The life and passion of Jesus of Nazareth or of Jesus The Christ remains the center of history. Even though the terms have changed we still date everything from his birth and after his death and resurrection. Even those who have never fully heard of or think of Jesus have lives that are affected by what he did during his time here on earth.
There are some who think that Jesus is not a historical figure. They place him with the Greek and Roman gods or with the legends of King Arthur. But they are wrong. Time and time again archaeology and science have confirmed the existence of Jesus.
There are also those that believe that the only documented proof or Jesus is in the four Gospels in the Bible. These are the books of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. They are also wrong. There are other ancient documents that verify the life of Christ.
Tacitus was a historian in the early days of the Roman empire, we writes of Jesus,
“Christus, the founder of the name, was put to death by Pontius Pilate, procurator of Judea in the rein of Tiberius.”
Josephus was a Jewish historian born in the time of Jesus he wrote,
“About this time there lived Jesus, a wise man, if indeed one ought to call him a man. For he was one who performed surprising deeds and was a teacher of such people as accept the truth gladly. He won over many Jews and many of the Greeks. He was the Christ. And when, upon accusation of the principal men among us, Pilate had condemned him to a cross, those who had come to love him did not cease, he appeared to them spending a third day restored to life, for the prophets of God had foretold these things and a thousand other marvels about him. And the tribe of Christians, so called after him, has still to this day not disappeared.”
Then there is the facts of Jesus twelve closest followers. All of them save one were put to death because of believing in the truth of Jesus. If Jesus was made up, if the stories of him and his resurrections were lies, who would die for a lie?
These arguments are presented first to assure the reader that what he or she is reading is true historical fact. Not a fairy story or a myth but the history of one man’s agonizing death and his triumphant resurrection.
Holy week begins on Palm Sunday. That day has already been discussed in another article which can be found on this web-page. Jesus has arrived in Jerusalem and is boldly teaching in the temple and other places. It is Wednesday that we must look to next. Some people refer to this day as “Spy Wednesday” on this day Judas one of Jesus close disciples and friend’s goes to the Chief Priests and asked them “What will you give me to betray him to you?” Scripture tells us that they gave him 30 pieces of silver and from that moment on Judas looked out for an opportunity to betray Jesus.
Thursday morning dawns and it is the feast of The Passover. The Passover is a celebration of the Jews where they remember their being set free from slavery in Egypt. The last plague that God visited upon the Egyptians was the killing of every first-born son. The Jews ate lamb that night and sprinkled some of the blood of the lamb on their doorposts. This indicated to the spirit of death sent out from God to not touch the first born of those living in the house. After this plague and the loss of so many Egyptian lives Pharaoh let the Jews go and God commanded that this day be remembered every year and it was called Passover.
Jesus Disciples asked him where he would like them to prepare the Passover meal for him and he sent them into the city where they found a furnished upper room and began the preparation for the Passover meal.
The traditional Passover meal consisted of very specific dishes. It remains the same meal to this very day. The meal consisted of unleavened bread. This was bread made without yeast and so it has a cracker like consistency. It represented the Jews hasty departure from Egypt.
There was a whole lamb and it all had to be eaten that night it was the blood of the cooked lamb that was put on the doorposts to safeguard the Israelites. A bowl of salt water which represented the tears of the Israelites as slave as well as the miraculous crossing of The Red Sea.
Bitter Herbs a mix of horseradish, chicory, endive, horehound and lettuce, this represented the bitterness of slavery. Charosheth, a sweet mixture of apples, dates, pomegranates, nuts and cinnamon. This represented the material that was used to make the bricks in Israel’s forced labor to the Egyptians and finally wine. Four cups mixed as 3 parts water and one-part wine. This wine represented the four liberation promises of God.
In a more modern Passover there is a hard boiled egg. The egg represents mourning but this has nothing to do with slavery in Egypt but the destruction of the Temple which occurred after the time of Jesus.
As the disciples gathered to enjoy the feast an argument broke out among them as to who was greatest. Jesus in his wisdom got up and with a basin of water washed the feet of all the men gathered there. This was to show them that he was not there to be served but to serve and they needed to have the same attitude in the years to come.
As the meal progressed Jesus announced that one of them eating with him would betray him. All at the table denied that they would ever do such a thing. Finally, John leaned on Jesus and asked who it was. Jesus told John that the one he gave a piece of bread dipped in to the meat would be the one. Jesus took the bread and handed it to Judas. Judas asked, is it I? At this point the world held its breath. This was the final crossroad for Judas. He could take the bread and stay, repenting of the evil he had done, or he could go and betray the man who held him as a close friend. Judas took the bread and left, his fate sealed.
It was during this meal that Jesus took bread and broke it and handed it to his disciples saying this is my body which is given for you. He then took a cup of wine and said this is my blood which is shed for you. He then asked that they do this same thing in remembrance of him.
After praying for the disciples and for the future community that would spring from the 11 men left at the feast Jesus sang a final song with his men and then left the upper room with them and traveled to the Garden of Gethsemane where his painful torment would begin.
