Readings, a Chronology, Reflections, and Images of the Savior's Last Days and Hours
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updated through Easter Sunday as of 4/11/09
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The Symbolism of Jesus as Anointed King and Priest: The Anointing in John
|Friday or Saturday||
The anointing described by John (John 12:1–11)
Triumphal Entry; cleansing of the temple (Matthew 21:1–17; Mark: 11:1–11; Luke 19:28–46; John 12:12–19)
Cursing of the fig tree; cleansing of the temple in Mark; teaching in the temple (Matthew 21:18–22:14; Mark 11:12–19; Luke 19:47–20:18; John 12:20–36)
Lessons from the fig tree; more teachings in the temple; the Olivet Discourse (Matthew 22:15–25:46; Mark 11:20–13:37; Luke 20:19–21:38; John 12:37–50)
Plot to kill Jesus; the anointing described by Mark and Matthew; Judas agrees to betray Jesus (Matthew 26:1–16; Mark 14:1–11; Luke 22:1–6)
The Last Supper; Gethsemane; betrayal and arrest; Jesus before the Jewish authorities (Matthew 26:17–26:75; Mark 14:12–72; Luke 22:7–71; John 13:1–18:27)
Jesus in the hands of the Romans; the Crucifixion; the burial (Matthew 27:1–61; Mark 15:1–47; Luke 23:1–56; John 18:28–19:42)
Jesus in the Spirit World (Matthew 27:62–66; 3 Nephi 9–10; 1 Peter 3:18–4:6; D&C 138
The Resurrection (Matthew 28:1–15; Mark 16:1–14; Luke 24:1–49; John 20:1–23)
For most traditional Christians, the basic chronology of Jesus’ last week is fairly clear: he entered Jerusalem on Palm Sunday; taught and prophesied for two or more days; held the Last Supper and was arrested on Thursday evening; died on Good Friday; and rose from the dead the morning of Easter Sunday. To make a devotional study of the Savior’s Final Week simpler, in past years posts and in this year’s Ensign article, I have avoided detailed chronological discussions. Here, however, I want to provide interested parties with more background to the issues involved in this study, after which I will endorse a basically traditional chronology for devotional purposes.
The only securely established day is the day of the resurrection, which is explicitly identified as “the first day of the week” (Mark 16:2; parallels Matt 28:1 and Luke 24:1; John 20:1). The gospel of Mark, widely assumed to be the earliest of the written gospel accounts, provides relative time markers, which, calculating back from the resurrection on the first day of the week, place Jesus’ triumphal entry on the previous Sunday.
Sunday: “And when they came nigh unto Jerusalem” (11:1)
Monday: “And on the morrow, when they were come back from Bethany” (11:12)
Tuesday: “And in the morning, as they passed by, they saw the fig tree” (11:20)
Wednesday: “After two days was the feast of the Passover” (14:1)
Thursday: “And the first day of unleavened bread, when they killed the Passover” (14:12)
Friday: “And straightway in the morning” (15:1)
Saturday the “Sabbath’” (15:42; 16:1; more below)
Sunday: “and very early in the morning the first day of the week” (16:2)
In reality establishing a secure chronology is a little more complex. Other day markers beyond resurrection on Sunday morning, such as Passover and the Sabbath, are not as clear as they might at first appear. As will be discussed later in some detail on Thursday, while the Synoptics make the Last Supper a Passover meal, traditionally placed on Thursday, John suggests that Passover began the evening after Jesus was crucified. Likewise, Mark’s references to the Passover are sometimes obscure. Should the “two days before the Passover” (14:1) be counted inclusively or exclusively? The day that the Passover lamb was killed (14:12) was in fact before the Passover, which was also the first day of the feast of unleavened bread.
Also, while it is true that Luke 23:53 says that “the Sabbath drew on” at sunset after Jesus was buried, John and Mark present potentially conflicting data. John 19:31 refers to the Sabbath as a high day, connecting it with the “preparation day” of the Passover (see also 19:42), suggesting that perhaps it was a festal sabbath and not necessarily the weekly Sabbath (contra the explanatory LDS KJV note for 19:31c, it is just as likely that the “high day” was the Passover and not the day after the Passover meal). Mark 15:42 also speaks of a preparation day in connection with Jesus’ death, which was “the day before the Sabbath.” The Greek here is unclear on whether the day before the Sabbath was the day on which Jesus had just died or whether it was the day which, in accordance with Jewish tradition, had just begun with sunset.
This ambiguity has led some to propose that Jesus actually died on a Thursday, sundown Thursday to sundown Friday being a festal Sabbath, the first day of Passover, and sundown Friday to sundown Saturday being the weekly Sabbath. This proposal is attractive to some, particularly to a few in evangelical circles, because it preserves more completely Jesus' prophecy of being in the tomb for three days and three nights (Matt 12:40) better than the standard explanation that Jesus’ body was in the tomb for parts of three different days. While this chronology may be attractive to some Latter-day Saints because of its apparent correlation with the Book of Mormon’s account of three days of darkness (Helaman 14:20, 27 and 3 Nephi 8:19–23), early Christian tradition nevertheless placed Jesus’ death on Friday from a very early time.
These rather complex chronological discussions are matters of detailed study or a scholarly investigation, not of a devotional (and hopefully inspirational), approach to the Easter season. I mention them only because the symbolic potential of the events of the last week is sometimes greater if one is not too rigidly attached to a specific chronology. However, in order to foster greater solidarity with other Christians who are observing Holy Week, and for purely practical reasons of convenience, my approach to the week before Easter this year follows a more-or-less traditional sequence of events. Links are provided for each day’s page on my Easter website:
Friday or Saturday: The Anointing in John
Palm Sunday: The Triumphal Entry; the Cleansing of the Temple
Monday: Cursing off the fig Tree; Teachings in the Temple (focusing on the rejection of Old Israel)
Tuesday: Lessons from the Fig Tree; More Teachings in the Temple (focusing on the questioning of Jesus); the Olivet Discourse
“Spy” Wednesday: The Anointing in Mark and Matthew; Judas agrees to betray Jesus
Maundy Thursday: The Last Supper; Gethsemane; Betrayal and Arrest; Jesus before the Jewish Authorities
Good Friday: Jesus in the Hands of the Romans; the Crucifixion; the Burial
Saturday: Jesus in the Spirit World
Easter Sunday: The Resurrection
Two final notes. First, most treatments of the anointing of Jesus assume that the versions portrayed in John 12:1–8 on the one hand and in Mark 14:2–9 (par Matt 26:6–13) on the other represent the same event. I feel, however, that the details are different enough that they warrant separate treatment. Even if historically there was only one anointing, the fact that John places it before the Triumphal Entry and Mark and Matthew place it after the Olivet Discourse,  suggests that the evangelists were using its symbolism to stress different theological and symbolic points (see The Symbolism of Jesus as Anointed King and Priest below).
Second, many Latter-day Saint harmonies of the final week list “No Events Recorded” for Wednesday, but the sequence in Mark strongly suggests that the plot to kill Jesus, the unnamed woman’s anointing of Jesus, and Judas’ decision to betray Jesus happened on this day. This is also in accordance with Christian tradition, which has since the Medieval period referred to Wednesday as “Spy Wednesday” because of Judas’ actions.
Eric D. Huntsman, “Reflections on the Savior’s Last Week,” Ensign, Apr 2009, 52–60.
 See Marcus Borg and john Dominic Crossan, The Last Week: A Day-by-Day Account of Jesus’ Final Week in Jerusalem (San Francisco: Harper Collins, 2006), ix–xi.
 Compare this with the traditional harmonization of the Cleansing of the Temple, which John places at the beginning of Jesus’ ministry and all three Synoptics place at the end. Even if one assumes that there was only one cleansing, most recognize that John and the Synoptics provide different emphases about the nature of Jesus’ public career and the timing and nature of the opposition that it inspired.
See President J. Reuben Clark, Jr. Our Lord of the Gospels: A Harmony of the Gospels (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1957), which was, in turn, based upon late nineteenth century Protestant commentaries.
The Symbolism of Jesus as Anointed King and Priest
Six days before Passover (hence Friday if Passover was on the following Thursday evening and Saturday if it was, as John seems to suggest, at sunset on Friday), Martha served a special dinner at the home in Bethany that she shared with her brother Lazarus and her sister Mary. Jesus was the guest of honor, and during the course of the meal, Mary entered and anointed Jesus’ feet. Much of this scene is paralleled in Mark 14:2–9 and Matt 26:6–13, but these two evangelists locate it between the Olivet Discourse and Judas’ agreement to betray Jesus. Accordingly its explicit symbolism and traditional interpretation will be discussed further on Wednesday.
However, as a prologue to our journey through the Savior’s final week, considering another level of symbolism may provide depth to Jesus’ role as “the Christ.” In ancient Israel, Davidic kings and the high priests were anointed—in Hebrew such an anointed figure was a masiach, or messiah. In Greek he was known as christos, or Christ. With this in mind, John’s placement of the anointing before the Triumphal Entry can be seen as portraying Jesus as the rightful king who enters Jerusalem with authority. The location of the anointing in Mark and Matthew signals a shift in emphasis as Jesus begins to function as the anointed priest who makes the ultimate sacrifice for his people.
The anointing by Mary on Friday or Saturday and that by the unnamed woman on Wednesday did not make Jesus the Christ, a position that he held from the foundation of the world. But they can serve to remind us of the dual nature of Jesus’ mission, as we recall that he is not just a messiah but was in fact the Messiah. They may also serve as a stirring testimony of the faith of these women. Whereas the disciples, who had gained powerful testimonies of who Jesus was—the Son of God—nonetheless revealed on the road to Jerusalem that they had not quite come to understand what he had come to do, they women, whom Jesus said had anointed him in preparation for his burial, seem to have known that he had come to Jerusalem to die as a sacrifice for all.
Harry Anderson, "Triumphal Entry"
Walter Rane, "The Triiumphal Entry of Christ"
Matt 21:1–17; Mark 11:1–11; Luke 19:28–48; John 12:12–19
For Further Reading: Thomas A. Wayment, "The Triumphal Entry," in From the Transfiguration to the Triumphal Entry, The Life and Teachings of Jesus Christ 2, edited by Richard Neitzel Holzapfel and Thomas A. Wayment (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 2006), 398–416.
THE TRIUMPHAL ENTRY
John 12:1 reports that Jesus came to Bethany, outside of Jerusalem, six days before Passover. By conventional reckoning, this would have been on the last Saturday of Jesus’ mortal ministry. While there he enjoyed a supper with Lazarus and Martha, during which Mary entered and anointed his feet. While this event is usually associated with a similar anointing recounted by Mark and Matthew later in the week (see Wednesday below), John may have intended the symbolism to function differently: two figures were regularly anointed in ancient Israel, kings and priests, and the events of the next day seem to emphasize Jesus’ role as the true king of Israel.
