Time Elements of the Passover:
Type and Antitype

Your lamb shall be without blemish, a male of the first year: ye shall take it out from the sheep, or from the goats: And ye shall keep it up until the fourteenth day of the same month: and the whole assembly of the congregation of Israel shall kill it in the evening.—Exodus 12:5,6


George Tabac

In Exodus chapter 12 we are given the account of how the Passover lamb of Israel protected the firstborn from death and resulted in Israel’s deliverance from Egypt. It is a beautiful type of Jesus being our antitypical Passover lamb, which will ultimately deliver not only the Church of the Firstborn, but all mankind from Adamic death.

As we consider the antitype during this memorial season, we would like to reflect on one of the perplexing issues that has faced brethren and biblical scholars for centuries. It has to do with the Lord’s last supper when he instituted the memorial. John refers to it as an event that took place the night before Israel as a whole slew their Passover lambs, while Matthew, Mark, and Luke seem to imply that the last supper was the Passover meal. Let us consider the time element details of the typical and antitypical Passover to help clarify this question.

Lamb Slain Between the Two Evenings

When was the Passover lamb to be slain? Israel was told to take the Passover lamb into their homes on the tenth of Nisan. Then we are told: “So shall it be yours, to keep, until the fourteenth day of this month,—then shall all the convocation of the assembly of Israel slay it between the two evenings” (Exodus 12:6, Rotherham). This phrase comes from two Hebrew words: Strong’s #996, beyn, meaning “between,” and #6153, ereb, meaning “evening or evenings.” What is meant by “between the two evenings”? There are two quite different views. (Note that the Jewish day was reckoned from sunset to sunset, 6 P.M. to 6 P.M. our time.)

One view is that the first evening refers to sunset at 6 P.M. our time when the Jewish fourteenth day of Nisan began, and the second evening refers to when it became completely dark. In this view “between the two evenings” would mean it was near the beginning of the new Jewish day.

A second view is that the first evening begins at twelve noon when the sun begins to set from the zenith, and the second evening is 6 P.M. when the sun set, ending the Jewish day. Thus “between the two evenings” would be 3 P.M., near the ending of the Jewish day. We believe this second view is correct for four reasons.

1. It becomes a type of the exact time (3 P.M.) our Lord died on the cross as the antitypical Passover lamb.

2. The exact same Hebrew phrase, “between the evenings,” is used in Exodus 29:38, 39 to describe the time the second daily sacrifice was to be offered: “This, moreover, is what thou shalt offer upon the altar, two lambs of a year old day by day, continually: the one lamb, shalt thou offer in the morning, and the second lamb, shalt thou offer between the evenings” (Rotherham). The King James translation has “other lamb” but the correct Hebrew should be “second lamb” (Strong’s #8145). Notice they were to offer the first lamb in the morning (that is daylight hours) and the second lamb “between the evenings,” that is later in the day. If “between the evenings” were to mean the beginning of the Jewish day (after 6 P.M.) then it would be the first offering of the day, not the second as this Scripture brings out. Thus the first of the daily continual burnt offerings was offered at 9 A.M. in the morning, and the second daily offering was at 3 P.M. This typifies the time when Jesus was crucified on the cross. Mark states Jesus was placed on the cross the third hour (9 A.M.) and died the ninth hour (3 P.M.) (Mark 15:25,34).

3. In this view “between the two evenings” would be toward the ending of the Jewish day. This same Hebrew word for “evening” when used without the modifier (#996, “between”), is used in many other Scriptures, which from the context obviously refers to a time toward the ending of the Jewish day, not the beginning. For example, in Leviticus 23:27 we are told the tenth day of the seventh month was the Day of Atonement: “On the tenth day of this seventh month there shall be a day of atonement: it shall be an holy convocation unto you; and ye shall afflict your souls, and offer an offering made by fire unto the LORD.” Then to impress on their minds the importance of ­observing this entire tenth day solemnly from its very beginning to its very end, in verse 32 they were to be ready to afflict their souls immediately toward the ending of the ninth day, to the ending of the tenth day: “It shall be unto you a sabbath of rest, and ye shall afflict your souls: in the ninth day of the month at even, from even unto even, shall ye celebrate your sabbath” (Leviticus 23:32). In the phrase “at even, from even unto even,” the Hebrew word for “even” is the same #6153, ereb, as used in “between the evenings.” This indicates it is referring to the ending of a day, not its beginning.

