Should the last week of Jesus’ life be called Holy Week or Passion Week? The typical answer for why the last week of Jesus’ life is called Holy Week is that Jesus suffered and died to save us from our sins. According to Beliefnet.com, the word “passion” originates from the Latin word “passio,” which means suffering. Therefore, Passion Week includes his suffering on the cross. I prefer Passion Week, but it is merely a preference.
We need to acknowledge that the final week in Jesus’ life is a blending of separate biblical accounts. In other words, the story grows and develops as each successive gospel writer imaginatively retold the story. There may be some historical memory in their stories, but the details are not historical.
The last week of Jesus’ life begins with his entrance into Jerusalem on what we refer to as Palm Sunday.
Mark wrote that at the Mount of Olives near Bethphage, Jesus sent two disciples to the next village to retrieve a colt that had “never been ridden” This must have been prearranged since Jesus told them if anyone questioned their taking the colt they were to say “The Lord needs it” and will send the animal back immediately. And when someone did question them and they replied as Jesus had instructed, they were allowed to take the colt. When they returned to Jesus, cloaks were thrown on the colt and Jesus mounted it. As he traveled down the road, many people spread their cloaks before him while others spread leafy branches. And the people shouted a psalm of thanksgiving for victory over Israel’s enemies (a familiar psalm, Psalm 118:26, that was sung during Passover – “Hosanna! Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord! Blessed is the coming kingdom of our ancestor David! Hosanna in the highest heaven!”). After the parade into Jerusalem, Jesus went to the temple, and then he and the disciples went to Bethany to spend the night. (Mark 11:1-11)
Matthew agrees with Mark on most things, but, from the Mount of Olives, Matthew writes that Jesus sent a couple of disciples to the next village to find both a donkey and her colt. What they were to say if anyone asks why they were taking the animals was slightly different: “The Lord needs them.” According to Matthew this episode transpired to fulfill Isaiah 62:11 and Zechariah 9:9 , “Tell the daughter of Zion, Look, your king is coming to you, humble, and mounted on a donkey, and on a colt, the foal of a donkey.” After they returned with the animals, cloaks were put on them, but Matthew wrote that Jesus “sat on them” (both of them?). (Matthew 21:1-7)
Mark’s many people becomes “a very large crowd” in Matthew that spread their cloaks on the road, while others cut branches, not leafy branches, to spread on his path. The crowd shouted the same familiar psalm, but with slight variation – “Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest heaven!” When they entered the city, the crowds asked who this person was; others in the crowd answered, “This is the prophet Jesus from Nazareth in Galilee.” Next Jesus entered the temple and drove out the money changers, an event that John’s gospel puts much earlier in Jesus’ ministry. The cleansing of the temple was for Matthew another fulfillment of Hebrew Scriptures – he combined Isaiah 56:7c and Jeremiah 7:11 – “My house shall be called a house of prayer; but you are making it a den of robbers.” (Matthew 21:8-13)
Afterwards, Matthew included a healing episode in the temple and used a paraphrase of Psalm 8:2 – “Out of the mouths of infants and nursing babes you have prepared praise for yourself.” Then Jesus left the city and went to Bethany – to the house of Mary and Martha, most likely – to spend the night (Matthew 21:14-17).
Luke parallels Mark and Matthew in most areas. If the two disciples were questioned about taking the colt, they were to simply say, “The Lord needs it.” As Jesus rode towards the city, people spread their cloaks on the road (there were no leafy branches or cut branches in Luke’s version). “The whole multitude of disciples (many more than twelve evidently)” joyfully praised God “for all the deeds of power that they had seen.” When the crowd shouted their praises, unlike Mark and Matthew, there was no “Hosanna to the Son of David.” Also unlike Mark and Matthew, Luke wrote when the Pharisees objected to what the multitude shouted, Jesus told them, “If these were silent, the stones would shout out.” As he entered the city, Jesus wept for Jerusalem, which is not in Mark or Matthew (scholars say this passage indicates that the destruction of the city in 70 CE had happened, which helps date Luke’s gospel). Luke’s account of the Jerusalem temple episode ended with the chief priests, scribes, and “leaders of the people” plotting to kill Jesus, but “all the people” (an exaggeration) were spellbound by Jesus’ teachings (Luke 19:28-47).
John wrote that Jesus was given a dinner in Bethany at the home of Mary, Martha and Lazarus on the evening before his entry into Jerusalem – that would have been Saturday night. According to John, it was at this meal that Mary anointed Jesus’ feet with spikenard and wiped his feet with her hair (unlike John, Mark wrote that Jesus was at the house of Simon the Leper in Bethany when a woman with an alabaster box of spikenard anointed him, which comes three chapters after his Jerusalem entry). Judas objected to her wasting such expensive oil. The following day during Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem, what the crowd shouted is slightly different than the other gospels – “Hosanna! Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord – the King of Israel” – here he is the King of the country, not of the Jews. John, like Matthew, claims that Jesus’ riding on a young donkey is the fulfillment of the same verse from Zechariah, but his paraphrase is slightly different: “…Look, your king is coming, sitting on a donkey’s colt.” (John 12:1-15)
Riding up into Jerusalem on a donkey (or a donkey’s colt) with a shouting crowd accompanying him was not a smart thing for Jesus to do – it further antagonized the chief priests, scribes and elders, who were probably afraid their authority, and potentially their livelihood, was being threatened. What would you do under such circumstances? You would most likely try to discretely eliminate the threat or at least silence it somehow. And when Jesus rode on a donkey that no one had ever ridden before, he was performing a kingly act – i.e. the people would understand that he was proclaiming himself the “King of the Jews,” the long anticipated military leader who would restore Israel to prominence. This also may have been an attempt to show that Jesus was from the kingly line of David and Solomon. In 1 Kings, King David instructed Zadok, the priest, and the prophet, Nathan, to have Solomon ride David’s own mule (or donkey) to Gihon where they would anoint him King of Israel (1 Kings 1:32-34).
