened Bread (Ex 12, & 23:14-16). That makes it the High Sabbath, not a preparation day. None of the synoptic Gospel accounts indicate that the evening they ate the Passover was a Sabbath, let alone a High Sabbath. They indicate the burial the next day took place going into a Sabbath from a non-Sabbath (Mark 14:42, Luke 23:54). They had eaten a “Passover” meal, but it wasn’t on the ‘chag’ of Passover. John affirms this.
John 13:1 “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. 2 And during supper, when the devil had already put it into the heart of Judas Iscariot, Simon’s son, to betray him…” (RSV).
This is obviously the same dinner as the Passover dinner of the synoptic Gospels. The account continues with the disciples wanting to know who would betray Him. Judas departs immediately after receiving the morsel from Messiah (vs 30).
John doesn’t mention the bread and wine symbols at all, but goes on for four and a half chapters giving intimate detail of Yeshua’s final instruction before His death. The three synoptic accounts on the other hand, all claim to be participating in a Passover meal but focus on the symbols of the bread and wine. They all connect them with the broken body and the New Covenant confirmed with His shed blood. They all indicate these symbols are to be used “in memory of me”. This has no historical connection to the Passover meal of Exodus 12 or Deuteronomy 16. Little else is mentioned of the meal. Only Luke gives a short 17 verse account of other topics that came up at the meal.
All of what is said is important, but the three synoptic Gospels obviously have a different focus than John. Their focus though, is not the lamb or the other traditional Passover symbols. None of those are mentioned. The focus is a memorial to the events that were to follow the next day, i.e. the death of Messiah and the confirmation of the New Covenant, at the actual Passover celebration of the larger Jewish community. The disciple’s occasion was not centered on the traditional Passover they claimed to be doing, but on events involving Messiah the next day, the Passover, the afternoon and evening of the fourteenth, the day after their meal. As such it seems Messiah was not changing the day of the Passover, but rather changing the focus of the Passover to His sacrifice from that of the lamb. His death and the confirmation of the New Covenant did not occur the evening of His meal, but were events of the Passover the next evening. Their Passover was likely billed as a Passover not because that is what it was, but because it was a model, a dress rehearsal for the future observance of the Memorial, the ‘everlasting ordnance known at that time as the Passover. They were acting out the Passover of the future, which was really a restoration of the past. “So this day (the first day of the mo’ed) shall be to you a memorial; and you shall keep it as a feast to the LORD throughout your generations. You shall keep it as a feast by an everlasting ordinance.” (Ex 12:14)
Theirs was a model for future Passovers...a training session, not a social event. If that is not the case it seems they were simply being deceptive to claim to be doing a Passover meal. There was no need for the women to be there. Likely they were preparing for the Passover just like the rest of the Jewish women.
The Law is clear about the major aspects of a Passover meal. The first rule is that one must have an animal for the sacrifice. That animal is not killed until the fourteenth day of the first month. Messiah upheld the Law. He would not ignore this instruction. Therefore there was no animal sacrifice during their “Passover” meal since it was the thirteenth day. Indeed none of the accounts indicate any meat was present. Yet, one can’t have a Passover meal without a Passover sacrifice. Where was the sacrifice? Messiah was the sacrifice for this meal! However, He wasn’t sacrificed that day. The symbols of the bread and wine looked forward to the events of the next day.
Messiah would not be offered until the next day when all the other Passover sacrifices were being offered. This meal was incomplete until that sacrifice was offered. Certainly one purpose for this meal was also to confirm a new covenant.
Mat 26:27 "Then He took the cup, and gave thanks, and gave it to them, saying, "Drink from it, all of you. 28 For this is My blood of the new covenant, which is shed for many for the remission of sins."
Messiah made plain the confirming symbols, the bread and wine, of the New Covenant that He intended to implement. But these symbols taken by the disciples did not cement the covenant. The covenant could be only be fully confirmed after the actual sacrifice. It was not fully implemented until Pentecost.
Heb 9:15 "And for this reason He is the Mediator of the new covenant, by means of death, for the redemption of the transgressions under the first covenant, that those who are called may receive the promise of the eternal inheritance...18 Therefore not even the first covenant was dedicated without blood."
