The Night of Jesus’ Arrest

by S. Kent Brown

One of the most important stretches of time during Jesus’ days in Jerusalem was his final night in mortality. It began with the Last Supper with the Twelve and ended with the hearing in front of Jewish authorities before they led him off to Pilate, the Roman prefect, when the sun was up. To make full sense of events, we must make one big assumption. The assumption hangs on the date of the Last Supper. John’s Gospel portrays the Last Supper as a pre-Passover meal (John 13:1—“before the feast of passover”) and the Synoptic Gospels picture the Last Supper as a Passover dinner (Luke 22:15—“I have desired to eat this passover with you before I suffer”). In my view, the sequence makes better sense if we assume the Synoptics are correct and the Last Supper is a Passover meal that begins in the evening after sundown. This assumption is made more secure because the main meal of the day was customarily served at midday and the Passover supper was always served after sundown (see Exodus 12:8; Deuteronomy 16:6).

Three timing elements help us. The first has to do with the rules of Passover. According to the Mishnah, a law code assembled in AD 200 that includes Jewish laws which go back mainly to Jesus’ days and earlier, Passover meals were to end before midnight or the participants were rendered ritually unclean (Mishnah Pesahim 10:9). Sundown in early April, when Passover usually occurs, is a few minutes after 6:00 p.m., standard time. So Jesus and his disciples gather for the meal about seven o’clock and end it before midnight.

The second consists of an interesting addition in the Joseph Smith Translation of the New Testament Gospels. We read that Judas and the arresting party approached Gethsemane “after they [the Eleven] had finished their sleep” (JST Mark 14:47; see also JST Matt. 26:43). This added note hints that the disciples slept about as much as they customarily did, that is, much of the night. In this light, and in agreement with Jesus’ repeated returns to the slumbering apostles, Jesus’ suffering in Gethsemane lasted a large portion of the night, from sometime before midnight until four o’clock or so. His suffering was not brief.

Third, after Peter had spent time in the outer courtyard of the high priest’s home and had denied knowing Jesus three times, a rooster crowed. Of course, roosters crow early in the morning. Hence, the arresting band seems to have arrived at Gethsemane rather early to secure Jesus and drag him off to the high priest’s house. Here, events outside the home that involved Peter occurred while it was still dark. It is important to emphasize that the actions and their timing within the courtyard featured Peter, not Jesus. And the end of these activities is punctuated by the crowing rooster. The hearing before the Jewish authorities inside the house that targeted Jesus took place later because time was required to gather a group of officials. Although Jesus’ hearing need not have taken long, it did not start before sunup as Luke reminds us, “as soon as it was day” (Luke 22:66). In my opinion, Luke’s account is clearer on this matter. The other reports tell us that the authorities were already gathered at the high priest’s house but only after sunup did they begin their meeting (see Matthew 26:57; 27:1 Mark 14:53; 15:1). In the judgment of the late David Flusser, a noted Jewish scholar, “the sequence of events . . . given in Luke makes sense, while in Mark (and Matthew) the description is at the very least strange and confused.”

I add two other notes. First, in connection with Peter’s experience, we notice that the cock crow was the sound that priests who blew the shofar horn at the temple listened for. But chickens were not allowed to be raised inside the city because of purity laws. So the priests listened for a cock crow coming from outside Jerusalem’s walls. Similarly, the rooster heard by Peter crowed outside the city walls. In this light, we can surmise that the house of Annas stood close enough to the city walls, and to a family’s chicken roost which lay outside the walls, so that the rooster could easily be heard. This fact may be the only hint from the Gospels about the location of the high priest’s home. Second, according to John 18:13 and 18:24, the arresting party “led [Jesus] away to Annas first” and then “Annas sent [Jesus] bound unto Caiaphas the high priest.” Because Annas was father-in-law to Caiaphas, as John 18:13 affirms, then Jesus likely remained in the same house during the entire procedure, with Annas and his immediate family inhabiting the first floor of the house and Caiaphas and his immediate family inhabiting another floor of the same building, just as we see in the construction of ancient homes and in the Middle East today. No compelling reason exists to think of separate buildings for the two residences.

These pieces together indicate that Jesus dined with his disciples, suffered in the garden, was arrested, and was forcibly taken to the high priest’s home to be tried by Jewish authorities between sunset and sunrise.