According to Mark, Jesus cursed the fig tree Monday as he and the disciples returned to Jerusalem. Since Mark clearly states that “it was not the season for figs,” this is a decidedly bizarre episode. Why would Jesus do it? Biblical scholars consider this story a metaphor for God’s judgment of the Israelites – they were not “bearing fruit.” After the fig tree incident, Jesus and his disciples reentered Jerusalem and proceeded to the temple, where Jesus was infuriated with the money-changers and those selling sacrificial animals. In his most violent, and rather uncharacteristic, recorded behavior “he overturned the tables of the money changers and the seats of those who sold doves; and he would not allow anyone to carry anything through the temple” (how could Jesus alone have prohibited people from carrying anything through the temple?). Then he quoted part of Isaiah 56:7: “Is it not written, ‘My house shall be called a house of prayer for all the nations’? But you have made it a den of robbers.” After Jesus’ tirade, the chief priests and scribes were even more determined to kill him. Later that evening, Jesus and the disciples returned to Bethany (Mark 11:12-19).
In addition to the fig tree episode, Matthew wrote that Jesus told the disciples if they embraced the kingdom life and did not doubt God they would be able to perform feats like this and even greater ones. (Matthew 21:18-22).
Luke does not include the fig tree episode at all. He also does not specifically indicate that the religious leaders’ questioned Jesus’ authority on the following day – he simply says, “One day…” Otherwise, his report of their challenging Jesus’ authority is basically the same as Mark’s and Matthew’s (Luke 20:1-8).
John does not give us any details about Monday.
According to Mark, it was on Tuesday morning when they passed by the fig tree that Peter noticed that it had withered and died. Jesus told him that it was faith in God that gave him the power to curse the tree. He then told his followers that a similar faith would give them the power to work wonders including ordering a mountain to move into the sea. He also told them if they asked for anything in prayer and believed they would receive it (Mark 11:20-26). That is similar to John’s quote: “If you ask anything in my name, I will do it” (John 14:14), which sounds like a magic formula to get whatever a person desires. All a person has to do is end their prayer with “In Jesus’ name.”
When the group returned to Jerusalem, Jesus’ third entry into the city, the temple’s highest authorities questioned Jesus’ authority to do the things he was doing. Jesus countered with a question about whether John’s baptisms were of heavenly or human origin. The temple authorities argued among themselves for awhile, but finally admitted they did not know. So Jesus refused to answer their question. (Mark 11:27-33; compare to Matthew 21:23-27 and Luke 20:1-8)
Next, Jesus taught with the parable of the wicked servants (Mark 12:1-12, compare to Matthew 21:33-46 and Luke 20:9-19) and then answered the Pharisees and some Herodians who were trying to trap him concerning paying taxes to the emperor (Mark 12:13-17, compare to Matthew 22:15-22 and Luke 20:20-26). Then he had a dispute with some Sadducees, who did not believe in the resurrection of the dead, concerning whose wife a certain woman would be after the resurrection; Jesus told them that life after resurrection would not involve marriage (Mark 12:18-27, compare to Matthew 22:23-33 and Luke 20:27-40). Next one of the scribes questioned Jesus concerning which commandment was most important. Jesus answered by quoting the Shema, “Hear, O Israel: the Lord our God, the Lord is one; you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart… soul… mind, and… strength” (Deuteronomy 6:4). The second, he said, was “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” The scribe admitted these are much more important than burnt offerings and sacrifices. Approving of the scribe’s wisdom, Jesus told him that he was not far from the kingdom of God (Mark 12:28-34, compare to Matthew 22:34-40 & Luke 10:25-28).
During one of Jesus’ lectures in the temple, he asked his audience why the scribes said that the Messiah was the son of David. He recited what David said in Psalm 110:1: “The Lord said to my Lord, ‘Sit at my right hand, until I put your enemies under your feet.’ David himself called him Lord; so how can he be his son?” The Jews believed that the Messiah had to be someone born from the lineage of David’s family. In this passage, however, Jesus argued that this makes no sense (Mark 12:35-37a, compare to Matthew 22:41-46 and Luke 20:41-44). Therefore, Jesus either did not consider himself a descendant of David or the anticipated Messiah.
Jesus warned his listeners to beware of the scribes who, although they seemed pious, were confiscating widows’ homes (Mark 12:37b-40, compare to Matthew 23:1-36 and Luke 20:45-47).
Next, Jesus talked about rich people who put large sums of money into the temple treasury, while a widow put in two small copper coins. The moral, Jesus said, was that the poor widow put in more than the rich people who contributed out of their abundance (Mark 12:41-44, compare to Luke 21:1-4).
