Jesus Christ, 4e1
E. THE PASSION WEEK--BETRAYAL, TRIAL AND CRUCIFIXION
Importance of the Last Events:
We reach now the closing week and last solemn events of the earthly life of Jesus. The importance attached to this part of their narratives is seen by the space the evangelists devote to it. Of the Gospels of Matthew and Mark fully one-third is devoted to the events of the Passion Week and their sequel in the resurrection; Luke has several chapters; John gives half his Gospel to the same period. It is obvious that in the minds of the evangelists the crucifixion of Jesus is the pivot of their whole narrative--the denouement to which everything tends from the first.
I. The Events Preceding the Last Super.
1. The Chronology:
The arrival in Bethany is placed by John "six days before the Passover" (12:1). Assuming that the public entry into Jerusalem took place on the Sunday, and that the 14th of Nisan fell on the following Thursday, this would lead to the arrival being placed on the Friday or Saturday preceding, according to the mode of reckoning. It is in the highest degree unlikely that Jesus would journey from Jericho on the Jewish Sabbath; hence He may be supposed to have arrived on the Friday evening. The supper at which the anointing by Mary took place would be on the Saturday (Sabbath) evening. Matthew and Mark connect it with events two days before the Passover (Mt 26:2; Mr 14:1), but parenthetically, in a way which leaves the other order open.
2. The Anointing at Bethany:
(Mt 26:6-13; Mr 14:3-9; Joh 12:1-9)
This beautiful deed occurred at a supper given in honor of Jesus at the house of one Simon, a leper (Matthew and Mark)--probably cured by Jesus--at which Martha, Mary and Lazarus were guests. Martha aided in serving (Joh 12:2). In the course of the meal, or at its close, Mary brought a costly box of nard (valued by Judas at "300 shillings," about $50, or 10 pounds; compare the American Revised Version margin on Joh 6:7), and with the perfume anointed the head (Matthew, Mark) and feet (John) of Jesus, wiping His feet with her hair (Matthew and Mark, though not mentioning the "feet," speak of the "body" of Jesus). Indignation, instigated by Judas (John), was at once awakened at what was deemed wanton waste. How much better had the money been given to the poor! Jesus vindicated Mary in her loving act--a prophetic anointing for His burial--and declared that wherever His gospel went, it would be spoken of for a memorial of her. It is the hearts from which such acts come that are the true friends of the poor. The chief priests were only the further exasperated at what was happening, and at the interest shown in Lazarus, and plotted to put Lazarus also to death (Joh 12:10).
3. The Entry into Jerusalem:
(Mt 21:1-11; Mr 11:1-11; Lu 19:29-44; Joh 12:12-19)
On the day following--Palm Sunday--Jesus made His public entry as Messiah into Jerusalem. All the evangelists narrate this event. The Mount of Olives had to be crossed from Bethany, and Jesus sent two disciples to an adjacent village--probably Bethphage (this seems to have been also the name of a district)--where an ass and its colt would be found tied. These they were to bring to Him, Jesus assuring them of the permission of the owners. Garments were thrown over the colt, and Jesus seated Himself on it. In this humble fashion (as Mt and Jn note, in fulfillment of prophecy, Zec 9:9), He proceeded to Jerusalem, from which a multitude, bearing palm branches, had already come out to meet Him (John). Throngs accompanied Him, going before and after; these, spreading their garments, and strewing branches in the way, hailed Him with hosannas as the Son of David, the King of Israel, who came in the name of the Lord. Very different were the feelings in the breasts of the Pharisees. "Behold," they said, "how ye prevail nothing; lo, the world is gone after him" (Joh 12:19). They bade Jesus rebuke His disciples, but Jesus replied that if they were silent, the very stones would cry out (Lu 19:40).
Jesus Weeping over Jerusalem--Return to Bethany.
One incident in this progress to Jerusalem is related only by Lu 19:41-44. As at a bend in the road Jerusalem became suddenly visible, Jesus paused and wept over the city, so blind to its day of visitation, and so near to its awful doom. Not His own sufferings, but the thought of Jerusalem's guilt and woes, filled Him with anguish. On reaching the city, Mark's testimony is explicit that He did no more than enter the temple, and `look round on all things' (Mr 11:11). Then eventide having come, He returned to Bethany with the Twelve.
