Harry Whittaker
Studies in the Gospels

156. The Chronology of the Last Week *

No documents have been more assiduously studied than those which describe the last week of the Lord's mortal life. Yet, regarding the timing of events differences of interpretation are considerable. So it is needful to remember that dogmatism as to the pattern of events is hardly justifiable.

There are two important issues which will have to be given special separate attention later on. One of these is the question: Was the Last Supper a normal Jewish Passover? On this the balance of evidence will be found to favour the view that it was not. The interpretation that will be argued for is that it was an ordinary supper transformed, by special symbolism which Jesus imparted to it, into a new Passover celebrating a better deliverance than Israel's release from Egyptian bondage. See Study 181.

The other tricky question is: Did Jesus lie in the tomb from Friday to Sunday or for a full 72 hours: "three days and three nights"? Regarding this (and again it is necessary to anticipate the full-length study which will come later), the conclusion reached is that the long-accepted tradition—Good Friday to Easter Sunday—is correct. The alternative view misinterprets Jewish idiom, has to turn a blind eye to one or two of the plainest simplest statements in the gospels, and piles up for itself a whole series of chronological difficulties. See Study 182.

This present study simply aims at summarising the time-table of events during that momentous week preceding the passover.

It was on a Friday that Jesus had his encounter with the rich young ruler; and it must have been late that afternoon when Bartimaeus made his unsuccessful appeal to Jesus as he was entering Jericho. Almost immediately after that: "Zaccheus, today I must abide at thy house" — "must" because in an hour or two the sabbath would begin.

So Jesus spent the Friday and Saturday nights at the house of the chief publican.

On the Sunday morning he set out for Jerusalem. Bartimaeus and his friend were healed of their blindness as Jesus left the city. Bethany was reached by the end of the day. It was at the supper table that night that Mary anointed Jesus and heard the Lord's great commendation. This was now the 10th Nisan, "six days before the passover" (which was eaten on the following Friday evening, the 15th).

Monday morning was taken up with receiving the great crowd of influential Jews who came out to Bethany to see Jesus and Lazarus.

The Lord's trimphal entry into Jerusalem followed in the closing hours of the day (Mk.11 :11). For details why "Palm Sunday" should really be "Palm Monday", reference is invited to Study 155.

After spending the night at Bethany, on Tuesday morning Jesus again went into Jerusalem. This was the occasion of the cursing of the fig tree and the second cleansing of the temple. Time was also spent in the temple court instructing the multitude (Lk.19 :48). Then he returned again to Bethany for the night (Mt.21 :17).

Next day—Wednesday—there was much preaching and disputation in the temple. His authority for cleansing the temple was challenged by the chief priests, and he replied with three incisive parables: the two sons, the vineyard, and the wedding garment. Unable to make any effective reply, "they left him, and went their way" (Mk.12:12).

That night was spent, apparently, in the garden of Gethsemane (Lk.21 :37). There is a certain amount of doubt as to just where the division should be made between Wednesday's and Thursday's activities.

Much of Thursday was similarly spent in the temple. The rulers' conspiracy to defeat Jesus in argument led to the great disputation in which he routed them completely. "And no man after that durst ask him any question" (Mk.12 :34).

Jesus rounded off this encounter with his great denunciation of "Scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites."

The appeal of the Greeks, through Philip and Andrew, that they might see Jesus, marked the end of the Lord's public ministry.

It was in the closing hours of that hectic day (Thursday) that Jesus made his great Olivet prophecy to a handful of his disciples, Immediately after that, after sun-down in the first hours of the 14th Nisan, Peter and John were sent ahead to prepare the upper room.

An hour or two later, Jesus and the rest returned into the city to the upper room. There the Last Supper took place, followed by a return to Gethsemane for the last time.

The Lord was arrested probably about midnight. During the rest of the night he was privately interrogated by Annas and by Caiaphas, then tried before the Sanhedrin, and at first dawn formally condemned.

The next two hours or so (Friday morning) were taken up with his appearance before Herod and his trial by Pilate. Crucifixion tool place at about nine o'clock, and the agony of the Son of God ended at the very time-mid-afternoon—when the priests in the temple court began the slaying of the paschal lambs.

Interment in Joseph's tomb was completed before sundown when the Passover sabbath, which this year coincided with a normal sabbath, began. That Friday evening the multitude of Jews in Jerusalem ate their Passover whilst Jesus lay in the tomb.

All next day, Saturday, a sabbath calm lay on the holy city. Then as the sun set business was resumed. The guard of soldiers was posted at the tomb. The women who had seen Jesus crucified now made their purchases and preparations for further care of his body.

Early next morning, Sunday, Mary Magdalene and the others went to the tomb, as they had planned, only to find it empty. Jesus was already risen. And all the excitement of Resurrection Day began.

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