by Al Maxey

Issue #138 ------- August 4, 2004
To follow foolish precedents, and wink
With both our eyes, is easier than to think.

William Cowper (1731-1800)

"Otherwise Than Prescribed"
Did Jesus Violate the Passover Pattern?

The earthly ministry of Jesus was coming rapidly to a close. The time of His passion was now at hand. He and His disciples were in the city of Jerusalem, as were countless other Jews from all over the empire, to keep the annual celebration of Passover. This year's observance would be like no other, however; it would be the occasion where the very Son of God would become the sacrificed Lamb, whose blood would atone for the sins of mankind once for all. "For Christ our Passover has been sacrificed!" (1 Cor. 5:7). John had foretold this very event some years earlier when he saw Jesus coming to him to be immersed: "Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!" (John 1:29).

This would be the final Passover meal our Lord would eat with His beloved disciples, and He had been anticipating it with a great deal of eagerness. As He later reclined at the table, He would inform these men with whom He had shared so much over the past three years, "I have fervently desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer" (Luke 22:15). It was during the course of this Passover meal that our Lord took some of the bread and wine, blessed it, and bestowed upon these selected emblems a spiritual significance relative to His upcoming sacrifice. The apostle Paul commented upon this unique action by Jesus in 1 Cor. 11:23ff, declaring to the later disciples of Jesus that "as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord's death until He comes" (vs. 26). Today, you and I still remember our Lord's precious gift of Himself when we surround that table and partake of those same elements in a moving commemorative feast known to Christians as The Lord's Supper.

Returning to that day prior to His crucifixion, we see Jesus instructing His close companions to make preparations for the Passover meal that would be eaten that evening. "Jesus sent Peter and John, saying, 'Go and prepare the Passover meal for us, so we can eat it'" (Luke 22:8). They asked Him where He wanted this Passover meal prepared, and He told them, "When you've entered the city, a man carrying a water jug will meet you. Follow him into the house he enters. Tell the owner of the house, 'The Teacher asks you, "Where is the guest room where I can eat the Passover with My disciples?"' Then he will show you a large, furnished room upstairs. Make the preparations there" (Luke 22:10-12). "So the disciples did as Jesus had directed them and prepared the Passover" (Matt. 26:19; cf. Mark 14:16). What followed was a meal that was clearly a traditional Passover celebration, as it was known and practiced in the first century. One detects the multiple cups of wine (a Jewish addition --- see: Reflections #14), the sop, and various other elements and activities that mark this as a Passover meal. Not to mention that this is what it is called in all three Synoptic Gospels (Matthew 26:17f; Mark 14:12f; Luke 22:7f).

When one reads the above accounts, one is left with the clear impression ... indeed, there is little doubt in anyone's mind ... that Jesus and the Twelve observed the Passover that evening prior to His betrayal and arrest in the Garden of Gethsemane, and the evening prior to the day of His trial and crucifixion. The words used and the events described make it easy for us to come to this conclusion. BUT ... there is a major problem presented by a couple of statements in the gospel account of the apostle John. As Jesus is appearing before Pilate, and as the crowd is crying out for His execution, we are told -- "Now it was the day of preparation for the Passover" (John 19:14). Wait a minute!!! Hadn't Jesus told His disciples the previous day to make preparation for the Passover?! Had they made preparation a day early?! In John 18:28 we find Jesus being led from Caiaphas to the governor's headquarters. The Jews, however, "did not enter the Praetorium themselves; otherwise they would all be defiled and unable to eat the Passover." What?!! "Unable to eat the Passover"?? But, hadn't the Passover already been eaten? After all, Jesus and the Twelve ate it the evening before! These Jews, however, hadn't eaten it yet. In fact, all of Jerusalem was just making preparation for the Passover. No one had eaten it yet .... except Jesus and the Twelve!