4. Josephus, the historian of Jesus’ day, stated that the evening sacrifice was at the ninth hour (our 3 P.M.). When referring to the time Jerusalem was under siege by Pompey in the first century B.C., he writes: “Any one may hence learn how very great piety we exercise towards God and the observance of his laws, since the priests were not at all hindered from their ­sacred ministrations by their fear during the siege, but did still twice each day, in the morning and about the ninth hour, offer their ­sacrifices on the altar” (Antiquities, 14, 4, 3).

Events of the Fourteenth and Fifteenth

As we proceed to the various accounts of what transpired on the fourteenth and fifteenth days of Nisan, follow the time elements of when they occurred on the lower half of the chart, View B. We believe it harmonizes all the events of that period.

The Passover lamb was slain toward the end of the fourteenth day of Nisan at 3 P.M. (Exodus 12:6, Rotherham, “between the two evenings”). It was then prepared and roasted during the three hours yet remaining of the fourteenth day, the fifteenth day beginning at 6 P.M. It was the Passover lamb that was actually the meal that was eaten the night of the fifteenth (Exodus 12:8). This is also called the first day of the feast of unleavened bread. They were to eat the meal in haste, with staff in hand and all dressed ready to leave for a journey quickly (Exodus 12:11).

At midnight (of that same night when they ate the Passover) the firstborn were slain (Exodus 12:12,13). In Exodus 12:31-33 we are told the Egyptians then called for Moses that night and urged them to leave Egypt in haste. In Deuteronomy 16:1 we are told they left Egypt “by night,” and in Numbers 33:3 (Rotherham) we are told they left Rameses (where Israel lived in Egypt, Genesis 47:11) on the fifteenth, on the morrow of the Passover. All of this follows logically only if the Passover lamb was slain at 3 P.M. near the end of the Jewish fourteenth day.

If the top view, View A on the chart, were correct—that the Passover lamb was slain after 6 P.M. at the beginning of the fourteenth day, prepared then eaten and at midnight of the fourteenth the firstborn were slain—then Israel would not have left Egypt that night. Instead they would have had an eighteen-hour delay before leaving. We are told specifically that Israel left Egypt by night of the fif­teenth, which would have been some eighteen hours or more later. Why would they have then been told to eat the meal in haste and to be dressed ready for a quick departure if it were not to take place until at least eighteen hours later? Note also that if this view were correct, it would have required the Israelites to go three days and two nights without sleep.

Note also in Exodus 12:11,12 that it was the same night they ate the Passover meal when the firstborn of Israel were passed over. Verse 14 says “this day” (that is, the day they ate the Passover lamb and the firstborn were passed over) was to be memorialized forever by a special holy convocation or Sabbath day. Leviticus 23:4-7 shows us the four­teenth was when the Passover lamb was slain, but verses 6 and 7 tell us the fourteenth was not the special holy Sabbath convocation, it was the fifteenth of Nisan. That special Sabbath day was in turn called the first day of the feast of unleavened bread. If the eating of the Passover and the deliverance of the firstborn were on the fourteenth, then the fourteenth should have been the day to be memorialized by a special holy Sabbath convocation. But it was not, it was the fifteenth. This indicates the eating of the Passover and the deliverance of the firstborn occurred on the fifteenth day, not the fourteenth day.

Unleavened Bread Eaten Seven Days, Not Eight

In Exodus 12:8 the Passover lamb was to be eaten with unleavened bread. If the lamb were slain and eaten at the beginning of the fourteenth, it would have been a separate meal in itself eaten with unleavened bread. Then it would be followed the next day by the feast of unleavened bread which was to continue for seven days to the twenty-first. Thus the total time the Israelites would have eaten unleavened bread and have their homes free of ­unleavened bread would be eight days, one day for the Passover meal and seven days for the feast of unleavened bread.

