The year was AD 33.1 The excitement in the cool spring air of Jerusalem was palpable. Thousands of Jewish pilgrims had gathered from around the world for the upcoming Passover feast, and word had spread that Jesus—a thirty-something itinerant rabbi, prophet, and healer from Galilee—had raised Lazarus from the dead, had withdrawn from Bethany—a village just a couple miles east of Jerusalem—to a town called Ephraim in the wilderness (John 11:54),and was staying at Bethany during the weekend prior to Passover (John 11:55–12:1, 9–11).2 Many had gone to Bethany to see Jesus and Lazarus, with the result that they believed in Jesus and returned to the capital city with reports of his miracle-working power to raise the dead (John 12:9–11, 17–18). The Passover crowds in Jerusalem were like a powder keg ready for a spark—filled to the brim with both messianic fervor and hatred of Roman rule.
Winds of revolution whipped through the air of Palestine throughout the first century, and Jesus, with his teaching authority and ability to capture the imagination of the masses, not least on account of his ability to heal and raise the dead, looked very much the part of the long-awaited Messiah. In order to gain and maintain power, the Romans could kill—which they did quite effectively—but how could they defeat a leader who could raise the dead at will?
After observing the Sabbath (Friday evening through Saturday evening) at Bethany, Jesus arose Sunday morning to enter the city of Jerusalem. It was March 29, AD 33—the first day of the last week of his earthly life.
Sunday, March 29, AD 33
The Passover crowds and inhabitants of Jerusalem were filled with messianic expectation, and Jesus does not disappoint. On Sunday morning, Jesus and his disciples are on the Mount of Olives as they approach Jerusalem. He sends two of his followers to the nearby village (Bethphage or Bethany), instructing them to bring a donkey and colt on which he will sit for his entrance into Jerusalem. By this intentional symbolic action, Jesus will clearly communicate his kingship to the expectant crowds of Passover pilgrims by fulfilling the prophecy of Zechariah 9:9, that Israel’s future king would come riding on the foal of a donkey, and by copying Solomon’s entrance into Jerusalem when he was declared king.3
As Jesus makes his westward descent down the Mount of Olives and toward the Holy City, the crowds rightly interpret his actions with expectant joy and respond in kind by spreading robes and leafy palm branches in his pathway to create a royal red carpet (see 2 Kings 9:13) and by acclaiming him their Davidic king:
The crowds are openly acclaiming Jesus instead of Caesar as king!
The whole city is shaken by the events, and the crowd keeps spreading the word to any in Jerusalem who have not yet heard who Jesus is (Matt. 21:10–11). Some Pharisees instruct Jesus to rebuke the crowds for their dangerous messianic exuberance, but he refuses to correct or curtail the excitement of the crowd over his entrance into the city (Matt. 21:15–17; Luke 19:39–40). It would be hard to overestimate the political and religious volatility incited by Jesus’s actions—the Pharisees were taken by surprise and had no idea how to respond (John 12:19). Up to this point in Jesus’s ministry, he could still have managed to live a long, happy, peaceful life, but his actions on Sunday set in motion a series of events that could result only in either his overthrow of the Romans and the current religious establishment—or his brutal death. He has crossed the point of no return; there would be no turning back. Caesar could allow no rival kings. As Jesus approaches the city, he weeps over Jerusalem (Luke 19:41–44).
Jesus Predicts His Death (John 12:20–36)
Some Greeks who were among the Passover pilgrims seek an audience with Jesus. John does not record the Greeks’ question, but Jesus responds by predicting his death and describing it as the very purpose for which he has come into the world (John 12:27). A voice from heaven, thunderous in sound, affirms God’s commitment to glorify his name through the coming death of Jesus (John 12:28–29). Jesus goes on to clarify the kind of fate he will meet: death by crucifixion (being “lifted up from the earth,” see Isa. 52:13). Yet by his death, Jesus will deal Satan a crushing blow (John 12:31; see also Luke 10:18; Gen. 3:15).
The Jewish crowd, of course, does not like this kind of talk and objects that according to the Mosaic law, the Messiah must remain forever. Jesus does not directly answer their objection but instead commands them to “walk while [they] have the light” (i.e., Jesus himself, the “light of the world,” John 8:12; 9:5) and believe in the light in order to become sons of light before it is gone and darkness comes (John 12:35–36).
Before returning with the Twelve to Bethany at the end of the day, Jesus visits the temple complex. Jesus continues to upset the religious establishment: healing the blind and lame, and receiving the praise of children.
This initial visit to the temple sets the stage for the unforgettable events that were to occur there the following day.
1. Most scholars believe that Jesus was crucified in AD 30. We are persuaded that the evidence strongly points to a date of AD 33. For an introductory discussion of the issues, see Andreas J. Köstenberger, “The Date of Jesus’ Resurrection,” The ESV Study Bible, ed. Wayne Grudem (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2008), 1809–10. See also Colin J. Humphreys and W. G. Waddington, “The Jewish Calendar, A Lunar Eclipse and the Date of Christ’s Crucifixion,” Tyndale Bulletin 43.2 (1992): 331–51.
2. Many Jews came to Jerusalem a week early to ceremonially cleanse themselves and prepare for the Passover.
3. 1 Kings 1:32–40. Matthew makes mention of two animals, a colt (the animal that would have carried Jesus) and a donkey (presumably the colt’s mother; Matt. 21:7). Mark and Luke both mention only the colt and note that no one had ever ridden it before (Mark 11:2; Luke 19:30), hence perhaps the need for the colt’s mother to steady it as it carried its first rider.
Taken from The Final Days of Jesus: The Most Important Week of the Most Important Person Who Ever Lived, by By Andreas J. Köstenberger, Justin Taylor, with Alexander Stewart. Used by permission of Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers, Wheaton, Il 60187, www.crossway.org.
The death and resurrection of Jesus Christ stands as the most important event in human history. The Gospel writers understood this, devoting a proportionally large amount of space to Jesus’s arrest, trial, crucifixion, and empty tomb. But how do the four Gospel accounts fit together? What really happened and what does it all mean? Combining a chronological arrangement of the biblical text with insightful commentary, this book offers readers a day-by-day guide to Jesus’s final week on earth.