Each year, God’s holy days remind us of His overall plan and purpose for man. When the holy days are to be kept is determined by the Hebrew sacred calendar, which has its first month (Nisan) in the spring. The Jews keep the Passover on the evening of the 15th of Nisan. But is this the correct day to observe the Passover?
Most of the world denies this day altogether and instead embraces Easter.
This is a very controversial issue. But did you know that it was also very controversial in the first century when Jesus Christ still walked on this Earth? The controversy has continued to this day.
The three Gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke show that on the night Jesus Christ was betrayed, He and His disciples prepared and kept the Passover (Matthew 26; Mark 14:12, 16; Luke 22:15). The Jews, however, kept it 24 hours later (John 18:28).
Who kept the right day? Are we to assume that Christ could have kept the Passover on the wrong day? In this article, we will show that Jesus Christ indeed kept the right day and that it is the Jews who today keep Passover on the wrong day.
Back to the Beginning
We need to go back to the beginning to when and why this day was even sanctioned by God to be kept. The children of Israel were commanded to keep the Passover on the 14th of Nisan, which, depending on the year, is during the month of March or April. There were no divisions among the Israelites. They all kept it on that day.
God lists all of His holy days and gives instructions concerning them in Leviticus 23: “These are the feasts of the Lord, even holy convocations, which ye shall proclaim in their seasons. In the fourteenth day of the first month at even is the Lord’s passover” (verses 4-5). Notice first that this is God’s Passover—not the Jews’—and the day it is to be kept is the 14th, not the 15th. God reveals that the days are to begin and end at even, or sunset (see Leviticus 23:32; Deuteronomy 16:6; Psalm 104:19). So the Passover begins at sunset at the beginning of the 14th. The Jewish community observes their Passover on the 15th beginning at sunset, as any standard Western calendar will show.
Leviticus 23:6 tells us that the first day of Unleavened Bread is on the 15th. But, as we shall see, the Passover and the Days of Unleavened Bread are two very different and separate festivals.
Before covering the events of the Passover in the New Testament, let’s first review the events as they occurred in the Old Testament.
Between the Two Evenings
First of all, the Passover lamb was to be sacrificed “in the evening” (Exodus 12:6) on the 14th day of the first month. “In the evening” is better translated “between the two evenings,” which literally means between sunset and dark. Deuteronomy 16:6 confirms this when it says the lamb was sacrificed “at even, at the going down of the sun.” Gesenius’ Hebrew-Chaldee Lexicon says this about the phrase “at even”: “the time between sunset and deep twilight.”
If the Bible is so clear, how did the date of observance change? Very simply, the Jews changed what determines the beginning and ending of a day, going against plain Bible proof that the day begins at sunset. Their teachings about the beginning of days and the time of the Passover are simply not provable from the Bible. You can prove when the passover is to be observed!
IN the 14th
Exodus 12:8 says the Israelites were to eat the Passover meal “in that night.” Which night? The one mentioned in verse 6: the 14th. After that, God smote the firstborn “this night” (verse 12). Not the next night—this night—the 14th!
That is why, in Numbers 28:16, it says, “And in the fourteenth day of the first month is the passover of the Lord” (see also Leviticus 23:5-6). The events of the Passover occur in the 14th. And the events of the first day of Unleavened Bread occur in the 15th!
Other Obvious Proofs
In Exodus 12:21-22, we find clear instructions that the Israelites were not to leave their houses until morning. If they did, they would have died. This is why they were to burn their leftovers the next morning (verse 10). Remember, since God’s days begin at sunset, the morning after the Passover is still the 14th—the day portion of the 14th.
They weren’t supposed to leave their houses until morning, yet Deuteronomy 16:1 says they left Egypt “by night.” Their exodus from Egypt then had to be that following night, or the night of the 15th. This was to be a “night to be much observed” (Exodus 12:42). This is confirmed in Numbers 33:3: “And they departed … on the fifteenth day of the first month; on the morrow AFTER the passover.” Throughout Scripture, God makes an obvious distinction between the Passover and the exodus from Egypt.
And finally, there is the spoiling of the Egyptians (Exodus 12:33-36). This could have only taken place on the afternoon of the 14th, just hours before the Israelites left Egypt the night of the 15th. They did not spoil the Egyptians many days before the Passover as some falsely claim. The Israelites were slaves. Why would the Egyptians give their slaves all their belongings days prior to the killing of all the firstborn? After all, it was this plague that caused the Egyptians to surrender their belongings!
