In our second lockdown Bible Study, I would really like to focus on the experience Jesus went through during the few days leading up to Easter, both physically and emotionally. We tend to focus a lot on the big picture, but I find it very helpful to zoom in on the emotions and experiences my Saviour went through at the toughest weekend of his life, and anyone else’s life for that matter.
Holy Week starts on Palm Sunday when Jesus enters Jerusalem with triumph (Matthew 21:1-11, Mark 11:1-10, Luke 19:29-40, John 12:12-19). On Monday Jesus clears the Temple from the merchants (Matthew 21:12-13, Mark 11:15-17, Luke 19:45-46). On Tuesday his authority is challenged, and he teaches in front of the Jewish leaders and Judas agrees to betray Jesus (Matthew 21, Mark 11, Luke 20). The Bible doesn’t say much about what Jesus does on Wednesday, but it is assumed he stayed over in Bethany.
The Thursday before Good Friday is sometimes referred to as Maundy Thursday and commemorates the Last Supper Jesus celebrated with the Apostles. On this day Jesus also goes to the garden of Gethsemane to pray to the Father, he is betrayed by Judas and arrested by the soldiers sent by the Jewish leaders. The story of Holy Thursday can be read in Matthew 26, Mark 14, Luke 22 and John 18.
During the Last Supper with the Apostles, Jesus celebrates the traditional Passover meal which commemorates Israel’s escape from Egypt. But Jesus breaks the bread as a symbol of his body and drinks the wine as a symbol of his blood, which has become the traditional Communion we as Christians celebrate in our divine services. This literally means to commune with God and other believers in joyful fellowship and in thanksgiving for Christ’s sacrifice and to reflect on Jesus Christ’s death on the cross and promise to return. As Jesus was trying to explain this to the disciples it was clear that they did not understand his teaching.
Furthermore, Jesus explains that one of them will betray him, and identifies the betrayer as Judas. Jesus chose Judas as an apostle, so it begs the question if he knew what Judas would end up doing. In his omnipotence, Jesus must have known Judas’ true character, including that he was a thief (John 12:6), but someone had to be the instrument to fulfil God’s plan of salvation. Yet I’m sure Jesus must have been disappointed in his student.
As the disciples hear that “the Son of Man must die” they must have been disillusioned with fear and anger, because they were still expecting Jesus to be a natural king, releasing them from the yoke of the Roman oppression. Jesus’ words were not even cold, and they were already arguing about who was the greatest among them (Luke 22:24). This would have caused exasperation and frustration in Jesus’ heart because he realized that they still do not understand, and perhaps he wondered if they have been listening to him at all during the three years they were together. In answer to their silly quarrel, he explains that the greatest among them must become the least, in other words, the greatest is the one who serves the most humbly and selflessly – exactly like he is about to demonstrate by dying on the cross.
Jesus also explains to his disciples that they are all about to abandon him (Matthew 26:31). Peter vehemently disagrees and Jesus explains to Peter that he will deny Jesus three times before the rooster crows (daybreak). Jesus had called Peter as his “rock” on which he will build his church (Matthew 16:18), so this knowledge probably also weighed very heavy on Jesus’ heart. Imagine knowing you are about to face your darkest trial, in fact, the darkest moment any human can experience, and you will have to do it all alone.
After the meal, the disciples follow Jesus to the Garden of Gethsemane where Jesus asks John, James, and Peter to follow him to pray. He tells them that he is “crushed with grief to the point of death.” (Matthew 26:38) Jesus knew exactly what was about to happen, which filled him with anguish and distress. He knew that the intense physical suffering he was about to go through – the lashing and beating; the crown of thorns on his head; the suffocation; and the weight of the cross he would have to carry. He knew the pain his body would endure and the slow, torturous death he was about to die. He knew the teasing and mocking he would endure. He knew that his disciples would all abandon him in his deepest hour of need. But more than all that, he knew that he would be temporarily separated from God and that he would have to carry God’s wrath for our sins. That is why Jesus prayed earnestly “If it is possible, let this cup of suffering be taken away from me. Yet I want your will to be done, not mine” (Matthew 26:39). Even on the eve of his dreadful death, Jesus could still submit his will to God’s will. That is how much he loves us!