This becomes apparent in all four gospel accounts, where, on the last Sunday of Jesus’ life, he entered Jerusalem in triumph. John, for instance, notes the following:
On the next day much people that were come to the feast, when they heard that Jesus was coming to Jerusalem, took branches of palm trees, and went forth to meet him, and cried, "Hosanna: Blessed is the King of Israel that cometh in the name of the Lord." And Jesus, when he had found a young ass, sat thereon; as it is written, "Fear not, daughter of Sion: behold, thy King cometh, sitting on an ass’s colt." These things understood not his disciples at the first: but when Jesus was glorified, then remembered they that these things were written of him, and that they had done these things unto him. (John 12:12–16).
The four gospel accounts differ only slightly. The Synoptics, for instance, give greater detail as to how Jesus obtained the donkey on which he rode during his triumphal procession. Luke depicts it as a triumphal approach to Jerusalem, with Jesus stopping some distance from Jerusalem to mourn and lament the city from afar before he entered the holy city (19:41–44). While a donkey does not seem to modern readers to be a very regal mode of transportation, one must remember that it was commonly the conveyance of Old Testament kings, especially David. The waving of tree branches (only John mentioned that they were palm fronds) is often associated with Sukkot, the autumn festival of Tabernacles that commemorated the wandering of the children of Israel in the wilderness. Once in the Promised Land, however, it became above all a harvest festival, but it was also associated with the coronation of the Israelite king and in the intertestamental period developed messianic connections.
Palm Sunday is a good opportunity not only to recall one of the rare moments in Jesus’ ministry when he was recognized for the king he was. Depending upon the timing of Passover and the day that Jesus was crucified, this Sunday could have been "fifth day before Passover" when the Paschal Lamb was selected for Passover and set apart for the Lord, giving special significance to crowd’s recognition of Jesus on this day—they may have been welcoming him as a hoped-for king, but in reality he had come as the Lamb of God who would die for them.
Only John gives a reason why the Jerusalem crowds seemed so united in welcoming Jesus as the possible Messiah: they had heard about the great miracle that he performed in raising Lazarus (John 12:17-12), which of course foreshadows Jesus’ own conquest of death. This explicitly connects the Triumphal Entry to Jesus' resurrection. It also, however, gave further cause for opposition. John 12:19 notes that "the Pharisees therefore said among themselves, ‘Perceive ye how ye prevail nothing? behold, the whole world is gone after him.’" Earlier they and the "chief priests" had, as a result of the raising of Lazarus, already begun to take counsel about how they could put Jesus to death (John 11:47-53).
Consequently, Palm Sunday is also an occasion to look forward to Jesus Christ's final, triumphal return when all the world will recognize him as Lord and King. Having conquered death, he will, in due course, return to Jerusalem—and all the earth—in glory.
And brought the ass, and the colt, and put on them their clothes, and they set him thereon. And a very great multitude spread their garments in the way; others cut down branches from the trees, and strawed them in the way. And the multitudes that went before, and that followed, cried, saying, Hosanna to the Son of David: Blessed is he that cometh in the name of the Lord; Hosanna in the highest. And when he was come into Jerusalem, all the city was moved, saying, Who is this? And the multitude said, This is Jesus the prophet of Nazareth of Galilee. (Matthew 21:7-11)
Pedro Orrente, "The Entry into Jerusalem," c. 1620
The joy of the triumphal entry is perhaps best expressed in our modern hymn, "All Glory Laud and Honor."
All glory, laud, and honor
To thee, Redeemer, King,
To whom the lips of children
Made sweet hosannas ring.
Thou art the King of Israel,
Thou David’s royal Son,
Who in the Lord’s name comest,
The King and Blessed One.
The company of angels
Are praising thee on high,
And mortal men and all things
Created make reply.
The people of the Hebrews
With palms before thee went;
Our praise and love and anthems
Before thee we present.
To thee, before thy passion,
They sang their hymns of praise;
To thee, now high exalted,
Our melody we raise.
Thou didst accept their praises;
Accept the love we bring,
Who in all good delightest,
Thou good and gracious King. (Hymn 69)
JESUS CLEANSES THE TEMPLE
In Matthew and Luke, as Jesus enters Jerusalem, he proceeds directly to the temple, where, in a familiar scene, he cast out the moneychangers and those who were selling sacrificial animals in its outer courts. Mark delays this scene until Monday for symbolic and literary reasons, while John had recorded a cleansing of the temple at the beginning of his ministry (John 2:13–25). Either there actually were two different cleansings, or John had moved it to the front end to illustrate that Jesus was always sovereign—he always had the authority and right to do what he did. For the synoptics, however, the cleansing can be directly connected with a royal interpretation of the Triumphal Entry. From the time of Solomon until the destruction of the First Temple by the Babylonians, the temple had been, in effect, a royal chapel adjacent to the king’s palace. There he was coronated and "adopted" as a son of YHWH (see Psalm 2:7), a clear type and foreshadowing of how Christ was not only the rightful king but also the actual Son of God.
If one connects the Triumphal Entry with Jesus’ eventual return, the cleansing of the Temple can be seen as the eventual "cleansing of the earth" and especially Jerusalem and the establishment of Jesus’ reign there.
Bernardo Cavallino, "Christ driving the traders from the temple," c. 1645
James Tissot, "The Accursed Fig Tree," 1886-96.
Matt 21:18-22; Mark 11:12-19; Luke 19:47-48; John 12:20-36
Suggested Music: "Come, O Thou King of Kings" (hymn 59)
For Further Reading: R.T. France, The Gospel of Mark, NIGTC (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 2002), 435–450.
CURSING OF THE FIG TREE AND THE MARCAN CLEANSING OF THE TEMPLE
After the events of Palm Sunday, Jesus retired from the Jerusalem to spend the night in Bethany, a pattern he followed throughout much of the week. On his way back to the holy city the next morning, he saw a leafy fig tree, which, understandably for the season, was not yet bearing fruit.
And on the morrow, when they were come from Bethany, he was hungry: And seeing a fig tree afar off having leaves, he came, if haply he might find any thing thereon: and when he came to it, he found nothing but leaves; for the time of figs was not yet. And Jesus answered and said unto it, No man eat fruit of thee hereafter for ever. And his disciples heard it. (Mark 11:12-14 )
In one of the superficially strangest episodes of Jesus’ ministry, the tree, in Matthew at least, immediately died: "And presently the fig tree withered away" (Matthew 21:19). Mark, however, exploits the incident and uses it together with the episode of the cleansing of the temple to make the meaning of the withered tree’s symbolism more clear. Whereas Matthew and Luke recorded the cleansing of the Temple as occurring on Palm Sunday, right after the Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem, Mark places the temple incident the next day (Monday). For literary effect he "sandwiches" it between seeing the barren fig tree Monday morning and seeing it again the next day withered and dead. This symbolizes that Israel has been fruitless, making the cleansing of temple not only a sign of the importance of keeping it clean but also a symbol of the coming destruction of the temple, Jerusalem, and the Jewish nation of his day.
While readers are more familiar with Jesus healing and blessing rather than "cursing," the story of the Fig Tree is important for our day. Just as the Jews of Jesus’ time were held accountable for brining forth fruit, so, too, are our lives expected to reflect that of Jesus. As he would later teach in the Book of Mormon, Jesus said, "Behold I am the light; I have set an example for you . . . Therefore, hold up your light that it may shine unto the world. Behold I am the light which ye shall hold up—that which ye have seen me do. Behold ye see that I have prayed unto the Father, and ye all have witnessed" (3 Nephi 18:16, 24). While Jesus came primarily as a loving, healing Savior for those who accept him, he was also called to be a just Judge:
For the Father judgeth no man, but hath committed all judgment unto the Son: That all men should honour the Son, even as they honour the Father. He that honoureth not the Son honoureth not the Father which hath sent him. Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that heareth my word, and believeth on him that sent me, hath everlasting life, and shall not come into condemnation; but is passed from death unto life.(John 5:22-24; cf John 12:48)
TEACHINGS IN THE TEMPLE
According to the Synoptic gospels, during the first part of this week Jesus established the pattern of spending the nights in Bethany and coming to the temple in Jerusalem each day to teach.
And he taught daily in the temple. But the chief priests and the scribes and the chief of the people sought to destroy him, And could not find what they might do: for all the people were very attentive to hear him. (Luke 19:47-48)
Many Gospel harmonies, because of their attempts to reconcile Matthew and Luke’s sequence of events with that of Mark, assume that his temple teachings were grouped and delivered together on Tuesday. Following the Matthean order, Jesus' teaching did not begin until after the chief priests and elders, who had assumed leadership in Israel, first challenged Jesus:
And when he was come into the temple, the chief priests and the elders of the people came unto him as he was teaching, and said, By what authority doest thou these things? and who gave thee this authority? (Matthew 21:23)
After silencing his opponents by challenging them to declare by what authority John the Baptist had discharged his ministry, Jesus proceeded to teach a series of four allegorical parables that illustrated the rejection of Israel's current leadership (Matt:21:28-22:14). The next block of teaching consists of attempts to trap Jesus in his words followed by a final denunciation of the leaders of "old" Israel (Matt 22:15-23:36). The ordering of Matthew thus provides a logical division for the topics that he treated, as well as a convenient way to divide his discourses into two manageable sections for study, the first being treated on Monday and the second on Tuesday.
Authority of Jesus Questioned (21:23–27)
Old Israel Rejected (21:28–22:14)
Attempts to Trap Jesus in His Words (22:15–46)
Denunciation of the Leaders of Old Israel (23:1–36)
Six Interrogations in the Temple (11:27–12:37)
The scribes and the widow (12:38–44, narrative)
Old Israel Rejected
Jesus' calling of twelve disciples reflected that the kingdom that he was establishing, reflected in his church, was a new, spiritual Israel that was replacing the old, ethnic Israel, much of which had been scattered and the remnant of which was now largely in the hands of a leadership that illegitimately held religious authority as well as a large measure of political power. Of the four parables that Jesus taught in the temple to illustrate this, the one preserved by all three Synoptic gospels is the powerful Parable of the Wicked Tenants (Matt 21:33–46; Mark 12:1–12; Luke 20:9–19). In it the House of Israel is likened to a vineyard that the owner puts in the hands of a series of husbandmen who abuse their power and reject the servants that the Lord sends to gather the produce. These servants, representing the Old Testament prophets and John the Baptist, are beaten, stoned, and otherwise killed. In a telling foreshadowing of Jesus' own coming fate, Matthew records:
But last of all he sent unto them his son, saying, "They will reverence my son." But when the husbandmen saw the son, they said among themselves, "This is the heir; come, let us kill him, and let us seize on his inheritance." And they caught him, and cast him out of the vineyard, and slew him. (Matthew 21:37-39)
Jesus prophesied the fate of Israel's leadership, and foreshadowed his coming Olivet Discourse, when he compelled the leadership whom he was addressing to admit that the Lord would "destroy those wicked men, and let out his vineyard to other husbandmen" (Matthew 21:41).