As you can imagine, this has caused a tremendous amount of debate among biblical scholars; a debate that has been waged heatedly for centuries. When looking at these passages in the four gospel records, some just shake their heads and throw up their hands --- "The statements are apparently in hopeless variance. Many emphasize, exaggerate, and declare insoluble the contradiction, repudiating either the authority of John or that of the Synoptists" (The Pulpit Commentary, vol. 17). "Scholars have debated whether the Last Supper was a Passover meal. The Synoptic Gospels state that it was (Matthew 26:17, etc.), but John 19:14 has cast some doubt on this" (International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, vol. 3, p. 677). Countless theories, some of them quite ingenious, some just plain bizarre, have been proposed in an effort to explain what appears to be two separate Passover celebrations that year -- one by Jesus and the Twelve, the other by everyone else the following day! Some biblical scholars have actually written entire books trying to explain this dilemma; many thousands of articles have been produced by various scholars in an effort to "solve the problem." Some of the better known theories are:

  1. Jesus didn't really eat the actual Passover meal, but a Passover-like meal. Thus, the real Passover was being prepared for on the day of His death, but He simply ate another meal on the night before, but called it a "Passover." However, this is totally unacceptable in light of the fact that all three of the Synoptic writers (Matthew, Mark and Luke) clearly declare the meal Jesus and the Twelve ate was nothing other and nothing less than The Passover. "Attempts to turn the meal into something else -- a Kiddush (prayer meal), though this was unknown until several centuries later, or an Habburah (fellowship meal), eaten just before Passover -- are not convincing ... especially in light of the Passover associations as early as 1 Cor. 11" (The Expositor's Bible Commentary, vol. 8, p. 529).

  2. Other theorists suggest that Jesus actually ate the Passover meal, but minus the slain, prepared lamb. "One way out of the dilemma would be to assume that the Last Supper was a paschal meal but in anticipation of the festival, which would mean that the paschal lamb was missing. Such a simple solution makes it possible to reconcile the two traditions: John was right, for Passover began on Friday night; the Synoptics were right, for the Last Supper was a paschal meal, though without the lamb" (Zondervan Pictorial Encyclopedia of the Bible, vol. 4, p. 609). This is certainly an attractive theory, and also plays well theologically into the idea that Jesus Himself would therefore be that Passover Lamb sacrificed (1 Cor. 5:7). However, this leaves us with the very same problem regarding the "Passover pattern" -- whether He celebrated it a day early, or whether He celebrated it without the lamb, both were clearly "otherwise than prescribed" (2 Chron. 30:18).

  3. Yet another view is that the Passover meal mentioned in John's gospel was only for the Jewish leaders who were too involved in prosecuting Jesus to bother with eating the Passover at the regular time, therefore they put it off until the next evening. "The ingenious suggestion that the apostle John's statement here is brought into harmony with the Synoptic narrative, by the supposition that the chief priests had been disturbed in their Passover preparations, and were intending to complete their meal as soon as the decision of the Roman governor had been given, involves a much greater violation of Passover regulation than that Jesus and the Twelve should have anticipated the ceremony by a few hours" (The Pulpit Commentary, vol. 17). Of course, the advantage to this theory is that it is the Jewish leaders who are "transgressing the pattern," rather than Jesus, which is certainly far more appealing to those of a legalistic mindset.

  4. Some feel "John has simply provided a theological interpretation of Jesus' death" (Dr. Craig Keener, A Commentary on the Gospel of Matthew, p. 623). In other words, John was not really all that concerned about when events occurred, but only why. Therefore, to portray Jesus as the sacrificial Lamb of God to his readers, it just "fit better" to have Him sacrificed on the day of Passover, even if the real Passover was on a different day altogether. This theory, of course, has John being deceptive with the data to prove a theological point. That is unacceptable!