4. Cursing of the Fig Tree--Second Cleansing of Temple:
(Mt 21:12-22; Mr 11:12-26; Lu 19:45-48)
The morning of Monday found Jesus and His disciples again on their way to the city. Possibly the early hours had been spent by Jesus in solitary prayer, and, as they went, it is recorded that "he hungered." A fig tree from which, from its foliage, fruit might have been expected, stood invitingly by the wayside, but when Jesus approached it, it was found to have nothing but leaves--a striking symbol of the outwardly religious, but spiritually barren Jewish community. And in this sense Jesus used it in pronouncing on it the word of doom, "No man eat fruit from thee henceforward for ever" (Mark). Next morning (Tuesday), as the disciples passed, the tree was found withered from the roots. Matthew combines the events of the cursing and the withering, placing both on the second day, but Mark more accurately distinguishes them. Jesus used the surprise of the disciples as the occasion of a lesson on the omnipotence of faith, with added counsels on prayer.
Were There Two Cleansings?
Pursuing His journey on the first morning, Jesus reached the temple, and there, as His first act, is stated by Mt and Mk to have cleansed the temple of the traders. It is a diffcult question whether this is a second cleansing, or the same act as that recorded by John at the beginning of the ministry (Joh 2:13-22; see above), and here narrated out of its chronological order. The acts are at least quite similar in character and significance. In favor of a second cleansing is the anger of the priests and scribes (Mr 11:18; Lu 19:47), and their demand next day for His authority. No other incidents are recorded of this visit to the temple, except the healing of certain blind and lame, and the praises of the children, "Hosanna to the son of David"--an echo of the previous day's proceedings (Mt 21:14-16). In the evening He went back to Bethany.
5. The Eventful Tuesday:
Far different is it with the third day of these visits of Jesus to the temple--the Tuesday of the Passion Week. This is crowded with parables, discourses, incidents, so numerous, impressive, tragical, as to oppress the mind in seeking to grasp how one short day could embrace them all. It was the last day of the appearance of Jesus in the temple (Joh 12:36), and marks His final break with the authorities of the nation, on whom His words of denunciation (Mt 23:1-39) fell with overwhelming force. The thread of the day's proceedings may thus be briefly traced.
a) The Demand for Authority--Parables:
(Mt 21:23 through Mt 22:14; Mr 11:27 through Mr 12:12; Lu 20:1-18)
On His first appearance in the temple on the Tuesday morning, Jesus was met by a demand from the chief priests, scribes and elders (representatives of the Sanhedrin), for the authority by which He acted as He did. Jesus met them by a counterquestion, "The baptism of John, was it from heaven, or from men?" The dilemma was obvious. If John was Divinely accredited, why did they not accept his testimony to Jesus? Yet they feared to say his mission was of men, for John was universally esteemed a prophet. They could therefore only lamely reply: "We cannot tell" (the King James Version). Matters had now come to an issue, and Jesus, reverting to the method of parable, set forth plainly their sin and its results to themselves and others.
The Two Sons--the Wicked Husbandmen--the Marriage of the King's Son.
The parables spoken on this occasion were: that of the Two Sons, one who said "I go not," but afterward repented and went, the other who said, "I go, sir," but went not--pointing the moral that the publicans and harlots went into the kingdom of God before the self-righteous leaders who rejected the preaching of John (Mt 21:28-32); that of the Wicked Husbandmen, who slew the servants, and finally the son, sent to them, and were at length themselves destroyed, the vineyard being given to others--a prophecy of the transferring of the kingdom to the Gentiles (Matthew, Mark, Luke); and that of the Marriage of the King's Son (Mt 22:2-14), akin to that of the Great Supper in Lu 14:16-24 in its gathering in of the outcasts to take the place of those who had been bidden, but distinguished from it by the feature of the wedding garment, the lack of which meant being thrust into the outer darkness. The Pharisees easily perceived that these parables were spoken of them (Mt 21:45; Mr 12:12; Lu 20:19), and were correspondingly enraged, yet dared not touch Jesus for fear of the people.
b) Ensnaring Questions, etc.:
(Mt 22:1-46; Mr 12:13-37; Lu 20:19-44)
The attempt was next made on the part of the Pharisees, Herodians and Sadducees--now joined in a common cause--to ensnare Jesus by captious and compromising questions. These attempts He met with a wisdom and dignity which foiled His adversaries, while He showed a ready appreciation of a candid spirit when it presented itself, and turned the point against His opponents by putting a question on the Davidic sonship of the Messiah.
(1) Tribute to Caesar--the Resurrection--the Great Commandment.
First the Pharisees with the Herodians sought to entrap Him by raising the question of the lawfulness of tribute to Caesar. By causing them to produce a denarius bearing Caesar's image and superscription, Jesus obtained from them a recognition of their acceptance of Caesar's authority, and bade them render Caesar's things to Caesar, and God's to God. The Sadducees next tried Him with the puzzle of the wife who had seven husbands, leading up to denial of the resurrection; but Jesus met them by showing that marriage relations have no place in the resurrection life, and by pointing to the implication of a future life in God's word to Moses, "I am the God of Abraham," etc. God "is not the God of the dead, but of the living," a fact which carried with it all the weight of resurrection, as needed for the completion of the personal life. The candid scribe, who came last with His question as to which commandment was first of all, had a different reception. Jesus met Him kindly, satisfied him with His answer, and pronounced him "not far from the kingdom of God" (Mr 12:34).
