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According to the law, ceremonial defilement could result from touching a dead body, being present when someone dies, entering the home where there is a dead person, walking over a grave, or experiencing certain bodily afflictions or conditions. (Leviticus 14:1-20; 15:1-33; Numbers 19:11-18) To observe the Passover, one had to be ceremonially clean. (Numbers 9:6-14) Therefore, many Jews went to Jerusalem before the Passover in order to fulfill the legal requirements for purification from ceremonial defilement. (John 11:55)
In the temple precincts, these early arrivals began looking for Jesus and talking about him with one another. Among them were those who wondered whether he would even come to the Passover festival. The chief priests and the influential Pharisees in Jerusalem had given the order that anyone knowing Jesus’ whereabouts should inform them, as they wanted to arrest him. (John 11:56, 57)
Six days before the Passover, Jesus and the apostles arrived in Bethany. This village, situated about two miles from Jerusalem, was the home of Lazarus (whom he had raised from the dead), Martha, and Mary. (John 12:1)
Sometime during their stay, Jesus and his disciples were guests in the home of “Simon the leper.” Simon doubtless was a believer whom Jesus had cured of his leprosy, but the designation “Simon the leper” served to distinguish him from the other disciples with the same name. Lazarus was among those partaking of the meal, and his sister Martha served the guests. Their sister Mary had brought with her an alabaster container of costly ointment, one pound of genuine nard. While Jesus and the other guests were reclining at the table to eat, Mary approached Jesus and began pouring the perfumed ointment on his head. After applying it to his feet, she wiped them with her hair. The entire house became permeated with the aroma of the fragrant ointment. (Matthew 26:6, 7; Mark 14:3; John 12:2, 3; see the Notes section for additional information.)
Judas, who would later betray Jesus, appears to have been first to object to what Mary had done, raising the question as to why the ointment had not been sold for 300 denarii and the proceeds given to the poor. (John 12:4, 5) In indignation, other disciples then similarly expressed themselves. They could not understand why the nard had been wasted instead of sold and the money given to the poor. (Matthew 26:8, 9; Mark 14:4, 5)
While the others doubtless were sincere in their expressions about giving to the poor, Judas had ulterior motives. He had been entrusted with the bag or box for keeping the common fund and had been stealing from it. (John 12:6)
Jesus immediately came to Mary’s defense, telling those who objected to leave her alone and not to make trouble for her. He went on to say that she had done a good deed, one that had been undertaken prior to his burial. While there would always be the poor whom they would be able to assist, the disciples would not always have Jesus personally with them. (Matthew 26:10-12; Mark 14:6-8; John 12:7, 8)
According to Mark 14:8, Mary had done “what she could.” This suggests that she perceived Jesus’ life would end and did what she could in view of his future death and burial. He had been very open in telling the apostles what lay ahead for him, and it is unlikely that he would have concealed this information from his close friends. Unlike the apostles who found it very difficult to believe that Jesus would indeed suffer and die, Mary appears to have comprehended his words and acted accordingly.
With a solemn introductory “amen” (truly), Jesus gave the assurance that wherever the glad tidings, or the message about him would be proclaimed, there also Mary’s deed would be related in remembrance of her. (Matthew 26:13; Mark 14:9) The inclusion of this incident in the written accounts has kept the memory of Mary’s anointing of Jesus alive throughout the centuries.
When the news spread that he was in Bethany, many came to see, not only him but also Lazarus whom he had resurrected. Quite a number became believers because of what had happened to Lazarus. Therefore, in an effort to prevent more Jews from believing in Jesus, the chief priests determined to kill Lazarus. (John 12:9-11)
There is uncertainty about when Jesus and the apostles were guests in the home of Simon the leper. The mention of Jesus’ anointing with costly ointment, the objections raised regarding it, and his response provide the basis for concluding that Matthew 26:6-13, Mark 14:3-9, and John 12:2-8 relate to the same event. The account in John 12:2-8 (though unique in identifying Mary as the woman and Judas as the one who raised the objection) does not refer to the house of Simon the leper nor specifically say when in relation to the six days after his arrival in Bethany Jesus and the apostles were guests in the home. In Matthew 26 and Mark 14, the incident is narrated after the mention of “two days” until the Passover. (Matthew 26:2; Mark 14:1)
According to John 12:12-15, the “next day” Jesus, seated on a donkey’s colt, headed for Jerusalem. This could be the day after Mary used the costly ointment. In Matthew and Mark, however, the narrative about the entry into Jerusalem precedes the account concerning the meal in Simon’s home. (Matthew 21:1-11; Mark 11:-1-11)
In view of the mention of “six days” and then the “next day” in John 12, it would appear that a chronological sequence is being followed, which would mean that the words in Matthew 26:6-13 and Mark 14:3-9 are not in chronological order. On the other hand, there is a possibility that (in John 12:12), the “next day” refers only to the day after the chief priests planned to kill Lazarus (John 12:10, 11) and that the incident involving the meal (John 12:2-8) is not in chronological sequence. In that case, the meal in Simon’s home should be regarded as having taken place after Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem.
Mary’s act was an expression of deep love and appreciation for Jesus and what he had done for her and her sister and brother. No words, acts, or gifts could have fully expressed the depth of gratitude Mary must have felt in having her brother brought back to life. The costly ointment, with a value of about a year’s wages (300 denarii, with a denarius being the daily pay for a common laborer), likely was the most precious item that Mary possessed. Whether she had obtained it to anoint Jesus with it or initially bought it for another purpose is not revealed in the account. Jesus’ words indicate that Mary’s use of the ointment was an expression of the full limit of what she was able to do for him in view of his imminent death and burial.
It is generally believed that the source of the nard or spikenard is Nardostachys jatamansi, a plant that grows in the Himalayas. If the nard did come from distant India, this would explain why the ointment had a very high value.
In his Natural History, first-century Roman scholar Pliny the Elder wrote concerning nard: “Of the leaf, which is that of the nard, it is only right to speak somewhat more at length, as it holds the principal place among our unguents. The nard is a shrub with a heavy, thick root, but short, black, brittle, and yet unctuous as well; it has a musty smell, too, very much like that of the cyperus, with a sharp, acrid taste, the leaves being small, and growing in tufts. The heads of the nard spread out into ears; hence it is that nard is so famous for its two-fold production, the spike or ear, and the leaf. There is another kind, again, that grows on the banks of the Ganges, but is altogether condemned, as being good for nothing; it bears the name of ozænitis, and emits a fetid odour. Nard is adulterated with a sort of plant called pseudo-nard, which is found growing everywhere, and is known by its thick, broad leaf, and its sickly colour, which inclines to white. It is sophisticated, also, by being mixed with the root of the genuine nard, which adds very considerably to its weight. Gum is also used for the same purpose, antimony, and cyperus; or, at least, the outer coat of the cyperus. Its genuineness is tested by its lightness, the redness of its colour, its sweet smell, and the taste more particularly, which parches the mouth, and leaves a pleasant flavour behind it; the price of spikenard is one hundred denarii per pound.” (English translation edited by John Bostock and H. T. Riley)
As an ingredient, spikenard was very expensive. Understandably, the ointment containing it would be even costlier.
Bethphage appears to have been located on the eastern slope of the Mount of Olives, close to Bethany. Both in Mark 11:1 and Luke 19:29, Bethphage and Bethany are linked with the conjunction “and” when referring to Jesus as coming to or near “Bethphage and Bethany” at the time of his going to nearby Jerusalem. (Luke 19:28; see the Notes section regarding Luke 19:28.) Matthew 21:1, however, refers only to Bethphage, and it likely was the unnamed village to which Jesus sent two disciples to get a donkey’s colt. The two disciples may have been Peter and John, for they were the ones whom Jesus later instructed to make the needed preparations for the Passover observance. (Compare Matthew 26:17-19; Mark 14:12-16; Luke 22:7-13.)
Jesus told the two disciples that, in the village, they would find a donkey and her colt, which they were to untie and then bring to him. (Matthew 21:2) The accounts in Mark (11:2) and Luke (19:30) only mention the colt on which no one had ever ridden. This may be because the colt was the animal on which Jesus afterward rode into Jerusalem. With the donkey being led or guided, her colt would have followed calmly.
Jesus anticipated that an objection would be raised when the disciples began to loosen the animals. They were then to reply with the words, “The Lord needs them,” and add the assurance that the donkey and her colt would soon be returned. (Matthew 21:3; Mark 11:3; Luke 19:31; see the Notes section for additional comments on Matthew 21:3.) Possibly the owners of the animals were disciples and would have understood that Jesus needed them. Understandably, with their exclusive focus on the colt, the narratives in Mark and Luke give no indication that two animals were involved.
By arranging to have a colt for riding into Jerusalem, Jesus publicly revealed himself as the promised Messiah. This fulfilled the prophetic words of Zechariah (9:9; Matthew 21:4), which referred to the king coming to Zion, “gentle” (praús) and riding on a colt. Jesus did not ride to Jerusalem seated on a horse or a war mount but on an animal used for carrying burdens and performing agricultural labors. This pointed to the peaceful nature of his coming as king, which opened up the opportunity for reconciliation with his Father for all those who believed in him.
In Matthew 21:5, the quotation from Zechariah 9:9 is a condensed version of the extant Septuagint text and, though differing in other respects, preserves the basic thought. The term praús, found in both Zechariah 9:9 and Matthew 21:5, means to be “gentle,” “mild,” “meek,” or “humble.” It is descriptive of an unassuming disposition, the very opposite of the manner in which those who are unduly impressed by a sense of their own importance conduct and carry themselves.
When the two disciples arrived in the village, everything proved to be as Jesus had said. On one of the streets in the village, they found the colt tied near a door. When they untied the colt, bystanders (the “owners,” according to Luke 19:33) asked why they were loosing it. As Jesus had instructed them, the disciples replied, “The Lord needs it.” No objection was then raised, and the two disciples brought the donkey and her colt to Jesus. The disciples placed their garments on the colt and Jesus seated himself on the animal. (Matthew 21:6, 7; Mark 11:4-7; Luke 19:32-35; for additional comments on Matthew 21:7; Mark 11:7, and Luke 19:35, see the Notes section.)
As Jesus headed for Jerusalem, an increasing number of people began to accompany him. Many placed their outer garments on the road ahead of him, and others laid down leafy branches they had cut from nearby trees. (Matthew 21:8; Mark 11:8; Luke 19:36) When word reached Jerusalem that Jesus was coming, a large crowd, with palm branches in their hands, went out to meet him. One of the reasons for doing so was their having heard about his having resurrected Lazarus. (John 12:12, 13, 18)
When Jesus reached the location where the road began to descend over the western slope of the Mount of Olives, his disciples and many others joyfully shouted, “Hosanna,” and acknowledged Jesus as one who came in God’s name (or as representing the Most High) and as being the king of Israel. Among the expressions the extant accounts represent as coming from the lips of those who walked ahead of him and those who followed were, “Hosanna to the Son of David,” “Blessed [be] the one coming in the Lord’s name,” “Blessed [be] the coming kingdom of our father David,” “Blessed [be] the king coming in the Lord’s name,” “Hosanna in the [highest] heights,” and “In heaven peace, and glory in the [highest] heights.” (Matthew 21:9; Mark 11:9, 10; Luke 19:37, 38; John 12:13; see the Notes section regarding “hosanna.”)
These expressions greatly disturbed the unbelieving Pharisees in the crowd. They told Jesus to stop his disciples from acknowledging him as king. He responded that the stones would cry out if they remained silent. (Luke 19:39, 40)
At the time, the disciples did not understand that the prophecy of Zechariah was then being fulfilled. After Jesus was “glorified,” or after his death and resurrection as the one who had conquered the world and had been granted all authority in heaven and on earth, they recalled what had been written in the Scriptures and what had been done when Jesus rode to Jerusalem. (John 12:16)
From the Mount of Olives, Jesus looked at Jerusalem, thought about the future suffering the people would face, and began to weep over the city. If the people had only recognized the things that would have led to “peace” or secured their well-being, they could have escaped the calamities that were certain to befall Jerusalem. As Jesus said regarding the things pertaining to peace, “they have been hidden from your eyes.” Most of the people refused to accept him as the promised Messiah, losing out on the reconciliation with his Father and all the blessings associated therewith. In view of the course the unbelievers would pursue, Jerusalem would be destroyed. Enemy forces would lay siege to the city, surrounding it with a palisade. The people inside the city would experience great distress and be crushed. After capturing Jerusalem, the enemy would raze it to the ground, not leaving a stone upon a stone. All this would happen because the people failed to recognize the time of “visitation.” (Luke 19:41-44; see the Notes section regarding what Josephus wrote about the siege and destruction of Jerusalem.) The Son of God was then in their midst, and the time had come for seizing the opportunity to gain an approved standing with his Father, the one whom he represented.
When Jesus rode into Jerusalem, the inhabitants of the city were stirred up, and they asked, “Who is this?” “The prophet Jesus from Nazareth of Galilee,” came back the reply from the crowd that had accompanied him. (Matthew 21:10, 11) Among them were persons who had been present when Jesus resurrected Lazarus, and they added their testimony about what they had witnessed. (John 12:17) Seeing the multitude around Jesus, the unbelieving Pharisees were at a loss as to what they could do, saying to one another that the “world has gone after him.” (John 12:19)
After entering Jerusalem, Jesus headed for the temple and there looked around the entire precincts. It was then late in the day, and Jesus returned to Bethany with the twelve apostles and probably stayed for the night at the home of Lazarus, Martha, and Mary. (Mark 11:11)
In the condensed narrative, Luke 19:28 mentions only Jesus’ going up to Jerusalem. The events that took place between the time Jesus related the parable about the minas (Luke 19:11-27) and his entering Jerusalem on a donkey’s colt (Luke 19:29-44) are not included.
Matthew 21:3 could be translated to mean that the one who raised the objection would then send the animals immediately. A number of translations make this explicit. “If anyone asks why you are doing that, just say, ‘The Lord needs them.’ Right away he will let you have the donkeys.” (CEV) “If anyone says anything to you, answer, ‘The Master needs them’; and he will let you have them at once.” (REB) “And if anyone says anything, tell him, ‘The Master needs them’; and then he will let them go at once.” (GNT, Second Edition) Mark 11:3, though, specifically indicates that the Lord would return the colt. So, in Matthew 21:3, it appears preferable to regard the Lord as doing the sending or sending back. “The Master needs them and will send them back at once.” (NJB) “The Lord needs them and will send them back immediately.” (NRSV, footnote)
Mark 11:5 indicates that bystanders asked the disciples about their loosing the colt, whereas Luke 19:33 says that the owners did so. Possibly the owners were among the bystanders, or the bystanders and the owners may be understood as designating the same persons.
According to the oldest extant manuscripts of Matthew 21:7, the disciples placed their garments on the donkey and her colt, and Jesus seated himself on “them.” It is inconceivable that he sat on two animals as he rode into Jerusalem. So it would appear that “them” refers to the garments. In his expanded translation, Kenneth Wuest, for example, added “the garments” in brackets. Perhaps because the disciples did not know which animal Jesus would ride, they placed their garments on both of them.
A number of later manuscripts use the singular pronoun, indicating that Jesus sat on the colt on which the disciples had placed their garments. This reading would harmonize with Mark 11:7 and Luke 19:35, but there is insufficient manuscript evidence to establish that this is representative of the original text of Matthew 21:7.
The expression “hosanna” means “help, I pray,” “save, I pray,” or “save, please.” If regarded as an exclamation of praise, the words “hosanna in the [highest] heights” may denote “praise be to the Most High.” Luke 19:38, when introducing the expressions of the disciples, does refer to their joyfully praising God concerning all the works of power they had seen. Another possibility is that the words “hosanna in the [highest] heights” serve as an appeal for the angelic hosts to share in joyfully crying out, “Hosanna!” In that case, “hosanna” (linked, as it is, to Jesus) could convey a meaning comparable to “God save the Son of David.”
Luke’s account does not include the term “hosanna” but concludes with an expression of praise that would have been more understandable to non-Jews, “In heaven peace, and glory in the [highest] heights.” (Luke 19:38) It appears that the exclamation, “In heaven peace, and glory in the [highest] heights,” parallels the words, “Hosanna in the [highest] heights,” which words appear as the concluding expression in Matthew 21:9; Mark 11:10.
The crowd that acknowledged Jesus as the “Son of David,” or the rightful heir to the kingship in the royal line of Judah, used the words of Psalm 118:26, “Blessed [be] the one coming in the Lord’s [YHWH’s, Hebrew text] name.” (Matthew 21:9; Mark 11:9, 10; John 12:13) Psalm 118 is one of the Hallel psalms with which the waving of the lulab (lulav) is associated during the Festival of Tabernacles. According to the ancient Jewish sources, the palm branch or frond used for the lulab had to be in its unopened state. The Tosefta (Sukkah 2:7; Neusner’s translation) says that it could not be “shaped like a fan.” So it appears likely that the spontaneous response of the multitude was influenced by the joy linked to the Festival of Tabernacles, with the recitation of the words of Psalm 118 being accompanied by the waving of unopened palm fronds.
According to Josephus, Titus, in an effort to bring the protracted siege of Jerusalem to an end, proposed building a wall around the whole city, thereby either forcing a surrender or weakening the defenders by extreme famine. A spirit of competition, coupled with a desire to please their superiors, energized the soldiers, making it possible for them to complete the project in “three days.” Josephus added how incredible it was for something that would normally have required months to finish to have been “done in so short an interval.” (Wars, V, xii, 1, 2)
Commenting on the results of the siege on the people inside the city, Josephus wrote: “Now the number of those that were carried captive during this whole war was collected to be ninety-seven thousand; as was the number of those that perished during the whole siege eleven hundred thousand, the greater part of whom were indeed of the same nation [with the citizens of Jerusalem], but not belonging to the city itself; for they were come up from all the country to the feast of unleavened bread, and were on a sudden shut up by an army, which, at the first, occasioned so great a straitness among them that there came a pestilential destruction upon them, and soon afterward such a famine, as destroyed them more suddenly.” (War, VI, ix, 3)
As for the city, Jesus had said that no stone would be left upon a stone. Describing what happened, Josephus reported: “Caesar [Titus] gave orders that they should now demolish the entire city and temple, but should leave as many of the towers standing as were of the greatest eminency.” The objective of Titus, when preserving a part of the fortification, was to show how well fortified Jerusalem was and thus demonstrate what “Roman valor had subdued.” “For all the rest of the wall,” Josephus continued, “it was so thoroughly laid even with the ground by those that dug it up to the foundation, that there was left nothing to make those that came thither believe [the city] had ever been inhabited.” (War, VII, i, 1)
With his apostles, Jesus left Bethany early the next morning, and he was hungry. On the way, he noticed a fig tree that already had leaves, which would have been early for that time of the year. In the spring, the tree produces the first figs on the previous season’s growth and before it is in full leaf. Therefore, though it was not the season for figs, the leaves on the tree suggested that there would be fruit on it. Therefore, Jesus approached the tree but found no fruit, indicating that it was a barren tree. In the hearing of the disciples, he then said, “May no one ever again eat fruit from you.” (Matthew 21:18, 19; Mark 11:12-14; see the Notes section for additional comments.)
Upon arriving in Jerusalem, Jesus went to the temple with his apostles. He then put a stop to the commercial activity being carried out in the temple precincts. This would have been in the Court of the Gentiles. Jesus drove out all who were buying and selling, and overturned the tables of the money changers and the seats of those who were selling doves. He also did not permit anyone to carry a vessel through the area, thereby preventing people from using the temple courtyard as a shortcut when engaged in common daily activities. To all those who disregarded the sanctity of the temple area, he said, “It is written [in Isaiah 56:7, LXX], ‘My house will be called a house of prayer,’ but you are making it a ‘cave of bandits’ [Jeremiah 7:11, LXX].” (Matthew 21:12, 13; Mark 11:15-17; Luke 19:45, 46; see the Notes section for additional comments.)
When the chief priests and scribes heard what Jesus had done, they were highly displeased and wanted to kill him. (Mark 11:18) This suggests that they may have profited from the exchanging of money and the buying and selling.
According to ancient Jewish sources, there were times when those who sold sacrificial animals charged exorbitant prices. One example of this was when pairs of doves were sold for 25 times above the regular price. (Mishnah, Keritot 1:7) Money changers profited from exchanging coins that could not be used for the payment of the temple tax, contributions for the support of the temple, and perhaps also for the purchase of sacrificial animals.
While Jesus was in the temple precincts, the blind and the lame came to him, and he healed them. Youths in the temple area cried out, “Hosanna to the Son of David,” either meaning “Praise to the Son of David” (NCV) or “Save, please, the Son of David.” The designation “Son of David” identified Jesus as the promised Messiah. It is likely that the children imitated their parents and other adults who had earlier thus expressed themselves. (Matthew 21:14, 15)
When the chief priests and the scribes saw the marvelous things Jesus did, restoring sight to the blind and curing the lame, and heard him being acknowledged as the “Son of David,” they became indignant. They challengingly asked Jesus whether he did not hear what the youths were saying, indicating thereby that they wanted him to stop them. He replied, “Yes,” and then asked them whether they had never read, “Out of the mouth of babes and sucklings you have prepared praise [Psalm 8:3, LXX].” (Matthew 21:15, 16; see Psalm 8, in the Commentary section, for additional information.)
The unbelieving leaders of the nation regarded Jesus as a threat, fearing a potential conflict with Rome. They wanted him dead but were afraid to act, for he astounded the multitude with his teaching. With the crowds being eager to hear Jesus, the influential members of the nation could not find a way to destroy him without precipitating an uprising among the people. (Mark 11:18; 14:2; Luke 19:47, 48; John 11:48)
Among those who had come to the festival to worship were some Greeks. Their not being referred to as proselytes may indicate that they were not such but had come to believe in the one true God. Either on this or another day, these God-fearing non-Jews approached Philip, the apostle from Bethsaida in Galilee, and expressed their desire to see Jesus. Possibly they chose to speak to Philip because of his Greek name, meaning “fond of horses.” It appears that Philip was unsure about what he should do and so first spoke to Andrew about the desire of the Greeks. Then both of them went to Jesus and informed him about this. (John 12:20-22)
Against the backdrop of the desire of the Greeks to see him, Jesus foretold that there would be even greater response to him after his death and subsequent glorification, which would have included his resurrection and ascension to heaven as the one to whom all authority in heaven and on earth had been entrusted. He then said that the “hour” or time had come for the “Son of Man to be glorified.” Illustrating that his death would result in an increase in disciples, he referred to a grain of wheat as dying (or ceasing to exist as just one grain) and thereafter bearing much fruit. If it did not fall on the ground (being sown), it would remain just a single grain. Indicating that he was conveying an important truth, Jesus prefaced his statement with a repetition of a solemn “amen” (truly). (John 12:23, 24)
Suggesting that the resulting increase after his death would be through the activity of his disciples, Jesus called attention to the need for courage. Intense opposition to their activity could even lead to their death. Therefore, the one who loved his “soul” (life), failing to remain loyal to Jesus out of fear, would lose it. The unfaithful one would forfeit his relationship with the Son of God and his Father and thus lose out on the real or eternal life. On the other hand, the person who “hates his soul in this world” or does not make the preservation of his present life more important than loyalty to Christ would be safeguarding it “for eternal life.” Even though the faithful individual may be put to death, he would retain his eternal relationship with the Son of God and his Father. For the loyal disciple, life in the age to come would be certain. (John 12:25)
Those who would serve the Lord Jesus Christ would follow him, heeding his teaching and imitating his example. With reference to the blessing awaiting the faithful servant, Jesus said, “My servant will also be there where I am. If anyone serves me, [my] Father will honor him.” As Jesus returned to the realm above, his faithful disciples would come to be there with him and be honored by the Father as his approved children. (John 12:26)
Seemingly, as Jesus considered what lay ahead for his disciples, he began to think about the suffering and excruciating death he would shortly face. Within himself he sensed a disturbing upheaval, prompting him to say, “My soul is troubled,” and causing him to wonder just what expression he should make. Greatly distressed in spirit, he prayed, “Father, save me from this hour.” If the possibility of being delivered from a dreadful end had been an option, Jesus would have wanted to be rescued. He realized, however, that submission to his Father’s will mattered most. So he immediately added, “But therefore I have come to this hour.” The culminating purpose for his coming to the earth had been to make possible the rescue of the world of mankind from sin and death through his own sacrificial death. As the obedient Son who delighted to do his Father’s will, Jesus turned his attention away from himself and prayed, “Father, glorify your name.” (John 12:27, 28) It was his Father’s will for him to lay down his life, and Jesus’ prayer was that doing it would glorify his Father’s name (or his Father, the bearer of the name). The glorification consisted of the ultimate revelation of his Father’s love and compassion for humankind. (John 3:16; Romans 5:8-11; 1 John 4:9, 10)
In response to his prayer, a voice resounded from heaven, “And I have glorified [my name] and will again glorify [my name].” (John 12:28) Through the miracles and works of power he enabled his Son to perform, the Father had glorified himself, with many expressing praise to him for the marvelous deeds that brought relief to the afflicted. Then, through his Son’s death and subsequent resurrection, he would once again glorify his name or bring glory to himself. In increasing numbers, believers would thank and praise him.
A crowd of people heard the voice from heaven but they appear not to have understood the words. Some concluded that it had thundered, whereas others thought that an angel had spoken to Jesus. He, however, told them that the voice had resounded for them or their benefit and not for him. (John 12:29, 30)
Through his death in faithfulness, Jesus would triumph over the powers of darkness, ending the tyranny of the ruler of the world who would be unable to restrain anyone from transferring to the realm where God rules through his Son. Therefore, Jesus spoke of the judging or condemning of the world (exposing the world of mankind to be alienated from his Father) and the ejection of Satan, the ruler of this world. (John 12:31)
The effect of Jesus’ being “lifted up” from the earth would be his drawing “all” to him, indicating that people from everywhere would respond to him in faith and accept his having died for them. The expression “lifted up” indicated that he would be lifted up on the implement on which he would be crucified. Understanding Jesus as having referred to his experiencing the kind of death associated with being “lifted up,” certain ones in the crowd expressed the view that the “law” or their holy writings indicated that the Christ would remain forever. So they asked Jesus why he said the Son of Man would be lifted up and who this one is. (John 12:32-34)
No specific part of the Hebrew Scriptures says that the Messiah would remain forever. Possibly based on what they had heard about the coming Messiah, they came to this conclusion. Psalm 89:36(37) did point to the permanence of rule in the line of David, and Daniel 7:13, 14 portrays someone “like a son of man” being granted eternal dominion, and it may be that such passages provided a basis for the belief that the Messiah or Christ would remain forever.
The Son of God did not answer their question directly. His words, however, should have made it possible for them to recognize that he was the promised Messiah, the one through whom true enlightenment was available. It would only be a little while longer that the “light” (he as the one through whom the light was available) would be among them. Jesus admonished the people to “walk” while they had the light, conforming their ways to what the light revealed, and avoiding the hazards of walking in darkness or without the dependable guidance he provided. Persons who walked in darkness would not know where they were going, placing themselves in danger. At this point, the Son of God clarified that faith in him was essential. “While you have the light, believe in the light, that you may become sons of light.” (John 12:35, 36)
All who put faith in Jesus came into possession of true light, for acting in harmony with his example and teaching made it possible for them to have his Father’s approval and to conduct themselves aright. As persons fully enlightened and conducting themselves accordingly, they would be able to testify concerning God’s Son, imparting light or enlightenment to others. Thus, through their conduct and testimony, they would prove to be “sons of light.”
At this point, Jesus left and concealed himself from the unbelieving people. This suggests that he recognized that his life was in danger, but it was then not the time for him to give up his life. (John 12:36)
Although Jesus had performed many “signs” or miracles, the people did not believe in him. In their case, the words of prophet Isaiah were fulfilled, for they manifested the same unresponsiveness to Jesus as did their forefathers to Isaiah and the message he proclaimed. “Lord [LXX, but not in the extant Hebrew text], who has believed our message? And to whom has the arm of the Lord [YHWH, Hebrew text] been revealed?” (Isaiah 53:1, LXX; John 12:36-38)
The implied answer is that the message (or the word of which the Most High was the source and, therefore, of what Isaiah and Jesus had heard from him) was not believed. Although God had revealed his “arm” or his activity and power, the contemporaries of Isaiah and of Jesus generally remained blind to it. The reason for their unbelief is set forth in Isaiah 6:10, “He has blinded their eyes and hardened their heart [mind], that they may not see with their eyes and perceive with their heart [mind], and they change [literally, turn], and I would heal them.” (John 12:39, 40; see the Notes section for additional comments.)
According to John 12:41, “Isaiah said these things because he saw his glory and spoke about it.” The prophet did have a vision of the glory of God after which he said, “My eyes have seen the King, YHWH of hosts.” (Isaiah 6:1-5) Being the perfect reflection of the Father or his very image, the Son possessed the glory that Isaiah saw in vision. (John 1:14; Colossians 1:15; Hebrews 1:3) Isaiah also spoke prophetically concerning him. (Isaiah 9:6, 7; 53:1-12) Accordingly, the words of Isaiah could be represented as spoken by one who saw Christ’s glory and whose experience with unbelief to the message from the Most High found its exact parallel or fulfillment in the case of Jesus. The Father did not prevent the people from choosing to remain blind and refusing to believe and change. Consequently, he is represented as blinding their eyes and hardening their heart.
Nevertheless, not all of the people remained unresponsive. Even among the prominent ones (“rulers”) of the nation, there were those who believed. But, at the time, because of the unbelieving Pharisees, they did not openly acknowledge him as the Christ, not wanting to be cast out of the synagogue. They were more concerned about maintaining their honorable standing in the Jewish community (“the glory of men”) than about glorifying God by honoring his Son. Thus they revealed themselves to be persons who loved “the glory of men more than the glory of God.” (John 12:42, 43; see the Notes section for additional comments.) The expression “glory of God” could (as commonly rendered) mean the glory he bestows on those who put faith in his Son, accepting them as his beloved children.
It appears that before Jesus went into hiding he raised his voice, telling the people of the need to put faith in him. Anyone who believed in him would also be believing in the one who had sent him. Likewise, whoever saw him, recognizing him as the unique Son of God, would see the one who had sent him, for Jesus perfectly reflected his Father. No one who believed in him would remain in darkness, for Jesus had come as “light into the world,” making it possible for individuals to have his Father’s approval and to have the essential guidance for conducting themselves aright as his children. (John 12:44-46)
Jesus did not come to judge or condemn those who heard his words but did not heed them. His mission was to save the world of mankind, not to condemn it, opening up the opportunity for all to change their ways, become his disciples and his Father’s beloved children, and be liberated from sin and thus saved from condemnation. There would, however, be a basis for judgment or condemnation in case of individuals who disregarded Jesus and refused to accept what he said. “On the last day” or at the time of judgment, the “word” he had spoken would serve as judge, condemning those who deliberately rejected it. This would be because the Father was the source of Jesus’ teaching. The Son did not speak of his own but spoke only what his Father had commanded him to speak. Regarding his Father’s commandment, Jesus said, “I know that his commandment is eternal life.” (John 12:47-50) Obedience to that “commandment,” which included putting faith in the Son, would result in having an approved relationship with him and his Father, and that enduring relationship constitutes the real or eternal life. (John 17:3)
Because of what he knew about his Father’s commandment, Jesus did not in any way depart from it in his teaching. He expressed only what his Father had told him. (John 12:50)
In the evening, Jesus left Jerusalem. He and the apostles then stayed in Bethany for the night. (Matthew 21:17; Mark 11:19)
In Matthew 21:19, Jesus is represented as saying that the fig tree should never again bear fruit. Mark 11:14 conveys the same basic thought but focuses on no one’s ever again eating from its fruit. While the wording is different (being expressed in a language other than the one Jesus spoke), both passages are in agreement that the fig tree should never again bear fruit.
According to Matthew 21:19, the fig tree withered instantly. Mark 11:20, however, indicates that it was early the next morning that the apostles saw that the fig tree had already withered. So it appears that Matthew 21:19 either means that the fig tree immediately started to wither but that the process could not initially be seen or that the withering occurred in such a short time that it could be spoken of as having taken place at once.
In Mark 11:17, the quotation from Isaiah 56:7 is longer, “My house will be called a house of prayer for all the nations.”
The words in John 12:40 are not an exact quotation from the extant Septuagint text of Isaiah 6:10 nor from the extant Hebrew text. The Septuagint reading represents the unresponsiveness of the people as being their choice (“they have shut their eyes”). In the Masoretic Text and also the Dead Sea Scroll of Isaiah, the words are a directive to Isaiah (“shut their eyes”). In the Scriptures, whatever takes place by God’s permission is commonly attributed to him. Therefore, the way in which Isaiah 6:10 is quoted in John 12:40 and applied preserves the basic meaning.
Possibly the “rulers” mentioned in John 12:42 included Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus who later did identify themselves as disciples.
On the way to Jerusalem the next morning, the fig tree that Jesus had cursed the day before was dried up from the roots. As they passed by on the road, the apostles were surprised to see this and wondered how this could have happened so soon. Peter appears to have been the first one to speak up, “Lord, look, the fig tree you cursed has dried up.” (Matthew 21:20; Mark 11:20, 21)
In his reply, Jesus stressed the need for faith in God. Prefacing his comments with a solemn “amen” (truly), he directed attention to the power of faith. If they had faith and did not doubt, the apostles would be able to do what Jesus had done to the fig tree and, in fact, even more. He continued, “If you say to this mountain, ‘Be lifted up and tossed into the sea,’ it will occur.” (Matthew 21:21) In Mark 11:23, Jesus is represented as using a more detailed qualifying statement, “If [the person] does not doubt in his heart but believes that what he says will happen, it will be [so] for him.” In their hearts or their inmost selves, the apostles should have the firm conviction that God would answer their prayers. They would come to have whatever they prayed for in faith. Their appeal should be with the kind of certainty reflective of their already having received whatever they requested. (Matthew 21:22; Mark 12:24) Prayers, expressed in faith, would of necessity have to be in harmony with God’s will, as nothing that is opposed to his will is compatible with faith in him.
Besides having faith in God as the hearer of prayer, all who appeal to him should also maintain a forgiving spirit. Jesus told the apostles that when they stood to pray, they should forgive what they might have against anyone. The heavenly Father would then also forgive them their trespasses. (Mark 11:25) Numerous later manuscripts add, “But if you do not forgive, neither will your Father who [is] in the heavens forgive your trespasses.” (Mark 11:26; these words [which parallel Matthew 6:15] are missing in numerous modern translations because they are not found in the oldest extant manuscripts as well as many others.)
It may be noted that letting go of resentment and anger when being transgressed against may appear as difficult as moving a mountain out of one’s way. With faith in God, however, it can be done. For the apostles, the drying up of the fig tree provided an object lesson regarding the power of faith.
By implication, the withering of the fig tree also revealed that there are serious consequences for not believing. In the case of the nation of Israel, faith in God should have led to accepting his Son. When the “time of visitation” arrived for Jerusalem and so also for the people for whom the city with its temple was the place of worship, Jesus did not find the fruit of faith among the prominent ones and those who followed their lead. Like the barren fig tree, the people had showy leaves, observing the traditions and the ritualistic aspects of worship at the temple. But the fruit that counted—the faith that would have moved them to accept Jesus as the Son of God and to become his loyal disciples—was lacking. Accordingly, just as the fig tree had dried up, they would face serious adverse judgment. (Compare Luke 19:41-44.)
If not then, the apostles later must have recalled Jesus’ earlier parable about the barren fig tree and the effort to save it from being cut down as useless. (Luke 13:6-9) That parable had specific application to the nation of Israel and the opportunities extended to it to be found divinely approved and to escape adverse judgment for failing to bear fruit to God’s praise.
Arriving in Jerusalem, Jesus and the apostles went to the temple, where he began to teach and proclaim the good news (which likely included the message about how to become part of the realm where his Father is Sovereign). The chief priests, scribes, and elders of the nation approached him, demanding to know by what authority he acted (likely referring to his driving out those who conducted commercial activities in the Court of the Gentiles) and who had granted him this authority. (Matthew 21:23; Mark 11:27, 28; Luke 20:1, 2; see the Notes section regarding Matthew 21:23.)
Jesus told them that, if they answered one question for him, he would let them know about his authority. “The baptism from John—from where was [it], from heaven or from men?” They realized that, if they said, “From heaven,” he would ask them why they did not believe John. If, however, they said, “From men,” they feared this would lead to trouble from the multitude. The unbelieving leaders knew that the people considered John to have been a prophet. So, if their answer discredited him, the people could have become so enraged as to resort to stoning them. Realizing that they could not give either answer without creating a problem for themselves, the prominent ones said, “We do not know.” Therefore, the Son of God said that he would not tell them by what authority he acted. (Matthew 21:24-27; Mark 11:29-33; Luke 20:3-8)
The Parable of the Two Sons (Matthew 21:28-32)
By means of a parable, Jesus then had those who did not believe in him condemn themselves. He started with a question, “What do you think?” A man asked one of his two sons to go to work in the vineyard that day. The son refused to do so, but later regretted his decision and actually did labor in the vineyard. When approached with the same request, the other son agreed to labor in the vineyard but then did not do so. “Which of the two,” Jesus asked, “did his father’s will?” They answered, “The first.” (Matthew 21:28-31; see the Notes section for additional comments.)
Applying the point of the parable, Jesus told the unbelieving leaders of the nation that the tax collectors and the prostitutes were going ahead of them into God’s kingdom. John the Baptist had come to them in the “way of righteousness” or had called to their attention the divinely approved way of life. But, as Jesus said to the prominent ones, “You did not believe him, but the tax collectors and the prostitutes did believe him.” Even though the leaders witnessed this development, they did not have a change of mind and believe John. (Matthew 21:32)
Tax collectors and prostitutes were among those who responded to John’s proclamation, repenting of their sins and submitting to water baptism. By abandoning their wrong course, they demonstrated themselves to be like the son who initially refused to work in the vineyard but afterward had a change of heart and complied with his father’s request. They did what was required to be part of the realm where God is Sovereign.
The ones whom Jesus addressed represented themselves as agreeing to do God’s will but then failed to do so. They disregarded John as God’s prophet and rejected Jesus, the one who had come from God and imparted his teaching. Thus they kept themselves out of the kingdom of God, the realm where his loyal subjects acknowledge his Son as the king whom he has appointed.
The Parable of the Evil Vinedressers (Matthew 21:33-46; Mark 12:1-12; Luke 20:9-19)
The Son of God then asked the people to listen to another parable. A man planted a vineyard, encircled it with a fence (a stone wall or a thorny hedge), dug out a wine press, built a tower (where a watchman would be stationed to guard against loss from thieves or wild animals), contracted it out to vinedressers, and left the country for some time. At harvesttime, he sent his slaves to obtain his share of the grapes. The vinedressers beat up one of the slaves, another one they killed, and still another slave they stoned. The vineyard owner sent a larger group of slaves, and the vinedressers likewise mistreated and killed them. Finally, the man sent his own son, believing that they would respect him. When the vinedressers saw him, they determined to kill him and thereby come into possession of the vineyard. They seized the son, cast him out of the vineyard, and killed him. Jesus then asked what the owner, upon his arrival, would do to these vinedressers. They replied that the evil men would be destroyed and the vineyard would be contracted out to others who would give him his due share of the grapes at harvesttime. (Matthew 21:33-41; Mark 12:1-9; Luke 20:9-16; see the Notes section for additional comments.)
In the parable, the owner of the vineyard represents the Most High; the vineyard, the nation of Israel; the tenant vinedressers, the leaders of the people; the slaves, the prophets who were mistreated and killed; and the son, Jesus. The people, including the chief priests, scribes, and elders, doubtless were familiar with the words of Isaiah (5:1-7), which identified the “house of Israel” and the “people of Judah” as YHWH’s vineyard and revealed the severe punishment for failing to produce fruit in the form of justice and uprightness. According to Luke 20:16, the listeners appear to have discerned the implication of ruin for the nation, prompting them to say, “May it not occur” (basically meaning “God forbid!”).
Applying the parable, Jesus asked the hearers whether they had never read in the Scriptures, “The stone that the builders rejected has come to be the head of the corner; this has come to be from the Lord, and it is amazing in our eyes.” The leaders of the nation, like the builders of the parable, had rejected Jesus like a stone unfit for their purposes. His Father, however, decreed for him to be highly exalted like the most important stone, the “head of the corner.” In the eyes of God’s servants, the reversal from being rejected to being granted unparalleled honor is something truly marvelous. (Matthew 21:42; Mark 12:10, 11; Luke 20:17)
Continuing, Jesus told those listening to him that the kingdom of God would be taken away from them and given to a nation producing its fruit. The one who fell on the rejected stone would be shattered and the one upon whom this stone fell would be crushed. For those who persisted in unbelief, Jesus would prove to be like a large stone in their way, over which they would stumble, leading to their ruin. He would also be like a large boulder that could come crashing down upon them, crushing them completely. As a nation, the Israelites would lose their divinely favored status, and the non-Jewish peoples would be granted the opportunity to become part of the kingdom. Thus another nation or people, by responding in faith, would be given the kingdom that the unbelieving Israelites and their leaders chose to reject. (Matthew 21:43, 44 [the words of verse 44 not being included in all ancient manuscripts]; Luke 20:18)
The chief priests and Pharisees (“scribes,” Luke 20:19) discerned that Jesus had spoken the parable with them in mind. They wanted to seize him, but they feared the multitude who considered him to be a prophet. (Matthew 21:45, 46; Mark 12:12)
Parable of the Wedding Banquet (Matthew 22:1-14)
Jesus related yet another parable, likening the kingdom of the heavens to a wedding banquet that a king arranged for his son. (Matthew 22:1, 2) This parable revealed that there are conditions for being part of the realm where God is Sovereign and where his Son is his appointed king. It also highlights the serious consequences for failing to respond properly or not acting in harmony with divine requirements.
