by Jack Kelley
Now the Feast of Unleavened Bread, called the Passover, was approaching, and the chief priests and the teachers of the law were looking for some way to get rid of Jesus, for they were afraid of the people. Then Satan entered Judas, called Iscariot, one of the Twelve. And Judas went to the chief priests and the officers of the temple guard and discussed with them how he might betray Jesus. They were delighted and agreed to give him money. He consented, and watched for an opportunity to hand Jesus over to them when no crowd was present. (Luke 22:1-6)
Much has been written about the motives that drove Judas to betray the Lord. Some say His intentions were honorable while others say they weren't, but the Bible is silent on the issue. What it does say is the betrayal came as no surprise. Jesus had already predicted it. Then Jesus replied, "Have I not chosen you, the Twelve? Yet one of you is a devil!" (He meant Judas, the son of Simon Iscariot, who, though one of the Twelve, was later to betray him.) (John 6:70-71).
Some of the disciples asked Jesus where He wanted to celebrate the Passover because as soon as the sun set it would be Thursday, the 14th of Nisan.
He told them, "Go into the city, and a man carrying a jar of water will meet you. Follow him. Say to the owner of the house he enters, 'The Teacher asks: Where is my guest room, where I may eat the Passover with my disciples?' He will show you a large upper room, furnished and ready. Make preparations for us there." (Mark 14:13-15)
Thursday 14 Nisan. The Crucifixion, Passover
When evening came, Jesus arrived with the Twelve. While they were reclining at the table eating, he said, "I tell you the truth, one of you will betray me-one who is eating with me."
They were saddened, and one by one they said to him, "Surely not I?"
"It is one of the Twelve," he replied, "one who dips bread into the bowl with me (Mark 14:17-20).
John 12:26-30 confirms that it was Judas, who went out to alert the authorities as soon as he had taken the bread. His betrayal was a fulfillment of Psalm 41:9, written by David 1,000 years earlier. Even my close friend, whom I trusted, he who shared my bread, has lifted up his heel against me.
During the meal, which was eaten at the same time Moses and the Israelites had eaten the first Passover in Egypt, Jesus introduced the New Covenant. He took bread and said it represented His body, given for us, and the wine in the cup He held represented His blood, shed for the remission of sin. He said whenever we eat of the bread and drink of the cup we proclaim the Lord's death until He comes (1 Cor. 11:23-26). From that day to this, Christians have celebrated communion on a regular basis, each time looking back to the cross, where He died in our place, and forward to the crown, with its promise of eternal life. Paul called it the crown of righteousness, which the Lord will award to all who have longed for His appearing (2 Tim. 4:8).
After the meal, they went outside the city heading east toward the Mount of Olives, where the Garden of Gethsemane was located. It was an olive orchard just across the narrow Kidron Valley from the East Gate of the Temple. On the way, Jesus reminded them of His coming death and told them they'd soon be scattered for fear of the authorities, in fulfillment of Zechariah 13:7. But He promised He'd see them again after His resurrection. Peter denied that he'd fall away, even if all the others did. In reply Jesus said "I tell you the truth, this very night, before the rooster crows, you will disown me three times" (Matt. 26:34) It happened just as He said.
When they arrived at the Garden, Jesus told them to wait while He went a little further to pray alone. 1,000 years earlier, David had described what it feels like to be crucified (Psalm 22:1-18) and Jesus knew full well the terrible suffering and pain that awaited Him. Three times He asked the Father to not to make Him go through with it if there was any other way to save mankind from their sins. Some theologians call this the unanswered prayer, but the Father's silence was the answer. There was no other way.
Without the shedding of blood, there can be no remission of sin (Hebr. 9:22), but the blood of sacrificial animals was not sufficient to the task. It only served to remind the people of their sins (Hebr. 10:3-4). It took the blood of a sinless man to redeem sinful mankind once and for all (Hebr. 10:11-14). Jesus knew His prayer had been heard when an angel from Heaven came to strengthen Him, and He rose to face His accusers.
A couple of the most obvious indicators of the Lord's messiahship happened during the course of His arrest. When the Temple guards arrived, Jesus asked who they were looking for, and they replied, "Jesus of Nazareth." Jesus said, "I am He," which caused them all to fall to the ground (John 18:4-6). The word "He" doesn't appear in the original text. It was added by the English translators. Jesus only said "I Am," the name by which God identified Himself to Moses from the burning bush (Exodus 3:13-14).
It was a clear demonstration of His power, to single-handedly defeat them, had He chosen to. And as if that wasn't enough, He told Peter He had more than 12 legions of angels at His disposal (Matt. 26-53). That's 72,000 angelic warriors standing by, ready and waiting.
At that point, Peter drew a sword and cut off the ear of the High Priest's servant Malchus (John 18:10). Jesus touched the man's ear and healed him (Luke 22:51), telling Peter to put away his sword, saying all who drew the sword would die by the sword (Matt. 26:52).