Jesus' interaction with the chief priests and elders underscores his position as rightful king. It was his temple, which he had symbolized by cleansing it previous day, and they were usurpers whose predecessors had rejected the prophets and who were themselves about to be complicit in the death of their own king. Objectively, of course, they did not know that Jesus was their king, and in that sense the appearance of Jesus in the Jerusalem Temple that week was one fulfillment of the prophecy of Haggai: the second temple, by this time remodeled and beautified by Herod, was greater than the first temple of Solomon not because of worldly grandeur or ornamentation but because "the desire of all nations" had come into it (see Haggai 1:6-9). Indeed the Lord whom they sought had suddenly come to his temple (see Malachi 3:1), and they had not recognized him.
Significantly for us, these prophecies of the Lord and his messengers coming to temples have had latter-day fulfillment and will yet have further fulfillment with his glorious return, as echoed by the words of the hymn, "Come, O Thou King of Kings"
Come, O Thou King of Kings! We've waited long for thee, with healing in thy wings to set thy people free. Come, thou desire of nations come; let Israel now be gathered home. (Hymn 59, verse 1).
Thus the royal interpretation of the Savior's last week has significance not only historically but also in terms of our hope for the Lord's glorious second coming.
JESUS AND THE COMING HOUR
The events in John 12:20-26 are not clearly placed in the week’s chronology, but in John’s narrative they come right after the triumphal entry. Immediately prior some Greeks, who had come to worship at the feast, tried to meet Jesus, thus foreshadowing how all nations would come to Jerusalem to worship and partly fulfilling the aforementioned prophecy that "the desire of all nations" had come.
In Jesus’ brief discourse of "The Coming Hour," he is troubled at the his coming suffering, foreshadowing his plea in the garden to "let the cup pass." Nevertheless, the voice of God comes, reassuring him that Jesus is glorifying the Father.
"Now is my soul troubled; and what shall I say? Father, save me from this hour: but for this cause came I unto this hour. Father, glorify thy name." Then came there a voice from heaven, saying, "I have both glorified it, and will glorify it again." (John 12:27-28)
Jesus’ soul being troubled is the first indication that the passion, or "suffering," of Jesus began earlier in this his last week than is often thought. Already at this point he is looking forward to, and feeling the weight of, the events of Gethsemane and Calvary, and the Father quickly assures him that this is part of their work "to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man" (see Moses 1:39). Looking forward to Calvary, Jesus then proclaims, "And I, if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all men unto me" (12:32–33; cf. 3 Nephi 27:14), thereby indicating what kind of death he should suffer.
Paolo Veronese, "Christ with the doctors in the Temple," 1528-1588.
Matt 21:23–25:46; Mark 11:20–13:37; Luke 20:1–21:38; John 12:37–50
Suggested Music: "Jehovah, Lord of Heaven and Earth" (hymn 269)
For Further Reading: Jo Ann Seely, "From Bethany to Gethsemane," in From the Last Supper to the Resurrection, The Life and Teachings of Jesus Christ 3, edited by Richard Neitzel Holzapfel and Thomas A. Wayment (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 2003), n.b. 51–56.
Kent P. Jackson, "The Olivet Discourse," in From the Transfiguration to the Triumphal Entry, The Life and Teachings of Jesus Christ 2, edited by Richard Neitzel Holzapfel and Thomas A. Wayment (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 2006), 318–343.
LESSON FROM THE WITHERED FIG TREE: EXHORTATIONS TO FAITH AND FORGIVENESS
On Tuesday Jesus returned to Jerusalem after having again spent the night in Bethany, presumably with Lazarus and his sisters. Crossing the Mount of Olives, according to the Marcan sequence, he saw the fig tree he had cursed for fruitlessness the day before and found that it was withered. As already noted, the literary result of "sandwiching" the cleansing of the temple between the cursing of the fig tree on Monday and the finding of the tree dead on Tuesday graphically illustrates that contemporary Israel was fruitless and warned that their similarly fruitless temple would be overthrown. The Matthean order, which can be taken to place the parables illustrating the rejection of Old Israel also on Monday, further underscores this fact, showing that the fault for the destruction of the temple would lie primarily at the feet of those who had usurped its control and had misused it.
Nonetheless, the cursing of fig tree had also vividly revealed the power of Jesus over the natural world. When Peter then noted the demise of the tree, Jesus used his action as an opportunity to issue an exhortation for his disciples to have faith: "What things soever ye desire, when ye pray, believe that ye shall receive them, and ye shall have them." Nevertheless, faith and prayer do not come without a cost: the Lord expects us to be Christlike in the exercise of our faith, forgiving all, even as he would do so notably later in the week.
MORE TEACHINGS IN THE TEMPLE
After drawing lessons from the withered tree, he spent the morning in the temple. The second block of these teachings in Matthew, which also cover most of the material preserved in Mark and Luke, focus on attempts by the Pharisees, Herodians, and Sadducees to trap Jesus in his words (22:15–40). The following chart again reviews the Temple Teachings, here emphasizing the teachings that seem to have been delivered on Tuesday:
Authority of Jesus Questioned (21:23–27)
Old Israel Rejected (21:28–22:14)
Attempts to Trap Jesus in His Words (22:15–46)
Denunciation of the Leaders of Old Israel (23:1–36)
Six Interrogations in the Temple (11:27–12:37)
The scribes and the widow (12:38–44, narrative)
Whether the question was about the paying of taxes to Rome, about the reality of the resurrection (particularly in the hypothetical case of a woman who had married seven successive men!), or concerning what was the greatest commandment of the law, Jesus gave responses that silenced his opponents. Finally, he posed a question to them that proved impossible for them to answer:
While the Pharisees were gathered together, Jesus asked them, Saying, What think ye of Christ? whose son is he? They say unto him, The Son of David. He saith unto them, How then doth David in spirit call him Lord, saying, The LORD said unto my Lord, Sit thou on my right hand, till I make thine enemies thy footstool? If David then call him Lord, how is he his son? And no man was able to answer him a word, neither durst any man from that day forth ask him any more questions. (Matthew 22:41-46)
Their inability, or refusal, to answer this question about himself was followed by a scathing denunciation of the these leaders of Old Israel (23:1–36).
This verbal sparring about authority points back to the reality symbolized by Jesus’ earlier triumphal entry: he was the rightful leader in Israel, while the chief priests and elders opposed to him were, in fact, usurpers who set themselves up in Jerusalem and in the temple as leaders of Israel. Now, in the midst of the preparations leading to Passover, the questioning of Jesus in the temple presents another layer of symbolism: he was questioned by the chief priests even while the Passover lambs for the year were being checked for faults.
Nicolas Poussin, "Destruction of the Temple at Jerusalem," 1637.
THE OLIVET DISCOURSE
Leaving the temple, Jesus took his disciples to Mount of Olives, where he gave them a prophetic discourse that dealt with both the imminent destruction of Jerusalem and its temple and also focused on the destruction of "the world" at his second coming. The oldest and shortest version of this seems to be in Mark, where it is sometimes referred to as "The Little Apocalypse." Longer versions of this eschatological sermon are preserved by Matthew and Luke. The JST revision of Matthew 23:39-24:51 is an inspired expansion of part of the Olivet Discourse; it continues through 25:1-46 with parables about the last days.
Prophesies: Warnings of Destruction (24:1–35)
Teachings: The Necessity for Watchfulness (24:36–25:46)
Destruction of the Temple (21:5–6)
Deceptive Signs of the End (21:7–11)
Persecution of the Disciples (21:12–19)
Destruction of Jerusalem (21:20–24)
The Coming of the Son of Man (21:25–36)
Details on the Temple Teachings and the Olivet Discourse
When the Romans captured Jerusalem and destroyed the temple in A.D. 70, they threw down the massive Herodian stones off the temple mount, denting the streets below. Literally, there "was not left one stone on top of another" (Matt 24:2).
The Lord’s private teaching to his closest disciples about his Second Coming was once again a natural result of the events of Palm Sunday. He had entered Jerusalem, seemingly as a recognized Messiah, and many of them may have expected him to take the throne as king. Peter and others of the Twelve had earlier obtained powerful witnesses that he was the Messiah, the true Son of God, but while they understood correctly who Jesus was, they still did not correctly understand what he had come to do. Three times on the road to Jerusalem he had prophesied in the so-called "Passion Predictions" that he would go to Jerusalem to suffer and die (see, for instance, Matthew 16:21–23, 17:22–23, and 20:17–19), and each time they had failed to understand.
Now, perhaps understanding how confused, terrified, and heart-broken they would be at the end of the week when their Master was taken, tortured, and cruelly slain, he sought to reassure them by pointing their minds forward to that future time when he would, in fact, come in glory as king of all the earth.
And then shall appear the sign of the Son of man in heaven: and then shall all the tribes of the earth mourn, and they shall see the Son of man coming in the clouds of heaven with power and great glory. And he shall send his angels with a great sound of a trumpet, and they shall gather together his elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other. (Matthew 24:30-31)
The occasion of their reassurance has, in turn, provided us with a helpful road map to prepare us in the Last Days, which also fills us with hope and anticipation as we look forward to his return. As we look for the return of our King and the establishment of his millennial reign, the words of hymn 269 reflect our united wish:
Jehovah, Lord of heav'n and earth, thy word of truth proclaim! Oh may it spread from pole to pole, till all shall know thy name . . . Roll on thy work in all its power, the distant nations bring! In thy new kingdom may they stand, and own thee God and King.