The king sent out his servants to call the invitees, but they did not want to come. He then sent out other servants to tell the invitees that the preparations for the wedding banquet had been completed. Those who had been invited, however, had no interest in being present for the event. They continued pursuing personal affairs, going to their own field or handling business transactions. Others seized the servants, treated them contemptuously, and killed them. (Matthew 22:3-6)
Infuriated, the king sent out his forces to execute vengeance. The armies slaughtered the murderers and burned their city. (Matthew 22:7)
After telling them that the wedding banquet was ready but that the invitees were undeserving, the king instructed his servants to go into the main roads and to invite anyone whom they might find. His servants did so, inviting all whom they found, “both bad and good.” The banquet hall came to be filled with those who reclined on couches to partake of the food. (Matthew 22:8-10)
When entering the banquet hall to see the guests, the king noticed a man who was not wearing a wedding garment. Asked how he had gained entrance without the appropriate attire, the man was speechless, unable to offer any valid reason for his unsuitable clothing. The king ordered him to be bound hand and foot, and thrown out of the illuminated banquet hall into the darkness outside. There in the darkness, he would become aware of his loss and shed bitter tears and gnash his teeth as he vainly tried to control his sobbing. As Jesus said, “There will be the weeping and the gnashing of teeth.” He concluded the parable with the words, “For many are the called, but few [are] the chosen.” (Matthew 22:11-14)
In this parable, the original invited ones represent the people of Israel. To them, the promise had been made that, if obedient, they would come to be a “kingdom of priests and a holy nation.” (Exodus 19:5, 6) With the arrival of the Son of God, they had the opportunity to be part of the realm where he is king by his Father’s appointment. In the parable, this is represented by acting on the invitation to attend the wedding banquet. Through the servants or Christ’s disciples, the invitation continued to be extended, but it was largely ignored, and the disciples were mistreated and even killed. Punitive judgment came through the withdrawal of divine favor and protection. In 70 CE, the Romans completely destroyed Jerusalem.
The disciples of God’s Son continued to extend the invitation, going into the roads or telling the non-Jewish peoples how they could become part of the realm where God is Sovereign. The invitation was extended to “both bad and good,” the “good” being like the godly centurion Cornelius who responded compassionately to persons in need and the “bad” being those whose way of life was by no means commendable. (Acts 10:1-4; 1 Corinthians 6:9-11; Titus 3:3)
At inspection time, all those who are properly identified as being in the realm where God rules by means of his Son will come to enjoy the blessings associated therewith, comparable to being partakers of the wedding banquet. Mere claimants, however, who prefer their own attire rather than complying with the divine requirements for entering the kingdom will lose out. For royal wedding banquets, the invited guests were provided with a garment to wear. Therefore, the man in the parable could be represented as being without excuse for his failure. To be approved, it is not a matter of merely professing Jesus as Lord but it requires a life that harmonizes with that acknowledgment. As Jesus said on another occasion, “Why do you call me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ and do not do what I say?” (Luke 6:46)
In the case of the Israelites, all of them were invited, but few responded. Therefore, in their case, few were chosen. Similarly, when the invitation went out to the non-Jewish peoples, many did not act on it and so did not come to be among the chosen. Still others, like the man without the wedding garment, have not submitted to God’s requirements but have chosen to follow ways that seemed appropriate to them. As indicated by the parable, this would result in severe judgment.
The leading individuals in or the “founders” of a multitude of movements have been responsible for creating their own “garments” of unique doctrines and practices that distinguish them from other denominational and nondenominational bodies professing to be Christian. Within the various religious communities, these doctrines and practices are perpetuated, and the leadership and the loyal membership are pleased with the distinctive “garments,” which in numerous ways do not represent or seriously misrepresent the teaching and example of God’s Son. Thus, many reject the garment offered them, which requires unqualified acceptance of Jesus as Lord and Savior and living accordingly, and prefer their own attire, with its distinctive sectarian label.
Matthew 21:23 makes no mention of the scribes, as do Mark 11:27 and Luke 20:1. In Matthew 21:45, however, the Pharisees are included, and Luke 20:19 refers to the scribes. This suggests that these scribes were Pharisees.
For Matthew 21:28-31, the readings of ancient Greek manuscripts vary, and this accounts for different renderings in translations. One commonly followed Greek text has been translated as follows: “‘A man had two sons; he went to the first and said, “Son, go and work in the vineyard today.” He answered, “I will not”; but later he changed his mind and went. The father went to the second and said the same; and he answered, “I go, sir”; but he did not go. Which of the two did the will of his father?’ They said, ‘The first.’” (NRSV)
A different Greek text of Matthew 21:28-31 reverses the responses of the two sons and provides a corresponding answer to Jesus’ question. This is the basis for the rendering of The Revised English Bible: “‘There was a man who had two sons. He went to the first, and said, “My son, go and work today in the vineyard.” “I will, sir,” the boy replied; but he did not go. The father came to the second and said the same. “I will not,” he replied; but afterwards he changed his mind and went. Which of the two did what his father wanted?’ ‘The second,’ they replied.’”
A comparison of Matthew 21:33-41, Mark 12:1-9, and Luke 20:9-16 reveals variations in the parable about the evil vinedressers. Matthew 21 mentions two groups of slaves and how they were treated, whereas both Mark 12 and Luke 20 are more specific when focusing on the treatment of individual slaves. The vinedressers beat up the first slave and sent him away without anything. (Mark 12:3; Luke 20:10) They beat the second slave over the head, insulted him, and gave him nothing. (Mark 12:4; Luke 20:11) Another slave they killed (Mark 12:5) or, according to Luke 20:12, they wounded the third slave and then threw him out of the vineyard. Mark 12:5 adds that the owner sent out many more slaves, some of whom were either beaten up or killed.
Mark 12:9 and Luke 20:16 do not mention that Jesus requested an answer to his question about what would happen to the evil vinedressers. The answer was obvious from what he had said. Therefore, in Mark 12:9 and Luke 20:16, the substance of this answer is rightly presented as part of the parable.
After hearing Jesus’ words, the unbelieving Pharisees departed and plotted how they could trap him in his speech. (Matthew 22:15) Although strongly disagreeing with the Herodians in their active support of the Herodian dynasty, they allied themselves with them, for they were of the same mind in opposing the Son of God. The Pharisees selected certain disciples (probably younger men whom Jesus would not have recognized) to send to him, and the Herodians must have chosen their own adherents to be included in this group. According to Luke 20:19, the chief priests were also involved in devising the scheme to ensnare Jesus, and the scribes mentioned in that text appear to have been unbelieving Pharisees. The objective was to have Jesus make statements that could be used against him, making it possible to hand him over to the Roman governor for punishment as a seditionist. Those sent pretended to be upright men and sincere questioners. In an effort to throw Jesus off guard, they resorted to flattery. After addressing him as “teacher,” they claimed to know him to be “true,” sincere, or honest, teaching the way of God in harmony with truth, and not being influenced by position or status. (Matthew 22:16; Mark 12:13, 14; Luke 20:20, 21)
Then they raised the question that was designed to trap Jesus. “Is it lawful to pay tax to Caesar or not?” (Matthew 22:17; Mark 12:14; Luke 20:22) They knew how unpopular the payment of taxes was (especially because a foreign power had imposed it), and an affirmative answer would not have gone over well with the people. While a negative answer would have appealed to the masses who hated the Roman system of taxation, it would have made Jesus guilty of promoting sedition.
Fully aware of the questioners’ sinister intent and cunning, Jesus identified them as hypocrites, men who only pretended to want an answer, and asked them, “Why do you test me?” He requested that they show him a denarius (a Roman coin with which tax would be paid and which amounted to a day’s wage for a laborer). After being approached with the coin, Jesus asked them to identify the image and the inscription. They replied, “Caesar’s.” He then told them, “Give Caesar’s things to Caesar, and God’s things to God.” This was not an answer the questioners could use against Jesus, for it required their determining what belonged to Caesar and what belonged to God and following through accordingly. The answer took them by surprise and silenced them, and they left. (Matthew 22:18-22; Mark 12:15-17; Luke 20:23-26)
The Sadducees, unlike the Pharisees, did not believe in a resurrection from the dead. (Acts 23:8) Knowing that Jesus taught that there would be a resurrection, the Sadducees determined to try to make this teaching appear unreasonable. They referred to what Moses had written concerning levirate marriage, which required that the brother of a man who died childless take the widow of the deceased as his wife and father offspring for his brother. They cited the example of a woman who, through the provision of levirate marriage, came to have seven husbands, all of whom died childless. (Matthew 22:23-27; Mark 12:18-22; Luke 20:27-32) Whether this involved an actual case or a hypothetical one cannot be determined from the narrative.
The Sadducees asked whose wife she would be in the resurrection. (Matthew 22:28; Mark 12:23; Luke 20:33) Seemingly, in their view, it would have been unthinkable for a woman to be the wife of seven husbands upon being raised from the dead and, therefore, the idea about a resurrection was problematic and unreasonable.
Jesus reproved them for knowing neither the Scriptures nor the power of God. “The sons of this age,” or humans in the present state of earthly existence, “marry and are given in marriage.” In the age to come, Jesus indicated that there would be a different kind of life, one that existed among the angels, heavenly beings who neither marry nor are given in marriage and who do not die. As persons raised to unending life or “sons of the resurrection,” the resurrected ones would be “sons of God.” Thus Jesus showed that the Sadducees did not know the power of God. They had rejected belief in a resurrection on the basis of only one kind of existence and allowed their narrow view to limit what divine power could accomplish. (Matthew 22:29, 30; Mark 12:24, 25; Luke 20:34-36)
Next Jesus made it clear that they did not know the Scriptures, failing to see indications about future life in words that they professed to accept. He called attention to the incident involving Moses at the burning bush. (Exodus 3:1-6) Moses heard the words, “I am the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.” Jesus added, “He is God, not of the dead, but of the living, for they are all alive to him.” (Matthew 22:31, 32; Mark 12:26, 27; Luke 20:37, 38)
His being the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob confirms an existing and continuing relationship with them as persons. The Most High does not have a relationship with the lifeless elements of the ground to which the three patriarchs had returned long before the revelation to Moses at the burning bush. This enduring relationship confirmed the certainty of the resurrection hope. So sure was it that, to God, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob were living.
Mark 12:27 indicates that Jesus also told the Sadducees that, by denying belief in the resurrection, they were very much in error. Many who had been listening to Jesus’ teaching about the resurrection were astounded, likely because of its clarity and simplicity. (Matthew 22:33) Even certain scribes acknowledged that Jesus had expressed himself well as a teacher. Thereafter the Sadducees did not dare to question him any more, doubtless because of having failed in their attempt to discredit him. (Luke 20:39, 40)
When certain Pharisees heard that Jesus had silenced the Sadducees on the subject of the resurrection, they gathered around him. One of their number, a scribe (a legal expert, according to numerous manuscript readings of Matthew 22:35) approached him with the objective of testing him. This scribe had overheard the interchange with the Sadducees and recognized that Jesus had answered them well. He then asked which was the first or greatest commandment in the law. (Matthew 22:34-36; Mark 12:28; see the Notes section for additional comments on Matthew 22:36 and Mark 12:28.)
In answer, Jesus identified the first commandment with a quotation from Deuteronomy 6:4, 5, “Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God is one Lord [Hebrew, YHWH our God—YHWH (is) one], and you must love the Lord [Hebrew, YHWH] your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.” (Mark 12:29, 30; see the Notes regarding Matthew 22:37.) This commandment stressed the all-embracing nature of love for God, with not a single faculty being omitted.
According to Matthew 22:38, Jesus identified this commandment as “the greatest and first.” Referring to the second one as being like it, he then quoted from Leviticus 19:18, “You must love your neighbor as yourself.” “No other commandment,” Jesus continued, “is greater than these.” (Matthew 22:39; Mark 12:31) The two greatest commandments express the complete intent of the law and the prophets, with love for God and for one’s neighbor or fellow guiding one’s attitude, thoughts, words, and actions. As Jesus said, “On these two commandments, all the law and the prophets hang.” (Matthew 22:40) The law and the teaching that the prophets conveyed are based on love. Therefore, it logically follows that the law and the prophets cannot be rightly understood or appreciated when one lacks love for God and for fellow humans.
The scribe who had raised the question was moved to acknowledge, “Excellent, Teacher, you have spoken in truth, ‘He is one, and there is no one other than he; and to love him with all the heart, and with all the understanding, and with all the strength, and to love [one’s] neighbor as oneself surpasses [in importance] all the holocausts and sacrifices.” Recognizing that he had responded wisely, Jesus said to him, “You are not far from God’s kingdom.” (Mark 12:32-34)
To be in the realm where the Most High is Sovereign requires living a life of love, for love uniquely distinguishes him and expresses who he is. By acting in harmony with the words he had uttered, the scribe would have put faith in Jesus and imitated his love.
The question had not stumped the Son of God. Therefore, no one among the group dared to ask him any more questions. (Mark 12:34)
The scribe’s question is not worded the same in Matthew 22:36 (“Teacher, which commandment [is the] greatest in the law?”) as in Mark 12:28 (“Which commandment is [the] first of all?”). The difference is understandable when one considers that the question was not originally expressed in Greek. Both passages, however, convey the identical thought.
In Matthew 22:37, the quotation is limited to the words in Deuteronomy 6:5. Both Matthew 22:37 and Mark 12:30 include the phrase “with all your mind.” This phrase is not found in extant manuscripts of the Septuagint nor is there any corresponding wording in the Masoretic Text. With the exception of the missing phrase and a different word for “strength” or “might,” the extant text of the Septuagint and the text of Mark 12:29, 30 are the same. Matthew 22:37, in the abbreviated quotation from Deuteronomy 6:5, omits “with all your strength.” The differences in the Greek of Mark 12:29, 30 and Matthew 22:37 are minor and have no bearing on the meaning of Jesus’ words.
While the Pharisees were still in his presence, Jesus asked, “What do you think about the Christ [or Messiah]? Whose son is he?” “David’s,” they replied. “How, then,” said Jesus, “[could] David, by [holy, Mark 12:36] spirit, call him lord, saying, ‘The Lord [Hebrew, YHWH] said to my lord, “Sit at my right hand, until I place your enemies underneath your feet”’?” After having quoted from Psalm 110:1, Jesus asked, “If, then, David calls him lord, how is he his son?” No one among those there could give him an answer. From that “day” or time, no one among the unbelievers dared to ask Jesus any more questions. (Matthew 22:41-46; Mark 12:35-37; Luke 20:41-44; see the Notes section for additional comments.) According to Mark 12:37, the large crowd that heard the interchanges found delight in listening to Jesus.
Being the Son of God, Jesus was greater than David and would be the one who would raise him from the dead. All creation came into existence through the Son. So, even from the beginning, David owed his life to him. Not David, but Jesus is the appointed king in the realm where the Most High is Sovereign. David, upon being raised from the dead, would therefore be among all who bend the knee to Jesus, acknowledging him as their Lord.
In Mark 12:35-37 and Luke 20:41-44, the point about David’s lord is presented in an abbreviated form. Jesus is represented as asking how they [the scribes, according to Mark 12:35] can say that the Christ is David’s son when David, by holy spirit, calls him lord. As in Matthew 22:44, the words of Psalm 110:1 are quoted in Mark (12:36) and Luke (20:42, 43). Luke 20:42 additionally identifies the quotation as being from the “book of Psalms.”
It should be kept in mind that Jesus’ sayings are expressed in a language other than the one in which they were spoken, and the writers’ words convey the substance of what occurred and of what was said. These factors account for the differences in the narratives.
Directing his words to his disciples in the hearing of the multitude, Jesus told them to watch out for the scribes, many of whom would have been Pharisees. In pronouncing “woe,” grief, or distress for the scribes and Pharisees, he called attention to their wrong attitude and practices. (Matthew 23:1, 13; Mark 12:38; Luke 20:45, 46)
It is noteworthy that the first-century Jewish historian Josephus did not hold back from making unfavorable comments about the Pharisees in the time of Herod the Great. He called them a “cunning sect,” and spoke of them as having caused mischief and greatly opposed kings. (Antiquities, XVII, ii, 4) Yet, he, at the age of 19 and after having made an examination of the sects among the Jews (Pharisees, Sadducees, and Essenes), “began to conduct [himself] according to the rules of the sect of the Pharisees.” (Life, 2)
Therefore, the strong language Jesus used should not occasion surprise. Earlier, while a guest in the home of Simon (a Pharisee), he had made some of the same or similar expressions. (Luke 11:39-52)
The scribes and Pharisees had seated themselves on the “seat of Moses,” occupying the position of teachers of the law. When it came to the instruction that was based on the law, Jesus told those who were listening to observe it but not to follow the practices of the scribes and Pharisees. This is because, although teaching what the law said, they did not act in harmony with their words. (Matthew 23:2, 3)
The scribes and Pharisees imposed heavy burdens on the people, loading them down with harsh and unreasonable regulations and restrictions that went far beyond what the Mosaic law outlined. When they saw how difficult their added commands had made it for the people, they did nothing to rectify the situation. As Jesus said, they were unwilling to lift a finger to move the burdens. (Matthew 23:4)
The scribes and Pharisees were chiefly concerned about how they appeared in the eyes of others. The aim underlying all the “works” they performed was a desire to be seen, impressing others with their devotion to God. They used larger phylacteries than their fellow countrymen, and wore garments with longer fringes than the rest of the people. (Matthew 23:5)
In the Dead Sea area, phylacteries dating from either the first century BCE or the first century CE have been found. They are small leather cases measuring between a half inch to one inch and a quarter in length and less than a half inch to one inch in width. Usually, strips of parchment with neatly written minute characters from Exodus (13:1-10; 13:11-16) and Deuteronomy (6:4-9; 11:13-21) were folded to fit into tiny compartments in the small leather cases. If the ancient phylacteries are representative of those commonly used when Jesus was on earth, the ones the Pharisees had were noticeably larger. They also wore garments with larger fringes. According to the Tosefta (Berakhot, 6:25), the phylacteries on a man’s head and on his arm, as well as the mezuzah on his doorpost and the “four fringes” on his garment meant that he was surrounded by the commandments, and these would protect him.
The scribes and Pharisees dressed in fine robes, not in the common attire of workers. They wanted to be greeted respectfully in the marketplaces, to be acknowledged as godly men and called “Rabbi” (literally, “my great one” or “Teacher”), and to be honored with the front seats in the synagogues. These front seats faced the audience and were reserved for synagogue officials and notable guests. At meals and banquets, the scribes and Pharisees desired to recline in the foremost positions on the couches that were arranged on three sides of the table. (Matthew 23:6, 7; Mark 12:38, 39; Luke 20:46)
Jesus told his disciples that no one among them should be called “Rabbi,” for they had only one teacher (Jesus himself). All of them were brothers, indicating that no one was to lift himself up as being of superior rank. As brothers, they were not to call any man among them “father.” They had only one Father, the heavenly one. The disciples were not to call any individual their “instructor,” for they had only one instructor, the Christ. To him alone, they were to look for direction and guidance. The greatest among them would be identified by his being a servant, laboring among them in a loving and unassuming manner. To impress upon the disciples the importance of conducting themselves like lowly servants, Jesus said, “The one who exalts himself will be humbled, and the one who humbles himself will be exalted.” (Matthew 23:8-12)
When pronouncing “woe” for the scribes and Pharisees, Jesus called them “hypocrites.” They were like actors on a stage who played a role but whose face was hidden by a mask. Their true identity was concealed by an outward appearance of piety. Instead of helping fellow Jews to be in a state of preparedness to be part of the realm where God is Sovereign, they shut them out of the “kingdom of the heavens.” This they did by maligning and opposing Jesus, the one whom his Father had appointed as king. They created a climate of fear and intimidation, making it difficult for others to put faith in Jesus. The unbelieving scribes and Pharisees refused to go into the kingdom. By their attitude, words, and actions, they cowed others into fearfully holding back from becoming Jesus’ disciples. (Matthew 23:13)
Many later manuscripts include another pronouncement of woe (Matthew 23:14) that is found in Mark 12:40 and Luke 20:47. Jesus denounced the scribes and Pharisees for devouring the houses of widows and making a pretense with long prayers. Writing regarding certain Pharisees during the reign of Herod the Great, Josephus referred to them as men “who valued themselves highly” for being skilled “in the law of their fathers” and made others believe that God had “highly favored” them. (Antiquities, XVII, ii, 4) The strong language Jesus used suggests that they influenced widows to give of their resources to a degree that jeopardized their livelihood. The long prayers would have served to impress these widows, prompting them to respond to the scribes and Pharisees as men whom God highly favored.
The scribes and Pharisees insisted on observing the tradition of the elders, which led to undue stress on appearances. In the Tosefta (Berakhot, 3:20), mention is made of Haninah the son of Dosa who, though bitten by a poisonous lizard, continued to pray. His students reportedly later found the lizard dead at its hole.
For what they did to widows, influencing them in ways that meant loss instead of compassionately looking out for their welfare, the scribes and Pharisees would face a more severe divine judgment than would others for their wrongs. (Mark 12:40; Luke 20:47)
“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites,” Jesus continued. They crossed land and sea, doing everything possible, to make one proselyte or convert. That convert would then be worse off than before, coming to be twice as much a “son of Gehenna” than they were. (Matthew 23:15) As a convert, he would be even more rabid than they in his attachment to the traditions that nullified God’s law and be even less inclined to put faith in Jesus. For the proselyte, there would be an even greater likelihood of grave loss. As a person whom God rejects, he would be thrown into Gehenna or tossed like a carcass unfit for burial into a dump where fires burn continually and maggots feed on whatever the flames do not consume. (Isaiah 66:24)
Again pronouncing “woe” or grief for the scribes and Pharisees, Jesus called them “blind guides.” They provided others with the wrong direction that, when followed, contributed to spiritual ruin. An example of this involved their teaching about oaths. They maintained that a person who swore by the sanctuary was not bound by the oath, nor was one who swore by the altar. If, however, he swore by the gold of the sanctuary or the offering on the altar, the oath was binding. With questions, Jesus exposed them as being senseless and blind. “Which is greater, the gold or the sanctuary that sanctifies the gold?” “Which is greater, the gift [offering] or the altar that sanctifies the gift?” Summing up the right view of oaths, Jesus continued, “He who swears by the altar swears by it and everything on it, and he who swears by the sanctuary swears by it and by him who dwells in it [by God whose temple it was], and he who swears by heaven swears by the throne of God and by him who is seated on it.” (Matthew 23:16-22)
Ancient Jewish sources indicate that not all formulas used in swearing had the same binding force. According to the Tosefta (Shebuot, 2:16), he who referred to himself as being subject to an oath “by the Torah” was liable, whereas one who said “by heaven” was exempt.
Verses 23, 25, 27, and 29 of Matthew 23 start Jesus’ denouncement with the words, “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites.” His exposure is not focused on their beliefs or doctrines but on the serious flaws of their inner life.
They tithed mint (an aromatic plant), dill (a plant of the carrot family, the aromatic seeds of which are used for seasoning), and cummin (also a plant of the carrot family having aromatic seeds that are used for seasoning), but they “neglected the weightier matters of the law,” justice, mercy, and faith. (Matthew 23:23)
Ancient Jewish sources set forth many rules about tithing. According to the Tosefta (Maaserot, 3:7), the seeds and leaves of coriander and mustard plants were subject to the law of tithes. There were sages, however, who did not consider that tithing applied to the leaves of the mustard plant. These examples illustrate that seeds used for seasoning were tithed.
The scribes and Pharisees did not treat others with impartiality but looked down on those who did not conduct themselves according to the tradition of the elders, thereby failing to uphold justice. (John 7:47-52) Their abundant rules and regulations imposed a burden on the people. In their failure to respond reasonably and humanely to fellow Israelites whose lot was very difficult as subjects of a foreign power, they demonstrated themselves to be lacking in mercy or compassion. Although they knew what was contained in the Scriptures, they did not respond in faith to Jesus, the very one to whom the Scriptures pointed as the promised Messiah and the prophet greater than Moses. By failing to conduct themselves in harmony with the spirit of the law, with its emphasis on justice, mercy, and obedience, the scribes and Pharisees proved themselves to be unfaithful (faithfulness or fidelity also being a meaning that the Greek word for “faith” [pístis] can convey).
Jesus upheld the law that required tithing, referring to tithing as being among the things not to be neglected. Foremost, though, he placed acting with justice, mercy, and faith. (Matthew 23:23) When scrupulously tithing but disregarding the weightier matters of the law, the scribes and Pharisees manifested themselves as blind guides, persons whose example could not be trusted. As Jesus said, “Blind guides, you strain out the gnat but swallow the camel.” (Matthew 23:24)
Both the gnat and the camel were unclean for food according to the Mosaic law. By attending to minutiae while neglecting the truly important things, the scribes and Pharisees acted like persons who filtered out the tiny gnat but then swallowed something unclean as large as a camel.
They were very concerned about outward appearances and ceremonial cleanness. According to ancient Jewish sources, merely intending to do something that would make a utensil unclean did, in fact, do so. (Tosefta, Kelim Baba Batra, 3:13)
Jesus decried the emphasis the scribes and Pharisees placed on externals while overlooking the more important matters involving the deep inner self. He spoke of them as cleaning the exterior of the cup and the dish, being scrupulous about ceremonial cleanness. The inner self, though, was defiled, filled with plunder or greed and self-indulgence or intemperance. (Matthew 23:25)
Instead of compassionately responding to those in need, the scribes and Pharisees were guilty of causing widows to give what they actually needed to live, thereby robbing them. Though wanting to appear as pious and to be highly honored, the scribes and Pharisees were willing to rob others of dignity, calling them accursed and ignorant of the law. In their inordinate desire for honor and praise from others, they showed themselves to be intemperate. Their focus on themselves and appearances made them self-indulgent, which led to their serious failure to be loving, compassionate, just, and impartial.
Jesus called upon the “blind Pharisee” to change, first cleaning the interior of the cup and the dish so that the exterior might become clean. With moral purity existing in the deep inner self, the whole person would be clean. (Matthew 23:26)
The scribes and Pharisees resembled whitewashed burial places, which on the outside appeared attractively clean but contained the bones of the dead and everything else that was unclean. (Matthew 23:27) According to the law, anyone who touched a grave would be ceremonially defiled for seven days. (Numbers 19:16)
The whitewashing of graves or tombs identified them as places of uncleanness, making it possible for people to avoid inadvertently walking over them or getting too close to them and becoming ceremonially unclean. Ancient Jewish writings indicate that defilement could even result from an implement that one carried and which passed over a grave. According to the Tosefta (Ahilot, 15:12), a man was pronounced unclean because part of the goad he carried on his shoulder overshadowed a grave.
Like whitewashed tombs, the Pharisees appeared to be righteous or upright to others but in their inmost selves they were filled with hypocrisy and lawlessness. (Matthew 23:28) In attitude, word, and action, they were not the pious ones they seemed to be, for they were woefully lacking in love and compassion for the needy and afflicted fellow Israelites in their midst. They were guilty of lawlessness, for they did not live up to the law’s requirements to act justly, compassionately, and faithfully.
The scribes and Pharisees built the burial places of the prophets and beautified the tombs of righteous ones. (Matthew 23:29) This suggests that they endeavored to locate where prophets and others known for their uprightness were buried. They then may have built tombs they considered more suitable to honor the prophets and, with decorative motifs, beautified the burial places or monuments of those known for their godliness.
The scribes and Pharisees maintained that they would not have participated with their “fathers” in shedding the blood of the prophets. Jesus pointed out that, by making this claim, they testified against themselves, admitting that their “fathers” killed the prophets. He then told them, as persons who were the children of murderers and so just like them, to fill up the measure of their fathers. This filling up would refer to their completing the record of bloodshed for which they would face the culminating judgment. (Matthew 23:30-32)
The scribes and Pharisees may have felt that they were distancing themselves from the sin of their ancestors, making amends by building the burial places of the prophets who had been unjustly killed. They, however, failed to consider the reason for their forefathers’ murderous hatred of the prophets and did not recognize that, in their desire to kill Jesus, they revealed themselves as having the same murderous disposition.
Rightly, he referred to them as “serpents,” vipers’ offspring. Their murderous fathers or ancestors could be compared to poisonous snakes, and they were just like them as part of their brood. He provided a serious warning with the question, “How can you flee from the condemnation of Gehenna?” (Matthew 23:33) How could they, with their murderous disposition, possibly escape the most severe judgment, being tossed like worthless carcasses on a garbage heap to be consumed by fire or maggots? (Isaiah 66:24)
To reveal the kind of persons they were in reality, Jesus would send them prophets, sages and scribes (knowledgeable men). The response of the scribes and Pharisees to those sent would expose them as deserving of punitive judgment. Some of those sent they would kill and crucify; others they would scourge in the synagogues and persecute in one city after another. (Matthew 23:34)
In this manner, they would add to the record of bloodguilt that began with the murder of Abel and continued to grow for centuries thereafter. A notable case from later centuries was the murder of Zechariah who reproved the people for transgressing God’s law. By the command of King Joash, Zechariah was then stoned and died “between the sanctuary and the altar.” (2 Chronicles 24:20-22; see the Notes section for additional comments about Matthew 23:35.) The unbelieving scribes and Pharisees would be held to account for the entire record of bloodshed (all the blood unjustly spilled from that of Abel to that of Zechariah). They and the rest of the unbelieving generation would experience this, which is what happened during the Roman military campaign that culminated in the destruction of Jerusalem. (Matthew 23:35, 36)
As on a previous occasion (Luke 13:34, 35), Jesus called Jerusalem “the killer of the prophets and stoner” of those whom God had sent. Despite what the inhabitants of Jerusalem had done over the centuries and what the prominent ones of the nation were about to do to him, Jesus felt great compassion for the people. Often he had wanted to gather them like a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, providing care and protection. The majority, however, did not want this, rejecting him and persisting in unbelief. (Matthew 23:37)
Therefore, their “house” would be left or abandoned to them. (Matthew 23:38) Likely the “house” refers to the temple, and a number of translations make this specific in their renderings. “Look! There is your temple, forsaken by God and laid waste.” (REB) “And now your temple will be deserted.” (CEV) Without a sacred status, the temple would eventually come to ruin, and so would the city.
As for the people, they would not see Jesus again until they acknowledged him as “blessed” and as coming in God’s name or as his representative. (Matthew 23:39) Seemingly, Jesus referred to his future return in glory. At that time, believers would welcome him, acknowledging him as the blessed representative of his Father, but all who persisted in unbelief would lament. With their “house” having been left to the unbelieving Jews, neither it nor they would have any special standing with God. Nevertheless, the people would not be debarred from accepting Jesus in faith and coming to be among those who would recognize him as coming in his Father’s name.
In the Court of the Women, where (according to ancient Jewish sources) 13 trumpet-shaped chests lined the surrounding wall and where people put their monetary offerings and contributions, Jesus had seated himself and observed the wealthy putting many coins into the chests. Among those contributing, he saw a widow. Her attire must have revealed that she was very needy. Yet she contributed two lepta. These two coins had very little value, not even being enough to buy one sparrow for a meager meal. (Matthew 10:29, where the price of two sparrows is mentioned as being one assarion or eight lepta [four quadrantes]) Jesus, however, recognized the great worth of her contribution, telling his disciples that she had given more than all the others. The rich had contributed just a little from their great abundance, but the destitute widow had given everything she had to live on. (Mark 12:41-44; Luke 21:1-4) Her contribution was a bountiful expression of the her love for God, whose house the temple then still was.
On his way out of the temple precincts, the disciples approached Jesus and, impressed with the grandeur of the entire complex, directed his attention to the buildings—the beautiful stones and the costly gifts that served as ornamentation. One of them exclaimed, “What stones and what buildings!” (Matthew 24:1; Mark 13:1; Luke 21:5)
The Jewish historian Josephus personally saw the temple before its destruction and provided details about its magnificence. In his Antiquities (XV, xi, 3), he wrote that “the temple was built of stones that were white and strong, and each of their length was twenty-five cubits [37.5 feet, based on a cubit of 18 inches], their height was eight [12 feet], and their breadth about twelve [18 feet].” In another account, he referred to some of the stones as being “forty-five cubits [67.5 feet] in length, five [7.5 feet] in height, and six [9 feet] in breadth.” According to him, the front of the temple was covered with heavy gold plates, which, “at the first rising of the sun, reflected back a very fiery splendor.” The brilliance was so intense that those who looked at the temple had to “turn their eyes away.” From a distance, the structure looked like a “mountain covered with snow,” for the parts that were not overlaid with gold were exceptionally white. “Spikes with sharp points” protruded from the top of the temple. These spikes served to prevent pollution from birds sitting on the top. (War, V, v, 6)
Tacitus (c. 55 to c.117 CE), a Roman historian, also indicated that the temple was an impressive structure, one of “immense wealth.” It “resembled a citadel, and had its own walls, which were more laboriously constructed than the others. Even the colonnades with which it was surrounded formed an admirable outwork. It contained an inexhaustible spring; there were subterranean excavations in the hill, and tanks and cisterns for holding rain water.” (Histories, Book V, translated by Alfred John Church and William Jackson Brodribb, and edited by Moses Hadas)
Jesus told his disciples that not a stone would be left remaining upon a stone. Everything would be cast down. (Matthew 24:2; Mark 13:2; Luke 21:6)
Jesus’ words were fulfilled when the Roman armies under the command of Titus destroyed Jerusalem. Although Titus did not want the temple to be destroyed, a Roman soldier, according to Josephus, snatched burning materials and, being lifted by another soldier, “set fire to a golden window, through which there was a passage to the rooms that were round about the holy house.” When a messenger informed Titus about the fire, he hurried to the temple area and ordered the soldiers to put out the flames, but his words could not be heard above the din. (War, VI, iv, 3-7)
In his comments about Vespasian, the ancient Roman historian C. Suetonius Tranquillus (c. 71 to c. 135 CE) wrote: “After an obstinate defence by the Jews, that city [Jerusalem], so much celebrated in the sacred writings, was finally demolished, and the glorious temple itself, the admiration of the world, reduced to ashes; contrary, however, to the will of Titus, who exerted his utmost efforts to extinguish the flames.” (English translation by Alexander Thomson; revised and corrected by T. Forester)
It is probable that the “Zechariah son of Barachiah” referred to in Matthew 23:35 is the Zechariah who was killed during the reign of King Joash. If this identification is correct, “Barachiah” may have been another name for Jehoiada. The original reading of fourth-century Codex Sinaiticus and a few later manuscripts do not include the words “son of Barachiah.” Whether this is a reflection of the original reading or an attempt to correct a seeming error cannot be established with certainty.
The postexilic prophet Zechariah was the “son of Barachiah” (Zechariah 1:1, LXX), leading some to conclude that he is the one referred to in Matthew 23:35. This does not appear to be likely, for there is no indication that he was murdered “between the sanctuary and the altar.” Furthermore, the remnant that had returned from exile responded favorably to his message and that of his contemporary Haggai.
Among those who deny that Jesus said these words, the view has been advanced that Zechariah is the eminent citizen whom two zealots killed in the temple precincts after he was acquitted of false charges. (Josephus, War, IV, v, 4) This occurred many years after Jesus’ death and resurrection, and so does not harmonize with the setting in which the words of Matthew 23:35 were spoken.
With his disciples, Jesus left Jerusalem, crossed the Kidron Valley, and ascended the western slope of the Mount of Olives. At a location on the eminence from which the temple could be seen, Jesus seated himself. (Mark 13:3) Being well over 100 feet higher than the temple site, the Mount of Olives provided a panoramic view of the area. (See http://bibleplaces.com/mtolives.htm for pictures of and comments about the Mount of Olives.)
Jesus’ words about the future destruction of the temple prompted wonderment among the disciples. Peter, James, John, and Andrew approached him privately to ask when this would occur. Peter’s being mentioned first in Mark 13:3 may indicate that he, as on other occasions, took the initiative to question Jesus.
Matthew 24:3, Mark 13:4, and Luke 21:7 represent the disciples as wanting to know, “When will these things be?” For the disciples, the temple would have been the most important building in existence. As the center of worship for Jews everywhere, it was inseparably linked to their identity as a nation or people. (See http://holylandphotos.org for a model of the temple [type “second temple model” in the search box]. Also, for additional information, see http://bibleplaces.com/templemount.htm [where you will find pictures of the Temple Mount and accompanying comments].)
Understandably, the disciples would have wondered whether an event as significant as the future destruction of the temple might not be preceded by a specific sign. This is, in fact, the way the question is continued in Mark 13:4 (“and what [will be] the sign when all these things are about to be accomplished?”) and Luke 21:7 (“and what [will be] the sign when these things are about to happen?”).
In Matthew 24:3, the continuation of the question is more directly linked to Jesus (“and what [will be] the sign of your [royal] presence [parousía] and of the termination of the age?”) In the basic sense, the wording of the question does not significantly differ from that in Mark 13:4 and Luke 21:7. To the disciples, the destruction of the temple and the end of the age would have been parallel expressions. Because of the temple’s importance in their life as Jews, its destruction would have been considered the end of an age or a world as they knew it. Moreover, they expected Jesus, the one whom they had acknowledged as their Lord and King, to restore the kingdom to Israel. (Acts 1:6) Therefore, in view of their expectations, it would not have been unusual for them to think in terms of a sign preceding Jesus’ royal presence and the end of the age.
In his response, Jesus directed attention away from the “when” of the question. Instead, he primarily emphasized matters that should be of concern to his disciples in the future. His answer, though given to Peter, James, John, and Andrew, applied to all of his disciples who would be affected by the events he was then about to relate.
Jesus warned them not to be deceived. (Matthew 24:4; Mark 13:5) Many would come in his name or lead others to believe that they were the longed-for Messiah who would liberate them from the Roman yoke. According to Matthew 24:5, they would say “I am the Christ [the Messiah].” In Mark 13:6 and Luke 21:8, the abbreviated version of their words is, “I am,” meaning “I am he” or “I am the one.” As a consequence, many would be deceived. The deceivers would foster false hopes about imminent deliverance from foreign oppression, saying, “The time is near.” Jesus admonished his disciples to give no heed to their words, “Do not go after them.” (Luke 21:8)
The first-century Jewish historian Josephus wrote that many men deluded the people before the destruction of Jerusalem and during the time the city was under siege. (War, VI, v, 3) While Felix was procurator of Judea, numerous deceivers acquired a following. These men “deceived and deluded the people under pretense of divine inspiration” but had revolution as their aim. They persuaded “the multitude to act like madmen, and went before them into the wilderness, as pretending that God would there show them the signals of liberty.” Perceiving the start of a revolt, Felix sent an armed force against them, and many of the deluded people were slaughtered. (War, II, xiii, 4)
A certain Egyptian came to be viewed as a prophet. This man gained a considerable following and later led thousands of men from the wilderness to the Mount of Olives. From there, he purposed to force his way into Jerusalem, overpower the Roman garrison, and, with the aid of those with him, establish himself as ruler over the people. His attempt failed, for Felix met him with his Roman soldiers. The deceiver and a few others escaped, but many of those who followed him were killed or captured. (War, II, xiii, 5)
Jesus told the disciples that they would hear about “wars and rumors of wars” (“wars and uprisings” or revolts [Luke 21:9]), but that they should not become alarmed or fearful. This probably means that they were not to give in to the troubling uneasiness or the kind of terror people experience when they, without any option for escape, anticipate a horrific outcome or end. Distressing developments were certain to come, but the end about which the disciples had asked would be still future. As Jesus said, “The end is not yet” or would not follow “immediately.” The wars and insurrections would not serve as a “sign” for ascertaining the imminent destruction of the temple or for determining that Jesus’ parousía or royal presence was at hand. One nation would rise up against another nation, and one kingdom against another kingdom. Earthquakes would occur in one place after another. There would be famines and plagues. People would see fear-inspiring portents and “great signs.” (Matthew 24:6, 7; Mark 13:7, 8; Luke 21:9-11; see the Notes section for what ancient histories indicate regarding developments before Jerusalem’s destruction.)
The wars, famines, earthquakes, and pestilences would be only the start of distress. “All these things,” said Jesus, “are the beginning of birth pangs [the plural of odín].” (Matthew 24:8; Mark 13:8) The Greek term odín can designate “birth pain” or any intense pain, woe, or distress (as experienced when giving birth). Ancient Jewish sources provide a basis for concluding that the expression “woe of the Messiah” was used in the first century and was understood to mean the distress immediately preceding the Messianic age. Therefore, the words “the beginning of birth pangs,” woes, or distress appear to have expressed the opposite of the prevailing view. Greater suffering, not the Messianic age, lay ahead.
