Swords to Plowshares

Promoting a faith-based love for all creation.

Did Jesus eat lamb?

“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)

This account is mentioned in Luke 22:8, Matthew 26:17, and Mark 14:12 and it is describing for a Gentile audience the Jewish custom that involves slaughtering a lamb. The passage does not, however, mention a lamb being slaughtered by the disciples or eaten by Jesus or any of the disciples. Instead it says they “ate the Passover”. The only two food items mentioned in each of the gospel accounts are bread and the fruit of the vine. The only time a lamb is mentioned is in describing how “they” (most likely the Sadducees) customarily observe Passover.

If we consider the context of what is happening in this passage, it does not make sense for a few reasons that Jesus and his disciples would be slaughtering and eating lamb in their observance of Passover. First of all, according to scripture, the Passover lamb is not to be sacrificed anywhere other than the temple (Deuteronomy 16:5), which existed in Jerusalem. Nowhere is a trip to the temple mentioned in this account. Secondly, not all Jews were observing Passover the same way at that time. There is recorded evidence of at least three distinct Jewish sects existing in Israel at the time of Jesus and his disciples: the Pharisees, Sadducees, and Essenes. The Sadducees were in control of the temple and were the priestly class profiting from animal sacrifices in the temple. Jesus overturned their tables and set the animals free that they were selling for sacrifice (John 2:15). Jesus was also highly critical of the Pharisees, whom he refers to as “hypocrites, blind guides, and brood of vipers” (Matthew 23:13-36). The Essenes are the only sect that Jesus did not oppose throughout his ministry.

The Essenes were the group that did not believe in animal slaughter, motivated by the words of the prophets that God does not want animal sacrifices (Isaiah 1:11, Jeremiah 7:22-24, Hosea 6:6, Zechariah 11:4-6). Instead they observed Passover by breaking bread and drinking the fruit of the vine. While a slaughtered lamb is not mentioned as one of the food items in the disciples’ Passover observance, bread and the fruit of the vine are mentioned in each of the accounts. This provides fairly strong evidence that Jesus and his disciples were observing Passover the way the Essene sect observed it rather than the way the Sadducees (and possibly the Pharisees) observed it.

Lastly, Jesus is referred to as the Passover lamb in 1 Corinthians 5:7 when Paul says, “For Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed.” Also by John the Baptist who says in John 1:29, “Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” and by Peter in 1 Peter 1:18-19 when he says, “For you know that it was not with perishable things such as silver or gold that you were redeemed from the empty way of life handed down to you from your ancestors, but with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect.” It would not make sense for Jesus to tell his followers, “eat my flesh, drink my blood” (John 6:56) unless he is the Passover lamb being slaughtered. If Paul is correct in Hebrews 10:4 that it is impossible for the blood of sacrificed animals to take away sins, then why would Jesus and his disciples be sacrificing an animal? What sins did Jesus commit that he would need to sacrifice a lamb at Passover to avoid the wrath of God? The much more plausible explanation is that the only sacrifice was Jesus giving up his own life to “redeem us from the empty way of life handed down to us from our ancestors” (1 Peter 1:18-19), including the empty tradition of animal slaughter.

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