The ceremony for the sacrificing of the paschal lambs was quite elaborate and done with great fanfare. This can be seen from reading Edershiem's The Temple: Its Ministry Its Services, as they were at the time of Jesus Christ, pp. 223-226. We also have the testimony of Josephus, that during the Passover of AD 64, there were 256,500 lambs killed1. Taking this number, multiplying it times 10 (the minimun number for a Passover group), we have the figure of 2,565,000 Jews in attendance at that Passover. This is a minumum number, for there would likely be groups that had more than 10. Josephus puts the number at 2,700,000, probably to allow for the fact that many of the homes would contain more than 10 people. We know that the group that sat at the table with the Lord, had at least 13.
Edershiem states that the celebrants who brought their lambs to the temple to be killed, were divided into three divisions. If all the lambs had to be killed at the temple, we would have three divisions consisting of 85,500 each (256,500 ÷ 3 = 85,500).
Then the priests would admit the first division into the Court of the Priests. This would mean that they admitted 85,500 people into the area of the Court of the Priests. How big was this area? Could it hold such a number of people? The Interpreter's Dictionary of the Bible gives us this information on the size of the courts in Herod's temple.
The Court of Israel was 135 cubits long and 11 cubits wide. Next was the Court of the Priests of the same size as the Court of Israel
A sacred cubit is said to be 21.888"2. So the Court of the Priests was 246.15' long, and 20.06' wide. This means the Court of the Priests and the Court of Israel, both contained 4,937.769 square feet each. Can you fit 85,500 people into a 4,937.769 square feet of space? This would allow each person in the group of 85,500 only 0.057751684 square inches to stand. This would be like trying to fit all the attendees of a major college football stadium, between the goal line and the ten yard line, an area of 4,800 square feet3.
To put this into perspective, a normal 1" square postage stamp is 17.3 times larger than the space each person, with their lamb, would have to stand in. As I stated at the beginning, this is physically impossible.
However, let's put the space issue aside for the moment, and look at the time it would take to perform these sacrifices. If each division consisted of 85,500 people, and we allow a minimum of ten minutes for each sacrifice (it very likely took longer than ten minutes, but we will use this just as a base), how long would it take to finish just the first division?
Allowing 10 minutes per sacrifice X 85,500 lambs = 855,000 minutes.
855,000 minutes ÷ 60 minutes = 14,250 hours.
14,250 hours ÷ 24 hours per day = 593.75 days.
593.75 days ÷ 365 days per year = 1.627 years.
These figures are around the clock killing. It would take 1.627 years, slaughtering around the clock, just to work through the first division of 85,500 lambs, allowing a very short ten minutes per lamb. To kill the total number of 256,500 lambs, it would take 4.881 years.
To put it in a different light, in order to kill 256,500 lambs in the maximum time allotted (1:00pm to 6pm), they would have to sacrifice 14.25 lambs per second. I know that these priests were well trained and good at what they did, but this is an impossibility in anybody's book.
The only way that many lambs could have been sacrificed, is that they were being killed at the site of the Passover itself, i.e., in the home as per the original Exodus passover. There very likely would have been some who had their lambs killed at the temple, but not 256,500.
You might be tempted to argue that the lambs had to be sacrificed in the temple, as the Lord commanded. However, the Lord did not command that they had to be killed in the temple,
Deut. 16:2 Thou shalt therefore sacrifice the passover unto the Lord thy God, of the flock and the herd, in the place which the Lord shall choose to place his name there.
The only stipulation was that the Passover had to be killed in the place where God would put His Name, which was Jerusalem. This is why all of Judea traveled to Jerusalem for the feast, because that is where God had placed His Name.
In the second century, there arose a controversy about the date on which the Passover was to be observed. The Eastern Churches, following the "rule of the gospel" and apostolic tradition, kept the Passover on the fourteenth day of the month. These churches were called Quartodecimans, or Fourteenthers. If the passover was kept on the night of the Fifteenth, as many argue, they would have been called, "Fifteenthers".
Eusebius quotes Polycrates, who says, "All these kept the fourteenth day of the month as the beginning of the Paschal festival, according to the Gospel, not deviating in the least but following the rule of faith." 4 This quote tells us that the early Church, into the second century, continued the observance of Passover and they kept in on its proper day, the Fourteenth of Nisan. Polycrates states that the keeping and observing the Fourteenth as the beginning of the Paschal Festival, was according to the Gospel and the rule of faith, not according to Pharisaic tradition.
