Did Jesus observe a different Passover than the Jews? John 19 seems to indicate that the Jews observed the Passover on Saturday whereas Jesus observed it on Thursday night.
John 19:14 states, “And it was the preparation of the Passover, and about the sixth hour: and he saith unto the Jews, Behold your King!” and verse 31 of the same chapter 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.” Upon initial inspection of these verses, this seems to indicate that the Passover was going to be observed by the Jews on Saturday. However, Luke 22:15 suggests that Jesus ate the Passover with the disciples on Thursday evening. So who ate the Passover and when? Did Jesus observe it early? Did the Jewish leaders put it off until late? What is the significance of these verses and wherein lies the harmony?
Believe it or not, there has been controversy regarding these verses since the 2nd century A.D. and almost every single commentator has his own opinion about this particular question. There are some principles that we know to be true that will help us understand the meaning of these verses. First, the Bible does not contradict itself. It can’t be the case that the Passover (the eating of the Paschal lamb) occurred both on Thursday and Saturday. Second, Jesus would not have eaten the Passover on a day other than the appointed day. Jesus came to fulfill the Old Testament law (Matthew 5:17) and would have eaten of the lamb at the appropriate time.
Let’s turn back to the instituting of the Passover in Exodus 12. Notice particularly verses 3, 6, and 15-18. Verse three tells the preparation day of the Paschal lamb. That day was on the 10th of Nissan. Verse six tells of the actual day in which the Paschal lamb was consumed. That was the fourteenth. Verses 15-18 tell of seven subsequent days in which unleavened bread was to be eaten on each day. They were to begin the seven days of unleavened bread on the 14th. The entire period of days from the 10th to the 21st were considered the festival of the Passover. Now according to verse sixteen no work was to be done on the first of the seven days of unleavened bread and no work was to be done on the seventh day of the days of unleavened bread. Additionally, we know that no work could be done on the Sabbath. However, John tells us that the day Jesus was crucified was a day of preparation–a day in which work could be done. So Friday was neither the first day of unleavened bread nor the Sabbath. This means that the day of the eating of the Paschal lamb, which was also the first day of unleavened bread, had to be Thursday. For what were the Jewish leaders preparing that they had to dispose of the executed bodies? They were preparing for the Sabbath that occurred during the Passover festival. So the day of the eating of the Paschal lamb was Thursday. This was the 14th of Nissan, the first month of the Jewish year. The day Jesus was crucified was Friday, the 15th of Nissan. The Sabbath day was the 16th of Nissan.
So what do we make in regard to the statement regarding the Jews in John 18:28 that the Jewish leaders did not go into the judgment hall so that they would not defile themselves so that they could eat the Passover? This refers, no doubt, to one of the days of unleavened bread which was still considered part of the Passover festival. The statement in John 19:14 regarding the preparation of the Passover also refers to preparation in regard to observing the days of unleavened bread on the Sabbath day. Since no work could be done on the Sabbath, they had to prepare everything for the feast of the unleavened bread on the Sabbath on Friday. So they were preparing on Friday for the part of the Passover that they would observe on the Sabbath. As far as I can tell, this is the best explanation for the sequence of events and the statements that John makes that harmonize with the other writers of the gospel accounts. I may be overlooking some information, and I would be happy to hear anyone else’s comments on this. This, however, should be sufficient to show that there is no contradiction between the New Testament writers.