The Passover meal that Messiah and the disciples ate, demonstrated the symbolism which would be attached to the New Covenant confirmed on the occasion of Passover. Those symbols are focused on His death, at the Passover. Their ‘Passover’ meal looked forward to His death, and also serves as the basis for memorializing that death. The Passover of Exodus was a significant event, but the sacrifice of our Savior completely overshadows it.
Luke 22:19 ‘And He took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to them, saying, "This is My body which is given for you; do this in remembrance of Me."’
These symbols were designated to represent His broken body and shed blood and were to be taken in His memory. Even though He was not crucified on the Mo’ed, He died with the Passover lambs. The meal intending to memorialize this event was eaten by Yeshua and the disciples at the same time of day as the traditional Passover mo’ed meal, the evening at the end of the 14th day. Since the mo’ed is the ‘chag’ of the everlasting ordinance of the Passover and the synoptic accounts claim it is a Passover meal, it seems that the appropriate time to do this memorial would be at the actual time of the Passover meal. Even though the Jews sacrificed their lambs before the actual mo’ed started, they did not eat the Passover until after nightfall (Soncino Babylonian Talmud, Pesachim 99b). So the meal confirming the New Covenant was to be on the Mo’ed. That is the time where the Creator places His Memorial (Lev 23:5).
Messiah obviously could not have done this with the disciples on the actual Passover of His death. It seems apparent that the Synoptic Gospels designate their meal to be a Passover meal even though it was not done on the Passover, because that is what it was intended to be, not because that is what it was. The meal looked forward to events of the Passover. It was a dress rehearsal for the memorial of His death the next day. Their accounts pin the event to the Passover, not the day before the Passover. The accounts make no attempt to connect their meal with the day before the Passover. Actually, they ignore and cloud that fact.
The writers could have plainly explained what was intended. All they needed to do was include something in their accounts to the effect that: “This was done so we would know that Messiah was changing the focus of the Passover from the lamb to Himself. This service replaces the Passover meal.”
This seems simple enough, but consider what that could have done to the history of Christianity. Certainly the adversary would have found ways to confuse us, but it would have left the deceivers with little excuse. There would have been little room to assume that all the other instruction of the Law had been ‘done away’. If He must tell us to replace the Passover, shouldn’t we expect to be told if anything else were superseded? If we are told how to replace the Passover, wouldn’t we need additional instruction to replace Unleavened Bread? Since no additional instruction was given nothing else is changing. To a degree the Creator put His instruction together so the diligent would become evident. He is not overly concerned with quantity, but with quality. He is looking to identify those who diligently seek to understand His ways and how He works. Making things easy does not necessarily serve His purpose.
The Passover post Crucifixion
The actual implementation of Messiahs’ instruction is evident in I Corinthians 11. Particularly verses 26-29 make this evident.
26 "For as often as you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death till He comes. 27 Therefore whoever eats this bread or drinks this cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of the body and blood of the Lord. 28 But let a man examine himself, and so let him eat of the bread and drink of the cup. 29 For he who eats and drinks in an unworthy manner eats and drinks judgment to himself, not discerning the Lord’s body."
Of course we have this account because the Corinthians weren’t doing it the way Paul expected it should be done. The main problem is that they weren’t eating the bread or drinking the cup in an orderly manner as a group. It was more like a free-for-all than a solemn memorial.
I Cor 11:20 “Therefore when you come together in one place, it is not to eat the Lord’s Supper. 21 For in eating, each one takes his own supper ahead of others; and one is hungry and another is drunk:… 33 Therefore, my brethren, when you come together to eat, wait for one another.”
Paul is telling them they did not come together to eat the supper that Messiah had before the bread and wine symbols. Certainly they were there to do the bread and wine memorial. However, some evidently tried to turn the occasion into a meal. He tells them if they’re hungry they need to eat at home (vs 22).
