The final week of Jesus’s life is described in detail in all three of the Synoptic Gospels. There is almost a day by day accounting of his life leading up to his crucifixion. He entered the city on Sunday, cleansed the Temple on Monday and interacted with the people and the authorities on Tuesday. The Bible is silent on his Wednesday activities. On Thursday there was the last supper, prayers in the Garden of Gethsemane, arrest and beginning of the trials. Friday would bring the final trial, verdict and his crucifixion. All would rest on Saturday the Sabbath and the resurrection would occur on Sunday morning!
On Tuesday there were five different incidents of conflict with local authorities as he interacted with the people for the last time. These incidents are well outlined in this week’s Class notes and detailed in Lea and Black. The purpose of local authorities was clear. They were seeking to catch Jesus in a lie or in violation of the law. Their intent to try and convict him by the end of the week became began that day for sure.
The first incident occurred in the Temple. Jesus was teaching there and one of the elders questioned his authority, asking who gave him the authority to teach in the temple, probably referring to his cleansing of the temple the previous day. Did his authority come from God or from some other source? Jesus surprised and frustrated them by answering their question with a question. Who had given John the Baptist his authority. His implication was that his authority came from the same source. If they had answered that John’s authority came from God, Jesus could ask them why they did not believe he was the Messiah as John had said. If they said John’s authority came from men, they would be in conflict with the people, who all believed John was God’s messenger. They declined to answer Jesus’s question and left the temple in frustration.
The second incident also occurred in the temple. Jesus had stayed there, telling parables and teaching those who would listen. This time it was the local Pharisees who challenged him. After pre-planning their strategy, they went to Jesus and asked his opinion of what were generally considered the unfair taxes of Caesar. It what has become one the Bible’s best known stories, Jesus held up a coin, pointed out that Caesar’s picture was on the coin and said to “render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s and to God the things that are God’s” (NASB, Matthew 22:21, 1403). They had clearly expected him to answer that the taxes were unfair, an answer that would have indicated treason to Caesar. They left frustrated and annoyed.
Sadducees would next question Jesus in the third incident. While they believed strictly in the law, they did not believe in life after death, the resurrection or anything supernatural (Lea and Black, 251). They told Jesus an absurd story of a woman who married seven men, each the brother of a previous but now dead husband. Who they asked would she be married to in the resurrection? Their question was meant confuse and embarrass Jesus over a theological idea they found unbelievable. Jesus rebuked them by telling them they just didn’t understand scripture. That was a high insult to a Sadducee! He quoted Exodus 3:6, right in the center of the Torah they so loved and studied. Jesus’s answer to them that each person’s permanent relationship was to God and not to a spouse, directly answered their question but frustrated their attempt to embarrass him. Luke commented that some of the Sadducees left understanding his answer clearly and being influenced by its wisdom
At this point Jesus must have felt as if he were on trial, although that would come later in the week. The questioning continued. The fourth incident involved a scribe or lawyer sent by the Pharisees, after seeing that Jesus had successfully answered both their question and those from the Sadducees. This was the most straightforward, but seemingly unanswerable question of all. What was the greatest commandment in the law? How could anyone choose? Jesus’s response to first love God and then your neighbor silenced them all. His answer was not some legal detail or difficult to follow commandment. It was simple and straightforward. Once again Luke, the compassionate physician of the apostles give us the human color of reporting that there was silence in the room after Jesus’s answer. Once again his questioners were frustrated with their lack of success.
In the silence, Jesus asked the last question. Who is the Messiah he asked them? Their reply was predictable. He is the son of David. They were expecting the triumphant king to come and rescue them from their persecutors. Jesus answers them this time with a beloved and well known scripture. He quoted David in Psalm 110:1 where David calls on the Lord. If the Lord or the Messiah is the son of David, how could David call on him as his God?
At least five times that day, Jesus was questioned by those around him in an attempt to embarrass, confuse or cause him to convict himself of blasphemy. His answers were straightforward and to the point. Each inquisitor went away with much to consider, but certainly frustrated in their failed attempt to embarrass this son of a carpenter. These were the most educated and respected citizens of Jerusalem, frustrated by a commoner. These incidents would feed the conflicts and frustration that would play out in just a few days.
Something else very significant happened that day. In the midst of conflict, aggressive questioning and dealing with so many so hostile to him, Jesus noticed a poor, insignificant widow in the temple. How easy she would have been to overlook. But Jesus noticed her, putting her small, almost insignificant offering into the collection box at the temple. No doubt knowing he was soon to face the cross and the most difficult hours of his human life, he took the time to teach his followers a lesson about sacrifice to God in the widow’s example. As always, he saw the heart, not just the outside appearance.
In the days that followed would come the last supper, prayers in the garden, arrest and the trials.
There were two trials, one by the Jews and one by the Romans. The Jewish trial began with a brief appearance before Annas, a former high priest (Lea and Black, 263). Then would follow appearances before Caiaphas the current high priest and the entire Sanhedrin, the Jewish court authorized by the Romans to settled disputes within the Jewish community. Jesus was first brought to Annas because he was the most respected of all priests at that time in Jerusalem. Perhaps his captors thought that the old, wise priest would make fast work of this man who claimed to be the Messiah. Annas was wise indeed, sending Jesus instead to stand in front of the entire Jewish court.
The Jewish trail began with charges that Jesus intended to destroy the temple and had committed blasphemy claiming to be the Messiah. Jesus answered truthfully that he was the Messiah. The Sanhedrin declared him guilty. Waiting until after sunrise, they sentenced Jesus to death. The trial had taken place under the cover of darkness but the court wanted the appearance of properness and waited until daylight to announce sentence. Jesus’s trial between sunset and sunrise was one of the many parts of the Jewish trail that violated Jewish law (Lea and Black, 265). This is a subject of much content on the theological-internet! One source cites as many as twenty one violations of Jewish law committed by the Sanhedrin’s treatment of Jesus (www.gforce.com).
At that time, Jews lacked the legal authority to issue or carry out a death sentence, so Jesus would have to be sentenced by a Roman court. He was brought before Pilate first, the Roman authority in Jerusalem. Pilate, a smart politician seeking not to involve himself in such a distasteful process, sent Jesus instead to Herod. Herod was the Roman authority over Galilee, Jesus’s home area. Herod was visiting Jerusalem. Herod demanded that Jesus perform a miracle in his presence if he was truly the Messiah. When he refused he sent him back to Pilate.
Pilate had to face the issue. Jews in Jerusalem might revolt if he did not deal with Jesus! He obviously knew he was being asked to kill an innocent man, offering to pardon Jesus instead. The gathering crowd insisted that Barabbas, a violent criminal be freed and Jesus crucified. Pilate literally washed his hands of the affair and sentenced Jesus to death. After appearing before Annas, Caiaphas, the entire Sanhedrin, Pilate, Herod and Pilate again, the “trials” were over and sentence pronounced.
This week’s study of Jesus’s last week has embarrassed this writer. After a lifetime of church attendance, Bible study participation and many, many hours of exposure to great evangelical preaching, I learned more this week about our Savior’s last day on Earth than in fifty previous years. Where have I been? So much still to learn. I am so blessed by the opportunities these classes present.