SUMMARY OF JESUS’ TEACHING
Luke summarizes Jesus’ teaching in the early part of the week by writing simply:
And in the day time he was teaching in the temple; and at night he went out, and abode in the mount that is called the mount of Olives. And all the people came early in the morning to him in the temple, for to hear him. (Luke 21:37-38)
As usual, the material from John is not easily placed in a particular chronological position during the week. These passages are placed here on Tuesday for convenience, but they likewise summarize the reaction of both the people and the leaders to Jesus:
But though he had done so many miracles before them, yet they believed not on him . . . Nevertheless among the chief rulers also many believed on him; but because of the Pharisees they did not confess him, lest they should be put out of the synagogue: For they loved the praise of men more than the praise of God. (John 12:37-43)
John, however, closes Jesus’ temple ministry with a powerful testimony of who the Savior is, however, and he further stresses the responsibility of each person to accept or reject him . . . something for us to think about as we review our discipleship this week and consider how strong our faith in Jesus is.
Jesus cried and said, He that believeth on me, believeth not on me, but on him that sent me. And he that seeth me seeth him that sent me. I am come a light into the world, that whosoever believeth on me should not abide in darkness. And if any man hear my words, and believe not, I judge him not: for I came not to judge the world, but to save the world. He that rejecteth me, and receiveth not my words, hath one that judgeth him: the word that I have spoken, the same shall judge him in the last day. (John 12:44-48)
(In some traditions called "Spy Wednesday" because this may have been when Judas agreed with the chief priests to betray the Savior)
Matt 26:1–16; Mark 14:1–11; Luke 22:1–6
Suggested Music: "O Love That Glorifies the Son" (hymn 295)
For Further Reading: John Nolland, The Gospel of Matthew, NIGTC (Grand Rapids, Mich.): Eerdmans, 2005), 1043–1060.
Frank F. Judd, Jr., "Interpreting Caiaphas’s ‘Prophecy’ of the Savior’s Death," Behold the Lamb of God: An Easter Celebration (Provo: Religious Study Center, 2008), 87–104.
THE PLOT TO KILL JESUS
And it came to pass, when Jesus had finished all these sayings, he said unto his disciples, Ye know that after two days is the feast of the passover, and the Son of man is betrayed to be crucified. Then assembled together the chief priests, and the scribes, and the elders of the people, unto the palace of the high priest, who was called Caiaphas, And consulted that they might take Jesus by subtilty, and kill him. But they said, Not on the feast day, lest there be an uproar among the people. (Matthew 26:1–5)
Although some harmonies of the gospels list "No Events Recorded" for Wednesday, both Matthew 26:2 and Mark 14:1 place the conspiracy of Judas with the Jerusalem leadership with the Passover "after two days." This is better rendered "in two days time" or "two days away" (Luke just says that the Passover "was nigh"). This does not securely place Judas meeting with the priests on "Spy Wednesday," however, since the two days can be counted either inclusively or exclusively, and Passover may have begun at sundown either on Thursday evening (as the Synoptics seem to suggest) or Friday evening (as John probably records more accurately, see Thursday discussion below).
John’s account had placed the beginning of this plot before the Passion week, shortly after the raising of Lazarus:
Then gathered the chief priests and the Pharisees a council, and said, "What do we? for this man doeth many miracles. If we let him thus alone, all men will believe on him: and the Romans shall come and take away both our place and nation." And one of them, named Caiaphas, being the high priest that same year, said unto them, "Ye know nothing at all, Nor consider that it is expedient for us, that one man should die for the people, and that the whole nation perish not." And this spake he not of himself: but being high priest that year, he prophesied that Jesus should die for that nation. (John 11:47–51, emphasis added)
The prophecy of Caiaphas in the Johannine addition to the plot story is laden with irony, because it has Jesus’ chief opponent actually teach a true doctrine: Jesus did come to die for the sake not just of the Jewish people but for all people. Oddly, the divine economy can often use the enemies of that which is right and good to accomplish God’s purpose. Jesus’ vicarious death was not just for good men, it was for all and can benefit all, even those who, like the Jerusalem leadership who plotted against him, provided that at some point they repent and turn to him whom they rejected.
James Tissot, "Mary's expensive jar of ointment," 1886-96
ANOTHER ANOINTING AT BETHANY
After noting the plot to kill Jesus, Matthew and Mark provide another account of Jesus’ anointing:
There came unto him a woman having an alabaster box of very precious ointment, and poured it on his head, as he sat at meat. But when his disciples saw it, they had indignation, saying, "To what purpose is this waste? For this ointment might have been sold for much, and given to the poor." When Jesus understood it, he said unto them, "Why trouble ye the woman? for she hath wrought a good work upon me. For ye have the poor always with you; but me ye have not always. For in that she hath poured this ointment on my body, she did it for my burial. Verily I say unto you, Wheresoever this gospel shall be preached in the whole world, there shall also this, that this woman hath done, be told for a memorial of her." (Matthew 26:8–13)
Gospel harmonies have conventionally assumed that this anointing is the same as the one mentioned earlier in John 12:1–9. While this may be true, there are specific differences in circumstances that make it possible that there were, in fact, two anointings. Although both took place in Bethany, the Matthean and Marcan anointing take place in the house of one Simon the Leper, whereas the Johannine anointing was in the house of Lazarus and Martha. Their sister Mary anointed Jesus’ feet in John’s account, but here the woman anoints his head and is unnamed. Like Mary, who anointed Jesus’ feet at Lazarus’ house the previous Saturday (John 12:1–9), Jesus explicitly recognizes that this woman had performed the act in part to prepared him for his burial and provides a moving tribute and commendation: wherever the gospel is preached, we should recall her act of love and faith.
Luke omits the anointing of Jesus’ head in Bethany at the house of Simon the Leper, presumably because the episode is so similar to an unrelated washing and anointing of Jesus’ feet earlier in the Galilean ministry which are described in Luke 7:36–50 as an act of love by a woman "who was a sinner." Once again, some harmonies and studies of the gospel have associated all of these anointing stories with the same woman and the same incident. While this may be the case, there is no indication that the unnamed woman here was a sinner, and the timing and setting of Luke’s account is much different.
As noted in the discussion of the anointing as recorded in John, the woman's act of preparing Jesus for his burial presupposes that she understood, at some level at least, that he had come to Jerusalem to die. This stands in contrast to the perceived understanding of the male disciples in the gospel of Mark, generally followed by Matthew and Luke. In those gospels the Twelve, starting with Peter at Caesarea Philippi, had received powerful testimonies of who Jesus was, the Christ and son of God (Mark 8:27–30; par Matt 16:13–20, Luke 9:18–20). Notwithstanding this revelation, when Jesus tried to explain to them three different times on the road to Jerusalem that he would be taken by the chief priests and elders when he arrived in Jerusalem, delivered to the Gentiles, and finally killed, they either resisted this sad reality or failed to understand (see the so-called "Passion Predictions" in Mark 8:31–9:1, 9:30–3, and 10:32–45, as well as the parallels in Matthew and Luke). At least in the literary record, the male disciples knew who he was but did not yet fully understand what he had come to do, still thinking perhaps in terms of an earthly king and messiah.
In this light, the unnamed woman's act, like that of Mary earlier in John, was one of deep love and faith, one that resonates strongly with anyone, man or woman, who has lost or faces the prospect of losing a loved one. In such instances, letting go is in itself an act of love when one recognizes that the loss is God's will. The glorious message of Easter, of course, is that such loss is never permanent:
O love that glorifies the Son, O love that says, "Thy will be done!" Pure love whose spirit makes us one, come fill my soul today. O love that overcomes defeat, O love that turns the bitter sweet, Pure love that makes our lives complete, come fill my soul today. (hymn 295)
While the anointing of Jesus explicitly deals with Jesus' coming death, remembering that one who was anointed was a mašiach in Hebrew or a christos in Greek suggests a possible, additional symbol in this act. While Jesus was the chosen Messiah from the foundation of the world, perhaps these acts symbolize that Jesus was at this point fully prepared now to complete his mission as the Savior of the world. Regardless of how many anointing there may have actually been, the evangelists may have used this motif in different settings for different literary purposes. Thus the anointing by Mary on Saturday could thus represent the anointing of Jesus as king prior to the Triumphal Entry the next day, and the anointing by the unnamed woman in the middle of the week could represent his anointing as priest, preparing him to return to Jerusalem for a final time to complete the priestly act of atonement.
Giotto, "Payment of Judas," c. 1305
JUDAS AGREES TO BETRAY JESUS
One of the disciples who may have been the most bothered by the woman’s supposed waste could have been Judas, since Matthew and Mark both place his decision to betray Jesus immediately following their account of the anointing at Bethany.
Then one of the twelve, called Judas Iscariot, went unto the chief priests, And said unto them, "What will ye give me, and I will deliver him unto you?" And they covenanted with him for thirty pieces of silver. (Matthew 26:14–16)
Carl Bloch, "The Last Supper," 1865-79.
("Maundy" is an early English form of the Latin mandatum for "commandment" and recalling "A new commandment I give you, that ye love one another; as I have loved you, that ye love one another" in John 13:34)
Matt 26; Mark 14:12–72; Luke 22; John 13:1–18:27; see also Mosiah 3:7 and D&C 19:15–20
Suggested Music: Bach, St. John Passion.
For further reading: Raymond Brown, The Death of the Messiah (New York: Doubleday, 1994), 110–660.
Eric D. Huntsman, "The Lamb of God: Unique Aspects of the Passion Narrative in John," Behold the Lamb of God: An Easter Celebration (Provo: Religious Study Center, 2008), 49–70, n.b., 49–59.
Eric D. Huntsman, "Gethsemane and the Trial," Beholding Salvation Lecture Series, Museum of Art, Brigham Young University, March 14, 2007. Also an Audio CD by Deseret Book, 2007.
Andrew C, Skinner, Gethsemane (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 2002).
Dana M. Pike, "Before the Jewish Authorities," From the Last Supper to the Resurrection, 210–268.
Nicolas Poussin, "The Last Supper," 1640s.
THE LAST SUPPER
The Synoptic Gospels seem to suggest that the Last Supper was a Passover Meal, whereas John is clear that the Passover began at sundown of the day when Christ was crucified. John's account seems to bear the most historical verisimilitude: a criminal would certainly not be crucified during the Passover feast itself. Additionally, the Johannine imagery is strong: the day before Passover was a Preparation Day, and between 3:00-5:00 the paschal lambs were slaughtered in the Temple.[i] Accordingly, Jesus died on the cross at 3:00 at the very moment the first Passover lamb was sacrificed. Although scholars have proposed a number of ways to resolve the apparent discrepancy, the most likely answer is that Jesus, knowing that he would be dead before Passover began, celebrated the feast early with his friends.
And when the hour was come, he sat down, and the twelve apostles with him. And he said unto them, "With desire I have desired to eat this passover with you before I suffer: For I say unto you, I will not any more eat thereof, until it be fulfilled in the kingdom of God." (Luke 22:14–16; see D&C 27:5ff.)