As Jesus and the twelve left the temple, one of them marveled at the large stones and buildings. Jesus predicted the destruction of the temple (Mark 13:1-4, compare to Matthew 24:1-3 and Luke 21:5-7). This prediction is less prophecy than evidence that Mark and the other gospels were written after the Romans destroyed the temple in 70 CE.
Later while they were resting on the Mount of Olives, four of the most prominent disciples asked when Jesus’ prophecy about the temple would occur, which caused Jesus to embark on an apocalyptic exhortation about not being distracted from the cause by distressing events. Jesus warned them about false messiahs, of “wars and rumors of wars,” of nation rising up against nation; and of earthquakes and famines. He warned them that the movement should expect repercussions and repressions. Jesus promised that this generation would not die until all he had predicted transpired, but only God knows exactly when. Therefore, they must remain alert (Mark 13:5-32, compare to Matthew 24:4-36 and Luke 21:8-33). To illustrate, Jesus told a parable about a man who puts his slaves in charge, each with their own task, when he left on a trip. He ordered the doorkeeper to watch for his return. They are the doorkeeper; they must be watchful because the master may return any time and they should not be found asleep (Mark 13:33-37).
In the material above, I included the passages from Matthew and Luke that were comparable to Mark. Now let us examine the things that are unique to Matthew’s gospel during this time period, which includes much more prior to Thursday.
Jesus’ parable of the two sons is unique to Matthew (21:28-32); one son worked in the vineyard all day as his father asked, while the other said he would, but did not. Jesus asked the chief priests and elders which son had done what the father asked. They, of course, replied, “the first.” After Jesus told them they were right, he also told them that tax collectors and prostitutes would make it into the kingdom of God ahead of them because John pointed towards the right road, but they ignored him. The crooks and whores believed him, however.
Matthew 25:31-46 is another parable that is found only in Matthew. When the Son of Man returns all the people of the world will appear before him. He will sort the people, like a shepherd sorts sheep and goats. Then the king (not in capital letters) will allow the sheep to inherit the kingdom that has been prepared for them since the foundation of the world. The reason they are rewarded is that they fed him when he was hungry (and it continues: when thirsty, gave drink, homeless – room, shivering – clothes, sick – visit, prison – visited). The sheep ask when they saw him hungry, thirsty, sick, etc. Then the king answers, “Whenever you did one of these things to someone overlooked or ignored… you did it to me” (The Message paraphrased). Then Jesus rather brutally told the goats they were good for nothing but the fires of hell because they did not do any of those things. The people who act charitably, who exhibit hospitality, etc. are the ones who will be rewarded. The do-nothing “goats” are damned. Several New Testament scriptures claim that salvation is by grace through faith, not by good works, but this passage claims reward for works. Matthew echoes the words of John’s first epistle: “You cannot claim to love God whom you have not seen, if you are unable to love your neighbor whom you have seen.”
The following is another unique section from Matthew 27:3-10. According to Matthew, Judas became remorseful and gave back the thirty silver coins, because he had betrayed an innocent man. The chief priests and elders were not interested is Judas’ problem. So he threw the coins into the Temple, then went out and hanged himself. The priests decided it would not be right to use the coins as an offering in the Temple, so they bought the potter’s field (a field of clay that was used by potters) and used it as a burial place for foreigners (Gentiles). That field became known as the Field of Blood. According to Matthew, this fulfills another prophecy: “And they took the thirty pieces of silver, the price of the one on whom a price had been set, on whom some of the people of Israel had set a price, and they gave them for the potter’s field, as the Lord commanded me.” In the Hebrew Bible passage, the prophet asks for the wages that were due a faithful shepherd – they counted out thirty pieces of silver, the exact sum that was paid to the owner of a slave who was gored to death by an ox in Exodus 21:32. Since this account of Judas’ death is only found in Matthew, it is most likely a midrashic exposition that allows the author to add imaginative details such as the thirty pieces of silver and Judas committing suicide as the fulfillment of prophetic passages from Hebrew scriptures.
Luke follows Mark so closely that there are no significant additions prior to Thursday of Passion Week.
John writes that some Greeks, who were heading for Jerusalem to worship during the festival, told Philip that they wanted to meet Jesus. Philip told Andrew and they informed Jesus, who said, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified… Those who love their life lose it, and those who hate their life in this world will keep it for eternal life.” He continues that anyone who serves him must follow him and if they do, the Father will honor them (12:23-26).
Jesus refuses to ask the Father to save him “from this hour” because that is his destiny. After Jesus said, “Father, glorify you name,” a voice from heaven that sounded like thunder – some said it was an angel – announced “I have glorified it, and I will glorify it again.” Jesus told the crowd that the current ruler of the world would be driven out. He said when he was “lifted up from the earth,” all people would be drawn to him. The crowd said the Messiah was supposed to remain forever, so how can he say that “the Son of Man must be lifted up? Who is this Son of Man?” Jesus answered indirectly: “The light is with you for a little longer. Walk while you have the light, so that the darkness may not overtake you. If you walk in the darkness, you do not know where you are going. While you have the light, believe in the light, so that you” may become spiritually enlightened (12:27-36).