During the turbulent time marked by wars, uprisings, food shortages, earthquakes, and pestilences, the disciples would face intense hostility from unbelievers. Jesus told them to watch out for themselves, suggesting that they needed to be on guard to avoid needlessly placing themselves in a position of danger. (Mark 13:9) He himself had set the example by taking steps to get away from those who were determined to harm him. (John 8:59; 11:53, 54; John 12:36)
The disciples would be arrested and imprisoned, handed over to Jewish councils for trial, beaten in the synagogues, tortured, and brought before governors and kings because of being Jesus’ disciples. This would serve as a testimony to those before whom they made their defense and to all who heard them speak. (Matthew 24:9; Mark 13:9; Luke 21:12, 13)
When they were being taken before authorities, they were not to give in to anxiety, struggling to formulate their defense in advance and worrying about what they might say. Jesus assured them that they would be “given” what they were to speak, for the holy spirit would be guiding their defense. (Mark 13:11; Luke 21:14) According to Luke 21:15, Jesus told them, “I will give you a mouth and wisdom, which all who oppose you will be unable to withstand or contradict.” As they would be receiving the holy spirit through him, Jesus would be the one who would grant them the capacity and wisdom to make their defense. (Acts 2:33)
Within families serious divisions would arise, with some proving themselves to be loyal disciples of God’s Son, whereas others would persist in unbelief and become openly hateful. As a result, a brother would hand over his brother to be put to death, and a father his children. Children would betray their own parents and have them killed. Friends and other relatives would turn against Jesus’ disciples, and betray them. (Mark 13:12; Luke 21:16)
Faced with bitter persecution, many professing disciples would “stumble,” denying their faith in Jesus and becoming traitors and hateful enemies of those who would remain loyal to him. In the community of believers, false prophets would arise and mislead many. On account of increasing lawlessness, fear would replace love. For many, the love for God and for others would “cool off” or be squelched. The distressing circumstances would call for endurance, and those who remained loyal to Christ would be saved. (Matthew 24:10-13; Mark 13:13)
Although remaining true to him could cost them their lives, Jesus assured his disciples that their eternal life would be secure. Not a “hair from [their] head” would perish; not even a fragment of their real identity as persons dearly loved by God would be lost. Through faithful endurance, they would gain their “souls,” which would mean preserving the real life of an enduring relationship with Jesus and his Father. (Luke 21:18, 19)
The book of Acts and the letters Paul and others wrote to fellow believers preserve the record of what the apostles and other disciples faced in the time after Jesus’ death and resurrection. Persecution initially came from unbelieving Jews. Then, just as Jesus said, his disciples did come to be hated by all nations because of his name or on account of being identified as attached to him as disciples. (Matthew 24:9; Mark 13:13; Luke 21:17)
An example of this hatred and associated suffering is preserved in the Annals ( XV, 44) of the Roman historian Tacitus (c. 55 to c. 117 CE): “Nero fastened the guilt [for the burning of Rome] and inflicted the most exquisite tortures on a class hated for their abominations, called Christians by the populace. Christus, from whom the name had its origin, suffered the extreme penalty during the reign of Tiberius at the hands of one of our procurators, Pontius Pilatus, and a most mischievous superstition, thus checked for the moment, again broke out not only in Judaea, the first source of the evil, but even in Rome, where all things hideous and shameful from every part of the world find their centre and become popular. Accordingly, an arrest was first made of all who pleaded guilty; then, upon their information, an immense multitude was convicted, not so much of the crime of firing the city, as of hatred against mankind. Mockery of every sort was added to their deaths. Covered with the skins of beasts, they were torn by dogs and perished, or were nailed to crosses, or were doomed to the flames and burnt, to serve as a nightly illumination, when daylight had expired.
“Nero offered his gardens for the spectacle, and was exhibiting a show in the circus, while he mingled with the people in the dress of a charioteer or stood aloft on a car. Hence, even for criminals who deserved extreme and exemplary punishment, there arose a feeling of compassion; for it was not, as it seemed, for the public good, but to glut one man’s cruelty, that they were being destroyed.” (Translated by Alfred John Church and William Jackson Brodribb; edited by Moses Hadas)
Besides the hatred of unbelievers, Christ’s disciples had to contend with false brothers, teachers of error, and false prophets. (2 Corinthians 11:24-27; 2 Timothy 1:15; 2:16-18; 3:8-13; 4:14, 15) The treachery of former friends would have been especially painful and disheartening. Nevertheless, despite the hardships, the glad tidings about Jesus and how to become part of the realm where he is king by his Father’s appointment continued to be proclaimed. As Jesus said, this message would be declared in the whole world and then the end would come. (Matthew 24:14; Mark 13:10) Prior to the end that culminated in the destruction of Jerusalem and the magnificent temple, the glad tidings about God’s kingdom had spread throughout the then-known world, reaching people throughout the Roman Empire. (Compare Colossians 1:23.)
The time for a speedy flight out of Jerusalem to the mountains to escape the disaster that would befall the city would be when the “abomination of desolation” stood in the place where it should not be. It was the prophet Daniel (9:27; 11:31; 12:11, LXX) who referred to this abomination. The parenthetical expression (“let the reader understand”) likely refers to the reader of the book of Daniel, where the “abomination of desolation” is mentioned. (Matthew 24:15; Mark 13:14 [but this passage in Mark does not include the reference to the prophet Daniel])
In Luke 21:20, there is no mention of the “abomination of desolation,” but the time for flight is identified as being when Jerusalem is surrounded by armies. If these armies are the “abomination,” this would fit a development the Jewish historian Josephus related. At the time Cestius Gallus with his entire Roman army came against Jerusalem, he led a force of soldiers with archers to begin an assault on the north side of the temple. For a time, the Jews succeeded in resisting the attack, but the many missiles from the archers finally caused them to give way. Protected by their shields, the Roman soldiers began to undermine the wall and prepared to set the gate of the temple on fire. (War, II, xix, 5) As the Roman soldiers were then on ground the Jews considered to be holy and close to the most sacred precincts with their idolatrous ensigns, one could conclude that they were the “abomination of desolation” in a position where they should not have been standing.
Unexpectedly, Cestius Gallus did not continue with the siege. Although he had experienced no reverses, he recalled his troops and withdrew from the city. His retreat emboldened the Jews who opposed Rome, and they left the city to pursue his army, succeeding in slaying about 5,300 of the infantry and about 380 [480, according to another extant text of Josephus] of the cavalry. The Jews lost only a few of their number. (War, II, xix, 6-9)
After this disastrous retreat of the Romans, many of the distinguished Jews fled from Jerusalem as from a ship about to sink. (War, II, xx, 1) In his Ecclesiastical History (III, v, 3), Eusebius relates that those who believed in Christ left Jerusalem before the war began and settled in Pella. He did not, however, say that they did so in obedience to Jesus’ words but attributed their departure to “an oracle given by revelation to acceptable persons,” ordering them to leave the city. (Translated by G. A. Williamson)
In the book of Daniel (9:27; 11:31; 12:11, LXX), the expression “abomination of desolation” or “desolations” is linked directly to a defilement of the temple and the discontinuance of the sacrifices. Moreover, 1 Maccabees 1:54 (LXX) appears to refer to a pagan altar erected over the altar of burnt offering at the direction of Antiochus Epiphanes as the “abomination of desolation.”
If the “abomination of desolation” specifically involves the temple, the time when the “armies” surrounded Jerusalem (Luke 21:20) would relate to another development in the war with Rome. The “abomination of desolation” may then apply to a defilement of the temple, which occurrence would have signaled the last opportunity for escape from Jerusalem. This could have been when the Zealots seized control of the temple precincts and made it the base of operations for violent actions. According to Josephus, the high priest Ananus, when appealing to the populace to rise up against the Zealots, said that it would have been better for him to have died than to see “the house of God full of so many abominations, or these sacred places that ought not to be trodden upon at random, filled with the feet of these blood-shedding villains.” (War, IV, iii, 10)
The effort to dislodge the Zealots failed. With the aid secretly obtained from a force of about 20,000 Idumeans, the Zealots secured their position, and Ananus and his supporters were killed in the ensuing slaughter. (War, IV, iii, 11-14; iv, 1-7; v, 1, 2) Thereafter the situation continued to deteriorate in Jerusalem, and escape became extremely difficult. The Zealots guarded every passage out of the city, killing those whom they caught fleeing. Only the wealthy were able to purchase the opportunity for flight, whereas the poor were slain. (War, IV, vi, 3)
Regardless with what specific development the “abomination of desolation” may be identified, history confirms that postponement of flight after Cestius Gallus withdrew would have meant exposure to graver dangers and the possibility of not being able to get out of the city. This agrees with the kind of urgency that Jesus’ words conveyed. Those in Judea were to flee to the mountains, not seeking security from the Roman armies within the walls of Jerusalem. Persons inside the city were to make their speedy departure, and those outside the city were not to enter it. (Luke 21:21) To emphasize the importance of not delaying, Jesus said, “The one on the roof should not go down to take things out of his house, and the one in the field should not go back to get his garment.” (Matthew 24:16-18; Mark 13:14-16)
In warm climates, the flat roofs of houses were often places were people found a more comfortable location on hot days. Access to the roof was either by means of a ladder or outside stairs. Even when people left the housetop, they did not need to enter the home. Therefore, the point of not going into the house to get things may indicate that flight should be undertaken without delay. It is also possible that the quick escape is like that of a person who jumped from the flat roof of one house to that of another and thus made his way out of the city. The same portrayal of urgency is conveyed with the person finding himself working in the field. Time was not to be lost in going back to the house to get a garment.
It would then be a time for executing judgment (literally, “days of vengeance”). “All the things written” would be fulfilled. (Luke 21:22) This likely relates to the things previously written in the Scriptures, including Daniel 9:26 regarding the destruction of the city and the sanctuary. In his Antiquities (X, xi, 7), Josephus specifically commented about this, saying, “Daniel also wrote concerning the Roman government, and that our country should be made desolate by them.”
Speedy escape would be especially difficult for pregnant women or those nursing an infant that had to be carried. With travel restrictions imposed on the Sabbath and the extra hazards of flight in winter, the disciples would have every reason to pray that they not then have to make their escape. (Matthew 24:19, 20; Mark 13:17, 18; Luke 21:23)
The suffering to befall Jerusalem would be greater than had taken place “from the beginning of the world” or “creation” until that time and would not happen again. (Matthew 24:21; Mark 13:19) It would be a time when great distress would come upon the “land” (Judea) and the wrath of the besieging army would be directed against the people. Those not perishing “by the edge of the sword” would be taken away as captives and scattered among the nations. Jerusalem would be “trampled on” by the non-Jewish nations until the times of these nations would be “fulfilled” or until they would face their day of reckoning. (Luke 21:22-24)
Josephus, a former resident of Jerusalem who witnessed the suffering of the inhabitants while with the Roman army, confirmed the fulfillment of the prophetic words. “Our city Jerusalem had arrived at a higher degree of felicity than any other city under the Roman government, and yet at last fell into the sorest of calamities again. Accordingly it appears to me, that the misfortunes of all men, from the beginning of the world, if they be compared to these of the Jews, are not so considerable as they were.” (War, Preface, 4)
Jesus had said that, unless the time of the distress upon Jerusalem would be cut short, no flesh would be saved. (Matthew 24:22; Mark 13:20) Once the Romans entered the city, they indiscriminately slew anyone whom they encountered and set fire to the houses in which they knew people had taken refuge. If the siege had been protracted, the rage of the Roman military could have intensified to the point where they would have been determined to kill every Jew in the Roman Empire. Indicative of this are the words of Josephus, “As soon as the army had no more people to slay or to plunder, because there remained none to be objects of their fury (for they would not have spared any, had there remained any other such work to be done), [Titus] gave orders that they should now demolish the entire city and temple.” (War, VII, i, 1)
For the sake of the “chosen,” the believing remnant of the nation, those horrifying days of suffering were cut short, the siege of Jerusalem being ended within a comparatively brief time. (Matthew 24:22; Mark 13:20) Therefore, through God’s providential care of his own, the Jews as a people survived in other parts of the Roman Empire.
During the war itself and before the destruction of Jerusalem and the temple, many inside the city looked for divine deliverance. Jesus, though, had made it clear that no Messiah would stop the impending calamity. Any claim about the Messiah or Christ (according to the reading of the Greek text) being at one location or another should not be believed. No credence should be given any report about his being in the wilderness and ready to come with a liberating army or about his hiding in an inner room, planning for a surprise attack against the enemy. (Matthew 24:23-26; Mark 13:21-23)
The return of Christ, the true Messiah, would not be an event about which only a few would know and through whom the news would originally spread. The return of Christ, the royal presence of the “Son of Man,” would prove to be as observable as lightning illuminating the sky from the east to the west. It would be as noticeable as the circling of vultures in the sky, indicating that a carcass is lying on the ground. Still, as Jesus warned there would be false messiahs and false prophets who, with signs and wonders, would lead many astray and, if possible, “even the chosen” or those who believe in him. Therefore, having been forewarned, the disciples needed to remain alert, not allowing themselves to be deluded. (Matthew 24:24-28; Mark 13:22, 23; see the Notes section on Matthew 24:28 about the Greek term aetós.)
Josephus confirms that many deceivers and false prophets did appear in Jerusalem. One of them persuaded many to go to the temple and there wait for God to deliver them. A crowd of about 6,000, including women and children, then took refuge on a portico of the outer court. In their rage, the Roman soldiers set the portico on fire from below, and the entire multitude perished. (War, VI, v, 2, 3)
“Immediately after the distress of those days,” Jesus continued, “the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not shed its light, and the stars will fall from heaven [probably wording based on meteor showers], and the powers of the heavens will be shaken [celestial phenomena characterized by a markedly different appearance of the sky].” (Matthew 24:29; Mark 13:24, 25)
Parallel expressions are found in the words of the prophets. In the proclamation against Babylon, the fall of that world power is portrayed as YHWH’s coming to desolate the “earth” or land. Next the prophecy refers to the darkening of stars, sun, and moon, and YHWH is represented as making the heavens tremble and as shaking the earth or land out of its place. (Isaiah 13:1, 9, 10, 13) Similarly, in the lamentation over Egypt’s Pharaoh, Ezekiel 32:8 (NRSV) represents YHWH as saying, “When I blot you out, I will cover the heavens, and make their stars dark; I will cover the sun with a cloud, and the moon shall not give its light. All the shining lights of the heavens I will darken above you, and put darkness on your land.” As to the effect this would have on other peoples and nations, Ezekiel 32:9 (NRSV) continues, “I will trouble the hearts of many peoples, as I carry you captive among the nations, into countries you have not known.” In the book of Joel (3:14, 15), the “day of YHWH” for executing judgment on the nations is likewise associated with the darkening of the sun, moon, and stars. (See also Jeremiah 4:23, 24; Joel 2:10, 30, 31.)
In these prophecies, the world or realm in which the people of a particular nation or nations carried on their activity is portrayed as a unit consisting of land and the celestial dome. When calamity strikes, the changed condition of the people is represented as a darkening of the heavens, with no light to mitigate the gloom of the day or the night, and the land is depicted as becoming unstable as when shaken by an earthquake. In its desolated state, the earth or land is spoken of as mourning, and the heavens above it are portrayed as growing black. (Jeremiah 4:23-28) The parallel language found in the writings of the prophets provides a basis for understanding the references (in Matthew 24:29, Mark 13:24, 25; Luke 21:25, 26) to the darkening of the sun and the moon, the falling of the stars, the shaking of the earth and the powers of the heavens, and the raging of the sea to be figurative.
If the term “immediately” (euthéos) in Matthew 24:29 has the literal sense, this would mean that the darkening of the heavens and the other troubling developments are descriptive of the gloom that set in immediately after the suffering or tribulation associated with the destruction of Jerusalem and the temple. For the some 97,000 survivors of that horrific end, there was nothing to brighten either their days or their nights. The tallest and most handsome of the young men were reserved to be exhibited as humiliated captives in the triumphal march. Many of those above the age of 17 were sent to work as slaves in the mines of Egypt. Others were sent to the various provinces of the Roman Empire to put on a spectacle in the arenas and there to perish by the sword or to be killed and devoured by beasts. Those under the age of 17 were sold into slavery. (War, VI, ix, 2, 3)
In the case of Jews living in other parts of the Roman Empire, the destruction of Jerusalem and the temple would have meant the end of their world. The triumphal Arch of Titus in Rome and the Western or Wailing Wall of Jerusalem remain as ancient reminders of a development comparable to the darkening of the sun, moon, and stars, and an upheaval in the celestial dome (with what appear to be stars dropping from the sky) and a violent shaking of the land.
In Luke’s account, the falling of the stars and the darkening of the sun and moon are referred to as “signs” in the sun, moon, and stars. Regarding the earth, the narration of Jesus’ words continues, “Upon the earth [there will be] panic among nations, [being] in confusion from the roar and raging of the sea. Men will faint from fear and foreboding of the things coming upon [their] habitation, for the powers of the heavens will be shaken.” (Luke 21:25, 26) If applying to first-century developments, this description could relate to the effect the utter destruction of a prominent city would have on the nations. (See the Notes section for additional comments on Matthew 24:29; Mark 13:24, and Luke 21:25.) Among people generally, any hint of revolt would likely have given rise to dread and alarm. Josephus wrote that his description of the disciplined and formidable Roman army had as one of its objectives to deter others from revolting as had the Jews. (War, III, v, 8)
People would have reacted much like those on a ship during a storm, tossed about by the wind and the waves. With fear and foreboding, they would envision what would lie ahead for them in case of revolt or insurrection, making them faint or causing them to be overwhelmed with a sense of weakness and helplessness. Their world would have taken on an appearance of darkness, as if the “powers of the heavens” were being shaken, eclipsing all illumination during the day and the night.
While darkness or a time of gloom marked by serious troubles would exist, the sign of the Son of Man would appear. The nature of this sign is not disclosed, but reasonably it would be something that would leave no doubt about his arrival. He would be seen “coming on the clouds [in clouds (Mark 13:26); in a cloud (Luke 21:27)] with power and great glory.” Upon the appearance of the “sign” followed by the arrival of the Son of Man (the glorified Jesus Christ), unbelievers would be overwhelmed with fear. In expression of their grief, they would beat their breasts. Right from the start of the developments Jesus described, believers, however, could stand confidently, lifting their heads, knowing that their deliverance from distress was near. (Matthew 24:30; Mark 13:26; Luke 21:27, 28)
As Christ’s chosen or elect, they would have his favorable attention. At a given signal, comparable to a loud trumpet sound, the Son of God would have his angels gather them from every part of the earth. (Matthew 24:31; Mark 13:27) The apparent reason for the gathering the angels would undertake, as indicated elsewhere in the Scriptures (1 Corinthians 15:51, 52; 1 Thessalonians 4:16, 17), would be to unite the chosen with Jesus so that they could be forever with him.
The Son of God next called attention to the fig tree (and all the other trees [Luke 21:29]) as teaching a parable or likeness. One would know that summer was near when the twigs of the tree became soft and began to sprout leaves. Likewise, when all the things Jesus mentioned would be taking place, “it,” “he” or “the kingdom of God” would be near, “at the doors.” (Matthew 24:32, 33; Mark 13:28, 29; Luke 21:29-31)
In the Greek text of Matthew 24:33 and Mark 13:29, the verb estín can be translated either as “it is” or “he is.” If the meaning is “it is,” the reference could be to the destruction of the temple in Jerusalem, which event was the focus of the disciples’ question. “All the things” that would occur would include wars, famines, earthquakes, the proclamation of the glad tidings, persecution of the disciples, and the appearance of the “abomination of desolation.”
For the meaning of estín as “he is,” the application would be to the approach of Jesus’ return in glory, which would also signify that the kingdom of God would be near. Possibly the reason for the nonspecific language is that most of the developments were not unique to a specific time and so did not serve as a “sign” by which to ascertain the precise time for the destruction of the temple or for the return of Christ in glory.
In the centuries that have passed since Jesus answered the disciples’ question, earth’s inhabitants have never experienced a time free from natural disasters, wars and their frightful consequences, and the persecution and the betrayal of Christians for their faith. Not until the Roman armies were actually on the scene around Jerusalem would it have been clear that the destruction of the temple was at hand. Likewise, not until the appearance of the “sign” of the “Son of Man” would there be no question about his return in glory. Therefore, all the things would take place both before the destruction of the temple and before his return.
Continuing the application of the lesson that could be learned from the fig tree, Jesus said, “Amen [Truly] I say to you, this generation will not pass away until all these things happen. Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.” (Matthew 24:34, 35; Mark 13:30, 31; Luke 21:32, 33) He had told his disciples that the temple would be destroyed, with not a stone being left upon a stone, and answered the question that his prophecy about the temple had prompted. Jesus’ solemn declaration confirmed that his words would be fulfilled and that this fulfillment would prove to be more certain than the continued existence of heaven and earth.
When Peter, James, John, and Andrew heard the words “this generation,” they would most likely have understood this to mean the generation of which they were a part and which included all their contemporaries. Within the lifetime of that contemporary generation, Jerusalem and the temple would be destroyed, and the events that Jesus said would occur prior thereto would have taken place.
It appears that Jesus, to clarify that his return in glory was not to be equated with the destruction of the temple, added, “But concerning that day and hour, no one knows, neither the angels of the heavens nor the Son, but the Father alone.” (Matthew 24:36 [The words “nor the Son” are missing in numerous manuscripts but have ancient manuscript support]; Mark 13:32)
Jesus knew that Jerusalem and the temple would be destroyed within the lifetime of the then-existing generation and that the people would experience horrific suffering. (Luke 19:41-44; 23:27-31) Based on that knowledge, he could tell the disciples what to look for in order not to be among those who would suffer inside besieged Jerusalem. In view of his not knowing just when his Father had determined for him to return with great power and glory, he framed his admonition to the disciples accordingly. Jesus told them to be watchful, remain awake, and (according to many manuscripts) pray, for they would not know the time. (Mark 13:33)
He likened the situation to a man who, before undertaking a long journey, assigned his servants their respective tasks and instructed the doorkeeper to remain awake or alert, with the implication that the doorkeeper would be ready to welcome him upon his return. Applying the parable or likeness, Jesus continued, “Stay awake [remain alert and watchful], for you do not know when the master of the house is coming.” It could be “late,” “midnight,” “cockcrowing” (the third watch of the night or from about midnight to about 3:00 a.m.) or early in the morning. Therefore, the disciples needed to remain watchful, which would mean being prepared to welcome the Son of God whenever he might arrive and not to be found asleep as would be persons who had failed to discharge their responsibilities as his disciples. Jesus then added the command for everyone, “But what I say, I say to all, Stay awake.” (Mark 13:34-37)
For Christ’s disciples to remain awake would necessitate guarding against everything that could adversely affect faithfulness to him. They needed to watch that they did not dull their senses, giving in to excesses with food and drink and thereby “burdening” their “hearts.” Besides making their “hearts” (either meaning their minds or their inmost selves, which would include their consciences) callous, the “burdening” could include adding the weight of guilt. Their hearts could also become burdened or dulled with the worries or cares of life, resulting in their no longer being alert respecting their responsibilities as Jesus’ disciples. They needed to be on guard that undue concerns and useless worries about procuring life’s necessities would not begin to weaken or wreck their faith. (Luke 21:34)
If they failed to pay attention to themselves, the “day” of Christ’s return would find them in an unprepared state. That “day” would catch them suddenly just like an animal that is caught by a snare or in a trap. There would be no escape from the consequences of that day for anyone in an unprepared state, for it would come upon all of earth’s inhabitants. “But remain awake at all times,” Jesus urged, “praying that you may be strong [enough] to escape all these things that will happen and to stand before the Son of Man.” (Luke 21:34-36)
For the disciples to escape the adverse judgment that would take place upon Jesus’ return in glory would require that they remain strong in faith and devotion, always relying on the strength the heavenly Father provides in answer to prayer. As persons who faithfully lived as devoted disciples of Jesus Christ, they would then “stand” before him as approved.
The arrival of the Son of God or the start of his royal presence would be as unexpected as the flood in the days of Noah. At that time, people were preoccupied with the common affairs of life (eating, drinking, and marrying), but this ended when Noah entered the ark. They had chosen to know nothing about what lay ahead. So the deluge unexpectedly and suddenly engulfed them and swept them all away. The Son of Man would arrive just as unexpectedly. (Matthew 24:37-39)
Those whom he found approved would be preserved and united with him, and the disapproved ones would be left behind to suffer adverse judgment. Even close associates would be affected, as Jesus’ arrival would not necessarily have the same outcome for them individually. Two men might be working in the same field, with one being found approved and the other left behind as disapproved. Two women might be grinding grain together, with one being taken to be with her Lord but the other one being abandoned. Jesus continued with the admonition, “Remain awake, therefore, for you do not know on what day [at what hour, according to other manuscripts] your Lord is coming.” (Matthew 24:40-42)
He then illustrated the importance of watchfulness. If the owner of a home had known when in the night a thief would come, he would have remained awake. The owner would not have permitted the thief to break into his house. Similarly, the disciples needed to be ready or prepared at all times, for the Son of Man would come at an unexpected “hour.” (Matthew 24:43, 44)
With the passage of time, there would be disciples who would cease to use what had been committed to them for the benefit of fellow servants. To warn about this danger and the serious consequences, Jesus related a parable. He introduced it with the question, “Who then is the faithful and wise slave whom his master put in charge of his body of servants, to give them their [due portion of] food at the appropriate time?” In this question, the slave is represented as a steward in charge of the food supplies. He had been entrusted with the duty of seeing to it that all the other slaves who labored for the master received their allowance of food at the appropriate time. If, upon his return, the master found that this slave had proved to be faithful or trustworthy, he would grant him far greater responsibility, putting him in charge of all of his possessions. As one whom his master approved, the slave would be happy, having faithfully discharged his duty. (Matthew 24:45-47 [Many of the details of this parable parallel the one in Luke 12:41-48, which includes additional features.])
On the other hand, the slave would be unmasked as evil if he misused his position, ignoring his accountability to his master and acting as one who thought he was delaying his coming. His having been entrusted with the food supplies required that he faithfully work for the good of his fellow slaves. When starting to abuse them, beating them for not complying with his tyrannical demands and indulging his selfish desires like one who chose to eat and drink with lowlifes, the evil slave also acted against the interests of his master. This evil slave was himself but a slave and had not been granted the authority of an owner, let alone an abusive and corrupt owner. (Matthew 24:48, 49)
On a “day” and in an “hour” or at a time the evil slave did not expect, the master would arrive and severely punish him (literally “cut him asunder”), treating him like the hypocrites who conceal their base ways and actions with a false front. Cast out as disapproved from the master’s household, the slave would weep bitterly and gnash his teeth (in anger over his loss, because of the pain of losing out, or in a vain effort to suppress his uncontrollable sobbing). (Matthew 24:50, 51) What a strong warning this is to all who begin to act the part of masters and fail to conduct themselves as lowly and unassuming slaves! The coming of the Son of God will definitively answer the question as to who has proved to be faithful and wise in the community of believers, selflessly laboring for them.
During the time prior to the destruction of Jerusalem, much warring occurred. Besides conflicts between Jews and Samaritans and insurrections in Galilee and Judea, battles were being waged in various parts of the Roman Empire.
News about the wars in more distant places must have reached Galilee and Judea. Commenting on reverses for the Romans during Nero’s reign, C. Suetonius Tranquillus (c. 71 to c. 135 CE; Lives of the Caesars, VI, xxxix) wrote that two major towns in Britain were sacked and many citizens and allies were slaughtered. A humiliating defeat was experienced in the “East, where, in Armenia, the legions were obliged to pass under the yoke, and it was with great difficulty that Syria was retained.” (Translation of Alexander Thomson; revised and corrected by T. Forester)
The Roman historian Tacitus described the period that included events not long before the destruction of Jerusalem as follows: “I am entering on the history of a period rich in disasters, frightful in its wars, torn by civil strife, and even in peace full of horrors. Four emperors perished by the sword. There were three civil wars; there were more with foreign enemies; there were often wars that had both characters at once. There was success in the East, and disaster in the West. There were disturbances in Illyricum; Gaul wavered in its allegiance, tribes of the Suevi and the Sarmatae rose on concert against us; the Damacians had the glory of inflicting as well as suffering defeat; the armies of Parthia were all but set in motion by the cheat of a counterfeit Nero.” (Histories, I, 2)
With the exception of Festus who succeeded Felix as procurator of Judea, the other Roman procurators administered affairs in a corrupt and oppressive manner, which gave rise to uprisings and finally to war with Rome. Tacitus described Felix as “indulging every kind of barbarity and lust” and exercising “the power of a king in the spirit of a slave.” (Histories, V, 9) Josephus referred to Albinus, the successor of Festus, as one who stole and plundered everyone’s substance, burdened the nation with taxes, and allowed the relatives of criminals to ransom them. (War, II, xiv, 1) The successor of Albinus, Gessius Florus, who assumed his office in 64 CE, was even worse. Regarding him, Josephus said, “This Florus was so wicked, and so violent in the use of his authority, that the Jews took Albinus to have been [comparatively] their benefactor; so excessive were the mischiefs that he brought upon them.” (Antiquities, XX, xi, 1)
It was during the time that Florus exercised authority, that revolt against Rome erupted. Josephus continues, “It was this Florus who necessitated us to take up arms against the Romans, while we thought it better to be destroyed at once, than by little and little. Now this war began in the second year of the government of Florus, and the twelfth year of the reign of Nero.” (Antiquities, XX, xi, 1) Tacitus (Histories, V, 10) summarizes what followed: “Yet the endurance of the Jews lasted till Gessius Florus was procurator. In his time the war broke out. Cestius Gallus, legate of Syria, who attempted to crush it, had to fight several battles, generally with ill-success. Cestius dying, either in the course of nature, or from vexation, Vespasian was sent by Nero, and by help of his good fortune, his high reputation, and his excellent subordinates, succeeded within the space of two summers in occupying with his victorious army the whole of the level country and all the cities, except Jerusalem. The following year [69 CE] had been wholly taken up with civil strife, and had passed, as far as the Jews were concerned, in inaction. Peace having been established in Italy [when Vespasian became emperor], foreign affairs were once more remembered. Our indignation was heightened by the circumstance that the Jews alone had not submitted. At the same time it was held to be more expedient, in reference to the possible results and contingencies of the new reign, that Titus should remain with the army.”
As Jesus had indicated to his disciples, there would be famines or food shortage. One severe famine affected Judea in the time of Claudius (41 to 54 CE). (Acts 11:28; Josephus, Antiquities, XX, ii, 5; v, 2) Scarcity of food was also experienced in Rome. Suetonius (Lives of the Caesars, V, xviii) referred to a shortage of grain because of bad crops for several successive years. As a result, a mob once stopped Claudius in the middle of the Forum, heaped abuse on him, and threw pieces of bread at him. With difficulty, he escaped to the palace by a back door. Later, during the period of civil strife, the stored grain in Rome had dwindled to a ten day’s supply when a shipment Vespasian had sent arrived, relieving the critical shortage. (Tacitus, Histories, IV, 53) Whenever towns and cities came under siege, extreme shortages of food were experienced by the inhabitants. So desperate did the situation become that there were instances of cannibalism. (Josephus, War VI, iii, 3, 4)
While Claudius was emperor, houses collapsed in Rome from frequent earthquake shocks, and a major earthquake occurred in Apamea, a city in Syria. (Tacitus, Annals, XII, 43, 58) During Nero’s rule (54 to 68 CE), an earthquake destroyed much of Pompeii. (Tacitus, Annals, XII, 43, 58); XV, 22) There were earthquakes in various cities of what is today Turkey, including Laodicea. (Tacitus, Annals, XIV, xxvii) Josephus (War, IV, iv, 5) referred to a frightful storm and an earthquake being experienced in Jerusalem, which he spoke of as portending a future destruction.
According to Suetonius, one of the frightful developments during Nero’s rule proved to be a plague that left about 30,000 dead in a single autumn.(Lives of the Caesars, VI, xxxix) This would fit what Luke 21:8 represents Jesus as saying about pestilences.
In the ancient world, people looked for portents and assigned meanings to various happenings. Both Josephus (War, VI, v, 3) and Tacitus mentioned signs as occurring prior to the destruction of Jerusalem, which may reflect the fulfillment of Luke 21:11 regarding fear-inspiring portents and “great signs.” The account of Tacitus, though much shorter and including fewer signs than that of Josephus, is similar: “There had been seen hosts joining battle in the skies, the fiery gleam of arms, the temple illuminated by a sudden radiance from the clouds. The doors of the inner shrine were suddenly thrown open, and a voice of more than mortal tone was heard to cry that the gods were departing. At the same instant there was a mighty stir as of departure.” (Tacitus, Histories, V, 13)
The words of Matthew 24:28 (“Wherever the carcass may be, there the vultures [plural of aetós] will gather”) probably constitute a proverbial saying. Although the Greek word aetós is the usual designation for the eagle, the vulture seems to fit the context better. Eagles are primarily solitary hunters that catch living prey, whereas vultures gather in large numbers to feed on carcasses.
Luke 21:25 refers to “signs” in the sun, moon, and stars but makes no mention of the “distress” or “tribulation” of “those days” (as do Matthew 24:29 and Mark 13:24). Verse 24 in Luke 21 tells about the consequences of the fall of Jerusalem, with the people either perishing or being taken captive and the city being trampled upon by the non-Jewish nations until their “times” are fulfilled. This would allow for the possibility that the signs in the sun, moon and stars, the panic and fear among the people, the roaring of the sea, and the shaking of the powers of the heavens (mentioned in Luke 21:25, 26) relate to a more distant future time. Accordingly, the words in Luke 21 could be used to support the view that euthéos (“immediately”) does not necessarily have a strict temporal sense in Matthew 24:29.
Both the destruction of Jerusalem and the coming of the Son of Man in power and glory are associated with adverse judgment on unbelievers. In Isaiah, Ezekiel, and Joel, the imagery (including the darkening of the heavenly bodies) associated with such judgments is the same as Jesus is represented as having used. Therefore, it does not seem likely that the “signs” in the sun, moon, and stars designate extraordinary celestial phenomena. The imagery, if applying to the situation just prior to Christ’s return in glory, would simply serve to convey a very distressing time.
Another possibility is that Matthew 24:29 and Mark 13:24 may refer to the dark or gloomy period subsequent to the destruction of Jerusalem and the temple, whereas verses 25 and 26 of Luke 21 may be descriptive of the distressing time immediately preceding Jesus’ coming in glory. Verse 31 of Luke 21 may support this conclusion. There the reference is to the nearness of the kingdom of God, which event is directly associated with Jesus’ coming in power and glory. Upon his return, he would manifest his full kingly authority, removing all opposition to his rule. Regardless of how one may understand the words in Matthew, Mark, and Luke, all three accounts do place the period of darkness after the destruction of Jerusalem and the temple.
To illustrate what he looked for in those whom he would acknowledge as belonging to him when he returned, Jesus related three parables or likenesses. The first one dealt with ten virgins who were waiting for the arrival of the bridegroom. In the second parable, Jesus referred to slaves whom their master had entrusted with talents prior to his undertaking a long trip. Then, in the third parable, Jesus represented himself as separating people like a shepherd separates sheep from goats.
Ten Virgins (Matthew 25:1-13)
Jesus likened a feature of the “kingdom of the heavens” to ten virgins who, with lamps in their hands, went to meet the bridegroom and also, according to a number of manuscripts, the bride. (Matthew 25:1) In the case of actual wedding festivities, this would have been in the evening, at the time the bridegroom would be conducting his bride from the home of her parents and taking her to his home or that of his father. Friends, musicians, and singers would accompany the bridegroom and the bride. Along the way, others would join the procession. The ten virgins of the parable are represented as intending to do this.
Five of the virgins were foolish or failed to use good judgment, and the other five were wise or sensible. Whereas all ten virgins took their lamps, the thoughtless ones did not prepare themselves with a supply of olive oil for their lamps in case they would need to wait a long time for the bridegroom to arrive. The sensible virgins, however, did take containers filled with oil. (Matthew 25:2-4)
After waiting for a long time alongside the road where the bridegroom would be passing with his entourage, the ten virgins fell asleep. Then, in the middle of the night, they were awakened by a joyous shout coming from a distance, “Look! The bridegroom. Go out to meet him.” The ten virgins then got up and “trimmed” their lamps, probably meaning that they adjusted the wicks. (Matthew 25:5-7)
Noticing that their lamps were about to go out from lack of oil, the senseless virgins asked the others to share their supply with them. This the sensible virgins refused to do, as it could have meant that the reduced amount of oil would have been insufficient to keep their own lamps lit. They advised them to leave and buy oil. (Matthew 25:8, 9)
While the foolish virgins were on the way to make their purchases, the bridegroom arrived. The virgins who had properly prepared themselves joined the procession and entered the house with him to share in the wedding banquet. After all those who had joined the procession were inside, the door was shut, preventing anyone else from joining the festivities. (Matthew 25:10)
When the other five virgins arrived, they stood before the closed door, calling out, “Lord, lord, open to us!” He turned them away, saying that he did not know them. They had not been a part of the joyous procession, using their lamps to shed light along the way. So he accorded them no recognition as welcome guests. (Matthew 25:11, 12)
Applying the point of the parable, Jesus concluded, “Stay awake, therefore, for you do not know the day or the hour [in which the Son of Man is coming, according to numerous later manuscripts].” (Matthew 25:13) The parable illustrates that there would be those who appeared to be part of the realm where God is Sovereign and reigns by means of his Son, the king whom he has appointed. Yet, when the Son of God would arrive in glory, they would be found in an unprepared state.
Being ready at that time would not mean remaining in what might be regarded as a state of eschatological frenzy or of the heightened alertness and intensified activity associated with extreme emergencies. In the parable, all the virgins are portrayed as falling asleep, suggesting that the normal routine of life is maintained.
On another occasion, Jesus stressed the need for his disciples to let their light shine, which would be by making expressions about their faith in him, maintaining exemplary conduct, and responding compassionately to the needs of others (Matthew 5:14-16) For a time, the senseless virgins of the parable did have lit lamps. When, however, the bridegroom arrived, their lamps were about to go out. Accordingly, upon his return in glory, Jesus will find professing believers whose love for him and his Father has been extinguished and whose disposition, words, and actions have ceased to be praiseworthy. In their case, it will be too late for rekindling that love and letting their light shine brightly in word and deed, and a participatory sharing with those whose light is brilliant will then not be possible.
The Talents (Matthew 25:14-31)
With apparent reference to another feature associated with the kingdom of the heavens, Jesus likened it to a man who, when about to travel out of the country, called his slaves and entrusted them with his belongings. Based on his evaluation of their individual ability, the master gave five talents to one slave, two to another, and one to a third slave, and then left on his journey. (Matthew 25:14, 15) A talent was the largest monetary unit in the first century CE and equaled 6,000 drachmas or a sum a common laborer would earn in approximately 15 years. So even the slave entrusted with one talent would have been responsible for a large amount of money, reflecting his master’s confidence in his ability and trustworthiness.
The slave with five talents immediately went to work to increase his master’s assets and eventually doubled the amount. With his two talents, the other slave likewise engaged in business activities and, in time, acquired two additional talents. The slave to whom one talent had been given did nothing to increase the asset. He merely dug a hole in the ground and then hid the money. (Matthew 25:16-18)
After a long time had passed, the master returned and had his slaves render an account respecting the talents entrusted to them. The one to whom the five talents had been committed told him that he had gained an additional five talents. “Excellent, good and trustworthy slave,” said the master. “You were trustworthy over a few things. I will put you in charge over many things. Enter into the joy of your master.” His trustworthiness brought pleasure to his master, and he would be sharing in his master’s joy upon being highly honored with a position of even greater trust and responsibility. (Matthew 25:19, 20)
When the slave with the two talents reported that he had gained two more, his master commended him with the identical words. “Excellent, good and trustworthy slave. You were trustworthy over a few things. I will put you in charge over many things. Enter into the joy of your master.” (Matthew 25:22, 23) The master is thus represented as highly valuing trustworthiness in keeping with individual ability and as having the same appreciation for both slaves.
With a demeaning view of his master, the slave with the one talent said, “I knew that you were a hard man, reaping where you did not sow and gathering where you did not disperse. And being fearful, I went and hid your talent in the ground. Look! [Here] you have yours.” (Matthew 25:24, 25) This response represents the slave as implying that he had fulfilled his duty, keeping the talent safe for his master, and so had no additional responsibility upon returning it.
After condemning him as evil and lazy, the master continued, “You knew, [did you], that I reaped where I did not sow and gathered where I did not disperse? So, then, you should have given my money [literally silver] to the bankers, and, upon my return, I would have received my [money] with interest.” (Matthew 25:26, 27)
The master then commanded that the talent be taken away from the useless slave and given to the one who had ten talents. This action was in harmony with the principle that more would be given to the one who has, and he would come to have an abundance; but the one who does not have much because of his untrustworthiness and sluggishness would have the little he does have taken away from him. (Matthew 25:28, 29) In having been represented as one who proved himself trustworthy with what had been entrusted to him and commendably capable of greatly increasing his master’s assets, the slave with the ten talents is the one who received the additional talent.