  5. Other scholars feel the solution may lie in which calendar is being followed. "According to this proposal, Jesus followed a solar calendar like the one used at Qumran, but Jerusalem's official Passover, and the one followed by John, occur afterward" (ibid). Thus, while the majority of the Jews in Jerusalem were following a traditional calendar, "Jesus' disciples followed an Essene, sectarian date for the Passover" (ibid). Others feel the two calendars were "an old sacerdotal calendar based on the solar system, and the official lunar calendar in force at the time," with Passover falling on different days depending on the calendar used (Zondervan Pictorial Encyclopedia of the Bible, vol. 4, p. 609). Others feel it may have been a matter of the difference in a Pharisaic calendar versus a Sadducean calendar. "At least all these theories based on diverse calendars join in affirming that Jesus and His disciples ate a Passover meal, whatever the date!" (The Expositor's Bible Commentary, vol. 8, p. 529).

It seems to me the most likely explanation is by far the most obvious -- Jesus and His disciples simply ate the Passover meal one day early. They ate it "otherwise than prescribed," just as Hezekiah and the people of Israel "ate the Passover otherwise than prescribed .... not according to the purification rules of the sanctuary" (2 Chron. 30:18-19). Indeed, after celebrating this feast (which had been neglected by the people of Israel for many years), they were so uplifted by the experience that they decided to celebrate the whole feast all over again!! (2 Chron. 30:23). And, by the way, they did so with God's full approval, even though they had completely violated the Passover "pattern" as prescribed in the Law of Moses. When, oh when, are we ever going to realize that it is the HEART God examines, not whether we have dotted every "i" or crossed every "t" in our futile efforts to be justified by LAW?!!

Jesus desired earnestly to eat the Passover with His disciples before He suffered and died, but the Passover was not scheduled to be observed until after His crucifixion. Therefore, He observed it a day early!! His legitimate need superceded the law!! King Hezekiah and the Jews, when they discovered that the Passover had been neglected too long, needed to reinstitute this celebration of remembrance. They couldn't bear to wait. Thus, they celebrated it "otherwise than prescribed" ... and then celebrated it all over again!! Need superceded law! And God was very pleased! He approved! Regarding the apparent difficulty with the gospel accounts regarding the Passover meal of Jesus, "If the two accounts must be harmonized, the simplest solution would be the best" (Dr. Craig Keener, A Commentary on the Gospel of Matthew, p. 623). And what is that very simple solution? "Jesus, knowing that He would be dead before the regular time for the meal, deliberately held it in secret one day early" (Dr. R.T. France, Tyndale NT Commentary: Matthew, p. 365).

Therefore, it is my personal belief, and that of a good many reputable biblical scholars, that Jesus and the Twelve ate the Passover ... the actual Passover meal ... and they did so one day early. Dr. Alfred Edersheim, in his classic work The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah, emphatically declared, "It was, therefore, with the view of preparing the ordinary Paschal Supper that the Lord sent Peter and John. It is almost impossible to imagine anything more evident, than that Jesus was about to celebrate the ordinary Jewish Paschal Supper. No ingenuity can explain away these facts" (book 5, p. 481-482). After examining all the various theories, The Pulpit Commentary suggests, "It is possible, therefore, that the Last Supper may have taken place a day before the legal time for the Passover. This is, perhaps, the most probable explanation of the apparent differences between St. John and the first three evangelists" (vol. 15). "There is wide consensus of opinion that the Last Supper was a Paschal meal," and that no other theory is really "adequate" (Zondervan Pictorial Encyclopedia of the Bible, vol. 4, p. 609).

Our gracious Father is not the ultra-legalistic God too frequently portrayed by the patternists. After all, these various special days were created for man, not for God. It is also the heart of the worshiper that God cares about, not the specific location or time of the observance. In other words, the event transcends the day. (NOTE: Is it possible this same principle may apply to some of our memorial observances under this present dispensation of grace?! --- see: Reflections #30 --- The Lord's Supper: Focusing on Frequency.) Jesus shared this principle with a Samaritan woman one day (and, thus, with us as well) at Jacob's well (John 4:1ff). She was a bit perplexed about the "when and where" of acceptable worship. Our Lord redirected her focus away from systematic regulation and to spiritual reformation!! True worship before our God is of the heart; the "mountain" matters not!! I would refer the readers to Reflections #112 --- The Nature of True Worship: An Examination of John 4:19-24.

