With the Passover at hand, the disciples come to Jesus to inquire of the place where the meal is to be eaten (Matt. 26:17). This festival, one of the most important feast days on the Jewish calendar, has to be celebrated within Jerusalem proper, and so our Lord and His followers must find a place to eat the Passover meal within the city, for they have been staying in Bethany (v. 6). Christ is able to direct His disciples on how they may find a room in which to eat the Passover, and they then go forth to follow His instructions (vv. 18–19).
Day fourteen of the Jewish month of Nisan is the Day of Preparation for the Passover on which the lambs are slaughtered at twilight (Ex. 12:5–6). The sacrifice occurs in the afternoon, which is the end of the day (Jews consider the setting of the sun as the beginning of a new day). Fifteen Nisan, which begins at sundown immediately following the afternoon the lambs are killed, is the actual feast day (v. 8). Some scholars believe Jesus dies as the lambs are being slaughtered on the fourteenth of Nisan, in which case our Lord and His disciples eat the Passover one day in advance. Others say that Christ and His followers follow the traditional schedule, meaning that Jesus dies on fifteen Nisan, a day after the lambs are sacrificed. Either way, the Last Supper is a Passover meal, which will help us interpret its meaning properly as our study progresses.
According to custom, Christ and His apostles will begin the Passover meal with a prayer of thanksgiving over the first of four cups of wine. A course of herbs follows, along with the Passover haggadah (recollection of the exodus events) and the singing of the first part of the Hallel (Pss. 113–114). A second cup of wine begins the main course of lamb, after which is the third cup, the cup of blessing. A prayer of thanksgiving, the rest of the Hallel (Pss. 115–118), and the fourth cup of wine round out the celebration. All of this will take time to prepare, which accounts for the disciples’ concern to get things started early.
Jesus follows the Passover customs, but He guides all the events. He determines where He will eat the supper and makes provisions. He sovereignly lays down His life, no one takes it from Him unwillingly (John 10:11–18).