But in every reference regarding how long the Israelites were to eat unleavened bread and have their homes free of leaven the length is ­always given as seven days, never eight. For ­example, “You shall sacrifice the Passover to the LORD your God from the flock and the herd, in the place where the LORD chooses to establish his name. You shall not eat leavened bread with it; seven days you shall eat with it unleavened bread, the bread of affliction (for you came out of the land of Egypt in haste), in order that you may remember all the days of your life the day when you came out of the land of Egypt. For seven days no leaven shall be seen with you in all your territory” (Deuteronomy 16:2-4, NAS).

From this Scripture we see they only ate unleavened bread seven days including eating it with the Passover meal. Thus eating the Pass­over was not a separate meal on the fourteenth, but rather it was the main food eaten on the first day of the feast of unleavened bread that was the fifteenth. Note also how the phrase “seven days you shall eat with it unleavened bread,” ties in the eating of the lamb as part of the feast of unleavened bread. It also ties in the thought that eating the Passover lamb on the fifteenth day is memorializing the day they left Egypt, which was the fifteenth day.

Exodus 12:19 and Exodus 13:6,7 also bring out the same thought that their homes were to be free of leaven seven days, not eight. This is further evidence the Passover lamb was slain at 3 P.M. toward the end of Nisan 14, not at its beginning, and was then eaten on the fifteenth, as the meal on the first day of the Feast of Unleavened Bread.

New Testament Antitype Corroboration

What was the last supper of Jesus? Matthew 27:46, Mark 15:34, and Luke 23:44 all bring out that Jesus died on the cross the ninth hour (3 P.M. our time) on the fourteenth of Nisan. Thus Jesus died as the antitypical Passover lamb at the exact time the Israelites were to slay their typical Passover lamb. The gospel of John con­curs with this thought, that at the time Jesus died they were killing their Pascal lambs —the ninth hour (3 P.M.) of the fourteenth.

This is also confirmed by the historian Jose­phus when, in referring to the time of the destruction of Jerusalem by Titus in 69-70 A.D., he says: “So these high priests, upon the coming of their feast which is called the Passover, when they slay their sacrifices from the ninth hour to the eleventh, found the number of sacrifices was two hundred and fifty six thousand five hundred” (Wars 6, 9, 3).

A perplexing problem arises from other Scriptures in Matthew, Mark, and Luke which seem to imply that the last supper of Jesus was the Passover observance. They all refer to the fourteenth of Nisan as the “Day of Preparation.” It was the day all Israel prepared for the first day of the feast of unleavened bread which was the High Sabbath Day of the fifteenth.

The preparation started at the beginning of the fourteenth day with each household making an absolutely thorough search to rid the house of all leaven: “For seven days no leaven shall be seen with you in all your territory” (Deuteronomy 16:2-4). Note the extreme penalty if there was any leaven left in their houses by the time the fifteenth day started: “Seven days shall ye eat unleavened bread; but on the first day ye shall have [past tense] put away leaven out of your houses; for whosoever eateth leavened bread, that soul shall be cut off from Israel” (Exodus 12:15, Leeser).

Another Jewish Translation, the Stone Edition Tanach, puts it this way: “For a seven-day period shall you eat matzos [unleavened bread], but on the previous day [the Preparation Day] you shall nullify the leaven from your homes.”

The preparation day of the fourteenth also included the obtaining of bitter herbs to eat with the Passover lamb, taking the lamb to the temple to be slain, then dressing and roasting the lamb. This was in preparation for the ­fifteenth day Feast of Unleavened Bread on which day the lamb would be eaten after 6 P.M. of the fourteenth.

So let us first establish from the book of John that the people of Israel did not eat their Passover meal until sometime after Jesus partook of the last supper.

“Then led they Jesus from Caiaphas unto the hall of judgment: and it was early; and they themselves went not into the judgment hall, lest they should be defiled; but that they might eat the Passover” (John 18:28). This is obviously after the last supper and the Jewish leaders had not yet eaten the Passover.