Did Jesus "break the pattern" when He observed the Passover a day early? Yes, He did. The Law of Moses was very specific about exactly when, where, how and by whom the Passover was to be observed (Exodus 12). But, let's face it, He had been breaking it all along!! The four cups of wine were an addition of the rabbis to the pattern. Reclining at the table was a change in the pattern. Yet, Jesus embraced them all. And He was sinless! Brethren, worship is about the HEART. When we finally figure this out, the "light will dawn" in our darkened minds, and we will truly begin to perceive the real expectations of our God with respect to the worshipful expressions of His people. Legalistic regulation of worship was an aspect of LAW .... we are under GRACE. These various regulations were "imposed until a time of reformation" (Heb. 9:10). That time has come! It was ushered in by our Lord Jesus. Our worship is now offered up in genuineness of heart; it is the expression of our devotion. I would urge you to read Reflections #33 --- Worship Reformation.

Jesus gave us a glimpse into that dawning of a new day when He led His disciples in the eating of the Passover "otherwise than prescribed." He showed us where our Father's focus is, and where our's should be --- The HEART. When our focus is away from heartfelt expressions of devotion to our Father, and when it is ruled by LAW, the result is pathetic to behold. This too is seen in the account of our Lord's passion, and the events surrounding it. The Jewish leaders, for example, would not enter the Praetorium, "in order that they might not be defiled, but might eat the Passover" (John 18:28). This restriction was a tradition of the rabbis, by the way, not of God. Yet they dared not "break a rule" (or tradition) lest they be "defiled," but they had no qualms about murdering an innocent man!!

May our merciful God preserve us from falling into the deadly trap of pernicious patternism. May He enlighten our hearts so that we might see the beauty of our freedom in Christ Jesus to express our love and devotion to Him in countless ways in our daily lives. And may He help us to understand that when we are led by the Spirit, and when we express that fruit in our lives, against such there is no legislation of law (see: Reflections #36). Jesus led the way! It is time for us to follow!

Reflections from Readers

From a Reader in Arizona:

You've helped me a great deal! Thank you so much! Also, I don't see the CD offer on your website anymore ... is it gone? I considered buying them before but couldn't decide which format to get, so I put off the decision until "later." Sometimes later is too late! You are always a blessing, Al. Thank you!

From a Minister in Kentucky:

Al, regarding your article on wearing proper apparel -- Right On!!! You have your finger directly on the pulse of the American culture. I'm a "grace oriented" preacher working with a "grace oriented" Church of Christ. However, grace orientation doesn't mean that we throw caution to the wind or that we embrace an increasingly carnal culture's ways and adopt them as our own. I was genuinely blessed by your suggestions on how to approach and handle such a delicate issue. I'm very much for teaching and educating on the issue -- early on. What I'm opposed to is cowardly preachers and elders who will blast a young lady from the pulpit for her dress -- but will not muster the love or courage to invite her and her parents for a time of prayer, study and humble counsel. Great Advice, Al.

While working with a "non-grace oriented - dogmatic Church of Christ," I was asked to preach on the topic of "Modest Apparel," because we had one young lady in the church who was wearing some rather short skirts. It was an opportunity for me to share with the church, from the pulpit, our need to approach such a sister with love and grace in our hearts. The reality is: many young ladies don't even know that their dress is sexually stimulating (they're merely concerned about current fashion). Having played football in high school, I used that opportunity from the pulpit to share with all the young ladies present how the teenage boys used to talk about the cheerleaders and "pom-pom girls" in the locker room. With tears streaming down my face, because of my participation in such lewd conversation, I made my appeal for more modesty in our dress. I'm not sure that it was the sermon the legalists in our church were looking for, but it was the only one I could preach. These young ladies need our love, and they need a gracious and kind appeal, not a scathing rebuke from an uncaring, self-righteous hypocrite. Well, I've said too much. I know that you are busy. Just wanted to let you know that your thoughts and advice were poignant and well-received by this preacher.

