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Frequently Asked Questions About Passover

1. How is the timing of Passover calculated? Why does Passover sometimes fall after Easter?

The two holidays are based on two different calendars. Easter is based on the solar calendar, the calendar commonly used today. In Western churches, Easter is dated as the first Sunday after the first full moon of spring. It therefore occurs somewhere between March 22 and April 25. Eastern Orthodox churches have a different approach based on the lunar calendar.

Passover, on the other hand, is based on the Jewish calendar, a lunar calendar that has twelve 28-day months. Every two or three years, there is a thirteenth month called Adar II included in the calendar. Over the course of a 19-year cycle, this “extra” month occurs in the 3rd, 6th, 8th, 11th, 14th, 17th, and 19th years. The year 2008 was one of those years with an extra month. Passover occurs from the 15th to the 21st of the month of Nisan – which is the month right after the “extra” month of Adar II.

The inclusion of the “extra” month in the lunar calendar thus caused Passover to fall nearly 30 days after Easter in 2008.

2. Why do we still celebrate Old Testament holidays such as Passover, since Jesus has risen?

Believers in Messiah Jesus have a freedom to celebrate these holidays or not to celebrate them. To celebrate, one must do so in a way that is consistent with New Testament doctrine. Each of the appointed festivals in Leviticus 23 points to Jesus, and they look forward to His first and second comings. Celebration of these festivals is a great way to draw attention to Him.

Regarding Passover, this holiday is a powerful foreshadowing of His sacrificial death, burial, and resurrection. Paul exhorted the Corinthian believers to “celebrate the seder” (1 Corinthians 5:8). Doing so can be a great way to teach our children their biblical heritage; it can also be a testimony to Jewish family and friends.

3. How is Passover related to the Last Supper?

The Last Supper was itself part of a celebration of Passover. Knowing that He would be put to death in a few hours, Jesus told his disciples that He “eagerly desired to celebrate this Passover with you before I suffer” (Luke 22:15). At this celebration, He took elements of the Passover (the unleavened bread and the cup) and identified them as his body and blood, symbolizing his death.

Other elements of the Passover are important symbols as well. The “lamb” points to the Lamb of God (John 1:29). Indeed, Jesus is the Passover Lamb. Paul tells us that as often as we eat this bread and drink of this cup (elements of the Passover and the heart of the Last Supper, or Communion), we proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes (1 Corinthians 11:26).

4. Is it appropriate for Gentile Christians to celebrate Passover?

There is a freedom that believers have in matters like this, and it can be quite meaningful for Gentile Christians to celebrate Passover. It can be a way of enjoying and identifying with their biblical heritage and as a testimony to Jewish friends and neighbors.

There is a wider dimension to this as well: after many Gentiles had come to faith in Jesus the Messiah (Acts 11:19-26), the issue of Gentile believers’ obligation to the Jewish Old Testament law became a major concern (Acts 15:5). The disciples gathered at what became known as the Council of Jerusalem (Acts 15:6ff) and determined that the Gentiles should not feel obligated to observe the law (with a few requests, nonetheless). They further noted that the teachings of the law and its benefits would be available in the synagogues every Sabbath.

We see, therefore, that Gentile Christians can celebrate the Passover and reap benefits from dong so.

5. Passover is a seven-day celebration. How are each of the days celebrated?

In the Bible, in Israel today, and in Reform Judaism, Passover lasts seven days. But among most observant Jews outside of Israel – including North America – an eighth day is added, since originally the matter of differing time zones gave concern that the festival was being observed during the correct dates.

In the Bible (Leviticus 23:4-8) the first and seventh days are emphasized, calling for gathering of a sacred assembly and abstaining from regular work. Among modern observant Jews, the first two and in some cases the last two days are emphasized; the observance of the Seder, including a full meal, is common. This works better if there is more than one home and one cook for these evenings!