The meal Yeshua ate was billed as a Passover meal in the Gospels that record the bread and wine symbols. Paul doesn’t call it a Passover meal, but “the Lord’s Supper”. It was not the Passover, but a special Passover connected meal for Yeshua (Mat 26:17, Mk 14:12). What follows Paul’s reprimand is a description of the Memorial symbols. Paul is intending they understand they didn’t come for the Lord’s Supper, the meal He ate, but for the Lord’s Memorial. That needs to be done together, in unison.
Supper in this case is Greek ‘deipnon’, “especially a formal meal usually held at the evening”. (Thayer’s Greek Lexicon) Of course, the Passover meal was eaten in the evening. The symbols were enjoined on what was presented as that occasion.
I Cor 11:22 “What! Do you not have houses to eat and drink in? Or do you despise the church of God and shame those who have nothing? What shall I say to you? Shall I praise you in this? I do not praise you.”
Paul seems to save his biggest reprimand for this aspect of the meeting. Certainly consuming all the bread and wine allotted for the occasion would indicate a total disregard for their brothers and sisters and embarrass those who therefore could not participate in the Memorial. This would indicate that a set amount of bread and wine was available.
Whatever the exact situation there was nothing to be praised. Paul had praised them earlier for remembering him and keeping the traditions as he had instructed them. Their conduct with this particular tradition was a disappointment. This tradition evidently should have been kept “just as I delivered them to you.” (I Cor 11:2c). That was not being done. So he goes through the expectation for them again.
23 ‘For I received from the Lord that which I also delivered to you: that the Lord Jesus on the same night in which He was betrayed took bread; 24 and when He had given thanks, He broke it and said, "Take, eat; this is My body which is broken for you; do this in remembrance of Me." 25 In the same manner He also took the cup after supper, saying, "This cup is the new covenant in My blood. This do, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of Me."’
This appears to be the entire tradition and expectation. It should have been apparent that this was a formal uniform group participation tradition. Everything should have stopped when Messiah gave thanks. The same should have happened with the Corinthians. The bread should have been distributed to everyone shortly thereafter. Later the wine would be distributed likely in a single cup.
The gathering in Corinth seems to be exclusively to take the Memorial symbols, not the meal before. The ‘Passover’ accounts in the synoptic gospels indicate Yeshua and the disciples were having a Passover meal. John indicates the meal is before the Passover. At a minimum they dipped some of their food into wine or some sauce (John 13:26). The symbol of the wine was distributed after the meal (vs. 25, see also Luke 22:20). There was also wine with the other food (Luke 22:17-18).
27 “Therefore whoever eats this bread or drinks this cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of the body and blood of the Lord. 28 But let a man examine himself, and so let him eat of the bread and drink of the cup. 29 For he who eats and drinks in an unworthy manner eats and drinks judgment to himself, not discerning the Lord’s body.”
Bringing judgment down on the self doesn’t seem like a trivial thing. This particular part of the meal is not for the general public. There is no prohibition against children being present at the occasion. Neither is there a record of them being present either here or in the gospels. The actual eating of the symbols of Messiah’s sacrifice doesn’t seem like something they ought to participate in. It assumes participation in the New Covenant. It is for someone who seriously understands the sacrifice Messiah made for us and the responsibility we have to live to His standard.
30 “For this reason many are weak and sick among you, and many sleep. 31 For if we would judge ourselves, we would not be judged. 32 But when we are judged, we are chastened by the Lord, that we may not be condemned with the world.”
For those who aspire to His standard, He may put trials before them to fully humble them with the goal of making their faith complete and their conduct above reproach. This might be painful. The more we carefully examine our own conduct to bring it into alignment with His, the less He will need to do to show us our failures. What He does, He does for our good. We need to be alert to learn the lessons.
33 “Therefore, my brethren, when you come together to eat, wait for one another. 34 But if anyone is hungry, let him eat at home, lest you come together for judgment. And the rest I will set in order when I come.”
This tradition is to be kept as a group in an orderly fashion. If someone expects to be hungry they should take care of that before they arrive. The sober nature of the occasion should not be compromised because one is intent on easing his hunger. This event is about the sacrifice of Messiah, not filling the stomach.