The master ordered the useless slave to be thrown out of the estate. Without a place in a lighted residence, the slave would then find himself in the darkness outside. There, in expression of his loss, grief, and possibly also anger, he would weep bitterly and gnash his teeth. (Matthew 25:30)
Jesus’ parable suggested that a long time would pass before he would return in glory and that among those professing to be in the realm where he reigns by his Father’s appointment would be individuals who would fail to advance his interests. In expressing his judgment, Jesus would take into consideration individual circumstances and abilities. He would richly reward all who have proved themselves to be faithful or trustworthy in using what has been given them to advance his cause.
Inaction, on the other hand, constitutes working against Jesus and would lead to serious loss. In the parable, the useless slave is represented as having a wrong view of his master and working against his master’s interests by not even letting others help him to increase the asset committed to him. This suggests that a failure to appreciate the Son of God for who he is and what he has done contributes to serious neglect and eventual loss of everything.
Sheep and Goats (Matthew 25:31-46; 26:1, 2)
Upon his arrival in glory, the Son of Man, accompanied by angels, would seat himself on his glorious or splendid throne as king. In this portrayal, Jesus revealed that he would come as one vested with royal authority, which included his role as judge. In this capacity, he would separate people (all the nations assembled before him) in the manner that a shepherd separates sheep from goats, placing the one group on his right and the other one on his left. (Matthew 25:31-33) The right side would denote approval and a favorable judgment, whereas the left side would signify disapproval and condemnation.
As animals, goats are hardier than sheep, less dependent on the care of a herder, and can be destructive to the environment on account of their feeding habits. The negative light in which persons placed on the left are represented, however, does not reflect on the value of goats as domestic animals. In the parable, the use of sheep and goats serves primarily to illustrate the separation of a collective whole into two distinct groups. The differences in sheep and goats are not the focus of the parable, for both animals are incapable of the kind of human actions that provide the basis for judgment.
Jesus speaks of himself as king and identifies those on his right as blessed by his Father, inviting them to inherit the kingdom prepared for them from the world’s foundation. (Matthew 25:34) This reveals that from the very beginning, his Father’s purpose was for humans to be in his realm and to conduct themselves as his loyal subjects. The invitation to those who are judged as approved is for them to share in all the benefits and blessings associated with the realm where Jesus rules by his Father’s appointment and where his Father is recognized as Sovereign.
Jesus represented himself as explaining the reason for the favorable judgment. Those on his right had given him food when he was hungry, supplied him with drink when he was thirsty, welcomed him when he was a stranger, clothed him when he lacked needed apparel, cared for him in times of sickness, and came to him in prison, the implication being for the purpose of providing aid and comfort.
The upright, compassionate individuals would be surprised by his words. They would wonder when they had seen him in the state he had described and cared for his needs. The answer would be, “Amen [Truly], I say to you, Insofar as you did it to one of the least of my brothers, you did it to me.” (Matthew 25:37-40)
The least, most insignificant, or lowly ones are commonly persons who are overlooked in their time of desperate need. In the parable, those who responded compassionately did so when they became aware of the plight of the lowly ones.
The parable of the merciful Samaritan reveals that any human in dire straits is rightly the object of a compassionate aid. As Jesus did not restrict the meaning of “neighbor,” there is no reason to conclude that this parable is to be construed to mean that the least of Christ’s brothers refers to a very limited number of people who adhere to a certain set of beliefs and practices. Jesus himself surrendered his life for all. Therefore, when regarded in the widest sense, he is a brother to the whole human family and looks favorably upon those who reveal themselves to be caring persons. The Roman centurion Cornelius proved to be such a compassionate man. Both his prayers and the kindly aid he had rendered to others ascended as a “memorial before God.” (Acts 10:4)
While loyal disciples of God’s Son recognize the prior claim of family members and those related to them in the faith as taking precedence, they help needy fellow humans whenever they are in position to do so. They recognize their obligation to do good to all. (Galatians 6:10)
Turning to those on his left, Jesus represented himself as saying, “Go away from me, cursed ones, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels.” (Matthew 25:41) This dreadful judgment of loss would not be temporary but permanent and irreversible. The “fire” would be like the “eternal fire” that reduced the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah to perpetual ruin. (Jude 7) The judgment is the same as that reserved for the devil and his minions.
The reason for the dreadful judgment is that the disapproved ones had proved to be without compassion. In the person of needy ones, they had seen Jesus hungry and thirsty, as a lone stranger, naked, sick, and in prison, but they did nothing. These disapproved ones, like the approved ones, are quoted as addressing Jesus as Lord and asking when they saw him “hungry or thirsty, or a stranger, or naked, or sick, or in prison, and did not attend to [him].” The answer is that they failed to care for the least of Christ’s brothers in their time of need. Therefore, they would experience an eternal punishment, losing the opportunity for the enjoyment of the real life that is distinguished by an enduring relationship with the Son of God and his Father. This is the life, the eternal life, to be enjoyed in the sinless state, which those whom Jesus approves will receive as their inheritance. (Matthew 25:42-46)
When individuals can render aid to those in dire need but refuse to do so, they reveal themselves to be callous, seriously lacking in love and compassion. Without essential food, drink, clothing and shelter, humans cannot survive. Those who are seriously ill need care; otherwise they will die. In the first century CE, many people were unjustly imprisoned and their circumstances were so deplorable that their survival depended on the provisions visitors would bring to them. These loving and caring visitors proved to be courageous persons who were not ashamed to identify themselves as friends of those who were imprisoned. (Compare 2 Timothy 1:16, 17; Hebrews 10:34.)
Accordingly, persons who refuse to render aid when they could have done so make themselves guilty of a neglect tantamount to murder. As hateful murderers like the devil, they would deserve the same punishment in store for him and his angels. (Compare John 8:44; James 2:15, 16; 1 John 3:15-17.)
After relating the parables, Jesus told his disciples that he would be crucified. It was then just two days before the Passover. (Matthew 26:1, 2)
During the time Jesus was in the vicinity of Jerusalem, he spent the day teaching in the temple precincts. At night, he would leave, heading for the Mount of Olives and usually, if not always, stay in Bethany at the home of Martha, Mary, and Lazarus. Early in the day, people would arrive at the temple to listen to Jesus’ teaching. (Luke 21:37, 38)
Viewing him as a threat to their security as a nation, the chief priests, scribes, and other prominent men of the nation resolved to have him killed. They met at the home of Caiaphas, the high priest, and plotted how they might stealthily attain their objective. In view of the approach of Passover, the influential unbelieving Jews considered it inadvisable for them to seize Jesus during the festival. They feared this would lead to a tumult among the crowds who were eager to listen to his teaching. (Matthew 26:3-5; Mark 14:1, 2; Luke 22:1, 2)
According to Luke 22:3, “Satan entered into Judas,” one of the twelve apostles. This probably means that Judas yielded to desires that stood in opposition to the Son of God, making him a tool of the great opposer or resister, Satan. Earlier, Judas had been entrusted with the common fund, which was used to purchase food and other necessities and to assist the poor. (John 13:29) He, however, ceased to be trustworthy and stole money from the fund on a regular basis. (John 12:6) Thus he demonstrated himself to be lacking in love for Jesus, his fellow apostles, and the poor.
The Scriptures do not reveal how and why Judas became corrupt, leading to the ultimate sin of betrayal. He went to the chief priests, asking them what they would give him for having Jesus handed over to them. They were highly pleased with his offer and agreed to pay him 30 silver pieces. During the time Judas conferred with the chief priests, temple guards were also present. (Matthew 26:14, 15; Mark 14:10, 11; Luke 22:4, 5) With the cooperation of Judas, the unbelieving Jewish leaders no longer needed to wait until after the festival to arrest Jesus. What Judas had offered to do made it possible for them to carry out their plot in secret, avoiding any possible uprising among the people.
The sum of 30 silver pieces was the price of a slave. (Exodus 21:32) This sum reflected the low esteem in which the unbelieving leaders of the nation held Jesus. At the same time, the payment of 30 silver pieces paralleled what was given to Zechariah for his having served as a shepherd for the people of Israel. (Zechariah 11:12) Therefore, in the case of the greatest shepherd, Jesus Christ, the payment of thirty silver pieces fulfilled what had been recorded in Zechariah regarding one who served as a shepherd but was not appreciated nor valued.
After his agreeing to betray Jesus, Judas watched for an opportune time to hand him over to the unbelieving influential Jews. (Matthew 26:16; Mark 14:11) For the plot to succeed, Judas needed to look for a time without the presence of a crowd and a circumstance that would allow for a secretive arrest. (Luke 22:6)
With the approach of the Festival of Unleavened Bread preceded by the observance of Passover, Jesus knew that his “hour” or time had come to leave the world in which he had lived and to return to his Father. He was fully aware that it was the time for him willingly to surrender his life, not resisting or seeking to avoid being executed like a criminal seditionist. By laying down his life, he would express his great love for his disciples and for the world of mankind, as his sacrificial death would provide the basis for forgiveness of sins and reconciliation with his Father. (John 13:1)
Jesus’ death would also serve to reveal his Father’s boundless love for mankind. By not sparing his dearly beloved Son from sacrificing his life, the Father reached out to the human family in a manner that should have left no doubt about his love. He thereby extended to all the opportunity to respond in faith or trust in him, appreciatively accepting his arrangement to be forgiven of their sins and to become his dear children.
As for his disciples, Jesus had always loved them and he “loved them to the end.” This could mean that his love continued to the very end or that he loved them to the limit, completely or utterly. The ultimate expression of his love proved to be the surrender of his life for them. (John 13:1)
When the disciples asked Jesus about arrangements for eating the Passover meal, they had no idea that this would be the very last time they would be sharing with him in the observance. It was then the “first [day] of the unleavened [bread]” (when the Passover animals were sacrificially slaughtered in the temple courtyard) and would be followed by the seven-day Festival of Unleavened Bread. (Matthew 26:17; Mark 14:12; Luke 22:7)
According to ancient Jewish sources, the people burned all leaven at the beginning of the sixth hour (noon) prior to the night on which the Passover lamb or goat was eaten. Either one or two hours earlier, they ceased to eat anything that had been leavened. (Mishnah, Pesahim, 1:4) Their not eating any leavened bread during the entire festival served as a reminder that their ancestors had departed in haste from Egypt, taking with them their dough before it was leavened. (Exodus 12:34; Deuteronomy 16:3) This feature is the basis for the name “Festival of Unleavened Bread.”
In response to the question about Passover observance, Jesus sent Peter and John to make preparations. The instructions he gave them did not reveal the location. Thus Judas Iscariot would not have been able to provide advance notice about Jesus’ whereabouts before the Passover meal.
Peter and John were to go to Jerusalem. Upon seeing a man carrying a vessel containing water, they were to follow him. Peter and John should then tell the owner of the house where the man entered, “The Teacher says, ‘Where is my guest room where I may eat the Passover with my disciples?’” (Mark 14:13, 14; Luke 22:8-11; see the Notes section for comments regarding Matthew 26:17, 18; and Luke 22:8, 9.)
The owner would then show Peter and John a large upper room that was furnished and ready for use. This probably means that the room contained a table and couches for reclining on three of its sides. In that large room, Peter and John were to make the necessary preparations. (Mark 14:15; Luke 22:12)
The accounts do not reveal whether Jesus had made any prior arrangements with the owner of the house or whether everything that happened exactly as he had said to Peter and John involved his foreknowledge. Women usually carried water jars, and so the man with the vessel would have been readily identifiable. The home itself must have belonged to a family of disciples, for the owner responded as would a person who knew the “Teacher” who made the request for a place to observe the Passover.
In subsequent years, the home in Jerusalem where Mark lived with his mother Mary served as a meeting place for the disciples. Therefore, it may have been the house with the large upper room. (Acts 12:12)
After finding everything as Jesus had said, Peter and John followed through on making preparations for the Passover meal. (Matthew 26:19; Mark 14:16; Luke 22:13) No details are provided regarding whether they had to obtain everything needed for the meal or whether the bitter greens, the unleavened bread, and the dip (haroset) primarily consisting of fruit and nuts were available for them at the home.
Ancient Jewish sources provide considerable detail about preparations for the Passover and the meal. The unleavened bread could be made from wheat, barley, spelt, rye, or oat flour. (Mishnah, Pesahim,Pesahim, 2:6)
In the afternoon before the Passover meal, the second daily whole burnt offering was slaughtered at about 1:30 p.m. (unless the day was also the Sabbath) and offered up on the altar about 2:30 p.m. (Mishnah, Pesahim, 5:1) Around this time, the first of three groups of Israelite men would enter the courtyard of the temple to slaughter their one-year-old unblemished male lambs (or goats). While the blood drained from the slaughtered animal, a priest would let it fill the basin he was holding. He would then pass it to a priest standing next to him in the row of priests and receive an empty basin. Thus full and empty basins would pass from hand to hand. The priest nearest the altar would, in a single act, toss the blood toward the base of the altar. (Mishnah, Pesahim, 5:5, 6)
To flay the carcasses, the men would suspend them from the iron hooks in the walls and pillars of the courtyard. In case an Israelite found no place for hanging the carcass, he used one of the available smooth poles. With the end of one pole on his shoulder and the other end on the shoulder of his companion, he would flay the suspended carcass. (Mishnah, Pesahim, 5:9) After skinning the animals, the men would slit the carcasses open, remove the sacrificial portions, and place them on trays. Thereafter a priest would burn the sacrificial portions on the altar. (Mishnah, Pesahim, 5:10)
If Peter and John cared for this part of the preparation of the Passover, they would have left the temple courtyard with the skinned animal and headed back to the house in the city. Before placing the slaughtered animal in the oven for roasting, they would have rinsed the entrails and scorched the hair of its legs and head in fire. (Mishnah, Pesahim, 6:1; Tosefta, Pesahim, 5:10) According to the Mishnah (Pesahim, 7:1, 2), a stick of pomegranate wood would be passed through the mouth of the carcass to the buttocks. Suspended on this spit, the slaughtered animal would be roasted whole. (Tosefta, Pesahim, 7:1, 2)
In Matthew 26:17, the disciples raise the question about preparing for the Passover. According to the next verse, Jesus answered, “Go into the city to a certain man and tell him, ‘The Teacher says, My time is near; at your [home] I will observe the Passover with my disciples.’” While not expressed in question form (as in Mark 14:14 and Luke 22:11), the words in Matthew 26:18 do convey the basic thought about the observance of the Passover meal in the owner’s house. Moreover, all of the accounts are highly condensed. At least in part, the differences may be attributed to paraphrasing in Greek what was said in another language.
Only Matthew 26:18 includes the statement, “My time is near.” These words reflected Jesus’ awareness that the time had come for him to lay down his life for the world of mankind.
According to Luke (22:8, 9), Peter and John, after Jesus told them to make preparations for the Passover meal, asked him where they should do so. The narration in Matthew 26:17 and Mark 14:12 represents the disciples as asking the question. It is possible that the question was raised before Jesus designated Peter and John to make preparations and then a second time by the two disciples (with Peter [as on other occasions] acting as the spokesman). The other possibility is that Luke 22:8-11 provides the chronological sequence, with Jesus first telling Peter and John to make the needed preparations for the Passover meal.
Many have attempted to explain why Matthew, Mark, and Luke refer to Jesus as observing the Passover with his disciples, whereas John 18:28 indicates that those who led Jesus to Pilate had not as yet eaten the Passover meal. The Scriptures and other extant ancient sources, however, do not provide sufficient details to account for this in a definitive way.
In the evening, Jesus and the apostles arrived at the house in Jerusalem where they would be partaking of the Passover meal. The reference in Mark 14:17 to the “twelve” may indicate that, after having completed the preparations, Peter and John returned and that thereafter Jesus and all twelve apostles departed. Another possibility is that “twelve” functions as a collective designation for the apostles, meaning that Jesus arrived with the company of apostles numbering ten at the time. This included Judas Iscariot (the son of Simon) who had already, in his “heart” or deep inner self, yielded to the devil in the determination to betray him. (John 13:2)
Ancient Jewish sources provide background for understanding developments in connection with the Passover meal. The eating did not begin until after dark and all had reclined at the table. Four cups of wine were to be available. (Mishnah Pesahim, 10:1) The meal itself was to end by midnight. (Tosefta, Pesahim, 5:13) The head of the household or the one officiating pronounced a blessing over the first cup of wine. (Mishnah, Pesahim, 10:2; Tosefta, Pesahim, 10:2, 3) In conjunction with the second cup of wine (if the celebrants were part of a household), the son would ask his father about the significance of the event. If the boy was too young to ask questions, the father would teach him as much as he could comprehend. The head of the household would then begin a recitation of the Hallel, either all of Psalm 113 or both Psalm 113 and 114. The mixing of the third cup of wine was followed by a blessing for the food. When it came time for the fourth cup, the Hallel was completed. (Mishnah, Pesahim, 10:4, 6, 7) After the meal, the entire night would be spent in consideration of the laws of the Passover. (Tosefta, Pesahim, 10:11, 12)
After all were reclining at the table, Jesus, in view of the suffering that would soon befall him, mentioned that he had very much desired to share the Passover meal with the apostles. (Matthew 26:20; Luke 22:14, 15) He indicated that this would be his last Passover meal with them, for he would not be eating it until it would be “fulfilled in the kingdom of God.” (Luke 22:16) He thus appears to have alluded to his role as the “Lamb of God,” or the fulfillment of the Passover sacrifice, and the joy he would be sharing with his disciples when he returned in glory, revealing himself to be the king by his Father’s appointment. For his devoted disciples, this joy would be comparable to sharing in a royal banquet when united with him either upon being resurrected in an incorruptible state or upon experiencing a change from mortality to immortality. (John 1:29; 1 Corinthians 5:7; 15:51-54; 1 Thessalonians 4:16, 17)
Probably early during the course of the meal and likely before the introduction of the third cup of wine, Jesus, fully aware that his Father had given all things into his hands and that he had come from him and would be returning to him, undertook the task of a lowly servant. (John 13:3) Not one of the apostles had thought to serve his fellow apostles by washing their feet, which would have become dusty during the course of their walk.
Jesus, however, stood up, laid his outer garment down, girded himself with a towel, poured water into a basin, and commenced washing the feet of the disciples. To Peter it seemed inconceivable that his Lord, the Son of God, would wash the feet of a disciple, prompting him to say by way of objection, “Lord, are you washing my feet?” Jesus told Peter that, though he did not then comprehend this action, he would later come to understand it. Still, Peter protested, “You will never wash my feet.” He simply could not understand that Jesus, whose greatness he recognized, would perform the task of a lowly servant; it did not seem right to him. “If I do not wash [your feet],” said Jesus to Peter, “you have no share with me.” Immediately Peter stopped objecting. Highly valuing his relationship with Jesus and not wanting to jeopardize it in any way, he declared himself ready to submit to more extensive washing. “Lord, not my feet only,” Peter said, “but also my hands and head.” (John 13:4-9)
Jesus pointed out that one who had bathed only needed to have his feet washed. Whereas the hands and the head were not in contact with the ground as one walked about, the sandals did not keep the feet clean. Therefore, as Jesus said, the bathed person who had his feet washed would be completely clean. Making an application to more than physical cleanness, he continued, “And you [apostles] are clean, but not all.” Jesus said this because he knew the one who would betray him and, therefore, the one who was not morally clean. (John 13:10, 11) He had treated Judas just like the other apostles, washing his feet and in no way acting in an unloving or resentful manner toward him. Nothing in Jesus’ words and actions gave a hint to the other apostles as to who the betrayer could possibly be.
Viewed from a moral standpoint, Jesus’ washing the feet of his disciples seemingly revealed the necessity of completely relying on him for cleansing from sin. Whereas believers have been forgiven of their sins on the basis of their faith in Christ and his sacrificial death for them, they still commit sins. Accordingly, they continue to need Jesus’ washing or cleansing from the transgressions committed in their daily walk. (1 John 1:8-2:2)
Jesus’ washing the feet of the apostles served as a vital object lesson for them about the way in which they should conduct themselves as unassuming servants. After having finished washing the feet of all twelve men, Jesus put on his robe and then reclined at the table. His question (“Do you know what I have done for you?”) served to draw to their attention the important lesson they should learn from his example. They rightly called him “Teacher” and “Lord,” for he indeed was such. Since he as their Teacher and Lord had washed their feet, they should have been willing to perform lowly tasks for others in imitation of his example. With a repetition of a solemn “amen” (truly), Jesus continued, “I say to you, a slave is not greater than his lord [master] nor is the one being sent greater than the one who sent him. If you know these things, happy are you if you do them.” (John 13:12-17)
It would have been contrary to the sense of propriety for underlings to refuse to render the kind of service a master or one with authority to commission was willing to perform and to consider the service as beneath their dignity. With a proper understanding of their position as fellow servants, the disciples would be happy to act in that capacity. They would find joy in serving others in ways that could be considered as lowly.
Jesus’ words about experiencing happiness from doing what he had taught were not directed to everyone. He fully knew the ones whom he had chosen, not being blinded by any outward appearances. Among them was one whose actions were portrayed in the treachery described in Psalm 41:9(10), “The one who ate my bread has lifted up his heel against me.” (John 13:18) The expression “lifting up of the heel” evidently signifies base treachery, the figure apparently being of a raised foot that is ready to kick. (See the Notes section for additional comments regarding John 13:18.)
Jesus explained why he had revealed that he would become the object of base treachery, saying, “When it happens, you may believe that I am [the one].” Amen, amen, [Truly, truly] I say to you, Whoever receives anyone I send receives me, and whoever receives me receives the one who sent me.” (John 13:19, 20) The fulfillment of Jesus’ prophetic words would provide additional confirmation that he was indeed the Son of God. This would serve to strengthen the faith of the loyal apostles, for this development would be part of the cumulative evidence for their belief in him. All who would accept those whom Jesus had sent would recognize them as trustworthy witnesses about him. Therefore, the acceptance of those sent would constitute acceptance of Jesus as the sender, the one to whom the testimony of the messengers would have led all who embraced it. Acceptance of Jesus also signified acceptance of his Father, as he was his Father’s representative.
After Jesus referred to the words of the psalmist, he became greatly disturbed in spirit, or inwardly, and solemnly declared, “Amen, amen [Truly, truly], I say to you, One of you will betray me.” (John 13:21) In great perplexity, the apostles looked at one another, with none of Jesus’ loyal apostles having any idea about who the future betrayer could possibly be. Among themselves they discussed regarding whom Jesus might have been speaking. His words distressed them. Not being able to imagine that they would make themselves guilty of betrayal, they asked, “Not I, [is it]?” (Matthew 26:21, 22; Mark 14:18, 19; Luke 22:21-23; John 13:22)
Leaving no doubt that the future betrayer was then in their midst, Jesus said, “One who, with me, dips his hand in the bowl will betray me. As it is written about him, the Son of Man is going away [according to what had been determined (Luke 22:22)], but woe to the man through whom the Son of Man is betrayed. Better would it have been for him had he not been born.” Seemingly, to divert attention away from himself, Judas asked, “Not I [is it], Rabbi?” Jesus responded, “You said [so],” which implied that Judas’ words did not conceal the truth concerning what he was about to do. (Matthew 26:23-25; Mark 14:19-21; Luke 22:21-23; see the Notes section for additional comments.)
Based on what his Father had determined respecting him, Jesus knew that he would be going away, finishing his earthly course in death and returning to his Father after being resurrected. Whereas the Son of God had to lay down his life to serve as his Father’s means for liberating from sin those who put faith in him, this did not mean that the treachery of Judas was excusable. Judas chose to follow a course in opposition to Jesus. Like the other apostles, he could have remained loyal but, instead, allowed satanic influence to corrupt him. That is why Jesus pronounced woe on the future betrayer. The nature of the treachery was such that it would have been better for Judas not to have be born.
Peter must have wanted to ask Jesus personally who the betrayer would be, but he appears not to have been close enough to do so without being overheard. He then got the attention of the disciple whom Jesus particularly loved (John), requesting him to raise the question. John seems to have been reclining on Jesus’ right side, with his head being in close proximity to Jesus’ breast. This would have made it possible for him to lean back to speak to Jesus (doubtless in a subdued manner or whisper) without any of the other apostles being aware of it. (John 13:23-25)
In response to the question about who the betrayer would be, Jesus said, “It is the one for whom I shall dip the morsel and [to whom] I shall give it.” He then took the morsel, dipped it, and gave it to Judas, the son of Simon Iscariot. It would appear that Judas was within easy reach of Jesus, probably reclining on his immediate left. Thus, to the very end, Jesus treated him with kindness and even favored him with being in his close proximity. The account says that, as soon as Judas took the morsel, “Satan entered into him.” This suggests that, despite the love Jesus has shown him, Judas completely yielded to the satanic inclination that made him a traitor. Jesus then told him, “Quickly do what you are doing.” (John 13:26, 27)
As Judas handled the common fund, some among the apostles thought that he was being instructed to buy something needed for the festival or to give something to the poor. Immediately after he accepted the morsel, Judas left. The account adds, “And it was night.” (John 13:28-30) This reference to “night” seems to have had more than a literal significance. It proved to be a night of darkness, for Jesus was betrayed and arrested. If judged from outward appearances, the powers of darkness had seemingly triumphed. (Luke 22:53)
It would not have been unusual for someone to leave during the Passover meal or for several private conversations to be carried on among those eating. The meal itself was not a hurried affair. According to the Mishnah (Pesahim, 10:8), some might even fall asleep. If not all of the group fell asleep, they could resume eating upon waking up. One rabbinical view was that if all merely drowsed and did not fall into deep sleep, they could eat again. The Tosefta (Pesahim, 10:8) refers to those who had no one to recite the Hallel for them. They would then go to the synagogue for the reading of the first part, return home to eat and drink, and then return to the synagogue to complete the Hallel. If the distance was too great for them to return to the synagogue, the entire Hallel was completed the first time. This interruption of the meal with the Hallel may provide a basis for concluding that Judas left before the introduction of the third cup of wine.
The quotation in John 13:18 from verse 9(10) of Psalm 41(40) conveys the basic thought of the Septuagint rendering (“the one eating my bread has magnified [his] treachery against me”), but the words are not identical. In the Septuagint, the Greek word for “treachery” is pternismós, a term incorporating the word ptérna, meaning “heel.” The related verb pternízo basically denotes “to bite someone’s heel,” to go behind someone’s back, to deceive, or to outwit. The quotation in John 13:18, however, says “heel,” contains a different Greek word for “eat,” and uses a term for “lifted up,” not “magnified.”
Earlier, Jesus had expressed the teaching found in John 13:20. When sending out the twelve apostles, he had also told them that those who would receive or accept them would be accepting him and the one who had sent him. (Matthew 10:40)
In Matthew 26 and Mark 14, Jesus’ words about the one who would betray him precede the institution of what is commonly known as the “Lord’s Supper.” Luke 22:21-23, however, narrates the discussion about betrayal after this event. It appears that Luke’s account is not chronological but presents the progression of the Passover meal in a condensed manner from the start through to the institution of the “Lord’s Supper.” In view of the other accounts, the reference to the betrayal in Luke 22 can be understood as having taken place during the course of the Passover meal. Lending weight to this conclusion are Jesus’ words that the hand of his betrayer was with him at the table, indicating that he was then eating the meal with him. (Luke 22:21)
While the Passover meal was in progress, Jesus took a cup of wine, gave thanks, and then said to the apostles, “Take this and share it among yourselves; for I say to you, From now on I will not drink from the produce of the vine until the kingdom of God comes.” Based on the events (narrated in the biblical accounts) that intervened between the beginning of the Passover meal and the reference to the cup, this particular cup of wine may have been the third one used during the course of the meal. (Luke 22:17, 18; see, however, the Notes section for additional comments.)
According to the Mishnah, a blessing was said for the food after the third cup of wine. This would appear to fit what Jesus did after the apostles passed the cup of wine among themselves. He took bread from the table, pronounced a blessing or gave thanks, broke the bread, and handed it out, saying, “Take, eat; this is my body.” (Matthew 26:26; Mark 14:22; Luke 22:19; see the Notes section regarding Luke 22:19.)
Next Jesus took the cup (probably the fourth cup of wine), said a blessing, and told his disciples, “Drink from it, all [of you]; for this is my blood of the covenant poured out for many for forgiveness of sins.” (Matthew 26:27, 28; Mark 14:23, 24; Luke 22:20)
Many have taken the “is” in the Greek text to mean that the bread is to be identified with the actual body of Christ and the wine with his actual blood. In ancient Hebrew and Aramaic versions of these words, however, no “is” appears in the text. In keeping with the idiom of the language in which Jesus would have addressed the apostles, he would not have used any form of a “to be” verb. With Jesus personally being present, the apostles could not have imagined that he was literally identifying the bread with his actual fleshly body and the wine with his actual blood. Moreover, the manner in which he expressed himself in their native tongue would not have suggested such identity.
Even with the “is” included in the Greek text, identity is not inherent in the language. In the expression “this is my body,” all of the accounts are in agreement in using the word “this” (toutó). Although the Greek term for bread or loaf (ártos) is masculine, toutó is neuter, raising a question about whether the “bread” or “loaf” is being identified with Christ’s body of flesh. One explanation for the neuter is that “this” reflects the neuter gender of the word for “body” (somá). From a strict grammatical standpoint, however, the Greek word for “this” should be masculine to establish the kind of relationship of the bread to the fleshly body of God’s Son that many believe it to have.
The Greek word for “cup” (potérion) is neuter and so there is grammatical agreement with the word for “this” (toutó). It should be noted, though, that the direct reference is to the cup and not to the wine. Clearly, the cup itself cannot be understood as being identified with the blood of Christ. The link to the blood can only be made with the wine inside the cup.
In connection with the loaf, the neuter “this” (toutó) could refer to everything Jesus did as it related to his body. This would include his body consisting of all believers. Regarding the cup of wine, the “this” (toutó) could apply to everything Jesus did with the cup and could refer to what his shed blood would effect—forgiveness of sins and the validation of a new covenant.
While the accounts in Matthew and Mark and numerous manuscripts of Luke (22:19) do not include the words “given for you” after “my body,” the oldest extant manuscript (P75 from the late second century or early third century) and many other manuscripts of Luke include them, and 1 Corinthians 11:24 contains the shorter phrase, “for you.” Jesus surrendered his own body and thereby made it possible for a body of believers to come into existence and to be united to him. Individually, all believers benefit from what Jesus did in delivering up his body for them and also for making it possible for them to become part of the body of which he is the head. Thus, both from the standpoint of his own body and that of the composite body of believers, Jesus could be spoken of as having given his body for the individual believers. The resulting fellowship with Jesus and the community of believers that constitutes his body promotes the spiritual growth and the strengthening of the individual members in faith and love. (Compare Ephesians 4:11-16.)
The apostle Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians indicates how believers in the first century regarded partaking of the bread and the wine. They did so in remembrance of Christ, focusing on what he did by sacrificing his body and pouring out his blood. Whenever they ate of the loaf and drank from the cup, they proclaimed the death of the Lord until he would return in glory, which would result in their being united with him. In the presence of all partakers, they thus tangibly announced their faith in what Jesus’ death had done for them. (1 Corinthians 11:25, 26)
Believers also recognized that, through Christ’s sacrificial death, they had become members of his body. Their partaking of the one loaf proved to be concrete evidence of this reality. The apostle Paul wrote, “Because one loaf [there is], we, the many, one body are, for all [of us] partake from the one loaf.” (1 Corinthians 10:17) When partaking of the wine, they were sharers in the “blood of the Christ,” which indicates that they were beneficiaries of the new covenant that had been put into effect through Christ’s blood and which made forgiveness of sins possible. (1 Corinthians 10:15)
The linkage to the corporate body of the community of believers is also reflected in the prayer contained in the Didache (thought to date from the late first or early second century), “We thank you, our Father, for the life and knowledge which you have made known to us through Jesus your servant. To you [be] the glory for eternity. As this broken bread was dispersed on the mountains and gathered to become one, thus may your congregation be gathered from the ends of the earth into your kingdom.” (9:3, 4) The scattering or dispersing “on the mountains” appears to refer to the sowing of seed in hilly or mountainous regions, with the harvested grain from many ears being ground into flour and coming to be just one loaf of bread.
According to Matthew 26:29 and Mark 14:25, Jesus, after passing the cup to the apostles, told them that he would not again drink of the fruit of the vine with them until his doing so in his Father’s kingdom. He thereby indicated that the intimacy they then enjoyed would not occur again until his return in glory as the king of the kingdom of God. That event would be the beginning of a time when he as king by his Father’s appointment would exercise full authority without the existence of any competing sovereignties. The apostles would then be united with him, sharing in the kind of honor associated with eating and drinking at the royal table. (Regarding Luke 22:18, see the Notes section.)
The possibility that Luke 22:17 refers to the third cup would not agree with manuscripts that omit the words of verse 20 (with its reference to the cup linked to the new covenant). In the case of texts that do not include verse 20, the cup mentioned in Luke 22:17 could be understood to designate the one used for the institution of the “Lord’s Supper.” This would mean that, in Luke’s account, the narration follows a reverse order (cup of wine and then bread, not bread and then cup).
One reason for favoring the abbreviated text of Luke is that, after Jesus had referred to “my blood of the covenant,” Matthew 26:29 and Mark 14:25 set forth his words about not drinking of the produce of the vine. The expanded text of Luke (found in most extant Greek manuscripts), on the other hand, introduces these words before mentioning the cup used at the institution of the “Lord’s Supper.” (Luke 22:18)
In Luke 22:19, many manuscripts read, “This is my body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” There are manuscripts, however, that do not contain this expanded text but end with “my body” (as do Matthew 26:26 and Mark 14:22). In the Westcott and Hort Greek text, words after “my body” and all of verse 20 are printed within double brackets, indicating that B. F. Westcott and F. J. A. Hort doubted that the words were included in the original.
The longer text in the most ancient extant Greek manuscripts, however, requires that they be retained in modern translations, especially since they can be regarded as complementing the other accounts. According to Luke 22:20, Jesus introduced the cup after the meal and linked its contents with the “new covenant in [his] blood,” which would be poured out for the disciples. In connection with the new covenant, the words “in my blood” (based on other biblical passages) indicate that the new covenant would be put into effect by means of Jesus’ shed blood. (Hebrews 10:29; 13:12, 21, 22)
After Judas had left, Jesus referred to himself as the Son of Man when speaking of his glorification and that of his Father “in him.” In the Greek text, the verb for “glorified” is in the aorist tense, which is commonly used to denote something that happened in the past. By willingly submitting to his Father’s purpose for him and what this would ultimately accomplish, Jesus was glorified as the unique and beloved Son of God. “In him,” or by means of everything Jesus had done and would do as one fully submissive to his Father’s will for him, the Father was glorified or honored. Jesus’ willing surrender of his life would climax an earthly ministry devoted to glorifying his Father. At the same time, his Father had glorified him through the works he had empowered him to perform. Seemingly, because his ultimate glorification (his resurrection and ascension to heaven) was an imminent reality that would complete the glorification process, Jesus introduced his reference to the past glorification with the word “now” (nyn), “Now the Son of Man has been [or, was] glorified, and God has been [or, was] glorified in him.” (John 13:31)
Numerous Greek manuscripts represent Jesus as saying, “If God has been glorified in him [the Son of Man], also God will glorify him in himself, and he will immediately glorify him.” (John 13:32) The omission in many other manuscripts of the introductory phrase (“If God has been glorified in him”) does not materially affect the meaning of the words that follow. The action of God’s Son in glorifying his Father, especially in the surrender of his life in full submission to his will, would lead to his Father’s glorifying him and doing so immediately. On the third day after Jesus’ death, his Father did glorify him, raising him from the dead and granting him unparalleled authority in heaven and on earth. (Matthew 28:18) When Jesus returned to his Father, he did so as the exalted Son who had the right to be universally acknowledged as Lord. (Philippians 2:9-11)
As the night passed, Jesus did not do all the talking. There appear to have been interchanges among the apostles. During the course of conversations in which Jesus was not personally involved, they got into an argument about who among them seemed to be the greatest. In response to their dispute, Jesus admonished them that they should not be like rulers of the nations who are called benefactors but dominate over their subjects. The greatest among the disciples should be as the youngest, not one who sought to exercise control over others but assumed the role of the least among them. As for a disciple who took the lead, he should be the one serving among them. Focusing on the example he had set for them, Jesus raised the questions, “Who is greater, the one reclining [at the table] or the one serving? [Is it] not the one reclining?” These questions were designed to cause the disciples to reflect on their role in relation to him, and he then told them, “In your midst, however, I am as one who is serving.” (Luke 22:24-27)
That very night Jesus had washed the feet of the apostles, acting as one who served in their midst. They, however, had not yet learned to conduct themselves in harmony with this object lesson and Jesus’ earlier teaching and personal example that true greatness requires a willingness to serve others. (Matthew 20:25-28; 23:11; Mark 9:33-37; 10:41-45; John 13:3-10)
Although the apostles needed to be corrected about their attitude, Jesus commended them for their faithfulness. They had stayed by him in his trials, not fearfully abandoning him when he faced intense hostility and murderous intent. As the one to whom his Father had entrusted kingly authority, Jesus conferred a kingdom on his loyal disciples. Portraying their future close association with him as persons honored to be eating at the king’s table, he told them that they would eat and drink at his table and “sit on thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel.” (Luke 22:28-30)
Jesus chose expressions that were adapted to their understanding of the kingdom, enabling them to discern how intimate their association would be with him as king. Because they viewed the kingdom as one that would be restored to Israel, Jesus spoke of their role as including the judging of the twelve tribes of Israel. His accommodating his words to their understanding made it possible for him to convey the message he wanted them to grasp about their future role. (Acts 1:6) After Jesus’ death and resurrection, they would come to recognize that the realm where he rules by his Father’s appointment is universal and not limited to Israel. Accordingly, the judging of Israel would be representative of a far greater role toward all nations.
Jesus made known to the apostles that, in their relationship to him, they would all be “stumbled” in that very night. This indicated that they would fearfully abandon him, fulfilling the prophetic word (Zechariah 13:7), “I will strike the shepherd, and the sheep of the flock will be scattered.” This scattering would be temporary, for Jesus added, “After I am raised up, I will go ahead of you to Galilee.” (Matthew 26:31, 32; Mark 14:26-28 [In Zechariah 13:7, the striking of the shepherd is portrayed as taking place by God’s permission, and the words, “I will strike,” are evidently to be understood in this sense. The extant text of the Septuagint reads “shepherds.”]) It seems that Jesus’ meeting with the disciples in Galilee after his resurrection occurred when he appeared to upward of 500 believers. (1 Corinthians 15:6)
Affectionately referring to his disciples as “children,” Jesus told them that he would be with them only a little while longer. “You will seek me,” he continued. As he had said on an earlier occasion to the unbelieving Jews (John 7:33, 34), he now told his disciples, “Where I am going you cannot come.” (John 13:33) In the case of the disciples, their “seeking” would be indicative of a strong inner desire to be with Jesus. (Compare 2 Corinthians 5:1-6; Philippians 1:23.) He, however, would be absent from them, and they, in their earthly state of existence, would not be able to join him.
While Jesus had been with his disciples, he had shown them the kind of love that surpassed everything they had formerly experienced. Now when he was about to make the superlative expression of his love by surrendering his life for them, he gave them a new commandment, one that required their loving one another as he had loved them. All observers would be able to recognize them as his disciples by the love they had for one another. (John 13:34, 35) What made this commandment new is that it went beyond the law’s requirement of loving one’s neighbor as oneself. In imitation of God’s Son, the new commandment called for a love that put the interests and well-being of others ahead of one’s own. This love was a self-sacrificing love that found its fulfillment in selfless giving and serving.
It may have been after Peter insisted that he would not be stumbled even though all the others might be that Jesus said to him, “Simon, Simon, see! Satan has demanded to sift you [plural, meaning all of the apostles] as wheat. I, however, have prayed for you that your faith may not fail.” Then, once he had “returned” or recovered from his temporary “stumbling,” Peter was to strengthen his “brothers” or his fellow disciples. (Matthew 26:33; Mark 14:29; Luke 22:31, 32)
Possibly on account of the weakness (instead of rocklike strength) Peter would shortly manifest, Jesus may have chosen not to call him by the name he had personally given him (Peter, meaning “rock”) but addressed him as “Simon, Simon.” With reference to Satan, the verb meaning “demand” (exaitéo) seems to express his aim or desire. He wanted to submit the disciples to a severe test. The intensity of that test would be comparable to the sifting process that separates wheat from chaff, the implication being that Satan would have wanted to expose the disciples as worthless chaff, persons with a wrecked faith. Jesus’ prayer for Peter and the assurance that he would be in a position afterward to strengthen his fellow disciples, infusing them with courage, indicated that the satanic assault would not succeed.
In response to Jesus’ words that the disciples would not be able to come to the place where he would be heading, Peter asked, “Lord, where are you going?” “Where I am going,” Jesus replied, “you cannot follow me now, but you will follow later.” (John 13:36) Jesus would surrender his life, be resurrected, and return to his Father. Later, Peter would also die and, upon being raised from the dead, would again be with Jesus.