God Names Things What They Are
How did the Passover get its name originally? “For the Lord will pass through to smite the Egyptians; and when he seeth the blood upon the lintel, and on the two side posts, the Lord will pass over the door, and will not suffer the destroyer to come in unto your houses to smite you. … That ye shall say, It is the sacrifice of the Lord’s passover, who passed over the houses of the children of Israel in Egypt, when he smote the Egyptians, and delivered our houses. And the people bowed the head and worshipped” (Exodus 12:23, 27). It is called the Passover because the death angel passed over the houses of the Israelites who had followed God’s directions given to Moses.
God names things for what they are. The name Passover is appropriate. God passed over the houses that had the blood of the lamb on their doorpost. God also passes over (forgives) our sins when we repent of them and come under the shed blood of Jesus Christ our Passover, sacrificed for us.
Kept on the 14th Many Generations Later
When the Hebrew children would ask about this service years later, the parents were to respond, “It is the sacrifice of the Lord’s Passover” (Exodus 12:27). Yes, this is God’s Passover—and God said “the fourteenth day of the first month at even is the Lord’s passover” (Leviticus 23:5).
Many generations later, the Israelites were still keeping the Passover on the 14th.
They kept the Passover on the correct day when they were in the wilderness (Numbers 9:5). When they entered into the Promised Land, they were still all in agreement (Joshua 5:10). King Josiah kept the Passover on the 14th (2 Chronicles 35:1). We also read in Ezra’s time they were still keeping it on the 14th (Ezra 6:19), and this was about 519 b.c.
New Testament Jews Keep It a Day Later
So why is it, when we come to the New Testament, we find that the Jews were not all keeping the same day as Jesus Christ?
“And the Jews’ passover was at hand, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem” (John 2:13). Here it is called “the Jews’ Passover”—not “the Lord’s Passover.” Why were the Jews now keeping it a day later? The Jewish confusion most likely arose in the third century before Christ. The Palestinian Jews were under Egyptian control from 301 to 198 b.c. (Do not confuse this Egyptian control with that during the days of Moses, which occurred many centuries earlier.)
Here is what happened, according to the April 1963 Good News: “While the Egyptians allowed the Jews to retain their ancient calendar, there was a change made in the beginning of the day—it became common to begin the day at sunrise. This custom was adopted, and persisted among the Jews even down to New Testament times (see the Jewish Quarterly Review, April 1946). We have had personal information from the Hebrew Union College admitting this fact.” (The proof of this is also given in the Expository Times, June 1948.)
Christ Instructed Keeping Passover on 14th
Most people are in agreement when Christ was killed. It was in the afternoon of the 14th. But when did Christ keep the Passover? It was in the night portion of the 14th—that is, the night before the day Christ was crucified. Some have reasoned that Christ kept the Passover correctly every year until the last year, when He kept it on the wrong day. Others insist that because John mentions the Passover as occurring on the evening after Christ’s sacrifice, that the Passover Christ kept the previous evening was just a Last Supper or some kind of “love feast.” But Christ makes it very clear in Matthew, Mark and Luke that the disciples were to prepare the Passover.
“Ye know that after two days is the feast of the passover, and the Son of man is betrayed to be crucified” (Matthew 26:2). Clarke’s Commentary states regarding this verse: “This feast began on the 14th day of the first moon, in the first month, Nisan, and it lasted only one day; but it was immediately followed by the days of unleavened bread, which were seven, so that the whole lasted eight days, and all the eight days are sometimes called the feast of the passover, and sometimes the feast or days of unleavened bread.”
It’s interesting to note that even Clarke’s Commentary says the two are separate. But the point is that these days were generally called the Passover or the feast of Unleavened Bread, meaning the whole eight days, including the Passover and the Days of Unleavened Bread. Matthew says, “after two days is the feast of the passover.” In Mark 14:1 it says, “After two days was the feast of the passover, and of unleavened bread.” And in Luke 22:1 it says, “Now the feast of unleavened bread drew nigh, which is called the passover.” All three use slightly different terminologies, but the meaning is the same.
The same is true for John 19:14. On the day Christ was crucified, John wrote that the “preparation of the passover” was at hand. It is true that this was just before Christ died on the afternoon of the 14th; but in verse 31, John makes it clear what this preparation was for. “The Jews therefore, because it was the preparation, that the bodies should not remain upon the cross on the sabbath day, (for that sabbath day was an high day,) besought Pilate that their legs might be broken, and that they might be taken away.” At sunset, after Christ died, the “high day,” or holy day (the first day of Unleavened Bread), began. The Jews were preparing for their passover, not “the Lord’s” (Leviticus 23:5).
