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Timing of the Passion Week

(The Messiah's Last Week)



          The last week of the Messiah's life is arguably the most important portions of all of scripture.  This time was so important that the Apostle John devoted the last nine chapters of his gospel entirely for this week.  To understand the timing of the Passion Week we must first understand three things.  1) Exodus 12 and the Passover commands, 2) what communion is and why we do it, and 3) what the Gospel writers meant by certain terms used.  Once this is understood, a timeline falls right into place.


1). Exodus 12:


          Understanding Exodus 12 and the Passover commands is fairly simple.  For a detailed study please read my article, The Feast of Passover, Unleavened Bread, and First Fruits here.  The main point to understand is this, Exodus 12 is the Passover that God commanded us to keep (Ex. 12:25), not the Jewish Seder.  At the end of the Passover description God commanded Moses, "that ye shall keep this service" (Ex. 12:25, 13:5).  Clearly the service referred to is the preceding 24 verses in Exodus chapter 12.  Since most do not keep an Exodus 12 Passover they struggle to understand the timing of the Messiah's last week.


2). Communion:


          Communion is another command that is often misunderstood.  It is often thought that the Lord's Supper, or Communion, is the New Testament Passover.  This, however, falls short of good biblical study.  There are several reasons why the Lord's Supper could not have been the Passover.  First, if the Lord's Supper was the Passover, then the Messiah did the Passover incorrectly.  Exodus 12 explains how to do the Passover, but the Lord's Supper is quite a bit different.  The Lord's Supper contains leavened bread, but the Passover contains unleavened bread (Ex. 12:8, Matt. 26:26).  The Lord's Supper was on the preparation day, but the Passover is on the day after (Ex. 12:6, John 19:31).  There is also no mention of a lamb or bitter herbs at the Lord's Supper, but these are required for the Passover.

          The truth is, the Messiah specifically said that the Lord's Supper was not the Passover.  In Luke 22:15-16 the Messiah said, "With desire I have desired to eat this passover with you before I suffer: For I say unto you, I will not any more eat thereof, until it be fulfilled in the kingdom of God."  At first glance this sounds like the Messiah is claiming the meal He is eating is the Passover, but the Greek text does not allow this.  The word for "desire" is epithumia, which means, "a longing (especially for what is forbidden)"  (Strong's Dictionary - G1939).  This word is almost always translated as "lust" or "covet."  The Messiah is saying he strongly desires to eat the Passover, but He is forbidden because He is the Passover.  Here is a modern translation that has it more accurate, "'I have longingly desired to eat this Passover with you before my suffering; however, I tell you that I shall not eat of it, until it can be administered in the Kingdom of God.'" (The Holy Bible in Modern English).  This translation has it correct.  The Messiah did not eat of the Passover that year.  He said so plainly.  How could He have since He was the Passover that year.  The Messiah is announcing to His disciples that He will not be eating the Passover with them, which was the next day.  This is another reason why Communion was not the Passover.  To read more about what communion is please read my article here.  The point to be made for this article is that Communion and Passover are not the same.


3). Terminology:


          The Gospel of John clearly spells out when the Messiah died.  It was on the "preparation of the passover" (John 19:14).  This was the fourteenth of Abib.  The Passover was the next day.  In fact, the Jews rushed to remove His body so it was not on the cross during the Passover Sabbath (John 19:31).  Clearly the Messiah died at the same time all the Passover Lambs were being slaughtered.  The confusion is with the synoptic gospels, Matthew, Mark, and Luke.  Matthew, Mark, and Luke, appear to claim that the Passover and the LORD's Supper were the same event.  However, with good biblical study you will find that the four gospels do not contradict each other.