In John chapter 13 we are told the last ­supper was before the Feast of the Passover. John 13:1-29 (NAS), “Now before the Feast of the Passover, Jesus knowing that his hour had come that he should depart out of this world to the Father, having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end. And during supper, the devil having already put into the heart of Judas Iscariot, the son of Simon, to betray Him … (v. 21) Truly, truly, I say to you, that one of you will betray me … (vvs. 25-29) Lord, who is it? Jesus therefore answered, That is the one for whom I shall dip the morsel and give it to him. … He took and gave it to Judas, the son of Simon Iscariot … Jesus therefore said to him, what you do, do quickly. … Now no one of those reclining at the table knew for what purpose he had said this to him. For some were supposing, because Judas had the money box, that Jesus was saying to him, Buy the things we have need of for the feast.” John tells us the last supper was before the feast of Passover. This is confirmed by some of the disciples thinking Jesus was telling Judas to go buy things for the Passover feast which was yet future for them and all Israel.

“Now it was the day of preparation for the Passover; it was about the sixth hour. And he said to the Jews, Behold, your King!” (John 19:14, NAS).

“The Jews therefore, because it was the day of preparation, so that the bodies should not remain on the cross on the Sabbath (for that Sabbath was a high day), asked Pilate that their legs might be broken, and [that] they might be taken away” (John 19:31, NAS).

“Therefore on account of the Jewish day of preparation, because the tomb was nearby, they laid Jesus there” (John 19:42, NAS).

Notice from these Scriptures that the last supper, Judas’ betrayal, Jesus’ trial and crucifixion, all occurred before Israel ate the Passover. These all occurred on the four­teenth, the day of preparation, the day when the ­Israelites made all the preparations to partake of the Passover. They cleansed out the leaven, bought bitter herbs, had the lamb slain at the temple (at 3 P.M.), then dressed and roasted it, all in ­preparation for the Feast of Unleavened Bread which would begin three hours ­after Jesus’ death on the beginning of the fif­teenth.

Now, however, we need to harmonize this with other Scriptures which seem to say the last supper was the normal Passover meal. These are found in Matthew 26:17-21, Mark 14:12-18, and Luke 22:7-16. All three sets of accounts begin by referring to the time of the last supper as “The First day of the Feast of Unleavened Bread.”

On first reading, these appear to contradict John’s account that plainly states that the “last supper” occurred before the feast of unleavened bread. However, Mark and Luke both add details that help to clarify the time. Mark says it was “the first day of unleavened bread when they killed the Passover.” Luke states it was “the day of unleavened bread when the Passover must be killed.” Also, Matthew 27:62, Mark 15:42, and Luke 23:54 all refer to that same day as the “Day of Preparation,” thus indicating they were all referring to the same day John called “the day of preparation,” when the Passover lamb was killed. Perhaps they initially used the phrase that it was the “first day of the feast” in a general way from the standpoint that the fourteenth was the day they had to make the preparations for the feast which began the following day.

Now let’s consider the details of the last supper in Luke’s gospel: “Then came the day of unleavened bread, when the Passover must be killed. And he sent Peter and John, saying, Go and prepare us the Passover that we may eat. And they said unto him, Where wilt thou that we prepare? And he said unto them, Behold, when ye are entered into the city, there shall a man meet you, bearing a pitcher of water; follow him into the house where he entereth in. And ye shall say unto the goodman of the house, The Master saith unto thee, Where is the guest chamber, where I shall eat the Passover with my disciples? And he shall shew you a large upper room furnished: there make ready. And they went, and found as he had said unto them: and they made ready the Passover. And when the hour was come, he sat down, and the twelve apostles with him. And he said unto them, 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.”—Luke 22:7-16

This appears to be saying the last supper was the Passover meal. But if this were the case, according to the Scriptures in John, they would be partaking of the Passover at the wrong time. They would be breaking the law, for it would be ahead of the proper time when all Israel partook of the Passover. But as we progress, we will see the reasons why we believe that Jesus’ last supper was not the Passover observance.