It also tells us that they continued to observe the Feasts of the Lord and operated according to the Jewish calendar. When Polycrates says, "all these," he is referring to all the bishops of the eastern churches who served before him.
Among many scholars, there is a prevalent opinion that the report of John's Gospel differs from that of the synoptic gospels (Matthew, Mark and Luke) in its timing of this last Passover Meal. However, any differences arise only from a misunderstanding of the Hebraic culture, and from John's purpose for writing.
A common supposition is that the meal that John reports (John 13), was taken earlier than the actual Passover seder, observed on the night of Fourteenth of Nisan. This is based upon some misunderstandings of time-frames that John uses. It is without contradiction, that the synoptics report the meal taken before his betrayal and arrest, was the Passover meal observed on the Fourteenth of Nisan. John 13:1-2 says,
1 Now before the feast of the passover, when Jesus knew that his hour was come that he should depart out of this world unto the Father, having loved his own which were in the world, he loved them unto the end. 2 And supper being ended, the devil having now put into the heart of Judas Iscariot, Simon's son, to betray him;
What this tells us, is that Jesus knew that it was at this Passover feast, he would meet his death and return to his place with the Father. Then in verse 2, John jumps ahead two days to the Passover feast, after the main meal was finished.
Another verse that trips people up, is John 18:28.
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.
At first glance, this makes it sound like Passover had not yet taken place. However, this is not a reference to the Passover of the Fourteenth, but to the Chagigah of the Fifteenth. The Chagigah was a second, or supplemental festive offering taken on the Fifteenth. Joseph Stallings, in his book, Rediscovering Passover: a complete guide for Christians, states,"the obligatory Passover peace offering...of the Fifteenth of Nisan is also referred to as Pesach".
Alfred Edersheim also notes,
"And here both the Old Testament and Jewish writings show, that the term Pesach, or ‘Passover,’ was applied not only to the Paschal Lamb, but to all the Passover sacrifices, especially to what was called the Chagigah, or festive offering"5
So this reference to 'Passover' in Jn. 18:28, is not referring to the actual Passover feast on the night of the Fourteenth, but to an additional festive offering, the Chagigah, held on the afternoon of the Fourteenth.
Another reference that is argued to lend support to the traditional view of a Friday crucifixion, is John 19:31. It states,
The Jews therefore, because it was the preparation, that the bodies should not remain upon the cross on the sabbath day, (for that sabbath day was an high day) besought Pilate that their legs might be broken, and that they might be taken away.
Here, we find John reporting Jesus still on the cross during the time known as the preparation. Every Sabbath had a time of preparation. Here we introduce an idea that may be foreign to many. The idea that there was two Sabbaths during the week of Passover. Of course, each Sabbath would have its time of preparation. Later, we will explain in fuller detail.
Suffice it to say here, that this preparation referred to by John, is not the preparation for the weekly Sabbath, but the preparation for the annual Sabbath of the Fifteenth of Nisan (a high day because it was the first day of the Feast of Unleavened Bread, a Sabbath[see Lev. 23]). Jesus was crucified during the daytime (from approximately 9am to 3pm) on the Fourteenth of Nisan, and placed in the tomb, just before, or just as the Sabbath of the Fifteenth began.
It is apparent to any causal reader, that John's Gospel is quite different from the other three. There is a reason for this. John's purpose in writing is different. The early church historian, Eusebius, tells us this,
The three gospels already written were in general circulation and copies had come into John's hands. He welcomed them, we are told, and confirmed their accuracy, but he remarked that the narrative only lacked the story of what Christ had done first of all at the beginning of his mission. . . John was urged to record in his gospel the period which the earlier evangelists had passed over in silence and the things done during that period by the Saviour. 6
In short, John's purpose in writing, was to supplement what was passed over by the other three gospel writers. If the others were in circulation as Eusebius reports, John would feel no need to restate facts that were already common knowledge, i.e., that it was Passover, the Fourteenth, when Jesus was betrayed, arrested, crucified and buried.
Why did John feel the need to not report the events of the Last Supper in 13:1-2? He simply skips the Passover meal or seder, wherein were observed the breaking of the bread and the blessing of the cups. He jumps ahead of all this and simply says, "And supper being ended." In that one phrase, John skips the whole of the bread and the wine of the new covenant. He skipped all this because he already knew that this had been covered quite throughly by the other gospel writers.
So John is not contradicting the other gospels, by implying that the supper he records was not the Passover seder. He is simply supplementing the other writers' account with information that they had not included, which he felt was important to the whole story.
Continue one to Two Sabbaths.