Now let’s continue with the story. Matthew 26:17-18 read: “Now the first day of the feast of unleavened bread the disciples came to Jesus, saying unto him, Where wilt thou that we prepare for thee to eat the passover? And he said, Go into the city to such a man, and say unto him, The Master saith, My time is at hand; I will keep the passover at thy house with my disciples.” The Greek word for “passover” in these two verses is pascha. Strong’s Concordance defines this word as “the Passover, the meal, the festival.” Any lexicon verifies this definition.
Verse 19 continues, “And the disciples did as Jesus had appointed them; and they made ready the passover.” They made ready the Passover—same Greek word. If this event was only referring to a final meal or last supper, certainly the word pascha would not have been inspired.
Notice Mark’s account: “And wheresoever he shall go in, say ye to the goodman of the house, The Master saith, Where is the guestchamber, where I shall eat the passover with my disciples?” (Mark 14:14). Same Greek word—pascha. This same word is also used in Luke’s account. Notice: “And he said unto them, With desire I have desired to eat this passover with you before I suffer” (Luke 22:15).
Let’s again notice Matthew 26:18: “And he said, Go into the city to such a man, and say unto him, The Master saith, My time is at hand; I will keep the passover at thy house with my disciples.” Those who advocate a 15th-of-Nisan Passover and say this was just some kind of final dinner are actually saying Jesus Christ did not know what He was talking about! Jesus said, “I will keep the Passover … with my disciples.”
This makes it plain that when Jesus gathered with His disciples the night He was betrayed by Judas, it was indeed the Passover!
The next morning, after the betrayal, the Jews brought Jesus before the Sanhedrin. “Then led they Jesus from Caiaphas unto the hall of judgment: and it was early; and they themselves went not into the judgment hall, lest they should be defiled; but that they might eat the passover” (John 18:28).
This was before the Jews’ passover. The holy day was to start at sunset of that evening. Remember, the Jews did not want to kill Him on a feast day for fear of what the people might do (Matthew 26:5). They also wanted to be sure that the bodies did not remain on the stake during the holy day (John 19:31). Then around 3 o’clock in the afternoon on the 14th, Christ died (Matthew 27:46; Mark 15:34). The Passover meal and sacrifice all occurred on the 14th of Nisan.
When we read that the Jews’ Passover was at hand, that is exactly what it was—the Jews’ Passover!
The New Testament Church
Had Jesus Christ kept the Passover on the wrong day, how could He still be our Savior? Could He be a Lamb without blemish? Years after He died, this same Christ instructed the Apostle Paul about the symbols that had been changed on that last Passover before His crucifixion (Matthew 26:26-30; Luke 22:15-20). Paul explained to the Corinthians that Christ was our Passover. Notice 1 Corinthians 5:7: “Purge out therefore the old leaven, that ye may be a new lump, as ye are unleavened. For even Christ our passover is sacrificed for us.”
Paul further explains the Passover in 1 Corinthians 11:23. “For I have received of the Lord that which also I delivered unto you, That the Lord Jesus the same night in which he was betrayed took bread.”
Paul and God’s people at that time were to eat the bread and drink the wine. When? On “the same night in which he [Christ] was betrayed” (verse 23): the evening of the 14th.
Again, the time setting is the evening of the 14th—the night Jesus was betrayed by Judas. Paul goes on to explain the changed symbols. “And when he had given thanks, he brake it, and said, Take, eat: this is my body, which is broken for you: this do in remembrance of me. After the same manner also he took the cup, when he had supped, saying, This cup is the new testament in my blood: this do ye, as oft as ye drink it, in remembrance of me” (verses 24-25).
There can be no doubt that what Paul is talking about is the Passover Christ kept with His disciples. Paul instructed God’s Church to keep the Passover at the same time and the same way that Christ kept it. It was to be kept in remembrance of Christ.
Now notice the next verse which makes it very plain. “For as often as ye eat this bread, and drink this cup, ye do shew the Lord’s death till he come” (verse 26).
Some assume that, since Christ was crucified on the afternoon of the 14th, the lamb must have been slain in the afternoon of the 14th in the Old Testament and that the Passover meal must have been that night on the 15th. The night Christ was betrayed, which He plainly called the Passover, they ate the bread and drank the wine for what? To “show the Lord’s death till he come”! Paul’s group followed that example precisely. In the New Testament, Christ changed the symbols, not the day.
The Church After the Apostles
But what about after the time of Christ and the New Testament apostles? Is there any proof that the Church after the apostles kept the Passover on the 14th? Eusebius’ Ecclesiastical History mentions that Polycarp went to Rome to discuss with Anicetus, the head of the Roman church, a topic concerning the day of the Passover. Polycarp had been instructed by the apostles and had been appointed head of the Church at Smyrna by the apostles.