The gospels record two important ordinances at the Last Supper: the Sacrament of the Lord's Supper in the Synoptics the Washing of Feet in John. The earliest reference to the institution of the sacrament in the New Testament is actually in the letters of Paul, which were written before any of the gospels:
For I have received of the Lord that which also I delivered unto you, That the Lord Jesus the same night in which he was betrayed took bread: And when he had given thanks, he brake it, and said, Take, eat: this is my body, which is broken for you: this do in remembrance of me. After the same manner also he took the cup, when he had supped, saying, This cup is the new testament in my blood: this do ye, as oft as ye drink it, in remembrance of me. (1 Corinthians 11:23–26)
John’s omission of the sacrament is surprising, but sacramental imagery is woven throughout the body of his gospel (e.g. the Bread of Life Discourse, Jesus as the Fountain of Living Water, the Vine, etc.). John does, however, preserve an account of Jesus washing his disciples’ feet. Although a priesthood ordinance, one aspect of which is alluded to in D&C 88:139–141, the significance of it in the narrative of the gospel of John is as an act of service and love:
Jesus knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he was come from God, and went to God; He riseth from supper, and laid aside his garments; and took a towel, and girded himself. After that he poureth water into a bason, and began to wash the disciples' feet, and to wipe them with the towel wherewith he was girded. . . . So after he had washed their feet, and had taken his garments, and was set down again, he said unto them, "Know ye what I have done to you? Ye call me Master and Lord: and ye say well; for so I am. If I then, your Lord and Master, have washed your feet; ye also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have given you an example, that ye should do as I have done to you. Verily, verily, I say unto you, The servant is not greater than his lord; neither he that is sent greater than he that sent him. If ye know these things, happy are ye if ye do them." (John 13:3–5, 12–17)
In accordance with this example it is the practice in the Roman Catholic and some other churches for bishops or spiritual leaders to wash the feet of token members of their flock on Maundy Thursday. Similar practices were performed by some European kings, who would wash the feet of peasants and make distributions of coins to the assembled crowds. In the Church today, the ordinance itself is reserved for sacred occasions, but the example of loving and serving others is lived every day.
Tintoretto, "Christ Washing the Feet of His Disciples," c. 1547-49
[i] Josephus, Wars of the Jews 6.9.3, §422–427.
THE LAST SUPPER DISCOURSES
John also preserves several lengthy Last Supper Discourses (14:1–17:26), which focus on the love of Jesus, our relationship to him, and our need to likewise love one another.
Throughout the discourses, but especially in chapters 14 and 16, Jesus focuses on the imminence of his departure, but insists that his coming sacrifice is necessary for our salvation. In the famous opening of the first discourse, he assured his disciples:
Let not your heart be troubled: ye believe in God, believe also in me. In my Father's house are many mansions: if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again, and receive you unto myself; that where I am, there ye may be also. (John 14:1–3)
The teachings in these discourses are too rich to give even a perfunctory review here. Instead we only note the love that motivated Jesus’ great atoning sacrifice and the powerful parallel of the sorrow of the passion to the pains of a woman in childbirth—terrible at the time but giving way to greater joy.
This is my commandment, That ye love one another, as I have loved you. Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends. (John 15:12–13)
Verily, verily, I say unto you, That ye shall weep and lament, but the world shall rejoice: and ye shall be sorrowful, but your sorrow shall be turned into joy. A woman when she is in travail hath sorrow, because her hour is come: but as soon as she is delivered of the child, she remembereth no more the anguish, for joy that a man is born into the world. And ye now therefore have sorrow: but I will see you again, and your heart shall rejoice, and your joy no man taketh from you. (John 16:20–22)
The discourses end with the famous Intercessory Prayer, also known as the Great High Priestly Prayer, of chapter 17 wherein Jesus explained the purpose of his sacrifice: to make us one with each other and one with God and Christ. This is, in reality, the essence of the Atonement—the at-on-ment—and having prayed that God will grant this end, he went forth ready to do what was necessary to bring it about.
Leaving Jerusalem, Jesus and his disciples would have crossed the deep Kidron Valley separating the city from the Mount of Olives. On one side they would have seen the numerous tombs that covered the slopes of the southern side of the mount (see Holzapfel, A Lively Hope, 133–36)
The Valley of the Shadow of Death
The pivotal moment of this night, however, was Jesus' great struggle in Gethsemane, "the place of the wine press." To get there, John 18:1 records that Jesus and his disciples needed to cross over the Kidron Valley (KJV, "the brook Cedron"), the deep valley to the east that separated the city and the temple mount from the Mount of Olives. Anciently the valley was so deep that much of it was in shadow through much of the day. Passing through the valley under the Passover moon, they would have seen on the southern side of the Mount of Olives the numerous tombs that filled its lower slopes. Both of these facts gave poignant meaning to the well-known passage from 23:3, "Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for thou art with me . . ."
El Greco, "The Agony in the Garden," 1608
Jesus at Gethsemane
John is sparing of the details of what occurred in the Garden of Gethsemane, either out of reverence for its sacredness or because "plain and precious parts" of his account have been lost (see D&C 93:18). The Synoptics, however, recount that Jesus took his three closest disciples, Peter, James, and John part way into the garden and then left them to watch and pray while he went in further. There he "began to be sore amazed and very sorrowful" (Mark 14:22 and parallels). Of this experience, Elder Neal A. Maxwell has tenderly written:
Later, in Gethsemane, the suffering Jesus began to be ‘sore amazed’ (Mark 14:33), or, in the Greek, ‘awestruck’ and ‘astonished.’ Imagine, Jehovah, the Creator of this and other worlds, "astonished!" Jesus knew cognitively what He must do, but not experientially. He had never personally known the exquisite and exacting process of an atonement before. Thus, when the agony came in its fulness, it was so much, much worse than even He with his unique intellect had ever imagined! No wonder an angel appeared to strengthen him!
The cumulative weight of all mortal sins—past, present, and future—pressed upon that perfect, sinless, and sensitive Soul! All our infirmities and sicknesses were somehow, too, a part of the awful arithmetic of the Atonement. The anguished Jesus not only pled with the Father that the hour and cup might pass from Him, but with this relevant citation. ‘And he said, Abba, Father, all things are possible unto thee; take away this cup from me.’ (Mark 14:35–36.)" (Neal A. Maxwell, "Willing to Submit," Ensign, May 1985, 70ff.)
Mark, Matthew, and Luke agree on what happened next. Falling upon the ground, he pled with his Father that thus cup could pass, but then in harmony with his nature since the beginning, he submitted to his Father's will.
When in the wondrous realms above our Savior had been called upon to save our world of sin by love, He said, "Thy will, O Lord, be done.”
The King of Kings left worlds of light, became the meek and lowly One; in brightest day or darkest night, He said, “Thy will, O Lord, be done.” (hymn 188)
Of the Synoptics, Luke preserves additional, critical details, including the important appearance of an angel to comfort or assist the Lord and the fact that his agony resulted in his sweating blood (Luke 22:43–44). Although some scholars have called into question the text of these two verses, latter-day revelation confirms the "sweating of blood" and gives us the greatest insight into the events of Gethsemane, where Jesus took upon us the weight of our sins and sorrows and began the process of the Atonement.
"And lo, he shall suffer temptations, and pain of body, hunger, thirst, and fatigue, even more than man can suffer, except it be unto death; for behold, blood cometh from every pore, so great shall be his anguish for the wickedness and the abominations of his people." (Mosiah 3:7)
"For behold, I, God, have suffered these things for all, that they might not suffer if they would repent; But if they would not repent they must suffer even as I; Which suffering caused myself, even God, the greatest of all, to tremble because of pain, and to bleed at every pore, and to suffer both body and spirit—and would that I might not drink the bitter cup, and shrink—Nevertheless, glory be to the Father, and I partook and finished my preparations unto the children of men." (D&C 19:16-19)
BETRAYAL AND ARREST OF JESUS
Following the agony in the Garden, our Lord suffered another blow, his betrayal by his friend Judas and the subsequent indignities of his arrest and trial. As part of the "atoning journey" begun when Jesus took upon himself our sins, pains, and sorrows, he "descended below all things" and experienced the terrible realities of betrayal, false judgment, arrest, and rejection. No wife betrayed by a husband, no child abused by a parent, no friend rejected by another will fail to resonate with Jesus' being betrayed by the kiss of a friend, abandoned by the disciples, and denied, if only briefly, by Peter. No one ever falsely judged can fail to relate as to how Jesus, innocent and pure, was falsely accused and condemned.
JESUS BEFORE THE JEWISH AUTHORITIES
Matthew, Mark, and John have Jesus examined and perhaps tried by various Jewish authorities during the course of the night after Jesus’ arrest. Scholarship is divided on whether the Jewish authorities had the right to execute a person condemned for blasphemy, one of the charges discussed in Matthew and Mark. Luke portrays a formal hearing before the Sanhedrin the next morning; this was mostly likely an investigative hearing to gather information for the charges to be laid before Pilate.
The day traditional associated with the crucifixion of Jesus, the Friday before Easter, is called "Good Friday" in English either because it is a "holy" Friday, or, more likely, because in English "good" is often an archaic expression for "God." Hence "goodbye" for "go with God." Accordingly it is "God's Friday" because on this day was the culmination of God's reconciling the world to himself through the death of his Son.
Matt 27; Mark 15; Luke 23; John 18:28–19:42; see also 3 Nephi 8
Suggested Music: Suggested Music: "O Savior, Thou Who Wearest a Crown." (hymn 197)
Suggested Listening: St . Matthew Passion; Handel, Messiah, Part II.
"But God commendeth his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. Much more then, being now justified by his blood, we shall be saved from wrath through him. For if, when we were enemies, we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, being reconciled, we shall be saved by his life. And not only so, but we also joy in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom we have now received the atonement." (Romans 5:8-12).
None of the gospels directly date the crucifixion to Friday; this is a deduction from the fact that a sabbath began at sundown shortly after Jesus died. While it is a natural inference that this was the weekly sabbath (sundown Friday to sundown Saturday), the first day of the Passover as a "high day" was also a sabbath (John 19:31; see note 31c in the LDS KJV), making it possible that Jesus was crucified on a Thursday.
For further reading: Raymond Brown, The Death of the Messiah (New York: Doubleday, 1994), 665–1313..
Eric D. Huntsman, "Before the Romans," From the Last Supper to the Resurrection, The Life and Teachings of Jesus Christ 3, edited by Richard Neitzel Holzapfel and Thomas A. Wayment (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 2003), 269–317.
Kent P. Jackson, "The Crucifixion," From the Last Supper to the Resurrection, 318–337.