After this, Jesus left and hid from the crowd. Even though he had “performed so many signs,” they did not believe in him. This, according to John, fulfills another prophecy (Isaiah 53:1). Some, including some of the Pharisees and other religious authorities, did believe, but would not say so because they would be kicked out of the synagogue (12:37-43).
Then Jesus shouted: “Whoever believes in me believes not in me but in him who sent me. And whoever sees me sees him who sent me. I have come as light into the world, so that everyone who believes in me should not remain in the darkness.” He claims he will not judge those who heard his words, but did not believe. They will be judged on the last day (12:44-50).
Many scholars agree that “Maundy” is derived from the Middle English and Old French word mandé, which came from the Latin mandatum, the first word of the phrase “Mandatum novum do vobis ut diligatis invicem sicut dilexi vos,” the verse in John in which Jesus explained to the disciples the significance of his washing their feet – “I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another” (John 13:34). Dissenting authorities argue that, if the name was derived from mandatum, the day would be called Mandy or Mandate Thursday. Another possible explanation of the name is that it originated from “maundsor baskets” – baskets of alms which the English king distributed to the poor at Whitehall before attending Mass on the Thursday before Easter. If that is its origin, “maund” comes from the Latin mendicare, and French mendier, which, as a verb, means “to beg.”
The opening of Mark’s chapter fourteen begins two days before Passover and the Festival of the Unleavened Bread. The chief priests and the scribes heighten their plot to kill Jesus, but decide they should not do it during the festival because the people might riot (Mark 14:1-2, compare to Matthew 26:1-5 and Luke 22:1-2).
During a trip to Bethany, an unnamed woman anointed Jesus’ head with a costly ointment (spikenard). Some of those present strenuously objected and considered such extravagance a waste. They felt the oil should have been sold and the money given to the poor. Jesus, however, scolded them and commended the woman for performing “a good service” for him. In a foresight prediction, Jesus told them that the poor would always be there, but he would not. He further said that she had anointed his body “beforehand for its burial” (Mark 14:3-9, compare to Matthew 26:6-13). I personally think this unnamed female was Mary Magdalene and I doubt Jesus had foresight of his death. He may have known that he was in great danger and if he continued on his current path he would be arrested and could be condemned to death.
Next, Mark presents Judas Iscariot, who plots with the chief priests to betray Jesus (Mark 14:10-11, compare to Matthew 26:14-16 and Luke 22:3-6). If Judas betrayed Jesus, and there is some debate on that issue, I think it might have been to force his hand to become the military leader many Jews expected of the Messiah. For more about Judas, please see a previous article about Judas Iscariot.
Preparations for the Passover meal, what Christians call the Last Supper, were made. Since the chief priests and the scribes intended to arrest Jesus “by stealth and kill him,” he and his followers have gone underground. On the first day of Unleavened Bread, the day on which the Passover lamb was sacrificed (wasn’t Jesus’ sacrificial death on the cross supposed to represent the sacrificial lamb?), Jesus sent two of the disciples into the city to look for “a man carrying a jar of water” (unusual because women would have performed this task). They were instructed to ask the man about a “guest room” in which to eat the Passover meal. The man showed them an “upper room” that was furnished and ready for their use (Mark 14:12-16, compare to Matthew 26:17-19 and Luke 22:7-13).
In the evening Jesus and the twelve gathered for the meal. After the meal had begun, Jesus predicted that one among them would betray him – “It is …one who is dipping bread into the bowl with me.” They were shocked, distressed and wondered who it might be. The last part of verse 21 condemned the betrayer: “It would have been better for that one not to have been born.” (Mark 14:17-21, compare to Matthew 26:20-25 and Luke 22:14, 21-23)
Jesus took the bread, and after blessing it, broke it, gave part of it to each of them, and said: “Take, this is my body.” Then he took a cup of wine, gave thanks, and, as they shared it, he said: “This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many. Truly I tell you, I will never again drink of the fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new in the kingdom of God” (Mark 14:22-25, compare to Matthew 26:26-29, Luke 22:15-20 and 1 Corinthians 11:23-26). The words Jesus spoke, according to Mark, are different from what is normally heard during communion, the Last Supper, or the Eucharist. I think the idea of perpetually commemorating the Last Supper was the work of the church, not Jesus and I doubt that he spoke what is now referred to as “the words of institution” over the bread and wine. I also could never believe that the bread actually becomes his body or that the wine becomes his blood as some churches profess. In Why Christianity Must Change or Die, John Shelby Spong mentions that the Eucharist has cannibalistic aspects. Thinking of it that way makes communion uncomfortable, to say the least.
After they sang a hymn, they went to the Mount of Olives where Jesus predicted that they would “all become deserters” – then he quoted Zechariah: “I will strike the shepherd, and the sheep will be scattered.” Then he told them that after his resurrection, he would meet them in Galilee. Peter promised not to desert even if the others do. Jesus told him that “before the cock crows twice” he would deny him three times (Mark 14:26-31, compare to Matthew 26:30-35 and Luke 22:39).
