Christ’s passion, from his agony in the garden to his death, was the most torturous suffering a person could undergo. Jesus fulfilled his words, “The Son of Man has come not to be served but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Mk 10:45). Jesus and his mother Mary fulfilled God’s promise of the woman and her son who would destroy the serpent that led to the fall of mankind. When Jesus accomplished his mission on the cross, he drank the fourth cup of Passover and said, “It is finished.” It was not words of relief but an expression of accomplishment, not unlike the words of a military commander at the end of a victorious war. Let us join Jesus in carrying our crosses and say with him, “Father, into your hands I commend my spirit” (Lk 23:46).
The following is the sequence of events during Christ’s passion, according to the gospels:
1. The agony in the garden
2. The betrayal and arrest of Jesus
3. The investigation before Annas
4. Peter’s denial of Jesus
5. Jesus before the Sanhedrin
6. Jesus before Pilate
7. Jesus before Herod
8. The death of Judas
9. The death sentence
10. Th soldiers’ mockery
11. The way of the cross
12. The crucifixion
13. The death of Jesus
14. The burial of Jesus
Comfort from the Father alone
After his Passover observance, Jesus went with the eleven apostles to the Mount of Olives to pray and gain spiritual strength before his passion. There was no garden in Jerusalem because of space limitation on the Temple Mount. Private-owned gardens were available on the nearby Mount of Olives. The owner of the Garden of Gethsemane might have permitted Jesus to use it for his night prayers. When Jesus and companions reached the garden, he took only Peter, James, and John to be close with him where he prayed. These three were so dear to him that they were with him on special occasions like raising to life Jairus’ daughter (Mk 5:37) and Jesus’ transfiguration (Mk 9:2). Jesus requested them thrice, “My heart is filled with grief, even to the point of death. Remain here with me and stay awake” (Mt 26:38). But they were tired and fell asleep. The triple request was a sign of how fervently he needed their support. So, in the great distress, Jesus was alone, and all humans failed to support him.
During a time of anguish, our dear ones’ presence could be a relief. When all deserted Jesus, he gained strength from his Father because the Father sent an angel from heaven to strengthen Him (Lk 22:43). “Though my father and mother forsake me, yet the LORD will receive me” (Ps 27:10). Let us never forsake our faith in God. We always have the companionship and comfort from God in our distress and solitude.
Subjecting to the Father’s Will
Jesus prayed: “Abba, Father, all things are possible for you; take this cup away from me. Yet not what I will, but what you will” (Mk 14:36). Jesus said this prayer three times, expressing his nervousness because he knew how torturous his martyrdom would be. His address of “my father” or “Abba” expressed his filial intimacy with God. “This cup” stood for the fourth cup of Passover that Jesus substituted with his crucifixion. In the Lord’s Prayer, Jesus taught us to pray to the Father, “your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as in heaven” (Mt 6:10). So, every time he repeated the prayer request, he concluded by saying, “not as I will, but as you will.” Let our prayers also be expressing our willingness to accept God’s will.
Isaac was a prototype of Jesus. Scholars believe that Isaac was in his thirties, like Jesus, when his father Abraham took him to sacrifice on Mount Moriah. Centuries later, Jesus offered his sacrifice through crucifixion on the same location. Isaac could have escaped from the sacrifice by overpowering his aged father. However, he subjected himself to his father for sacrifice. Though God saved Isaac’s life, He wanted His son Jesus to fulfil the mission. So, God strengthened Jesus by sending an angel showing the heavenly presence and support.
Kiss of love altered to a kiss of betrayal.
Judas followed Jesus, who gave him the privileged position of an apostle. Jesus even entrusted him with the little money Jesus and his disciples received for their sustenance from the well-wishers. Unfortunately, Judas’ interest shifted from Jesus to money.
Mismanagement of wealth or greed for money caused the downfall of many people and conflict in their relationship with others and with God throughout history. God might entrust more wealth than needed to some people, not for self-indulgence, but to test them whether they share it with others. Let us remember that the faith in Jesus and our implementation of what he taught are our treasure in this world and heaven.
Peter, a brave defender
Peter was quick in action. He struck Malchus, the High Priest’s slave, with a sword and cut off his right ear. Even at the time of his arrest, Jesus was compassionate to touch and heal Malchus (Lk 22:51).
We must defend Christianity and church assets by love and not by war. All too often, our impulsive response in times of crisis is to pick up the sword as Peter did. Non-violence was the gateway to glory for Jesus. And he set that as an example for us.
