Jesus’ Final Week As A Mortal
Excerpt: The most significant week in the Christian calendar is upon us. But a careful study of the details in all four Gospel accounts reveals much more than most people realize. Let us examine the details of that pivotal time.
We should begin our examination of Jesus’ final week as a mortal with some background information concerning the way time was reckoned, and the holy day being celebrated in Israel.
A 24-hour day in Israel began at sundown and was divided into segments called “hours” or “watches” (as relates to guard duty). Each “hour” was really a three-hour span, but it was known by its beginning; that is, the “third hour” lasted from 9 o’clock to 12 o’clock, counting from either 6 a.m. or 6 p.m. Going by the position of the sun or moon in the sky made greater precision impractical. But more importantly, the expressions “the third hour” and “almost/about the sixth hour” refer to the same three-hour span, with the latter meaning it was close to the end of that span:
The whole time from the third hour to the sixth, that is, from nine to twelve, was called the third hour; and the whole intervening time from the sixth to the ninth, that is, from twelve to three, is called the sixth hour. John does not say it was the sixth hour, but about or near the sixth hour. So when he says about the sixth hour, and Mark the third hour, we are to understand that Mark takes the whole time of the third hour, from nine to twelve, and that John puts it near twelve. So in either case our Lord was sentenced between the hours of nine and twelve. [David Lipscomb (1831-1917), A Commentary on the Gospel According to John, p. 295-296].
Israel used a lunar calendar, meaning the beginning of a month was marked by the first sighting of the waxing (increasing) crescent moon. Thus the full moon occurred approximately in the middle of the month. The first month of the year was the beginning of spring (our March/April) and was called Nisan (or Aviv/Abib, after the ripening of the barley harvest). This was stipulated by God in the instructions concerning the Passover Festival in Exodus 12.
That passage, which is about commemorating the passing over of the death angel when Israel was enslaved in Egypt, states that a flawless year-old male lamb (or goat) was to be selected for each family on the 10th. It was to be cared for until the 14th, when at twilight all the lambs were to be slaughtered and eaten. This marked the start of a 7-day period beginning and ending with a “sacred assembly” (a.k.a. a special or “high” Sabbath), and all yeast had to be purged from every house for the entire 7 days. The 14th became known as Preparation Day, and the 15th was the actual Passover, though the whole festival was also called the Passover. So regardless of the Gregorian calendar dates, the Preparation was the 14th and the Passover was the 15th.
No work was to be done on any Sabbath except for certain types of food preparation (e.g., Ex. 20:9-10), and people were not to travel (Ex. 16:29). By the time of Jesus the rabbis allowed people to walk less than a mile. So if anyone is said to have worked, done business, or traveled more than a mile at some point in the Gospels, we can be sure that it was not a Sabbath day.
The Feast of Firstfruits (the first day of the week following Passover per Lev. 23:9-16), began a seven-week festival called the Feast of Weeks (Lev. 23:15-22). Firstfruits was known as “one/first of the Sabbaths,” and this phrase in Greek is imprecisely rendered “the first day of the week” in most Bibles. The Day of Pentecost was a feast marking the final day of the final week.
The following is a summary of Commentary on the Gospels from The Gift New Testament, under the sections entitled The Final Week and Post-resurrection to Ascension. It is very detailed and includes a chart that helps to convey the timing of events. The reader is encouraged to go to that link for further detail.
Jesus fulfilled every detail of the Passover observance, but not during the Last Supper. As the sacrificial lamb to which the observance pointed, Jesus was publicly observed/selected at what is called the Triumphal Entry, celebrated traditionally as Palm Sunday. This matched perfectly with the Old Testament instructions cited in the Background. It was during that time that Jesus was anointed for burial by Mary, the sister of Martha. As for the Last Supper, the “upper room” had to be prepared per the command to rid the houses of any trace of leaven (yeast). This was Preparation Day, the day preceding the Passover (references are in the commentary), and remember that each day began at sunset. Thus that evening and all the following day were still the Preparation, while the Passover itself would begin that second evening.
As the commentary explains, this meal was simply a remembrance of what was about to take place. Had it been a ritual or ordinance, Jesus would have given much more detail about its observance. But one significant statement that is often overlooked is when Jesus cited his impending death as the signature of God, in blood, that would enact and validate the new covenant. Everything that transpired before his death would be counted as part of the old covenant, and we must remember that this only applied to Israel, not the church. We must also remember that this fulfilled Daniel 9:26, which states that the Anointed One would be killed, thus ending the 69th of the 70 prophetic weeks.
But of equal significance is the washing of his disciples’ feet. This was an act of the lowest of household servants, and Jesus made it clear that whoever would not take part in this would be unfit to lead his people. This was a powerful object lesson in humility, one that cut across the lines of culture and status. No one was to be put above others, no matter who they were, and in defiance of society’s chains of command. No more would the prominent rule over the lowly, not even these of Jesus’ inner circle of disciples. Instead they were to lead by example, just as Jesus was doing. This is a lesson too many Christian leaders have not only forgotten but opposed.
Now we turn to the issue of timing. Much controversy has always raged over exactly when Jesus was crucified and then risen, but knowledge of the way time was reckoned clears up much of the confusion. As you will recall from the Background, days began at sunset. Scripture states that by the end of the Last Supper it was already late at night, which is why the mob carried torches when they arrested Jesus. Then scripture tells us that it was dawn (halfway through the Preparation Day) when Jesus was brought before the Sanhedrin. His being shuttled between Pilate and Herod took place during the morning, and his sentencing by Pilate took place at around 11 a.m. by modern reckoning. Thus he was crucified by about noon.
The unusual darkness that covered the land lasted from noon to about 3 p.m., and this was when the temple curtain was supernaturally torn in two. And this was when Jesus shouted, “It is finished!”, which in the original language was a legal term meaning “paid in full”. It was also the moment at which the high priest was shouting that same word as the lambs were being sacrificed. This fulfillment of every detail in the Passover ritual was nothing short of miraculous.
After Jesus had been dead for several hours, Joseph of Arimathea took Jesus’ body down from the cross and wrapped it according to the custom, which was strips of cloth with spices and ointments between the layers, and a separate cloth for the head. These details refute any claims that the famous Shroud of Turin was Jesus’ burial cloth. This all had to be completed by sundown, since Passover was a special Sabbath in which no work could be done. This is the point at which the three days and nights Jesus prophesied began. However, it was not until the next daylight that the tomb was sealed and the guards posted. The day after that, an ordinary day, was when the women purchased additional spices and prepared them. Then they were required to rest again on the normal weekly Sabbath.
Remembering once again that each day began at sundown, the first day of the week began on a Saturday evening. And since Jesus was already risen before the women came at dawn on that day, our Sunday, then Jesus had to have risen sometime between sundown Saturday and sunrise Sunday. Please see the commentary for more detail explaining how all of these details solve the mystery of how to reconcile “three days and three nights” with “the third day”. The chart there will also help.
One detail that most people are unaware of is that this particular “first day of the week” was actually the celebration of First Fruits, which was also the day from which the seven weeks to Pentecost were marked off. So even in his resurrection Jesus fulfilled yet another feast in exact detail and timing. The sheer number of such “coincidences”, none of which Jesus or his disciples could possibly have controlled, serve to further bolster the truth of this historical and pivotal event. And it may well be that this day, or perhaps that of his ascension or even Pentecost, will again be a day of resurrection for all who belong to Jesus. May it be so, and may this be the year.
See also this article.