Jesus and his followers go to Gethsemane (which literally means “oil press”), a small olive garden outside the eastern wall of Jerusalem on the Mount of Olives. He took Peter, James and John further into the garden, but asked the others to remain behind while he prayed. As they journeyed further, he became “distressed and agitated… deeply grieved…” Before Jesus went a little further alone, he asked the three with him to remain there and stay awake. Once Jesus left them behind, he prostrated himself and prayed that, if possible, this time might pass from him. Next he prayed, “…remove this cup from me; yet, not what I want, but what you want.” How did any of the gospel writers know the content of Jesus’ prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane, which he uttered after leaving the disciples? The disciples reportedly fell asleep, so none of them would have heard anything. When he returned to find the three disciples sleeping, he scolded them. After that confrontation, Jesus returned to pray the same words again. Two other times he found the three asleep. After the third time, he said “my betrayer is at hand.” (Mark 14:32-42, compare to Matthew 26:36-46 and Luke 22:40-46)
In the next section, Judas betrayed Jesus (supposedly at the stroke of midnight; the darkest deed in human history occurred at the darkest moment of night). With Judas was a crowd who had swords and clubs that had been furnished by the chief priests, scribes and elders. The actual betrayal was when Judas approached Jesus, called him “Rabbi” and kissed him. As they arrested Jesus, someone drew his sword and cut off the ear of the high priest’s slave (in Mark, Jesus does not rebuke the person or heal the severed ear). Jesus questioned why they were treating him like a bandit and why they did not arrest him when he was teaching in the temple courtyard. Then according to Mark, he said, “Let the scriptures be fulfilled” and, as if this phrase was a signal, the disciples “deserted him and fled.” (Mark 14:43-50, compare to Matthew 26:47-56 and Luke 22:47-53)
There is a bizarre episode found only in Mark 14:51-52 in which a young man who was following Jesus was “wearing nothing but a linen cloth.” When the authorities tried to capture him, he shed the cloth and ran away naked. The New Oxford Annotated Bible says this passage is “presumably symbolic… of the disciples… standing exposed as unfaithful deserters and Jesus as defenseless before the rulers.” Whatever the meaning, it is bizarre.
Matthew and Luke agree with Mark in most instances concerning what transpired on Thursday, except for the bizarre episode mentioned in the previous paragraph and for the following episode that is novel to Luke.
The following episode, which is only found in Luke 22:35-38, is confusing. Jesus was either talking in metaphors or he was advocating violence. Jesus asked the apostles if they lacked anything when he sent them out. When they responded, “No,” he said that now, “the one who has a purse must take it, and like-wise a bag. And the one who has no sword must sell his cloak and buy one.” He said that Isaiah 54:12 “And he was counted among the lawless” must be fulfilled. They responded by offering two swords. Jesus replied, “It is enough.”
Luke is the only gospel writer in which the chief priests were present at Jesus’ arrest (Luke 22:47-53) and he is also the only one in which Jesus turns to face Peter after one of his denials (Luke 22:61).
Jesus’ captors mocked him in the other gospels, but in Luke it is located differently in the sequence of events (Luke 22:63-65).
John’s version of the same time frame is different from the synoptic gospels. John says the devil had already convinced Judas son of Simon Iscariot to betray Jesus (John 13:2). During a supper, Jesus took off his outer robe, poured water into a basin, washed the disciples’ feet and dried them with the towel that was tied around him. Simon Peter objected to Jesus washing his feet, but Jesus told him that unless he washed him he would have no share with Jesus. Peter responded by telling Jesus that he could wash more than just his feet. Since Peter was ritually clean, Jesus told him that all that needed to be washed was his feet. Since Jesus knew who was going to betray him, he said that not all of them were clean. Jesus explained that he had set an example by washing their feet; now they should wash each other’s feet. Servants, he said, are not greater than their master nor are messengers greater than the one who sent them – i.e. he, Jesus, was not greater than God, who sent him, and they were not greater than Jesus (John 13:3-17).
Jesus claimed his betrayal was a fulfillment of Psalm 41:9 : “The one who ate my bread has lifted his heel against me.” He was telling the disciples this before it happened so that when it occurred they would believe that “I am he” (John 13:18-20).
Troubled by what was to occur, Jesus assured them that one of them would betray him, but the disciples could not believe it. The “one whom Jesus loved” was reclining next to him. Peter motioned to “the one whom Jesus loved” to ask Jesus of whom he was speaking. Jesus answered that it was the “one to whom I give this piece of bread when I have dipped it in the dish” – it was Judas son of Iscariot. After receiving the bread, Satan entered Judas (John 13:2 had said the devil had “already put it into the heart of Judas… to be-tray him”). Jesus told Judas to quickly do what he planned to do. None of the other disciples knew why he said this. Some thought because Judas was the group’s treasurer that Jesus was telling him to buy what was needed for the festival (John 13:21-30).
After Judas left, Jesus said, “Now the Son of Man has been glorified, and God has been glorified in him.” Calling them little children, he told the disciples that he would not be with them much longer and they could not go where he was going. He commanded that they love one another as he had loved them. Peter asked where he was going, but Jesus only said Peter could not go although he would follow later. Unsatisfied, Peter asked why he could not go. As if to accuse him of not truly loving him, Jesus told Peter he would deny him three times before the cock crows (John 13:31-38).