(2) David's Son and Lord.
The adversaries were silenced, but Jesus now put to them His own question. If David in Ps 110:1-7 could say "Yahweh saith unto my lord, Sit thou on my right hand," etc., how was this reconcilable with the Christ being David's son? The question was based on the acceptance of the oracle as spoken by David, or one of his house, of the Messiah, and was intended to suggest the higher nature of Christ as one with God in a Divine sovereignty. David's son was also David's Lord.
c) The Great Denunciation:
(Mt 23:1-39; Mr 12:38-40; Lu 20:45-47; compare Lu 11:39-52)
At this point, in audience of the multitudes and of His disciples in the temple, Jesus delivered that tremendous indictment of the scribes and Pharisees, with denunciations of woes upon them for their hypocrisy and iniquity of conduct, recorded most fully in Mt 23:1-39. A more tremendous denunciation of a class was never uttered. While conceding to the scribes and Pharisees any authority they lawfully possessed (Mt 23:2-3), Jesus specially dwelt on their divorce of practice from precept. They said and did not (Mt 23:3). He denounced their perversion of the right, their tyranny, their ostentation, their keeping back others from the kingdom, their zeal in securing proselytes, only to make them, when gained, worse than themselves, their immoral casuistry, their scruples about trifles, while neglecting essentials, their exaltation of the outward at the expense of the inward, their building the tombs of the prophets, while harboring the spirit of those that killed the prophets. He declared them to be foul and corrupt to the last degree: `sons of Gehenna' (Mt 23:15,33). So awful a condition meant ripeness for doom. On them, through that law of retribution which binds generation with generation in guilt and penalty, would come all the righteous blood shed since the days of Abel (the allusion to "Zachariah son of Barachiah," Mt 23:35, is unmistakably to 2Ch 24:21--this being the last book in the Hebrew Canon--but "Barachiah" seems a confusion with Zec 1:1, perhaps through a copyist's gloss or error). At the close indignation melts into tenderness in the affecting plaint over Jerusalem--"O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, .... how often would I have gathered thy children together," etc. (Mt 23:37-39)--words found in Luke in an earlier context (Mt 13:34-35), but assuredly also appropriate here. For other parts of the discourse found earlier, compare Lu 11:39-52. All seems to have been gathered up afresh in this final accusation. It can be imagined that the anger of the Pharisees was fierce at such words, yet they did not venture openly to touch Him.
d) The Widow's Offering:
(Mr 12:41-44; Lu 21:1-4)
Before finally leaving the temple, Jesus seems to have passed from the outer court into the women's court, and there to have sat down near the receptacles provided for the gifts of the worshippers. Many who were wealthy cast of their gold and silver into the treasury, but the eye of Jesus singled out one poor widow who, creeping up, cast in two mites (Greek lepta, the smallest of coins), which made up but a farthing. It was little, but it was her all, and Jesus immortalized her poor offering by declaring that, out of her want, she had given more than the wealthlest there. Gifts were measured in His sight by the willingness that prompted them, and by the sacrifice they entailed.
e) The Visit of the Greeks:
It is perhaps to this crowded day, though some place it earlier in the week (on Sunday or Monday), that the incident should be referred of the request of certain Greeks to see Jesus, as related in Joh 12:20 ff. Who these Greeks were, or whence they came, is unknown, but they were evidently proselytes to the Jewish faith, and men of a sincere spirit. Their request was made through Philip of Bethsaida, and Philip and Andrew conveyed it to Jesus. It is not said whether their wish was granted, but we can hardly doubt that it was. Jesus evidently saw in the incident a prelude of that glory that should accrue to Himself through all men being drawn to Him (Joh 12:23,32). But He saw as clearly that this "glorifying" could only be through His death (Joh 12:24,33), and He universalized it into a law of His Kingdom that, as a grain of wheat must fall into the earth and die if it is to be multiplied, so only through sacrifice can any life be made truly fruitful (Joh 12:24-25). The thought of death, however, always brought trouble to the soul of Jesus (Joh 12:27), and a voice from the Father was given to comfort Him. The multitude thought it thundered, and failed to apprehend the meaning of the voice, or His own words about being "lifted up" (Joh 12:29,34).
