A Closer Look:
#9 Was the Last Supper a Passover Seder?

By Joel Heller

Much ink has been spilt searching for the Eucharist in the Passover Seder or the Seder in the Eucharist. Many believe that Yeshua’s Last Supper was a Seder; they recite that belief as though it were fact without examining its underlying assumptions.

A Closer Look shows us that the Last Supper was not in fact a Seder. I want to discuss two main reasons why not: 1) There was neither Seder nor Haggadah while the Temple stood, and the Temple stood for forty years after the Supper; and 2) the Last Supper was the evening before the Passover was sacrificed. One cannot eat the Passover until after it is sacrificed and roasted. The festive meal must come after the sacrifice.    

The tradition of having a festive feast to eat the Passover Sacrifice dates to the very first Passover. While the Temple still stood, pilgrims from all over would bring their lambs to the priests for slaughter. The family would gather wherever they could find an available space in Jerusalem. Just as an American Thanksgiving Day feast has no prescribed order, neither did the Passover feast. Some families might sing psalms or otherwise find ways to show gratitude to God. Just as each American family has its own Thanksgiving traditions, so did Judean families have their own holiday traditions. 

When the Second Temple was destroyed, circa 70ce, the Sages expected that it would be rebuilt eventually, just as the First Temple was rebuilt 70 years after its destruction by the Babylonians circa 586bce. However, after the Bar Kochba revolt in 135ce, Rome forbade Jews from entering Jerusalem on pain of death. Permission to rebuild would not be forthcoming. The Rabbis who organized the Academy at Yavne needed to find a way to keep Judaism alive without a temple. They developed home rituals to be performed around the family’s dining table.

One of the rituals the Rabbis designed is the Seder, or “Order” for a Passover ritual meal. At first, the ritual was simply a chapter in the daily and Sabbath Siddur, or prayer book. Eventually the ritual expanded enough to warrant its own stand-alone book, the Haggadah. Over the centuries, the ritual has grown and evolved. In a traditional Haggadah, there is a story of four great rabbinic sages who each had a “glimpse” of the Paradise of the World to come.  One of these four is Rabbi Akiva, who is also known as the one who proclaimed Shimon bar Kosiba as Messiah, renaming him as bar Kochba, Son of a Star, circa 132ce. This was long after the Last Supper.

The Gospel of John specifically tells us that the Last Supper was the evening of the night before the Passover Sacrifice was slaughtered. When Judas leaves the table to arrange his betrayal, the other disciples think that he is perhaps going to buy something for the feast. If that dinner were the Feast, all kosher stores would be closed. There would be nothing available that night to buy. 

Also, the following morning, “they” who accused Yeshua would not enter the “pagan” courthouse. They wanted to maintain ritual purity to be permitted to eat the Passover sacrifice that evening. That is, the day after the Last Supper 1) Yeshua was tried and crucified and 2) the Passover lambs were slaughtered. The evening after the Last Supper was the time to eat the Passover sacrifice.

The synoptics tell us that on the "first" or the "first day" of the feast of Unleavened Bread, Yeshua's disciples asked him where they should prepare the festive meal. The actual first day of unleavened bread is necessarily after the Passover is sacrificed, since the commandment is to eat the Passover with unleavened bread. We cannot eat the sacrifice while it is still alive and raw and full of blood. 

If we are to maintain the principle that God's Word does not contradict itself, we need to find a reasonable way to interpret these passages consistently with each other. If we take the "first day" of the feast of unleavened bread to mean the first day of the unleavened bread season, rather than the first day of the festival proper, there is room for the last supper and the sacrifice between this first day and the crucifixion. 

We should see a red flag waving if we view this use of “first day” as a literal statement and not, as many suggest, an idiomatic usage. Taken excessively literally, the disciples are portrayed as asking Yeshua on the first day of the feast, “Where would you like us to prepare last night’s dinner?” since the date changes at sundown biblically and not at midnight as in our modern Gregorian calendar.

In those Christian denominations which observe the traditional liturgical calendar, the first of the Twelve Days of Christmas falls on December 25. But in America, the unofficial Christmas season begins with the appearance of Santa Claus at the end of the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade in New York. Decorations for the holiday appear for sale in stores by Hallowe'en and Yuletide crafts appear in the hobby stores by July. But the cultural beginning of the season is on Thanksgiving.

The beginning of the Passover season can be as early as the day after Purim, exactly one month before Passover, as people begin their spring cleaning preparing to purge the house of chametz, leaven, in advance of Pesach. How intensely one cleans depends in part on how traditionally does one's household observe the commandment to purge chametz

The first official Passover-related ritual is the selection of the family’s lamb on the 10th of Nisan. This could easily be the “first” of the Passover season when the disciples asked where to prepare the festival meal.

We took A Closer Look at the chronology in installment 4, Three Days and Three Nights. There we saw that the Last supper was on Tuesday evening, the crucifixion was on Wednesday and three days and three nights later, Yeshua arose late Saturday afternoon. The Passover lambs were sacrificed on Wednesday that year, 28ce, and the Feast was eaten on Wednesday evening as the day transitioned into Thursday the 15th of Nisan.

Wednesday morning, the 14th of Nisan, Yeshua’s accusers would not enter the Praetorium, because they did not want to be defiled and disqualified from eating the Passover sacrifice that night.2 So we see that the Last Supper was the evening before the Passover sacrifice, and therefore 24 hours before the Passover Feast.

That year, Messiah himself was the Passover Lamb. He died at the time prescribed to slaughter the Passover sacrifice. He was therefore not available to eat the feast with his disciples. He had instructed them to prepare for the Passover, not because he would eat it with them, but since they were still alive and in Jerusalem, they would need to keep the feast. His death and resurrection are still closely associated with the Passover holiday prescribed in Torah, but the Last Supper could not have been a Seder.


1 John 13:29
John 18:28
Mat 26:17; Mark 14:12.
REV; footnote at Mt 26:17. https://www.revisedenglishversion.com/Matthew/chapter26/17.

Joel Heller Profile Picture

Joel Heller is the author of Neither Yavne nor Antioch: Recovering Nazarean Judaism. He is a retired member of the Kansas Bar. In place of traditional Protestant presuppositions, he brings the common-law principles of legal interpretation to the interpretation of God’s Law, called the Torah or Nomos. You can reach him by email.