The word servant is misleading. Malchus was most likely one of the High Priest's most trusted assistants, sent with the guards as his representative to make sure the arrest went as planned. There's no indication he was a believer, nor did he ask to be healed. With this miracle, the Lord protected Peter from arrest by reversing the effect of his impulsive act.
By the way, Jesus was not arguing against the taking up of arms in the general sense. It was a reminder that Peter was hopelessly outnumbered by professional soldiers. If he insisted on brandishing his sword, he would surely die from the thrusts of their swords.
That night Jesus endured numerous trials, all of them illegal. The Jews prided themselves in their mercy and only rarely invoked the death penalty. Formal charges always had to be filed before bringing an accused man to trial. Trials were never held in secret or at night. Conviction required a unanimous decision by the Sanhedrin, and they had a "sleep on it" rule that meant they voted again the next day. It took the confirming testimony of two independent witnesses to establish a man's guilt. None of this was the case in the Lord's conviction. No formal charges were filed. The group of leaders who tried Him purposely excluded anyone who would have been sympathetic toward Him. He was convicted on His testimony alone, and confined to a cell for an early morning execution. The sleep on it rule was ignored.
When he learned Jesus had been convicted, Judas, recognizing the terrible mistake he had made, tried to undo it by returning the 30 pieces of silver he'd been paid to betray Jesus. Failing in this, he threw the money into the Temple and fled. Because it was tainted, the priests were unable to return the money to the treasury, so they purchased a field to be used as a burial ground from a man who earned his living as a potter (Matt. 27:6-7). All this had been foretold in remarkable detail 450 years earlier (Zechariah 11:12-13). In his despair Judas took his own life.
Because the Jewish leaders lacked the authority to execute a criminal, Jesus had to be found guilty of a capital crime under Roman law. So they took Him to Pontius Pilate and stated their case. But Pilate was not persuaded. He tried to have Jesus released, but the unruly crowd that had gathered around demanded that Jesus be crucified. The Jewish leaders had stirred them up against Jesus and they weren't going to settle for anything less than His execution. When Pilate insisted that Jesus had done nothing deserving of death, they shouted all the louder, "Crucify Him!" Finally he called for water, and symbolically washing his hands, he said, "I am innocent of this man's blood. It is your responsibility" (Matt. 27:24).
All the people answered, "Let His blood be on us and on our children!" (Matt. 27:25) And so it has been. Pilate had Jesus flogged and turned Him over for crucifixion.
The Roman method of flogging was so brutal that many prisoners didn't survive it. When they were finished with Jesus, He was in deep shock. Their whips had torn the skin and muscle from His back exposing the bones of His rib cage. But the worst was yet to come.
It was nine AM when Jesus was nailed to the cross, and for the next six hours, He endured the most painful method of execution ever devised. Crucifixion is essentially a death by suffocation. Because the condemned man was hanging by his arms, he couldn't draw a full breath unless he supported His weight with His feet. But pushing against the nails that were driven through his feet was so painful he could only do it for a few seconds at a time, so his lungs slowly filled up with carbon dioxide until he could no longer breathe. Isaiah 53:4-5 tells us the magnitude of our sins made this brutality necessary to ensure our spiritual and physical healing.
At noon darkness came over the whole land. God had turned away, unable to watch, taking His light from the world as He did. 750 years earlier the prophet Amos had warned them this would happen.
"In that day," declares the Sovereign Lord, "I will make the Sun go down at noon and darken the Earth in broad daylight" (Amos 8:9).
Throughout this unspeakable ordeal Jesus had uttered not a whimper. With all the power of the Universe at His command He allowed himself to be led like a lamb to the slaughter (Isaiah 53:7). But the pain of being separated from His Father was too much for Him to bear. Finally, at 3 PM He cried out for the first time. "My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?"(Matt. 27:46)
Knowing that all was now completed, and so that the Scripture would be fulfilled, Jesus said, "I am thirsty." A jar of wine vinegar was there, so they soaked a sponge in it, put the sponge on a stalk of the hyssop plant, and lifted it to Jesus' lips. When he had received the drink, Jesus said, "It is finished." With that, he bowed his head and gave up his spirit. (John 19:28-30)
At the last supper Jesus said He wouldn't drink wine again until the Kingdom came (Matt. 26:29), and He had refused a drink of it earlier in the day (Matt. 27:34). But now He was asking for one.
Also, the Greek word translated it is finished was a commonly used term that meant paid in full in standard legal and commercial affairs. The debt of sin mankind owed to God had been paid. Taken together these two things indicate that with the Lord's death phase one of the Kingdom, later to be known as the Church, had come.
Although it would be several hours before the Lord's body was removed from the cross and placed in a tomb, by 3 PM His Spirit had departed and was in paradise. All four Gospel accounts agree that the Lord's death took place on Preparation Day, as Passover had come to be known (Matt. 27:62, Mark 15:42, Luke 23:54, John 19:31). Christ, our Passover lamb had been sacrificed (1 Cor. 5:7) on Passover.