Jesus told his listeners not to worry; when he goes away he is going to be with God (“his Father’s house”) where he will prepare a place for those who believe in God and in him. Thomas asked where Jesus was going and how they would know the way. John had Jesus utter another of his “I am” statements: “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” Those two sentences, which are only in John, have caused Christianity to claim that anyone who is not a Christian cannot be saved. Philip pleaded with Jesus to show them the Father and they would be satisfied. Jesus answered that anyone who had seen him had seen the Father. He is in the Father and the Father is in him. Whatever he told them is not his words but those of the Father who dwells within him. If nothing else, they should believe because of the works they have witnessed. He promised that if they believe in him they will be able to perform the works that he had done and even greater ones. Once he ascended to the Father, he would do whatever they ask in his name (sounds like a magic formula). That way “the Father may be glorified in the Son. If in my name you ask me for anything, I will do it” (again the magic formula; that’s why prayers end with “in Jesus’ name;” so what does that say about unanswered prayers?). (John 14:1-14)
Continuing, Jesus told them if they truly loved him, they would keep his commandments (not “the commandments,” his commandments). If they do he would ask God to give them another “Advocate” to be with them forever. That Advocate was “the Holy Spirit.” (John 14:15-17)
Jesus promised not to leave them orphaned. He would come to them because he will live – and they will also live. At that time they would understand that “I am in my Father” (another “I am”). If they keep his commandments, it would prove that they loved him and they would be loved by his Father. Jesus promised to love them and to reveal himself to them. (John 14:18-21)
The other Judas, not Iscariot, asked how he would reveal himself to them and yet not to the world. Jesus did not answer him directly; he basically repeated what he had said earlier: “Those who love me will keep my word, and my Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them. Whoever does not love me does not keep my words; and the word that you hear is not mine, but is from the Father who sent me.” (John 14:22-24)
The Advocate sent by God in Jesus’ name would teach them everything and remind them of the things that he said. Then he blessed them: “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives.” Then he repeated what he had said at the beginning of Chapter 14: “Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid;” he reminded them that he was going away, but would come to them. They should rejoice that he was “going to the Father, because the Father is greater than I” (John 14:25-28).
He had told them these things so that once they occurred they would believe – i.e. they do not really believe yet. The time for talking was short because “the ruler of this world is coming” – the Romans – but they have no power over him (only God has that power). He was doing what the Father commanded so the world would know that he loved the Father. Then he told them that they should be on their way. (John 14:29-31)
Jesus continued with another “I am” statement: “I am the true vine, and my Father is the vine grower.” God removed the branches that do not bear fruit and pruned those that were fruitful. The branches cannot bear fruit unless they are attached to the vine; similarly they cannot be fruitful unless they abide in him. He said he was the vine, they were the branches. Those who abide in him and he abides in them bear much fruit (a nice analogy). (John 15:1-2)
He repeated that if they abide in him and his words abide in them, they can ask anything and it will be done. God would be glorified by this. Again he repeated: “If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love.” (John 15:3-11)
This is the commandment – they must love one another as he has loved them. There is no greater love than to “lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” A repeat: they were his friends if they do what he commanded. They were not servants, but friends. He had told them what God had made known to him. They did not choose Jesus, he chose them and now he expects them to “go and bear fruit… that will last” – another REPEAT, so God will give them whatever they ask in Jesus’ name. (John 15:12-17)
If they are despised by the world, they must remember that the world despised Jesus. They should expect to be persecuted. Then John had Jesus make a strange statement: “If I had not come and spoken to them, they would not have sin; but now they have no excuse for their sin.” Continuing, “If I had not done among them the works that no one else did, they would not have sin.” (They would not have sin? There would be no sin?) Jesus claimed their hatred fulfilled scripture: “They hated me without a cause.” (John 15:18-25)
Once the Advocate arrives, “he will testify” on Jesus’ behalf, but they should also testify. (John 15:26-27)
Jesus warned the disciples that “they” would be thrown out of the synagogues. As a matter of fact, they would think their persecution was honoring God. (John 16:1-3)
The disciples were depressed because Jesus had told them that he was leaving them. Jesus tried to reassure them that his leaving was for the best – the Advocate would not come unless he went away. The Advocate “will prove the world wrong about sin and righteousness and judgment.” Jesus promised them that the Holy Spirit would help them understand the truth of God. (John 16:4b-11)
The disciples thought Jesus was talking in riddles when he said, “A little while, and you will no longer see me, and again a little while, and you will see me.” Jesus sensed their frustration, so he explained that many of the things he said were “figures of speech.” After he goes to the Father, they will understand. The disciples claim that they were beginning to understand. They now know that Jesus came from God and knows all things. (John 16:12-31)
Jesus told them they “will be scattered,” but they should not worry because God was with him. All the things he had said were a warning, but also encouragement. (John 16:32-33)
Next, Jesus prayed. Now that the time had arrived, he asked God to glorify him (“your Son”) so that he might glorify God. Jesus even prayed in third person: “that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent” (obviously Jesus didn’t say that; John did). Jesus also claimed that he was with God “before the world existed” – this is another theological statement that blossomed long after Jesus’ death.
