Category Archives: Easter

Maundy Thursday: The Last Supper

by Eric Huntsman
This post is excerpted from God So Loved the World and Dr. Huntsman’s blog. 

The synoptic Gospels seem to suggest that the Last Supper was a Passover meal, whereas John is clear that the Passover began at sundown of the day when Christ was crucified. John’s account seems to bear the most historical verisimilitude: a criminal would certainly not be crucified during the Passover feast itself. Additionally, the Johannine imagery is strong: the day before Passover was a Preparation Day, and between 3:00–5:00 the Paschal lambs were slaughtered in the Temple.  Accordingly, Jesus died on the cross at 3:00 at the very moment the first Passover lamb was sacrificed. Although scholars have proposed a number of ways to resolve the apparent discrepancy, the most likely answer is that Jesus, knowing that he would be dead before Passover began, celebrated the feast early with his friends. Continue reading

Jesus’ Suffering Visible in the Verb Tense

by S. Kent Brown
In the New Testament Gospels, the most striking pointer to Jesus’ unspeakable suffering in Gethsemane, of course, is the notation that Jesus’ “sweat was as it were great drops of blood falling down to the ground” (Luke 22:44; see also Mosiah 3:7; D&C 19:18). Plainly, Jesus bleeds into his clothing and onto the ground. Importantly, other indicators exist in the Gospels that help us to grasp the enormity of his suffering. These appear chiefly in the tense of the verbs that describe these hours; but other hints appear in the Gospels. Continue reading

John’s Account of the Last Supper

The Lamb of God: Unique Aspects of the Passion Narrative in John

By Eric D. Huntsman

Excerpted from Eric D. Huntsman, “The Lamb of God: Unique Aspects of the Passion Narrative in John” in “Behold the Lamb of God”: An Easter Celebration, ed. Richard Neitzel Holzapfel, Frank F. Judd Jr., and Thomas A Wayment (Provo, UT: Religious Studies Center, Brigham Young University, 2008) 49–70.

John’s account of the Last Supper contains unique elements recorded nowhere else. John’s account, without noting any other details of the meal itself, states: “Now before the feast of the passover, when Jesus knew that his hour was come that he should depart out of this world unto the Father, having loved his own which were in the world, he loved them unto the end” (John 13:1). This verse establishes the emphasis of chapters 13–17, in which is found the loving service of Jesus, given with His coming sacrifice at Golgotha firmly in mind. The washing of the disciples’ feet, while no doubt connected with other higher ordinances, is used here as a paramount example of service. When Jesus teaches, “If I then, your Lord and Master, have washed your feet; ye also ought to wash one another’s feet” (John 13:14), the image of the greatest serving the least here is significant given the clearly stated divinity of the Johannine Jesus. 
The discourses of chapters 13–17 that Jesus delivers to His disciples, both at the Last Supper and along the way to the garden that would be the scene of His arrest, are unique to the Gospel of John. Here Jesus taught His followers, both then and now, fundamental principles of love and service, all firmly focused on His own role as Savior and friend. Chapters 14 and 16 form a recognized doublet, in which Jesus teaches the necessity of His departing (see John 14:1–14; 16:4–7, 16–24), beginning with the well-known pronouncement, “In my Father’s house are many mansions: if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again, and receive you unto myself; that where I am, there ye may be also” (John 14:2–3). In both chapters, Jesus balances the disciples’ sorrow at His departure with promises of the coming of a “helper” or “advocate” (paraklētos, King James Version “Comforter”; see John 14:15–26; 16:8–15) as well as with an assurance of the continuing peace and love of the Father that will remain with them (see John 14:27–31). Chiastically placed between the chapters is Jesus’s allegory of the vine: even when He is no longer physically present with them, they can nonetheless still abide in Him, drawing sustenance and life from Him as branches do from the main stem of a vine (see John 15:1–17).
All of these teachings focus squarely on Jesus. Even the five so-called Paraclete Sayings, which focus on the Holy Ghost as Comforter, or helper, identify His role not just as advocate but also as teacher, witness, prosecutor, and revealer (see John 14:15–18, 25–26; 15:26–27; 16:7–15). Jesus suggests that the Comforter is being sent to do these things for believers because Jesus Himself will soon be absent (see John 16:7). Indeed, the first of these sayings is actually about Jesus Himself and about the Holy Ghost only by comparison, since another Comforter by definition suggests a first Comforter: Continue reading

The Widow’s Two Mites

by S. Kent Brown
The verses in Luke 21:1-4 frame a bridge that links the Savior’s condemnation of the scribes (Luke 20:45–47) and his warning about the temple’s destruction (Luke 21:5–6). His critique of the scribes is direct and open. At the center of his harsh words stands his rebuke of how some of them treat women, specifically widows, the most vulnerable people in his society. All are under scriptural mandate, especially the scribes, the experts in interpreting scripture, to look out for the best interests of women and widows. But they do not (see Isa. 1:17, 23; 10:2; Jer. 7:6; Micah 2:9; Zech. 7:10; etc.; the Note on 20:47).