The Jewish leaders asked Pilate for the crucified men to be off their crosses by sunset when it became the 15th of Nisan, beginning the Feast of Unleavened Bread. It was a special Sabbath, on which no work could be done, (Lev. 23:6-7) and they wanted the crosses to be empty by then (John 19:31). Joseph of Arimathea, a wealthy man and a believer in Jesus, asked for and received the Lord's body. He and Nicodemus, another prominent believer, laid it in Joseph's own tomb but were unable to complete the burial process before the sunset brought the Holy Day.
Friday, 15 Nisan. The Feast Of Unleavened Bread
For most of Israel in Biblical times, the 15th of Nisan was a day of celebration and rest, commemorating their release from slavery in Egypt. At the beginning of the 14th, they ate a quick ceremonial meal of lamb, unleavened bread, and bitter herbs like their ancestors had done. The rabbis said if they consumed a piece of lamb the size of an olive they had met the requirements for the day. Then they spent the rest of the 14th hurriedly preparing for the coming feast. That's why the 14th became known as Preparation Day.
But on the 15th it was a different story because that's when they ate a large, leisurely meal while they recounted the story of the Exodus. It was a national holiday on which no regular work could be done.
For the disciples it was a time of mourning. Their teacher, their Messiah, had been executed and it felt like three years of preparation for the coming Kingdom had been for nought. They were also afraid they might hear the sound of soldiers coming for them too, in an effort to completely stamp out the Messianic movement in which they had placed such great hope. Jesus had told them they would weep and mourn while the world around them rejoiced. He said they would grieve, but their grief would turn to joy that no one could take away (John 16:20-22). But for now there was only grief.
Unseen to the living, another group was having an even greater celebration than the Jews in Israel. The spirits of Old Testament believers who had died in the hope that a redeemer would come to pay for their sins had finally met Him. Jesus had promised one of the men being crucified with Him they'd be together in paradise that very day (Luke 23:42-43). And, sure enough, there He was, preaching the Good News that their faith had been justified. He would soon be taking them to Heaven (Ephes. 4:8).
For this is the reason the gospel was preached even to those who are now dead, so that they might be judged according to men in regard to the body, but live according to God in regard to the spirit. (1 Peter 4:6)
He wasn't there to be tormented by the devil, as some teach, but to announce His victory, a victory in which those in Paradise would soon share. Remember, just before He died, He had said, "It is finished." The price had been paid in full, the work was done. There would be no more suffering.
While He was there, He also proclaimed His victory to the spirits in prison who had rebelled against God in the days before the Great Flood (2 Peter 3:18-20). Some say these are the fallen angels who are being held in chains while awaiting their final judgment (Jude 1:6).
Saturday, 16 Nisan. The Weekly Sabbath
Coming on the heels of the previous day's special Sabbath meant that the women were once again prevented from preparing the Lord's body for burial. Had there been a regular work day between the crucifixion and the resurrection they would have prepared the body immediately, as was the custom, and would not have been there to discover that it was missing.
Sunday, 17 Nisan. The Resurrection, The Feast Of First Fruits
The Feast of First Fruits always came on the day after the Sabbath that followed Passover. As the priests were taking a sample of the harvest to the Temple for dedication, the women were preparing to finish the job Joseph and Nicodemus had begun three days earlier. But when they arrived at the tomb they discovered the Lord's body wasn't there. An angel told them He had risen, just as He said He would, the first fruits of the first resurrection.
Jesus appeared and spoke briefly with Mary Magdalene outside the tomb that morning, asking her not to hold onto Him because He was going to the Father. The writer of Hebrews tells us He was taking His blood to sprinkle on the altar in Heaven in His capacity as our High Priest (Hebr. 9:11-12). This would open the gates of Heaven to all believers. Mary ran back to tell the others, but by the time Peter and John got there, the Lord was gone. They both inspected the tomb carefully, amazed to find it was empty.
That afternoon Jesus came alongside two of his followers on the road to Emmaus, but they were initially kept from recognizing Him. When He asked why they appeared so downcast, they explained all that had happened concerning Jesus of Nazareth and were surprised that He hadn't heard about it. And what's more, they said, it was the third day since all this had taken place (Luke 24:13-21).
That comment alone should have forever put to rest the controversy surrounding the actual day of the Lord's crucifixion. Think about it. It was Sunday, the third day since it happened. That means Saturday would have been the second day since it happened, Friday the first day since, making Thursday the day it happened.
That evening Jesus appeared to ten of the disciples. (Judas was dead and Thomas was missing.) For the first time, they received the Holy Spirit (John 20:19-22).
Then he opened their minds so they could understand the Scriptures. He told them, "This is what is written: The Christ will suffer and rise from the dead on the third day, and repentance and forgiveness of sins will be preached in his name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things. I am going to send you what my Father has promised; but stay in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high" (Luke 24:45-49).
In these eight days the Lord lived out the essential doctrine of our faith. Paul would later write, "For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures." (1 Cor. 15:3-4) Believing this is what makes us Christians. The empty tomb is proof that our faith is not in vain.