John the Evangelist reports that the soldiers brought Jesus in front of Annas, the former High Priest and father-in-law of the High Priest Caiaphas. Annas was a corrupt person and had bribed the Romans to get the position as High Priest. He had forged business alliances with the money changers and sellers of sacrificial livestock in the Court of the Gentiles of the Temple. Since Jesus had disrupted the business activities and rampant exploitation going on there, it brought him into direct conflict with Annas and caused his arrest.
Jesus questioned the trial by Annas because he was violating the Jewish procedure of trial. The accusers had to bring two independent witnesses against the accused. The judge should not ask leading questions to the suspect. When Jesus questioned these, the Temple guard struck Jesus. He questioned that as well.
We might also face challenging situations and false defend ourselves. We do not have to agree with falsehood.
Peter went to the High Priest’s courtyard to see what would happen to Jesus. This was with the help of another disciple who according to the scholars, could have been John the Evangelist himself. John’s father Zebedee was into the fish business. He used to sell salted fish to the High Priest’s palace. John might have been delivering that before he followed Jesus. That helped John to get inside the courtyard with Peter influencing the High Priest’s staff, who were familiar with John.
Peter’s denial of Jesus three times fulfilled Jesus’ prophecy about it. It was not as grave as what Judas did. Peter was enthusiastic to defend Jesus by striking with a sword the High Priest’s servant and to accompany Jesus during his trial. No other apostle was bold enough to do these, except John, who also loved the Lord passionately. Peter’s cowardice effectively protected his life, facilitating him to lead the church later on. Saint Luke reports that Peter “went out and began to weep bitterly” (Lk 22:62).
Mistakes happen even when we follow Jesus. Repentance is the best remedy, and God cannot ignore a repentant soul.
Even according to the Jewish jurisprudence, there were violations in Jesus’ trial.
(1) Trial at night was illegal: The trial was held at night before an emergency meeting of the Sanhedrin. Caiaphas was the official High Priest during the trial. Annas, who was the former High Priest and father-in-law of Caiaphas, was the president of the Sanhedrin. Though Sanhedrin should not meet at night, the plotters bent the rules because they were in a hurry to crucify Jesus.
(2) The trial location was wrong: The Sanhedrin met for the trial of Jesus at the High Priest’s house (Mt 26:58), instead of the designated chamber in the inner court of the Temple. Such a serious sentence like a death sentence ought to be passed in the Temple near the altar to assure justice and also affirm that the decision was acceptable to God.
(3) The prejudiced Sanhedrin could only muster false witnesses: Most members of the Sanhedrin had in mind capital punishment for Jesus even before the trial. They were struggling to get enough proof to justify their false accusations against him. They failed to get even two witnesses who would agree in their testimonies. Out of frustration, “the high priest put a second question to him, ‘Are you the Christ, the Son of the Blessed One?’ Then Jesus answered, ‘I am, and you will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of the Almighty and coming with the clouds of heaven around him’” (Mk 14:61-62). Solely based on this statement, the Sanhedrin pinned blasphemy on Jesus. Such questioning of the culprit in the Sanhedrin was illegal.
(4) Crucifixion was not the punishment for blasphemy: The punishment for blasphemy was stoning to death (Lev 24:10-16). However, the Sanhedrin wanted the most torturing and humiliating crucifixion for Jesus. This resulted in the fulfilment of the Old Testament symbolism of a bronze serpent raised on a pole for saving sinners and also Jesus’ prophecy that God would exalt him (Jn 3:14; 12:32-33). Hence, the crucifixion judgement was illegal, even if Jesus was guilty of blasphemy.
(5) Sanhedrin did not take enough time for the judgement: Death sentence within a day was illegal. The Sanhedrin must sleep over the proceedings for one night before pronouncing the sentence. This did not happen in Jesus’s case.
So, the time, place, trial procedure, and the punishment were illegal. It only goes to show that hatred and prejudice can lead us to unjust decisions and judgement against others in the family or community. Like Jesus, who came not to judge but to save, let us be saviors of others in trouble. The second coming of Christ will be only for judgement and reward for the righteous.
Though the Sanhedrin accused Jesus of blasphemy, they did not bring up that to Pilate. Instead, they raised three accusations that could be of concern for the Roman authorities: “We found this man misleading our people; he opposes the payment of taxes to Caesar and maintains that he is the Messiah, a king” (Lk 23:2). Pilate did not find any truth in these, nor any serious offence worthy of crucifixion.
If Jesus was misleading people, it was a religious issue and not Pilate’s concern. When asked on the payment of tax to the Roman government, Jesus’ reply was: “Give to Caesar what belongs to Caesar, and to God what belongs to God” (Mt 22:21). Pilate could consider the accusation that Jesus claimed himself to be the king of Jews as treason against the Roman emperor and his position. He was the governor replacing the king of Jews for the provinces of Judea, Samaria, and Idumaea. But Pilate knew that Jesus never challenged Roman authorities including himself. When questioned, Jesus clarified that his kingdom was not of this world. Pilate concluded that Jesus was not guilty. But he was not bold enough to free Jesus because of his insecurities and selfish motives.
Herod Antipas was the king in Galilee from 4 BC to 39 AD. He had beheaded John the Baptist. He came to Jerusalem for the Passover feast. Since Jesus was from Galilee, Pilate tried to escape the Jewish leaders’ machinations by playing the jurisdiction card. Thus he sent him to Herod who was the nominal ruler of Galilee. Herod was curious to see Jesus and see him perform some miracle. Though Herod’s soldiers mocked and tortured Jesus, he did not answer to King Herod’s interrogations. So, Herod sent Jesus back to Pilate.
The curiosity to understand Jesus will not save a person. Salvation requires faith in Jesus and following his teachings. Because of the deference they showed to each other, Pilate and Herod who had been enemies, became friends. Thus, even as he was being tossed about from court to court, Jesus became a trigger for reconciliation between adversaries.
Joseph’s brothers sold him for 20 shekels of silver to Midianite merchants who were going to Egypt. History repeated itself with Jesus when Judas sold him for 30 pieces of silver, which was the price of a slave. When Judas realized that Jesus had been handed the death penalty, he regretted what he had done (Mt 27:3). His expectation might have been that Jesus would escape from his enemies as he had done on several previous occasions. However, Jesus’ time had finally come. Judas’ attempt to undo the damage by returning the money to the High Priests and elders came to naught. Satan’s full grip over him prevented him from turning towards his master for forgiveness. His remorse was so deep that he (erroneously) thought himself beyond redemption and committed suicide. The Temple authorities ruled that it was unlawful to deposit blood money in the Temple treasury. So, they bought a potter’s field as a burial place for foreigners.
If we delay in turning back to Jesus for forgiveness and conversion, things might reach a point of no return. Jesus had warned Judas, but the man failed to correct himself in time. As humans, we might fail and ignore the God-given warnings. Like Peter, let us find refuge in Jesus and compensate for our mistakes by our commitment to God.
When Pilate found that Herod had tossed Jesus back to him, he had to make a tough decision. He was conflicted between the demands of justice and the pressure tactics of the Jewish leaders. He also had a message from his wife: “Have nothing to do with that holy man. Last night I had a terrible dream about him” (Mt 27:19). So, Pilate looked for excuses to set him free.
Pilate’s tactics to release Jesus
Pilate attempted releasing Jesus through the prisoner release custom during the Feast of Passover. But people had the right to select that prisoner (Mt 27:15). He presented a very contrasting choice to the public as between Jesus and a notorious criminal Barabbas, who had murdered people during a rebellion. People after comparing the murderer and the Son of God, under the influence of the chief priests and the elders (Mt 27:20), selected the criminal for freedom and the innocent Lamb of God for sacrifice.
Pilate’s next tactic was to scourge Jesus and present him in a sympathetic appearance to satisfy his enemies and influence them to request his release. Pilate’s soldiers scourged Jesus 39 times as per the practice of the time, cruelly pressed down a crown of thorns on his head, clothed him in a purple cloak, and beat him, mocking him as the “King of the Jews.” The Pilate then brought the tortured man in front of the people hoping that his pathetic condition would melt his accusers. However, it cut no ice with them. The Jewish leaders whipped up a frenzy among the crowd to bay for his blood by repeatedly saying, “Crucify him!”
Pressure tactics of the Jews
When Pilate tried to release Jesus, the Jews pushed back saying, “If you release this man, you are not a friend of Caesar. Anyone who makes himself a king is defying Caesar” (Jn 19:12). The Jews hated Pilate because they had earlier issues with him and had complained against him to the Roman emperor. When Governor Pilate first visited Jerusalem from Caesarea, which was his headquarters, he came with soldiers who carried the images of eagles on their standards. All the earlier Roman governors had removed the images before they entered the city, respecting the Jewish beliefs. Despite the demand of the Jews to avoid the image, Pilate was adamant on his decision. The Jews followed Pilate to Caesarea. He threatened to kill the large gathering of Jews. They were even willing to die for their belief. To avoid a massacre of the Jewish gathering, Pilate had to agree with them.
The second issue Pilate had with the Jews was that he raided the Temple treasury to meet the expenses of an aqueduct he reconstructed to supply enough water to Jerusalem. The aqueduct was helpful for the Temple that needed much water for sacrifices and cleaning. However, the Jews objected to taking money from the Temple treasury because it was only for religious purposes. So, Pilate seized money from the Temple treasury that caused Jewish riots on the street. Pilate mingled his soldiers in civil clothes with the rioters and at a signal, the soldiers attacked and killed many rioters. On the complaint of Jews, Pilate had to answer to Roman Emperor Tiberius for his action.
A third incident was that when Pilate was in Jerusalem, he used to stay in Herod’s ancient palace. He had made shields with the name of the emperor inscribed on them, acknowledging the emperor as the god of the Roman Empire. Pilate displayed the shields for reverence in the Holy City to please the emperor and irritate the Jews. Though they objected to it because of religious reasons, Pilate refused to remove the shields. At the request of the Jews, Emperor Tiberius asked Pilate to delete the inscriptions. Thus, Pilate had many downfalls in his relationship with the Jews and had warnings from the emperor to avoid upsetting them. The emperor was favoring the Jews to keep the peace. So, Pilate knew that the release of Jesus could be another setback for him from the Jews who would again complain to the emperor against him.
Pilate, who was brazenly bold on many earlier occasions, found it better to capitulate to the Jews. He ignored his wife’s warnings that she had received through a dream. Sometimes, we also fall into the situation of Pilate. Our past might haunt us and prevent us from doing the right thing. Our worldly ambitions might silence our conscience and blind us to justice.
Pilate washing hands
Pilate was sure that Jesus was innocent. His conscience was bothering him also because his wife sent him a message about the innocence of Jesus. He had to avoid trouble from Jews and the Roman emperor. So, he used a Jewish custom of washing hands to escape from the consequences of murdering an innocent person as given in Deuteronomy 21:1-9. Still, Pilate acted unjustly to crucify the innocent Jesus, who will return one day as Pilate’s judge and of all humanity.
Two mistakes of the Jews
When Pilate asked, “Shall I crucify your king?” The chief priests answered, “We have no king but Caesar.” This was a clear denial of God as their king (1 Sam 12:12), (Judg 8:23) and acceptance of the pagan emperor instead. Hatred of humans can lead to the denial of God because we cannot accept God by hating and maltreating others.
The second mistake of Jews was that when Pilate could not convince them to release Jesus and they were at the verge of rioting, Pilate washed his hands in public and said, “ ‘I am innocent of this man’s blood. See to it yourselves.’ And all the people answered, ‘Let his blood be upon us and upon our children’ ” (Mt 27:24-25).
Jesus’ blood stands for his life and sacrifice. He shed it for the forgiveness of the sins of all humanity. However, the entire crowd gathered at Jesus’ trial were so much taken up by the influence of the Sanhedrin that they, out of their emotion, took up the curse of the innocent blood on them and their future generations. The Jews believed that the guilt of innocent blood shall fall upon the false witnesses and their children to the end of the world. Some interpreters view that the Rome’s attack of Jerusalem after 40 years in 70 AD, the destruction of the Temple and its sacrifices, the assassination of many Jews, and the exile and dispersion of the Jews were results of the above pledge they made. The Catholic Church does not hold this view and attributes them to the Temple aristocracy and the supporters of Barabbas.
The soldiers normally scourge the condemned man before carrying out the crucifixion. Like Pilate, they were gentiles from Caesarea Maritima on the Mediterranean coast. Since they heard that the accusation against Jesus was for claiming to be the king of Jews, they mocked him as if he were a lunatic.
The scourging and mockery were tortuous, physically as well as mentally. The soldiers took Jesus to the Praetoriam which was the old palace of Herod and the temporary residence of the Roman governor when he visited Jerusalem. Pilate used to camp at Jerusalem during the major feasts to quell any nationalistic riots against Rome during the enormous gatherings of the Jewish pilgrims.
Matthew records that the whole cohort gathered around Jesus (Mt 27:27). The cohort was six hundred soldiers. They stripped off Jesus’ clothes and dressed him in a royal purple cloth. They weaved a crown out of long straight thorns and placed on his head, put a reed in his right hand, spat on him, and kept striking on his head with the reed. Thus they fulfilled Isaiah’s prophecy in 50:6 “I offered my back to those who struck me, my cheeks to those who pulled out my beard; I did not shield my face from insults and spittle.” After the mocking and torturing, they stripped him of the cloak, dressed him back in his clothes and led him for crucifixion.
The soldiers mockingly adorned Jesus with a ‘royal’ attire, though Jesus never dressed up like that as his claim never was to earthly kingship. However, it became a symbol of his spiritual kingship. Jesus is truly king, not only “of the Jews,” as Pilate wrote, but of the entire universe. Let us follow that king and honour him.
When we suffer for justice and Jesus, our suffering will be an honour and a norm for reward in front of God. Jesus told his disciples, “Blessed are those who are persecuted for the cause of justice, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when people insult you and persecute you and speak all kinds of evil against you because you are my followers. Be happy and glad, for a great reward is kept for you in heaven. This is how they persecuted the prophets who lived before you” (Mt 5:10-12).
We do the devotion of the Way of the Cross. Traditionally there are 14-stations, but the Bible does not document the three falls of Jesus, Jesus meeting his mother Mary, and Veronica wiping the face of Jesus. Mary’s meeting of Jesus on the way of the cross might have happened because she was also at the foot of the cross. That meeting might have been heart-breaking for Mary, though she knew that he was fulfilling his mission. Mary is an outstanding role model for mothers sending their children to the missions.
Veronica wiping the face of Jesus
The story of Veronica wiping the face of Jesus on the way to Calvary appeared in a book called “The Acts of Pilate.” It presents Veronica as the woman who had been suffering from hemorrhages for twelve years. She came up behind Jesus and touched the tassel on his cloak and got cured (Mt 9:20-22). The story also tells that Jesus left an image of his face on the cloth that she used to wipe his face. Veronica later went to Rome and cured Emperor Tiberius by showing him a painting of Christ she made.
Simon helped Jesus to carry the cross.
Roman soldiers used to demand anyone on the road to help them carry their luggage. It was in this context that Jesus taught, “If someone forces you to go one mile, go two miles with him” (Mt 5:41). While Jesus was carrying the cross to Calvary, the soldiers forced Simon, a Cyrenian to carry the cross so they could crucify Jesus alive.
Cyrenaica was part of a Roman province on the north coast of Africa. Cyrene was its capital city. It had an enormous population of Greek-speaking Jews. Simon was one among them, who might have migrated to Palestine. “When they led Jesus away, they seized a certain Simon of Cyrene, who was coming in from the fields and laid the cross on him to carry it behind Jesus” (Lk 23:26). Simon was fulfilling Jesus’ teaching, “If anyone wants to come after me, let him deny himself, take up his cross and follow me” (Mt 16:24). Jesus wants us to share his cross in our lifetime, to continue his mission in this world.
Mark 15:21 presents Simon as “father of Alexander and Rufus.” They must have been prominent followers of Jesus and well-known leaders of the early church. That is why the evangelist gives their names. It is not just cursing that passes down to generations, but blessings as well. The excellent works we do for Jesus and his church will have its lasting effects in our coming generations.
Women devotees pacifying Jesus
While the soldiers and many bystanders on the roadside were looking at Jesus with contempt, “A large crowd of people followed him; among them were women beating their breasts and wailing for him” (Lk 23:27). While the male disciples hid for their safety, the women disciples came to support Jesus. He still used the occasion to advise them to take care of themselves, to face future tribulations that would happen to them and their children. Jesus’ concern was genuine, and the tribulation happened in 70 AD when the Romans killed a vast number of Jews and took others as slaves to Rome. The soldiers destroyed the city along with the Temple. The Christians escaped from this because they fled from Jerusalem, trusting the warning Jesus had given.
Jesus’ message for Passion Friday is the same that Jesus gave to these devoted women. Let us take care of our spiritual wellbeing and our future generations, even amid tribulations of this world.
The Place of Skull
The soldiers crucified Jesus on Golgotha, which means the “Place of Skull.” There are different interpretations on this name: (1) It was a rock with skull-shaped appearance. (2) A heap of skulls of many people crucified without burial were there. Though the Jews buried the dead bodies, the Romans let animals and birds eat the dead body. So, it was a place of bones and skulls. (3) Tradition holds that Golgotha was the burial place of Adam’s skull. According to the Jewish tradition, Noah confided the skull of Adam to his son Shem, who later did the same to Melchizedek. He deposited Adam’s skull at Golgotha. Some early Christian writings also give similar accounts. So, some pictures of Jesus’ crucifixion depict the skull of Adam at the foot of Christ’s cross. It shows that Jesus washed away Adam’s sin by his blood that fell on Adam’s skull from Jesus’ crucified body. This was the fulfilment of God’s promise to Adam that he would send a redeemer (Gen 3:15).
Some scholars associate Golgotha with Mount Moriah. That was the place that God assigned to Abraham to sacrifice his son Isaac (Gen 22:2). Solomon built the Temple at the same location (2 Chr 3:1) known as Temple Mount. Later, Zerubbabel and Herod the Great rebuilt the Temple at the same location. Golgotha has the same height as the Temple Mount and both are facing each other at a distance of only 300 meters. Jesus was the Lamb that Abraham told his son, “God himself will provide the lamb for the sacrifice, my son” (Gen 22:8).
Wine mixed with gall
The soldiers offered Jesus a narcotic, “wine drugged with myrrh” to drink. The wealthy and compassionate women in Jerusalem used to give such a narcotic to the crucified to soothe their bitter pain during the crucifixion. But Jesus declined it so he could endure the full suffering for humanity. This was also a fulfilment of Psalm 69:22: “for my thirst they gave me vinegar.”
While suffering on the cross, Jesus said, “Father, forgive them for they do not know what they are doing” (Lk 23:34). Jesus might have included in this prayer all those instrumental in his horrific torture. Thus, Jesus became a role model for us on how to deal with our opponents. Many early Christian martyrs, like Saint Stephen, imitated Jesus by praying for their persecutors during their martyrdom.
Soldiers divided his garments
The executors led the criminal for crucifixion in the middle of a square of four soldiers. Since they crucified the criminal naked except for a loincloth, the four soldiers used to divide the garments of the criminal. The Jewish clothing had five articles: shoes, turban, a girdle, an inner garment, and outer cloak. “When the soldiers crucified Jesus, they took his clothes and divided them into four parts, one part for each of them. But as for the tunic, it was woven in one piece from top to bottom” (Jn 19:23). Only the High Priest used such a garment woven in one piece. Tradition says that Mary had woven the unique dress of Jesus and gave him when he started his public ministry. She made it like the dress of a High Priest because she knew that her son was the High Priest, going to offer sacrifice for the atonement of the sins of the world. The soldiers did not tear it, instead cast lots for it. This was the fulfilment of Psalm 22:19, “they divide my garments among them; for my clothing they cast lots.”
Jesus the Nazarian, the King of Jews
The soldiers used to write on a tablet the offence of the person sentenced for crucifixion, displayed it on the way of crucifixion, and nailed it on the cross. Since the Roman soldiers implemented the crucifixion, the Jews had no control over this. The charge against Jesus was that he had claimed to be the king of the Jews. However, Pilate purposefully wrote: “Jesus the Nazorean, the King of the Jews.” The inscriptions were in Hebrew, Latin, and Greek. In Latin, it was Iesus Nazarenus Rex Iudaeorum (INRI). So, the crucifixes display this acronym. The chief priests requested Pilate to change it to, “He said, I am the King of Jews.” But Pilate (probably not wanting to be dictated to by the Jews) did not change it, unwittingly giving official recognition to his claim to being the (spiritual) king of the Jews.
Two Revolutionaries crucified on the sides of Jesus
The soldiers crucified two revolutionaries on both sides of the true revolutionary of God’s love, Jesus. During Jesus’ public ministry, there were Jewish rioters like Barabbas who fought against the Roman rule. Jesus’ crucifixion amid two wicked men was the fulfilment of Isaiah 53:12, “he surrendered himself to death, and was even counted among the wicked; but he bore the sins of many and interceded for sinners.”
The Bible does not give the names of the two rebels. However, a fourth-century non-canonical book, “The Gospel of Nicodemus” gives their names as Dismas and Gestas. Gestas challenged Jesus, “So you are the Messiah? Save yourself and us as well!” (Lk 23:39). Dismas on the other hand beseeched him, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” Jesus replied, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in Paradise” (Lk 23:42-43). The Catholic Church considers Dismas as a saint and celebrates his feast on 25 March.
Mockery by the public
Many people humiliated Jesus using insulting words while he was going through terrible pain on the cross. The people who did this were those passing by, those who stood at the cross, the chief priests, the Scribes, the elders, the criminal Gestas who was crucified with him, the rulers, and the soldiers. They were also tempting him as Satan did in the wilderness saying, “If you are the Son of God…” (Mt 3:4-6). When we are struggling in God’s mission, there might be people who try to pull us back from our mission.
Entrusting Mother to John
God’s words to the serpent, giving hope for the first parents, “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; they will strike at your head, while you strike at their heel” (Gen 3:15) were realized at the foot of the cross where Mary, the Mother of God, was supporting her son. That was the reason he addressed his mother, “woman.”
Mary was a widow and would be with no family member to support her. Jesus felt confidence in entrusting her care to his most beloved and youngest apostle, John. This John whole-heartedly accepted her as his mother and took care of her until her death, along with his busy evangelization ministry. Jesus blessed John with a long life. According to tradition, God rescued John from the emperor’s attempt to kill him in boiling oil while he was in Rome. Jesus kept the commandment of God, “Honour your father and your mother” (Gen 20:12). Let us continue honoring our parents, whether living or deceased.
The Time of Crucifixion to Death
The Synoptic gospels followed the Jewish calculation of time; whereas John followed the Roman time that we also follow in modern times. According to the modern timing, the soldiers took Jesus to the High Priest’s palace before 3:00 a.m. at the “cockcrow.” (Mk 13:35). There was no permission to rear poultry within Jerusalem (due to purity concerns). According to scholars, “cockcrow” was the usage for an official siren at 3:00 a.m. for a shift change of soldiers before which Peter denied Jesus three times. Annas, Caiaphas, and the Sanhedrin finished questioning Jesus before 6:00 a.m. and presented him to Pilate. The trial before Pilate and Herod, the scourging by the soldiers and the trudge to Calvary were over by 9:00 a.m. The soldiers crucified Jesus around 9:00 a.m., and he was on the cross for six hours from 9:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. The darkness happened for three hours from noon to 3:00 p.m.
The time of Jesus’ crucifixion and death corresponds to the daily Perpetual Sacrifice (Tamid) in the Temple at 9:00 a.m. and 3:00 p.m. Along with an unblemished male lamb they used to offer flour and wine (Ex 29:38-39; Num 28:1-8). This would represent the bread and wine we offer for Holy Mass, which becomes the “Lamb of God.” During the Tamid sacrifice, people used to pray for redemption from their sins. So, the timing of Jesus’ sacrifice, its beginning and end at 9:00 a.m. and 3:00 p.m. coincided with the Temple sacrifice for the redemption of sins. The sacrifice of Jesus replaced the Tamid sacrifice in the Temple, which ended when the Romans destroyed the Temple in 70 AD.
“Why have you forsaken me?”
The mental agony of Jesus on the cross combined with his intolerable pain made him cry out in a loud voice, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Mt 27:46; Mk 15:34). Ps 22:2 forecasted these centuries ago: “My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?” When we are in great distress, we might feel to cry out the same. Still, Jesus did not give up his trust in God and fulfilled his Father’s will.
The Last Cup of Passover Wine
The hunger and thirst are normal for the crucified. John states, “aware that everything was now finished, Jesus said, “I thirst” (Jn 19:28). “A jar full of bitter wine stood there; so, putting a sponge soaked in the wine on a hyssop stalk, they raised it to his lips. Jesus took the wine and said, ‘It is now fulfilled.’ Then he bowed his head and gave up the spirit” (Jn 19:29-30). It could mean that he finished the fourth cup of his Passover observance.
Jesus’ crucifixion was his unfinished fourth cup at the Last Supper. Towards the end of his suffering, Jesus expressed his thirst to finish his Passover observance by drinking the last cup of wine. Hyssop was a small plant used for dipping into the basin containing the blood of the Pascal lamb which the Jews were supposed to apply to the lintel and the two doorposts of their houses to escape the tenth and final plague that was about to strike Egypt (Ex 12:22). Jesus said, “It is fulfilled” to mean the fulfilment of his earthly task, like a military commander used to say at the end of a victorious battle.
Extraordinary events at the death of Jesus
Some unusual events happened at the crucifixion of Jesus:
The last words of Jesus were, “‘Father, into your hands, I commend my spirit.’ And saying that, he gave up his spirit” (Lk 23:46). Only a person in communion with God could say that. Let these be our last words at the end of our lives also.
Jesus attracted many to him at the Cross.
Jesus had told his disciples, “When I am lifted up from the earth, I shall draw everyone to myself” (Jn 12:32). That happened soon after his crucifixion. “The centurion and the soldiers who guarded Jesus were greatly terrified when they saw the earthquake and all that had happened, and said, ‘Truly, this man was the Son of God’” (Mt 27:54). “And all the people who had gathered to watch the spectacle, as soon as they saw what had happened, went home beating their breasts” (Lk 23:48). Jesus transformed the cross, which was a symbol of crime and punishment, into a key to open the door to paradise that had been shut on humanity due to the sin of Adam. Let us use Jesus’ cross as our ladder to heaven and also help others to use it.
Ladies witnessed the death of Jesus
Because of the mortal danger for those who were identified to be of Jesus’ band, all his male disciples made themselves scarce, except John, who was supporting Mary, the mother of Jesus. However, the ladies had nothing to fear because they were of inferior status in society and the Jews did not consider them as a threat to their religion. The synoptic gospels report that many women who followed Jesus from Galilee were looking from a distance at the crucifixion, though the evangelists named only a few (Mt 27:55; Mk 15:40-41). Luke reports, “Only those who knew Jesus stood at a distance, especially the women who had followed him from Galilee; they witnessed all this” (23:49). When we take part in the Holy Mass (Qurbana), we take part in Jesus’ Last Supper and his sacrifice on the cross as the fulfilment of his Passover. Let us do it with holiness and devotion.
Jesus’ bones were not broken
The Romans left the culprit to die on the cross, even at night. Jewish law was different: “If a man, guilty of any capital offence, has been put to death by hanging him on a tree, his body must not remain hanging there through the night” (Deut 21:22-23). Besides, the following day after Jesus’ crucifixion was a special Sabbath of the Passover. Hence, the Jews asked permission from Pilate to break the legs of the three on the cross. That would speed up the death because the crucified could not raise their chest to breathe, resulting in suffocation and immediate death. Jesus was already dead, and so the soldiers did not break his legs. John presents this as a fulfilment of Numbers 9:12 that the Israelites should not break the bones of the Passover lamb. This also is another confirmation of the symbolism of Jesus as the Lamb of God. It also fulfilled another Messianic prophecy: “He keeps all their bones intact, and not one of them will be broken” (Ps 34:20)
The Blood and Water
According to the Jewish concept, the blood stands for the life of a person. Jesus shed even his last drop, separating his body and blood as the priests did for the sacrificial lamb in the Temple. A soldier thrust a spear in Jesus’ chest, piercing his heart to ensure that he was dead. The blood, from the heart along with the fluid of the pericardium that surrounds the heart, flowed down. John presents this as fulfilling the prophecy in Zechariah 12:10, “They will look on me, the one they have pierced.” The water stands for baptism and the blood for Holy Eucharist; both are the last gifts of Jesus for our salvation. Later he also gave us the Holy Spirit on the day of Pentecost. We receive these three as Sacraments of Initiation to take full membership in the Holy Catholic Church headed by Christ.
The Romans did not bury the dead body of the crucified criminals. They would leave the bodies on the ground and let animals and birds eat them. The Jewish law demanded the burial of the body on the same day (Deut 21:22-23). So, Jesus’ supporters needed permission from Pilate to bury his body. Since Jesus was from Galilee and the disciples were hiding and could not afford to pay a fitting burial within a few hours, two secret admirers of Jesus, Joseph of Arimathea, and Nicodemus, offered generous contributions. They were not supporting Jesus in public before, to keep their membership in the Sanhedrin and to save their reputation among the Jewish leaders. Often, we do not help a person in need when alive. However, the prompt contributions of these two are praiseworthy.
Joseph of Arimathea contributed his valuable tomb that no one had used. That could help to prove Jesus’ resurrection. If anyone had found the remains of a dead body in Jesus’ tomb after his resurrection, that could have caused doubts on his resurrection. Nicodemus donated spices for the customary embalming of Jesus’ body and helped Joseph for the burial.
The coming of Mary Magdalene and other ladies to the tomb on the early morning of the first day after the Sabbath was proof that they knew the tomb where Jesus had been laid but now they found that same tomb empty when they returned. “So the women who had come with Jesus from Galilee followed, and saw the tomb, and how his body was being placed” (Lk 23:55). Pilate’s getting confirmation of Jesus’ death from the centurion (Mk 15:44) was another proof of Jesus’ death. That also helped to prove that Jesus’ resurrection was not a reappearance after hiding from the public. All four gospel writers strive to build evidence in support of the physical death and resurrection of Jesus.
The passion and death of Jesus led to his resurrection and enthronement in heaven at the right side of his Father. He will come again to judge the world. In this interim period, we need to make use of our time and talents to collaborate with Jesus to continue his redemptive work. Jesus would lighten our hardships for the Kingdom of God when we diligently follow in his footsteps. As promised, he will reward us in the glorious heaven.