From an Elder in Missouri:

It is true that we are to judge (inspect the fruit), but we are also commanded to accept one another just as the Lord accepted us -- this is in the context of not judging another based on his opinions. We are warned not to condemn others. One of my teachers years ago warned us all (a bunch of preacher students) that we are "not the Lord's policemen." I think I will leave the condemnation to the only One who has the qualifications to do the job -- the One who died to earn that right. It is interesting how the Lord Himself tells us that the mark of discipleship is our love for one another, not strict adherence to a select body of teaching (doctrine), nor the name we wear, nor by how we express our worshipful praise to the Almighty. No, it is our love (or the lack of it) that will be the telling thing. I strive always, as I feel you do, to speak only the truth IN LOVE. Let us continue the fight for unity in Christ.

From a Minister in Mississippi:

Al, Another outstanding Reflections on "Adorned With Proper Apparel." Both your "wine" and "attire" articles were timely, relevant, balanced and presented in a loving manner. And both articles present a biblical call to a higher standard without resorting to binding legalism. You have done us all a great service by presenting the biblical principles that should govern our actions. God bless you brother. You are on quite a roll.

From a Reader in Mississippi:

It's a good thing I wore my steel-toed boots today, brother ... you stomped my toes pretty hard in your article "Distinguishing Deceivers from Disciples." Thank you! I am afraid and ashamed to admit, I often have the wrong attitude when searching the Scriptures and testing the spirits. Thank you for opening my eyes to the matter! Now that it is at the forefront of my mind, I can search the Scriptures with an open heart and not with an agenda. As usual, GREAT WORK.

From a Minister/Elder in New Jersey:

I was on vacation about the same time as you were, and have been catching up on all the excellent Reflections I have received. I offer a hearty AMEN on each of them. Your article about testing the spirits brings to mind a couple things about which I have been thinking and studying lately. First, we are consumed with the effort to be "right." If someone does not agree with me, or two or three or more others do not agree with each other, our immediate goal is to determine who is "right." That is wrong! We are all wrong about some things. Praise God that our salvation is not dependant on any of us being "right." Scripture does not suggest the kind of doctrinal, theological, organizational knowledge about which there is so much concern over being "right." I am not always right, but in Christ I am righteous -- that is more to be preferred. It is this which brings us closer to Jesus. Not doctrines, theology, or even "patterns."

Second, we seem to place our faith in the written word, and our understanding of it, rather than in the living Word about whom the words are written. I do not in any way want to minimize the beauty, truth, accuracy, or even importance of the preserved Scriptures. However, we need to learn that God's messages over the ages have been through His Spirit working in and through His people -- and, in these last days, through Jesus. Before Jesus left the earth He promised that a Comforter would come to those who love Him. When, Oh when, will we claim that Spirit and listen to Him. Can we not trust God and His Spirit to work in us? Praise God that Jesus is alive, and that He and the Spirit both want to live in me -- my prayer is that I will let them.

From a Reader in Alabama:

Your answer to the question about testing the spirits was very good. I would add one thought, which perhaps even goes without saying. We need to pray fervently that God will show us His truth. We know that petition would be within the bounds of His will for us, and I believe that He will grant us that insight. In the ladies' class with which I work, we are discovering, as we delve deeply into the Scriptures, truths that often challenge the traditional teachings of the Churches of Christ. As we are plowing new ground, we pray continually that God will reveal His truth to us so that we may know Him and serve Him most effectively. Appreciate your study and your sharing your perspective with your ever-widening audience.

From a Minister in Kentucky:

In your last Reflections you made the statement that "we have ceased preaching Christ..., and instead preach the Church of Christ..." I couldn't agree more. Just this week I attended a "Gospel Meeting" in which the preacher engaged in an hour-long discourse on how the "Church of Christ" is the right church because it has the right name, and all other churches are therefore wrong. I went away feeling that I had heard one of the most sectarian sermons I had ever heard! But the picture is not all bleak. The night before that, I attended another meeting where a very good friend of mine (another Non-Institutional preacher) spoke on the prayer of Jesus in John 17. He very effectively pointed out that because our Lord who died for us prayed for our unity, we ought to be ashamed that we are not seeking diligently to achieve it. He argued that we should never divide over the many things we have divided over, but rather stay together, study together, and learn together from one another. I believe he truly "preached Christ." I went away from that meeting greatly encouraged and edified!