When arriving at the garden Jesus left his men and went off by himself to pray. He asked that God would take the suffering he knew was coming away from him but ultimately, he gave in to his Father’s will by saying, “Not my will be done but yours.” This was the beginning of the physical anguish of Jesus. Luke who was a physician reports that Jesus stress over what was to come was so great that his sweat came out as drops of blood. According to C Truman Davis Md., MS there is a medical phenomenon known as Hematidrosis or bloody sweat. It is well documented that under great emotional stress tiny capillaries in the sweat glands can break mixing blood with sweat. According to Doctor Davis this alone could have produced both weakness and shock to Jesus body.
Jesus had asked his remaining followers to pray with him but they had fallen asleep. They awoke to the arrival of Judas with a band of armed men. Judas had told his accomplices that the one he kissed would be Jesus and they should take him. Judas kissed Jesus and the guards seized him.
These guards that took Jesus in the garden were Temple Guards. These were the men that guarded the Temple and kept things at peace in the Temple Courts. These were not Roman soldiers. They were Jews and The Temple Guards were about all the Israelite people had as a military at the time.
They took Jesus first to Annas. Annas was a retired High Priest of the Jewish Temple. Annas questioned Jesus but to no avail. Jesus would say very little over the next few hours. From the home of Annas Jesus was led to the Sanhedrin. The Sanhedrin was the ruling body of The Jewish Nation. It consisted of learned Jewish men though they were divided into sects. It was these men who would put Jesus on trial. They had little power as Israel was under Roman rule but they had some and they would use it this night.
Caiaphas was High Priest that year, he was the son in law of Annas. Earlier Caiaphas had said regarding Jesus that it would be “better for one man to die than for a whole nation to perish.” In his role of High Priest he unwittingly prophesied that Jesus would die for Israel but he had no inclination as to what that meant.
Jesus was held in what amounts to a mock trial. The trial was being held in secret. Not all of the Sanhedrin were present. We can be fairly sure that Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathea were not there as they supported Jesus. Had they been there is was possible that the trial may have gone another way.
The Jews needed two men to testify against Jesus and these testimonies had to agree if they didn’t Jesus would be set free. Men came forward to testify but no two testimonies were exactly alike finally in frustration Caiaphas looked at Jesus and posed THE question. “Are you the Son of God?”
Jesus Replied, sealing his fate, “Yes I am.”
With this the Jews no longer needed witnesses they heard what they considered blasphemy for themselves. Caiaphas would tear the holy robes he was wearing and now the Jews wanted blood.
Being an occupied nation, the Jews could not put Jesus to death they needed the Roman Governor to do that for them so they took Jesus to Pontius Pilate who was the Procurator for Judea.
Pilate questioned Jesus and tried several times to release him. He saw nothing illegal or even Anti-Rome in what Jesus was saying or doing. But the Jews were steadfast.
Every year at Passover Pilate had the custom of releasing one prisoner to the people. Besides Jesus Pilate had Barabbas, an insurrectionist and murderer in custody. Pilate asked if the people would like Jesus released to them, they shouted “No, Give us Barabbas.” Pilate asked what he should do with Jesus. The people shouted, “Crucify him!”
Pilate then had Jesus scourged and crucified.
To do both, scourging and crucifixion was a horrible punishment. It’s debated that the two were ever used in conjunction with each other at any other time, but this was what happened with Jesus.
Jesus had already been abused physically. He had been struck at least once by a guard on answering the High Priest. He was most probably dehydrated. After his mock trial the Temple Guards blindfolded him and mocked him, hit him and spat on his taunting Jesus to prophesy as to who had hit him. But the worst lay ahead.
The Jews had a law that no more than 40 years lashes be given with a whip. To keep that law when someone was sentenced to a beating it could be no more than 39 lashes in case someone miscounted. The Romans had no such law they beat a prisoner until they decided to stop.
The instrument used to beat Jesus was called a flagrum. According to Dr, Davis this was a short whip consisting of several heavy leather thongs. Into each thong was placed two small balls of lead at the end.
Jesus was placed at a pillar, he was stripped of his clothing, his hands were tied above his head and then the full force of this whip was brought down on Jesus back, shoulders and legs.
Doctor Davis tells us, “At first the heavy throngs cut through the skin only. Then, as the blows continue, they cut deeper into the subcutaneous tissues, producing first an oozing of blood from the capillaries and veins of the skin, and finally spurting arterial bleeding from vessels in the underlying muscle. The smalls ball of lead first produce large deep bruises which are broken open by subsequent blows. Finally, the skin of the back is hanging in long ribbons and the entire area is an unrecognizable mass of torn, bleeding tissue. When it is determined by the Roam guards that Jesus is near death the beating stops.”
