For Jews at the time of Christ, the reason for a double Passover celebration was well known. It is a practice that still continues today. Christ was a resident of Galilee, and Galileans were expected to observe two seders (Passover suppers) in succession. Residents of Jerusalem were only required to observe one. In fact, even when Christ visited Jerusalem as he did prior to his Crucifixion, he was still required to observe two seders. There was a practical reason for the origin of this double celebration — it was to insure that if calendars in outlying areas were off by a day, that at least one of the celebrations would be in sync with the official one in Jerusalem.
In those days, it was likely that calendars of outlying areas might indeed be out of sync with Jerusalem’s calendar, because each town determined the first day of the year by visual observation of the moon, a practice which was prone to error. This then became the rationale behind the practice of observing two Passovers, as documented in this quote:
“In ancient times, the beginning of a new lunar month had to be determined by direct observation of the new moon. Among Jews, the only observation that was ‘official’ was the one certified by the authorities in Jerusalem…. For this reason, Jewish communities outside the land of Israel adopted the practice of observing an extra day of the pilgrimage holidays (Passover, Shavuot, Sukkot and Sh’mini Atzeret), just in case they had gotten the date of the new moon wrong.” (Rabbi J. W. Goldwasser, 2008).
You see, as the barley harvest began to ripen at the time of the new moon (meaning no moon was visible), the leaders of synagogues in various towns would look for the first sign of the crescent moon to appear in order to decide which day to call the first day of the year. They would intentionally try to err on the side of an early judgement in order to make sure that at least one of their two Passover celebrations would coincide with Jerusalem’s. If they were late, neither would coincide.
Even today, if you live outside Israel, you are expected to observe two Passover Seders. Possibly the rationale in today’s world is more related to confusion caused by timezones then a lack of precision. With the exception of a one hour period out of 24 hours, there are generally two dates being observed on Earth at any one time. And like Christ and the disciples, when visitors today visit Israel, they are also expected to observe two Passovers as Rabbi Azriel Scheiber describes in these next two quotes:
“In the Land of Israel, a Seder is only held on the first night of Passover; and outside of the land of Israel, there are two seders on both the first and second night.” (Preface to question addressed to Rabbi Azriel Schreiber, 2008).
“If the individual lives in Israel and is just visiting [another country], he or she only does one seder regardless of citizenship. Conversely, if an individual lives in America and is just visiting Israel, he or she would be required to have two sedarim (plural for seder). ” (Rabbi Azriel Schreiber’s answer, 2008).
Likewise, Christ and the disciples sacrificed a lamb and ate the Passover supper a day before Jerusalem did the same, simply because they were from Galilee, and their calendar was one day ahead of the official one in Jerusalem.
This understanding then clarifies the date of the Crucifixion. The conclusion is that In God’s perfect timing, according to the official calendar in Jerusalem, Christ died on the same day, and at the same hour that it was customary to kill the Passover lamb. Biblically, the lamb is slain on the 14th day of Nisan at about 3:00 in the afternoon. God’s message is clear, in that he allowed his son to be sacrificed for the purpose of redeeming the world, just as the Passover lamb was slain for the purpose of redeeming the Jews. Christ became the ultimate Passover lamb.
For even more of the symbolism surrounding the resurrection of Christ, see the article by this same author titled, Three Days, Three Nights, and Good Friday.
Goldwasser, Rabbi J. W. 2008. Why do Jews in America have two Passover Seders? http://judaism.about.com/od/holidayssabbath/f/seders_two.htm>. Website: About.com: Judaism.
Killian, Greg. Passover Chronology. www.betemunah.org/chronology.doc>. Accessed 2/27/2009.
Schreiber, Rabbi Azriel. 4/7/2008. One or Two Passover Seders? http://www.thejewishlife.com/one-or-two-passover-seders>. Website: The Jewish Life. Nelson’s New Illustrated Bible Dictionary. Subtopic: Calendar. Accessed online at http://www.ebible.com/dict/NNIBD/nnibd-01180> on 2/27/2009.
Pollina, Rav. David. http://www.tushiyah.org/pasach5.html>. Accessed 2/27/2009.
Rich, Tracy. 1995-2007. Judaism 101: Jewish Holidays. http://www.jewfaq.org/holiday0.htm. Accessed 2/27/2009.