In our last essay we studied Luke 21:29-38, which ended the section of the Gospel on Jesus’ ministry in Jerusalem (19:21-21:28). In this essay we are studying Luke 22:1-20, which begins the last major section of the Gospel. These verses contain the first part of Jesus’ suffering called his passion.
Notice that Luke identifies the Feast of Unleavened Bread with the Feast of Passover. Technically they were different feasts that happened one right after the other. Passover was a one-day feast held on Nissan 14, and Unleavened Bread was a seven-day feast that began the next day on Nisan 15. Luke, being a Gentile couldn’t be expected to know the difference; but the truth is many Jews of the day didn’t understand the difference either; and they would use either name for the entire eight-day period.
In verse two Luke begins his account of the passion with an announcement that there was a conspiracy against Jesus. The chief priests and scribes hatched the plot, because Jesus had been a thorn in their sides for some time. However, they wanted to wait until after the feasts to move against him, because Jesus had a great deal of support among the people; and they feared a riot. Both Mark (14:1-2) and Matthew (26:1-5) explain this much more clearly than Luke.
In verses 3-6 we see that at this very time, an opportunity to arrest Jesus in a quiet place, with no crowds present, came to the chief priests. Satan entered Judas, one of the Twelve. Now that fact could be misinterpreted. Satan didn’t enter Judas against Judas’ will. We aren’t told how Judas opened himself up the devil, but he had to do that for Satan to enter in (cf. Jn. 13:2, 27).
Having given himself over to the devil’s work, Judas went to the chief priests and the temple police to offer them his services. He could give them information that would allow them to arrest Jesus in a quiet place.
Against this background of the plot against Jesus, in verses 7-13 Luke records Jesus’ preparations for the Passover. Notice once again that Luke thinks of Passover as part of the Feast of Unleavened Bread (v. 7). It is clear that Jesus wanted to eat the Passover with his disciples, and he sent Peter and John to prepare it (v. 8). Since the city was crowded with pilgrims, and the Passover was to be eaten within the confines of the city, Jesus’ prior arrangement for a room was important. Matthew and Mark are in agreement with Luke that the meal being prepared was a Passover meal, which always was eaten on Nisan 14.
Unfortunately, the Gospel of John seems to conflict with the three Synoptic Gospels at this point. John implies that the meal eaten by the disciples was eaten on Wednesday evening, Nisan 13, rather than on Thursday evening, Nisan 14, which if true, means the meal was not a Passover meal.
The day of the week is not at issue. Everyone agrees that Thursday, the fourteenth, was Passover and Jesus was crucified on Friday, the fifteenth. The issue is date of the month. As we have just seen, the Synoptics identify the Last Supper with the Jewish Passover, which means they date it Nisan 14. That in turn dates the crucifixion Nisan 15. John, on the other hand, seems to say that the Last Supper was eaten before the Passover and that Jesus was killed on the fourteenth at the very hour when the Passover lambs were being slain. This means that John’s dates would be 13 and 14 Nisan instead of 14 and 15 Nisan.
Let’s take a quick look at what John says. John 18:28 is the real problem verse. It reads, “Then they took Jesus from Caiaphas to Pilate’s headquarters [literally the praetorium]. It was early in the morning. They themselves [that is the Jews] did not enter the praetorium, so as to avoid ritual defilement and to be able to eat the Passover.”
You can see the problem. According to John the Jews brought Jesus to Pilate before they have eaten the Passover. Everyone agrees that Jesus was brought to Pilate on Friday morning. Thus according to this verse, John has the Jews eating the Passover meal on Friday, whereas the Synoptics told us that Jesus and the disciples ate it on Thursday.
There are several views on how to deal with the date of the month issue. First there are two views that suggest the Synoptic and Johannine calendar dates are contradictory. One group claims that John is correct and the Synoptics are in error. This group believes that the Synoptic tradition mistakenly took an ordinary meal on Wednesday for a Passover meal.
A second group claims that the Synoptics are correct and John is in error. An explanation for John’s error is not always given, though they could argue legitimately that John made the change intentionally for theological reasons. That is, they could claim a conscious change by John for the purpose of identifying Jesus with the death of the Passover lambs. John certainly does develop a Passover theology in his Gospel.
Those are the two views that suggest that John and the Synoptics are contradictory. There also are two views that the Synoptics and John are both correct and can be harmonized. One solution suggests that John 18:28 refers to a Passover week meal other than the Passover lamb meal. That is, they claim that the phrase “eat the Passover” was being used in Jn. 18:28 to represent all of the important meals during the entire eight days of festival, not just the Passover meal.
A second solution claims that two calendars were in use. One calendar would have been the official calendar in use by the Jews. On that calendar Friday was 14 Nisan. The second calendar would have been an unofficial calendar in use by Jesus and his disciples on which Thursday was 14 Nisan. If that seems a bit outlandish to you, the truth is, the existence of an unofficial calendar, or calendars, has been demonstrated in connection with Qumran studies (L. Morris).
The next paragraph (verses 14-18) is Luke’s account of the Passover meal. As you can see, Jesus took the role of the father of the family as they celebrated Passover. He began by telling the disciples that he very much wanted to eat this Passover with them before he suffered, meaning before he died (v. 15). He knew he would not have another opportunity to eat it with them until the end-time when Passover would be fulfilled in the kingdom of God. Jesus told them this in connection with one of the early cups of the Passover meal.
Although Jesus was celebrating Passover, he didn’t simply follow the Passover ritual. As he worked through the symbolic meal, we see in verses 19-20 that Jesus transformed the Jewish Passover into the Christian Holy Communion. It is important to note that Matthew tells us that Jesus went on to say in connection with the blood that it was “poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.”
As you can see, when Jesus was ready to distribute the bread, after giving thanks to God, he identified it with his body, which would be broken for them. Then he took a cup and identified it with his blood, which would be shed for them. In other words, as the blood of the Passover lambs symbolized Israel’s salvation from Egypt, the broken body and shed blood of Jesus would symbolize humanity’s salvation from sin. Notice the memorial aspect as well. “Do this in remembrance of me,” he said. In other words, one aspect of the meaning of Holy Communion is to remember what Christ did for us on the cross. And finally, notice that the institution of Communion also institutes a new covenant between God and his people.
The Synoptic accounts are close to Paul’s in 1 Corinthians. However, in 1 Cor. 10:16 Paul does add, quote, “The cup of blessing that we bless, is it not a sharing in the blood of Christ.” This suggests that the cup Jesus used to institute Holy Communion was the third cup of the Pass0ver, which is a cup of blessing.
Differing branches of the Church have interpreted what partaking of the bread and wine means in differing ways. The Roman Catholics believe in transubstantiation, which means that the elements of bread and wine are transformed into the actual body and blood of Jesus in substance; and the Communion nourishes our souls in a very literal way. Lutherans and Anglicans believe in the real presence of Christ in and with the elements, but without the idea of transubstantiation. Some Methodists take a view close to Anglicanism, but other Methodists believe that the sacrament is more symbolic than that. Baptists tend to emphasize the memorial aspect, and Quakers and the Salvation Army do not officially have sacraments at all.