Widow's Two Mites photo by Kaye HansonOn a similar track, Jesus chastises temple authorities, but his reprimand is indirect. He speaks of the temple and gifts that come to it (see 21:3–4) and its eventual fate, not mentioning priests and Levites directly; yet he implicates them by condemning the temple culture that pays attention to gifts of the wealthy and barely acknowledges the gifts of the poor, in this case gifts from widows, the persons least able to afford to give.[1] But these women give from the inner depths of their souls. And no one notices. Except Jesus.

Because Jesus notices, he is able to draw his disciples into a lesson of ultimate sacrifice, ultimate devotion, ultimate worship, ultimate discipleship. The poor widow’s gift reaches into the fabric of her livelihood, into her empty cupboards, her spent storage jars, her bare clothes closet, her bed made lonely by the death of her husband. Her gift diminishes her ability to provide for herself in even the most basic ways: “she of her penury hath cast in all the living that she had” (21:4). She is the true disciple, giving all. Continue reading

Anointing in Bethany in Mark 14:3-9

By Julie M. Smith

Structure of Mark 14 This lengthy chapter contains some of the most significant events of Jesus’ story: his anointing, his observance of Passover, his prayer in Gethsemane, his abandonment and betrayal by his disciples, his arrest, his examination by the Jewish leaders, and Peter’s denial of him. While other options are possible, this is one option for understanding the structure of this chapter:

  1. Death Plot (14:1-2)
  2. Anointing of Jesus (14:3-9)
  3. Death Plot (14:10-11)
  4. Preparation of the Passover (14:12-16)
  5. Prediction of Judas’ Betrayal (14:17-21)
  6. Last Supper (14:22-25)
  7. Prediction of Peter’s Betrayal (14:26-31)
  8. Preparation for the Passion (=Gethsemane Prayer) (14:32-42)
  9. Jesus Is Arrested (14:43-52)
  10. Peter Positioned to Deny Jesus (14:53-54)
  11. Jesus Is Examined by the Sanhedrin (14:55-65)
  12. Peter Denies Jesus (14:66-72)

The chapter has three main scenes (14:3-9, 14:22-25, and 14:55-65); each one focuses on the topic of Jesus’ identity (see the commentary below). Each is bracketed by reference to the betrayal of Jesus (14:1-12, 10-11, 17-21, 26-21, 53-54, 66-72). In between the three main scenes are scenes focused on the idea of preparation: first, the preparation for the Passover (14:12-16) and then preparation for the Passion (including Jesus’ arrest; 14:32-52). The framing of the Gethsemane scene in Mark’s story of Jesus as noteworthy: it prepares Jesus to face his suffering and death and it should have prepared the disciples as well (see the commentary below). Continue reading

A Warning to the Jews (Matt. 23)

By Richard D. Draper

Tuesday, the second day after his Triumphal Entry into Jerusalem, Jesus left the temple again, this time going out onto the Mount of Olives, where he sat and spoke privately with his disciples, overlooking the temple (Matthew 24:3). Revelation flowed on that occasion, most of it startling, some of it frightening. In only two more days (Matthew 26:2), the Savior would face his enemies and eventually death . . . and he knew it. Further, he knew what the result would be—the Jewish nation would be destroyed. What was the social setting on that day? What were Jesus’s concerns, the reasons behind the Pharisees’ persecution of him, and the disciples’ repeated questions? Knowing the questions and problems Jesus was addressing shows what issues Matthew 24 was addressing. Continue reading

The Question of Authority and Jesus’s Parable of the Two Sons in Matthew 21

John W. Welch

Deeply valuable symbolism is embedded in all of Jesus’s parables, and his parable of the willing and unwilling two sons in Matthew 21 is no exception. As Jesus entered the Temple the morning after his triumphal entry into Jerusalem, the Chief Priests approached him and demanded to know: “By what authority doest thou these things? and who gave thee this authority?” (Matt. 21:23). Jesus answered these questions about his authority by telling a simple story about a man who had two sons. When asked to go down and work in the vineyard, the first son, initially refused, but then he went, while the other initially said yes but then does not go (21:28-30), or so it seems. Continue reading