From a Native Preacher in the Philippines:

Hello brother Al, I been reading your Reflections and I found it very useful in my studies. I wanted to ask you a favor to discuss Isaiah 9:6. Different versions of the Bible differs in wordings and I am confused. With regards to the child that will be born some versions says "Everlasting Father," some says "Father of eternity," some says "Father of the world to come," and some others says "Father forever." But the LXX says "Messenger of the Great Council." If all the versions were translated from the original why they vary in wordings? Please take time to discuss it in your next issue of the Reflections. May God bless you and keep you.

From a Reader in Georgia:

Al, I have a couple of comments about your recent article: Adorned With Proper Apparel. I really liked your point about using education to obviate the problem before there is a problem. Also, using a general management rule-of-thumb, I believe interpersonal problems should be solved at the lowest possible level, involving the minimum number of persons. It is also very important to be as non-confrontational as possible. I realize too that elders get "dumped on" regarding most interpersonal problems. I don't believe elders ought to have to solve every problem. Perhaps it would be better, for example, to start correcting the problem with that 16-year-old girl by asking some Christian woman to speak to her and her mother in some neutral location (e.g. the girl's home). I believe it is very important to attempt to learn the reason she chooses to dress as she does. I am pretty well convinced that with a lot of girls they are just too ignorant of life to realize what they are doing other than following the clothes styles. They have too little experience to appreciate how their dress arouses boys in thought, if not action. Thus, I suggest a woman speaking to the girl and her mother as a first measure because the woman can identify more with them and she won't be as intimidating as a man or men.

Relative to modesty itself, we both know that modesty is very subjective. I can remember how controversial women's pants suits once were, being considered immodest for a church service. A last point -- I believe there is quite a difference between a member of a congregation and a visitor to the congregation. I can agree with step-wise discipline of members regarding modesty, but with a visitor I believe the main effort should be in converting the visitor first and then dressing him/her later using education. To me, discipline should always be driven by the intent to educate rather than to force one's will or set of standards onto another. Those who are attempting to do the education simply must maintain the view that they just may be wrong themselves, regardless of the firmness of their own beliefs. Thanks for your indulgence. Keep pressing on!

From a Reader in Texas:

Bro. Maxey, Five years ago I unfortunately went through a divorce when my wife decided she no longer wanted to be married. I went through a lot of hurt and turmoil over the break up, and especially over what I was being told from the church elders (Church of Christ) where I was currently attending. However, I resolved myself to study the matter from every possible angle, rather than give up on my dream of getting married and having a family. I met a wonderful Christian lady and married her about 3 years ago. We have one child that's almost two, and just found out another one is on the way. However, due to some recent events in my life, I have not been able to get excited about this new child. For some reason I have regressed back into a fit of depression and anxiety over this issue. I can't seem to get the term "living in adultery" out of my head. I have read your book Down, But Not Out, Olan Hicks' book, John L. Edwards' book, and have listened to the tapes by Rubel Shelly, Tom Tignor, Oliver Howard and Chris Bullard. It seems no matter how hard I study the issue currently, I still have anxiety and fear of going to hell for being remarried. So my question is: What if we're wrong and there really is such a thing as "living in adultery"? Can we be sure? Do you think God will hold this against me on judgment day and send me to hell? Is it better to try and play it safe and not be married, or live celibate with my wife? I'm so tired of being afraid and living in anxiety and hurting about this issue; I can't seem to come to a place of peace. I am going to re-read your book on this matter and pray even harder. I think part of my problem is I don't really understand God's grace to the extent that I should.

From a New Reader in (Unknown):

I have read a couple of your articles and enjoyed them very much. A friend in Georgia sent me the first one -- "Beloved, Test the Spirits" -- which I found very interesting and challenging. Please put me on your mailing list. Thank you very much!

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