The story of the preparations for the Passover Meal is itself introductory to the account of the Last Supper in Luke 22: 14-23. Except for certain redaction changes, the Lukan passage is a reproduction of its parallel in Mark 14: 12-16. Already in Luke 22: 1 the evangelist had identified the feast of the Unleavened Bread and the feast of the Passover, an identification which is not entirely wrong. In Luke 22: 7 too the author retains an echo of this identification. However, the information given in this opening verse is as inexact as what Mark says in 14: 12. The Lukan reformulation of Mark 14: 12 has not entirely removed the problem. For Luke 22: 7 gives the impression that the feast of the Unleavened Bread lasted only for one day, whereas, in fact, it lasted for one week, from 15th to 21st of Nisan. The sacrificing of the Passover lamb (Lk 22: 7b) was not done on the first day of the Unleavened Bread (that is, on 15th of Nisan) but on the previous day (that is, on 14th of Nisan). In Luke 22: 7a therefore, “the day of Unleavened Bread” by itself would mean “the first day of Unleavened Bread,” namely, 15th of Nisan, but the addition in Luke 22: 7b would point to 14th of Nisan.
The rest of the Lukan passage is substantially the same as its parallel in the gospel of Mark except for the Lukan redaction emphasis on the initiative of Jesus (Lk 22: 8). In gospel of Mark the disciples take the initiative in preparing for the Passover and Jesus send out two of them with instructions. In gospel of Luke, however, it is Jesus who takes the initiative by sending Peter and John with precise instructions about the place where to prepare the Passover (Lk 22: 8-12). Going into the city Peter and John found the details of the instruction exactly as Jesus had told them and they prepared the Passover (Lk 22: 13). It is not clear why Luke specifies the names of the two disciples who were asked to prepare the Passover. Peter and John were the two important leaders in the early Church (cf. Acts 3; 4; 8: 14; Gal 2: 9 etc); and it may be in view of Jesus’ saying about greatness and authority in Luke 22: 26 that Luke mentions Peter and John as the ones sent out to render service by preparing the Passover. Again, it is difficult to say whether Jesus’ precise instructions to Peter and John in Luke 22: 10-12 implies his foreknowledge or an arrangement that Jesus himself had made in advance.
The present Lukan periscope (Lk 22: 7-13) clearly indicates that the Last Supper is a Passover Meal (cf. Lk 22: 7, 8, 11, and 13). The parallel passages in Matthew 26: 17-19 and Mark 14: 12-16 also present Jesus’ meal with his disciples as a Passover Meal held on the 14th or 15th night of Nisan. The same night Jesus was arrested and the following day, namely, on 15th of Nisan he was crucified. It is also interesting to note that the three synoptic evangelists explicitly mention that day as the day of preparation, that is, the day before a Sabbath (cf. Mk 15: 42; Mt 27: 62; Lk 23; 54-56). The fourth evangelist (John) is also in agreement with the synoptic on this point. But the date of the Last Supper is different in the fourth gospel and with that the rest of the passion chronology too. Although John does not report about Jesus’ Last Supper in detail or about any preparation for it, he does speak of Jesus eating a supper with his disciples “before the feast of the Passover” (Jn 13: 1-2, 4). The expression “before the feast of the Passover” is rather vague and it does not necessarily mean 14th of Nisan. At any rate Jesus was arrested after the meal, the same night (Jn 18: 1-12). The next morning Jesus is brought to Pilate, to the pretorium; but the Jews refuse to enter the pagan pretorium lest they be defiled and not be able to eat the Passover (Jn 18: 28). This means that, according to John, the Passover Meal is yet to be held; in other words we are still on the morning on 14th of Nisan. The same day Jesus was put to death on the cross (Jn 19: 18, 30). John repeatedly mentions also that this was the day of preparation (Jn 19: 14, 31, 42). Thus according to John, Jesus ate the Last Supper on the night of 13th or 14th of Nisan and dies on the 14th of Nisan, the day before a Sabbath which was a “high day” (a solemn feast day), and the day of preparation of the Passover (cf. Jn 19: 14, 31). In other words, according to the Johannine tradition, the Last Supper was not a Passover Meal and Jesus died on the 14th of Nisan, the eve of Passover. This is at variance with the synoptic data according to which the Last Supper was a Passover Meal and the death of Jesus occurred on the day of Passover.
The different passion chronology in the Synoptic and John points to a different theological understanding and emphasis. The synoptic want to emphasize the Passover significance of the Last Supper and therefore they date it to the night of 14th or 15th of Nisan when the Jews celebrate their Passover Meal. Here the Last Supper is presented as Jesus’ own Passover, the new Passover Meal of his own body and blood. In gospel of John, however, the death of Jesus is connected with the Passover and not the Last Supper. Jesus the Lamb of God is sacrificed on the Cross at a time when the Passover lambs are slaughtered in preparation for the Passover Meal.
A theological interpretation does not, however, explain the chronological difference between the synoptic and John. Let us restate the chronological problem: according to the synoptic, the Last Supper was a Passover Meal and Jesus dies on the day of Passover, whereas according to gospel of John, the Last Supper was not a Passover Meal (which is yet to be eaten – cf. Jn 18: 28) and Jesus died on the eve of the Passover feast (cf. Jn 19: 14, 18, 31). Several scholars have attempted to reconcile these conflicting data but none of the solutions proposed found universal acceptance. We present here the solution proposed by A. Jaubert, a French exegete, which has gained the support of many scholars.
There were two calendars in use at the time of Jesus:
- The popular solar calendar followed by the Essenes and many of the Galileans.
- The official lunar calendar which was the temple calendar.
According to the popular solar calendar the Passover always occurred on a fixed day, namely, Wednesday. But according to the official lunar calendar, the Passover could occur on any day of the week, and in the year of Jesus’ death it occurred on a Saturday (Sabbath). It was the solar calendar that Jesus and his disciples followed in celebrating the Passover Meal. Thus according to the synoptic the Last Supper was celebrated as a Passover Meal on Tuesday after sunset, and Jesus was arrested during the same night. But Jesus was put to death on Friday, the eve of the Passover feast, according to the official calendar, and according to gospel of John. Thus for the synoptic the Last Supper has Passover connotations but for John Jesus’ death is connected with the Passover feast.
According to this chronology, then, the passion events are spread out to three days:
Tuesday night: Last Supper, Arrest, Questioning by Annas and Peter’s denials.
Wednesday Morning: Long session of Sanhedrin (Luke), derision, mocking, etc., (which Matthew and Mark have in the night).
Friday Morning: Trial before Pilate, condemnation, crucifixion, death.
This solution too does not remove all the difficulties (why did Jesus follow the solar calendar for the Last Supper and not the official calendar of the Jews? Why is that John does not narrate the morning session of the Sanhedrin …?) Nevertheless, it has merits to commend it. Probably under the influence of the Church’s liturgy which celebrated the Lord’s Supper on a Thursday and Jesus’ death the following day (Friday), the gospels seem to have summarized the passion events within the framework of a single day. The early Church’s tradition of fasting on Wednesday in the Holy Week was also probably in remembrance of the beginning of the Passion.