Raising Lazarus: Jesus’s Signing of His Own Death Warrant

By John W. Welch

The celebration of Easter usually begins with Jesus’s triumphal entry into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday. But the events of Passion Week cannot be understood without backing up to the event just a few days earlier in Bethany, just over the hill to the east of Jerusalem. That event was the raising of Lazarus at the home and at the behest of Martha and Mary. That personal favor, offered by Jesus to Mary, Martha, and Lazarus whom he loved (John 11:5), is reported is detail in John 11, right before his entry into Jerusalem in John 12.

Without seeing this as background, it is hard to imagine a reason why a large multitude of people would have followed Jesus into Jerusalem shouting Hosanna! Save us now! It was widely known that he had saved Lazarus from the grave. Many of the leading Jews in Jerusalem had come out to Mary’s home “and had seen the things which Jesus did” and they “believed on him” (11:45). John makes it clear that the crowd was especially excited by the raising of Lazarus: The people who were “with him when he called Lazarus out of his grave, and raised him from the dead” were talking openly and strongly and did “bear record,” and because of that, “for this cause” the people in the city came out and “also met him, for that they heard that he had done this miracle” (12:17-18).

In addition, without seeing the raising of Lazarus as background to the Passion Week, it is perhaps even harder to imagine why the chief priests turned Jesus’s popularity into utter abandonment and were able to move so quickly and tactically to arrest him, condemn him, take him to Pilate, accuse him, get permission to execute him, and complete the crucifixion, start to finish, all within about ten hours’ time.

How could that have happened? Perhaps the raising of Lazarus, which was the greatest and most closely observed of all of Jesus’s miracles, was simply too powerful, too convincing, too threatening, or too unusual, and at the same time too close to Jerusalem for it have been ignored, one way or the other. Either it was the greatest manifestation ever seen of divine power in the Temple district, or it was the most deceptive act ever imagined by a clever imposter. While many saw it the first way and believed on Jesus, others continued to fear that Jesus had tricked or “deceiveth the people” (John 7:12, 47) and “some of them went their ways to the Pharisees, and told them what things Jesus had done” (11:46). This report, which must have been tantamount to the filing of an official complaint, galvanized the deep division between the two extremes that confronted Jesus as he humbly rode into Jerusalem on the day after his last ordinary Sabbath.

Indeed, before that triumphal day arrived, other important legal steps had already been set into motion. John 11:47 reports: “Then gathered (synēgagon) the chief priests and Pharisees a council (synedrion).” More than just getting together for an informal conversation or committee meeting, this assembly must have been something of an official gathering, the calling of a session of the Sanhedrin with both parties, the chief priests (the Sadducees) and the Pharisees involved. What was their concern? They wondered “What do we do?” They felt the need to take action. They readily recognized that Jesus had not just worked miracles, but that his many miracles constituted signs, pointing to something more than just doing good. The Sanhedrin found that Jesus in fact had given “many signs” (polla sēmeia). If these signs or wonders led people to “go after other gods,” those miracles were evil and that wonderworker “shall be put to death” (Deuteronomy 13:2, 5).

As they discussed the case, some argued, “If we let him thus alone (aphōmen),” or if we allow him to go on in this way, or forgive him, or condone his conduct, everyone (pantes) will believe on him (pisteusountes eis auton, or trust and have faith in him), “the Romans shall come and take away both our place and nation” (11:48). They fear that “the place” (ton topon, or the temple) and the people (to ethnos, the people of Israel) would be arousin, that is, destroyed, taken away, swept off, conquered by force, even by killing.

Caiphas, the high priest, however, rejected these arguments (saying “Ye know nothing at all”) and made his case based on logic (logizesthe), that it would be better, advantageous, or helpful (sympherei) for us that one man die on behalf of (hyper with the genitive) the people and not the whole people be destroyed (11:50). This he did not say on his own personal authority, but acting officially as the High Priest (11:51) he actually and authoritatively (even if unwittingly) prophesied that Jesus would die for the people, and not just for the people but so that the scattered (dieskorpismena) children of God could be gathered into one (11:52).