Eric D. Huntsman, "The Lamb of God: Unique Aspects of the Passion Narrative in John," Behold the Lamb of God: An Easter Celebration (Provo: Religious Study Center, 2008), 49–70, n.b., 60–65.
Dawn C. Pheysey, "Picturing the Crucifixion," Behold the Lamb of God: An Easter Celebration, 155–164.
Robert Millet, "Glorying in the Cross of Christ," Behold the Lamb of God: An Easter Celebration, 125–138.
Cecilia M. Peek, "The Burial," From the Last Supper to the Resurrection, 338–377.
Titian, "Christ Crowned with Thorns," 1540
Jesus in the Hands of the Romans: Trial, Scourging, and Mocking
Whereas the charge in the Jewish hearing was one of blasphemy, the one laid against Jesus in the Roman trial was political: Jesus claimed to be a king, an offense against the Roman order. Pilate is described in the gospels as indecisive and at times even desirous to let Jesus go. This in no way exculpates him; when political pressure is brought upon him by the Jewish leadership ("If thou let this man go, thou are not Caesar's friend . . ." John 19:12), Pilate knowingly allowed an innocent man be executed. In the end, discussions of immediate responsibility are irrelevant. Jesus' death was a critical part of the plan of salvation, and it was made necessary by us. Elsewhere I have written,
" . . . what remains important is that judgment took place, and it is both significant and ironic that the two 'trials' of Jesus took place before the two peoples who were most dedicated to and obsessed by law. Just as the two trials reflect the two realities of Christ’s identity—as both Son of God and King—so the Jews and the Romans represent all Gentiles and all of Israel (Acts 4:27). Examining the trial should not be for us an issue of assigning culpability—to Judas, the chief priests, or Pilate—for the betrayal and condemnation were necessary parts of the Atonement." ("Roman Trial of Jesus," From the Last Supper to the Resurrection, 316)
And the world, because of their iniquity, shall judge him to be a thing of naught; wherefore they scourge him, and he suffereth it; and they smite him, and he suffereth it. Yea, they spit upon him, and he suffereth it, because of his loving kindness and his long-suffering towards the children of men. (1 Nephi 19:9)
After both the Jewish hearing and the Roman trial, Jesus was subjected to abuse: mocking, scourging, spitting. Although often overlooked as we concentrate on the three pivotal points of the Atonement---Gethsemane, Golgotha, and Garden Tomb---this abuse was a prophesied part of what Jesus would suffer for us. The fact some of the most powerful recorded prophecies of the abuse and mockery are found in the Book of Mormon in such passages as 1 Nephi 19:9, 2 Nephi 6:9, and Mosiah 3:9 suggests that they cannot be overlooked. "The focus there is not with when and how the scourging, hitting, and spitting took place, but why. Christ was willing to suffer these things ‘because of his loving kindness and his long-suffering towards the children of men.’" (Huntsman, 316-317)
Much of this experience is powerfully represented in the beautiful hymn adapted from a Bach chorus, "O Savior, Thou Who Wearest a Crown."
O Savior, thou who wearest
A crown of piercing thorn,
The pain thou meekly bearest,
Weigh’d down by grief and scorn.
The soldiers mock and flail thee;
For drink they give thee gall;
Upon the cross they nail thee
To die, O King of all.
No creature is so lowly,
No sinner so depraved,
But feels thy presence holy
And thru thy love is saved.
Tho craven friends betray thee,
They feel thy love’s embrace;
The very foes who slay thee
Have access to thy grace.
Thy sacrifice transcended
The mortal law’s demand;
Thy mercy is extended
To ev’ry time and land.
No more can Satan harm us,
Tho long the fight may be,
Nor fear of death alarm us;
We live, O Lord, thru thee.
What praises can we offer
To thank thee, Lord most high?
In our place thou didst suffer;
In our place thou didst die,
By heaven’s plan appointed,
To ransom us, our King.
O Jesus, the anointed,
To thee our love we bring! (Hymn 197)
Reflection: A Man of Sorrows
The cumulative feelings of betrayal, abuse, rejection, and false judgment despised were foreseen by Isaiah, whose words are movingly caught by Handel in the sorrowful mezzo-soprano air "He Was Despised" and the following choruses "Surely He Hath Born Our Griefs" and "With His Stripes We Are Healed."
He is despised and rejected of men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief: and we hid as it were our faces from him; he was despised, and we esteemed him not. Surely he hath borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows: yet we did esteem him stricken, smitten of God, and afflicted. But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and with his stripes we are healed. (Isaiah 53:3–55)
The fact that "with his stripes we are healed" demonstrates that these incidents were, in fact, parts of our Lord’s atoning journey. Further, what Jesus experienced personally in this terrible day, together with the vicarious suffering that began in the Garden the night before, seem part of the filling his bowels with mercy "that he may know how to succor his people according to their infirmities" (See Alma 7:12).
Yet even while the Lord can truly empathize with us in our afflictions, there are ways in which our sorrows, heartaches, and sufferings allow us, in some measure, to be more like our Savior. Paul wrote, "For as the sufferings of Christ abound in us, so our consolation also aboundeth by Christ" (2 Corinthians 1:5). How often we pray to be more like Jesus, but when pain, rejection, loss, and heartache come our way, we recoil and beg for these experiences to be taken away! Yet when we learn true patience, the Latin root of which is "suffer," from these experiences, our ability to trust in God and understand and empathize with others who similarly suffer grows exponentially.
Harry Anderson, "The Crucifixion"
At Calvary (Mark 15:22–28; Matt 27:33–38; Luke 23:32–34, 38; John 19:17b–24)
The Synoptics, following Mark, have Jesus crucified at the third hour (approximately 9:00 a.m.). Darkness and physical manifestations of the suffering of Jesus occurred at the sixth hour (12:00 noon), and Jesus died at the sixth hour (about 3:00 p.m.). Some scholars have suggested that Mark wrote his gospel to be read aloud, and that these precise hours reflect an early Christian practice of dramatizing the Passion narrative and perhaps praying or worshiping at these hours. John portrays the crucifixion as taking place at noon, which gives more time for the trial and the events of that morning; he agrees that our Lord died about 3:00.
Activities at the Cross (Mark 15:29–32; Matt 27:39–44; Luke 23:35–43; John 19:25–27)
While it became popular in the Middle Ages, and recently in the media (as witnessed by Brother Gibson's The Passion of the Christ), to focus on extreme suffering of Jesus' scourging and crucifixion, the gospels themselves are sparing of such brutal details. They simply state, for instance, "there they crucified him." Instead the emphasis is on the words and symbolic acts of Jesus that fulfill prophecy. These include the "Seven Last Sayings of Jesus," his crucifixion between two bandits or criminals, the division of his garments, offering poor wine as a drink, the failure to break his legs, and his side being pierced.
Last Moments (Mark 15:33–37; Matt 27:45–50; Luke 23:44–46; John 19:28–30)
Significantly, the greatest suffering that our Lord suffered on the cross does not seem to be anything that man inflicted upon him. Jesus’ cry, "My God, why hast thou forsaken me?" (Mark 15:34–35; Matt 27:46–47), may reflect that, as in Gethsemane, carrying the weight of our sins necessarily separated him from his Father in a way that he never experienced before, leading Elder McConkie, following Elder Talmage, to write:
"Then the heavens grew black. Darkness covered the land for the space of three hours, as it did among the Nephites. There was a mighty storm, as though the very God of Nature was in agony. And truly he was, for while he was hanging on the cross for another three hours, from noon to 3:00 p.m., all the infinite agonies and merciless pains of Gethsemane recurred." (McConkie, May 1985)
When the prophecies had all been fulfilled and his work for us completed, our Lord cried out and died (Mark 15:37; Matt 27:50; Luke 23:46). Luke sensitively notes that Jesus commended his spirit to his Father; John records that he authoritatively declared "It is finished" (John 19:30b), typical of the divine Johannine Jesus who "laid down his life" because no one could take it from him.
Two of my favorite sacrament hymns reflect these final events, portraying them with different tenors. First, "Behold the Great Redeemer Die."
Behold the great Redeemer die,
A broken law to satisfy.
He dies a sacrifice for sin,
He dies a sacrifice for sin,
That man may live and glory win.
While guilty men his pains deride,
They pierce his hands and feet and side;
And with insulting scoffs and scorns,
And with insulting scoffs and scorns,
They crown his head with plaited thorns.
Although in agony he hung,
No murm’ring word escaped his tongue.
His high commission to fulfill,
His high commission to fulfill,
He magnified his Father’s will.
“Father, from me remove this cup.
Yet, if thou wilt, I’ll drink it up.
I’ve done the work thou gavest me,
I’ve done the work thou gavest me;
Receive my spirit unto thee.”
He died, and at the awful sight
The sun in shame withdrew its light!
Earth trembled, and all nature sighed,
Earth trembled, and all nature sighed
In dread response, “A God has died!” (Hymn, 191)
Then, "There Is a Green Hill Far Away."
There is a green hill far away,
Without a city wall,
Where the dear Lord was crucified,
Who died to save us all.
We may not know, we cannot tell,
What pains he had to bear,
But we believe it was for us
He hung and suffered there.
There was no other good enough
To pay the price of sin.
He only could unlock the gate
Of heav’n and let us in. (Hymn 194)
Gordon's Calvary, outside of the Damascus Gate, Jerusalem
John ends his testimony of the Lord's saving death with this important event:
"But when they came to Jesus, and saw that he was dead already, they brake not his legs. But one of the soldiers with a spear pierced his side, and forthwith came there out blood and water. And he that saw it bare record, and his record is true: and he knoweth that he saith true, that ye might believe." (John 19:33-35)
John emphasized the importance of this sign, I think, because it provides a testimony of who Jesus really was and what he had done for us. Throughout the gospel of John blood is the symbol of life but mortal life, whereas water is a symbol of eternal or divine life. Could it be that the blood represented Jesus' mortal inheritance from his mother Mary, the power to lay his life down for sin and that water represented his divine inheritance from God his Father, the power to take it up again and be to us "a well of water springing up unto everlasting life?"