First, it was logical for Jesus to tell Peter and John to go to prepare for the Passover, for the fourteenth day of preparation began, and that is when the cleaning out of all leaven ­began in every household in Israel. At the time, the disciples did not understand that Jesus would not be able to eat the Passover the next day because he would be dead, having been sacrificed as our Passover (1 Corinthians 5:7). But Jesus, instead of going into a detailed explanation of how he would be dead when the time came to eat the Passover, simply told ­Peter and John where to go to prepare for the upcoming Passover. Then later, after having made the preparations, we have the account of Jesus’ last supper with his disciples when he instituted the memorial.

Second, notice that none of the four gospel writers make any mention about a lamb being eaten at the last supper. This is because the time had not yet come to slay the Passover lamb when Christ and his disciples ate their last meal together. And if the Passover lamb was to have been slain shortly after 6 P.M. at the beginning of the fourteenth day, why did Jesus wait until the fourteenth day had already begun before telling Peter and John to go to prepare the Passover? For there was so much that would have had to be done in preparation. They would have had to find the place, search for and remove all the leaven, purchase bitter herbs, take their lamb to the temple to have it slain, and then prepare and roast it before they could partake of the meal. (Recall that Josephus said that in 70 A.D. there were 256,500 Passover lambs the priests had to slay at the temple. Think of how much time it would have taken the priests to slay so many lambs.) The reason Jesus waited until the fourteenth began to tell them to begin preparing for the Passover is because they had the entire day before them to make all the preparations.

The third point to consider is how Paul described the time element of when the memorial took place: “For I have received of the Lord that which also I delivered unto you, that the Lord Jesus the [same] night in which he was betrayed took bread: And when he had given thanks, he brake [it], and said, Take, eat: this is my body, which is broken for you: this do in remembrance of me” (1 Corinthians 11:23, 24). If the Lord wanted Paul to convey the time element of the memorial as being after the Passover meal, it would seem more specific and appropriate for him to say, “That the Lord Jesus after the Passover on the night he was betrayed, took bread ...” etc.

The fourth and perhaps most decisive reason we believe the last supper was not the Passover has to do with the phrase, “With desire I have desired to eat this Passover.” It may be reasoned that when he says, “With desire I have desired to eat this Passover,” that they were right then, either partaking of, or about to partake of the Passover. But this is not necessarily the case. The use of the word “this” does not always refer to an immediate event. It can refer to a nearby, upcoming event. For example we might say, “Where are you going this Thanksgiving Day?” The word “this” in this context obviously refers to an up­coming event, and not an event that is immediately taking place.

In addition, we find the Greek word for the phrase “with desire” is Strong’s #1939, epi­thumia. Professor Strong defines it as “a longing (especially for what is forbidden).” This word is translated in the King James as “lust” thirty-one times out of the thirty-eight times it appears. Hence we can understand Strong’s definition of “a longing especially for what is forbidden.” But why would Jesus use this phrase relative to the Passover “as ­having a longing for that which is forbidden” when there are several other Greek words Jesus could have used to express good desire, desire that is not forbidden?

Jesus truly would have liked to partake of the Passover one final time with his disciples, but he could not because in a sense it was forbidden, forbidden from the standpoint that he knew he would be dead. He knew he would become the antitypical Passover lamb, dying on the cross as a ransom for all mankind, at the ­exact time the Passover lambs of Israel were being killed at 3 P.M. the next afternoon.

We believe Ferrar Fenton accurately captures the meaning of Christ’s words in his translation of Luke 22:15,16. “And he said to them, ‘I have longingly desired to eat this [coming] 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.”

Thus, the last supper meal Jesus and his ­disciples ate together was not the Passover, but just a special fellowship meal. Jesus, knowing it would be his last night with his disciples, wanted to institute the memorial and teach them one final time.

We trust we have shown how all the Scriptures concerning the type and antitype of the Passover can be harmonized. May it strength­en our faith as we once again reflect on the great sacrifice of our Lord this memorial sea­son. May we rejoice in the blessed privilege we have of partaking of the memorial, renewing our consecrations, and ­reflecting upon our brotherhood partaking throughout the world.