The other days are known as “intermediate days” and only the week-long eating of unleavened bread instead of leavened bread is prescribed. On the evenings when there is a Seder, the family gathers around the table and follows the fourteen items in the haggadah (“the telling”), thereby partaking of the various Passover elements, including the unleavened bread, bitter herbs, drinking of the four cups, etc.

6. What preparations are typically made for the Passover, both in the time of Jesus and today?

In the time of Jesus, a good number of the traditional observances had not yet become a part of the celebration. But the three major component parts were in place: the lamb, the unleavened bread, and the bitter herbs. The washings and cup(s) of wine were a part of the Seder, and it appears that the dipping of the bitter herbs in a bowl of salt (?) water also took place (Matt. 26:23). The observance of Passover was a good deal simpler than today.

Nowadays, the celebration has become highly developed and is a major event in the Jewish community. For weeks beforehand, the home gets a thorough spring cleaning geared toward getting all the leaven out of the house, since Passover introduces the week-long feast of unleavened bread.

The Seder is a family event, and the table is ornate – graced by flowers, candles, and the various Passover elements, including the shank bone of the lamb, unleavened bread, bitter herbs, greens, salt water, egg, a sweet dish, and the four cups of wine. Many people have a special Seder plate for the elements, as well as a matzo tash – a covering for the unleavened bread. A special book known as the Haggadah (“The Telling”) is provided for the purpose of telling and living out the story of Israel’s deliverance from slavery in Egypt. The Seder (“order”) is the telling of that story.

7. What typically is eaten for the main Passover meal? Why is lamb no longer eaten?

Actually, many Jews do eat lamb, notably the Sephardic Jews (those of Spanish descent). Many Sephardic Jews live in Israel today. It is the Ashkenazi Jews (those of eastern European descent) who do not eat lamb – as a reminder that the temple no longer stands and the lamb cannot be sacrificed. Turkey, chicken, or beef might be served instead.

8. John says that Jesus died on the day of preparation of Passover Week, just before a special Sabbath (John 19:14, 31). The other three gospels seem to say that Jesus was arrested on the first day of Passover and crucified the following day. How can this apparent contradiction be resolved, and on what day of the week was Jesus crucified?

John 19:14 tells us that it was the day of preparation of Passover week, but it is not to be assumed that this was the preparation for the Passover. There were also the weekly Sabbath and the first day of the feast of unleavened bread taking place at that time.

John 19:31 tells us that it was the day of Preparation, and the next day was to be a special Sabbath. The special Sabbath may mean a weekly Sabbath that was special because it was at the time of Passover, or it may refer to the feast of unleavened bread.

A scenario to consider is as follows:

  • The Passover lamb was slain at twilight Wednesday, just as Thursday was beginning (Jewish days go from sunset to sunset).

  • Thursday was the preparation for the Passover and that evening (the beginning of Friday) the Passover was eaten-including the Passover meal eaten by Jesus and his disciples (initiating the Lord’s Supper).

  • Later that night was Gethsemane, the arrest, and the trial by Annas and Caiphas, going very late into the night. The rooster crowed, indicating that it was early in the morning (John 19:27) and that was confirmed in John 19:28.

  • It was now Friday morning, still the day of Passover, and Jesus was taken by the chief priests and elders to Pilate (Matthew 27:1; John 19:28). Jesus was taken to be crucified, and was dead and buried before the weekly Sabbath began.

  • A guard was placed on the tomb for the Sabbath (Friday evening to Saturday sunset).

  • Early Sunday morning the tomb was discovered empty, because Jesus was risen.

It is sometimes thought that the day of the week in which Jesus was crucified was Wednesday or perhaps Thursday, but the above approach suggests Friday. It is true that Jesus was to be dead three days and three nights (Matthew 12:40), but we must understand that the Jews of that time considered any part of a day to be considered as a day, and so Jesus spoke of rising from the dead on the third day (Luke 24:46).

We of course know that the important thing is that He arose (1 Cor. 15:3-4)!


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