          The first term to understand is "the first day of unleavened bread."  Today this phrase means the first day of the seven days of unleavened bread, which is the day after the Passover preparation.  Today we use this phrase to refer to the fifteenth of Abib.  But is this what the Messiah and the Apostles meant by this phrase?  All three synoptic gospels state that on the "first day of unleavened bread" the disciples asked about preparing the Passover (Matt. 26:17, Mark 14:12, Luke 22:7).  What is often missed is that this phrase clearly refers to the preparation day of the Passover, not the Passover.  Mark records, "And the first day of unleavened bread, when they killed the passover" (Mark 14:12).  This is the day they killed and prepared the Passover, which is the fourteenth, not the Passover Day, which is the fifteenth.  This agrees with the Gospel of John.  Our confusion is because we use this phrase differently today.  Today, we say that the first day of unleavened bread is the Passover on the fifteenth, but the Apostles clearly referred to the preparation day on the fourteenth as the first day of unleavened bread.  This makes sense because that is exactly what Exodus 12 says, "even the first day ye shall put away leaven out of your houses" (Ex. 12:15).  Our confusion is because we do not keep the Passover as God commanded, but the Messiah and the Apostles did.  The first day of unleavened bread is the preparation day for the Passover.  This is the day we remove leaven from our houses.

          When the disciples asked, "Where wilt thou that we prepare for thee to eat the passover?" (Matt. 26:17).  The response from the Messiah was, "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" (Matt. 26:18).  Then they went and "made ready the passover" (Matt. 26:19).  This is clearly the preparation day.  The Lord's Supper is the start of the preparation day where they remove all leaven from the house.  It makes sense to have one last meal of leavened bread instead of throwing all that bread away.  This is what the Lord's Supper was, one last meal of leavened bread just before they started the Feast of Unleavened Bread.  In fact, the synoptic gospels also state that the Messiah died on the day after the preparation day (Matt. 26:52, Mark 15:42-43, Luke 23:54).  Clearly the Lord's Supper was not the Passover, but rather, it was the preparation day.  They ate leavened bread in a communion meal to start their holy days.




          The key to understanding the last week of the Messiah's life is the Law of God, specifically, the laws regarding the feast of Passover.  We must first understand that there were two Sabbaths during that week.  The first Sabbath was the annual Sabbath of Passover (Lev. 23:7).  This was the Sabbath of the first day of Unleavened Bread.  The second Sabbath was the weekly Sabbath we commonly call Saturday.  Here are some facts we must consider.

          First, the Messiah rose from the dead on the first day of the week (John 20:1).  This is what we would call Sunday.  Keep in mind, biblical days start at evening.  Mark 16:9 states, "Now when Jesus was risen early the first day of the week, he appeared first to Mary Magdalene ..."   The Messiah rose from the dead early on the first day of the week.  The first day starts on what we would call Saturday evening.  The Messiah rose sometime between Saturday evening and Sunday morning.  Saturday evening the wave sheaf was cut, but early Sunday morning the omer was waved before the LORD (Lev. 23:11).  The day of the resurrection of the Messiah was the first day of the week.  This is a time marker we can use to get the chronology of events.

          Three days and three nights earlier must have been the crucifixion, which was the preparation day of the Passover.  We know this because the Messiah said, "the Son of man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth" (Matt. 12:40).  This is a pretty precise marker.  The text clearly says three days and three nights.  There is no way the Messiah could be crucified on a Friday and resurrected on a Sunday while also being in the grave for three days and three nights.  This time marker asserts that the crucifixion must have been on the previous Wednesday.

          Many have tried to make the crucifixion on a Thursday.  The problem with this theory is it causes the disciples to break the Sabbath commands.  If the Messiah died on Thursday, then both Friday and Saturday are Sabbath days.  However, Mary bought spices to anoint the Messiah's body when the Sabbath ended (Mark 16:1).  If the Messiah died on Thursday, there is no possible day for Mary to buys spices without breaking the Sabbath.  Both Friday and Saturday were Sabbath days and no stores would be open before sunrise when Mary went to the tomb.  The Messiah must have been crucified on Wednesday and rose on Sunday.  With these two time markers a chronology of events can be made.


