When Was The Last Supper?

On our last episode of Cross Connection we launched a new segment titled Hidden Treasures. In it we presented that, according to the Gospel of John, the Last Supper took place before the Passover Meal and revealed why this was so significant. After the show we received questions from viewers asking us to explain the differences in when Last Supper took place between the Synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark, and Luke) and the Gospel of John. Perhaps you have the same question, so let's investigate this together.


Firstly, it's important to remember that the fact that there are a few minor deviations in the Gospel accounts is not something that renders them illegitimate. If anything, it adds a layer of authenticity. For instance, if you were to get four witnesses of an event together to recall what happened, you would most likely get the same message with perhaps a few discrepancies in the minor details: such as one person may remember someone as wearing a blue shirt and another may remember it as purple. But the basic message would be consistent, and this is true of the Gospels as well. There are only a few minor differences, but the message is remarkably consistent. One of these minor differences is the exact day of the Last Supper.


The Gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke all clearly state that the Last Supper took place during the Passover. This means that Jesus and his disciples had their evening meal on the day when the lambs were slaughtered in the Temple. In fact, each of the Synoptic Gospels has an almost exact wording of the following verse, "Now on the first day of Unleavened Bread, when they killed the Passover lamb, His disciples said to Him, 'Where do You want us to go and prepare, that You may eat the Passover?'" (Mark 14:12, cf. Matthew 26:17, Luke 22:7). So, according to Matthew, Mark, and Luke, the Last Supper clearly took place on the first day of Passover. However, when we get to the Gospel of John, the Last Supper takes place on a completely different day. John 13:1 states that the last Supper took place "before the Feast of the Passover." He includes more allusions to this, such as - during the Last Supper - the disciples thinking that Judas went out to "buy those things needed for the feast" (John 13:29). To emphasize this point even further, John states that the Pharisees and those who arrested Jesus did not enter the Praetorium "lest they should be defiled, but that they might eat the Passover" (John 18:28). John's Gospel clearly deviates from the other three Gospels to state that Jesus was actually crucified on the first day of the Passover: the very same day when the lambs were slaughtered in the Temple.


So which is right, the Synoptic Gospels or the Gospel of John? Of course, it's impossible for us to know for certain. It would most likely make sense to assume that the Synoptic Gospels present the more historically-accurate date of the Last Supper, since they are all three in accord and were all written closer to the date of the Last Supper than the Gospel of John was. But here's what we do know, and it leads us to the most important point: John's Gospel was written around 90 A.D., about 60 years after the Last Supper took place. By that point, accounts of the life of Jesus had already been written, such as Matthew, Mark, and Luke. As we discussed in a previous article, the Gospels represent a very unique brand of literature that is a fusion of both history and theology. But, ultimately, the most important goal was to present a theological message; and this is especially true of John. If John details the Last Supper as only a day off from when it really happened, we can forgive him for it because he was writing six decades after the fact. You see, if he waited that long to record his Gospel, it's fair to assume that 100% historical/chronological accuracy was no longer his main concern. No, John's chief goal was to tell us who Jesus really was; and that's why his detailing of the Last Supper taking place the day before the passover is so significant. It means, according to John, Jesus was crucified on the day of the Passover; the day the sacrificial lambs were slaughtered and then eaten. This cements the point that he makes throughout his Gospel, starting in the very first chapter when he writes that Jesus is "The Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world!" (John 1:29).

For more on why this date is so significant to John's Gospel, check out this Hidden Treasures video:


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