Signs and Reactions to Christ’s Death (Mark 15:38–41; Matt 27:51–56; Luke 23:45b, 47–49; John 19:31–37)
Ron Richmond, "Triplus No. 3"
Bones, Blood, and Water
The final images of Jesus as the Lamb of God are found after He voluntarily surrendered His spirit. When the Jewish leadership asked the Roman authorities to break the legs of those being crucified so that their bodies would not desecrate the Sabbath—and in John, the Passover itself—the soldiers first broke the legs of the two insurgents or revolutionaries (lēstai, King James Version “thieves”) who had been crucified with Him. When they came to Jesus, however, and found that He was already dead, they did not break Jesus’s legs “that the scripture should be fulfilled, A bone of him shall not be broken” (John 19:31–33, 36). While this was a fulfillment of the prophecy of Psalm 34:21, not breaking any bones was a particular requirement of the Paschal Lamb, one that was as significant as the prerequisite that the Paschal Lamb, like Jesus, be without blemish (see Exodus 12:46; Numbers 9:12).
When John recorded the preservation of Jesus’s bones, he also recorded what he felt was one of the most important signs of who Jesus was and what He did: “But when they came to Jesus, and saw that he was dead already, they brake not his legs: But one of the soldiers with a spear pierced his side, and forthwith came there out blood and water. And he that saw it bare record, and his record is true: and he knoweth that he saith true, that ye might believe” (John 19:33–35; emphasis added). Treatments of this symbol have rightly noted that the blood represents the humanity—and the mortality—of Jesus, but they often differ on the significance of the water. Because the flowing of water from Jesus’s side is reminiscent of the streams of water that Jesus proclaimed would flow from His belly (see John 7:37–39), some have seen it as representing the promised spirit that would flow from Jesus to His believers. While being hanged on a tree was a sign that one was accursed by God (see Deuteronomy 21:2–23), the flowing water, necessary for purification under the Mosaic system, was a sign that rather than being a curse Jesus was in fact a source of blessing, and this water resonates with the water used in both baptism and the washing of feet.
Perhaps more consistent with the symbolism elsewhere in John is the idea that water represents life, and not just mortal life but everlasting life (see John 4:14; 7:37–38). In this case, the flowing of blood and water from Jesus’ side powerfully represents not only what Jesus did—the blood atoning for sins while the water purifies or cleanses the sinner—but perhaps even more significantly who He was. Due to His mortal inheritance from His mother, Mary, represented by the flowing blood, Jesus was able to lay down His life as a sacrifice for sin. Because of His divine, immortal inheritance from God, His Father, represented by the stream of water, He was able to take His life up again and become a source of eternal life. Just as Old Testament visions featured rivers of healing, life-giving water issuing from millennial Jerusalem and its temple, or the place of sacrifice (see Ezekiel 47:1–12; Zechariah 14:8), so now living waters flow from Jesus on the cross. In this view, the cross, a dead tree and sign of cursing, becomes a source of blessings as a new Tree of Life, as it was sometimes depicted in later Christian art—an image consonant with Book of Mormon visions of the love of God, best manifest in Christ and His sacrifice, portrayed as a fountain of living waters and a tree of life, the fruit of which was eternal life, the most precious of the gifts of God (see 1 Nephi 11:22–25; 15:36; D&C 14:7).
The sacrifice of the Paschal Lamb differed from many other sacrifices in that it was not explicitly an offering for sin—rather it was intended to ward off death, perhaps explaining in John the emphasis not just on forgiveness of sins but on new life. But while those who placed the blood of the lambs on their doorposts on the first Passover were spared, they continued not with new life but with the same kind of life that they had before. Significantly the blood of the Lamb of God on the cross was accompanied by water, suggesting the new life that would come to the believers. As Jesus had taught, “I am come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly” (John 10:10). While Jesus certainly deepens and enriches mortality for those who follow Him, a deeper significance to this passage lies in seeing it as a reference to the eternal life—knowing and living eternally with God and Jesus Christ whom He has sent (see John 17:3)—that comes from the Lamb of God.
Hendrick Goltzius, "Christ on the Tree of Life," 1610
 From Eric D. Huntsman, “The Lamb of God: Unique Aspects of the Passion Narrative in John,” Behold the Lamb of God: An Easter Celebration (Provo: Religious Study Center, 2008), 62–64.
Reflection: Why the Cross?
In most Christian traditions the experience on the cross has become central to the expressions of their faith in what Jesus did for us. For them it is not purely a symbol of death, particularly in the Protestant tradition, where the cross reminds them of what Christ did for them but it is empty, because he has risen and is no longer there. In the LDS community we have become somewhat chary of cross imagery, partially because of our understandable focus on a living Christ rather than a crucified Christ but also simply because the early members of the Church in the New York and Ohio periods came out of a fairly Puritan Protestant background that was largely aniconographic (avoided images). In 1975 President Hinckley addressed the issue of such symbolism in an important address that is being reprinted in the April 2005 Ensign, where he points out that the greatest symbol of Christ is found in the lives of his people. Indeed, we are charged to bear his image in our countenances and hold up his light in the examples of our lives (Alma 5:14; 3 Nephi 18:16b, 24).
Carl Bloch, "The Crucifixion," 1865-79.
Nevertheless, although we do not use the symbol of the cross, we remember weekly what happened there, as revealed by the texts of virtually all of our sacrament hymns, which focus on the final act of Calvary and not as much on Gethsemane. Jesus did not just bear our sins . . . he did not just suffer for them . . . he died for them. As President Hinckley has noted,
" . . . no member of this Church must ever forget the terrible price paid by our Redeemer who gave his life that all men might live—the agony of Gethsemane, the bitter mockery of his trial, the vicious crown of thorns tearing at his flesh, the blood cry of the mob before Pilate, the lonely burden of his heavy walk along the way to Calvary, the terrifying pain as great nails pierced his hands and feet, the fevered torture of his body as he hung that tragic day . . . This was the cross, the instrument of his torture, the terrible device designed to destroy the Man of Peace, the evil recompense for his miraculous work of healing the sick, of causing the blind to see, of raising the dead. This was the cross on which he hung and died on Golgotha’s lonely summit. We cannot forget that. We must never forget it, for here our Savior, our Redeemer, the Son of God, gave himself a vicarious sacrifice for each of us." (Gordon B. Hinckley, "The Symbol of Christ," Ensign, May 1975, 92)
The cross was not just the means of our Lord's death, it was also a symbol of what that death has and will accomplish for us. It is not the Latin or Greek cross of art, or the more realistic scaffolding or upright poles to which crossbeams of various kinds were attached for any number of criminals that is the important symbol. Instead the image of raising Jesus up, like the brazen serpent in the wilderness, is what made this particular kind of death a matter of prophecy. No where is this stated more clearly than by the Risen Lord himself to the Nephites:
" . . . my Father sent me that I might be lifted up upon the cross; and after that I had been lifted up upon the cross, that I might draw all men unto me, that as I have been lifted up by men even so should men be lifted up by the Father, to stand before me, to be judged of their works, whether they be good or whether they be evil--And for this cause have I been lifted up; therefore, according to the power of the Father I will draw all men unto me, that they may be judged according to their works." (3 Nephi 27:14-15)
Likewise, crucifixion left lasting tokens of the Lord's saving act, marks that were used to impart a sure witness that he was the Lord and God of those whom he saved. Although the experience of Thomas after the resurrection does suggest that we should be believing before we receive such assurance (John 19:24-29), Jesus' display of the marks in his hands, feet, and side took on almost ritual significance when he appeared to the Nephites at the temple in Bountiful:
"Arise and come forth unto me, that ye may thrust your hands into my side, and also that ye may feel the prints of the nails in my hands and in my feet, that ye may know that I am the God of Israel, and the God of the whole earth, and have been slain for the sins of the world." (3 Nephi 11:14)
Peter Paul Reubens, The Entombment, c. 1612
Artistic Reflection: The Lamentation
One of the most powerful episodes artistically is one that is not accounted for scripturally. Whereas the gospels agree that Joseph of Arimathea requested the body of Jesus from Pilate and was given permission to bury it, nothing is said of the women who grimly watched the crucifixion except that they followed afar off and saw where the body was laid.
Few more images are more powerful, however, than those based on the theme of the heart-rending despair felt by those who loved Jesus. Works of art often depict Jesus’ mother, Mary, John, the other women, an even angels of the heavenly hosts lamenting over the body of Jesus. No parent who has lost a child—either in actuality or metaphorically—can fail to be moved by images of the Pietà, Mary holding the body of her beloved son.
Michelangelo, Pietà , 1498–99
The Burial of Jesus
Following Jesus' death, Joseph of Arimathea, assisted according to John by Nicodemus, obtained the body of Jesus and buried it in a "new tomb." Nicodemus' involvement in the Fourth Gospel is telling. Sometimes seen as a secret disciple of Jesus or as one who represents those who lacked sufficient faith to support Him openly, he had visited Jesus secretly by night in John 3 and then tried, weakly, to speak for Jesus before the council in John 7:45-53. However, in his third appearance in the Gospel of John at the burial of Jesus (19:38-42), Nicodemus, who earlier had come to Jesus when it was dark, comes out into the light, bringing a kingly amount of spices to assist Joseph of Arimathaea in preparing Jesus= body to be placed in the tomb. Significantly, this occurs after Jesus has been lifted up upon the cross, a fulfilment of a prophecy made by Jesus that He would be lifted up "as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness" (3:14).
Traditionally placed at the site of the Holy Sepulchre, which in the Herodian period was outside of the city walls, many Protestants and most Latter-day Saints instead identify the Garden Tomb outside the current city walls near the site of Gordon's Calvary (which today looks like a skull) as the probable site of Jesus' final resting place. Located in a modern garden, it conveys better the sense of what the tomb and its setting must indeed have been like, and Presidents Lee and Kimball are both on record as having had particularly strong impressions at the site. On the other hand, many archaeologists have noted that the Garden Tomb is actually a much earlier tomb and does not date to the first century. President Hinckley, in his personal remarks preluding the Testimony of the Living Christ that was filmed on the site, has said, "Just outside the walls of Jerusalem, in this place or somewhere nearby was the tomb of Joseph of Arimathea, where the body of the Lord was interred."
Perhaps more exactly similar to the tomb of Joseph of Arimathea is the family tomb of the Herods, which is securely dated to the time of Christ and includes the tolling stone and other features described. Still, the Garden Tomb remains in the hearts and minds the best place for picturing the setting not just of our Lord's burial but also the miracle of his resurrection.
Walter Ranes, Christ Being Taken From the Cross
Carl Bloch, "Burial of Christ," 1865-79.
The Garden Tomb, owned and maintained by the Protestant Garden Tomb Association of London, is a popular alternative to the site of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre because of its peaceful setting and lack of religious paraphernalia.
While archaeology indicates that this particular tomb dates to a much earlier period, the impressions had here by Presidents Lee and Kimball suggest that this is the best place to recreate the spiritual setting of the first Easter.
Fra Angelico, "Christ in Limbo," c.1450.
