They devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.

What’s Wrong with This Picture?

On the first day of the Festival of Unleavened Bread, when it was customary to sacrifice the Passover lamb, Jesus’ disciples asked him, “Where do you want us to go and make preparations for you to eat the Passover?” — Mark 14:12

Leonardo Da Vinci’s painting of the Last Supper is one of the most recognized paintings in the world. Painted as a mural on the wall of a church in Milan, Italy in the late fifteenth century, this work of art is renowned the world over for capturing one of the most significant events in the New Testament story of Jesus and His earthly ministry.

The setting for the painting is the evening of the Passover Meal that Jesus shared with His disciples, just before his arrest, trial and crucifixion. At this Passover Seder, Jesus told His followers that He was going to be the Passover Lamb for the whole world and that His life would be poured out as a ransom for the sins of many. He also told them that He would be betrayed by one of His own disciples.

This seminal event in Christianity is still celebrated every time Christians take the Communion Meal. Unfortunately, this wonderful painting of the event is inaccurate in almost every single historical detail! Huh? How is it misleading and inaccurate? Let’s look at the details and see.

  1. The thirteen men in the picture are definitely light skinned, fair haired Europeans dressed in fifteenth century Renaissance clothing. The Jewish Rabbi from the Galilee has been recast into a fifteenth century Renaissance man to fit the image of the prevailing culture!
  2. The building in which the meal is being held resembles an Italian Palace with tall walls and multiple corridors. Jesus took the Passover Meal in a small upper room in Jerusalem.
  3. The Passover Meal is always taken in the evening after sundown to replicate the Exodus Story. In Da Vinci’s painting, blue sky and clouds are visible through the windows, making it a midday meal.
  4. The meal for the Passover was always the same; roasted lamb and matza (unleavened bread). In the mural, fish and loaves of leavened bread are on the table! Also, there are crystal glasses of wine on the table. Glass was not used by the Jewish common people and the goblets would have been made of wood or clay.
  5. All the participants of the meal are sitting upright in chairs at a long table with Jesus in the center position. This reflects the fifteenth century custom of having the host or most honored guest in the center position. However, the Jewish custom of Jesus’ time period was to recline on the floor on your left elbow, with pillows for support and dine around a three sided low table called a triclinium. The guest of honor was always placed in the second position from the right end (see picture). A long table and chairs was not part of the seating arrangement during this time period.

The observance of the Passover Meal celebrating God’s great deliverance of His children from the hands of the cruel Pharaoh is the landmark event in Jewish history. Fourteen hundred years after the Passover events took place, Jesus and His Jewish disciples were still celebrating this miraculous event by eating the Passover Meal together (And he said to them, “I have eagerly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer. – Luke 22:15). It is regrettable that the Jewish Rabbi Jesus and his disciples have been changed and westernized to the point that we only able to picture them in our present day Gentile culture. Christianity has undeniably Jewish Roots. Jesus, His disciples, and almost all the early believers were Jewish. Today, we don’t even think of Jesus as a Jew – much less consider our faith in light of its rich Jewish heritage. The same mistakes that are in DaVinci’s painting are also mistakes that are being made in modern Christianity. We have westernized and “Gentilized” the Christian faith to the point that we have completely lost sight of its Jewish beginnings. Modern day Christians would do well to learn and know their Jewish roots and heritage and try to understand the Bible based on the culture of the time period in which it was written. The better we know the world of the Bible, the better we will understand the words of the Bible.

Lamb Selection Day

Tell the whole community of Israel that on the tenth day of this month each man is to take a lamb for his family, one for each household… Take care of them until the fourteenth day of the month, when all the members of the community of Israel must slaughter them at twilight.

– Exodus 12:3, 6

Passover Lamb

Passover Lamb

One of the most exciting and faith building lessons that I have ever learned in the Bible came from a study of Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem at the beginning of the week that we call Passion Week. We heard the story as we sat on the Mount of Olives and looked to the west to the Temple Mount and the beautiful city of Jerusalem. The biblical narrative came to life as we imagined the stories in their original setting.

John 12:1 tells us that Jesus arrived in Bethany, a town on the Mount of Olives, on Friday, six days before the Passover. He stayed at the house of Mary, Martha, and Lazarus over the Sabbath. On Sunday, the first day of the week, Jesus left Bethany with his disciples and walked the short distance to Bethpage, another small village located on the slope of the Mount of Olives that faced Jerusalem. At that point Jesus got on a donkey and with his disciples behind him, he began to ride down the Mount of Olives towards the eastern entrances to the city of Jerusalem. The road into the city was extremely crowded that day as hundreds of thousands (if not millions, according to Josephus) of pilgrims were flocking into the city to begin the celebration of the Passover season. The Feast of Passover was the most important Jewish feast of the year and was one of the three pilgrimage feasts (Passover, Pentecost, and Sukkot) that every Jewish male was required to attend in Jerusalem. Jews came from all over the world to attend this celebration. Passover was actually coupled with the Feast of Unleavened Bread and First Fruits, and all were celebrated in succession.

Lamb with vexillum and chalice.