  Friday   John 12:1-11 - Six days before the Passover was the supper with Martha.  This was Abib 9.
  Saturday   Mark 11:1-11 - Five days before the Passover was the Triumphal Entry.  This was the day you were supposed to set your lamb aside (Ex. 12:3).  This was Abib 10.
  Sunday   Luke 20:1-8 - From the 10th until the 14th the lamb was examined (Ex. 12:5-6).
  Tuesday Evening   Matt. 26:2, Mark 14:1, 12 - The evening before the Passover was the communion and the betrayal of the Messiah.  This was Abib 14 (evening before).
  Wednesday   John 19:31 - This was the preparation day for the Passover when all the lambs were slaughtered.  This was Abib 14 (during the day).
  Saturday Evening
Sunday Morning
  Matt. 28:1 - This was three days after the crucifixion on the fifteenth.  This was Abib 18 and was the first day of the week.  The first day of the week starts on Saturday evening and ends on Sunday evening.  The text says He rose early on the first day (Mark 16:9), which must have been sometime before Sunday morning.


          From these facts we can deduce a timeline of events.  This timeline is obtained using Exodus 12, Leviticus 23, and the previous gospel accounts.  To get the exact days you simply start with the first day of the week when the Messiah was resurrected and count backwards.  Here is what you arrive at:


Sunday Monday Tuesday Wednesday Thursday Friday Saturday

2 3





Supper with Martha
(John 12:1)

Triumphal Entry
(John 12:12-14)

Jesus is questioned (Luke 20:1-8, 19-26)

Jesus anointed at leper's house (Matt. 26:6-13)

Communion & Betrayal
(Matt. 26:26)

Crucifixion & Annual Sabbath
(John 19:31)

1st day
1st Night
(Matt. 12:40)

2nd day
2nd Night
(Matt. 12:40)

3rd day
3rd Night
(Matt. 12:40)
Resurrection on Sat. Evening (Matt. 28:1)








          It is important to remember that the Hebrew day starts at sunset and ends at sunset.  The calendar below should help point out the difference.  The Last Supper would have been on what we would call Tuesday Evening the 13th, but was really after sunset which is Wednesday the 14th.  The crucifixion was on the 14th at around 3pm (the same hour as the Passover sacrifice), but the body was removed because of the impending High Sabbath day on the 15th at sunset (John 19:31).  The term "High Sabbath" clearly marks that this day was the fifteenth of Abib.  This was the first Sabbath of the Feast of Unleavened Bread.  It might be difficult to understand, but once you get a grasp of how the biblical calendar works it will make perfect sense.  This is the only way that you can take the scriptures literally in regards to the timing of the passion week.


Click image to enlarge.




          The timing of the Passion week can be a difficult thing to figure out.  The only possible way it works is with an understanding of how the Passover is to be kept.  Unfortunately, very few people actually keep the Passover as Exodus 12 commands.  Instead we are keeping a Jewish Seder which only distorts the true lesson to be learned from the Passover Holy Days.  When we decide to obey God and keep His commandments we will learn what those commandments teach.  However, this only works if keep the commandments as God commanded them.  Our lack of knowledge of scriptural law lends us to poor exegesis.  Like Hosea said, "My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge: . . . seeing thou hast forgotten the law of thy God" (Hosea 4:6).  Today the church has rejected the Law of God.  As a result, we have a very poor understanding of the events of the passion week.  As Psalms 111:10 states, "a good understanding have all they that do his commandments."  We lack a good understanding of the passion week because we refuse to, "do his commandments."  If we would start practicing the commandments of God we would start to understand these scriptural principles.

          The truth of the matter is this, early in the history of the church pagan doctrines crept in.  The Apostles dealt with this in many of their epistles and the early church fathers also dealt with such matters.  Bishop Faustus of Mileve, writing to Augustine of Hippo in the fourth century, stated, "You have substituted your love-feasts for the sacrifices of the pagans; for their idols, your martyrs, whom you serve with the very same honors.  You appease the shades of the dead with wine and feasts; you celebrate the solemn festivals of the Gentiles, their calends, and their solstices; and as to their manners, those you have retained without any alteration.  Nothing distinguishes you from the pagans, except that you hold your assemblies apart from them."  Maybe the church should go back to keeping God's commands as He commanded them.


By Steve Siefken

  Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth

not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.

2 Timothy 2:15 KJV