The Passover meal featuring the eating of the Paschal lamb was commanded by God as a memorial to be observed annually by the Jewish people forever. (Ex. 12:1-14) As an observant Jew, Jesus faithfully celebrated Passover during his lifetime. The Gospel of John mentions three Passovers that occurred during the public ministry of Jesus. (John 2:13, John 6:4, John 11:55)
Many Christians mistakenly think that the meal Jesus ate with his disciples in the upper room, commonly called the “Last Supper,” was one of those three memorial Passover observances, but it wasn’t. To understand the chronology, it must be remembered that the Feast of Unleavened bread, a seven-day festival observance, was referred to as “the Passover.” (Luke 21:3) When Jesus told his disciples that “With desire I have desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer,” (Luke 22:15), he was using the term in that way.
The crucifixion of Jesus happened during the afternoon before the Passover Night that year, meaning that the meal in the upper room could not have been the memorial Passover meal during which a sacrificed Pascal lamb was consumed. However, the meal did occur on the first night of the Feast of Unleavened Bread, aka the Passover. The Gospel of John confirms that the trial of Jesus by Pilate took place after the upper-room meal but before the crucifixion, another witness to the fact that the “Last Supper”was not the memorial Passover meal. (John 19:14)
But, if it wasn’t the memorial Passover meal, then what was it?
In his discourse in the upper room, Jesus explained by giving a new focus to the Passover Seder for those who were and would be under the New Covenant. Jesus’ command to his disciples during the “Last Supper” to “this do in remembrance of me” (Luke 22:19), referring to the eating of unleavened bread symbolic of his body uncontaminated by the commission of sin and the drinking of wine symbolic of his blood shed for remission of the sins for those under the New Covenant. (John 6:52-59) His subsequent death on the cross the following day and resurrection to life on the third day (Matthew 26:29, Luke 22:20) forever after brought the Passover Seder to its full New Covenant meaning.
The apostles, being good Jews, would have celebrated the memorial Passover with its new meaning while Jesus was in the tomb, in remembrance of him as He commanded since he was separated from the apostles by death on that first New Covenant Passover observed after the “Last Supper.” After the resurrection and ascension, the Passover had new meaning for the followers of Jesus, who were all Jews in the early years. As it was for the apostles that first New Passover night, the sacrament of the Holy Communion is a remembrance of Jesus who in this present time is not physically with us here on Earth but instead is in heaven at the right hand of the Father, and a reminder that Jesus will one day return to be physically with us again.
Today, many Jewish followers of Jesus observe the Passover on the day of the Jewish Passover by celebrating a New Covenant (Jer. 31:31-34) Seder each year in their Messianic synagogues, and Bible-believing churches celebrate Jesus our Passover on every Communion Sunday.
From a chronological standpoint, it should be noted that the crucifixion took place on a Thursday, not a Friday, and that the year of the Crucifixion was 30 CE. That year can be calculated from Daniel’s Seventy Weeks prophecy, which requires that Jesus’ ministry began in 28 CE. Once the start of Jesus’ public ministry is confirmed as beginning in the year 28 CE, it is a simple matter of calculating the three Passovers mentioned in the Book of John, the first occurring in 28 CE, the second in 29 CE, and the third being the Passover of the Passion Week in 30 CE, to verify that the Crucifixion took place in 30 CE.