Preparations for the Passover (Matthew 26:17-19; Mark 14:12-16; Luke 22:7-13; John 13:1)

With the approach of the Festival of Unleavened Bread preceded by the observance of Passover, Jesus knew that his “hour” or time had come to leave the world in which he had lived and to return to his Father. He was fully aware that it was the time for him willingly to surrender his life, not resisting or seeking to avoid being executed like a criminal seditionist. By laying down his life, he would express his great love for his disciples and for the world of mankind, as his sacrificial death would provide the basis for forgiveness of sins and reconciliation with his Father. (John 13:1)

Jesus’ death would also serve to reveal his Father’s boundless love for mankind. By not sparing his dearly beloved Son from sacrificing his life, the Father reached out to the human family in a manner that should have left no doubt about his love. He thereby extended to all the opportunity to respond in faith or trust in him, appreciatively accepting his arrangement to be forgiven of their sins and to become his dear children.

As for his disciples, Jesus had always loved them and he “loved them to the end.” This could mean that his love continued to the very end or that he loved them to the limit, completely or utterly. The ultimate expression of his love proved to be the surrender of his life for them. (John 13:1)

When the disciples asked Jesus about arrangements for eating the Passover meal, they had no idea that this would be the very last time they would be sharing with him in the observance. It was then the “first [day] of the unleavened [bread]” (when the Passover animals were sacrificially slaughtered in the temple courtyard) and would be followed by the seven-day Festival of Unleavened Bread. (Matthew 26:17; Mark 14:12; Luke 22:7)

According to ancient Jewish sources, the people burned all leaven at the beginning of the sixth hour (noon) prior to the night on which the Passover lamb or goat was eaten. Either one or two hours earlier, they ceased to eat anything that had been leavened. (Mishnah, Pesahim, 1:4) Their not eating any leavened bread during the entire festival served as a reminder that their ancestors had departed in haste from Egypt, taking with them their dough before it was leavened. (Exodus 12:34; Deuteronomy 16:3) This feature is the basis for the name “Festival of Unleavened Bread.”

In response to the question about Passover observance, Jesus sent Peter and John to make preparations. The instructions he gave them did not reveal the location. Thus Judas Iscariot would not have been able to provide advance notice about Jesus’ whereabouts before the Passover meal.

Peter and John were to go to Jerusalem. Upon seeing a man carrying a vessel containing water, they were to follow him. Peter and John should then tell the owner of the house where the man entered, “The Teacher says, ‘Where is my guest room where I may eat the Passover with my disciples?’” (Mark 14:13, 14; Luke 22:8-11; see the Notes section for comments regarding Matthew 26:17, 18; and Luke 22:8, 9.)

The owner would then show Peter and John a large upper room that was furnished and ready for use. This probably means that the room contained a table and couches for reclining on three of its sides. In that large room, Peter and John were to make the necessary preparations. (Mark 14:15; Luke 22:12)

The accounts do not reveal whether Jesus had made any prior arrangements with the owner of the house or whether everything that happened exactly as he had said to Peter and John involved his foreknowledge. Women usually carried water jars, and so the man with the vessel would have been readily identifiable. The home itself must have belonged to a family of disciples, for the owner responded as would a person who knew the “Teacher” who made the request for a place to observe the Passover.

In subsequent years, the home in Jerusalem where Mark lived with his mother Mary served as a meeting place for the disciples. Therefore, it may have been the house with the large upper room. (Acts 12:12)

After finding everything as Jesus had said, Peter and John followed through on making preparations for the Passover meal. (Matthew 26:19; Mark 14:16; Luke 22:13) No details are provided regarding whether they had to obtain everything needed for the meal or whether the bitter greens, the unleavened bread, and the dip (haroset) primarily consisting of fruit and nuts were available for them at the home.

Ancient Jewish sources provide considerable detail about preparations for the Passover and the meal. The unleavened bread could be made from wheat, barley, spelt, rye, or oat flour. (Mishnah, Pesahim,Pesahim, 2:6)

In the afternoon before the Passover meal, the second daily whole burnt offering was slaughtered at about 1:30 p.m. (unless the day was also the Sabbath) and offered up on the altar about 2:30 p.m. (Mishnah, Pesahim, 5:1) Around this time, the first of three groups of Israelite men would enter the courtyard of the temple to slaughter their one-year-old unblemished male lambs (or goats). While the blood drained from the slaughtered animal, a priest would let it fill the basin he was holding. He would then pass it to a priest standing next to him in the row of priests and receive an empty basin. Thus full and empty basins would pass from hand to hand. The priest nearest the altar would, in a single act, toss the blood toward the base of the altar. (Mishnah, Pesahim, 5:5, 6)

To flay the carcasses, the men would suspend them from the iron hooks in the walls and pillars of the courtyard. In case an Israelite found no place for hanging the carcass, he used one of the available smooth poles. With the end of one pole on his shoulder and the other end on the shoulder of his companion, he would flay the suspended carcass. (Mishnah, Pesahim, 5:9) After skinning the animals, the men would slit the carcasses open, remove the sacrificial portions, and place them on trays. Thereafter a priest would burn the sacrificial portions on the altar. (Mishnah, Pesahim, 5:10)

If Peter and John cared for this part of the preparation of the Passover, they would have left the temple courtyard with the skinned animal and headed back to the house in the city. Before placing the slaughtered animal in the oven for roasting, they would have rinsed the entrails and scorched the hair of its legs and head in fire. (Mishnah, Pesahim, 6:1; Tosefta, Pesahim, 5:10) According to the Mishnah (Pesahim, 7:1, 2), a stick of pomegranate wood would be passed through the mouth of the carcass to the buttocks. Suspended on this spit, the slaughtered animal would be roasted whole. (Tosefta, Pesahim, 7:1, 2)


In Matthew 26:17, the disciples raise the question about preparing for the Passover. According to the next verse, Jesus answered, “Go into the city to a certain man and tell him, ‘The Teacher says, My time is near; at your [home] I will observe the Passover with my disciples.’” While not expressed in question form (as in Mark 14:14 and Luke 22:11), the words in Matthew 26:18 do convey the basic thought about the observance of the Passover meal in the owner’s house. Moreover, all of the accounts are highly condensed. At least in part, the differences may be attributed to paraphrasing in Greek what was said in another language.

Only Matthew 26:18 includes the statement, “My time is near.” These words reflected Jesus’ awareness that the time had come for him to lay down his life for the world of mankind.

According to Luke (22:8, 9), Peter and John, after Jesus told them to make preparations for the Passover meal, asked him where they should do so. The narration in Matthew 26:17 and Mark 14:12 represents the disciples as asking the question. It is possible that the question was raised before Jesus designated Peter and John to make preparations and then a second time by the two disciples (with Peter [as on other occasions] acting as the spokesman). The other possibility is that Luke 22:8-11 provides the chronological sequence, with Jesus first telling Peter and John to make the needed preparations for the Passover meal.

Many have attempted to explain why Matthew, Mark, and Luke refer to Jesus as observing the Passover with his disciples, whereas John 18:28 indicates that those who led Jesus to Pilate had not as yet eaten the Passover meal. The Scriptures and other extant ancient sources, however, do not provide sufficient details to account for this in a definitive way.