The Last Supper: was it a Passover Seder? Part 2
by Roy A. Reinhold May 4, 2002

Part 1 showed that the bread and wine ceremony at the Last Supper was not a Passover Seder. The disciples knew that point, because in John 13:29, the meal was already over when Judas left, and the disciples thought Jesus had sent him off to buy the necessary items for the upcoming Passover meal celebration on the following evening. Secondly, 100% of all applicable verses in both the Greek manuscripts and Peshitta Aramaic manuscript show that the bread used at the Last Supper bread and wine ceremony was regular bread and not unleavened bread. Regular bread would not be consumed at a Passover Seder, or even at a supposed meatless Essene seder as some have posited.

However, there are some troublesome verses, and in this part 2 we shall attempt to explain them in light of the knowledge that the Last Supper was not a Passover Seder. In a coming part 3, we'll explore what specifically Jesus instituted in this new ceremony and what it portends prophetically. Let me first make a clear statement. Believers all over the world take the bread and wine (communion), and they do it in remembrance of the sacrifice Jesus made for them. That is the bread and wine ceremony boiled down to its bare essence of meaning. Although it can be seen that as a church we've missed some of the meaning inherent in the bread and wine ceremony, yet I want to point out that churches all over the world at least celebrate it according to the bare essence of meaning. However, there is more to it. Minimalists might say, "if the minimum weren't good enough, then it wouldn't be the minimum!" That's true, and is true concerning all the Bible, but believers have a yearning for the truth.

You'd better hope that your minimalist effort on reading the Bible little (if at all), attending church infrequently (if at all) and praying only when you need something big (if at all), is good enough. The whole reason Yeshua (Jesus) came was to establish a relationship between people and God. That sort of relationship is not fostered by a minimalist attitude, although you certainly have the free will to do so. I mention this because I get e-mails all the time from people who ask, "why are you rocking the boat?" They intimate a minimalist attitude of not caring to know God personally, or not wanting to know the truth. They have a neo-modernist attitude of getting by with the minimum. Perhaps that's why Jesus said concerning the end-times, "when the Son of Man comes, will He find the faith on the earth?" Luke 18:8. Think about it.

15 Steps of a Traditional Passover Seder Service

One of the ways we can see that the Last Supper was NOT a Passover Seder meal is to examine what took place versus what takes place in a seder meal. The following is a modern seder meal:

1. Kiddush and the first cup (first of 4 cups of wine)--prayer of sanctification and a blessing is recited with the first cup of wine, to set apart the day to God.

2. U-r'chatz (the washing of hands)--no blessing is recited. One family member takes a pitcher of water, bowl, and towel to each person at the table to wash their hands.

3. Karpas (means parsley, celery, green herbs)--dip the green vegetable in a bowl of salt water and eat. The green vegetable reminds people Passover is in the spring, and the salt water symbolizes the tears and pain of slavery.

4. Yachatz (breaking of matzot)--middle of 3 pieces of matzah (unleavened bread) is broken in two with the larger portion wrapped in a napkin and set aside as afikomen (it is hidden & that matzah eaten at the end of the meal), the other piece is left with the other two unbroken matzot.

5. Maggid (telling of the story of the Exodus)--4 questions, concludes with 2nd cup of wine, the wine of wrath. The story of the Exodus is told and a tiny bit of wine is poured out for each plague. First half of the Hallel (Psalms 113-118) is recited responsively. Then the 2nd cup of wine is consumed.

6. Rachtzak (washing of hands with a blessing)--ceremonial cleansing.

7. Motzi (the blessing over the unleavened bread)--the upper matzah and remainder of the broken middle are broken into pieces and distributed.

8. Matzah (unleavened bread is blessed and eaten)--the upper matzah and remainder of the middle matazah are broken and eaten.

9. Maror (bitter herbs are blessed and eaten)--usually symbolized by romaine lettuce and horseradish.

10. Korech (matzah and bitter herbs eaten together)--dip the matzah in horseradish and charoset (apple & nut mixture) and eat it. In many seders, steps#8-10 are combined.

11. Shulchan Orech (the meal is eaten)--roasted lamb served with bitter herbs and matzah (in Jesus' day), today it can vary a lot and usually has much more variety as a sumptuous meal.