Early Christian banner depicting the Lamb of God

According to Exodus 12:3, on the tenth day of the first month (Nisan), every man was to select a lamb that would be the right size for his household to eat. The lamb had to be a year old male, without blemish or defect. The family would then keep the lamb until the fourteenth day (Exodus 12:6) and then kill and eat the lamb that evening for the Passover Meal. The day that the Israelites picked the lamb for their families was known as Lamb Selection Day. It was a very festive day and would have been similar to us picking just the right size turkey for our Thanksgiving meal later in the week. All the pilgrims were anxiously making their way into the city to pick the lamb from the flocks that the Saducees had bred and raised for this occasion.

On the very day that the entire nation of Israel was picking their special lamb, Jesus rode into Jerusalem to also celebrate Passover with his disciples. By coming into Jerusalem on Lamb Selection Day, Jesus was saying in an unbelievably symbolic way, ”I am going to be your Passover Lamb; the Lamb that will save you. Pick Me! I am going to be sacrificed for the sins of each one of you.”

How did we miss this fact that Jesus came into Jerusalem on Lamb Selection Day? The answer probably lies in the fact that we just don’t know the Old Testament very well and are not familiar with what was involved in the Passover celebration. The lamb was killed on the evening of the 14th, which would have been on Thursday in the story of Jesus’ last week. By counting backwards to the 10th , we see that in fact it was on Sunday that the Israelites would have picked their lamb. This was no coincidence that Jesus came on that day to say, “I am the Passover Lamb”!

The writers of the New Testament certainly got the message. Paul says in 1 Corinthians 5:7, “For Christ, our Passover Lamb has been sacrificed.” Hebrews 7:27 says, “He sacrificed for sins, once for all, when he offered himself”, and Hebrews 9:28, ”Christ was sacrificed to take away the sins of many people.” John the Baptizer said, ”Behold the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world.” Peter, in 1 Peter 1:19 says, ”You were redeemed with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or spot.” In the book of Revelation twenty or more times it refers to Christ as the Lamb. Revelation 5:6 says, “Then I saw a lamb, looking as if it had been slain, standing in the center of the throne…”. Revelation 12:11 – ”They overcame by the blood of the Lamb…”

From Genesis (Genesis 22:8 – “God himself will provide a lamb”), to Revelation (Revelation 5:12 – “Worthy is the Lamb, who was slain”), Christ is our Passover Lamb! And, just to make sure we got it, God sent his son into Jerusalem on the very day that the Jewish people had been picking their lamb for the past 1500 years!

What a God of detail and precision! The date and time had been fixed since the foundation of the world and everything was planned down to the last detail! Every dot was connected and every piece of the puzzle fit exactly. Although the crowds had hoped he was coming to be their warrior king, God had a much different battle plan. He sent his son, the King of the Universe, to humbly die as our Passover Lamb to save us from our sins. This is the season of Passover and Lamb Selection Day is here! What an excellent time to thank Him for His sacrifice!

Background for the Use of Yeast in the Passover Celebration

“That same night eat the meat cooked over the fire. Also eat bitter plants. And eat bread that is made without yeast.
— Exodus 12:8

“Always remember this day. For all time to come, you and your children after you must celebrate this day as a feast in honor of the Lord. It is a law that will last forever.

“Eat bread made without yeast for seven days. On the first day remove the yeast from your homes. For the next seven days, anyone who eats anything that has yeast in it must be cut off from Israel.
— Exodus 12:14-15

Here’s something that you might not have known about yeast as it is used in the Passover story. If you will remember in Exodus 12, God told the Israelites to prepare bread without yeast as part of the meal they were to eat the night before the death angel passed over their houses. Then he says in vs. 14 and 15, to keep this as a lasting ordinance from now on. For 7 days during the Passover Season, they were to completely remove yeast from their houses and not to eat anything with yeast in it.

Here’s the part you might not have known; using yeast to make bread was an Egyptian invention and was used extensively there even before Joseph was sold into slavery in Egypt. Beer was a staple drink for the Egyptians and they also ate leavened bread. Yeast was needed to produce both the beer and the bread. If you took away yeast, to a person in that time period, you were symbolically taking away the food and drink that the Egyptians were providing. So to a Jew, to take away yeast was to take away Egypt. God set up the Passover ceremony to remind the Jews to keep Egypt out of their lives. Don’t go back that way anymore, he was saying. Yeast is the picture of Egypt. Yeast symbolized everything that was evil about the Egyptian civilization and what they had done to the Hebrews.

The Feast of Passover is designed to get Egypt out of us. It was not just a little game they played with the kids, it was serious business.  It is a reminder of all that Egypt is, the sin and bondage that creeps into our life, as the year goes on. God wanted the Israelites, and us, to be faced with the concept of yeast every year and what it represents. He used it to remind them that sin (Egypt) should not be a part of their lives and to make a conscious effort to get rid of it… Yeast, in almost every instance in both the Old and New Testament represents sin (Mark 8:15, 1 Cor 5:7-8, Galatians 5:7-9, etc…). This should also say to Christians that we should never serve bread made with yeast in our communion meals. This paints the opposite picture that God was trying to communicate when he said to the Israelites so long ago, “No Yeast (No Egypt)” in your lives.

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