D&C 138; 3 Nephi 9 and 10
Christian tradition relates the so-called "Harrowing of Hell," wherein Jesus broke the bonds of Adam and Eve and brought them and other Old Testament saints from hell into heaven. Although LDS doctrinal statements do not include statements such as "and he descended into hell" as do the Apostolic and other creeds, Restoration scripture does stress that "he descended below all things" (e.g., D&C 88:6, 122:8).
The real state of the righteous dead before the Atonement of Christ and Jesus' own activities among them during the time that his body lay in the tomb of Joseph of Arimathea were revealed to Joseph F. Smith on October 3, 1918:
"As I pondered over these things which are written, the eyes of my understanding were opened, and the Spirit of the Lord rested upon me, and I saw the hosts of the dead, both small and great. And there were gathered together in one place an innumerable company of the spirits of the just, who had been faithful in the testimony of Jesus while they lived in mortality; And who had offered sacrifice in the similitude of the great sacrifice of the Son of God, and had suffered tribulation in their Redeemer's name.
"All these had departed the mortal life, firm in the hope of a glorious resurrection, through the grace of God the Father and his Only Begotten Son, Jesus Christ. I beheld that they were filled with joy and gladness, and were rejoicing together because the day of their deliverance was at hand. They were assembled awaiting the advent of the Son of God into the spirit world, to declare their redemption from the bands of death. Their sleeping dust was to be restored unto its perfect frame, bone to his bone, and the sinews and the flesh upon them, the spirit and the body to be united never again to be divided, that they might receive a fulness of joy.
"While this vast multitude waited and conversed, rejoicing in the hour of their deliverance from the chains of death, the Son of God appeared, declaring liberty to the captives who had been faithful; And there he preached to them the everlasting gospel, the doctrine of the resurrection and the redemption of mankind from the fall, and from individual sins on conditions of repentance.
"But unto the wicked he did not go, and among the ungodly and the unrepentant who had defiled themselves while in the flesh, his voice was not raised; Neither did the rebellious who rejected the testimonies and the warnings of the ancient prophets behold his presence, nor look upon his face. Where these were, darkness reigned, but among the righteous there was peace; And the saints rejoiced in their redemption, and bowed the knee and acknowledged the Son of God as their Redeemer and Deliverer from death and the chains of hell." (D&C 138:11-23, emphasis added)
President Smith Further related the subsequent missionary work that was organized in the Spirit World:
"But behold, from among the righteous, he organized his forces and appointed messengers, clothed with power and authority, and commissioned them to go forth and carry the light of the gospel to them that were in darkness, even to all the spirits of men; and thus was the gospel preached to the dead. And the chosen messengers went forth to declare the acceptable day of the Lord and proclaim liberty to the captives who were bound, even unto all who would repent of their sins and receive the gospel. Thus was the gospel preached to those who had died in their sins, without a knowledge of the truth, or in transgression, having rejected the prophets. These were taught faith in God, repentance from sin, vicarious baptism for the remission of sins, the gift of the Holy Ghost by the laying on of hands, And all other principles of the gospel that were necessary for them to know in order to qualify themselves that they might be judged according to men in the flesh, but live according to God in the spirit. And so it was made known among the dead, both small and great, the unrighteous as well as the faithful, that redemption had been wrought through the sacrifice of the Son of God upon the cross." (D&C 138:30-35, emphasis added)
The account from 3 Nephi not only provides a powerful picture of the aftermath of Jesus' death in the New World but also contains some powerful teaching by the voice of the Savior himself regarding the effects of his death and resurrection:
"Yea, verily I say unto you, if ye will come unto me ye shall have eternal life. Behold, mine arm of mercy is extended towards you, and whosoever will come, him will I receive; and blessed are those who come unto me. Behold, I am Jesus Christ the Son of God. I created the heavens and the earth, and all things that in them are. I was with the Father from the beginning. I am in the Father, and the Father in me; and in me hath the Father glorified his name. I came unto my own, and my own received me not. And the scriptures concerning my coming are fulfilled. And as many as have received me, to them have I given to become the sons of God; and even so will I to as many as shall believe on my name, for behold, by me redemption cometh, and in me is the law of Moses fulfilled. I am the light and the life of the world. I am Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end.
"And ye shall offer up unto me no more the shedding of blood; yea, your sacrifices and your burnt offerings shall be done away, for I will accept none of your sacrifices and your burnt offerings. And ye shall offer for a sacrifice unto me a broken heart and a contrite spirit. And whoso cometh unto me with a broken heart and a contrite spirit, him will I baptize with fire and with the Holy Ghost, even as the Lamanites, because of their faith in me at the time of their conversion, were baptized with fire and with the Holy Ghost, and they knew it not. Behold, I have come unto the world to bring redemption unto the world, to save the world from sin. Therefore, whoso repenteth and cometh unto me as a little child, him will I receive, for of such is the kingdom of God. Behold, for such I have laid down my life, and have taken it up again; therefore repent, and come unto me ye ends of the earth, and be saved." (3 Nephi 9:14-22, emphasis added)
"Empty Tomb," Interior View of the Herodian Family Tomb, first century AD, Jerusalem.
The Resurrection: Matt 28; Mark 16; Luke 24; John 20:1–18
Because Easter is not a biblical term (and has pagan origins), some suggest that "Resurrection Sunday" would be a better term. The word only appears once in the King James Bible, at Acts 12:4, where is is better translated as "Passover." So significant was the event of that Sunday morning that Christians since have celebrated it as "the Lord's Day," and it has become our weekly sabbath, replacing the Saturday of the Old Testament. Still, for millennia the term "Easter" has come to be synonymous with resurrection, hope, and the joyful refrain "He is risen!"
William Bouguereau, The Three Marys at the Tomb, 1876.
All four gospels begin their resurrection narratives with an account of the empty tomb, preserving the wonder and awe that filled the women who came to the tomb that early morning to find the stone rolled away.
"And when the sabbath was past, Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James, and Salome, had bought sweet spices, that they might come and anoint him. And very early in the morning the first day of the week, they came unto the sepulchre at the rising of the sun. And they said among themselves, 'Who shall roll us away the stone from the door of the sepulchre?' And when they looked, they saw that the stone was rolled away: for it was very great. And entering into the sepulchre, they saw a young man sitting on the right side, clothed in a long white garment; and they were affrighted. And he saith unto them, 'Be not affrighted: Ye seek Jesus of Nazareth, which was crucified: he is risen; he is not here: behold the place where they laid him.'" (Mark 16:1-6)
Eeugen Burnand, The Disciples Running to the Sepulchre, 1898.
Walter Ranes, He Is Not Here
A favorite Easter hymn, "Christ the Lord Is Risen Today," catches the feelings of joy that we share with Christians the world over at the Easter miracle.
Christ the Lord is ris’n today, Alleluia!
Sons of men and angels say, Alleluia!
Raise your joys and triumphs high, Alleluia!
Sing, ye heav’ns, and earth reply, Alleluia!
Love’s redeeming work is done, Alleluia!
Fought the fight, the vict’ry won, Alleluia!
Jesus’ agony is o’er, Alleluia!
Darkness veils the earth no more, Alleluia!
Lives again our glorious King, Alleluia!
Where, O death, is now thy sting? Alleluia!
Once he died our souls to save, Alleluia!
Where thy victory, O grave? Alleluia! (Hymn 200)
The Gospel accounts make it clear that the risen Lord was seen, heard, and felt. To these accounts one can add Paul’s list of post-resurrection appearances in 1 Corinthians 15:3–9 (Peter, the rest of the Twelve, over five hundred, James the brother of Jesus, "all the ‘apostles,’" and, last of all, Paul).
Much later the apostle John, referring both to the reality of the Incarnation and Jesus’ continuing physical reality wrote:
That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon, and our hands have handled, of the Word of life; (For the life was manifested, and we have seen it, and bear witness, and shew unto you that eternal life, which was with the Father, and was manifested unto us;) That which we have seen and heard declare we unto you, that ye also may have fellowship with us: and truly our fellowship is with the Father, and with his Son Jesus Christ. (1 John 1:1–3)
Caravaggio, The Incredulity of St. Thomas, c. 1603.
Each of the resurrection narratives carries beauty and power, confirming our own testimonies that Jesus indeed rose from the dead and lives today. The fact that the first to actually see him were Mary Magdalene, the other women, and the two disciples on the road to Emmaus suggests that all disciples, not just the Twelve, can receive sure testimonies that Jesus lives. Nevertheless, we are grateful for such special witnesses, "to whom also he shewed himself alive after his passion by many infallible proofs [Greek tekm riois, "sure signs" or "tokens"]" (Acts 1:3).
For my final Easter message, however, I want to share the implications of his resurrection for us. Inasmuch as Jesus has overcome death, all shall live again . . . and as the Book of Mormon teaches, all will be restored to a perfect frame with imperfections corrected and challenges overcome (see Alma 11:42–44).
Mounting examples in this life of those who struggle with physical, developmental, and other challenges—including those of my own precious son—have caused me to see a new need for the hope of renewal, rebirth, and healing that are so marvelously illustrated in the reality of the resurrection of Lord Jesus Christ. Jesus’ own resurrection healed hearts as "grief turned to joy":
"A woman when she is in travail hath sorrow, because her hour is come: but as soon as she is delivered of the child, she remembereth no more the anguish, for joy that a man is born into the world. And ye now therefore have sorrow: but I will see you again, and your heart shall rejoice, and your joy no man taketh from you." (John 16:20–21)
The hope of the resurrection continues to heal many grieving hearts as well as bodies, giving new meaning to the prophecy "but unto you that fear my name shall the Sun of righteousness arise with healing in his wings" (Malachi 4:2). Significantly, Jesus’ final commission to the apostles included the important injunction that they go forth not only to teach and baptize (Matt 28:19–20) but also to lay hands on the sick that should recover (Mark 16:18, 20). Certainly part of our discipleship should be that as Christ brought hope and healing, so should we work for these ends in our own small way.
Beyond this, however, is the hope of a glorious resurrection for those who accept him and are true and faithful to the covenants that they make with him. In recent years the death of grandparents, my father, my mother-in-law, and others dear to me has brought new meaning to this Easter message. Because He lives, so shall we . . . accordingly I close with the words of Paul that I shared at Dad's funeral:
"For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so them also which sleep in Jesus will God bring with him. For this we say unto you by the word of the Lord, that we which are alive and remain unto the coming of the Lord shall not prevent them which are asleep. For the Lord himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God: and the dead in Christ shall rise first: Then we which are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air: and so shall we ever be with the Lord." (1 Thessalonians 4:14–17; see D&C 88:95–98)
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