Then Jesus asked God to protect the disciples. While he was with them, Jesus protected them in God’s name and not one of them was lost “except the one destined to be lost” – meaning Judas (so in John’s mind Judas’ was predestined to betray Jesus). Once again Jesus pleaded that God protect the disciples “from the evil one.” Just as the Father sent him into the world, he now sends them into the world. For their sake, Jesus sanctified himself, so that they also might be sanctified. He asked not only on behalf of these who were currently present, but on “behalf of those who will believe in me through their word.” (John 17:1-26)
Afterwards, Jesus and his disciples went to a Kidron valley garden. According to John, Judas knew about this place because they had met there often. So in the dark of night, Judas brought a detachment of soldiers, plus police from the chief priests and Pharisees to the garden. Jesus asked them who they were looking for. They responded, “Jesus of Nazareth.” Jesus answered “I am he.” After Jesus’ response, John said the soldiers, police and Pharisees “stepped back and fell to the ground.”
That was exceedingly strange behavior for an armed guard confronting an unarmed political prisoner if he had said something as mundane as “I am he.” If, on the other hand John was portraying him as uttering the divine name as they were about to arrest him, then that would be quite another matter. Then Jesus pleaded with his captors to take him, but to let the others present go free. John claims this was to fulfill what Jesus had said about not losing a single one of those that God had entrusted to him. Next, Peter drew his sword and cut off the high priest’s slave’s right ear. Jesus reprimanded Peter for his action, but did not heal the slave’s ear. (John 18:1-11)
After his arrest, Jesus was taken to Annas, the father-in-law of Caiaphas, the high priest. Peter and another disciple followed. Since the other disciple was known to the high priest, he was allowed to follow Jesus into the courtyard, while Peter remained outside the gate. Later the unnamed disciple went outside the gate and brought Peter in. When a woman asked Peter if he was one of Jesus’ disciples, he uttered one of his denials: “I am not.” Peter warmed himself by a fire that had been made by some slaves and temple police. (John 18:12-18)
Inside the house, the high priest questioned Jesus about his disciples and his teaching (but Annas wasn’t the high priest, Caiaphas was). Jesus told him that he had spoken openly; he had always taught in synagogues and in the temple; he said nothing secretly. One of the temple police struck Jesus on the face for his insolent answer. Annas sent Jesus to Caiaphas, the high priest (John does not report what transpired before Caiaphas). (John 18:19-24)
While Peter was warming himself by the fire, someone asked if he was one of Jesus’ disciples. Again he responded, “I am not.” Then one of the salves of the high priest – a relative of the man whose ear Peter had cut off – asked if he had not seen him in the garden with Jesus. Again Peter denied the accusation and at that moment, the cock crowed. (John 18:25-27)
Why is the day on which Jesus was crucified, called “Good Friday”? The term does not come from the Bible. The origin of “Good” attached to the Friday of Holy Week is unclear. Some say it got its name be-cause it means “holy;” Eastern Christians, both Catholic and Orthodox, call the Friday of Holy Week “Holy and Great Friday.” Others contend that it came from the German “Gottes Freitag” – “God’s Friday,” but Germans refer to this day as Karfreitag – “Sorrowful or Suffering Friday.” Still others argue that “Good” is a corruption of the word “God,” in the same way that “goodbye” evolved from the phrase “God be with you.” Currently in Denmark the day is called “Long Friday.” Maybe it should be called “Black Friday” – instead of using the name for the commercial blockbuster day after Thanksgiving.
Theologically, Friday may have been named “Good” because the death of Jesus, as terrible as it was, led to the Resurrection.
Mark’s account of the events of Friday began at dawn with Jesus’ trial before the Roman governor, Pilate. Pilate’s first question was “Are you the King of the Jews?” (such a charge would have been viewed as insurrection against Rome; all outsiders viewed Galileans and others subject to Herodian rulers as “Judeans;” therefore, Pilate was asking if Jesus was the King of the Judeans; this “King of the Jews” phrase only appears in this section uttered by Pilate, the Roman soldiers, and the inscription on the cross). Jesus answers, “You say so” or “That is what you say.” After that Jesus deliberately refuses to cooperate. His appearance before Pontius Pilate presents as many historical problems as did his appearance before the Sanhedrin. Almost nothing here is historically plausible, but historical accuracy was not Mark’s goal; he had larger theological and political objectives in mind. (Mark 15:1-5, compare to Matthew 27:1-2, 11-14 and Luke 23:1-5)
Mark claims that during this festival it was customary for the Romans to release a prisoner, but there is no evidence outside the New Testament of any such custom. Pilate asked the crowd if they wanted him to release Barabbas, who had committed murder during an insurrection, or the King of the Jews. The chief priests rallied the crowd to request the release of Barabbas. Pilate then asked what should be done with the one they called the King of the Jews. They shouted, “Crucify him!” Wishing to satisfy the crowd, Pilate released Barabbas and flogged Jesus before sending him to be crucified. (Mark 15:6-15, compare to Matthew 27:15-26 and Luke 23:17-25)
In Mark, Barabbas is a political assassin, in Matthew he is notorious, and in John he is a bandit. The man’s name is fascinating. “Bar” is one of two Hebrew words that mean “son.” The other half of his name is “Abba,” an Aramaic word that is closely related to our word “Daddy.” In other words, Bar-Abbas means “Son of God.” On Yom Kippur there are two animals – one that is sacrificed, the Lamb of God; and one that is set free, the scapegoat. In Mark’s crucifixion story there are two sons of God – Jesus, the “Lamb of God” who is sacrificed and Barabbas, the scapegoat, who is set free.
The soldiers take Jesus into the palace courtyard where they mock him by clothing him in a purple cloak, a symbol of royalty, twist thorns into a crown and place it on his head, and salute him as King of the Jews. They struck his head with a reed (which doesn’t seem particularly painful), spit on him and mockingly kneeled before him. Before marching him off to be crucified, they removed the purple cloak and dressed him in his own clothes. (Mark 15:16-20, compare to Matthew 27:27-31)
The soldiers selected a bystander, Simon of Cyrene, to carry Jesus’ cross (was Jesus is too weak to carry his cross? This Simon in effect replaces Peter – whose original name was Simon – and who had recently proven himself incapable of “taking up his cross” by denying Jesus). When they arrived at Golgotha, which means the place of a skull, they offered Jesus wine mixed with myrrh (was one of the Wise Men’s gifts to the infant Jesus myrrh to forecast its appearance in the passion narrative?) to dull the pain of the crucifixion. (Mark 15:21, compare to Matthew 17:32 and Luke 13:26-32)
Matthew is the only one to write about Judas hanging himself (Matthew 27:3-10). Overcome with remorse, Judas tried to return the money he had been paid for his betrayal. The chief priests and elders were not interested in Judas’ problem, so he threw the coins into the temple. He left the temple area and hanged himself. The priests decided it would not be right to use the coins as an offering in the temple, so they bought a field of clay that was used by potters (the Potter’s field) to use as a burial site for foreigners. That field became known as the Field of Blood. According to Matthew, this fulfills another prophecy: “And they took the thirty pieces of silver, the price of the one on whom a price had been set, on whom some of the people of Israel had set a price, and they gave them for the potter’s field, as the Lord commanded me.” Since this account of Judas’ death is only found in Matthew, it is most likely a midrashic exposition that allows the author to add imaginative details such as the thirty pieces of silver and Judas committing suicide as the fulfillment of verses from Hebrew scriptures.
Jesus’ appearance before Herod is unique to Luke 23:6-12. According to Luke, Herod had been looking forward to meeting Jesus, because he had heard about him and was hoping Jesus would perform a miracle. Herod questioned Jesus “at some length,” but Jesus refused to answer (any prisoner who refuses to answer the questions of such a politically powerful person is asking for trouble). The chief priests and scribes continued to hurl accusations. Finally Herod and his soldiers mocked Jesus and treated him with contempt (Jesus was treating Herod with contempt); they dressed him in an elegant robe and sent him back to Pilate. Previously, Herod and Pilate were enemies, but according to Luke they became friends during Jesus’ interrogation.
Also unique to Luke is Pilate declaring Jesus innocent (23:13-16). Pilate informed the Jewish religious leaders that neither he nor Herod found Jesus guilty of their charges and did not deserve death. Pilate wanted to flog him and release him.
According to Luke 22:66-23:31, a great throng followed the procession to the crucifixion with several women “beating their breasts” and wailing for him. Jesus told them not to weep for him, but for themselves, because someday people would say, “Blessed are the barren and the wombs that never bore, and the breasts that never nursed” (what was Jesus talking about? Some people think he was talking about the future destruction of Jerusalem; the women mourning for Jesus would produce the generation that rebelled against Rome and brought about the destruction of the city and temple in 70 CE; Josephus, the Jewish historian, wrote about mothers cooking and eating their offspring during the Roman siege of Jerusalem in 70 CE). At that time, “they” will tell the mountains to fall and the hills to “cover us” (this verse incorporates wording parallel to Hosea 10:8). Then he asks a strange question: “For if they do this when the wood is green, what will happen when it is dry?” (Some suggest that this verse may mean that if the innocent Jesus meets such a fate, then a worse fate awaits the guilty Jews and their beloved city.)
According to John’s account of the events of Good Friday, early that morning Jesus was taken to Pontius Pilate’s official residence, the Praetorium. Once Pilate questioned him, he reported to the Jews that he found no case against Jesus. Although there is no evidence of such a tradition in any Roman history, Pilate supposedly offered to abide by their custom of releasing a prisoner at Passover. Instead of Jesus, they clamored for the release of Barabbas, a bandit (identified by Mark as a political assassin, by Matthew as notorious). Pilate ordered Jesus to the flogged. Then the soldiers mocked him, wove a crown of thorns and placed it on his head, dressed him in a purple robe, and struck him in the face. Pilate went out a second time and said he found no case against Jesus, but the chief priests and police (not the people) shouted, “Crucify him!” Pilate told them to crucify him themselves, but “the Jews” accused Jesus of claiming to be the Son of God. According to John, when Pilate heard this, he was afraid. Pilate continued his attempt to release Jesus, but the Jews demanded his death. By noon, Pilate brought Jesus outside and said to the Jews, “Here is your King!” They yelled even louder, “Crucify him!” and claimed that their only king was the emperor. So Pilate handed him over to be crucified (18:28-19:16). John has Jesus carrying his own cross and never mentions Simon from Cyrene.
The gospel writers tell us what the soldiers did, what Pilate did, what Herod did, and what Simon of Cyrene did. How did they know? Did any of these people give them transcripts of what was said? Of course not! Each of these writers was basically producing historical fiction – based on some facts, they filled in the blanks with what they thought might have been done and said.
For more about Jesus’ crucifixion, please see the separate article on the Crucifixion.