12. Tzafun (afikomen found, ransomed, and eaten)--children search for and find the afikomen and the finder gets a reward. Everyone gets a small piece of the afikomen to eat.

13. Barech (grace after the meal)--3rd cup of wine is the cup of redemption, and it is sipped. After the third cup, a child goes to the door looking for Elijah, to see if he is there to announce the coming of Messiah. Fourth cup of wine is the cup of acceptance or praise.

14. Hallel (Psalms, Tehillim 115-118)--every seder ends with the latter half of the Hallel.

15. Nirtzak (all is finished)--seder complete.

Afikomen is a Greek word meaning "I came". The bag holding the 3 pieces of matzah represents one God (the bag) in 3 persons (3 pieces of matzah) in christian or messianic understanding. The broken middle piece of matzah (afikomen) represents Yeshua who was broken for our sins, removed, and hidden away to come back on the third day (as the third cup of wine is taken). The Passover seder is rich in symbolism and pastors should use it as a teaching metaphor (miqra or rehearsal) of the crucifixion week. The Last Supper was not a Passover Seder, and prophetically shows a future event which will be covered in part 3. The Last Supper was a completely new institution given by God to be rehearsed by the church for a coming prophetic event, just as the Feasts of Israel were assigned to Israel to portray certain future events. That's why these articles on the bread and wine ceremony are important, since the church has one feast to rehearse as their assigned duty.

Notice that in the seder meal above, that only unleavened bread (matzah) is used. Meanwhile, in all the gospels, and in 1 Corinthians 11, in 100% of the verses it tells us that regular bread was used at the Last Supper and not matzah as shown both in the Greek manuscripts and in the Peshitta Aramaic NT text.

Matthew 26:20-30
The bread and wine ceremony was done after they had eaten the meal. In verse 26, it says they were finishing eating and Jesus took bread (regular bread), broke it, blessed it and distributed it to the disciples. Notice in step 8 of the seder meal above, that the matzah is eaten before the meal in step 11. Then He took the cup the passed it to the disciples.

Although bread and wine were ceremonially eaten and a hymn sung, it was not a Passover Seder or as others have postulated, a meatless Essene Seder (Yeshua was not an Essene and did not observe the Essene calendar). It was done the evening before the Passover. It used regular bread and not unleavened bread. Some might propose that perhaps the gospel just shows steps 11, 12 and 13 (meal then bread then wine). In the gospel, the blessing comes as Yeshua is breaking the bread, and above, the blessing (#13) comes after eating the afikomen (#12). While there is a valid connection, since the afikomen did represent the Messiah; regular bread was used at the Last Supper.

Mark 14:17-26
Verse 22 states that while they were still eating, Jesus took the bread, blessed it, broke it, and gave it to the disciples. Then He took the cup, blessed it, and passed the cup to the disciples. Again, Mark shows regular bread was used and not matzah. The same thing as shown in Matthew.

Luke 22:14-39
This account doesn't tell us whether the bread and wine was during or after the meal. It does say in verse 17-18 that He blessed and passed the cup of wine, then in verse 19 He blessed and passed the bread, then in verse 20 He took another cup of wine and passed it to them after they had eaten the bread.

Notice in the seder above, that the 3rd and 4th cups of wine come after eating the afikomen (step 12). Therefore the steps are not in order as in a seder meal. Again, the Greek and Peshitta Aramaic NT manuscripts tell us the bread was regular bread.

John 13:1 to 17:26
The gospel of John doesn't cover the specifics of the bread and wine ceremony, but it does introduce the foot-washing ceremony and presents significant teachings which took place at the Last Supper. Foot washing is not part of the Passover Seder meal, but is something new. Notice that none of the gospel accounts record the ceremonial hand washing nor the many steps of the seder meal. John 13:26 tells us that the morsel dipped in the bowl to identify Judas as the betrayer was a sop (bread wrapped around meat and/or vegetables). It was not step 3 of dipping a green vegetable in a bowl of salt water. It also seems not to be step 10 of dipping the matzah in horseradish and haroset, since a sop is regular bread and not matzah. Again, all acounts say that regular bread was used.