It is interesting that Paul doesn’t mention a word about Passover. The “same night in which He was betrayed” was not the Passover, even though the meal eaten that evening was billed as a Passover meal and therefore pinned to the Passover. This memorial meal, billed as a Passover meal would logically be done at the time of the Passover meal. It looked forward to the death of Messiah the next day, as our Passover. Messiah died as a Passover lamb, but the meal the Corinthians ate did not have a lot in common with the Passover meal. It was evidently to be eaten as a congregation rather than a family. Although children may have been present, the event is apparently a serious and adult oriented event. It certainly wasn’t in Jerusalem near the temple where the lambs were normally slain.
There were still many Jews that were continuing the traditional Passover meal in Jerusalem and possibly elsewhere. Naming this gathering a Passover gathering would have confused the focus of these two different memorials. On the other hand, if the Corinthians considered their meal a Passover meal or if it included a Passover like meal, it would have been logical to call it that.
It is also of note that every Gospel account that refers to the festival of Unleavened Bread also mentions, in one form or another, the Passover in the same breath. Luke 22:1 directly indicates that they called Unleavened Bread the Passover. The Passover was the initial overarching event of the mo’ed week. Yet the accounts that deal with a time after the crucifixion focus on Unleavened Bread without so close a connection to the Passover. The only single verse that one might say mentions both is I Corinthians 5:7 where Paul affirms that Messiah is our Passover. It is not a reference to Passover as the Jews observed it.
Acts 20:6 mentions the Days of Unleavened Bread without mentioning the Passover at all. Evidently the common practice of calling the Days of Unleavened Bread, Passover, changed among the Christians. Of course the Jews still call the Days of Unleavened Bread, Passover, to this day. So, among believers, the Passover did not overshadow Unleavened Bread after the crucifixion as it typically did and still does, among Jews. This would also be an indication that the congregation of believers looked at the occasion of Passover differently. If they didn’t keep the traditional Passover, it is no surprise that they wouldn’t call the occasion the Passover. It also provides another reason why John’s gospel may refer to the Passover as “a feast of the Jews” (John 6:4).
The noted commentator Alfred Edershiem thinks it apparent that there is a close connection between Yeshua’s last Passover meal and the common Jewish traditional meal even though the accounts don't focus much on the connection. “In fact, while the historical nexus with the Paschal Supper is evident, it almost seems as if the Evangelists had intended, by their studied silence in regard to the Jewish Feast, to indicate that with this Celebration and the new Institution the Jewish Passover had for ever ceased.” (The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah, Chapter 10)
Certainly, the Christians didn’t keep any of the Pilgrimage festivals the same way the Jews did. The Law required the Jews go to Jerusalem to keep them. The Christians would have known that was not the special home of the Creator. "See! Your house is left to you desolate” (Mat 23:38). ‘Jesus said to her, "Woman, believe Me, the hour is coming when you will neither on this mountain, nor in Jerusalem, worship the Father. … 23 But the hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth; for the Father is seeking such to worship Him"’ (John 4:21-23).
Actually, it is likely few in Corinth, for instance, could have kept the Passover if they wanted to. The Law required that they go to Jerusalem and that males be circumcised. That would have been a major trip and likely stumbling block for the Corinthians. Why become circumcised to keep the Passover if the death of Messiah has made available a new covenant which was above the Law? The new covenant did not require circumcision. Of course once the temple was destroyed the Passover could not be kept at all according to the Law. Since that time the Jews have implemented certain substitutions for the requirements in the Law. They assume these are acceptable to their Creator, but the Creator obviously turned His back on the covenant of the Law, the Old Covenant, that required everyone to come to the temple. He no longer provides ‘the place’ on earth as promised (Deu 12:5, 11).