This gathering and these words have a ring of legal finality to them, and thus the Gospel of John continues, “Then from that day forth they took counsel (or were legally resolved together, ebouleusanto) that they would kill him.

As people compare the account of the trial of Jesus in Matthew, Mark, and Luke, which occurs after the arrest of Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane, people wonder why there is no legal trial in John 18, when Jesus is taken from the Garden of Gethsemane to Annas and then is handed over directly to Pilate where he is tried. In the synoptic gospels, members of the Sanhedrin meet right after the arrest of Jesus and conduct something of a hearing, although not really a full trial.  But even less of a trial occurs before the high priest in John 18. Thus the question often asked is where is the Jewish trial in the Gospel of John? The answer may well be: In John 11 we have a convening of the Sanhedrin, formal accusations, deliberation, reasoning, and even reaching of a verdict. This reading of John is confirmed in several ways.

First, following this decision, an order was issued that anyone knowing of the whereabouts of Jesus needed to report that information so that he could be captured. “Now both the chief priests and the Pharisees had given a commandment, that, if any man knew where he were, he should shew it, that they might take him” (11:57).

Second, plans for the arrest of Lazarus were also contemplated: And “the chief priests consulted that they might put Lazarus also to death; because that by reason of him many of the Jews went away, and believed on Jesus” (12:10-11). Presumably, Lazarus was either an accomplice or at least a witness of what Jesus had done in raising him from the tomb, which some of the Jews thought was some kind of legally actionable trick or deception.

Third, although Jesus was not present at that hearing, none of the members of the Sanhedrin doubted the factual accuracy of the allegations against Jesus, and neither does the Gospel of John doubt that Jesus worked many controversial miracles. Upon his arrest, Jesus presumably would have been given some information about the legal determination that had been reached against him, with perhaps a chance to recant and change his behavior. Something like that opportunity was given to Jesus in John 18:19-23, but there would have been no need to reconvene the entire Sanhedrin to vote again at that time on something that the Sanhedrin had previously decided.

Finally, the determination and action of the chief priests would not have come as any surprise to Jesus. Entering the Temple the day after his triumphal entry into Jerusalem, Jesus was immediately asked by the chief priests and the elders, “By what authority doest thou these things? And who gave thee this authority?” (Matt. 21:23). These were questions Jesus had been asked before, when the scribes (lawyers) had come up from Jerusalem to Galilee at the beginning of Jesus’s ministry. On that occasion, the scribes came to investigate by which “authority” (Mark 1:27) Jesus was performing his miracles. If he performed miracles by the power of God and to God’s glory, his miracles were beyond reproach. But if it was “by the prince of the devils [that he] casteth he out devils” (Mark 3:22), then he was committing a capital offense for which he could be put to death.

By asking this very question once again of Jesus right after the raising of Lazarus, the chief priests and the elders would have been acting on the assurance that his many signs and wonders, and most recently of all his conspicuous raising of Lazarus, warranted his death. Having been confronted by this very challenge on previous occasions, Jesus could well have anticipated—as he walked toward Bethany to answer the plea of his dear friends to come and heal their dying brother Lazarus—that by openly raising Lazarus from the dead, he was effectively signing his own death warrant.

Good Friday

by Eric D. Huntsman, cross posted at http://huntsmanseasonal.blogspot.com/2017/04/good-friday.html

Good Friday is observed with great solemnity in some Christian traditions.  While not marked as a holiday as such in the LDS community, Good Friday can be a tender and reflective time for individuals and families to pause and consider how Jesus, as our great high priest, offered himself as a sacrifice for us: “Neither by the blood of goats and calves, but by his own blood he entered in once into the holy place, having obtained eternal redemption for us” (Hebrews 9:12).  Understanding how and why he died makes the miracle of his resurrection on Easter morning all the more glorious and joyous.

Customarily, the day Jesus died on the cross is called “Good Friday” in English, either because it is a “holy” Friday, or, more likely, because in English “good” is often an archaic expression for “God.”  For instance, “goodbye” means “go with God.”  Accordingly, the Friday before Easter is “God’s Friday” because this day saw the

Garden Tomb stone

Garden Tomb stone

culmination of God’s efforts to reconcile the world to himself through the death of his Son.  The apostle Paul described it this way:

But God commendeth his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. Much more then, being now justified by his blood, we shall be saved from wrath through him.  For if, when we were enemies, we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, being reconciled, we shall be saved by his life.  And not only so, but we also joy in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom we have now received the atonement. (Romans 5:8–12). Continue reading