In Hebrews 5:7-9 we read “While Jesus was here on earth, he offered prayers and pleadings, with a loud cry and tears, to the one who could rescue him from death. And God heard his prayers because of his deep reverence for God. Even though Jesus was God’s Son, he learned obedience from the things he suffered. In this way, God qualified him as a perfect High Priest, and he became the source of eternal salvation for all those who obey him.” I have never had to suffer a fate like Jesus, and I never will, but I find it so hard to be obedient and trust with my whole heart to pray “I want your will to be done, not mine”.
After his prayer, Jesus goes to his three disciples and sees that they have fallen asleep. Imagine his irritation with them, but he was still concerned for their well-being because he instructed them to ask God that they will not fall into temptation. He knew that they were about to witness him die and that this would cause them to question if He really was the Messiah. Yet they fell asleep a second and a third time while Jesus prayed.
As Jesus prayed the final prayer amongst the olive trees, he “was in such agony of spirit that his sweat fell to the ground like great drops of blood” (Luke 22:43). God did not relieve him of his cup of suffering, but he did send an angel to strengthen Jesus. Scientists have explained that it was possible for Jesus to sweat blood. This condition is known as hematidrosis and may occur in highly emotional states or with a bleeding disorder. The capillary vessels of the skin dilate and burst, causing the blood to mix with the sweat. Luke is the only author to explain this process because he was a doctor.
Jesus once again finds the disciples asleep and wakes them up as Judas and all the soldiers with him approach Jesus. Jesus tells Judas “My friend, go ahead and do what you came for.” Judas betrays Jesus with a kiss and he is arrested. First, the apostles want to defend Jesus with swords and Peter cuts off the ear of one of the men. Jesus rebukes him and heals the man’s ear. He reprimands the apostles by explaining that God could send a legion of angels to protect him if he asked (Matthew 26:33). But Jesus surrenders to the authorities and must have been filled with fear at this stage. It is beginning. Jesus was also probably emotionally wounded by the betrayal of Judas, and shortly all his disciples “all the disciples deserted him and ran away.” (Mark 14:50)
After the arrest Jesus is taken to the house of the high priest, followed by John and Peter. Here he is questioned by the Sanhedrin (Jewish council) who is looking for anyone to bear witness to Jesus’ heresy. At first, Jesus does not answer to the confusing charges, but when asked if he is the Messiah he simply answers “I am. You have said it. And in the future, you will see the Son of Man seated in the place of power at God’s right hand.” (Matthew 26:64) The high priest is outraged at Jesus’ blasphemy and he is blindfolded and beaten, spat on and struck on the face while being mocked by the soldiers. The irony is that the religious leaders should have known Scripture and understood that the coming of the Messiah was prophesied for centuries. They should have recognized him, but they were so concerned with their political ambition that they could not stand the threat he posed to their natural power. This blindness probably did not surprise Jesus, but he must have been disheartened that he was arrested and rejected by the very leaders who were supposed to understand his mission.
In the courtyard of the home of the high priest, Peter is waiting to see what happens to Jesus. He is surrounded by other onlookers warming themselves around the fire. When asked if he knows Jesus, Peter does deny knowing Jesus and being His follower as Jesus predicted at the Last Supper. The third denial is spoken just before the rooster crows and “at that moment the Lord turned and looked at Peter” (Luke 22:61). Imagine that moment! Jesus must have been so saddened by Peter’s lack of faith, and Peter must have felt sorrowful with regret at his own weakness as it says he “wept bitterly”. Wouldn’t our lives be so different if we could see the Lord looking at us every time we sinned?
It is easy to judge Peter, and even Judas, for their actions against their Master and Teacher, but don’t we sometimes do the same? All of us have been guilty of denying Jesus Christ in vital areas of our lives. We are all sinners and we easily succumb to the temptations of the devil without regard to what that sin cost Jesus on the cross. We must use Peter’s example to repent of this denial/sin and become a person that can build his church. Years later Peter could write “He personally carried our sins in his body on the cross so that we can be dead to sin and live for what is right. By his wounds you are healed” (1 Peter 2:24).
Here is the Facebook Live session where I discussed Holy Thursday in-depth:
This post was part of a Bible Study series that I wrote to connect with my friends during the COVID-19 lockdown.
I am not a pastor, nor do I have theological training. I am a follower of Jesus and the daughter of my Heavenly Father that enjoys studying and discussing Scripture with others.
The resources I used for this study are listed below.
All colour illustrations are from www.jw.org
Here is one of my favourite pieces describing all the “I AM” statements of Jesus: