Jesus and the Passion Week
The Passion and Resurrection of Jesus
From the plot to the arrest
The amount of space devoted by all four evangelists to the account of the Passion of Jesus is strong testimony to its paramount importance. The previous outline of events and teaching gains its significance only in the light of the climax. If Jesus was an enigma to the religious leaders and to the common people of His day, it was because He had come to fulfill a unique mission which found its fulfillment in an act of crucifixion. The sense of coming doom is unmistakable in the progressive stages of the story.
At various times previously the intentions of the leaders to kill Jesus have been mentioned, but a definite plan is decided on with the treacherous cooperation of Judas (
Even the details of the closing events have an air of destiny about them (
Before sitting down to the meal, Jesus washed His disciples’ feet as an example in humility (
The institution of the Lord’s Supper is described in all the synoptic gospels, but not in John. Its purpose was to provide a memorial feast to draw attention to the main mission of Jesus, i.e., to shed His blood for the remission of sins. In this way He was insuring that the memory of His work should not cease, but more than that, He was providing an interpretation of it which was to become central in the Christian Church. Bread symbolized His broken body, and wine His poured-out blood, but none but He knew the significance of the feast that night. His was a lonely path to Calvary, in spite of the fact that Peter had offered to lay down his life for Him (
It is not possible in an outline of this nature to detail the contents of the farewell discourses. Part (
It was possibly immediately after leaving the upper room that Jesus gave the allegory of the vine and the branches to show how important it was for the disciples to abide in Him. Their future life was to be inextricably bound up with Him. Apart from this inseparable connection, they would not be able to accomplish anything. Throughout the discourses there is much that was calculated to encourage the disciples, esp. when they were to pass through tribulation. It is characteristic of the whole approach of Jesus that He shows greater concern about the disciples than about Himself in the hour of His crisis.
John records a prayer of Jesus for Himself, for the disciples, and for believers generally (
When Gethsemane was reached, Jesus was troubled (
The arrest of Jesus set Him in noble contrast to His captors (
There were several stages in the process which took Jesus to the cross. He was first examined in the high priest Annas’ house, during which time Peter denied Him three times before cockcrow (
It was later that Jesus was brought before the Sanhedrin (
Next, Jesus was sent to Pilate because the Sanhedrin had no power to execute its own decision to have Him put to death without the governor’s consent. (At this stage in Matthew’s account the remorse and death of Judas is narrated to form a tragic background to the callous attitude of the religious leaders [
Herod could do nothing but mock Jesus, and Pilate was again faced with the necessity of deciding on some course of action. He decided to offer the multitude a choice between Jesus and Barabbas as the one to be released according to custom at the feast, but the multitude cried for Barabbas. In spite of a warning from his wife and his own conviction of the innocence of Jesus, Pilate at length capitulated. No more sorry figure than this Rom. governor has ever disgraced the name of justice. Yet, Jesus had known beforehand that He had come to Jerusalem to be scourged and crucified.
After the governor’s decision to hand Jesus over to be crucified, further mockery took place with the arraying of Jesus by the soldiers in a scarlet robe and a crown of thorns (
Two noteworthy events occurred on the route to Calvary, where Jesus was crucified. Simon from Cyrene was forced to carry His cross (
The mass of detail which the evangelists have preserved about the crucifixion reflects the great importance of the event in the minds of the early Christians. There was no attempt to gloss over the shame of it. The glory of the cross was real beyond the appalling physical sufferings which the Messiah endured. The actuality of the sufferings was indispensable to the glory. When Jesus said, “It is finished,” He was not thinking of His mortal life, but of His mission of redemption.
When the body of Jesus was removed from the cross, it was placed in a rich man’s tomb (
The gospels relate the fact of the Resurrection of Jesus on the third day. That the tomb was empty is established by all the witnesses. There were a number of appearances of Jesus during the period between the Resurrection and the Ascension.
Several observations are necessary concerning the character of the evidence. Beginning with Paul’s list (
The remaining evidence is spread throughout the gospels, although that from Mark is somewhat uncertain due to doubts about the original ending of the gospel. Nevertheless the existing ending (
One of the major problems is the difference in location of the various appearances. Those of Mark and Matthew are set in Galilee, those of Luke in Jerusalem, and those of John in Jerusalem and Galilee. Paul gives no hint of location, which suggests that in the early tradition it was not regarded as important. It should be noted that Luke shows a special interest in Jerusalem in his gospel, which may account for his exclusive selection of Jerusalem-based appearances. Those who see two conflicting traditions are driven to choose one and reject the other. There is no insuperable obstacle to both being correct, as is suggested by John’s account. The journey to Galilee and back would naturally take time, but is not impossible. It is undeniable that the fact of the Resurrection of Jesus is one of the best attested facts of history.
A change of attitude toward the Resurrection has occurred in the realm of criticism. Earlier critics attempted to explain away the fact of the Resurrection on the basis of a swoon theory, a vision theory, or a hallucination theory, but these attempts failed to square with the evidence. Now the Resurrection is not explained away, but is re-interpreted, as it has been in the Bultmannian position. According to this view, the fact of the Resurrection ceases to have relevance because its crucial importance is as a factor in faith rather than history. Such an emphasis tends to nullify the objective reality of the Resurrection and makes it difficult to see how any common experience could be shared in the faith of all believers. The NT witnesses are not only varied in type, but also in the number who experienced the visitations at the same time.
Accepting therefore the fact of the Resurrection as an historical event, it is next necessary to inquire what details the narratives supply about the risen Lord. (a) He was in human form and yet His Resurrection body possessed properties beyond those of normal bodies. He could pass into rooms without visible entry and could appear and disappear at will. (b) He had features which were not readily identifiable with the Jesus they had known. More than one of the stories of the appearances refer to the fact that He was not recognized. The nail prints and the familiar voice were the marks of identification. (c) There was a definite continuity with the historical Jesus, as when He conversed with and challenged Peter in a threefold way (
The major significance of the Resurrection for Christian faith was left to the early Christians to think through under the guidance of the Holy Spirit. Two factors may be mentioned. It became the first fruits for the believer’s own experience. As Christ was raised from the dead, so shall the believer be. The Resurrection is, therefore, the surety for the ultimate triumph of faith over the grave. Second, it is by the Resurrection that the divine approval is shown for the work of Christ upon the cross. The Resurrection is the coping stone of the whole ministry of Jesus.
It is only Luke among the evangelists who records this event. It took place at Bethany when, after lifting up His hands to bless the disciples, Jesus vanished from sight (
The disciples were not left with mere memories, but with a deep conviction that the same Lord who had companied with them in a historical sense had returned to His former glory, exalted by God and ever living to perform a high priestly function on their behalf (cf.