As one who deeply loved God’s Son, Peter felt that he was prepared to go anywhere with him regardless of what the circumstances might be. Even if it were to mean imprisonment or death for him, he would not hesitate to go. (Luke 22:33) Though all the other disciples might stumble, he would not. Firmly convinced about his loyalty to Jesus, Peter said, “Lord, why can I not follow you now? I will give up my soul [life] for you.” (Matthew 26:33; Mark 14:29; John 13:37)
“Will you give up your soul for me?” Jesus replied. Then, with a solemn introductory “amen, amen” (truly, truly), he declared that Peter would disown him three times that night before a cock crowed, probably just before dawn. (Matthew 26:34; Luke 22:34; John 13:38) According to Mark 14:30, Jesus said “before a cock crows twice,” indicating that Peter’s denial of association with him would take place before a cock crowed the second time.
Peter could not imagine that he would deny his Lord and protested, “Even if I must die with you, I will never disown you.” The other disciples also expressed their loyalty to Jesus in the same manner. (Matthew 26:35; Mark 13:31) He, though, knew what effect his arrest would have on them, but they overestimated their strength to remain resolute.
Alerting them to the changed circumstances in which they would find themselves, Jesus drew a sharp contrast. He had earlier sent them out without their having to take a pouch containing money for making purchases, a bag with supplies, or an extra pair of sandals. When Jesus asked them whether they had lacked anything at that time, the apostles acknowledged that they had not. Now, however, he told them to equip themselves differently. If they had a pouch for money and a bag for supplies, they should take such with them. He even advised them that the one without a sword should sell his cloak and buy one. His words indicated that they would find themselves in a perilous situation and would have to rely on their own resources. This was because what would happen to him in fulfillment of the prophetic word (Isaiah 53:12) about his being “counted with lawless ones.” (Luke 22:35-37) He would be treated and condemned as a vile criminal.
In response to Jesus’ words about obtaining a sword, the disciples told him that they had two swords. (Luke 22:38) These weapons may primarily have been used for utilitarian purposes. Additionally, the disciples may have had these swords for defense, particularly in view of the life-threatening dangers travelers could face from encounters with wild animals or robbers along the way.
From Jesus’ standpoint, the availability of two swords was enough. He said to the disciples, “It is sufficient.” (Luke 22:38)
Concerning his leaving them (if not also his words about their abandoning him and Peter’s denial), Jesus said to the apostles, “Do not let your hearts be troubled.” Within themselves, they were not to give way to feelings of alarm and uneasiness. Instead, Jesus admonished them to believe in God and also in him. Their faith would then enable them to come through the difficult time that lay ahead. (John 14:1)
Jesus’ leaving them would not be an event they were to dread. There was ample room for them in his Father’s house, with its “many dwelling places.” If that had not been the case, Jesus would have told the disciples. His departure and return to the Father meant that he would be preparing a place for them. This assured them that he would come again and take them to be with him. Where he had his home, they also would be. Jesus then added, “You know the way [to the place] where I am going.” (John 14:2-4) His earlier comments should have helped them to discern that “the way” involved faith in God and in him.
Thomas may not have been alone in failing to make this connection. Thinking that Jesus had spoken about a literal way or path, he raised the question, “Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?” (John 14:5)
In his response, Jesus made it clear that he was not referring to a literal road or path. “I am the way,” said Jesus, “and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. If you had known [know, P66 (second century) and other manuscripts] me, you would have known [will know, P66 and other manuscripts] my Father also. From now [on] you know him and have seen [him].” (John 14:6, 7)
Jesus is “the way,” for through him alone can one come to the Father. The Son’s example and teaching provide the dependable guidance. As the unique Son of God, the one who has fully revealed the Father in a manner that he alone could, Jesus is “the truth” or the embodiment of the truth. He is “the life,” for through him and faith in him one comes into possession of the real life, the life that is distinguished by an enduring relationship with his Father.
If P66, the earliest extant manuscript, preserves the original reading, then Jesus said that, by knowing him, the disciples would come to know his Father. This would suggest that, in the future, they would come to know the Father fully. The meaning conveyed in many other manuscripts appears to be that the disciples had not yet come to know Jesus from the standpoint of coming to know the Father fully through him. In that case, Jesus’ words would have constituted a reproof. The phrase, “from now [on] you know,” then appears to suggest that, based on what he had revealed to them, the disciples did know the Father. They also had seen him. Jesus could say this, for he, the unique Son, was the express image of his Father. On the other hand, if P66 contains the original text, Jesus’ words could be understood to mean that their knowing the Father would not come about at some future time but was possible from then on. Based on what Jesus had revealed in his own person, the disciples did know the Father and had seen him.
Seemingly, Philip understood Jesus’ reference to seeing in a literal sense. This prompted him to say, “Lord, show us the Father, and it is sufficient for us.” (John 14:8) Philip felt that, if Jesus would let the disciples actually see the Father just once, they would be completely satisfied.
Jesus appears to have directed his reply to Philip in a way that included all of the apostles. This is suggested by the plural “you,” seemingly indicating that Philip may not have been the only one wanting to be shown the Father in a perceivable manner. “Have I been with you [plural],” Jesus said, “[for] so much time, and [still], Philip, you do not know me? He who has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’? Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me? The words I speak to you [plural] I am not speaking [as originating] from myself, but the Father who remains in me does his works. Believe me that I am in the Father and [that] the Father [is] in me. But if not, believe for the reason of the works themselves.” (John 14:9-11)
Philip was among Jesus’ first disciples and so, along with the other early disciples, had been with him from the start of his ministry. Therefore, Jesus could refer to Philip and the other apostles as having been with him for considerable time. Nevertheless, Philip still had not fully recognized in Jesus the complete reflection of his Father. Philip’s request to be shown the Father revealed that he had not as yet understood that, in the face of the Son, he had seen the Father. (Compare 2 Corinthians 4:6.) Jesus perfectly reflected everything about him. As Hebrews 1:3 indicates, the Son is the exact imprint of his Father’s very being. Therefore, when seeing Jesus, being closely associated with him, and witnessing the works his Father had empowered him to perform, the disciples were being given an all-encompassing and clear vision of the Father. Accordingly, they had seen the Father in the Son. On account of what Philip had experienced during a course of many months, Jesus rightly asked him, “How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’?”
In every way, the Son enjoyed a oneness with his Father. Because of being completely at one with him, Jesus could say that he was “in” the Father, and the Father was “in” him. Jesus did not speak of his own but expressed what his Father had committed to him to speak. So, through Jesus, the disciples heard the words of his Father. Although his Father was in heaven, this had no bearing on the intimate relationship he enjoyed with him. In all that Jesus said and did, the Father remained “in” him, was with him, or resided in him. Therefore, the marvelous deeds that Jesus performed (healing the sick, restoring sight to the blind, hearing to the deaf, soundness of body to the lame and the crippled, and raising the dead) were his Father’s works.
When Jesus told his disciples, “I am in the Father and the Father [is] in me,” he could rightly say to them, “Believe me.” They had ample evidence for believing him. Yet, if they did not believe him, not accepting his word, they could not deny the fact that they had witnessed marvelous deeds. As Jesus said, “Believe for the reason of the works themselves.” (John 14:11)
For the disciples, their belief, faith, or trust in Jesus would result in their doing works they could not then have imagined. After his solemn introductory words (“Amen, amen” [Truly, truly], I say to you”), Jesus continued, “He who believes in me will do the works I am doing, and greater [works] than these he will do, for I am going to the Father.” (John 14:12) Upon returning to his Father, Jesus would no longer be physically present and bringing relief to the afflicted as he had while with the disciples. They would then be doing the very deeds that he had done. Collectively, their activity would be more extensive, reach far beyond the areas where Jesus had ministered to the people, and continue for much more time. Therefore, he could say that he who believes in him would do greater works.
His being away from the disciples did not mean that his care and concern for them would diminish. Moreover, they could look to him for aid and guidance. “Whatever you ask in my name,” Jesus said, “I will do this, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If you [plural] ask [me, found in numerous manuscripts] anything in my name, I will do it.” (John 14:13, 14)
After Jesus’ ascension to heaven, the disciples commonly directed their prayers to the Father, doing so in Jesus’ name or as persons who recognized him as their Lord. Colossians 3:17 specifically refers to “thanking God the Father through him [the Lord Jesus].”
At certain times, the disciples directly appealed to Jesus. The apostle Paul mentioned having three times pleaded with the Lord to remove his “thorn in the flesh.” Paul did not say how he received the Lord’s answer, “Sufficient is my grace [unmerited favor] for you, because my power is made complete in weakness.” He humbly accepted it as Christ’s answer, telling the Corinthians that he would prefer to take pride “in [his] weaknesses, that the power of the Christ might dwell with [him].” (2 Corinthians 12:7-9)
This illustrates that Jesus’ words about doing what his disciples requested does depend upon its being in harmony with the divine will or prerogative. In Paul’s case, the power of Christ proved to be more fully manifest through his continuing to bear his “thorn,” with the grace or favor extended to him being sufficient for him to endure it. From a personal standpoint, Paul would benefit from seeing Christ’s interests advanced despite his “thorn” and those who responded in faith would be able to see that the advancement of Christ’s cause did not depend on human strength.
Jesus’ unique oneness with his Father is of such a nature that his will and that of his Father are identical. Accordingly, appeals that are made in Jesus’ name, or in recognition of him as Lord, will be answered. His words to the disciples indicate that he would act in keeping with their petitions and that his doing so would serve to glorify the Father. The Father would be honored “in the Son,” for the Son’s response would perfectly reflect the Father’s will.
The disciples would manifest their love for Jesus by observing his commandments, following his example and adhering to his teaching. (John 14:15) The implication is that they should do so even after his departure.
While with them, Jesus had proved to be their “paraclete” (parákletos), helper, comforter, advocate, supporter, or intercessor. Although he would be going away, he would not leave them without needed aid. He assured them that he would request his Father to give them another paraclete to be with them permanently (literally, “into the age”; forever). (John 14:16)
Jesus referred to the paraclete as the “spirit of the truth.” (John 14:17) When functioning in the capacity of teaching or guiding the disciples or of recalling to their minds Jesus’ teaching, the spirit’s aid would be solidly based on truth and could always be trusted. Regardless of the circumstances, the disciples could rely on the spirit for spiritual strength and for help in their loyally upholding and advancing the interests of God’s Son. Based on the context, the paraclete may primarily be regarded as a helper.
In a state of alienation from and at enmity with the Father, the world of mankind cannot receive the spirit. Not wanting a relationship with the Father and his Son, those of the world in their state of alienation can neither know nor see the spirit’s function in a personal way. With their minds focused solely on what pleases the senses, they are unresponsive and unreceptive to the spirit.
Regarding the spirit, Jesus said to his disciples, “You know it, for it remains with you and is [will be, according to other manuscripts] in you.” (John 14:17; see the Notes section.) In the life and activity of Jesus, the disciples had repeatedly seen the operation of God’s spirit. Empowered by the spirit, they, too, had performed miraculous works. From personal experience, they knew or had acquaintance with the spirit. As they followed through on the commission Jesus had given them to proclaim the glad tidings and to cure the sick and infirm, the spirit had not left them and was at work “in” and through them.
At the same time, however, their acquaintance with the spirit was never independent of Jesus’ personal presence with them. The future reception of the spirit would result in a continuing possession thereof while the Son of God would not be personally among them.
He promised not to leave them as orphans or in a helpless and needy state, adding, “I am coming to you.”` (John 14:18) After his resurrection, Jesus did reveal himself alive to his disciples. The context, though, suggests that this particular coming to his disciples relates more to his turning his attention to them through the provision of another paraclete and, by means of this helper, making his home with them.
His death, resurrection, and return to his Father being imminent, Jesus could say that the world would shortly no longer see him. The disciples, though, would see him, for, as he told them, “I live and you will live.” (John 14:19) As one raised from the dead, Jesus did live, and the disciples were infused with new life upon seeing him and his giving them many proofs that he was indeed alive. (Acts 1:3) Moreover, with the pouring out of God’s spirit upon them on the day of Pentecost, the disciples truly could be spoken of as living. With boldness they began to witness concerning the Son of God. Jesus’ words spoken just before his last post-resurrection appearance were fulfilled, “You will receive power when the holy spirit comes upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and all of Judea, and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” (Acts 1:8)
Jesus’ request to his Father for the disciples to be given another paraclete was answered on the day of Pentecost. Particularly in connection with that day Jesus’ words to them applied, “In that day you will know that I am in my Father, and you [are] in me, and I in you.” (John 14:20) Jesus received the holy spirit from the Father and then, through Jesus, the disciples received the spirit. (Acts 2:33) This provided undeniable evidence that he was indeed “in” or at one with his Father. As for the disciples, the reception of the spirit from Jesus established that they were “in” or at one with him and that he was “in” or at one with them.
For one to “have” Christ’s commandments would mean to have received or accepted them. Acceptance and observance of these commandments would demonstrate love for him. The one who thus loved Jesus would be loved by his Father, and Jesus would love the individual and would reveal himself to him. In view of Jesus’ return to his Father, this revealing of himself would be through the spirit. (John 14:21)
Judas (not Iscariot, but the son of James), also called Thaddaeus, asked how it would be that Jesus would be revealing himself to the disciples but not to the world. (John 14:22) His answer indicated that this disclosure depended on a relationship that the world did not have. “If anyone loves me,” said Jesus, “he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our dwelling place with him. He who does not love me does not keep my words, and the word that you [plural] are hearing is not mine, but [is that] of the Father who sent me.” (John 14:23, 24)
Only those who love Jesus, loyally adhering to his word or teaching, would have the clear vision of him that would follow the reception of the spirit. The Father would love the person who loved his Son. By means of the spirit, both the Father and the Son would make their home with the individual who faithfully followed the Son’s teaching. That word or teaching did not originate with Jesus but had been received by him from his Father. Therefore, the individual who did not observe Jesus’ words also disregarded his Father who had sent him, and demonstrated himself to be a person having no love for Jesus. Being unreceptive to the spirit by reason of a state of alienation and enmity, such a person could not come to have a clear vision of the Son nor of the Father. Therefore, just as Jesus had said, the world would not see him.
Regarding the teaching he had then imparted to them, Jesus said, “These things I have told you while remaining with you.” (John 14:25) This kind of personal teaching would end after his going away to his Father. From then onward, the paraclete, the holy spirit, to be sent by his Father in his name (or on the basis of his request as God’s unique Son), would teach them everything they would need and recall to their minds everything he had said to them. (John 14:26; see the Notes section for additional comments.)
Jesus’ mention about his departure troubled the disciples. Reassuringly, he told them, “Peace I leave you.” His going away from them was not to occasion disquietude or alarm. Spiritually, the disciples would not experience any lack, and they would have the dependable help and guidance of the paraclete. Continuing, Jesus said, “My peace I give you.” (John 14:27)
This peace was his gift. As recipients thereof, the disciples would enjoy an inner sense of well-being and calm from knowing that he deeply loved them. Jesus’ giving was not like that of the world. (John 14:27; see the Notes section for additional comments.) His giving was an expression of genuine concern and love. Those who are part of the world alienated from the Father often do their giving with impure motives, endeavoring to secure future gain or favors for themselves.
In view of his gift of peace, Jesus admonished the disciples not to allow their hearts to be troubled nor to become fearful. (John 14:27) He thereby implied that his leaving them should not occasion inner alarm, apprehension, uncertainty, or confusion.
Jesus reminded the disciples of what he had said to them, “I am going away, and I am coming to you.” Although the disciples did see Jesus on numerous occasions after his resurrection, his appearances primarily served to show them that he was alive. Often he appeared for just a short time and then vanished. Therefore, the coming to which Jesus referred appears to be the coming by means of the paraclete. This appears to be indicated by the words that follow, which words focus on his again being with his Father and not personally with them. “If you loved me,” Jesus said, “you would rejoice that I am going to the Father, for the Father is greater than I [am].” (John 14:28)
The love of the disciples for Jesus should rightly have moved them to rejoice with him, for he would again be with his Father. As the Son sent by and given the words of the Father to speak, Jesus could say about him, “The Father is greater than I [am].” Upon returning to his Father, Jesus would be the exalted Son to whom his Father had given all authority in heaven and on earth. He would then enjoy the closest relationship possible with his Father, the possessor of unsurpassed greatness. For Jesus’ disciples, his friends, this should have occasioned rejoicing.
By telling them about what would soon be taking place, Jesus provided the disciples with an additional evidence for faith. (John 14:29) Whereas they believed in him as the promised Messiah, the Son of God, his death and resurrection would so overwhelmingly confirm his identity that it would be as if the disciples believed anew, with the strongest conviction possible.
Only a short time remained for Jesus to be with his disciples. Therefore, he told them that he would not be speaking much more to them. The ruler of the world, Satan, was coming, suggesting that Jesus knew that he would shortly face intense assault from the powers of darkness. Confidently, Jesus expressed himself regarding this impending threat, saying that the ruler of the world had “nothing” in him. (John 14:30) Satan had no power over Jesus, for there would be nothing he could get hold of in an effort to sway him from carrying out his Father’s will.
With apparent reference to the surrender of his life in loyal submission to his Father, Jesus spoke of this as the way in which he would show the world that he loved him. For Jesus, his Father’s will constituted his Father’s command. As the loving and obedient Son, he would act on the commandment, which included sacrificing his life. (John 14:31)
The words, “Rise, let us go from here,” do not necessarily indicate an immediate departure from the location where the Passover meal had been eaten. Thereafter Jesus is represented as continuing to speak. Not until a while later did he actually leave with the disciples and head for the Mount of Olives. (John 18:1) Therefore, Jesus’ words about going may have been his way of saying that the time had come for him to surrender his life and of expressing his determination to set out on the course his Father had willed for him.
The holy writings or sacred scriptures with which Jesus’ disciples were familiar included numerous references to the spirit (Hebrew, rúach; Greek, pneúma), God’s spirit, or holy spirit. Like the corresponding Greek word pneúma, the Hebrew term rúach can also mean “wind.” Whereas pneúma is neuter gender, rúach is feminine gender. In the holy writings, the spirit is often mentioned in contexts identifying it as a divine agent or the power emanating from God. (Judges 3:10; 14:6, 19; 15:14; 1 Samuel 11:6; Ezekiel 3:14; 8:3; 11:1; 37:14) For the disciples to have come to a changed understanding about the spirit would have required explicit teaching from God’s Son. In expressing his promise about the paraclete or the spirit of the truth, Jesus’ use of some masculine pronouns would have been far too subtle for the disciples to have come to understand the nature of the spirit differently.
The Hebrew, Syriac, and Aramaic forms of the word “paraclete” came into use through Greek influence and, like the Greek, are masculine gender. According to the idiom of the language in which Jesus spoke to his disciples, he would have used feminine pronouns when referring to the spirit and masculine pronouns when speaking of the paraclete.
Therefore, what has been regarded as a fluctuation of masculine and neuter pronouns in the Greek text of John 14 is best understood as being of a grammatical nature. Where the apparent or intended antecedent is pneúma, the corresponding pronouns are neuter. If, on the other hand, the apparent or intended antecedent is parákletos, the corresponding pronouns are masculine.
In John 14:26, the paraclete (parákletos) is identified as “the holy spirit.” The phrase that follows, in keeping with the neuter gender of “spirit” (pneúma), starts with the neuter pronoun hó (“which [hó] the Father will send in my name”). Then, in agreement with the masculine parákletos, the masculine pronoun ekeínos (“that one” or “he”) begins the concluding part of the sentence (“that one will teach you everything and recall to you everything I said to you”).
The reference to the giving that is not like that of the world does not have a designated object in the Greek text of John 14:27. A number of translations have added “it,” making “peace” the antecedent, and other translations have added the word “peace” as the object of the giving. “I am leaving you with a gift — peace of mind and heart. And the peace I give isn’t like the peace the world gives.” (NLT) “I give you peace, the kind of peace that only I can give. It isn’t like the peace that this world can give.” (CEV) “Peace I leave with you. My peace I give to you. I do not give peace to you as the world gives.” (NLB) According to this meaning, the peace the world gives could be understood to be the kind of seeming well-being and security that is based on attaining positions or possessions and would be temporary.
The world, however, cannot give real peace, the enduring well-being, security, and tranquility that comes from having a relationship with the Son of God and his Father. Some translations render the verse in a way that conveys the inability of the world to give peace. “Peace is my parting gift to you, my own peace, such as the world cannot give.” (REB) “Peace I bequeath to you, my own peace I give you, a peace which the world cannot give, this is my gift to you.” (NJB)
Without an object for “give,” this verb could be understood in a generic sense, indicating that Christ’s giving differs from that of the world. This may be the preferable meaning, considering that it requires no additions to the actual reading of the Greek text.
Illustrating the need for his disciples to be inseparably united to him, Jesus referred to himself as the true vine, his Father as the vine grower, and his disciples as the branches in the vine. (John 15:1, 5) His Father would lop off all unproductive branches and prune (literally, “clean”) fruit-bearing branches so that they might yield more fruit. (John 15:2; see the Notes section for additional comments.)
The word, message, or teaching Jesus imparted to his disciples had already “pruned” or “cleaned” them. They had accepted his word, acting on it by imitating his example and testifying to their faith in him. By their conduct, which reflected favorably on him, and their witness about him, the disciples proved themselves to be productive branches that had been made fruitful through the cleansing power of his word. (John 15:3)
As Jesus remained “in” his disciples, being attached to them, he admonished them to remain “in” him, continuing to be at one with him. Only by remaining part of the vine do branches bear fruit. Likewise, the disciples would only be able to bear good fruit as persons attached to Jesus or at one with him. (John 15:4)
After identifying himself as the vine and his disciples as the branches, Jesus again stressed that the one who remained “in” him (attached like a branch to the vine) and he “in” the individual (attached like the vine to a branch) would bear much fruit. Therefore, apart from him, the disciples could not produce anything, that is, anything which his Father, the vine grower, would consider acceptable fruit. (John 15:5)
The person who failed to remain “in” Jesus or to be attached to him would prove to be like an unproductive branch that is thrown away and the leaves of which wither. Useless branches would be gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned. (John 15:6) This indicates that a severe judgment awaits those who forsake Jesus and, in disposition, word, and deed, cease to bear fruit, no longer conducting themselves as persons who recognize him as their Lord.
If the disciples remained “in” or attached to him, and his word or teaching remained in them (being like a deposit in their inmost selves and motivating their thoughts, words, and deeds), whatever they might wish to request would be granted. (John 15:7) In view of their being at one with Jesus and their having made his teaching their own, their asking would have been in harmony with God’s will, and this would have assured their receiving a favorable response to their petitions.
Ultimately, when Jesus’ disciples bore much fruit in word and deed, and proved themselves to be his faithful disciples by advancing his interests, his Father would be glorified or honored. (John 15:8)
Just as the Father loved him, the Son loved the disciples. His appeal to them was, “Remain in my love.” For them to continue in his love would require that they keep his commandments, adhering to his teaching in their life as his disciples. Jesus had set the example for them. He had kept his Father’s commandments and thus had remained in his love. (John 15:9, 10)
The reason Jesus spoke about their remaining in his love by keeping his commandments was so that he might find joy in them. On seeing their faithfulness in bearing much fruit and proving themselves to be his disciples, he would rejoice. Their responsiveness to his word would occasion joy. At the same time, their joy would be made complete. (John 15:11) They would experience the inner contentment from knowing that they were pleasing to him as their Lord and, therefore, also to his Father. Upon attaining their reward, the disciples would attain the ultimate fullness of joy.
Jesus’ principal command for them was, “Love one another as I have loved you.” This called for a self-sacrificing and selfless love, a love that expressed itself in finding delight in serving others. Jesus’ love for them surpassed anything they had ever experienced. As he told them, “No one has greater love than this, that someone give up his soul [life] for his friends. You are my friends if you do what I command you [to do].” By acting on his command to love one another, they would prove themselves to be his friends, loving as he loved. (John 15:12-14)
Although Jesus was their Lord, he did not treat them in a manner that resembled a master-slave relationship. As he said, “I am not still calling you slaves, for a slave does not know what his master is doing. But I have called you friends, for I have made known to you everything I have heard from my Father.” (John 15:15) In a master-slave relationship, the master primarily issued commands to the slave. He did not treat him as a confidential friend to whom he would have entrusted precious intimate thoughts. The slave primarily obeyed his master out of a sense of duty and fear. Jesus, however, disclosed the teaching of his Father, teaching that he had received as his Father’s dearly beloved and unique Son. Being acknowledged friends of Jesus, the disciples would be motivated to heed his commands because they loved him.
The disciples had not chosen Jesus, granting him the authority to be their Lord and Teacher. He had chosen them to be his disciples and his apostles. His purpose for choosing them was that they might go and bear fruit and that this fruit would remain. They would be going out among the people, and their fruit in the form of words and deeds would move others to accept their testimony about Jesus and put their faith in him. Accordingly, these believers would prove to be the enduring or remaining produce of the apostles’ faithful service. The labors of the apostles yielded fruit that has remained to the present time, for throughout the centuries many have put faith in their testimony and have acted on it. When fulfilling the purpose for their being chosen, the disciples would also have an approved relationship with his Father. So, as Jesus indicated, their fruit bearing would assure that the requests they directed to the Father in Jesus’ name (in recognition of who the Son truly is) would be granted. (John 15:16) In carrying out their commission, the disciples would need the courage to speak with boldness, the strength to endure hostility, and the wisdom to express themselves appropriately and effectively. They could be confident that their petitions respecting the accomplishment of their assigned service would be answered.
Indicative of the prime importance of love, Jesus is quoted as again saying, “These things I am commanding you, that you love one another.” (John 15:17)
In the world of mankind alienated from the Father, they would not find the love they were to enjoy among themselves. They would be hated. If or when this happened, they should be able to understand it, for they knew that the world hated Jesus before expressing its hatred against them. If they were part of the world, living as persons without faith in the Son and, therefore, also without faith in the Father, the unbelievers of the world would love them as their own. Although living in the world of mankind, the disciples were not from that world. Their thoughts, words, and deeds were focused on proving themselves to be Jesus’ disciples. He had chosen them out of the world, no longer to be a part of it in its unbelief and its ways that did not honor his Father. As persons who had ceased to be part of the world, the disciples were objects of its hatred. (John 15:18, 19)
In relation to their encountering the world’s hatred, Jesus wanted them to remember what he had told them previously, “A slave is not greater than his master.” (Compare Matthew 10:24, Luke 6:40, and John 13:16.) Therefore, they should expect the same kind of response and treatment as Jesus had experienced. As he said, “If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you. If they kept my word [accepting his teaching and observing it], they will also keep yours.” (John 15:20)
Whatever hostility or mistreatment the disciples were to experience would be on account of Jesus’ name or because of their being identified as belonging to him as his disciples. The hateful reaction and treatment would result because those who persisted in unbelief did not “know” the Father who had sent his Son. They did not recognize the Father in the Son, revealing that they had no relationship with him. (John 15:21)
If Jesus had not come and labored among them and spoken to them, “they,” according to his words, “would have no sin.” But he did labor and teach among them, leaving them without any excuse for their sin—their persistence in unbelief and hatred of him. His example in love, compassionately bringing relief to the sick and afflicted, and his teaching gave them no basis for their hateful response. The clear evidence of God’s spirit working through the Son in the accomplishment of good served to condemn their unbelief and hostility. Without this overwhelming evidence, they would have been acting out of ignorance and so would not have had the sin of deliberate unbelief charged against them. (John 15:22, 24)
When hating Jesus, the unbelievers also hated the Father who deeply loved his Son. No one else had done the works that Jesus did among them. If he had not done these marvelous works that resulted in relief for many suffering fellow Jews, the unbelievers would not have had sin. They could not have taken a hostile stand despite evidence of good deeds, for they would not have witnessed these works. Having, however, seen Jesus and the works he did, they nevertheless hated him and his Father (the very one whose works Jesus was performing and whose teaching he was conveying). This fulfilled the “word” of the “law” (in this case seemingly meaning words in the holy writings that had the authority or validity of law), “They hated me without cause.” (John 15:23-25) These words of Psalm 69:4 (68:5, LXX) found their full meaning in the hatred Jesus experienced.
With the aid of the paraclete, the spirit of the truth, the apostles would be able to discharge their commission to testify concerning Jesus. He would send the paraclete from the Father, the one from whom this helper or “the spirit of the truth” proceeded. Upon arriving, the paraclete or helper would testify about Jesus. This testimony would have included opening up to the minds of the apostles how the words of the holy writings and everything Jesus had said to them beforehand had been fulfilled in him. With the spirit operating within them, the apostles would then be in a position to testify concerning Jesus, for they had been with him from the time he began his ministry among the people. The spirit would recall to their minds the things he had said, and they would be able to convey his teaching to others. (John 15:26, 27; see the Notes section for additional comments on verse 26.)
In John 15:2, the Greek term used for the removal of an unproductive branch is aíro, literally meaning “to raise” or “to lift up” but here signifying “to remove” or “to take away.” The Greek word for “clean” or “prune” is kathaíro. The use of the two Greek words suggests a play on words (aíro — kathaíro).
The designation “paraclete” (parákletos) at the start of John 15:26, as in John chapter 14, is best understood to mean “helper.” In agreement with its masculine gender, the apparent or intended antecedent parákletos is followed by pronouns in the masculine gender. This is so even though the parenthetical expression that includes the neuter noun pneúma with its corresponding neuter pronoun hó (“the spirit (pneúma) of the truth, which [hó] proceeds from the Father”) separates parákletos and the accompanying phrase (“whom [hón, the masculine pronoun] I will send you from the Father”) from the conclusion of the sentence. Without the parenthetical words about the spirit, the sentence would read, “When the helper arrives, whom I will send you from the Father, that one [or he; the masculine pronoun ekeínos] will testify about me.”
Initially, Jesus did not tell his disciples about the hatred that would be directed against them because of being his disciples. He did not want to stumble them, frightening them to the point that their fragile faith could have given out. (John 16:1)
With the passage of time, their faith had grown and become stronger. Moreover, in view of his imminent departure, Jesus recognized that it was essential for them to know what they would be experiencing. They would be expelled from the synagogues. The hour or time would come when unbelievers would imagine that they were serving God by killing the disciples. (John 16:2) Unbelieving fellow Jews would come to view them as apostates, as persons who were followers of a false Messiah and who posed a threat to the traditional Jewish ways. As the book of Acts reveals, murderous hatred flared up because of regarding the disciples as speaking against Moses, the temple, and the law. (Acts 6:13, 14; 21:27-31) Based on the penalty the law set forth for apostasy, they would have regarded themselves as doing God’s will by killing the disciples. (Deuteronomy 13:6-10)
The hateful action of unbelievers would stem from their knowing neither the Father nor Jesus. Their traditional views blinded them so that they could not perceive the things of God. Unable to see in Jesus the perfect reflection of his Father, they could not recognize him as the Son of God and so could not possibly know the Father whom they had never seen. (John 16:3)
The “hour” or time was bound to come when the disciples would face persecution and even death. Having been prepared in advance for this, they would then recall what Jesus had told them. While he was with them, the hatred was primarily directed at him, and he came to their defense when others raised an issue about them. (Compare Matthew 12:1-8; 15:1-9.) Therefore, it was not vital for them to know at the start just what might happen to them because of being his disciples. As Jesus said, “I did not tell you these things from the beginning, for I was with you.” (John 16:4)
The situation would soon be different. Jesus would be going back to the one who had sent him, his Father. Earlier, Peter had asked, “Lord, where are you going?” (John 13:36) Thomas, in response to Jesus’ telling the apostles that they knew the way to the place where he was going, said, “Lord, we do not know where you are going.” (John 14:5) In neither case, however, were the words focused on what this would mean for Jesus. Peter’s question related to why he would not be able to follow, and the words of Thomas indicated that the disciples did not know the way to the place where Jesus was going. With apparent reference in relation to himself, Jesus said, “Not one of you asks me, Where are you going? But because I have said these things to you, sorrow has filled your heart.” (John 16:5, 6) Within themselves, they were pained upon hearing that Jesus would no longer be with them. Overwhelmed by their sadness, they did not reflect on what it would mean for him to return to his Father. Therefore, they did not make any inquiry about where Jesus would be going or concerning anything else that specifically related to him in connection with this departure.
In view of their sadness, Jesus reassured them, “I am telling you the truth, It is better for you that I am going away; for if I do not go away, the paraclete will not come to you.” Upon going away, Jesus would send them the paraclete. As a man on earth, he dealt with the limitations human existence imposed. His activity was confined to a comparatively small geographic area, and he could only be with them in one specific location at a time. The paraclete, however, would be with them at all times and in every location where they would be spreading the message about the Son of God. Accordingly, from the standpoint of what would be accomplished, it was really in the best interests of the apostles for him to depart and for them to benefit from the paraclete or from another helper. (John 16:7)
As to what would be accomplished through the powerful working of the paraclete, Jesus said, “That one [ekeínos, masculine gender to agree with the masculine gender of paraclete (parákletos)] will reprove the world about sin and about righteousness and about judgment.” (John 16:8) Jesus then explained the way in which the paraclete would reprove the world, exposing the wrong of those who persisted in unbelief.
They were guilty of sin, rejecting the clear evidence that Jesus was indeed the Son of God. This evidence included his miraculous works (healing the sick, restoring sight to the blind, hearing to the deaf, and soundness of body to the crippled and the lame, and raising the dead). With God’s spirit operating through them, the apostles would perform like miraculous works, further confirming the sin of the world’s refusal to believe in Jesus to be inexcusable. (John 16:9)
Unbelievers misrepresented the Son of God, slandering him as being a man in league with the demons, a lawbreaker, and a deceiver. (Compare Matthew 12:24; 27:63; Luke 23:2.) His return to his Father and, therefore, his disciples’ no longer seeing him proved that he was righteous in every way. At the same time, this revealed that a right standing with his Father could only be obtained through faith in him and the forgiveness made possible through his sacrificial death. The imparting of the spirit to the disciples established that he had returned to his Father and received the spirit from him. Empowered by the spirit, the disciples boldly testified that Jesus had been raised from the dead and exalted to the right hand of God and that, through him alone, forgiveness of sins was possible. (Acts 2:33, 36, 38; 3:14-21; 5:29-32; 13:27-39) Thus their testimony, backed by miracles, proved to be the spirit’s witness about righteousness. (John 16:10)
Through his death in faithfulness to his Father, Jesus defeated the powers of darkness. This, too, would be a feature of the spirit’s testimony. It would be a witness about judgment, for the ruler of the world had been condemned and exposed as unable to turn Jesus away from doing his Father’s will. (John 16:11) No longer could Satan hold people in slavery by means of the fear of death. (Hebrews 2:14, 15) The visible manifestation of the spirit’s operation through the disciples bore witness to the reality of Jesus’ resurrection, exaltation, and triumph over the power of the enemy, proving that Satan had been judged. This also confirmed that Jesus would be the judge of all, both the upright and the unjust. (Acts 17:31) All who defiantly persisted in unbelief would, like Satan, be condemned. (Compare Matthew 25:41.)
Jesus wanted to tell the apostles much more, but he knew that they were then not prepared to “bear” it. (John 16:12) This suggests that they would have been troubled or overwhelmed, unable to comprehend his words.
With the arrival of the paraclete, the spirit of the truth, they would come to understand, being guided into all the truth. Everything that would be conveyed to them would be completely trustworthy and would meet their needs. The paraclete would not be functioning independently (speaking “of his own”) but would be reliably making known what had been heard from Jesus and ultimately from the Father and would declare or reveal things to come. In the context of Jesus’ words, the “things coming” appear to relate to what lay ahead for him, and the spirit would enable the apostles to see how the Scriptures and his words were fulfilled. (Compare John 2:22.) Through the spirit, the Son would be glorified or honored, for the spirit would be announcing or revealing what had been received from him. (John 16:13, 14)
As the unique Son, Jesus shared everything with his Father. “Everything the Father has,” Jesus said, “is mine.” Therefore, although the Father is the ultimate source of the spirit, Jesus could say that the paraclete received from what is his and then would make announcement to the apostles. (John 16:15)
Again indicating why the apostles would need another paraclete or helper, Jesus reminded them about a change to come. In a little while, they would no longer see him, and then in a little while they would see him. (John 16:16)
This puzzled the disciples, and some of them talked among themselves as to what he meant about not being seen and then being seen, and regarding the words “because I am going to the Father.” They found it impossible to comprehend what he meant respecting “a little while” and concluded that they did not know what he was talking about. (John 16:17, 18)
Discerning that the disciples wanted to ask him about what he had said, Jesus illustrated the developments that lay ahead. After expressing his solemn introductory words, “Amen, amen [Truly, truly], I say to you,” Jesus told the apostles that they would weep and mourn, but the world of unbelievers would rejoice. Whereas they were pained, their pain or sadness would be changed to joy. When the hour or time has come, a woman, during the birthing process, experiences pain. After the birth of the baby, however, she does not remember the distress but is happy that a boy has been brought into the world. (John 16:19-21)
Applying the illustration about the woman, Jesus said that while the disciples were then experiencing pain or sadness (with apparent reference to his departure), they would see him again. Their “heart” or they, in their inmost selves, would rejoice upon seeing him, and no one would be able to take their joy away. After his resurrection, the disciples did see Jesus again, and this filled them with boundless joy. Having been given the evidence that he was alive, their joy continued, with no one able to rob them of it by wrecking their faith in him and his word. Moreover, as their resurrected Lord, with all power in heaven and on earth having been granted to him, he would be able to respond to their appeals even after his return to his Father. (John 16:22)
“In that day,” seemingly referring to the time when he would again be with his Father, Jesus said that the disciples would not ask him anything. This may mean that all things would become clear to them, as they would have another helper, the spirit. Moreover, Jesus would continue to be concerned about them. Up to this particular point, they had not made any appeals in his name or in recognition of his being their Lord. Jesus now, with a solemn assurance (“Amen, amen [Truly, truly], I say to you”) told the disciples to ask in his name or on the basis of his authority, and they would receive the things for which they made their requests. This would result in their joy being made complete. All such requests would of necessity harmonize with the divine will and be directed to the Father in recognition of the Son. (John 16:23, 24; for another possible meaning of John 16:23 about not asking anything, see the Notes section.)
Jesus had used figures of speech when talking to the disciples, but he told them that the “hour” or time would be coming when he would no longer do so. He would use clear or plain speech when telling them about the Father. (John 16:25)
“In that day” or at that future time, the disciples would make their appeals in Jesus’ name or in full recognition of his authority. This, however, did not mean that Jesus would have to ask his Father to respond to the prayers of his disciples. As Jesus said, “I am not saying that I shall ask the Father about you.” (John 16:26) This would not be required, for the Father himself loved the disciples because they loved his Son and believed that he had come from him. (John 16:27)
When coming into the world of mankind, Jesus came from the Father. His departure meant that he would be leaving the world and returning to him. (John 16:28) In view of Jesus’ clear statement that he would be going back to his Father, the disciples appear to have understood his words. This prompted them to acknowledge that he had spoken to them plainly and not in figures of speech. (John 16:29)
Jesus had known that the disciples wanted to ask him about what he had meant when telling them that, in a little while, they would not see him and then, in a little while, they would see him again. He answered the question they had wanted to ask. His having done so appears to be the reason they said, “Now we know that you know everything, and you do not need to have anyone question you. On this account, we believe that you came from God.” The disciples realized that, even without a question being asked directly, Jesus would be able to anticipate it and provide the answer. They saw in what he had done for them clear evidence that he had come from God. (John 16:30)
Jesus, though, also knew the great test that lay ahead for the disciples and so raised the question, “Do you now believe?” While they had expressed their belief or faith in him, the “hour” or time would be coming and had, in fact, come when each of them would be scattered to his own place (not remaining together for mutual strengthening) and would leave him alone. Jesus, however, would not be alone, for his Father would still be with him. (John 16:31, 32)
The Son of God had prepared his disciples in advance for what would take place. “In” him or by being united to him, they would have peace, an inner calm and sense of well-being from knowing that they were loved by him and his Father and were objects of their concern and care. In the world of unbelievers, they would experience distress, persecution and intense hostility. Still, they could be courageous, for Jesus, their Lord, proved himself greater than the world. The world of mankind that was in a state of alienation from his Father had no power over him. Despite all the assaults directed against him, Jesus had not yielded. In loyal submission to his Father’s will, he would be surrendering his life. Thus, ultimately through his death, he would defeat the world and be triumphant as the unconquered one. With complete confidence, therefore, Jesus could say, “I have conquered the world.” (John 16:33)
As in John chapters 14 and 15, so also in chapter 16, masculine pronouns are used when the apparent or intended antecedent is “paraclete” (parákletos). The Greek word for “spirit” (pneúma) is neuter gender, and this explains why both masculine and neuter pronouns appear in the narration that includes Jesus’ words about the paraclete, the “spirit of the truth.”
In John 16:23, the “asking” could either refer to asking questions or to making requests. If requests, petitions, or appeals are meant, this would indicate that it would not be necessary to direct these to Jesus in order to receive a favorable hearing, for the Father would respond to all requests made in the name of his Son. This significance is explicit in the New Century Version, “In that day you will not ask me for anything. I tell you the truth, my Father will give you anything you ask for in my name.”
