What Happened During Passion Week?
The week leading up to Easter is often referred to as the Passion Week. This week began with Jesus’s entrance into Jerusalem on a Sunday (Palm Sunday) and ended with His death and burial. This, of course, led to His resurrection—Easter—which we are getting ready to celebrate in just a few days.
When you read the four gospels in the New Testament, you get the picture that the Passion Week was an incredibly busy week for Jesus and His disciples. I would like to take a few minutes to walk you day-by-day through this week, maybe the most famous week in history. You will see that most of these events can be found in all four gospels.
As mentioned above, this week began on Palm Sunday with Jesus’s entry into the city of Jerusalem. You can read about this in Mt. 21:1-11; Mk. 11:1-11; Lk. 19:28-40; Jn. 12:12-19. Some refer to this as Jesus’s “triumphant entry,” and in many ways it was. As He made His way down from the Mount of Olives, through the Kidron Valley, and into Jerusalem on a young donkey, a large crowd gathered to see Him and to celebrate His coming. Many were excited and shouted things such as:
Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest heaven! (Mt. 21:9)
Blessed is the King who comes in the name of the Lord. Peace in heaven and glory in the highest heaven! (Lk. 19:38)
Yet not everyone was this thrilled to see Jesus. Luke records the words of some of the Pharisees to Jesus: “Teacher, rebuke Your disciples,” to which Jesus replied, “I tell you, if they were to keep silent, the stones would cry out!” (Lk. 19:39-40)
The King of the Jews–the King of kings and Lord of lords–had entered the holy city. Some rejoiced, while others were bitter and probably a bit envious. Few knew how the week would end, but Jesus did…He came to conquer, but to conquer through death.
Matthew and Luke give no indication that a day has passed between Jesus’s entry and His cleansing of the temple, but Mark does. Mark 11:11 states that after Jesus entered the city it was late, so He went out to Bethany with the Twelve. This became Jesus’s pattern throughout the week; He would spend His days in the city and His nights in Bethany or on the Mount of Olives (Lk. 21:37-38).
On Monday morning Jesus got up and went to the temple, the center of the city and of the Jewish religion. He did not like what He saw there, and He was not afraid to do something about it. Many people were “buying and selling,” and money changers were making a profit. This brought to Jesus’s mind a couple of Old Testament passages, Isaiah 56:7 and Jeremiah 7:11.
I will bring them to My holy mountain
and let them rejoice in My house of prayer.
Their burnt offerings and sacrifices
will be acceptable on My altar,
for My house will be called a house of prayer
for all nations.
“Has this house, which is called by My name, become a den of robbers in your view? Yes, I too have seen it.” This is the Lord’s declaration.
Some have described this as a big event that everyone in the entire temple complex saw, while others say the temple area was so crowded that this was nothing more than a small disturbance. Whatever the case may have been, Jesus reminded the people of the true purpose of the house of God. You can read about the cleansing of the temple in Mt. 21:12-13; Mk. 11:15-18; Lk. 19:45-46.
On Tuesday Jesus began to do some heavy teaching. He often used parables to get His message across, and He was constantly answering the questions and critiques of the chief priests, the elders, the Pharisees, and other skeptics. You can read Jesus’s teachings in Mt. 21:23-23:39; Mk. 11:27-12:44; Lk. 19:47-21:4
Jesus also offered His Olivet Discourse (His end-time teaching) on Tuesday. Replying to questions from His disciples (Mt 24:1-3), Jesus gave signs of the end of the age. He also told of the great tribulation and of His second coming. You can read this discourse in Mt. 24:1-25:46; Mk. 13:1-37; Lk. 21:5-58.
We do not have a lot of information about what happened on Wednesday of the Passion Week. Based on Luke 19:47-48 we can probably assume that Jesus spent at least some time teaching in the temple complex.
Every day He was teaching in the temple complex. The chief priests, the scribes, and the leaders of the people were looking for a way to destroy Him, but they could not find a way to do it, because all the people were captivated by what they heard.
We do know that on Wednesday Jesus visited the house of Simon, a man with a serious skin disease. While he was there, an unidentified woman approached Him and poured a very expensive bottle of perfume or oil on His head. Many were appalled and asked why such an act was done when that jar could have been sold and the money given to the poor. Yet Jesus defended her, stating that she was preparing Him for burial (which they did not understand was only a few days away). You can read this account in Mt. 26:6-13 and Mk. 14:3-9.
