As I mentioned in the past, it’s not out of the realm of possibility that Jesus Christ was crucified on a Wednesday, not on a Friday as Church tradition says. From time to time, as I read through the gospels, then, I try to piece the events of “Passion Week” together. In the process, I’ve come to realize not everything fits in a period of seven days.
In fact, everything Scripture mentions after Jesus’s arrest doesn’t really fit into the small window of time we normally allow. Here’s how we usually hear it: Jesus and his disciples celebrated the Passover in the evening, complete with Christ washing their feet, then went out to the garden.
During the first part of the night, while the disciples slept, Jesus prayed, then Judas showed up along with the arresting Romans and Pharisees. They led Jesus first to the former high priest, then to the current high priest. After scurrilous accusations which couldn’t be proven, the high priest questioned Jesus. At His answer, he found Him guilty of blasphemy.
The next day at day break, to make the finding legal, the Sanhedrin, a group of seventy elders, met together and again declared Jesus guilty.
To sentence Him to death, however, they needed the Roman governor because they didn’t have the power of the death penalty in their Roman-ruled nation. But, blasphemy wasn’t a crime in the eyes of the Romans, so they needed to charge Jesus with something else.
Consequently, they marched Jesus off to Pilate, the governor, and hurled more trumped up charges against Him. Pilate heard the case but declared Him innocent. In the process, however, he learned that Jesus came from Galilee and would therefore be under Herod’s jurisdiction.
As it happened, Herod was in town, so Pilate sent Jesus to him. Herod interrogated Jesus, who didn’t answer his questions, then, after his soldiers had mocked Him, sent Him back to Pilate.
Pilate, under pressure from the Jews, questioned Jesus again and declared Him innocent, but the Jews riled up the crowd. Afraid that a riot would break out, Pilate agreed to let them crucify Jesus.
His soldiers, then, ridiculed Jesus as the King of the Jews, beat Him, and marched Him off to crucify Him.
All by 9 AM the day after His arrest.
I’m no archeologist or Hebrew scholar, so I don’t know how far the meeting place of the Sanhedrin was from Pilate’s palace or how far Pilate was from Herod’s palace or where precisely the Praetorium was where the soldiers beat Jesus or how far they had to travel to get to Golgotha where the execution took place. But I have to say, even if the travel was minimal, it’s a stretch for all those events to have taken place between sun up, when the Sanhedrin could legally meet, and 9 AM when Scripture says Jesus was crucified. The Sanhedrin, Pilate, Herod, Pilate, near riot, soldiers mocking and beating. That’s less than a half hour for each event, presuming, of course, that there was no waiting.
The thing is, I’m pretty sure the timetable for the events of Passion “week” have been based on the words “Sabbath” and “on the first day of the week” which was when the women went to the tomb and found it empty.
But there are other time indicators in the gospel passages–words like Passover, feast, and preparation day.
I’ll start with Passover and feast. For years I struggled with the gospel account because there’s clear testimony that Jesus ate the Passover with His disciples (see for example Matt. 26:20ff, Mark 14:14f, and Luke22:8ff.) However, John 18:28 says during Jesus’s trial, the Pharisees wouldn’t go into the Roman Praetorium because of the Passover–they wanted to stay clean so they could still eat it.
So . . . which was it—a past event or a future one?
I heard one preacher say Jesus and His followers ate the Passover early. Except that’s not what the Bible says. Ever.
The easy answer is found in Numbers 28:16-17 and in the corresponding passages in Leviticus and Exodus: the Passover was followed by seven days of feasting known as the Feast of Unleavened Bread. In fact the book of John records Jesus’s time with His disciples by beginning with “Now before the Feast of the Passover, Jesus knowing that His hour had come that He would depart out of this world to the Father. . .” (John 13:1a).
Passover, then, was to be held on the fourteenth day of the first month. The next day was a holy convocation or special Sabbath and the beginning of seven days of eating Unleavened Bread. The last of those days was also a holy convocation or special Sabbath.
Of course, there was still the regular Sabbath, meaning that there was the Passover, seven days of Unleavened Bread, and at least three Sabbaths.
I wouldn’t be surprised. I think just this little look at this one required celebration gives a feel for how tied the Jews were to ritual and regulation.
But for the purpose of the set of Easter posts I hope to write next week, I’ll conclude with this. The events of Easter happened in real time and involved real people. Our cursory look at what Jesus went through and what different people did doesn’t always gives us the complete picture. Maybe one of the best things we could do this coming Passion week would be to lay aside our suppositions and see what the text tells us.
Does it make a difference in the long run that we might be celebrating things that happened on the wrong days? Probably not. But I tend to think we might have a greater understanding of the people involved and why they did what they did. For me, I also gain more trust in the Bible. I see that the things that looked as if they were contradictory actually have clear explanations. And for those reasons, I think it’s valuable to take a closer look at the events of the Passion of the Christ.