After having finished speaking to the apostles, Jesus raised his eyes heavenward and began to pray. Only a shift in his visual focus ended his speaking to the apostles and started his praying, indicative of how natural it was for Jesus to address his Father and of the intimate relationship existing between them. His mentioning the hour that had come referred to the imminent completion of his ministry on earth and the sacrificial surrender of his life in submission to his Father’s will. (John 17:1)
Jesus’ petition, “Glorify your Son, that the Son [your Son, according to numerous manuscripts] may glorify you,” constituted a request to be honored subsequent to the humiliation of a shameful execution. This glorification would have included everything that revealed him to be the Son of God. Awesome signs accompanied his death. After his resurrection from the dead on the third day, he returned to his Father. Thus honored in keeping with his petition, Jesus glorified his Father through what he had accomplished in carrying out the commission entrusted to him. (John 17:1)
The Father had granted his Son authority over all flesh or the entire human family. This authority was bound up with his sacrificial death, which provided the basis for liberating humans from sin and the consequences from sin, namely, death. Through his death, Jesus would purchase or redeem the human race. By his Father’s giving him those whom he redeemed, Jesus would be able to give them eternal life. (John 17:2)
He referred to eternal life as being a life distinguished by an enduring relationship with him and his Father. It is a knowing of the Father as the only true God and Jesus Christ as the one whom he had sent. This “knowing” is an intimate relationship of oneness with the Father and his Son. A life that harmonizes with Jesus’ example and teaching and so also with his Father’s will confirms the existence of this relationship. Recognizing that Jesus had been sent by the Father would require acknowledging the reason for his being sent, putting faith in him, and accepting the atoning benefits of his sacrificial death. Being a relationship that does not end, the life that is distinguished by a relationship with the Father and his Son is eternal and will be enjoyed in the complete sense in the sinless state. In that state, the most intimate knowing of the Father and the Son will be possible. (John 17:3)
Jesus could speak of his having glorified or honored his Father, for he had completed the work he had been given to do. The surrender of his life being at hand, he could rightly refer to the full accomplishment of the work. Upon faithfully carrying out everything that his coming to the earth required, Jesus made it possible for humans to become reconciled to his Father. Moreover, through his words and deeds, Jesus flawlessly revealed him. (John 17:4)
He prayed that his Father would glorify him, granting him the “glory,” splendor, honor, or dignity he had before coming to the earth and which he had alongside him before the world existed. (John 17:5) The glory he previously had was one of being in the very form of his Father, a magnificence that transcended that of all the angels or the other sons of God. (Philippians 2:6)
When acknowledging his Father as the one who had given him the apostles out of the world of mankind, Jesus spoke of having made known his Father’s name (the person of the Father, the one whom the name represented). As his Father’s unique Son, he revealed him in a manner that no one else could have done. Jesus spoke his Father’s words and did his Father’s works. In his activity and interactions, he flawlessly reflected his Father’s zeal for what is right, fair, or just, and manifested his Father’s mighty and beneficent power, concern and care, compassion, and love. Again referring to the apostles as belonging to and having been given to him by his Father, Jesus added, “They have kept your word.” (John 17:6; see the Notes section for additional comments.) He imparted the “word” or teaching that he had received from his Father to the apostles, and they responded to it in faith. They recognized Jesus as their Lord and heeded his word, which in the ultimate sense was his Father’s word.
The apostles came to know that everything that had been given to Jesus had been received from his Father. This was so because of what Jesus had taught them and his identifying his Father as the source of his teaching. (Compare John 7:16-18.) They accepted Jesus’ words, observing them as having come from his Father. Through the words or teaching Jesus imparted to them, the apostles recognized that he had come from his Father and came to believe that his Father had sent him. (John 17:7, 8)
At this time, Jesus did not pray regarding the world that persisted in unbelief but for the apostles, whom the Father had given him and to whom they belonged. Indicating that his Father had the same care and concern he did, Jesus acknowledged, “Everything of mine is yours, and yours [is] mine; and I have been glorified in them.” (John 17:9, 10) Although the apostles belonged to Jesus, they also belonged to his Father, and so would be objects of his Father’s love and concern. By believing in Jesus, they had glorified or honored him as God’s beloved Son. In view of his imminent departure, he deeply cared about them and prayed for them.
Though Jesus would no longer be in the world and would be returning to his Father, the disciples would continue to live in the world, facing the pressures and trials associated with a world in a state of alienation from and at enmity with the Father. Therefore, Jesus made his appeal, “Holy Father, look after them in your name which you have given me, that they be one as we are [one].” (John 17:11)
Being pure in the absolute sense, the Father is holy, and his name identifies him as the God of love, one who deeply cares for his own. The name represents or stands for him. Therefore, if the reference to giving his name to his Son preserves the original reading of the Greek text, this could relate to the Father’s intimate relationship with him, a relationship of oneness stemming from the Father’s having given himself to his Son. (See the Notes section regarding John 17:11.) It would then be the inseparable oneness Jesus enjoyed with his Father that he desired the apostles to share.
While he had been with the apostles, Jesus looked out for them. He did so in his Father’s name. This could mean that he did so on the basis of the authority that his Father had granted him. Jesus’ watchful care meant that all except the “son of destruction” had been safeguarded. To fulfill the scripture that a close associate would betray Jesus (Psalm 41:9; John 13:18), Judas Iscariot alone was lost. By choosing a course that led to his ruin, Judas proved himself to be a “son of destruction.” (John 17:12; see the Notes section for additional comments.)
Although he would be returning to his Father, Jesus wanted the apostles to share in his joy. So, while he was still in the world, he expressed himself in prayer as he did. The things he had said centered on his having revealed the Father to them and their relationship to him and to his Father. Jesus’ prayerful words would also have assured the apostles of his Father’s watching over them. Their knowing that they belonged to the Father and were recipients of his loving care would have contributed to their ceasing to be troubled about Jesus’ no longer being with them. This would have enabled them to share in his joy to the full. They could then rejoice in the victory he attained through his death, a triumph that brought liberation from sin to those who put faith in him and spelled defeat for the powers of darkness. Moreover, his again being with his Father as the one to whom all authority in heaven and on earth had been granted would fill them with joy. (John 17:13)
Jesus had given the word of his Father to the apostles, imparting to them the Father’s teaching. That teaching revealed Jesus to be the unique Son of God. In his own person, Jesus revealed the Father to the fullest extent possible. The apostles had embraced the “word” or teaching in faith, ceasing to be part of the world of unbelievers who were alienated from and at enmity with the Father. Therefore, the world hated the apostles, for, like Jesus their Lord, they were no part of it. (John 17:14)
As objects of the world’s hatred, the apostles needed divine aid. Jesus did not pray for them to be taken out of the world and thereby to escape the trials and pressures from a world in opposition to him. Instead, he appealed to his Father to watch over them on account of the evil one. Though no part of the world, just as Jesus was no a part thereof, they would be advancing his interests in the world of mankind. As a result, they would be subject to the attacks of the evil one or the devil. (John 17:15, 16)
In view of their commission, Jesus prayed that his Father would sanctify the apostles “in the truth.” For them to be sanctified meant that they would be set apart for a holy or sacred service. The expression “in the truth” could be understood to mean in the sphere of the truth, suggestive of a life set apart for the advancement of this truth and a life that harmonized therewith. Jesus referred to his Father’s word as being truth and earlier that night spoke of himself as the truth. (John 14:6) So the truth is the teaching which Jesus had received from his Father and which he then imparted to his disciples by his words and deeds. As the perfect reflection of his Father, the Son was the embodiment of the truth about him. For the furtherance of this truth, the revelation of the Father in the Son, the apostles would be set apart to serve. (John 17:17)
The Father had sent Jesus to minister in the world of mankind. Jesus likewise sent his disciples to labor in the world. (John 17:18) He had sanctified himself or set himself apart for them. In submission to his Father’s will, he faithfully imparted his Father’s teaching and was about to surrender his life. Accordingly, as one set apart to do his Father’s will, Jesus acted for the benefit of the disciples. They received his teaching and, on the basis of his sacrificial death and their faith in him, came to be the Father’s sons and Christ’s brothers. So, by what Jesus did in sanctifying himself for them, they were sanctified “in [the] truth” or set apart to serve in advancing the truth (the truth from the Father and revealed through the Son). (John 17:19)
Jesus did not limit his prayerful request to the apostles, but included all who would come to believe in him on the basis of the “word” or message they would proclaim. (John 17:20) The objective for all those putting their faith in him would be that they would form a united whole, enjoying the same oneness that Jesus had with his Father. With all believers being at one with Jesus and his Father, testimony would be given to the world that the Father had sent the Son. Thus the basis would be provided for the world of mankind or for the people to believe in Jesus as the one whom God had sent. (John 17:21)
The glory the Father had given him, Jesus gave to the apostles. This glory, splendor, or dignity appears to relate specifically to Jesus’ being the Son of God. In John 1:14, this glory is described as that of a father’s only or unique son, and Jesus granted those who believed in him the authority or right to be God’s children. (John 1:12) This bestowal of sonship is an honor or dignity of unparalleled greatness. In coming to be part of the family of the Father’s beloved children, a marvelous unity comes into being. Jesus expressed this objective regarding the apostles to his Father, “that they be one as we are one; I in [at one with them] them and you in [at one with] me, that they may be fully one.” (John 17:22) This perfect oneness or unity would provide the basis for the world of mankind to know that the Father had sent the Son and loved the disciples (those who had been granted the honor of being his children on the basis of their faith in his Son) just as he loved him. (John 17:23)
It appears that particularly regarding “what” the Father had given him as the unique Son (provided the oldest extant manuscripts preserve the original reading of the text), Jesus wanted the apostles to be where he was. This would make it possible for them to see the glory or the greatness of the dignity that his Father had given him as the exalted Son with all authority in heaven and on earth. The glory that he would have upon his return to his Father would be an evidence of his Father’s love. This love existed “before the founding of the world” or from the very start and continued throughout the ages. (John 17:24; see the Notes section for additional comments.)
The world had not come to know the Father, the one who is righteous, just, or impartial in all his dealings. Humans who were part of the unbelieving world were in a state of alienation from and at enmity with him. They had no relationship with the Father and so could not possibly know him. Jesus, however, knew his Father as his beloved Son, and the apostles came to know that the Father had sent him. (John 17:25)
During the time he was with the apostles, Jesus made known his Father’s name (that is, the person of the Father, the bearer of the name) to them. As the perfect reflection of his Father, Jesus revealed him through his words and actions. His prayer expressed the resolve to continue making his Father’s name known or revealing him to the apostles. After his resurrection, Jesus appeared to his disciples and opened up their minds to a fuller understanding respecting himself and so also regarding his Father. (Compare Luke 24:26, 27, 32.) Upon returning to him, Jesus continued to reveal his Father by means of the paraclete, “the spirit of the truth.” His making him known was for the purpose that the apostles might have within them the love with which his Father loved him. Through Jesus’ love for them, they would come to experience his Father’s love and, therefore, the love with which he loved his Son. This would also serve to have Jesus “in them” or inseparably attached to them in love. With the Father’s love dwelling in them, the apostles would respond in love for him and for his Son. (John 17:26)
The name of God expresses everything he is. Therefore, in making known the name, Jesus revealed his Father’s personality and attributes—his matchless and beneficent power (as, for example, when Jesus raised the dead), compassion and love (exemplified in Jesus’ response to the afflicted and to repentant sinners), and justice (through Jesus’ exposure of harshness, oppressiveness, and mistreatment). To his apostles and other disciples, Jesus disclosed how they could become his Father’s children and thus revealed him as the loving Father with whom they could have an intimate family relationship as persons forgiven of their sins. In what the Father had made possible through him, Jesus revealed the Father in a way that far transcended what had been set forth in the existing holy writings with which the apostles were familiar. After Jesus’ resurrection and ascension to heaven, the paraclete or the holy spirit aided the apostles to understand everything he had said and done. In this way, he (as expressed in his prayer) continued to make known his Father’s name, and the apostles came to have a fuller understanding of the Father, their relationship to him, and his boundless love in sending his Son to the earth. (John 17:6, 26)
For John 17:11, manuscript readings vary. There are ancient Latin, Syriac and Coptic manuscripts that do not include the words, “which you have given me, that they be one as we are [one].” Certain other manuscripts read, “whom [referring to the apostles] you have given me.” This would mean that Jesus prayed that his Father safeguard the apostles in his own name or in keeping with everything his name represented, the God who he is.
Ancient manuscript readings of John 17:12 introduce the phrase “you have given me” with either “which” (applying to God’s name) or “whom” (referring to the apostles).
In John 17:24, the oldest extant manuscripts read, “which you have given me.” Many later manuscripts, however, indicate the reference to be to the apostles (“whom you have given me”).
According to ancient Jewish sources, the Passover meal could only be eaten until midnight. (Tosefta, Pesahim 5:13) So it may have been around midnight that Jesus and the apostles sang the concluding portion of the Hallel (possibly Psalms 115 through 118) and then headed for the Mount of Olives. Leaving Jerusalem, they descended to the Kidron valley, crossed it, and then ascended the western slope of the Mount of Olives. (Matthew 26:30, 36; Mark 14:26; John 18:1) Although knowing that he would be betrayed, Jesus did not alter his customary routine. (Luke 22:39)
Arriving at a place called Gethsemane, he and the apostles entered a garden. After telling the others to seat themselves, probably near the area where they entered, Jesus had Peter, James, and John accompany him to a more distant location in the garden where he intended to pray. It may have been before leaving the other apostles behind that he told them to pray in order not succumb to temptation. In view of his earlier comments that all of them would be stumbled on his account, they may have understood that the temptation pertained to circumstances that might induce them to disown him. (Matthew 26:36, 37; Mark 14:32, 33; Luke 22:40; see the Notes section for other comments.)
It may have been close to one o’clock in the morning when Jesus left for a place to pray, and the apostles would have been very tired. Upon becoming distressed and experiencing an inner upheaval, Jesus said to Peter, James, and John, “My soul is [I myself am] greatly distressed, [even] to death. Stay here and remain awake with me.” He then walked on a little farther (“a stone’s throw” or the distance one might customarily toss a stone), dropped to his knees, and prostrated himself, with his face touching the ground. He then began to pray. (Matthew 26:38, 39; Mark 14:34, 35; Luke 22:41)
Earlier that night, Jesus had told the apostles that the ruler of the world would be coming. (John 14:30) The great distress that Jesus experienced in the garden and the intensity of his repeated prayer suggest that he was then subjected to a severe mental assault from the powers of darkness. This was the culminating hour for the devil to try to sway him from carrying out his Father’s will respecting the “cup” or the portion meant for him. For Jesus to partake from that “cup” would mean that he would be viciously abused, humiliated, tortured, and die an excruciating death that would portray him as a vile criminal.
He knew that this was his Father’s arrangement for reconciling humans to himself. It would reveal the depth of his Father’s love for humankind. The Father thereby demonstrated that he so much wanted them to be his children that he did not even spare his own Son to reach their deepest emotions, appealing to them to respond in faith or unqualified trust to his way for having their sins forgiven. For those who would put faith in Jesus’ sacrificial death for them, the recognition of the greatness of the Father’s love would be beyond compare. They would deeply feel that the Father and his Son did this for them personally in expression of their love.
At the same time, the suffering that Jesus experienced would serve to reveal the seriousness of sin. Flawed humans tend to have a dulled sense for what is wrong or hurtful and are prone to justify attitudes, words, or actions that are morally corrupt.
Nothing less than the greatest sacrifice could accomplish what was essential to bring sinful humans into a proper family relationship with the Father of the Lord Jesus Christ. Upon coming to recognize sin in all its hideousness and the greatness of divine love, sinful humans would be able to respond with the kind of faith or trust that our heavenly Father desires his approved children to have.
The reconciliation of humans with the Father was diametrically opposed to the devil’s aim. If there had been another way in which Jesus would have been able to accomplish his Father’s purpose, he would have preferred that. If it had been possible, he would have wanted the horrific “hour” or time to pass from him. His prayer, though, indicated that he did not yield to any assault from the powers of darkness. “Abba, Father,” he prayed, “all things are possible for you. Remove this cup from me, but not what I want but what you [want].” (Mark 14:35, 36; see the Notes section regarding Matthew 26:39 and Luke 22:42.) Jesus’ words reflected complete submission to his Father’s will for him.
He then rose and went to the place where the disciples were. Finding them asleep, he directed his words to Peter, “Simon, are you sleeping? Were you not able to stay awake one hour [probably meaning a short time]?” Addressing all three apostles, Jesus continued, “Stay awake and pray, that you do not come into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.” (Mark 14:37, 38) In “spirit,” or in their desired inclination under the circumstances, the apostles would have wanted to remain awake, but the limitations their human frailty imposed on them made this impossible. (Matthew 26:40, 41)
After going away from them, Jesus prayed a second time, “My Father, if this cannot pass [from me] unless I drink it [partake of the portion that had been determined for him], your will take place.” (Matthew 26:42; Mark 14:39) When returning to the three apostles, he again found them asleep. They could not keep their eyes open (literally, “their eyes were weighed down” or “heavy”). (Matthew 26:43) In their sleepy state, they were in no position to answer or to respond to Jesus. (Mark 14:40) After going away from them, he prayed a third time that his Father’s will to be done. (Matthew 26:44)
According to numerous manuscripts, Luke 22:43 relates that an angel or messenger from heaven (not a human messenger) came to strengthen Jesus. Regarding his praying, Luke 22:44 says, “And having come to be in anguish, he prayed more earnestly, and his sweat became like drops of blood falling upon the ground.” If preserving an original account (despite being missing in the oldest extant manuscripts [late second-century or early third-century P75, probably also third-century P69, fourth-century Codex Vaticanus, and a corrector’s reading of fourth-century Codex Sinaiticus]), the incident about the angel is probably to be associated with Jesus’ third prayer. The reference to the sweat may mean that the perspiration flowed from his forehead like drops of blood from a cut. Another possibility is that the extreme emotional stress to which Jesus had been subjected caused blood to seep through his skin and come to be mingled with his sweat. This, however, seems less likely, as it happens rarely and, in the dark, discolored sweat could not have been distinguished from the usual perspiration.
When Jesus approached the apostles for the third time, they were still asleep. His words to them about sleeping and resting indicated that, at this critical juncture, they needed to be awake. The “hour” or time had arrived for the Son of Man to be delivered into the hands of sinners. (Matthew 26:45; Mark 14:41) According to Luke 22:45, sorrow or distress contributed to the sleepy state of the apostles. (See the Notes section regarding Luke 22:46.) This sadness appears to have been because Jesus told them earlier about his leaving them. (John 16:6, 7)
As the betrayer, Judas Iscariot, was about to arrive with an armed crowd who had come to seize him, Jesus said to Peter, James, and John, “Rise, let us go. See! The one betraying me is approaching.” (Matthew 26:46; Mark 14:42) Based on the narrative in John chapter 18, this did not mean that Jesus planned to escape, leaving and, as on earlier occasions when his life was in danger, concealing himself. His prayer had been answered. Through loyal submission to his Father’s will, he had defeated the powers of darkness. So he would “go,” willingly and courageously facing those who had come to arrest him.
Luke chapter 22 does not mention that Jesus took only Peter, James, and John with him when setting out for a place to pray. Therefore, it is not certain whether the words of Luke 22:40 about praying so as to not enter into temptation were directed to the apostles whom he told to seat themselves or to Peter, James, and John. In Luke 22:46, the thought regarding praying to avoid succumbing to temptation is repeated, “Rise, pray, that you do not enter into temptation.” This appears to relate to the third time Jesus found Peter, James, and John asleep. The condensed nature of Luke’s account, however, does not make it possible to be certain about which time it was and to whom the words were directed (either to Peter, James, and John, to all the apostles, or to the apostles who were situated closer to the garden entrance).
Matthew 26:39, Mark 14:36, and Luke 22:42 express the thoughts of Jesus’ prayer, but the wording is not identical. This is understandable, for the actual words would not have been spoken in Greek. For Matthew 26:39, manuscripts either start the prayer with “My Father” or “Father” and then continue, “Take this cup from me; yet not as I want but as you want.” Luke 22:42 reads, “Father, if you wish, remove this cup from me; yet not my will but yours come to pass.”
The betrayer Judas knew the place where Jesus would be, for he had often been there with the disciples. (John 18:2) Initially, though, Judas and those planning to seize Jesus may have stopped at the house where he had been with the other apostles. Included in the group were Roman soldiers, Levite temple guards, and slaves. (Luke 22:50, 52; John 18:3, 26) They were equipped with torches, lamps, swords, and clubs. (Matthew 26:47; John 18:3) According to John 18:3, besides a contingent of Roman soldiers (probably drawn from among those stationed at the Tower of Antonia and who were responsible for watching for any disturbance or uprising in the temple area and bringing it under control), there were subordinates or deputies of the chief priests and Pharisees.
Matthew 26:47 refers to a large crowd from the chief priests and elders of the people, and Mark 14:43 additionally mentions men from the scribes. In view of the inclusion of Pharisees in John 18:3, they may have been the scribes who were involved in sending their subordinates. Only Luke 22:52 speaks of Jesus as directing words to the chief priests, temple captains, and elders. This may be understood to mean that what he said to those who acted for the chief priests and elders of the nation is being represented as addressed to those who had sent them.
While Jesus was speaking to the apostles, Judas and the armed men arrived. As it would have been hard for anyone without being personally acquainted with Jesus to recognize him in the dark, Judas had given the armed men an advance signal. “The one whom I kiss is he; seize him [and lead him away safely (Mark 14:44)].” (Matthew 26:47, 48; Mark 14:43, 44; Luke 22:47)
Approaching Jesus, Judas greeted him, addressing him as “rabbi,” and then kissed him. The preserved record does not indicate whether Judas responded to Jesus’ asking him why he had come and whether he was betraying the Son of Man with a kiss. (Matthew 26:49, 50; Mark 14:45; Luke 22:48; see the Notes section regarding Matthew 26:50.) At this point, Judas appears to have withdrawn, taking a position with the crowd. (John 18:5)
Jesus was fully aware of what would happen to him. His response to the crowd demonstrated that he, voluntarily and in submission to his Father’s will, chose to enter upon a course of suffering that would terminate in a painful death. Courageously, he walked toward the crowd, asking, “Whom do you seek?” When they said, “Jesus the Nazarene,” he identified himself, “I am,” that is, I am he. (John 18:4, 5) Their reference to him as “the Nazarene” may well have been a slur, for they considered him as no more than a man from Nazareth in Galilee, a city without any distinction.
Jesus’ fearlessness appears to have caught the armed men by surprise. Startled, those in front may suddenly have backed up, causing those behind them to lose their footing and fall. No man among them came toward Jesus. So he again asked them, “Whom are you seeking?” They again responded, “Jesus the Nazarene.” (John 18:6, 7)
“I told you,” he said to them, “I am.” Having left no doubt about his identity as the one whom they wanted to seize, Jesus, like a caring shepherd who looks out for the sheep, spoke up to protect his disciples. “If, then, you are seeking me, let these go.” (John 18:8) Earlier, in prayer, he had said that he had watched over those whom his Father had given him and that none except the “son of destruction” (Judas) had been “destroyed” or lost. (John 17:12) Jesus continued to conduct himself in keeping with his prayer, thereby fulfilling his words, “I have not lost one of those whom you have given me.” (John 18:9)
Becoming aware of what was about to happen to Jesus, the apostles closest to him asked, “Shall we strike with the sword?” With zeal for his Lord, Peter did not wait for an answer, reached for his sword, and struck one of the men. This one, the high priest’s slave Malchus, appears to have succeeded in quickly averting a fatal blow but still lost his right ear. Jesus stopped Peter from continuing to use the sword, telling him, “Put your sword into the sheath. Should I not drink the cup the Father has given me?” (Matthew 26:51, 52; Mark 14:47; Luke 22:49, 50; John 18:10, 11)
Jesus also told Peter that all who take the sword would perish by the sword. There was no need for fighting, for he could make his appeal for heavenly assistance, asking his Father to supply him immediately with twelve legions (72,000, based on the usual size of 6,000 in a Roman legion) of angels. But this would not have been in harmony with what the scriptures indicated to be his divinely appointed role as the one who would surrender his life. (Isaiah 53:1-8) Jesus added, “How, then, would the scriptures be fulfilled that it must happen in this way?” (Matthew 26:52-54) After indicating that matters had gone far enough with Peter’s use of the sword, Jesus healed the injured Malchus. (Luke 22:51)
The Son of God reproved the armed men, revealing that their action under the cover of darkness and as an armed mob had no valid basis. He asked them, “Have you come with swords and clubs as against a bandit to arrest me?” Jesus reminded them that there had been many opportunities for them to seize him. He had publicly taught at the temple and yet they had not arrested him. Now, however, their hour had come and the “power of darkness.” What the Hebrew prophets had foretold respecting him had to be fulfilled. So it was then the time to carry out the evil deed, one that stemmed from unbelief and a willing submission to satanic authority. (Matthew 26:55, 56; Mark 14:48, 49; Luke 22:52, 53)
It may be that the Roman chiliarch (a commander with 1,000 soldiers under him) gave the order to seize Jesus. Roman soldiers and members of the temple guard then took hold of him and bound him. (John 18:12) Fearfully, the apostles abandoned Jesus and fled. (Matthew 26:56; Mark 14:50)
In Matthew 26:50, the last three words of the Greek text literally read, “Upon what are you present.” These words may be rendered as a question. “Why are you here? (CEV) “Why have you come?” (NIV, footnote) Many modern translations, however, represent the Greek text as meaning that Judas should do what he had come to do instead of feigning friendship. “Do what you are here for.” (NJB) “Do what you have come for.” (NAB) “Do what you are here to do.” (REB) “Do what you came to do.” (NCV)
Because different writers were involved, one should not expect to find identical details in their narratives of the same events. Moreover, when there are differences, the highly condensed nature of the accounts does not make it possible to be definitive about how certain specifics are to be understood.
Jesus was led away bound, down the western slope of the Mount of Olives, across the Kidron valley, and back to Jerusalem. It was in the city that a young man began to follow the armed crowd. This may have been Mark. Possibly he was awakened by the sound of talking and the tramping of many feet and then quickly put on a linen garment over his naked body, hurried out of the house, and began to follow the crowd. This may have been because he recognized that Jesus was being led away. Certain ones appear to have become aware that the young man was following them, and they attempted to grab hold of him. He, however, slipped out of his garment and ran away naked. (Mark 14:51, 52; see the Notes section for additional comments.)
After this incident, the crowd headed for the residence of the high priest, where Annas would first question Jesus. (John 18:13) According to the Jewish historian Josephus, Quirinius, the governor of Syria, had appointed Annas (Ananus) as high priest. (Antiquities, XVIII, ii, 1) He served in this capacity until the “procurator of Judea,” Valerius Gratus, removed him from office in 15 CE. Although no longer in the position of high priest, Annas continued to wield considerable power and influence. Five of his sons and one son-in-law (Caiaphas, the high priest at the time of Jesus’ arrest) became high priests. (Antiquities, XVIII, ii, 2; XX, ix, 1) While Caiaphas was then the official high priest, Annas appears to have had rooms in the same residence. This may be deduced from the fact that Peter’s denial occurred in the courtyard of the high priest, and there is no indication that anyone entered more than one courtyard during the course of the night. (John 18:15-18, 24, 25)
In response to Annas’ questioning regarding his disciples and his teaching, Jesus pointed out that he had always spoken openly to the “world” (or the people), doing so in the temple precincts and in the synagogues, where the Jews assembled. After saying that he had not expressed anything in secret, Jesus continued, “Why are you questioning me? Question those who heard what I spoke to them. See! They know what I said.” One of the subordinates (probably a temple guard) then approached Jesus and slapped him, saying, “Is that how you answer the chief priest?” “If I responded wrongly,” Jesus said, “testify about the wrong. But if appropriately, why do you strike me?” (John 18:19-23)
After the interrogation, Annas sent Jesus bound to his son-in-law, Caiaphas the high priest. Earlier, Caiaphas had told the members of the Sanhedrin that it was better for one man to die for the people than for the whole nation to be destroyed. (John 11:49, 50; 18:24)
At the time Jesus was led away, the apostles had scattered. Later, Peter decided to follow the armed crowd, but maintained a safe distance. (Matthew 26:57, 58; Mark 14:53, 54; Luke 22:54) According to John 18:15, another disciple also followed when Peter was on his way to the premises of the high priest. The female servant stationed at the gate there recognized this disciple, for the high priest knew him. She opened the gate, allowing him to follow “Jesus into the courtyard of the high priest.” Peter, however, was not permitted to enter but remained standing at the gate. (John 18:16)
Many have assumed that John was the disciple whom the high priest knew. This does not seem very likely. After Jesus’ death and resurrection, Peter and John were brought before Annas, Caiaphas, and the other members of the Sanhedrin for questioning. At that time, both of them were perceived to be unlearned and ordinary men, and the members of the high court recognized that they had been associated with Jesus. (Acts 4:5-7, 13) So it seems improbable that an ordinary fisherman from Galilee had the kind of access to the high priest that would have made his word carry sufficient weight for the female servant to allow Peter to enter the courtyard. (John 18:16)
The details in John 18:15 are too limited to draw any definitive conclusions about this other disciple and how it happened that he and Peter were together after Jesus had been taken through the courtyard. One possibility is that the other disciple, as a member of the Sanhedrin, had been summoned by the high priest and, while on his way, had met Peter. Two members of the Sanhedrin, Nicodemus and Joseph from Arimathea, were secret disciples, and there may have been others. (Matthew 27:57; Mark 15:43; Luke 23:50, 51; John 12:42; 19:38, 39) Members of the Sanhedrin were influential men whose request the female servant would not have hesitated to honor.
Peter had not been with the crowd that brought Jesus in but arrived later. Therefore, the female gatekeeper appears to have thought that Peter could only be one of his followers. So she asked him, “Are you not also one of the disciples of this man?” “I am not,” he replied. (John 18:17; see the Notes section for additional comments.) His answer did not allay her suspicion.
Slaves and subordinates (probably temple guards) who participated in the arrest of Jesus had started a charcoal fire in the courtyard, for it was cold that night. Peter joined those who were warming themselves around the fire. (Luke 22:55; John 18:18)
While he was seated by the bright fire, the female servant (the gatekeeper) looked him over and expressed herself even more definitely, saying, “You also were with Jesus the Galilean [the Nazarene, Mark 14:67].” (Matthew 26:69) “This man also was with him,” she said to those warming themselves around the fire where Peter had seated himself and was waiting to see what would happen to Jesus. When making his denial, Peter claimed that he did not know him and did not understand what the woman was saying. (Matthew 26:69, 70; Mark 14:66-68; Luke 22:56, 57)
At the time, Peter may not have thought that he had denied his Lord, but may have felt that the woman did not really know what she was talking about and that his response would end any further discussion. By his answer, however, he had committed himself to a lie and had failed to put an end to the suspicion about him.
Peter withdrew to the forecourt (an area closer to the gate) or to the gatehouse. According to the reading of Mark 14:68 in many manuscripts, a cock crowed at this time, but there is no mention of this in the oldest extant manuscripts. A little while later, the female servant again noticed Peter, telling those standing there, “This is one of them,” meaning that he was one of Christ’s disciples, but he denied it. Another female servant spoke up, “This one was with Jesus the Nazarene.” Adding an oath, Peter responded, “I do not know the man.” (Matthew 26:71, 72; Mark 14:69, 70) A third person, a man, said, “You also are one of them,” that is, one of Jesus’ disciples. Then followed Peter’s denial, “Man, I am not.” (Luke 22:58)
John 18:25 could suggest that Peter returned to the courtyard, stood there to warm himself, and was again confronted with the question, “Are you not also one of his disciples?” He denied it.
While Peter was in the courtyard, the chief priests and other members of the Sanhedrin were trying to find witnesses who would confirm the false charges that would justify having Jesus put to death. Although many witnesses presented their testimony, the members of the Jewish high court could not use their words as a basis for sentencing him to death. This was because the witnesses presented conflicting false testimony, with no two being in agreement. Finally, two witnesses came forward, claiming that Jesus had said, “I can break down this temple of God and rebuild it in three days.” Again, however, their testimony disagreed. (Matthew 26:59-61; Mark 14:56-59; see the Notes section for additional information.)
After all the testimony had been presented, the high priest stood up and directed his questions to Jesus, “Are you not answering? What are these [men] testifying against you?” Jesus remained silent, making no reply whatsoever. Caiaphas then put him under oath by the living God (“the Blessed One” [Mark 14:61]), demanding that Jesus reply whether he was the Christ, the Son of God. (Matthew 26:62, 63; Mark 14:60) Jesus’ response (“You have said [it]”) appears to be repeated according to its intended meaning (“I am”) in Mark 14:62. He applied the Messianic prophecy of Daniel 7:13 to himself, saying, “From now on, you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the Power [the Powerful One] and coming on the clouds of heaven.” (Matthew 26:64; Mark 14:62) Thereby Jesus indicated that they would not see him again as a human but that he would return from heaven as the exalted one on whom the Almighty’s favor rested (as represented by his being seated at his right hand, the most honorable position).
In an outward display of horror, Caiaphas ripped his garments and said, “He has blasphemed! What need do we still have of witnesses? See! You have now heard the blasphemy. What do you think?” The members of the high court who accepted this basis for rendering a verdict decided that Jesus was deserving of death. (Matthew 26:65, 66; Mark 14:63, 64)
While testimony was being presented against him, Jesus was at a location above the courtyard. After about an hour had passed after Peter had denied Jesus a second time, he was again accused of being his disciple. (Luke 22:59) From the position where Jesus was standing, he, upon turning his head, could see Peter. (Luke 22:61)
Those who had heard Peter speaking in the courtyard recognized his Galilean accent. Therefore, certain ones there confronted him, saying, “Surely you are also one of them [Jesus’ disciples], for even your speech [accent] makes it evident.” (Matthew 26:73) One of them said to the others, “Surely this [man] also was with him, for he is also a Galilean.” (Luke 22:59) According to Mark 14:70, certain ones said to Peter, “Surely you are one of them, for you are also a Galilean.” A relative of the high priest’s slave whose ear Peter had cut off, spoke up, “Did I not see you in the garden with him [Jesus]?” (John 18:26) Peter called down evil upon himself, declaring with an oath that he did not “know the man.” While he was still speaking, denying that he knew anything about things being said, a cock crowed the second time. Jesus turned to look at Peter. Their eyes met, and Peter recalled Jesus’ words that he would disown him three times before the crowing of a cock. Emotionally overcome by the recognition of his having failed his beloved Lord, he left the courtyard and gave way to bitter weeping. (Matthew 26:74, 75; Mark 14:71, 72; Luke 22:60-62; John 18:27)
After the members of the high court had decided that Jesus was deserving of death, he was hit, spit upon, and subjected to other abuse. Having blindfolded him, certain ones slapped his face or hit it with their fists and then mockingly said, “Prophesy to us, you Christ [Messiah]! Who is the one who struck you?” In many other ways they continued to blaspheme him. (Matthew 26:67, 68; Mark 14:65; Luke 22:63-65)
Early the next morning, the entire Jewish high court (the Sanhedrin composed of the chief priests, elders of the people, and scribes) met to establish Jesus’ guilt legally and to determine how to have the sentence against him carried out. (Matthew 27:1; Mark 15:1; Luke 22:66) Luke 22:67-71 briefly summarizes what then occurred. Jesus was asked whether he was the Messiah (the Christ). He replied, “Even if I told you, you would definitely not believe. And if I were to question you, you would definitely not answer.” This response suggests that they would not give an answer to any question that would point to his being the Messiah. (Luke 22:67, 68) The certainty of their refusal to believe and to answer him is emphasized in the Greek text by the use of two words (ou mé, meaning “not, not”).
Jesus again alluded to the words of Daniel 7:13, saying, “From now on, however, the Son of Man will be sitting at the right hand of the power of God.” Asked if he was the Son of God, Jesus said, “You are saying that I am.” This reply implied that they would not need to raise the question if they knew for a certainty that he could not possibly be this one. At the same time, Jesus, with respect to his identity, confirmed the truth inherent in the question. The members of the high court then decided that they had no need of any witnesses, as he had condemned himself by claiming to be the Son of God. (Luke 22:69-71)
In Mark 14:51, 52, the Greek term for what the young man was wearing is sindón and designates linen of good quality. This could refer either to a linen cloth or a light linen garment. Numerous translations read, “linen cloth,” suggesting nothing more than a loin cloth.
In John 18:17, Peter’s first denial is mentioned before Annas questioned Jesus, and the other two denials are represented as occurring later. The accounts in Matthew, Mark, and Luke appear to be complementary and provide different details. Based on all the recorded narrations, it seems that the female servant at the gate was not satisfied with Peter’s initial response and began to talk to others. Altogether, he was confronted by various ones at three different times, and on each of these occasions he responded with denials.
Mark 14:58 presents a more detailed version of the statement about the temple. “I will break down this temple made with hands and in three days build another not made with hands.” Both Mark 14:58 and Matthew 26:61 convey the substance of the testimony. Moreover, the men would have spoken individually and not in the Greek language preserved in the text. Therefore, differences in the narration should rightly be expected.
Ancient Jewish regulations prohibited conducting judicial proceedings during the night and on the Sabbath or on festival days. It appears that the members of the Jewish high court chose to set the usual regulations aside on the basis of the principle that extraordinary circumstances required extraordinary measures.
The high priest Caiaphas had earlier stated that it was better for one man to die than for the whole nation to be destroyed. (John 11:50) Because the majority of the members of the Sanhedrin regarded Jesus as a serious threat, they doubtless felt justified in acting according to what they thought the extraordinary situation demanded.
The kind of reasoning they could have followed might be similar to what is expressed in the Tosefta (Shabbat, 15:17) about action that is undertaken on the Sabbath to prevent the possible loss of life. Reference is made to Exodus 22:2, which passage states that a householder who killed a thief who had broken into his home at night would not be bloodguilty. After indicating that the safety of the householder would have been a matter of doubt (it being not absolutely certain that the thief would have killed the householder), the Tosefta continues, “Now if they kill one man to save the life of another which is subject only to doubt as to its safety, is it not logical that they should override the prohibitions of the Sabbath to save a life which is in doubt as to its safety?” (Neusner’s English translation) According to the reasoning of Caiaphas, the safety of the whole nation was at stake, providing a basis for overriding the usual legal requirements.
After the Sanhedrin had determined that Jesus was deserving of death, the chief priests, other members of the court, and subordinates (probably Levite temple guards) led Jesus as a bound criminal to Pilate, the governor. Roman officials started their work day early in the morning. Emperor Vespasian (69 to 79 CE), for example, began his day before dawn. So it would not have been unusual for Jesus to have been brought to Pilate at an early hour. (Matthew 27:2; Mark 15:1; Luke 23:1; John 18:28; 19:6; for more information about Pilate, see the Notes section.)
The chief priests and the other Jews did not enter the praetorium, where Pilate had his official residence while in Jerusalem. They were concerned about not contracting ceremonial defilement, which would have prevented them from eating the Passover. (John 18:28; see the Notes section for additional comments.) Ironically, although they had been willing to override legal requirements in order to condemn Jesus to death, they scrupled about external purity.
The praetorium may have been the palace Herod the Great had built. According to Josephus, Gessius Florus (War, II, xiv, 8), who served as governor or procurator at a later time, did use the palace when he was in Jerusalem.
Probably in response to a message conveyed to him, Pilate came out to speak to the Jews, asking them what charge they were making against Jesus. (John 18:29) They implied that there was no reason for Pilate to inquire about an accusation, for they would not be turning over to him a man other than a criminal. (John 18:30) When Pilate told them to judge Jesus according to their own law, they responded that it was illegal for them to execute anyone. By seeking to have Pilate issue the death sentence, they served to fulfill Jesus’ words regarding the kind of death he would die, that is, as one elevated and crucified in an upright position. (John 18:31, 32; compare Jesus’ earlier words [John 3:14, 15; 12:32, 33].)
It appears that, at this point, they set forth charges that were designed to incite Pilate, as the representative of Rome, to take action. They claimed that Jesus had inflamed the nation, forbidden the payment of taxes to Caesar, and proclaimed himself to be the Messianic king or ruler. In this way, they portrayed him as a dangerous seditionist who posed a serious threat to Roman authority. (Luke 23:2)
Pilate had Jesus come into the praetorium for questioning, likely having Roman soldiers leading him. He asked him, “Are you the king of the Jews?” (John 18:33)
Jesus countered with the question, “Are you saying this of your own accord, or have others told you about me?” Pilate’s response suggests that he had no firsthand knowledge. He was not a Jew, and it was members of the Jewish nation and the chief priests who had delivered Jesus into his hands. Pilate asked, “What did you do?” (John 18:34, 35)
In his reply, Jesus revealed that he posed no threat to the authority of the Romans, explaining that his kingdom was “no part of this world.” It was not a rule that originated with or depended upon any human authority. If this had been the case, Jesus continued, “My subordinates would have fought.” Their reason for engaging in armed conflict would have been to prevent his falling into the hands of the Jews who opposed him. “But,” as Jesus added, “my kingdom is not from here,” indicating that it had no link to any human action or source. Pilate asked, “Are you a king?” Jesus’ reply, “You are saying that I am a king,” may imply that Pilate’s question acknowledged the possibility that he was a king. The fact that Jesus did not deny it could have served as an affirmative answer to the question. (John 18:36, 37; see the Notes section for comments regarding Matthew 27:11, Mark 15:2, and Luke 23:3.)
