The Last Day of Jesus’ Human Life
It is late Friday afternoon, Nisan 14, 33 C.E. A group of men and women are about to bury a dear friend. One of the men, Nicodemus, has brought spices to prepare the body for burial. A man named Joseph has supplied clean linen to wrap the bruised and battered corpse.
WHO are these people, and who are they burying? Does all of this affect you? To answer these questions, let us go back to the beginning of that momentous day.
Thursday Evening, Nisan 14
A bright full moon is rising slowly over Jerusalem. The crowded city is settling down after a busy day. This evening the air is filled with the aroma of roasting lamb. Yes, thousands of people are preparing for a special event—the annual celebration of the Passover.
In a large guest room, we find Jesus Christ and his 12 apostles at a prepared table. Listen! Jesus is speaking. “I have greatly desired to eat this passover with you before I suffer,” he says. (Luke 22:15) Jesus knows that his religious enemies are intent on having him killed. But before that happens, something very significant will take place this evening.
After the Passover has been observed, Jesus announces: “One of you will betray me.” (Matthew 26:21) This distresses the apostles. Who could it possibly be? After some discussion, Jesus tells Judas Iscariot: “What you are doing get done more quickly.” (John 13:27) Although the others do not realize it, Judas is a traitor. He leaves to carry out his dastardly role in the plot against Jesus.
A Special Observance
Jesus now institutes an entirely new observance—one that will commemorate his death. Taking a loaf of bread, Jesus says a prayer of thanks over it and divides it up. “Take, eat,” he directs. “This means my body which is to be given in your behalf.” When each of them has eaten some of the bread, he takes a cup of red wine and says a blessing over it. “Drink out of it, all of you,” Jesus tells them, explaining: “This cup means the new covenant by virtue of my blood, which is to be poured out in your behalf.” He instructs the remaining 11 faithful apostles: “Keep doing this in remembrance of me.”—Matthew 26:26-28; Luke 22:19, 20; 1 Corinthians 11:24, 25.
That evening Jesus kindly prepares his loyal apostles for what lies ahead and confirms his deep love for them. “No one has love greater than this,” he explains, “that someone should surrender his soul in behalf of his friends. You are my friends if you do what I am commanding you.” (John 15:13-15) Yes, the 11 apostles have proved that they are true friends by sticking with Jesus during his trials.
Late in the evening—perhaps past midnight—Jesus says a memorable prayer, after which they sing songs of praise to Jehovah. Then, by the light of a full moon, they make their way out of the city and across the Kidron Valley.—John 17:1–18:1.
In the Garden of Gethsemane
A short while later, Jesus and the apostles arrive at the garden of Gethsemane. Leaving eight of the apostles at the entrance of the garden, Jesus takes Peter, James, and John farther in among the olive trees. “My soul is deeply grieved, even to death,” he tells the three. “Stay here and keep on the watch.”—Mark 14:33, 34.
The three apostles wait while Jesus goes deeper into the garden to pray. With strong outcries and tears, he pleads: “Father, if you wish, remove this cup from me.” Immense responsibility rests on Jesus’ shoulders. How distressing it is for him to think of what Jehovah’s enemies will say when His only-begotten Son is impaled as though he were a criminal! Even more agonizing to Jesus is the thought of the reproach that would be heaped on his dear heavenly Father if he failed this excruciating test. Jesus prays so earnestly and gets into such an agony that his sweat becomes as drops of blood falling to the ground.—Luke 22:42, 44.
Jesus has just finished praying a third time. Men carrying torches and lamps now approach. The one walking in front is none other than Judas Iscariot, who comes straight to Jesus. “Good day, Rabbi!” he says, kissing Jesus very tenderly. “Judas,” Jesus responds, “do you betray the Son of man with a kiss?”—Matthew 26:49; Luke 22:47, 48; John 18:3.
Suddenly, the apostles realize what is happening. Their Lord and dear friend is about to be arrested! So Peter grabs a sword and cuts off the ear of the high priest’s slave. “Let it go as far as this,” Jesus quickly calls out. Reaching forward, he heals the slave and commands Peter: “Return your sword to its place, for all those who take the sword will perish by the sword.” (Luke 22:50, 51; Matthew 26:52) The officers and soldiers grab hold of Jesus and bind him. Seized by fear and confusion, the apostles abandon Jesus and flee into the night.—Matthew 26:56; John 18:12.
Friday Morning, Nisan 14
It is well past midnight in the early hours of Friday. Jesus is first led to the home of the former High Priest Annas, who still wields great influence and power. Annas questions him and then has him taken to the home of High Priest Caiaphas where the Sanhedrin has assembled.
The religious leaders now try to find witnesses to fabricate a case against Jesus. However, even the false witnesses cannot agree in their testimony. All the while, Jesus remains silent. Changing tactics, Caiaphas demands: “By the living God I put you under oath to tell us whether you are the Christ the Son of God!” This is a fact that cannot be denied, so Jesus courageously replies: “I am; and you persons will see the Son of man sitting at the right hand of power and coming with the clouds of heaven.”—Matthew 26:63; Mark 14:60-62.
“He has blasphemed!” cries Caiaphas. “What further need do we have of witnesses?” Some now slap Jesus in the face and spit on him. Others hit him with their fists and heap abuse on him. (Matthew 26:65-68; Mark 14:63-65) Soon after dawn on Friday, the Sanhedrin reconvenes, possibly to give some semblance of legality to the illegal nighttime trial. Again Jesus courageously indicates that he is the Christ, the Son of God.—Luke 22:66-71.
Next, the chief priests and older men haul Jesus off to be tried by Pontius Pilate, the Roman governor of Judea. They accuse Jesus of subverting the nation, forbidding the paying of taxes to Caesar, and “saying he himself is Christ a king.” (Luke 23:2; compare Mark 12:17.) After questioning Jesus, Pilate announces: “I find no crime in this man.” (Luke 23:4) When Pilate hears that Jesus is a Galilean, he has him sent to Herod Antipas, the ruler of Galilee, who is in Jerusalem for the Passover. Herod is not intent on seeing justice done. He merely wants to see Jesus perform a miracle. Since Jesus does not satisfy his curiosity and remains silent, Herod and his soldiers make fun of him and send him back to Pilate.
“What bad thing did this man do?” asks Pilate again. “I found nothing deserving of death in him; I will therefore chastise and release him.” (Luke 23:22) So he has Jesus scourged with a multithonged whip that rips painfully into Jesus’ back. Then the troops press a crown of thorns onto his head. They mock him and hit him with a sturdy reed, pushing the crown of thorns deeper into his scalp. Through all the indescribable pain and abuse, Jesus maintains outstanding dignity and strength.
Pilate—maybe in hopes that Jesus’ battered condition will elicit some sympathy—again presents him to the crowd. “See!” Pilate exclaims, “I bring him outside to you in order for you to know I find no fault in him.” But the chief priests shout: “Impale him! Impale him!” (John 19:4-6) As the crowd gets more and more insistent, Pilate capitulates and hands Jesus over to be impaled.
An Agonizing Death
By now it is midmorning, possibly approaching noon. Jesus is taken outside Jerusalem to a place called Golgotha. Large nails are hammered through Jesus’ hands and feet into a torture stake. Words cannot describe the agony as the weight of his body tears at the nail wounds when the torture stake is lifted up. A crowd gathers to observe Jesus and two criminals being impaled. Many speak abusively of Jesus. “Others he saved,” the chief priests and others mock, “himself he cannot save!” Even the soldiers and the two impaled criminals ridicule Jesus.—Matthew 27:41-44.
Suddenly at midday, after Jesus has been on the stake for a while, an eerie darkness of divine origin settles over the land for three hours.* Perhaps it is this that moves the one evildoer to rebuke the other. Then, turning to Jesus, he begs: “Remember me when you get into your kingdom.” What amazing faith in the face of imminent death! “Truly I tell you today,” Jesus responds, “You will be with me in Paradise.”—Luke 23:39-43.
At about three o’clock in the afternoon, Jesus feels that his end is near. “I am thirsty,” he says. Then with a loud voice, he cries out: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” Jesus can sense that his Father has, as it were, withdrawn protection from him to allow his integrity to be tested to the limit, and he quotes David’s words. Someone puts a sponge soaked in sour wine to Jesus’ lips. Having had some of the wine, Jesus gasps: “It has been accomplished!” Then he cries out, “Father, into your hands I entrust my spirit,” bows his head, and expires.—John 19:28-30; Matthew 27:46; Luke 23:46; Psalm 22:1.
Since it is late in the afternoon, hurried arrangements are made to bury Jesus before the Sabbath (Nisan 15) begins at sunset. Joseph of Arimathea, a well-known member of the Sanhedrin who has been a secret disciple of Jesus, gets permission to bury him. Nicodemus, also a member of the Sanhedrin who has secretly confessed faith in Jesus, assists with a hundred pounds [33 kg] of myrrh and aloes. Carefully, they lay Jesus’ body in a new memorial tomb nearby.