Right after this, both Matthew and Mark show how Judas Iscariot went to the chief priests and struck a deal to turn Jesus over to them for a certain price. Luke tells us that right before this, “Satan entered Judas” (Lk. 22:3). You can read about Judas’s conspiracy with the Jewish authorities in Mt. 26:14-16; Mk. 14:10-11; Lk. 22:1-6.
Now we get to the last part of the week, the part you may be more familiar with. Though His death was on Friday and His resurrection on Sunday, Thursday was probably the busiest day of the week. On Thursday Jesus and His disciples prepared for and partook together of the Passover meal, and then retired to the Mount of Olives and the Garden of Gethsemane.
The day began with Jesus sending some of the disciples to prepare for the meal (Mt. 26:17-19; Mk. 14:12-16; Lk. 22:7-13). When the time came, they celebrated the Passover together, which Jesus gave new significance to. The unleavened bread, which was formerly a reminder of the Israelites deliverance from Egypt would now be a reminder of his body, which was about to be broken on the cross. The wine they drank at the supper would also signify something: His blood that would be shed to establish the new covenant. All four gospel writers include an account of the Passover meal, and you can read those here: Mt. 26:26-30; Mk. 14:22-26; Lk. 22:14-20; Jn. 13-17.
After the Passover, the night was far from over. Jesus and His disciples (minus Judas) went to the Garden of Gethsemane, where they would spend time in prayer. It was here that Jesus pleaded with His Father, “Father, if you are willing, take this cup away from Me—nevertheless, not My will, but Yours, be done” (Lk. 22:42). You can read about the time in the garden in Mt. 26:36-46; Mk. 14:32-42; Lk. 22:39-46; Jn. 18:1.
While Jesus was praying, the disciples had fallen asleep. Jesus was not too pleased about this, and he chastised them for it. As He was discussing this with them, Judas showed up with a mob. Jesus was subsequently betrayed, arrested, and taken to trial. You can read about the betrayal and arrest in Mt. 26:47-56; Mk. 14:43-50; Lk. 22:47-53; Jn. 18:2-11.
The opening parts of the trial may have begun late Thursday night, but the main trial began first thing Friday morning.
The trial of Jesus is recorded in all four gospels: Mt. 27:1-2, 11-26; Mk. 15:1-15; Lk. 22:66-23:25; Jn. 18:19-40. Jesus stood before the Sanhedrin, before Pilate, and before Herod Antipas. None of them found much of a reason to kill Him, yet the crowds would not allow them to release Him.
When the crowds demanded His crucifixion, the authorities had no other options. Luke 23:23-25 tells us that Pilate decided to grant the demand of the crowd and he “handed Jesus over to their will.” Thankfully, that was not only the will of the crowds but the will of God as well. Jesus was sent to die, and the time had now come.
Mt. 27:27-61; Mk. 15:16-47; Lk. 23:32-56; Jn. 19:1-4, 17-42 all tell of Jesus being mocked, beaten, crucified, and buried. Luke 23:44-46 reports that Jesus’s death took place somewhere between noon and 3 p.m. on this Friday, forever known as “Good Friday.”
After His death, which happened surprisingly fast for the method of choice, Joseph of Arimathea had to quickly complete the burial before the sun set and the Sabbath began. John 19:38-42 explains that He was placed in the garden tomb near the site of His crucifixion “because of the Jewish preparation day and since the tomb was nearby.”
As evening fell and darkness came, the world was in shock. Jesus, who some rightly claimed to be the Messiah and the Savior sent from God, had been defeated. He was dead and His body lay in a borrowed tomb.
Saturday was the Sabbath day. Jesus remained in the tomb, and His followers rested according to the command of the Law (Lk. 23:56).
The new week began on Sunday. The Sabbath was over and work could now be done again. This meant it was time for Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and the other women to finalize Jesus’s burial with the spices they had prepared. To their surprise, they arrived at an empty grave! The angels met them there and asked, “Why are you looking for the living among the dead?…He is not here, but He has been resurrected!” (Lk. 24:5-6).
For obvious reasons, all four gospels include the account of the empty tomb: Mt. 28:1-18; Mk. 16:1-8; Lk. 24:1-12; Jn. 20:1-10. They also include different episodes of Jesus’s post-resurrection appearances (Mt. 28:9-10; Mk. 16:9-13; Lk. 24:13-49; Jn. 20:11-23).
Jesus had died, but now many saw Him alive. He walked, He talked, and He ate. For the next several days, Jesus spent time with His disciples and other followers, who rejoiced with their risen Savior.
In what should be considered the greatest event ever to have taken place, sin was conquered and death was defeated. That is why we celebrate Easter. That is why we should gladly serve our risen Savior.