Nevertheless, he made it clear that his purpose was not to establish an earthly kingdom. He had been born and come into the world “to testify to the truth,” and persons who were “of the truth,” taking their stand for it, would listen to him. (John 18:37) Pilate would not have understood what he meant. Jesus had made known the truth about his Father and how to become a part of the realm where he would be ruling by his Father’s appointment. As the intimate of his Father, Jesus was the embodiment of the truth and in a position to reveal his Father in a manner than no one else could.
The context does not indicate how Pilate’s question (“What is truth?”) is to be understood. (John 18:38) Perhaps he intended it as a dismissive response, reflecting no further interest and no desire to be identified as a person who listened to the truth Jesus could have made known to him.
Pilate went out to the Jews who were waiting for his decision regarding Jesus and told them that he had found nothing against him. (John 18:38) The chief priests and Jewish elders objected, insisting that the teaching Jesus had begun in Galilee and carried on in Jerusalem had stirred up the people throughout Judea. Despite their continuing to level many charges against him, he remained silent. Pilate asked Jesus whether he did not hear the accusations being made against him. The fact that he said nothing in response filled Pilate with wonderment. After Jesus’ accusers mentioned Galilee, Pilate confirmed that Jesus was a Galilean and under the jurisdiction of Herod Antipas. At the time, Herod was in Jerusalem for the Passover. Probably in an effort to avoid having to render the judgment Jesus’ accusers were seeking, Pilate sent him to Herod. (Matthew 27:12-14; Mark 15:3-5; Luke 23:4-7)
Earlier, Herod had imprisoned John the Baptist and then, in fulfillment of an oath-bound promise to the daughter of Herodias, had him executed. When news about Jesus’ miracles reached Herod, he concluded that John the Baptist had been raised from the dead and was performing powerful deeds. (Matthew 14:1-10) Therefore, upon having Jesus sent to him, Herod was delighted. He had wanted to see him for some time and hoped to observe him perform some impressive sign. Herod questioned Jesus extensively, and the chief priests and scribes, who apparently were among those who had taken him to Herod, made strong accusations. Jesus, however, remained silent. (Luke 23:8-10)
Probably at Herod’s instigation, his guard mocked Jesus, dressing him in a splendid robe as if he were a king. Apparently disappointed at not having witnessed some spectacular sign and probably displeased with Jesus’ silence, Herod sent him back to Pilate. This development ended the hostility that had existed between Pilate and Herod, because Herod likely regarded being consulted regarding Jesus as an acknowledgment of his authority over Galilee. The enmity between them may have arisen when Pilate earlier had killed certain Galileans (Herod’s subjects) while they were sacrificing at the temple in Jerusalem. (Luke 13:1; 23:11, 12)
After Jesus had been sent back to him, Pilate addressed the chief priests and the other prominent Jews who were with them. He told them that, although they had charged Jesus with inciting the people to revolt, neither he nor Herod had found any evidence to support accusations that he was deserving of death. Seemingly, in an effort to satisfy their desire for Jesus to be punished, Pilate said that he would chastise him (probably by submitting him to a flogging) and then release him. (Luke 23:13-16)
His effort to placate Jesus’ accusers was unjust. Pilate had not found him guilty of any crime and neither had Herod. Still, he continued his political maneuvering, likely with the intent of avoiding an uproar. Based on his examination of Jesus, Pilate discerned that the chief priests had handed him over out of envy and not because of any crime. He may have seen that the prominent Jews resented the influence he had among the people and, for this reason, considered him a threat to their position and authority. (Matthew 27:18; Mark 15:10)
At the time, a notorious seditionist and bandit named Barabbas was being held in confinement and apparently was to be executed. Barabbas was guilty of murder. (Matthew 27:15, 16; Mark 15:7; Luke 23:19) Probably believing that if they had a choice between the release of Barabbas and Jesus, the Jews would ask for Jesus to be released. Based on a custom that had developed at the time of the Passover, Pilate presented this choice to those who had meanwhile arrived to petition for the release of a prisoner. (See the Notes section regarding Matthew 27:15; Mark 15:6-8; Luke 23:17, and John 18:39.) The chief priests succeeded in inciting the petitioners against Jesus and to request the release of Barabbas. (Matthew 27:17, 20, 21; Mark 15:6-11; Luke 23:18; John 18:39, 40; see the Notes section regarding Matthew 27:16, 17.) In the case of the petitioners, they may well have been inclined toward wanting an end to Roman rule. If so, their sympathies would have been with Barabbas who had acted violently in keeping with his fanatical opposition to Roman authority.
Desiring to release Jesus, Pilate addressed the crowd a second time, calling out to them, “So what shall I do with Jesus, the one called Christ [king of the Jews (Mark 15:12)]?” They shouted, “Crucify, crucify him.” (Matthew 27:22; Mark 15:13; Luke 23:20, 21)
For a third time, Pilate called out to them, “Why, what evil did he commit? No guilt [meriting] death did I find in him. So I will chastise him [probably by flogging] and release him.” They refused to yield, demanding with loud shouting that Jesus be crucified. (Matthew 27:23; Mark 15:14; Luke 23:22, 23)
All of Pilate’s efforts failed to gain the crowd’s consent to release Jesus. Those who had brought him and the others who had come to request the release of a prisoner became more adamant in their cry for crucifixion and were on the verge of rioting. Instead of upholding justice, Pilate, for political reasons, gave in to their demands. With an outward gesture, he tried to absolve himself of guilt when handing down an unjust verdict. He washed his hands in the presence of the crowd and said, “I am innocent of this [man’s] blood. You must see [to it].” They responded with the words, “His blood come upon us and upon our children.” Thereafter he released Barabbas and handed Jesus over to Roman soldiers to be flogged. (Matthew 27:24-26; Mark 15:15; Luke 23:24, 25)
This flogging was an extreme form of torture. The whip consisted of a handle with several leather cords to which pieces of bone or metal were attached. A severe flogging could result in death, as the bone or metal ripped into the flesh and caused serious bleeding.
Besides flogging Jesus, Roman soldiers also mocked him. They stripped off his garments and clothed him with a “scarlet” or “purple” cloak (purple being the color of garments commonly worn by royalty and other officials). On his head, they placed a crown made from thorns. In imitation of his having a royal scepter, they had him hold a reed in his right hand. With another reed, soldiers may have taken turns hitting him over the head, likely causing the thorns to penetrate his forehead. Besides slapping him in the face and spitting at it, the soldiers kneeled before him, addressing him as “king of the Jews.” (Matthew 27:27-30; Mark 15:16-19; John 19:1-3; see the Notes section regarding Matthew 27:28; Mark 15:17; Luke 23:11, and John 19:2.)
It appears that the Jews who wanted Jesus executed chose to remain outside the praetorium until they were certain that he would not be released. After the soldiers had ended the flogging and mockery, Pilate again came out of the praetorium to address the Jews, telling them that he would bring Jesus out to them so that they would know that he found no guilt in him. It seems likely that soldiers then brought Jesus outside. He still wore the reddish garment and the crown of thorns. Pilate then said, “See! The man.” (John 19:4, 5)
The context does not reveal how these words should be understood. In view of the abuse to which Jesus had been submitted, his appearance must have been such as would have evoked sympathy in persons who had retained their humanity. So the expression “the man” could have meant the pitiable fellow or a mere man who posed no threat. There is also a possibility that Pilate was impressed by the control Jesus had exercised in not responding to false charges and by the dignity which he had maintained while being abused and mocked. If these aspects prompted Pilate’s words, the expression “the man” would signify a man in the noblest sense.
Unmoved by any feelings of sympathy, the chief priests and subordinates (probably temple guards) shouted, “Crucify! Crucify!” Having found no guilt in Jesus, Pilate responded, “Take him and crucify him yourselves.” In their reply, those who wanted Jesus crucified now revealed that their previous accusations were false. They now said that, according to their law, he should be put to death because he claimed to be the Son of God. (John 19:6, 7)
On hearing the words “Son of God,” Pilate gave way to superstitious fear. (John 19:8) A contributory factor may have been his wife’s dream. While he was sitting on the judgment seat deliberating, she had sent a message to him, telling him to have nothing to do with the innocent man. This was on account of having suffered much in a dream because of him. (Matthew 27:19)
After entering the praetorium with Jesus, Pilate asked him, “From where are you?” When he did not answer, Pilate continued, “Are you not speaking to me? Do you not know that I have the power to release you and the power to crucify you?” “You would have no power over me,” said Jesus, “unless it had been given to you from above. Therefore, the one who delivered me over to you has greater sin.” (John 19:9-11)
If it had not been his Father’s will for Jesus to surrender his life, Pilate would have been powerless to do anything to him. What was about to take place would occur according to God’s will, and so, by divine permission, Pilate would be exercising the power to hand Jesus over to be crucified. This would not free him from guilt, for he would be acting unjustly toward one whom he knew to be completely innocent of any wrongdoing. Nevertheless, Pilate’s sin would not be as great as that of the one who had been responsible for handing Jesus over to him. The context does not identify this one. Jesus may have meant the betrayer Judas, the high priest Caiaphas, or the chief priests and other members of the Sanhedrin as a corporate body.
After the interchange with Jesus, Pilate still wanted to release him and again addressed the Jews who were waiting outside the praetorium. They then forced him into a position where he had to consider the preservation of his own office and even his own life. “If you release him, you are not a friend of Caesar. Everyone who makes himself a king speaks against Caesar.” Thus they insisted that releasing Jesus would be an act of disloyalty to Caesar — an offense meriting severe punishment. (John 19:12; see the Notes section regarding how seriously Tiberius took any slight to his imperial dignity.)
Pilate brought Jesus outside. He sat down on the judgment seat located at the place known as the “Stone Pavement” or, “in Hebrew, Gabbatha.” It was about the sixth hour. (See the Notes section regarding the “sixth hour” mentioned in John 19:14.) Possibly based on the reckoning the chief priests used in that particular year, it was the day designated for the preparation of the Passover (Nisan 14). In response to Pilate’s words (“See! Your king!”), the Jews who were there shouted, “Away! Away! Crucify him!” “Shall I crucify your king?” Pilate called out. “We have no king but Caesar,” the chief priests replied. It was then that Pilate turned Jesus over to the Roman soldiers to be crucified. (John 19:13-16) They clothed Jesus with his own garments and led him away. (Matthew 27:31; Mark 15:20)
After word reached Judas that Jesus had been condemned, he regretted what he had done and, taking with him the 30 silver pieces, went to the chief priests and elders who were then in the temple precincts. When he acknowledged that he had sinned by betraying “righteous blood,” they responded dismissively. “What is that to us? You must see [to it].” Thus they revealed that Judas had only been their convenient tool. What he had done was his concern, not theirs. (Matthew 27:3, 4)
Judas then threw down the silver pieces somewhere in the temple precincts, left, and hanged himself. As for the chief priests, they scrupled about what they should do with the money. Because blood money was involved, they considered themselves legally bound not to put the silver pieces into the temple treasury. After conferring, they decided to use the money to buy a potter’s field (a property having little value) for use as a place to bury foreigners. (Matthew 27:5-7)
This particular burial place came to be known as “Field of Blood.” The reason for the name appears to have been its association with blood money and the suicide of Judas. (Matthew 27:8; see the Notes section regarding Acts 1:18, 19.)
The developments in connection with Judas paralleled expressions recorded in the prophets. Verses 9 and 10 of Matthew 27 conflate words from the prophets Jeremiah and Zechariah, attributing the whole to Jeremiah (possibly because he was the earlier prophet). “Then was fulfilled what had been spoken through Jeremiah the prophet, saying, ‘And they took the thirty silver pieces, the price for the one whom the sons of Israel had priced, and gave them for the potter’s field, as the Lord had commanded me.’”
Jeremiah had been directed to buy a field from Hanamel, and he did, on one occasion, go to a potter’s house to observe him at work. (Jeremiah 18:1-4; 32:6-9) Specific mention of 30 silver pieces is made in Zechariah 11:12, 13, where the prophet’s wages are stipulated as being that amount.
In John 18:28, the nature of the defilement is not revealed. It could not have been a defilement that would have ended at sundown after the legal requirements for purification had been followed.
The night on which Jesus observed the Passover with his disciples was followed by the Sabbath at sundown of the next day. There is a possibility that, in years when this was the case, the Sadducees, unlike the Pharisees, reckoned Nisan 14 as Nisan 13. This could explain why those who brought Jesus to Pilate (or at least a significant number among them) had not as yet eaten the Passover meal. A definitive conclusion, however, is not possible on the basis of the available information in ancient sources.
Based on John 18:33-37, Matthew (27:11) Mark (15:2), and Luke (23:3) present a condensed version of the interchange between Pilate and Jesus. Therefore, Jesus’ answer, “You are saying [it],” may be regarded as being the response to Pilate’s asking him the second time about being a king.
The account in Mark 15:6-8 adds the detail that Jewish petitioners came to ask for the release of a prisoner, whereas Matthew 27:15 only refers to the governor’s custom (at the time of the festival) to release the prisoner whom the crowd wanted. John 18:39 represents Pilate as saying, “You have a custom that I should release someone to you at the Passover.” The difference between Matthew 27:15 and John 18:39 is a one of perspective. It was customary for the Jews to have a prisoner released to them at the time of the festival, and Pilate’s custom was to grant the release. The oldest extant manuscripts of Luke 23 do not include verse 17, where the reference is to Pilate’s having to release someone to the Jews at the time of the festival.
In Matthew 27:16, 17, a number of manuscripts refer to Barabbas as “Jesus Barabbas.”
A partially preserved inscription found at Caesarea in 1961 refers to Pilate as “prefect of Judea.” The first-century Roman historian Tacitus (Annals, XV, 44), however, referred to Pilate as procurator. This may be because “procurator” was the title by which later Roman governors of Judea were known.
It was in the year 26 CE that Pilate assumed his official duties as governor of Judea. It was in the same year that Tiberius transferred his residence to the island of Capri. Until his execution in 31 CE, Sejanus, the prefect of the Praetorian Guard, functioned as de facto ruler. The ancient historian Dio Cassius (Book LVIII, v, 1; translated by Earnest Cary) wrote regarding him, “Sejanus was so great a person by reason both of his excessive haughtiness and of his vast power, that, to put it briefly, he himself seemed to be the emperor and Tiberius a kind of island potentate.” Therefore, although an appointee of Tiberius, Pilate may have owed his elevation to Sejanus.
If so, the execution of Sejanus would have made Pilate’s position more vulnerable whenever any accusation might be made against him. Without any support from Sejanus, Pilate’s situation would have been precarious. While Sejanus exercised power, anyone close to him could practically be assured of the emperor’s friendship. (Tacitus, Annals, VI, 8)
Tiberius acted on very little evidence when seeking to have the death penalty imposed for laesa majestas (injured majesty). An excerpt attributed to Dio Cassius (though the exact source is not positively known) reads, “Tiberius put to death a man of consular rank, accusing him of having carried in his bosom a coin bearing the emperor’s likeness when he retired to a latrine.” The only thing Tiberius said to him was, “With my coin in your bosom you turned aside into foul and noisome places and relieved your bowels.” (This extract is found at the end of Book LVIII of Dio’s Roman History, translated by Earnest Cary.)
Pilate must have known how seriously Tiberius took any report suggesting that his majesty had been slighted. Therefore, for word to reach Tiberius that he was no “friend of Caesar” would have put him in a precarious situation.
Although the Scriptures refer to a crowd as crying out for Jesus to be crucified, the number of men involved would have been a small minority of those who were then in Jerusalem. The only ones the chief priests needed to persuade to call for the release of Barabbas were men who had come to petition Pilate for the release of a Jewish prisoner. As men with this kind of personal interest in the cause of imprisoned Jews whom the Romans regarded as criminals, they would have been more readily inclined to believe the chief priests that Jesus posed a threat to the nation and would in no way further its welfare.
The Roman soldiers, when making sport of Jesus, probably used a worn-out item of dress that mockingly resembled a purple garment. (Mark 15:17; John 19:2) They themselves wore red cloaks. An old, faded one could have served their purpose. This would fit the words of Matthew 27:28, where the reference is to a scarlet or red cloak. The Greek term for “cloak” chlamys can, in fact, designate the kind of cloaks Roman soldiers wore. In the case of the mockery staged at Herod’s instigation, Jesus wore a “bright” or splendid garment. This would have been an elegant robe Herod made available. (Luke 23:11)
In John 19:14, the word hos (about) qualifies the “sixth hour,” identifying it as an approximate time before noon. (Mishnah, Pesahim, 1:4) The context does not make it possible to determine just how long before noon Pilate said to the Jews outside the praetorium, “See! Your king.” Based on specifics included in the other accounts (including the mention of a darkness lasting from the sixth hour until the ninth hour after Jesus had been crucified), the late morning hour could have been between an hour or two before noon. (Matthew 27:45; Mark 15:33; Luke 23:44)
In conjunction with the “preparation of the Passover,” all leaven was burned at the start of the sixth hour. This may be why the sixth hour is mentioned in John 19:14, with a possible implied link to Jesus as the sinless king who would die for the people as the “Lamb of God.” (John 1:29)
According to Acts 1:19, the residents of Jerusalem came to know about the field and its association with the death of Judas Iscariot. In their language, they called it Hakeldamách (Akeldama), meaning “Field of Blood.” In Acts 1:18, the 30 silver pieces are referred to as “wages of unrighteousness,” for Judas’ betrayal was an evil act. What he had done in betraying Jesus and then throwing the silver pieces down in the temple precincts provided the occasion for the purchase of the field. This may be why the Acts account attributes the buying of the field to him. Regarding his death, Acts 1:18 indicates that he burst open in the his midsection and that his intestines spilled out. Possibly he hanged himself from a tree limb and either the rope or the limb broke, causing him to fall on jagged rocks below.
Although having been an intimate associate of Jesus, Judas could not in any way justify what he had done but was forced to acknowledge that he had made himself guilty of betraying “righteous blood.” (Matthew 27:4)
After having been sentenced, Jesus was led away to the location where Roman soldiers would crucify him. Initially, he carried the beam (staurós). (John 19:16, 17) Eventually, however, his strength seems to have given out totally. Likely the extreme abuse and torture to which he had been submitted, coupled with much blood loss, had left him in a very weak state. At the time he could no longer carry the beam, Simon of Cyrene (the father of Alexander and Rufus) happened to be coming from the direction of a field outside the city. Seemingly, upon noticing him, the Roman soldiers impressed him into service, forcing him to carry the beam behind Jesus. (Matthew 27:31, 32; Mark 15:20, 21; Luke 23:26; see the Notes section for additional comments.)
As Jesus walked to the place where he would die, many people followed, including women. Overcome with emotion, the women beat themselves on their breasts and wailed for him. Turning around, Jesus spoke to them, “Daughters of Jerusalem, do not weep for me. Instead, weep for yourselves and your children, for, see! days are coming when they will say, ‘Fortunate [are] the barren women and the wombs that did not bear and the breasts that did not nurse!’ Then they will begin to say to the mountains, ‘Fall over us’; and to the hills, ‘Cover us.’ For, if they do this when the wood is green, what will occur when it is dry?” (Luke 23:27-31)
Jesus’ words anticipated the horrific suffering that would befall everyone in Jerusalem during the time of the Roman siege. So intense would be the distress from famine and war that people would wish that they could be so completely removed and concealed from the calamity as if mountains and hills were to cover them.
The proverbial reference to the green wood (or a living tree through which the sap continued to circulate) may be understood to apply to the Jewish nation. Within it, many godly persons grieved on account of the injustices they witnessed, and numerous influential men reflected a moderate disposition. Yet, despite the good existing in the nation, a grave injustice had been committed. The situation would prove to be far worse, however, when the nation, particularly as represented by Jerusalem (its center for worship) would come to be like dry wood or a dead tree. At that time, the absence of the wholesome influence of a devout remnant and of influential members of the nation who resisted the kind of fanaticism displayed by those who had requested the release of a murderous seditionist (Barabbas, an enemy of Rome), and who had shouted for Jesus to be crucified, would inevitably lead to civil strife and conflict with Rome, and the people would suffer.
Besides Jesus, two other condemned men were taken to the place where they would be crucified. (Luke 23:32) The location was called “Golgotha,” meaning “Skull Place.” (Matthew 27:33; Mark 15:22) There Jesus was offered wine to drink. According to Matthew 27:34, this wine was mixed with “gall” (cholé, a very bitter or unpleasant-tasting substance), and Mark 15:23 indicates that the wine contained myrrh. Possibly the gall was myrrh, or the wine was mixed with both gall and myrrh. As a drugged wine, the drink would have had a stupefying effect, serving to somewhat dull the pain inflicted during the crucifixion. Upon tasting the wine, Jesus refused to drink it, likely because of wanting to maintain full control of his senses as the sinless “Lamb of God.” The Scriptures do not mention who offered the drink to Jesus. It may have been one of the compassionate Jewish women, for the Romans did permit them to give drugged wine to the condemned.
After the Roman soldiers stripped Jesus of his clothing, they nailed him to the beam and, as he had foretold, lifted him up. Two bandits were also crucified, one on his right and the other one on his left. (Matthew 27:38; Mark 15:27; Luke 23:33; John 19:18; see the Notes section regarding crucifixion and Mark 15:25.) According to many manuscript readings of Mark 15:28 (but not the oldest extant ones), this development fulfilled the words of scripture (Isaiah 53:12), “And with [among the, LXX] lawless ones he was counted.”
In Luke 23:34, many manuscripts include Jesus’ prayer, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.” The oldest extant manuscript (P75 of the late second century or the early third century), fourth-century Codex Vaticanus, and other manuscripts do not include these words. If not original, the prayer would still reflect the loving and forgiving spirit of God’s Son, for the disciple Stephen expressed himself to this effect before his death from stoning. (Acts 7:60)
The charge against Jesus (identifying his crime as being that of “King of the Jews”) had been posted above his head. (Matthew 27:37; Mark 15:26; Luke 23:38; John 19:19; see the Notes section for additional comments.) Pilate had written it in three languages (Latin [the official language of Rome], Greek [the commonly used language in the Greco-Roman world], and Hebrew [the language of the native Jews]). The writing was large enough to be readable from a distance. Many Jews did read the words, for the location was near Jerusalem. After Pilate had written the charge, the chief priests objected, saying, “Do not write ‘the King of the Jews,’ but that “he said, I am King of the Jews.” Pilate, though, had made a legal decision, which he refused to alter. “What I have written,” he said, “I have written.” (John 19:19-22)
After the soldiers had crucified Jesus, they divided his robe (himátion, an outer garment) into four parts, with each soldier taking a part. This reveals that four soldiers were in charge of the crucifixion. They did not want to divide the tunic (chitón, a garment worn next to the skin), for it was a seamless garment, having been woven in one piece. For this reason, they decided to cast lots to determine which of them would get it. Their action corresponded to the words of Psalm 22:18(19) (21:19, LXX), “They divided my garments among themselves, and for my clothes they cast lots.” Because this was indeed what the soldiers did, the words of the psalmist were fulfilled, finding their fullest significance in what happened in the case of God’s Son. (Matthew 27:35; Mark 15:24; Luke 23:34; John 19:23, 24) Thereafter the soldiers seated themselves and kept watch. (Matthew 27:36)
At the crucifixion site, chief priests, prominent Jews, and passersby began to blaspheme Jesus. Among them were those who mockingly wagged their heads and said, “You who would break down the temple and in three days rebuild [it], save yourself. If you are [the] Son of God, come down from the staurós.” The chief priests, scribes, and certain elders of the nation participated in scoffing at him, saying, “Others he saved; himself he cannot save. He is King of Israel. Let him now descend from the staurós, and we will believe in him. He trusted in God. If [God] wants him, let him now rescue him, for he said, ‘I am God’s Son.’” (Matthew 27:39-43; Mark 15:29-32; Luke 23:35; compare Psalm 22:7, 8, 17(18) and see the Notes section for additional comments.)
It is noteworthy that, even in mockery, the chief priests and other prominent Jews acknowledged that Jesus had done good works. He had “saved” others or brought relief to them. Thus, unwittingly, they condemned themselves as persons who hated him without cause.
The Roman soldiers also shared in making fun of Jesus. They approached, offered him vinegar (sour wine), and said, “If you are the King of the Jews, save yourself.” (Luke 23:36, 37)
Initially, both of the malefactors appear to have been emotionally caught up in siding with those who hurled abuses at Jesus. (Matthew 27:44; Mark 15:32) One of them then had a change of heart when he heard the other one say, “Are you not the Christ? Save yourself and us.” He responded to his fellow malefactor, “Do you not fear God, since you are now experiencing the same judgment? And we rightly so, for we deserve the retribution we are receiving for our acts, but he did nothing wrong.” Directing his words to Jesus, he asked him to remember him upon coming into his kingdom. On that dark day, the very day when he endured physical suffering and abusive mockery and outwardly possessed nothing suggestive of royal splendor, Jesus assured the repentant wrongdoer that he would be with him in paradise. Whereas the chief priests and other prominent Jews scoffed, the evildoer perceived in Jesus the purity and dignity of Israel’s foretold king and he responded with genuine faith. He believed, and died with the comforting assurance that he would be favorably remembered by his king. (Luke 23:39-43; see the Notes section regarding Luke 23:43.) What the repentant wrongdoer understood being in paradise with Jesus would mean for him is not revealed in the account. In view of his request to be remembered, it would appear that the fulfillment of the promise would relate to entrance into the paradisaical realm where Jesus is king by his Father’s appointment.
Not all who were standing at the site of Golgotha participated in the hateful mockery. They looked on with intense grief. The disciple whom Jesus deeply loved, the apostle John, was there and so was Mary. Her pain would have been indescribable. As Simeon had foretold years earlier, her experience proved to be comparable to being pierced with a sword. (Luke 2:35) Other women with Mary included Mary Magdalene, Mary the wife of Clopas (the mother of James the less [or younger] and Joses [Joseph]), and Salome (the mother of James and John, the wife of Zebedee, and the sister of Jesus’ mother Mary). Additionally, present were many other women who had accompanied Jesus from Galilee and had attended to his needs. (Matthew 27:55, 56; Mark 15:40, 41; Luke 23:49; John 19:25)
With her nephew John at her side, Mary approached close enough to Jesus to be able to hear him speak. When he saw his mother and John, the disciple whom he loved and implicitly trusted, he lovingly arranged to have him care for her. Directing his words to Mary, Jesus said, “Woman, see! Your son.” His words to John were, “See! Your mother.” From that “hour” or time onward, John assumed the role of a son to Mary and apparently had her live where he did. (John 19:26, 27)
About the sixth hour (or after the noon hour), an extraordinary darkness settled over the land and lasted until the ninth hour (or three o’clock in the afternoon). About the ninth hour, Jesus cried out loudly, Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani, meaning “My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?” With this outcry of the psalmist (Psalm 22:1), Jesus revealed his complete innocence and the deep sense of pain from having been forsaken, for his Father had not intervened to spare him from experiencing an agonizing end to his life. The “why” implied that he had not committed any wrong that would have been deserving of the state in which he found himself. (Matthew 27:45, 46; Mark 15:33, 34; see the Notes section for additional comments.)
Bystanders misunderstood Jesus’ words. In view of his intense pain and his extremely stressed bodily condition, he may not have been able to speak clearly. Moreover, his Galilean accent may have been a contributory factor. The bystanders concluded that he called for Elijah to come. (Matthew 27:47; Mark 15:35)
According to John 19:28, Jesus also cried out, “I thirst.” The reason for his saying this is prefaced with an explanation. He knew that everything had been accomplished and so said what he did to fulfill “the scripture.” His words, “I thirst,” led to the fulfillment of Psalm 69:21(22), “For my thirst they gave me vinegar to drink.” (Psalm 68:22, LXX)
One of those nearby, probably a Roman soldier, acted quickly. He ran to a vessel filled with vinegar (sour wine). After filling a sponge with the vinegar, he placed it on a reed, intending to provide Jesus with a little relief by offering him a drink. Others tried to delay him from doing this, saying, “Let [him] be. Let us see whether Elijah is coming to save him.” (Matthew 27:48, 49; Mark 15:36; John 19:29; see the Notes section for additional comments.)
Besides saying “it is finished” after receiving the vinegar, Jesus cried out with a loud voice, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.” These words paralleled those of the psalmist (Psalm 31:5; 30:6, LXX) and indicated that Jesus was entrusting his life breath to his Father, looking to him to restore him to life. Jesus then bowed his head, and yielded up his life breath. (Matthew 27:50; Mark 15:37; Luke 23:46; John 19:30)
At that time, the thick curtain separating the Holy from the Most Holy of the temple ripped in two from top to bottom. A significant earthquake split rocks and opened up tombs. The shaking of the ground, coupled with the extraordinary darkness that had begun about three hours earlier, caused the Roman soldiers to be fearful. The centurion, the soldier with the highest rank of the four, was moved to glorify God, acknowledging that Jesus must have been a righteous man, the Son of God. (Matthew 27:51-54; Mark 15:38, 39; Luke 23:47; see the Notes section for comments on Matthew 27:52, 53.)
Other observers beat their breasts in grief and left the scene. At a distance stood acquaintances of Jesus and women who had followed him from Galilee. Among the women were Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James the less (the younger) and of Joses (Joseph), and Salome (the mother of Zebedee’s sons). Mary, the mother of Jesus, is not mentioned as being among them. This suggests that John, though himself later returning, had kindly conducted her away from the scene so that she would not be pained to an extent that would have been difficult for her to bear. (Matthew 27:55, 56; Mark 15:40, 41; Luke 23:48, 49)
Not wanting to have the men remain crucified until after the start of the Sabbath at sundown, the prominent Jews requested Pilate to hasten their death. They asked him to direct that their legs be broken and that their dead bodies to be taken away. John 19:31 refers to that particular Sabbath as being “great,” possibly because the Sabbath, according to their reckoning that year, coincided with the first day of the Festival of Unfermented Bread (Nisan 15).
When the soldiers received the order to break the legs of the crucified men, Jesus was already dead. They only broke the legs of the two malefactors, but not those of Jesus. One of the soldiers did pierce his side with a spear, and blood and water flowed out. (John 19:32-34)
John was there to witness these developments. The account includes his solemn declaration, “He who saw [this] has testified, and his testimony is true. And he knows (or there is one who knows [God]) that he is telling the truth, so that you, too, may believe.” (John 19:35) The basis for believing is the fulfillment of the scriptures regarding him. (John 19:36, 37) “Not a bone of his will be broken.” (Psalm 34:20) “They will look at whom they pierced.” (Zechariah 12:10; see the comments regarding Zechariah 12:10 in the Notes section.)
Simon was from Cyrene, the ancient capital of Cyrenaica, in what is now part of present-day Libya in northern Africa. He may have traveled to Jerusalem for the Passover and then stayed at a location just outside the city. This could explain why he happened to be coming from the field or the country. The details provided regarding him and his family suggest that he was known to the community of believers and that he and his two sons, Rufus and Alexander, came to be disciples. Although specific identification is lacking, the Rufus whom the apostle Paul mentioned in his letter to the Romans may have been the son of Simon. If so, the apostle referred to the believing wife of Simon and the mother of Rufus as “his mother and mine.” (Romans 16:13)
The biblical accounts do not include the hideous details about the crucifixion. They to not even provide a limited description of the implement on which Jesus died nor of the manner in which he was nailed to it. The writers’ reticence is more in keeping with their main purpose, setting forth the reason for Jesus’ suffering and death.
In itself, the Greek word staurós, commonly translated “cross,” can refer to a stake or pole, and the staurós which Jesus and later Simon carried was a beam. A long stake with a transverse beam would have been too heavy for one man to carry or drag. The Latin term crux, from which the English word “cross” is derived, can designate a tree or a wooden instrument on which victims were either hanged or impaled.
In the allegorical Epistle of Barnabas (thought to date from the early second century and so from a time when the Romans continued to practice crucifixion), the staurós is linked to the letter tau (T). Moreover, very limited archaeological evidence does indicate that the Romans did make use of upright poles with a transverse beam.
Ancient abbreviated forms of the noun staurós and the verb stauróo (a number of preserved occurrences in P66 [second century] and P75 [though not consistently used in this late second-century or early third-century manuscript]) combine the letters tau (T) and rho (R) in a manner that is visually suggestive of a cross. This tau-rho ligature also appears in pre-Christian and non-Christian texts as an abbreviation for a number of terms, including the word trópos (meaning “way,” “manner,” or “habit”). Possibly Christian copyists adopted this ligature when abbreviating staurós because of associating the implement on which Jesus died with the letter tau (T). The existence of other abbreviated forms for the noun staurós and the verb stauróo in ancient biblical manuscripts which do not use the tau-rho ligature would seem to support the conjecture that early copyists chose this ligature for its visual effect.
The Greek word rendered “crucify” (stauróo) can denote hanging, binding, or nailing a victim on or to a stake, a tree, or an implement with a transverse beam. Doubtless the availability of wood and the number of individuals who were executed determined the shape of the implement used for crucifixion. In a Latin work attributed to Vulcatius Gallicanus, Emperor Avidius Cassius had criminals tied from the top to the bottom of a 180-foot high wooden stake. The manner in which these persons were attached to this stake is referred to as crucifixion (in crucem sustulit, according to the Latin text). Roman soldiers do not appear to have followed any specific method when carrying out crucifixions. According to the first-century Jewish historian Josephus (War, V, xi, 1), the soldiers, out of wrath and hatred for the Jews, nailed those they caught, one in one way, and another in another way.
It is commonly believed that upright stakes were already at Golgotha or that the beams that had been carried to the site were attached to three adjacent trees (or possibly even the same tree) there. The minority view (expressed, for example, in Vine’s Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words) is that Jesus was nailed in an upright position to the pole that Simon had carried and that it was not used as a transverse beam.
According to Mark 15:25, it was at the “third hour” (about nine o’clock in the morning) when Roman soldiers crucified Jesus. Possibly their flogging him is here regarded as the start of the crucifixion process, and the soldiers may have started beating him at that time. This, though, would mean that the time reference does not follow the chronological order of the narrative. The reading “sixth hour” (about noon) is found in a number of later manuscripts, but this is commonly viewed as a scribal correction.
In the accounts, the wording of the charge varies (“This is Jesus, the King of the Jews” [Matthew 27:37], “The King of the Jews” [Mark 15:26], “The King of the Jews this one [is] [Luke 23:38], and “Jesus the Nazarene, the King of the Jews” [John 19:19]). If the words in Matthew, Mark, and Luke are regarded as abbreviated versions that convey the substance of the charge, the fullest text may be the one found in John 19:19. Another possibility is that the inscription was not identical in the three languages, and so the writers could have chosen a form of one of the three versions. At any rate, all the accounts are in agreement in identifying Jesus as “the King of the Jews.”
The words of mockery (Matthew 27:39-43; Mark 15:29-32; Luke 23:35) reflect the substance of the expressions that were made. Understandably, therefore, they are not identical in the accounts. Matthew 27:39-43 contains the longest version.
In Luke 23:43, translators have commonly inserted a comma before the word “today” (sémeron). This, however, does not necessarily convey the correct meaning. In the Septuagint, there are numerous cases where the Greek term for “today” (sémeron) is unmistakably linked to the words “I command you” (ego entéllomai soi [or the plural “you” (hymín)] sémeron) or “I tell you” (anangéllo soi sémeron). (Deuteronomy 4:2; 6:2, 6, 8:1, 11; 10:13; 11:8, 13, 27, 28; 12:11, 14, 32; 13:1, 19, 15:5; 19:9; 27:1, 4, 10; 28:1, 13, 14, 15; 30:2, 8, 11, 16, 18)
This also appears to be the preferable way in which to understand Jesus’ words, “Amen, I tell you today, You will be with me in paradise.” The repentant malefactor asked to be remembered at the future time when Jesus would come to be in his kingdom. He then received the assurance on that very day that he would be remembered and, in fact, would come to be with Jesus in paradise. This meaning would seemingly agree with fourth-century Codex Vaticanus, which appears to include a rare punctuation mark after sémeron. It cannot be established with absolute certainty, however, that the dot served to punctuate the text.
In the French ecumenical translation of the Bible (TOB), commas separate the word “today” from the promise, “You will be with me in paradise” (je te le dis, aujourd’hui, tu seras avec mois dans le paradis). The placement of a comma before the adverb “today” (aujourd’hui) creates an ambiguity, requiring the reader to decide whether the adverb modifies either “say” or “will be.” A number of English translations punctuate the verse so as to include “today” in the introductory phrase, making the meaning explicit. J. B. Rotherham’s translation reads, “And he said unto him — Verily, I say unto thee this day: With me, shalt thou be in Paradise.” George Lamsa’s translation, based on the Peshitta, expresses the same thought with the punctuation, “Jesus said to him, Truly I say to you today, you will be with me in Paradise.”
The expression for “my God” (Eli) in Matthew 27:46 is transliterated Eloi in numerous manuscripts of Mark 15:34, and there are also manuscript variations in the transliteration of other terms that follow this expression. These differences do not have any bearing on the meaning. Similarly, the Greek renderings of the transliterated terms in Matthew and Mark, though consisting of different words, convey the same significance.
Whereas Matthew 27:48 and Mark 15:36 indicate that the sponge was put on a reed, John 19:29 says it was placed on “hyssop.” There is a measure of uncertainty about the precise plant to which the Greek term hyssopos refers. Possibly, in this case, it designates a plant that would have grown to sufficient height to supply a firm reed. In John 19:29, the rendering “javelin” has the support of one late extant manuscript. This rendering, however, would not agree with the reference to a reed in Matthew 27:48 and Mark 15:36, making it an unacceptable option that has no ancient manuscript support.
The accounts (Matthew 27:48; Mark 15:36) do not say that it was a Roman soldier who gave Jesus a drink. It does not appear likely that a mere bystander would have undertaken to do so, for the vessel containing vinegar would have been at the location for the soldiers who carried out the crucifixions and who thereafter remained on guard duty. Possibly the one who extended the small gesture of kindness was the centurion who, based on the developments associated with Jesus’ death, later acknowledged that he must have been a righteous man, God’s Son. (Matthew 27:54; Mark 15:39; Luke 23:47)
The limited particulars about the raising up of “many bodies of the saints” makes it difficult to determine exactly what occurred. With its being restricted to saints, holy ones, or God’s people who were sleeping in death, the raising up appears to be equated with a resurrection. This is the generally accepted meaning that is explicitly expressed in the renderings of numerous translations. “Many of God’s people who had died were raised from the dead.” (NCV) “Many of God’s people were raised to life.” (CEV) “A number of bodies of holy men who were asleep in death rose again.” (J. B. Phillips) “The bodies of many holy people rose from the dead.” (NJB) “The bodies of many holy people who had died were raised to life.” (NIV) For the resurrected ones to have been able to come out of the tombs required that these be opened, which is what the earthquake accomplished. (Matthew 27:51-53) The reference to “many” (not “all”) and “bodies of the saints” (not just “saints”) may indicate that this resurrection involved godly ones who had died recently and whose bodies (not just bones) were in the tombs. Only persons familiar with the area and having living relatives, friends, or acquaintances would have known where and to whom to go in order to be recognized.
According to Matthew 27:53, those who had been raised did not enter the city until after Jesus was resurrected from the dead and were then seen by many. Therefore, the raising of the sleeping holy ones may not have been simultaneous with the earthquake and the opening of the tombs but could have taken place later. The brief reference to this event may serve to highlight that Jesus’ death opened up life for the dead.
His miraculous works were more numerous and performed on a far greater scale than those of Moses, Elijah, and Elisha. An occurrence associated with Elisha provides a small-scale parallel with the event linked to Jesus’ death and resurrection. While in the process of burying a man, certain ones saw a band of Moabite marauders and so hastily tossed the corpse into the burial place of the prophet Elisha. Upon touching Elisha’s bones, the dead man came to life. (2 Kings 13:20, 21) Against the backdrop of this recorded miracle, it should not seem unusual that a more noteworthy resurrection is mentioned as having taken place after Jesus’ death.
In the case of those who had not as yet eaten the Passover, the time that Jesus died as the “Lamb of God” would have been when Passover lambs or goats would have been slaughtered in the temple courtyard. The extraordinary darkness, the earthquake, and the ripping of the temple curtain would have been particularly disturbing signs for all who were there.
The extant Hebrew text of Zechariah 12:10 reads, “They shall look to me whom they have pierced.” If this represents the original text, it could mean that the Almighty regards the piercing of the one for whom there should be mourning as having been done to him.