1 Corinthians 11:23-34
Paul was not at the Last Supper, but was taught directly by the Lord concerning what believers were to do in the bread and wine ceremony. In verse 25, he says that Yeshua passed the cup after supper. It would have been so easy for Paul to say "after the seder meal", and therefore we can conclude that it was a supper and not a Passover Seder or meatless Essene Seder. It is important that Paul reiterates the day this new ceremony for believers to annually portray was instituted (after the 13th of Nisan ended in the evening) early on the 14th before Yeshua was crucified.

Summary: Teaching all the procedural steps of a Passover Seder is a good thing to look back to what the Passover portrayed and how it was fulfilled in the crucifixion week. However, teaching that the Last Supper bread and wine ceremony was a Passover Seder is a falsehood. It is a new ceremony for believers to portray annually and has a future prophetic fulfillment.

Troublesome verses:
While it would be easy to gloss over troubling verses that seem to indicate the Last Supper was a Passover Seder, it is better to address them. They can all be covered from the view that Jerusalem became very crowded at the Feasts. Therefore, visiting groups like Yeshua and the disciples would have to rent a room ahead of time, just as people today make hotel reservations ahead of time to ensure they have a room during a day in which huge crowds are present. Just like today at the recent Olympics in Salt Lake City, many people rented out rooms or their houses to supplement their income. The Passover also required preparation of the room to ensure it was ceremonially clean. The Passover lamb had to be killed at the Temple. Nowhere does it say Yeshua and the disciples took a lamb to the Temple to sacrifice it. That's why many have supposed that this was a meatless Essene seder. We do not know whether they ate meat or not, but we do know they consumed regular bread and not matzah at the Last Supper.

Matthew 26:17-19 Now on the first day of the feast of Unleavened Bread, the disciples came to Jesus, saying, "Where do You want us to prepare for You to eat the Passover?" And He said, "Go into the city to a certain man, and say to him, 'The Teacher says, "My time is at hand; I am to keep the Passover at your house with My disciples."' And the disciples did as Jesus had directed them; and they prepared the Passover.

This was not the first day of the feast, and the added italics words are misleading. Two days of preparing for the coming Passover were observed (13th and 14th of Nisan) to prepare everything, in order to eat the Passover. So it was on the 13th of Nisan, which was the first day of preparation.

The disciples had to obtain and prepare the room for the Passover meal which was eaten at evening of the 14th of Nisan as the 15th was beginning. Rooms were rented out for Passover observance, and they obtained and prepared the room. Jesus' actions were to have a room for a last meal with His disciples and He earnestly desired to eat the Passover meal with them the evening after the Last Supper. Why else would He have prayed in the garden of Gethsemane, " My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from Me, yet not as I will, but as Thou wilt"? Did Jesus wish to eat the Passover with the disciples? Yes, and He prayed for it at Gethsemane. However, it was the Father's will for Yeshua to be the Passover Lamb itself and not to eat the upcoming Passover Seder on the following evening. Therefore, the disciples had a place to go to and stay at in the city when all the events happened later and Yeshua was taken away from them (a refuge in the upper room). The Last Supper was not a Passover Seder because Jesus was the sacrificial lamb.

It says they prepared the Passover, and some jump on this verse as conclusive that Peter and John prepared a Passover meal. However, the Passover required that all men take the lamb to the Temple for sacrifice and be present there. What the scriptures show us is that Jesus and the rest of the disciples just showed up later in the evening at the upper room. Don't you think it is significant that Holy Spirit did not inspire the writers of all these books to mention even once that it was a Passover Seder meal?

Mark 14:12-16 is worded similarly to Matthew 26:17-19, and the explanation is the same. The disciples prepared the room for the upcoming Passover and used it the evening prior to the Passover for the Last Supper. Verse 14 says, " ....Where I may eat the Passover with My disciples." Jesus didn't say He would eat it with them, but that the upper room they were to obtain was the place they could eat it.

Luke 22:7-13 is also worded similarly to Mark 14:12-16 and Matthew 26:17-19, and the explanation is the same. Verse 11 states, " which I may eat the Passover with My disciples." Again it implies could rather than would eat it. The room was obtained by Peter and John and prepared for the future Passover meal and in the meantime used for the Last Supper.