It is still dark early Sunday morning when Mary Magdalene and some other women approach Jesus’ tomb. But look! The stone in front of the tomb has been rolled away. Why, the tomb is empty! Mary Magdalene rushes off to tell Peter and John. (John 20:1, 2) No sooner has she left than an angel appears to the other women. He says: “Do not you be fearful.” He also urges: “Go quickly and tell his disciples that he was raised up from the dead.”—Matthew 28:2-7.
As they hurry along, whom do they meet but Jesus himself! “Go, report to my brothers,” he tells them. (Matthew 28:8-10) Later, Mary Magdalene is at the tomb weeping when Jesus appears to her. She can barely contain her joy and rushes off to tell the other disciples the wonderful news. (John 20:11-18) In fact, five times on that unforgettable Sunday, the resurrected Jesus appears to various disciples, leaving no doubt that he is, indeed, alive again!
How You Are Affected
How can events of 1,966 years ago affect you now at the threshold of the 21st century? An eyewitness of those events explains: “By this the love of God was made manifest in our case, because God sent forth his only-begotten Son into the world that we might gain life through him. The love is in this respect, not that we have loved God, but that he loved us and sent forth his Son as a propitiatory sacrifice for our sins.”—1 John 4:9, 10.
In what way is Christ’s death “a propitiatory sacrifice”? It is propitiatory because it makes a favorable relationship with God possible. The first man, Adam, rebelled against God and therefore passed on to his offspring a legacy of sin and death. Jesus, on the other hand, gave his life as a ransom to pay the price for mankind’s sin and death, thus providing a basis for God to extend mercy and favor. (1 Timothy 2:5, 6) By exercising faith in Jesus’ sin-atoning sacrifice, you can be released from the condemnation that you have inherited from sinner Adam. (Romans 5:12; 6:23) In turn, this opens up the wonderful opportunity of having a personal relationship with your loving heavenly Father, Jehovah God. In short, Jesus’ supreme sacrifice can mean never-ending life for you.—John 3:16; 17:3.
These and related matters will be discussed on Thursday evening, April 1, at tens of thousands of places around the world when millions of people will gather to commemorate the death of Jesus Christ. You are invited to be present. Jehovah’s Witnesses in your area will gladly tell you where and when you can attend. Being present will no doubt deepen your appreciation for what our loving God and his dear Son did on the last day of Jesus’ human life.
The darkness could not have been caused by a solar eclipse because Jesus died at the time of the full moon. Solar eclipses last only a few minutes and take place when the moon is between the earth and the sun at the time of the new moon.
[Chart/Pictures on page 7]
JESUS’ DEATH AND RESURRECTION
NISAN 33 C.E. EVENTS GREATEST MAN*
14 Thursday Passover celebration; Jesus washes 113, par. 2 to
evening feet of apostles; Judas goes out to 117, par. 1
betray Jesus; Christ institutes
Memorial of his death (observed
this year on Thursday, April 1,
after sundown); exhortation to
prepare apostles for his departure
Midnight to After prayer and songs of praise, 117 to 120
predawn Jesus and apostles go to garden of
Gethsemane; Jesus prays with strong
outcries and tears; Judas Iscariot
arrives with large crowd and betrays
Jesus; apostles flee as Jesus is bound
and taken to Annas; Jesus taken to
High Priest Caiaphas to appear before
Sanhedrin; sentenced to death;
verbally and physically abused;
Peter denies Jesus three times
Friday At dawn, Jesus again appears before 121 to 124
morning Sanhedrin; taken to Pilate; sent to
Herod; back to Pilate; Jesus scourged,
insulted, and assaulted; under
pressure Pilate hands him over for
impalement; led to Golgotha for
execution late in the morning
Midday Impaled shortly before noon; darkness 125, 126
to midafter- from noon until about three o’clock,
noon when Jesus dies; violent earthquake;
temple curtain rent in two
Late Jesus’ body is laid in a garden tomb 127, pars.
afternoon before the Sabbath 1-7
15 Friday Sabbath begins
Saturday Pilate permits guards for Jesus’ 127, pars.
16 Sunday Early in morning Jesus’ tomb is 127, par. 10
found empty; resurrected Jesus to 129, par.
appears to (1) a group of female 10
disciples, including Salome, Joanna,
and Mary the mother of James;
(2) Mary Magdalene; (3) Cleopas
and his companion; (4) Simon Peter;
(5) a gathering of apostles and
Listed here are numbers identifying chapters in the book The Greatest Man Who Ever Lived. For a chart containing the detailed Scriptural references for Jesus’ final ministry, see “All Scripture Is Inspired of God and Beneficial,” page 290. These books are published by the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society of New York, Inc.