Eusebius writes that “he [Polycarp] always taught what he had learned from the apostles, what the Church handed down and what is the only true doctrine.” He mentions there was considerable discussion about the difference of opinion concerning the Passover: “The churches of all Asia guided by a remoter tradition supposed that they ought to keep the 14th day of the moon for the festival of the Savior’s Passover.” This was around a.d. 154, when Polycrates, who followed Polycarp, stated, “We observe the exact day: neither adding, nor taking away.” Notice they kept the 14th day for the Passover. So here is historical evidence that the apostles and the New Testament Church kept the Passover on the 14th, also indicating there was still controversy on which day to observe it, the 14th or the 15th.
Remember, the Jews kept it a day later than Christ, and later Jewish converts could have brought this controversy into the New Testament Church when they were converted to Christianity.
Many have heard of what is called the “quartodeciman controversy.” Quarto means four, and deciman means ten; together that totals 14. In the early New Testament Church, after Christ died, there arose this quartodeciman controversy. The Christians who were keeping the 14th Passover were called into question about their beliefs. It appears that the Jews began to make division concerning the 14th or the 15th Passover observance. There is evidence that this movement began right after the fall of Jerusalem, and the Jews could no longer offer a temple sacrificial lamb on the evening before the 15th because the temple had been destroyed. The Jewish passover at that point became exclusively a 15th of Nisan Passover. It is still that way today.
There would not have been a quartodeciman controversy had the Christians not been observing the 14th Passover as Jesus Christ did. Notice again in 1 Corinthians 11:23: “For I have received of the Lord that which also I delivered unto you, That the Lord Jesus the same night in which he was betrayed took bread.” This is the day the Apostle Paul taught Christians to observe the Passover, and there is no doubt—no dispute by anyone, anywhere—that the night Jesus Christ observed His last Passover was on the 14th! With this in mind, we need to understand that if the Christians were in fact observing a 15th Passover, there would not have been a quartodeciman controversy in the first place.
Some Jewish traditions and customs have been accepted as the teachings of Jesus Christ, even though He never practiced or taught us to observe them. If a person does accept the traditional Jewish Passover (15th observance), they would be accepting the commandments and traditions of men, which are contrary to the truth of God.
The Apostle Paul in Galatians 2 soundly and publicly rebuked Peter and the other Jews for making the Gentiles Judaize by following the tradition of the Jews in place of the teachings of God. That is exactly what is happening today to those who follow and accept the traditional teachings of the Jews over the teachings of Jesus Christ. Jesus, without reservation, totally rejected the Jews’ religious traditions, because in holding to their traditions, they rejected and set aside the commandments of God.
“Howbeit in vain do they worship me, teaching for doctrines the commandments of men. For laying aside the commandment of God, ye hold the tradition of men, as the washing of pots and cups: and many other such like things ye do. And he said unto them, Full well ye reject the commandment of God, that ye may keep your own tradition” (Mark 7:7-9).
Those who try to combine the Passover with the first day of Unleavened Bread are missing out on the beautiful symbolism God has given us through His holy days. Notice what Herbert W. Armstrong wrote in his booklet Pagan Holidays—or God’s Holy Days—Which?: “Can you see the wonderful meaning? Do you grasp the true significance of it all? Do you see God’s purpose? The Passover only pictures the death of Christ for the remission of sins that are past (Romans 3:25). The accepting of His blood does not forgive sins we may later commit; it does not give license to continue in sin. Therefore when we accept it, our sins are forgiven only up to that time—past sins. But shall we stop there with only past sins forgiven? We are still flesh beings. We still shall suffer temptations. Sin has held us in its clutch—we have been slaves to sin, in its power. And we are powerless to deliver ourselves from it! We have been in bondage to sin. Let us understand the picture—the meaning. To what extent shall we put away sin? Not partially, but completely! And, as leaven is also a type of sin (1 Corinthians 5:8)—leaven puffs up, and so does sin—and, as seven is God’s number symbolizing completeness, we are to follow the Passover with seven days of Unleavened Bread! The picture—the meaning—the symbolism, is not complete with Passover alone. Passover pictures the acceptance of Christ’s blood for the remission of past sins. It pictures the crucified—the dead—Christ. Shall we leave Christ symbolically hanging on the cross? The seven days of Unleavened Bread following Passover picture to us the complete putting away of sin, the keeping of the commandments—after past sins are forgiven.”
The Passover pictures the acceptance of Christ’s blood for the remission of past sins. That occurs first. Next, after Passover, come the Days of Unleavened Bread, which picture us going forward and putting away sin completely. What a wonderful picture!