By Dr. Bill Patterson
Jesus’ earthly ministry lasted three-and-a-half years. However, the Gospel writers devoted from one-third to one-half of their words to Jesus’ final week. Perhaps seeing a timeline and reading a few of his teachings from that week will help us understand why Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John considered the final week so important.
Any serious study of Jesus’ final week should note that people who lived at that time viewed days and nights differently than we do. They saw a day/night cycle as beginning at sundown, whereas we see it as beginning after midnight. For ease of understanding in this timeline, I have chosen our way of looking at a day.
Day One, Sunday:
• Jesus made his triumphal entry into Jerusalem.
• He then spent the night in Bethany.
Day Two, Monday:
• He walked to Jerusalem.
• He cursed a fig tree.
• He cleansed the temple.
• He walked to Bethany and spent the night there.
Day Three, Tuesday:
• He walked back to the temple.
• Along the way he found the cursed fig tree, now withered.
• He pronounced woes on the temple.
• He taught parables at the temple and answered questions.
• He spent the night in Bethany.
Day Four, Wednesday:
• Scholars call this “the silent day” as Jesus stayed in Bethany.
Day Five, Thursday:
• Jesus sent Peter and John to prepare for the Passover.
• He traveled to Jerusalem.
• He ate the Last Supper with the Twelve.
• He washed the disciples’ feet; Judas left.
• He instituted the Lord’s Supper.
• He walked to the Garden of Gethsemane and prayed.
• Judas betrayed him; the Sanhedrin arrested him; the disciples fled.
• Jesus was taken to the home of the high priest.
Day Six, Friday:
• The first trial was held before Annas (who was father-in-law of Caiaphas and former high priest).
• The second (primary) trial and condemnation took place at the residence of Caiaphas, the high priest.
• The third trial happened at dawn before the Sanhedrin; Peter denied him a third time; Jesus’ condemnation was repeated; guards beat and mocked Jesus; they turned him over to the Romans (who held the authority to execute him).
• The fourth trial was held before Pilate, the Roman governor.
• The fifth trial took place before Herod.
• The sixth trial happened before Pilate; Jesus was flogged; citizens chose Barabbas rather than Jesus; Pilate turned Jesus over to the soldiers to be crucified; the soldiers mocked him and pressed a crown of thorns onto his head.
• Judas hung himself.
• Jesus and then Simon of Cyrene carried his cross to the “Place of the Skull” where soldiers crucified him around 9 a.m.
• Darkness descended over the land for three hours.
• Jesus gave his seven last statements from the cross.
• At 3 p.m. he died; the heavy veil in the holy of holies tore from top to bottom; some graves opened and people rose; a Roman soldier pierced Jesus’ side with a spear.
• Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathea prepared his body and buried Jesus before sundown.
Day Seven, Saturday:
• The Jewish leaders requested and Pilate granted guards for his body.
• The guards also sealed the stone, covering the mouth of his grave.
Day Eight, Sunday:
• Jesus rose from the dead and made appearances to his followers.
• During his triumphal entry, Jesus caught sight of the city. He knew the people would soon reject him. He issued a warning of the destruction of the city and the temple. That event took place 40 years later in AD 70 when the Romans destroyed the city.
• Children proclaimed, “Hosanna to the Son of David,” a messianic title (Matthew 21:15). The chief priest wanted this stopped but Jesus recalled a messianic psalm which said, “Through the praise of children and infants you have established a stronghold against your enemies” (Psalm 8:2).
• On Monday a group of Greeks approached Philip saying, “Sir, we would like to see Jesus” (John 12:21). Philip and Andrew brought the request to Jesus. Jesus spoke of a grain of wheat which could bear no fruit until it fell into the ground and died. Jesus had come to save all the lost in the world, not just the Jewish world. Therefore, rather than praying to be delivered, Jesus asked, “Father, glorify your name” (John 12:27, 28). In doing so, he showed that he would willingly submit to the cross in order to save a lost world.
• On Tuesday the disciples brought to Jesus’ attention the fact that the fig tree had already withered. Jesus had cursed the tree the day before because it had leaves but no fruit. Scholars take this as a parable against the Jewish nation—promise but no fruit. Jesus answered the disciples that if they had faith they could say to “this mountain, ‘Go, throw yourself into the sea,’ and it will be done” (Matthew 21:21). Jesus taught that any obstacle to the progress of the kingdom of God would wither at the prayer and faith of the disciples.
• Later that day the chief priests and scribes questioned Jesus’ authority. He responded with a series of three parables: the parable of the two sons (Matthew 21:28-31), the parable of the vineyard (vv. 33-41), and the parable of the wedding banquet (22:1-14). These parables pointed out that many of the Jewish leaders and people had rejected Jesus and thereby disqualified themselves from the kingdom of God.
• Later still the Pharisees and Herodians asked Jesus a loaded question, “Is it right to pay taxes to Caesar or not?” (v. 17). If Jesus answered one way on the tax question, he proved himself an enemy of the Roman government. If he answered the other way, the people would turn against him. Jesus wisely responded by requesting a coin. He asked whose image was on it. They pointed out the image of Tiberius Caesar. Jesus said, “Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s” (v. 21). People have obligations to God and to political rulers and should honor each in its own sphere.
• The Sadducees did not believe in the resurrection and questioned Jesus about this. Jesus’ answer (vv. 29-32) made clear that God is not God of the dead but of the living, and therefore we do exist beyond this life. Jesus’ teachings astonished the people.
• The Pharisees tried their hand again by asking Jesus which is the greatest commandment (v. 36). Jesus answered by quoting the shema in Deuteronomy 6:4, 5: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.” He added to it, “Love your neighbor as yourself” (Matthew 22:37-39).
• Jesus pronounced a series of seven woes on the scribes and Pharisees as hypocrites (Matthew 23), blind guides (v. 23), and snakes (v. 33).
• In a final scene at the temple, Jesus pointed out a poor widow who put two mites (lepta, worth two-fifths of a cent) into the treasury (Mark 12:41-44). Jesus said she gave more than all the others combined because they gave out of their wealth, but she gave all she had. Jesus left the temple, never to return again.
• With his touching admiration of the widow, Jesus concluded his public ministry, except for his few words at the trials and his seven words from the cross. He spent his remaining hours with his intimate circle of disciples and friends. He warned them about false signs and about the destruction of Jerusalem, and he taught them about his second coming (Matthew 24, Mark 13, Luke 21). He also taught them about the end of the age. His parable of the ten virgins, parable of the talents, and parable of the sheep and goats (Matthew 25) show we must be watching, properly related to him, and faithful to the end.
• John 14–17 hold many of Jesus’ intimate words with his disciples. These include words of comfort (John 14:1-7), the promise of answered prayer (vv. 12-14), and the promise of the Holy Spirit (vv. 15-31). He taught that we can do nothing apart from him but with him can bear much fruit for the kingdom (15:1-8); therefore we must stay attached to him. A dying person often saves memorable words for the end. Both in command (vv. 9-17) and in his prayer for his disciples, Jesus emphasized love for one another. Jesus also prayed for our cleansing, for our unity, and for our protection (John 17).
Why so much attention to Jesus’ final week? Because in that week Jesus instructed us by his actions, he protected us by his prayers, and he saved us by his cross.
Dr. Bill Patterson is a freelance writer in Henderson, Kentucky.
Why did Jesus Die on the Cross?
Why did Jesus endure all the agony? Why did he suffer the humiliation and pain leading up to and including death on the cross?
• To pay for our sin as our substitute. “God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Corinthians 5:21).
• To save us. “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16).
• To show his love for us. “But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8).