f) Discourse on the Last Things:
(Mt 24:1-51; Mr 13:1-37; Lu 21:5-36)
Jesus had now bidden farewell to the temple. As He was going out, His disciples--or one of them (Mark)--called His attention to the magnificence of the buildings of the temple, eliciting from Him the startling reply that not one stone should be left upon another that should not be thrown down. Later in the evening, when seated on the Mount of Olives on their return journey, in view of the temple, Andrew, James and John (Mark) asked Him privately when these things should be, and what would be the signs of their fulfillment. In Matthew the question is put more precisely, "When shall these things be? And what shall be the sign of thy coming (parousia), and of the end of the world?" (or "consummation of the age"). It is in answer to these complex questions that Jesus spoke His great discourse on the destruction of Jerusalem and His final coming, some of the strands in which it is difficult now to disentangle. In the extended report in Mt 24:1-51 certain passages appear which are given elsewhere by Luke (compare Lu 17:20-37). It may tend to clearness if a distinction be observed between the nearer event of the destruction of Jerusalem--also in its way a coming of the Son of Man--and the more remote event of the final parousia. The former, to which Mt 24:15-28 more specially belong, seems referred to by the "these things" in Mt 24:34, which, it is declared, shall be fulfilled in that generation. Of the final parousia, on the other hand, it is declared in Mt 24:36 that "of that day and hour knoweth no one, not even the angels of heaven, neither the Son, but the Father only" (compare Mr 13:32). The difficulty occasioned by the immediately of Mt 24:29 is relieved by recalling the absence of perspective and grouping of future events in all apocalyptic prophecy--the consummation ever rising as the background of the immediate experience which is its prelude. The discourse then divides itself into a general part (Mt 24:4-14), delineating the character of the entire period till the consummation (false Christs and prophets, wars, tribulations, apostasies, preaching of the gospel to all nations, etc.); a special part relating to the impending destruction of the city, with appropriate warnings (Mt 24:15-28); and a closing part (Mt 24:32-51) relating mainly to the final parousia, but not without reference to preceding events in the extension of Christ's kingdom, and ingathering of His elect (Mt 24:30-31). Warning is given of the suddenness of the coming of the Son of Man, and the need of being prepared for it (Mt 24:37-51). The whole is a massive prophecy, resting on Christ's consciousness that His death would be, not the defeat of His mission, but the opening up of the way to His final glorification and triumph.
g) Parables of Ten Virgins, Talents and Last Judgment:
To this great discourse on the solemnities of the end, Jesus, still addressing His disciples, added three memorable parables of instruction and warning (Mt 25:1-46)--the first, that of the Ten Virgins, picturing, under the figure of virgins who went to meet the bridegroom with insufficient provision of oil for their lamps, the danger of being taken unawares in waiting for the Son of Man; the second, that of the Talents, akin to the parable in Luke of the Pounds (Mt 19:11-27), emphasizing the need of diligence in the Lord's absence; the third, that of the Sheep and Goats, or Last Judgment, showing how the last division will be made according as discipleship is evinced by loving deeds done to those in need on earth--such deeds being owned by Christ the King as done to Himself. Love is thus declared to be the ultimate law in Christ's kingdom (compare 1Co 13:1-13); the loveless spirit is reprobated. "These shall go away into eternal punishment: but the righteous into eternal life" (Mt 25:46).
6. A Day of Retirement:
(compare Joh 12:36)
Lu 21:37-38 might suggest that Jesus taught in the temple every day till the Thursday of the Passover; if, however, the denunciation took place, as nearly all agree, on Tuesday, an exception must be made of the Wednesday, which Jesus probably spent in retirement in Bethany in preparation of spirit for His last great conflict (others arrange differently, and put some of the preceding events in this day). The summary in Joh 12:36-43 connects the blindness of mind of the Pharisees with Isaiah's vision (Isa 6:10), and with the prophecy of the rejected Servant (Isa 53:1).
7. An Atmosphere of Plotting--Judas and the Priests:
(Mt 26:1-5,14-16; Mr 14:1-2,10-11; Lu 22:1-6)
The plot for the destruction of Jesus was meanwhile maturing. Two days before the Passover (Tuesday evening), Jesus forewarned the disciples of His approaching betrayal and crucifixion (Mt 26:2); and probably at that very hour a secret meeting of the chief priests and elders was being held in the court of the house of the high priest, Caiaphas (Matthew), to consult as to the means of putting Him to death. Their resolve was that it should not be done on the feast day, lest there should be a tumult; but the appearance of Judas, who since the anointing had seemingly meditated this step, speedily changed their plans. For the paltry sum of 30 pieces of silver (shekels of the sanctuary, less than $20 or 4 pounds; the price of a slave, Ex 21:32; compare Zec 11:12), the recreant disciple, perhaps persuading himself that he was really forcing Jesus to an exercise of His Messianic power, agreed to betray his Lord. The covenant of infamy was made, and the traitor now only waited his opportunity to carry out his project.
Continued in JESUS CHRIST, 4E2.