Jesus torment in not finished here. Jesus is cut loose for the pillar and allowed to slump to the ground but not for long. The Roman then also mock Jesus. They put a purple robe on him and force a stick into his hands as a scepter. They then take a bundle of flexible branches that are covered in long thorns, they shape it into a crown and force it down on Jesus’ head allowing more blood to flow from the man who had already lost so much.
After mocking Jesus, they tear the purple robe off of him. Pulling at the clots that would have quickly adhered to the fabric and making the blood flow from his back again as well as giving Jesus excruciating pain.
They gave him back his clothes and led him out to be crucified.
Part of crucifixion was to carry the cross the beam to place of execution. The upright beam was already in place but the crossbar. The piece of wood the hands would be nailed to had to be carried by Jesus through the streets of Jerusalem to Golgotha or The Place of the Skull where Jesus would be executed.
The heavy wooden beam is tied across Jesus shoulder. He ties to remain erect but after so much loss of blood this is impossible. It is a 650-yard walk. The walk is now called the Via Dolorosa or The Way of Sorrows. Jesus cannot carry this beam. It is gauging into the flesh and causing more bleeding. Simon of Cyrene is pulled out of the crowd. The beam is strapped to his back and Jesus follows. The Romans did not want Jesus to die before his execution.
According to Dr, Davis, “The Crucifixion begins. Jesus is offered wine mixed with myrrh, a mild analgesic mixture. He refuses to drink. Simon is ordered to place the crossbeam on the ground and Jesus is is quickly thrown backward with his shoulders against the wood. The Roman feels for the depression at the front of the wrist. He drives a heavy square, wrought iron nail through the wrist and deep into the wood. He quickly goes to the other side and repeats the action being careful not to stretch the arm too tightly but to allow some movement. The crossbeam is then lifted up and placed into the upright beam.”
“The left foot is then pressed backward against the right foot, and with both feet extended, toes down, a nail is driven through the arch of each, leaving the knees moderately flexed. The victim is now crucified, and a new torment begins.”
This starts new waves of pain. The nails which are in the wrist are creating one kind of agony in order to alleviate this pain Jesus would push up using his feet but the nails in the feet gave another kind of pain and this cycle would be repeated over and over a constant exchange of pain for pain.
During all of this a sinister new pain would develop. Hanging by his arms Jesus pectoral muscles are paralyzed. Air can be drawn into the lungs but it cannot be exhaled. In order to exhale Jesus has to push up again against the nails in his feet. It is during these times that Jesus would speak the words he utters from the cross.
During all of this time the pericardium slowly begins to fill with fluid. It compresses the heart and gives with it a deep crushing pain in the chest. As this pain becomes deeper Jesus utters, “It is Finished.” Jesus mission of atonement is finished. He has paid for our sins. He accomplished what he set out to do.
With one last breath Jesus says, “Father into your hands I commit my Spirit.”
There was, at the time, a heavy woven tapestry that hung in the Holy of Holies where the ark of the covenant was kept. Only the priests of the temple ever saw what was behind that curtain and only at certain times of the year. At the moment Jesus died the curtain was torn in two exposing the most holy of all places because it was not needed anymore.
Jesus died a little faster than most who are crucified. Crucifixion usually ended with the Romans breaking the legs of the crucified so they could no longer push up to breathe. They did not have to do this with Jesus as he was already dead, but to be sure one of the soldiers took his lance and drove into Jesus side. He most like pierced through to the pericardial sac around Jesus heart because scripture tells us that blood and water flowed out. According to Dr, Davis “We have rather conclusive post-mortem evidence that Jesus dies, not the usual crucifixion death by suffocation, but of heart failure due to shock and constriction of the heart by fluid in the pericardium.”
The story, however, does not end there. Jesus body is taken down from the cross and laid in a new tomb. This is late Friday afternoon. Jesus disciples and closest friends go into hiding fearing both the Jews and the Romans. A fearful Saturday passes. It is the sabbath, so no one goes to the visit the tomb. Early on Sunday morning some women from Jesus group go and visit the tomb in the hopes of anointing the body more thoroughly than was able to be done on Friday. They approach the tomb and find the heavy stone that had covered the entrance has been rolled away. They entered the tomb and found it empty.
Two men suddenly appeared to them and asked, “Why do seek the living one among the dead? He is not here, but he has risen.”
It would not be long before Jesus would appear to his disciples at various times. He even allowed Thomas to touch the wounds on his hands feet and side. Thomas believed after he had done this but Jesus would say to him Blessed are those who believe without seeing.”
We will end where we began. This is not a story. It is not something a group of people got together and decided would be nice to write down. Almost all of the men closest to Jesus died because they would not say he didn’t rise from the dead. That alone proves the truth of this story. Jesus life and death and resurrection are history.
The author JRR Tolkien coined the phrase eucatastrophy to describe when something truly horrible happens that results in something good. Jesus death and resurrection in the ultimate example of this. In dying Jesus paid for our sins, a debt we cannot pay ourselves. By rising Jesus conquered death and promised that we would conquer it as well if we choose to believe in him. The question that always remains to be answered is this, what will you do with Jesus?