According to Matthew 27:57 and Mark 15:42, it was “evening” (opsía) when Joseph of Arimathea went to Pilate to ask for the body of Jesus. This would have been late in the afternoon, for it was still the day before the Sabbath, which began at sundown. (Mark 15:42) Joseph, a wealthy member of the Sanhedrin, had kept his belief in Jesus secret. Although a good and just man who looked forward to the kingdom of God, Joseph appears to have been fearful about openly identifying himself as a believer. He did not, however, give his consent to the Sanhedrin’s decision to condemn Jesus. Fully aware of the grave injustice that had been committed, Joseph overcame his fear and boldly went to Pilate to ask for Jesus’ body. (Matthew 27:58; Mark 15:43; Luke 23:50-52; John 19:38; see the Notes section for comments regarding Arimathea.)
The report about the death came as a surprise to Pilate, and he inquired of the centurion in charge of the crucifixion whether Jesus had indeed died. After making certain that Jesus was dead, Pilate granted Joseph permission to take the body for burial. (Mark 15:44, 45)
It appears that Joseph had discussed his plan with another member of the Sanhedrin, Nicodemus (likewise a secret disciple). Both men, doubtless with the aid of servants, removed the body and prepared it for burial. Nicodemus had arranged to bring a mixture of myrrh and aloes (possibly the fragrant substance derived from the aloe tree [Aquilaria agallocha]), weighing about a hundred pounds. According to customary Jewish practice at that time, Jesus’ body was wrapped in linen bandages along with the fragrant mixture. In Joseph’s own new rock-cut tomb in a garden near Golgotha, the men placed the body and then rolled a large stone over the tomb entrance. (Matthew 27:59, 60; Mark 15:46; Luke 23:53; John 19:39-41) An expanded reading of Luke 23:53 in fifth-century Codex Bezae indicates that it would have been difficult for 20 men to roll the stone. The time for preparing Jesus’ body for burial had been very limited, for it was the “day of Preparation” when activities needed to be completed before the Sabbath began at sundown and work restrictions would begin to apply. (Luke 23:54)
Mary Magdalene and Mary, the wife of Clopas and the mother of Joses (Joseph) and James the less (or the younger) observed what the men did and followed them to the tomb. (Mark 15:47; Luke 23:55, 56; compare Mark 15:40; John 19:25.) After Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus left, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary remained seated opposite the tomb. (Matthew 27:61) In view of the hurried manner in which the men had to prepare Jesus’ body for burial, the two women may have talked about what they might still be able to do. Upon returning to the place where they were staying, they quickly prepared spices and ointments. In faithful obedience to the law, they then observed the Sabbath. (Luke 23:56)
On that Sabbath day (the one following the “day of Preparation”), the chief priests and Pharisees went to Pilate, requesting that he station a guard at the tomb until the third day. Referring to Jesus as an “impostor” or “deceiver,” they recalled that he, while still alive, had talked about rising again in three days. For this reason, they wanted a guard at the tomb so that the disciples would not be able to steal the body and then proclaim to the people that he had been raised from the dead. In their view, this deception about a claimed resurrection would be worse than the initial deception they attributed to Jesus. Pilate’s response may be understood to mean that they were to use their own guard or that he was making a guard available to them. After leaving, they sealed the stone that was over the tomb entrance and stationed the guard. (Matthew 27:62-66; see the Notes section for additional comments about the guard.)
Early in the morning of the first day of the week (the day after the Sabbath), Mary Magdalene, the other Mary (the wife of Clopas and the mother of James the less [or the younger] and Joses [Joseph]), and Salome (the wife of Zebedee and the mother of James and John), with the spices they had prepared before the Sabbath, headed for the tomb to anoint Jesus’ body. While on the way, they talked among themselves about who would assist them to roll the stone away from the tomb entrance. Wanting to be at the location as early as possible, the women had left the place or places where they were staying while it was still dark. (Matthew 28:1; Mark 16:1-3; Luke 24:1; John 20:1; see the Notes section regarding Matthew 28:1; Mark 16:1; Luke 24:1, 10, and John 20:1.)
Before the women arrived at the tomb, a powerful earthquake had occurred. An angel, with an appearance comparable to the brightness of lightning and clothed in pure white (the whiteness of snow), had descended from heaven and rolled away the stone. Terrified, those guarding the tomb trembled and came to be like dead men, unable to move. Seemingly, after recovering from the frightening experience, they left. Some of the guard went to the chief priests to report what had happened. For a time, the angel sat on the stone he had rolled away from the tomb entrance. (Matthew 28:2-4, 11)
When the women approached the tomb, they saw that the stone had already been rolled away. Possibly, at this point, Mary Magdalene ran back to Jerusalem to let Peter and John (the disciple whom Jesus loved) know what she had seen. The empty tomb suggested to her that the Lord had been taken away. Including herself with the other women, she said, “We do not know where they have laid him.” (Mark 16:4; Luke 24:2; John 20:1, 2) Thereafter Peter and John ran as quickly as they could to the site. (John 20:3) As for Mary Magdalene, she, too, made her way back to the tomb.
Perhaps immediately after Mary Magdalene started to run back to Jerusalem, the other Mary and Salome entered the tomb. They were startled to see a young man (an angel), dressed in a white robe and seated on the right side. (Mark 16:5) He reassured them, telling them not to be alarmed or frightened and informing them that he knew they were looking for Jesus who had been crucified. The angel continued, “He is not here, for he has been raised up, just as he said. Come, see the place where he lay [the Lord lay, according to other manuscripts; they laid him (Mark 16:6)].” (Matthew 28:5, 6; note the similar wording of Mark 16:6, suggesting that both Matthew 28:5, 6, and Mark 16:6 relate to the same incident.]) Additionally, the angel directed the women to tell Peter and the other disciples that Jesus had been raised from the dead and that he would be going ahead of them to Galilee, where they would see him. (Matthew 28:7; Mark 16:7; see the Notes section regarding Matthew 28:7 and Mark 16:7.)
It seems likely that the women from Galilee would have been staying at various places in Jerusalem and so a number of them may well have arrived at the tomb later. Like Mary (the wife of Clopas) and Salome, the other women would have been perplexed upon seeing the stone rolled away from the entrance of the tomb. Perhaps when all the women were outside, two angels appeared. The angels, wearing brilliant garments, looked like men. Frightened, the women bowed their heads to the ground. They then heard the words, “Why are you looking among the dead for the one who lives?” The women were then reminded that, while still in Galilee, Jesus had told them that he would be delivered into the hands of sinful men, be crucified, and be raised on the third day. (Luke 24:2-7; see the Notes section for comments regarding Luke 24:6.) Upon hearing this, the women recalled what Jesus had said. (Luke 24:8)
They quickly left the tomb. Their great joy stemming from having learned about Jesus’ resurrection was coupled with “fear” and “trembling.” This “fear” and “trembling” probably relates to the overwhelming awe they experienced from having seen and heard angels who declared that Jesus had been raised from the dead. The women hurried (as in flight) back to Jerusalem to relate the news to the apostles and other disciples. Along the way, they said nothing to anyone, for they were in the grip of awe and amazement. (Matthew 28:8; Mark 16:8; Luke 24:9)
Then Jesus appeared to them. After he greeted them, they took hold of his feet and prostrated themselves before him. (Matthew 28:9; see the Notes section for additional comments.) He allayed their apprehension with the words, “Do not be afraid,” adding that they should tell his brothers (the disciples) that they should go to Galilee, where he would see them. (Matthew 28:10)
Meanwhile some of the guards that had been stationed at the tomb went to the chief priests, telling them what had taken place. After consulting with certain elders, they decided to bribe the soldiers with a significant amount of money so that they would tell others that Jesus’ disciples had stolen his body while they were sleeping. The chief priests assured the guards that they would see to it that there would be nothing for them to worry about in the event Pilate heard about this. The guards took the money and did as the chief priests had instructed, resulting in this version about the empty tomb being spread among the unbelieving Jews. (Matthew 28:11-15)
After the women had departed from the tomb, Peter and John came running toward it. Probably because of being the younger man and able to move faster, John arrived first, bent down to look into the tomb, and saw the linen with which Jesus’ body had been wrapped. Upon reaching the tomb, Peter immediately entered and saw the linen wrappings. He noticed that the cloth that had been on Jesus’ head was rolled up and lying by itself. John, who had reached the tomb first, entered afterward. Based on his seeing the empty tomb, the wrappings, and the rolled-up cloth, “he believed.” This suggests that what he saw in the tomb convinced him that no one could have taken the body away and left the wrappings and the cloth behind, indicating that Jesus had been raised from the dead. (John 20:3-8; see the Notes section for comments on Luke 24:12.)
In view of John’s believing, the words of John 20:9 appear to be a comment about the disciples as a group. They had not as yet come to understand the scripture, which revealed that Jesus had to rise from the dead. According to John 20:10, they individually went to their respective places.
After Peter and John had left, Mary Magdalene came back to the tomb and began to weep. While tears were flowing from her eyes, she bent down to look into the tomb. Inside were two angels, one was sitting where Jesus’ head had been and the other one where his feet had lain. Asked why she was weeping, Mary replied, “They have removed my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him.” (John 20:11-13)
Possibly becoming aware that someone was behind her, she turned around and saw Jesus but did not recognize him. He asked her why she was weeping and for whom she was looking. Thinking he was the gardener, she wanted him, if he had taken the body, to tell her where he had placed it. In her distraught state, she added, “I will take him away.” (John 20:14, 15) It is inconceivable that she would have been strong enough to carry the body, revealing that her words were prompted by intense emotion.
Seemingly, Mary could not tear herself away from the place where the body had been. Probably, because Jesus did not immediately reply, she again looked in the direction of the tomb. Upon then hearing Jesus call her “Mary,” doubtless in the familiar tone she had often heard, she recognized him, turned around, and said, Rabbouni, meaning “Teacher.” (John 20:16)
The account does not say whether Mary then took hold of Jesus but relates his words to her, “Do not touch [or cling to] me, for I have not yet ascended to my Father. But go to my brothers and tell them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father and to my God and your God.’” (John 20:17)
Many have understood the present tense of the Greek verbs to mean that Jesus was then about to ascend to his Father and did not want Mary to delay him from doing so. Mary’s action would then be comparable to what Jacob did when trying to secure a blessing for himself by trying to hold on to the angel who wanted to ascend. (Genesis 32:26) If the present tense is meant to be taken literally, this would mean that the post-resurrection appearances were like those of angels and that the ascension from the Mount of Olives revealed that the disciples should not expect to see him again until his return in glory. (Acts 1:9-11)
If, on the other hand, the present tense simply refers to the future ascension from the Mount of Olives that was certain to take place, Jesus’ words to Mary may mean that the time for close personal association had ended. His having been raised from the dead did not mean a return to the kind of interaction with him that had existed previously.
Mary Magdalene headed back to Jerusalem and then told the disciples there that she had seen the Lord and what he had said to her. (John 20:18) According to Luke 24:10, the apostles heard about the resurrection of Jesus from Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and other women. In view of the more detailed account in John chapter 20 about Mary Magdalene, the words in Luke 24:10 appear to be a summary statement, with no distinction being made about when the various reports about the resurrection reached the apostles. Although the women told them what they had seen and heard, the apostles did not believe them. Whether the apostles dismissed the women’s testimony as empty talk because of a prejudicial view about the reliability of the word of women is not revealed in the account. (Luke 24:11) That such prejudice appears to have existed among Jewish men is evident from the words of the first-century Jewish historian Josephus, “Let not the testimony of women be admitted, on account of the levity and boldness of their sex.” (Antiquities, IV, viii, 15)
Later that day, Cleopas and another disciple were traveling to Emmaus, a village located about seven miles from Jerusalem. While they were talking about what had happened to Jesus, he approached them and started to walk with them. They, however, did not recognize him. (Luke 24:13-16) According to the longer text of Mark chapter 16 found in fifth-century Codex Alexandrinus, Codex Ephraemi, Codex Bezae, and other manuscripts, Jesus appeared to them in a “different form.” (Mark 16:12; see the Notes section for comments regarding Mark 16:9-20.) When he asked them about what they were discussing, they stood still, their faces reflecting sadness. (Luke 24:17; numerous later manuscripts represent Jesus as asking them about what they were discussing while they walked and were sad.)
Cleopas replied, “Are you living as a lone stranger in Jerusalem and do not know the things that have happened there in these days?” Jesus responded, “What things?” They explained, “The things about Jesus the Nazarene, who proved to be a prophet, mighty in work and word before God and all the people, and how our chief priests and rulers handed him over to be condemned to death and crucified him. We, though, had hoped that he would be the one to deliver Israel. But besides all this, it is the third day from the time these things happened. Furthermore, some women from among us have astounded us, for they went early to the tomb and did not find his body. They came [to the disciples], saying they had seen a vision of angels who said he is alive. And some of those with us [Peter and John, according to John chapter 20] went to the tomb and found it just as the women said [namely, empty], but they did not see him.” (Luke 24:19-24)
Jesus reproved them for their failure to use discernment (being senseless or obtuse) and their slowness to comprehend (slowness in heart) respecting the things the prophets spoke. He asked them, “Was it not needful for the Christ to suffer these things and [afterward] to enter into his glory?” Starting with Moses and then referring to all the prophets, he explained to them things set forth in all the scriptures about himself. (Luke 24:25-27)
As they neared the village of Emmaus, Jesus seemed to indicate that he intended to travel on farther, opening an opportunity for the two disciples to initiate inviting him to remain with them. They were insistent that he stay with them, as it was already late in the day. He then accompanied them into the home. While he reclined with them at the table, he took a loaf, said a blessing, broke it, and then handed a piece of bread to each one. Observing what they appear to have seen Jesus do on other occasions, they recognized him, and he then disappeared. (Luke 24:28-31)
Cleopas and his companion remarked to one another about the effect Jesus’ words had on them, “Were not our hearts [in us, according to numerous manuscripts] burning when he spoke to us on the way, as he was explaining the scriptures to us?” This suggests that, in their hearts, or deep within themselves, they perceived a warm feeling of rekindled hope and comfort. They then decided to return to Jerusalem, letting the apostles know about their experience. When Cleopas and his companion arrived in Jerusalem, they found the apostles and others at the same place and sharing the news that Peter had actually seen the risen Lord. The two disciples then related what had happened on the way to Emmaus and how they came to recognize Jesus when he broke the loaf. (Luke 24:32-35; regarding Luke 24:33, see the Notes section.)
It was late on that day, the first day of the week when Jesus rose from the dead. Being fearful on account of the unbelieving Jews, the disciples had chosen to be assembled behind locked doors. Suddenly they saw Jesus standing in their midst. His first words to them were, “Peace [be] to you.” Jesus’ death had plunged them into a state of fear and uncertainty, robbing them of peace, an inner sense of calmness and well-being. Despite his reassuring words, the disciples were frightened. The manner in which he had suddenly appeared in their midst caused them to imagine that they were seeing a spirit, a phantom, an apparition, or a ghost. (Luke 24:36, 37; John 20:19; see the Notes section regarding Luke 24:36.) They reacted as on an earlier occasion when they saw Jesus walking toward them on water while they were in a boat. (Mark 6:49)
In response to their reaction, he asked why they were troubled and why doubts had arisen in their hearts. Jesus made it clear to them that he was indeed in their midst. They were not seeing an impalpable apparition. “See my hands and my feet,” he continued. “I am he. Touch me, and see, for a spirit does not have flesh and bones as you see me have.” (Luke 24:38-40) According to John 20:20, he showed them his hands and his side, and the reading of Luke 24:40 in the oldest extant manuscripts and in many others indicates that he showed them his hands and his feet. (See the Notes section regarding Luke 24:40.)
Although the disciples were filled with joy, they still appear to have found it hard to believe that Jesus was indeed alive and remained in a state of wonderment or amazement. To provide them with additional proof that they were not seeing a spirit or a phantom, he asked them whether they had something to eat. Upon being handed a piece of broiled fish, he took it and ate it as they looked on. (Luke 24:41-43)
Jesus reminded them regarding what he had said to them while he had been with them in the past, that everything written about him in the law of Moses, the prophets, and the psalms had to be fulfilled. He explained to them the scriptures, aiding them to have a mental grasp of their significance, and then related what their commission as apostles would be, saying, “It is written, that the Christ [is] to suffer and to rise from the dead on the third day, and [that] repentance for forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in his name to all the nations, starting from Jerusalem. And, see! I am sending upon you the promise of my Father [that is, the holy spirit]. You, however, stay in the city until you come to be clothed with power from the height.” Jesus’ words to them indicated that they would not begin proclaiming the message about him outside Jerusalem until they had been empowered by holy spirit to do so. (Luke 24:44-49)
On this occasion, according to John 20:21, Jesus again expressed his desire for his disciples to have peace. Just as the Father had sent him, he was then sending them forth, the implied purpose being for them to make known the good news about him and his resurrection. Possibly to assure the disciples that they would be certain soon to receive the holy spirit to assist them in carrying out their commission, he blew upon them and said, “Receive holy spirit.” (John 20:21, 22)
As the disciples would be carrying out their commission as persons whom Jesus had sent forth, the community of believers would grow and certain ones in their midst would fail to conduct themselves according to his example and teaching. This would require the disciples to render judgments about such erring associates. Regarding those who committed serious sins, Jesus said to the disciples, “If you forgive [their] sins, they are forgiven them. If you retain [their sins, not forgiving them], they are retained [against them].” (John 20:23) In the case of individuals who unrepentantly persisted in a life of sin, the retaining of their sins would signify their no longer being part of the community of believers. (Compare 1 Corinthians 5:1-7; 6:9, 10.)
Thomas (called Didymus or the “Twin”) was not with the other apostles when Jesus appeared to them. Later, they told him, “We have seen the Lord.” Thomas, though, did not believe them, saying, “Unless I see the impression of the nails in his hands and place my finger in the impression of the nails and put my hand in his side, I will not believe.” (John 20:24, 25; in the Greek text two words for “not” appear, indicating that Thomas would positively not believe unless he had concrete evidence.)
After “eight days” (counting the day on which the apostles saw Jesus as one of the eight), or a week later, Thomas and the others were together behind locked doors. Jesus, as on the previous occasion, appeared in their midst, saying to them, “Peace [be] to you.” Turning his attention to Thomas, he said, “Place your finger here, and see my hands, and take your hand and put it in my side, and cease being unbelieving but become believing.” Upon hearing an echo of the words he had used in his response to the other disciples when they told him that they had seen Jesus, Thomas was overcome with emotion. He exclaimed, “My Lord and my God!” (John 20:26-28; see the Notes section or additional comments regarding John 20:28.)
Whether Thomas actually felt Jesus’ hands and his side is not revealed in the account. The words directed to him appear to have been enough to convince him. Jesus continued, “Do you believe because you have seen me? Fortunate are those who have not seen and [nevertheless] believe.” (John 20:29)
For the many millions who have put their faith in Jesus throughout the centuries, the kind of proof that Thomas wanted has not been granted. Yet, they believed and their lives were enriched. As Jesus said, all such believers are “fortunate,” “blessed,” or “happy,” enjoying the enviable state of well-being that comes from knowing the Son of God and his Father and being sharers in all the blessings associated therewith.
Not long thereafter the apostles and other disciples traveled back to Galilee, confident that they would meet Jesus there. Aside from seeing him again at the mountain he had designated (Matthew 28:16), the disciples did not know when or if they might see him on other occasions.
When back at his home in Galilee, Peter remarked to some of the other apostles about his intent to go fishing. They decided to go with him, pursuing their customary occupation on the Sea of Galilee (also known as the Sea of Tiberias). With Peter, six others got into the boat. They were Thomas (Didymus [the “Twin”]), Nathanael from Cana, the sons of Zebedee (James and John), and two others. Likely Peter’s brother Andrew was one of the two unnamed apostles, and the other one may have been Nathanael’s close companion Philip. (Compare John 1:43-45.) During the entire night spent in fishing, they caught nothing. (John 21:1-3)
Early in the morning, Jesus appeared on the shore, but the apostles did not recognize him. He called out to them, “Boys [literally, children], do you have anything to eat?” “No,” came back the reply. Jesus directed them to cast their net on the right side of the boat to make a catch. When they did so, the net filled with so many fish that they were unable to haul it up. At that, John (the disciple for whom Jesus had great affection) said to Peter, “It is the Lord.” Hearing this, Peter, who had been naked (probably to be prepared to jump from the boat if it became necessary to attend to a net in the water), put on his garment, plunged into the lake, and swam a distance of about 200 cubits or approximately 300 feet. The other disciples followed in the boat, dragging the net filled with fish. (John 21:4-8)
Jesus had made preparations for them to eat. Already fish and bread were lying on a charcoal fire, and Jesus asked for some fish from the catch to be brought to him. Peter boarded the boat and hauled the net to the shore. Although it contained 153 large fish, the net did not tear. When the food was ready to eat, Jesus invited the disciples to have breakfast and handed them bread and fish. (John 21:9-13)
They could not bring themselves to ask him, “Who are you?” (John 21:12) This was because they recognized him to be Jesus. It would seem, therefore, that the recognition was not based on his physical features but on the revelation of his miraculous knowledge. Just as the clothing he wore would not have been identical to the garments the Roman soldiers then possessed, his resurrection body was different. Like the angels, he could appear and then vanish from sight. All the recorded instances of his post-resurrection appearances proved to be comparatively brief. Their main purpose, during the course of 40 days, served to convince the disciples that he was indeed alive. If he could have been readily recognized at all times, his presenting them with “many proofs” would not have been necessary. (Acts 1:3) People do not need “many proofs” to recognize a close friend who may have been away for a short time but whom they, on the basis of unsubstantiated reports, had presumed to be dead.
Jesus’ post-resurrection appearance at the Sea of Galilee was the third of the ones where most of the apostles saw him. (John 21:14) The first time all the apostles, with the exception of Thomas, were present. (John 20:24) On the second occasion, all the apostles saw him. (John 20:26)
After the apostles had finished eating breakfast, Jesus directed his words to Peter, saying, “Simon [son of] John [Jonah, according to the reading of other manuscripts], do you love [agapáo] me more than these?” Confident that Jesus knew the answer, Peter responded, “Yes, Lord, you know that I love [philéo] you.” (John 21:15; see the Notes section for additional comments regarding John 21:15-17.)
In the question that Jesus is represented as asking, the Greek pronoun for “these” can be either masculine (referring to the other disciples) or neuter (everything related to fish and fishing). A number of translations render the question with explicit application to the disciples. “Do you love me more than these others?” (Phillips, REB) “Do you love me more than the others do?” (CEV) This would appear to be the preferable understanding. It would be more in line with Peter’s eagerness in getting to the shore as quickly as possible and his previous affirmation during the observance of the Passover that he would not be stumbled even though all the others might be and that he would be willing to die with Jesus. (Mark 14:29-31)
Indicating how Peter could express his love for him, Jesus said, “Feed my lambs [arníon].” (John 21:15) As an apostle, one whom Jesus had personally instructed, Peter was in position to care for the spiritual interests of fellow disciples. These disciples were the sheep who belonged to Jesus and for whom he had surrendered his life.
Again Jesus asked him, “Simon [son of] John [Jonah, according to other manuscripts], do you love [agapáo] me?” As he had expressed himself the first time, Peter reaffirmed his love, “Yes, Lord, you know that I love [philéo] you.” Jesus then repeated the admonition, “Tend my sheep [próbaton or probátion (little sheep) in other manuscripts].” (John 21:16)
When Jesus, for a third time, asked Peter, “Simon [son] of John [Jonah, according to other manuscripts], do you love [philéo] me?” he felt hurt. Hearing the question for the third time may have led to his recalling with sadness that he had disowned Jesus three times. Nevertheless, Peter did not waver in expressing his love for him. “Lord, you know all things. You know that I love [philéo] you.” Jesus then repeated, “Feed my sheep [próbaton or probátion (little sheep) in other manuscripts].” (John 21:17) This assignment to serve as a caring shepherd for the sheep reflected Jesus’ confidence in Peter and may well have served to lift from him any lingering burdening effect his previous three denials may have had.
At this point, Jesus looked to the end of Peter’s faithful service. In his younger years, Peter had been a man of action. Girding himself to undertake his activity and walking where he chose to go. Upon getting old, he would stretch out his hands and someone else would gird him and take him to a place where he would not want to go. Jesus thus indicated that Peter, in his declining years, would be forcibly taken to the place of execution. Dying as a martyr on account of remaining faithful to God, he would “glorify” or bring honor to him. (John 21:18, 19) According to Eusebius (c. 263 to c. 339 CE), Peter was crucified during the reign of Nero.
Jesus concluded his words to Peter with the admonition, “Follow me.” It appears that the interchange between Jesus and Peter took place a short distance from where the other disciples were and while the two of them were walking. Seemingly, Peter became aware that another disciple was following them, and he turned around. It was John, the disciple whom Jesus loved and who had asked him during the Passover meal concerning who the betrayer would be. Seeing John, Peter asked Jesus, “Lord, but what about him?” Jesus directed his attention away from John. If it were to be Jesus’ will for John to be alive at his return, this should have no bearing on Peter’s course. As Jesus said to him, “What [is] that to you? Follow me.” (John 21:19-22)
Jesus’ words about John gave rise to the view among the brothers or in the community of believers that he would not die but would still be living when Jesus returned. This misunderstanding is corrected in the account by reiterating what Jesus actually said. He did not say to Peter that John would not die. Jesus expressed the thought about John conditionally, “If it is my will for him to remain until I come, what [is] that to you?” (John 21:23)
John 20:24 reveals the source of the entire account. It is one of the apostles, the one about whom Peter asked. The internal evidence identifies this one as John (one of Zebedee’s sons [John 21:2]), the “disciple who testifies about these things and who wrote these things.” The change to the first person plural verb (“we know”)in the next sentence of verse 24 may be an indication that he did not write this particular affirmation. “We know that his testimony is true.”
Whereas Jesus loved all of the apostles (John 13:1), his relationship to John appears to have been remarkably close. Therefore, the expression the “disciple whom Jesus loved” is an appropriate identifier. (John 21:20) The close relationship seems to have come into existence because of John’s exceptional attentiveness and responsiveness to Jesus’ teaching. An outstanding example of John’s attentiveness and responsiveness was his believing that Jesus had been raised from the dead when he saw the empty tomb and the linen wrappings inside. (John 20:8)
According to 1 Corinthians 15:6, upward of 500 brothers saw Jesus at one time, suggesting that this must have been at a prearranged place. Reasonably, so many would have been together in response to Jesus’ words about seeing them in Galilee at a certain mountain, which mountain is not identified in the account. (Matthew 28:10, 16) The eleven apostles had already seen Jesus in Judea and been convinced that he had indeed been raised from the dead. Based on linking Jesus’ appearance at the mountain in Galilee to the reference in 1 Corinthians 15:6, upward of 500 disciples saw him and prostrated proskynéo themselves before him as their Lord. Among them were some who doubted. (Matthew 28:17)
In view of the difficulty that the apostles had in believing the testimony of the women regarding Jesus’ resurrection, it is understandable that there were some who saw him the first time and found it hard to believe that he had really been raised from the dead. Whether their doubts, like those of Thomas, ceased is not stated in the account, but they likely were persuaded to believe on the basis of what they saw and heard.
Jesus said to the disciples, “To me, all authority in heaven and on earth has been given. Go then [now, according to fifth century Codex Bezae]; make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the holy spirit, teaching them to heed everything I have commanded you. And, see! I am with you all the days until the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:18-20)
As their Lord in possession of all authority in heaven and on earth, Jesus commissioned his disciples to proclaim the message about him and to baptize all who became believers, teaching them to obey everything that he had commanded. As persons who had learned about the Father, his Son, and the holy spirit, the new believers would be baptized in full recognition of the role of each. (Regarding the expression “in the name of,” see the Notes section on Matthew 28:19.)
Jesus would continue to be with the disciples, looking out for their spiritual well-being. That would prove to be the case until the “end of the age,” or the time when he would return in glory and the present age would end and a new era under his beneficent rule would begin.
The final time the disciples saw Jesus was after their return to Jerusalem. On that occasion, he instructed them to stay in the city until they received the holy spirit, and they asked him whether he would be restoring the kingdom to Israel at that time. Jesus did not answer the question directly, but made it clear that it was not for them to know the times and seasons that were his Father’s exclusive domain. They would be empowered by the holy spirit to be his witnesses in Jerusalem, in all of Judea, Samaria, and in more distant regions elsewhere. After he had led them to the Mount of Olives as far as Bethany, he raised his hands and blessed them. It was then that they prostrated (proskynéo) themselves before him, acknowledging him as their Lord. (Luke 24:50-52; Acts 1:4-8)
With a cloud, he vanished from their sight. As the disciples looked skyward, two men (angels) in white garments appeared to them, telling them that Jesus would return in the way in which they had beheld him departing into heaven. Thus, on the basis of the testimony of two angels, they were assured that the Son of God would return in glory. (Acts 1:9-11) As his departure had been with a cloud, his return is associated with clouds. (Compare Matthew 24:30; 1 Thessalonians 4:17; Revelation 1:7.)
Filled with joy, they descended from the Mount of Olives and returned to Jerusalem. There, in the temple precincts, they continued to bless God, doubtless because of having had their faith and hope strengthened by the many proofs that undeniably confirmed Jesus’ resurrection. (Luke 24:52, 53)
According to the long conclusion of Mark (16:19, 20), the Lord Jesus, after he was taken up to heaven, sat down at the right hand of God. The disciples thereafter went forth, declaring the glad tidings, while the Lord Jesus Christ continued to work with them, confirming the message they proclaimed with signs or miracles.
The editorial comments found in John chapters 20 (verses 30 and 31) and 21 (verse 25) could also have been written regarding the three other accounts. Jesus performed many more signs or miracles that the disciples witnessed but which were not mentioned. The narrations included sufficient essentials to provide a solid foundation for believing that “Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that, believing, you may have life in his name.” Using hyperbole to stress the large amount of information that could have been committed to writing, John concluded, “There are also many other things Jesus did, which, if ever they were recorded, I imagine the world could not contain the scrolls [that would be] written.” (John 21:25)
Although the preserved records are comparatively brief, millions, throughout the centuries, have come to believe that Jesus is indeed the Son of God. On the basis of the written accounts about his exemplary life, deeds, and teaching, they have come to live rich and rewarding lives. Although later believers, unlike the apostles and many other first-century disciples, have never seen Jesus, they love him. Through him, they have come to know his Father, resulting in their enjoyment of the real life, a life of an enduring relationship with both the Father and the Son. Accordingly, because of their faith, they have come to have life “in [Christ’s] name” or on the basis of who he is, the only one through whom a relationship with his Father is possible.
At the same time, just as the personal presence of Jesus in the first century created division among the Jewish people, with some responding to him in faith and others becoming violently opposed, the preserved records about him have had the same effect. There are those who try to discredit them with the same passion as those who fanatically cried out for Jesus to be crucified. Others have a distorted view of God’s Son and, based on what they have been taught, do not allow themselves to be led to the Father through him. They are much like the Jews in the first century who failed to recognize him for who he was, the one who could fully reveal his Father to them. They did not think of Jesus as God’s unique Son but concluded that he was Elijah, Jeremiah, or one of the other prophets raised from the dead, or possibly even John the Baptist restored to life. Few were those who, like Peter, declared, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” (Matthew 16:13-16) Today, too, many tend to express themselves more in line with derived views about Jesus acquired from their particular religious environment, and not with a personal conviction that reflects the language of the preserved accounts regarding him.
If correctly identified, Arimathea lay near the northern border of Judea, about 16 miles east of Joppa and over 20 miles northwest of Jerusalem. Although originally from Arimathea, Joseph, as a member of the Sanhedrin, must have had a residence in Jerusalem, as suggested by his owning an unused tomb just outside the city. (Matthew 27:60)
The words of Pilate, “You have a guard,” can be understood as meaning, “You have your own guard.” (Matthew 27:65) The other possible significance is, “The guard is yours.” Both meanings are found in translations or their footnotes. “You have a guard of soldiers.” (NRSV) “Take a guard.” (NRSV, footnote) “You may have your guard.” (NJB) “Use your own guard.” (NJB, footnote) “All right, take some of your soldiers and guard the tomb as well as you know how.” (CEV) “You may have a guard.” (REB)
The apocryphal account known as the “Gospel According to Peter” explicitly identifies the guard as consisting of Roman soldiers. It says that Pilate provided a centurion named Peironius (Petronius) and other soldiers to guard the tomb.
John 20:1 does not mention that other women accompanied Mary Magdalene. This is understandable, for the account specifically focuses on her testimony regarding Christ’s resurrection.
Only Mark 16:1 mentions Salome as being with Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of James (the ones also referred to in Matthew 28:1). Verses 1 and 10 of Luke 24 indicate that there were more than three women. In verse 10, Joanna is named. It is likely that one of the other women would have been Susanna. (Compare Luke 8:1-3.) The differences in the inclusion and omission of names reveal that the writers of the highly condensed accounts did not intend to provide all the details. The specifics they did include primarily served to establish the reality of Jesus’ resurrection.
The absence of details in the accounts does not make it possible to determine precisely what may have occurred at a particular time and who may or may not have been present. Included, however, are the essentials (the empty tomb, angelic testimony, and the post-resurrection appearances) for establishing that Jesus had indeed been raised from the dead.
The words, “He is not here, for he has been raised,” are basically the same in Matthew 28:6, Mark 16:6, and in many manuscripts of Luke 24:6. In the Westcott and Hort text, the words in Luke are marked by double brackets. In the opinion of Westcott and Hort, the reading of fifth-century Codex Bezae, which omits the words, reflects the original text of Luke, with the inclusion of the additional statement being considered as an interpolation.
Westcott and Hort, however, did not have the benefit of manuscript evidence that came to light in more recent years. The oldest extant manuscript (P75 of the late second or early third century) does not omit the words. So there is little reason for rejecting the longer reading found in the largest number of manuscripts, including fourth-century Codex Vaticanus and Codex Sinaiticus. The shorter text of fifth-century Codex Bezae, on the other hand, has very little manuscript support.
According to Matthew 28:7, the angel is represented as saying, “I have told you.” In Mark 16:7, Jesus is referred to as having said that he would be going ahead of the disciples to Galilee. This difference is immaterial, as both statements are true.
In Matthew 28:9, a form of the Greek word proskynéo appears. Although often translated “worship,” the Greek term is descriptive of the act of falling to one’s knees and bowing with one’s forehead touching the ground. The context determines whether the prostration is a gesture of respect or an act of veneration or worship.
In fifth-century Codex Bezae reading of Luke 24:3, the words, “of the Lord Jesus,” are omitted after “body.”
Fifth-century Codex Bezae does not include the words of Luke 24:12, but they are found in all the oldest extant Greek manuscripts and many others. The reference to Peter’s running to the tomb and bending down to see the wrappings is an abbreviated version of the narration found in John 20:3-7. That Peter was not the only one to go to the site after the report about the empty tomb is revealed in the words of Luke 24:24, which relate that the two disciples who were on the way to Emmaus mentioned that “some of those with us” had gone there.
In Luke 24:13, fourth-century Codex Sinaiticus reads “one hundred sixty stadia.” This would be a distance of about 22 Roman miles and, therefore, too far for the disciples to have been able to travel back to Jerusalem and still to arrive there in the same evening. The superior manuscript support is for the reading “sixty stadia” or about seven Roman miles, which distance would reasonably harmonize with the narrative.
Luke 24:33 makes reference to the “eleven,” the designation applying to the apostles. According to John 20:24, Thomas was not present when Jesus appeared to them and is referred to as “one of the twelve.” At the time, there were only eleven apostles, though the original number (with the inclusion of Judas Iscariot) was twelve. So it appears that “the twelve” came to denote all the apostles, whereas the reference to “eleven” indicated that one was missing (in this case, Thomas).
In Luke 24:36, the inclusion of the words, “and he said to them, ‘Peace [be] to you,’” has strong manuscript support, including that of the oldest extant manuscripts. Fifth-century Codex Bezae, however, omits the words. Other manuscripts contain an expanded reading, “And he said to them, ‘Peace [be] to you. I am [It is I]; do not be afraid.’”
Fifth-century Codex Bezae omits verse 40 in Luke chapter 24. This verse is found in all the oldest extant manuscripts and many others. So there is little reason not to regard the words as part of the text.
Jesus’ words directing the disciples to stay in Jerusalem related to their being in the city to receive the holy spirit and thus being empowered to carry out the commission he had given to them. (Luke 24:49) It did not preclude their going back to Galilee for a short time. In fact, they had to do so. Jesus, personally and through angels, instructed the women who had gone to the tomb to inform the disciples that he would meet them in Galilee. (Matthew 28:7, 10; Mark 16:7) Probably not long after the incident involving Thomas, the disciples traveled back to their homes there.
The words of Thomas (“My Lord and my God” [John 20:28]) somewhat parallel how Manoah expressed himself when he and his wife saw the angel who had appeared to them ascend in a flame. Overwhelmed by the emotional impact, Manoah said to his wife, “We will certainly die, for we have seen God.” (Judges 13:20-22)
For the Israelites in the first century and earlier, the term for “god” did not have the restrictive meaning that it has come to have among speakers of modern languages, particularly among professing Christians. In ancient Israel, judges, kings, or rulers could be called “gods.” (Psalm 82:1, 6, 7) In a first-century BCE nonbiblical fragment (11Q13), extensive reference is made to Melchizedek as a heavenly deliverer and judge. The “gods of justice,” “sons of God,” or the angels are portrayed as assisting him to bring about the destruction of Belial (Satan). Other first-century BCE manuscript fragments (4Q400, 4Q402, 4Q403, 4Q404, 4Q405) refer to angels as “gods” and portray them as praising the “God of gods.”
In view of the way Israelites used the term for “god,” one needs to exercise care not to read into Thomas’ words theological concepts that would have been foreign to his Jewish background and mode of expression. Although the Hebrew and Greek terms for “god” had a wider application than is common in English and other languages, Jesus’ Jewish disciples would not have been confused about the identity of the one to whom he referred as his Father and the only true God. (John 17:3)
In John 21:15-17, Jesus is twice represented as using a form of the Greek term agapáo (love) and once philéo (love). Peter, in his response, is represented as saying philéo. Of the two terms, agapáo is often broader in scope, with philéo being a love that is frequently more closely associated with close friendship and affection. As in the case of the English word “love,” the context determines the nature of the kind of love or affection the verbs agapáo and philéo may be understood to convey. It appears preferable not to attempt to draw too sharp a distinction between the two terms, seeking instead to ascertain the significance from the context.
The expression “in the name of” can signify “in recognition of” or “by reason of being.” In the case of one acting in the name of someone else, it points to an existing relationship. Believers, upon being baptized, do enter a new family relationship. They, upon being immersed in the name of the Father, of the Son, and of the holy spirit, come to have God as their Father, his Son as their Lord, and the holy spirit as their helper. In this relationship, they enjoy a newness of life effected through the operation of the holy spirit within them. (Matthew 28:19)
A number of late manuscripts follow Mark 16:8 with a short conclusion, which refers to the women as telling those with Peter about what they had been commanded. Additionally, this short conclusion indicates that Jesus sent out the disciples so that, through them, the “holy and incorruptible preaching” about eternal salvation would be carried out from east to west.
Fifth-century Codex Alexandrinus and Codex Bezae and other later manuscripts contain a longer conclusion, which has been numbered verses 9 to 20. Mention is made of his post-resurrection appearances. Mary Magdalene told those who were mourning and weeping that she had seen Jesus, but they did not believe her. (Compare John 20:18.) While two disciples were walking on a road, he appeared to them in “another form,” and they reported this to the other disciples. (Compare Luke 24:13-35.) According to Mark 16:13, their words were not believed, and no mention is made of Jesus’ previous appearance to Peter. If the long conclusion preserves a dependable tradition, perhaps this is to be understood that some (not all) among the disciples did not believe them. While the disciples were reclining at the table, Jesus appeared and reproached them for not believing those who had seen him after his being raised from the dead. Whereas Luke 24:36 does not speak of the disciples as reclining at the time, the fact that they were able to hand him a piece of broiled fish does indicate that they had been eating. (Luke 24:42)
On that occasion, Jesus is portrayed as commissioning the disciples to go into the world and to preach the evangel (the good news about him) to all creation. Those who would believe and get baptized would be saved, coming to possess the real life, but those who refused to believe would be condemned. Believers would be empowered to perform signs or miracles. In the name of Jesus, they would expel demons and be able to speak in tongues other than their native language. (Compare Matthew 10:8; Acts 2:5-11.) The reference to being able to pick up serpents and not being hurt from drinking anything poisonous could signify that no enemy power would be able to harm them. Regardless of the efforts enemies would put forth, they would be unable to stop the proclamation of the glad tidings. (Compare Luke 10:19.) By laying their hands on the sick, the disciples would be able to cure them. (Compare Matthew 10:8.)
Another addition to Mark chapter 16 appears in a manuscript thought to date either from the fourth or the fifth century. The disciples are represented as telling Jesus that the “age of lawlessness and unbelief is under Satan,” who prevents the truth and power of God from squelching the “unclean things of the spirits.” Therefore, they asked Jesus to reveal his righteousness, which may be understood to mean his taking action against Satan. Jesus’ reply indicated that “the limit of the years for Satan’s power” had been fulfilled, but that other frightful things would be drawing near. With reference to himself, Jesus is represented as saying that he died for those who sinned, that they might return to the truth, cease sinning, and inherit, in heaven, “the spiritual and imperishable glory of righteousness,” probably meaning the absolute righteousness of the sinless state.