In the introduction to this series of Easter posts, I mentioned that I’ve been troubled when reading the various gospel accounts of the events involved with Jesus’s crucifixion and resurrection.
One of those troubling aspects for me was what appears to be the sudden dramatic reversal of the crowd reaction to Jesus. Especially now as a writer, I like to see that events are properly motivated, and quite honestly, the Big Reversal seemed too abrupt to be explained. Remember, in the traditional way of looking at things, the Pharisees had perhaps an hour or an hour and a half to convince the crowd that the man they’d wanted to crown as the promised Messiah actually should be crucified.
Putting in more time for these events to happen answers a lot of questions, at least for me. With that said, here’s a look at one possible timetable.
Let me reiterate, I’m not a Hebrew scholar. In addition, I haven’t studied ancient calendars. All I’m doing is postulating a way all the events mentioned in the gospels could have happened which would allow Christ’s body to have been in the tomb three days and three nights.
The traditional understanding of what we’ve called “the last supper” seems fairly straightforward. Jesus instructed some of His followers to get things ready for the Passover meal, the first of the eight days of celebration:
Then came the first day of Unleavened Bread on which the Passover lamb had to be sacrificed. And Jesus sent Peter and John, saying, “Go and prepare the Passover for us, so that we may eat it.” (Luke 22:7-8)
Much happened at that meal: Jesus instituted a remembrance ceremony:
And when He had taken some bread and given thanks, He broke it and gave it to them, saying, “This is My body which is given for you; do this in remembrance of Me.” And in the same way He took the cup after they had eaten, saying, “This cup which is poured out for you is the new covenant in My blood. (Luke 22:19-20)
He also outted Judas—or at least made it known that one of the twelve would betray Him. At some point in the evening, Satan entered Judas.
Another important event during this meal was Jesus confronting Peter with the truth that despite his protestations of loyalty, he would deny Jesus that very night.
Amazingly, in the face of doubts and denials and betrayal, Jesus spent a good deal of time talking with His followers about what was about to happen. He also washed their feet, prayed for them, sang a hymn with them, then headed out for a quiet garden where He could pray.
After a time of fervent communion with His Father and a period of ministry by angels, during which His disciples slept, a group of Roman soldiers and a mob from the chief priests, scribes, and elders, led by Judas, came looking for Jesus. His arrest was nearly without incident.
Peter tried to back up his bold words earlier and took a sword to one of the Roman servants. I used to be bothered by the Biblical record that Peter lopped off this guys ear. It seemed so odd. I couldn’t picture how or why Peter would go after the guy’s ear.
Except, the word for sword, machaira means “a small sword, as distinguished from a large sword,” or “large knife,” the kind a person would most likely use to cleave downward. A possible explanation, then, is that Peter intended to cleave this man’s skull in two, but either he wore a helmet which deflected the blow or he moved to evade it. At any rate, his ear took the brunt of Peter’s action.
After Jesus restored Malchus’s ear, his disciples ran off. I imagine the appearance of a sword riled up the soldiers and they wanted a little payback. At any rate, Jesus was alone with the crowd of Jews and Romans who led him off to his first trial.
He actually had three religious trials of a sort and three political trials. That night after his arrest, He faced the first two religious trials.
First He was led to the house of Annas whose son-in-law was the current High Priest. Here’s what Strong’s Lexicon says about Annas:
high priest of the Jews, elevated to the priesthood by Quirinius the governor of Syria c. 6 or 7 A.D., but afterwards deposed by Valerius Gratus, the procurator of Judaea, who put in his place, first Ismael, son of Phabi, and shortly after Eleazar, son of Annas. From the latter, the office passed to Simon; from Simon c. 18 A.D. to Caiaphas; but Annas even after he had been put out of office, continued to have great influence.
I should say he had influence—over his son, then his son-in-law, if not with the other Pharisees.
How long did this phase of Jesus’s trial last? We don’t know. But at some point Annas sent Him to Caiaphas, the sitting high priest. He was the one who had counseled the other leaders that they needed to kill Jesus (John 18:14).
No surprise then, that Jesus faced a series of trumped up charges brought by false witnesses. And yet, they couldn’t get the required number of two to agree.
Caiaphas resorted to another illegal tactic—he directly questioned Jesus. When He answered, Caiaphas declared Him guilty based on the “blasphemy” they’d just heard.
But there were a couple problems. Among the illegal aspects of this trial was the fact that only the Sanhedrin, the group of seventy elders, could determine guilt and only during the day. In addition, Jews, living under the authority of Rome, couldn’t carry out the death sentence. On top of that, blasphemy was not an offense Romans cared about.
Hence, trial number two was not sufficient to accomplish what Caiaphas wanted. There had to be a third religious trial, and then they had to deal with the Romans.