What about Luke 22:15? And He said to them, "I have earnestly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer;....

Actually, on face value, Luke 22:15 would seem to indicate that they did eat the Passover meal. However, we need to look at this verse much more closely. Because of all the previous extremely strong points, we know that it cannot be true that He ate the Passover. Yeshua never changed any of the observed Feast days, since He came to fulfill the spring Feasts as prophecy, and He was the Passover lamb, and the actual Passover meal was on the following evening.

Where Luke 22:15 says, "I have earnestly desired" it uses the same root word in two different ways. This is a figure of speech called an Hebraism, commonly used throughout the Tanakh in Hebrew, and in Aramaic texts.

in the Greek manuscript -- "epithumia epethumhsa"

Other scholars have noted the usage here of a polyptoton or figure of speech, where the same root word is used with different inflections or forms. The word epethumhsa (h is long "a" sound) is in the Greek aorist tense which indicates a one-time action in the past. It should be rendered, "at one time in the past I strongly desired to eat this (coming) Passover with you before I suffer." As He prayed in the garden of Gethsemane, "...if it is possible, let this cup pass from Me....", He strongly desired to eat the Passover meal with His disciples, but knew that He was the Passover Lamb and would suffer and die before the meal was eaten on the following evening. The usage of an Hebraism here indicates that either Luke translated from the Peshitta original text, or that the words were spoken in Aramaic/Hebrew (if the Greek is the original text), and Luke rendered the Hebraism in Greek as best as possible.

in the Peshitta Aramaic manuscript -- "rigta ragtani"

Dr. George M. Lamsa in his translation of the Peshitta Aramaic has it as "I have desired with desire". It is past tense and used in the same manner as the Hebrew equivalent below.

in the Hebrew equivalent of the Peshitta -- "niksof niksafti"

The Hebraism is in the Nifal root stem and is a Nifal infinitive absolute followed by a Nifal 1cs perfect (I) of the root word "kasaf". In Genesis 31:30, a very similar use of this Hebraism is used, "niksof niksaftah" except that the second word is in Nifal 2ms perfect (you). The Genesis 31:30 usage is the interchange between Jacob and Laban near Mount Gilead when Jacob had left Laban with his wives and children (Rachel had stolen her father's idols too). The Hebraism in Genesis 31:30 is "you longed greatly," in intensive past tense. Expanding the Hebraism in Luke 22:15, it means "I had (in the past) strongly desired, or, I had (in the past) longed greatly". Literally, it is "Desire, I had desired".

While Luke 22:15 is the strongest evidence for the pro-Passover seder believers, it can be explained away as a figure of speech with the wrong nuanced translation. It cannot overturn all the other strong evidence which conclusively proves that the Last Supper was not a Passover Seder meal. If there is one area of Bible translation that is the most difficult, it is definitely figures of speech (and also maybe parables where there are many possible meanings).

Article Summary:
Perhaps some will not believe the extremely powerful evidence against the Last Supper being a Passover Seder meal, in order to protect their church's historical teachings. Truth doesn't need to bend the knee to erroneous historical traditions. Just as king Yoshiyahu (Josiah) in his 18th year heard the truth in the Torah and cleaned house throughout Judah where he got rid of mediums, spiritists, priests of Baal, the pagan altars, and the high places Solomon had built, along with the altar, calf idol and asherah at Bethel that Jereboam had built; so we too ought to be able to carefully examine as a church what we do and separate out the erroneous traditions in favor of the truth.

In part 3 we will cover the most important part of this 3-part article on the Last Supper bread and wine ceremony. We'll cover what it is for, how it is to be observed (and how it was observed by the early church before things got changed), and what it portrays prophetically. This bread and wine ceremony is more important than you might have thought, and is the only new ceremony that Yeshua (Jesus) instituted for believers. The jewish people keep their covenant before God by observing the Feasts of Israel as a witness to the nations. What is your responsibility as a church in regard to keeping the only ceremony Yeshua instituted? See part 3 for the answers.

The Last Supper: was it a Passover Seder? Part 1

The Last Supper: the meaning, history, and prophetic significance. Part 3

Home | Site Index | E-mail