So there is a disconnect between this memorial event and the Passover as the Jews knew it. Messiah’s sacrifice overshadowed that of the Passover lamb. That doesn’t mean that the Creator no longer regards the appointed time He set in Exodus 12:14 or repeated in Leviticus 23:5. The time is still regarded. The event celebration has changed. “On the fourteenth day of the first month at twilight is the LORD’S Passover[compassion/protection].” (Lev 23:5)
Some have associated a tradition of washing feet with their remembrance of Messiah’s death. There is no prohibition against this. However, the basis for this is found only in John, not in any of the four accounts that describe the symbols that are the focus of this new tradition. The lack of any mention of a foot washing especially in Paul’s explanation of what “I received from the Lord [and] that which I also delivered to you” makes it unlikely the Corinthians did such a ceremony. Paul exhorts everyone to wait for the meal, but not for the foot washing, which would logically take place first. There is no indication at all that the Corinthians washed one another’s feet or should have done this. If it had been done correctly it seems Paul would have been anxious to praise them for getting something right. If it were not done correctly Paul would certainly have pointed that out.
If they washed one another’s feet as they arrived, each family must have taken care of their own. This is not the message Messiah was trying to convey when He washed the disciples feet.
"If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet.” (John 13:14)
Not being included with the four accounts of the taking of the memorial symbols would indicate a disconnect between any foot washing ritual and the memorial meal. Messiah washed everyone’s feet including Judas. They did not then take turns washing someone else’s feet. The instruction was not for that particular occasion. It was not included in the accounts of the Memorial dress rehearsal.
The account of Luke contains a record of the disciples bickering over their relative status in the group (Luke 22:24). This would have been a natural place to include a reference to a foot-washing ritual. Instruction to be a server is included, but not the foot-washing example.
Although Messiah stated that "If I do not wash you, you have no part with Me." (John 13:8c), the washing did not guarantee a part with Him. Certainly Judas was not acceptable. ‘"and you are clean, but not all of you." 11 For He knew who would betray Him; therefore He said, "You are not all clean."’ (John 13:10c-11).
Consider that Messiah’s statement "If I do not wash you, you have no part with Me", remains true for all believers yet today (Rev 1:5). Some other person washing our feet will not clean what really needs to be cleaned. It is the example and teaching of Messiah that will humble us to walk in His way. His sacrifice cleans us just like it did the disciples.
Messiah’s example had him doing the washing with no reciprocation from the disciples. Because they were to “wash one another’s feet” (vs 14c) does not necessarily mean they are to take turns and get their feet washed. Messiah showed service to them, including Judas. Washing a guest’s feet was a special courtesy a host sometimes provided for his guests. They were to show service to one another. "For I have given you an example, that you should do as I have done to you.” (vs 15) He didn’t expect them to wash His feet. His example is therefore one of pure service with no expectation of reciprocation on the one being served.
Selfless service is something that ought to be done routinely on a daily basis, not necessarily according to the letter, but according to the spirit. Not necessarily in washing feet, but in humble service in whatever way is most helpful. A ritual foot washing once a year for a spirit filled believer who does this in spirit as a matter of daily habit serves no purpose, but to clean the foot.
Messiah often spoke from a spiritual perspective that went over the heads of the disciples. We would often miss His meaning too if it were not that He explained Himself later. In this case as well a few verses later Messiah tells us His full expectation. "A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; as I have loved you, that you also love one another” (vs 34). He expects us to lay down our life for each other. This is not expecting us to commit suicide, but to be selfless in our relationship with others as Messiah was. We need to be this all the time.
He fulfilled the job of a slave by washing the disciples feet. He expected them to fill that roll whenever the need arose.
The purpose of the Memorial is to remember Messiah. Washing someone else’s feet does not focus on Messiah, but another brother. This is not bad, but there is simply no indication the congregation in Corinth included foot washing as an integral act of this occasion. Mention is not included in what Paul “...received from the Lord [and] that which I also delivered to you...” (I Cor 11:23ab)
There is no direct connection between the New Covenant and Messiah’s act of washing the disciples feet. The New Covenant is renewed to a believer by the bread and wine, body and blood of Messiah. The washing of feet was simply an example of Messiah’s humble service. He required the disciples receive His service. He didn’t indicate any future benefit for future recipients of foot washing, beyond the obvious service they received. Neither is there an example in scripture of the disciples participating in a foot washing ritual.
There are a number of other related and interesting issues that are connected with this subject. Some of them add support to the basis of this document and others touch on additional facets. If you would like to learn more about other details surrounding the Passover you might consider examining Passover Details (Part II).