Passover And Last Supper -- By: Robin Routledge

Journal: Tyndale Bulletin
Volume: TYNBUL 53:2 (NA 2002)
Article: Passover And Last Supper
Author: Robin Routledge

Passover And Last Supper

Robin Routledge


The Synoptic Gospels present the Last Supper as a Passover meal. Whether this coincided with the actual Passover or, as some suggest, was held a day early, it was viewed by the participants as a Passover meal, and the words and actions of Jesus, including the institution of the Lord’s Supper, would have been understood within that context. In order to better appreciate the significance of what happened at the Last Supper, this article looks at the form that the Passover celebration is likely to have taken at the time of Jesus, and notes links with the meal Jesus shared with his disciples.

I. Introduction

The Old Testament gives details of festivals appointed by God which are linked with historical events and which serve as a continuing reminder of God’s saving power. These celebrations are rich in theological content, and also contain symbolism that points ultimately to Jesus, in whom the deeper significance of the festivals is fulfilled. In addition to their theological and symbolic significance, because the observance of these festivals was part of Jewish worship in the first century ce, knowing about them helps us to understand more about the world in which Jesus and the early Church lived and taught. For most Gentile believers, though, that is as far as the interest goes. Jesus observed the traditional Jewish holidays,1 but that was because he was born a Jew; in general Gentile believers were not expected to observe what would have been, to them, part of a foreign culture.2

The link between Jesus and the Passover presented in the New Testament, however, gives this festival a special importance for

Christians. Jesus is identified with the Passover sacrifice.3 The Last Supper, including the bread and wine, which Jesus shared with his disciples and which form part of the Lord’s Supper today, is traditionally thought to have been a Passover meal. The Church’s observance of the Eucharist is very different from what happened at the original meal; nevertheless its symbolism can be shown to be rooted in the Passover. The purpose of this article is to look at the form of the Passover celebration during the time of Jesus, and to show how Jesus’ words and actions at the Last Supper not only fit well into the context of the Passover meal, but also take on increased significance when viewed in this way.

In recent times there has been increased interest among Christians in the celebration of the Passover, an...

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