I grew up in a Christian family that attended church weekly and celebrated Christmas and Easter yearly. Although I knew the true meaning of the seasons, as a kid, I normally looked forward to them for the same reason most kids enjoy Christmas and Easter, the candy, gifts, time with family, and time off of school. Unfortunately, it wasn’t until I was a teenager that I started looking at these holidays differently. I realized that God teaches us so much about His love, grace, and sacrifice during these times. I had overlooked the importance of His role for so long. I think it is so easy to get caught up in the rush of the seasons and we forget to take the time to meditate on its true meaning.
This year, I challenged myself to take the time to study Christmas and Easter as well as the events that led up to them. Since Easter is this week I decided to share what I have learned about Holy Week. The time leading up to the resurrection is just as important, yet we commonly look over it every year. Below is a timeline of the last week of Jesus’ life on earth and the importance of each event starting with Palm Sunday.
Palm Sunday marks the beginning of Holy Week. Before entering the city of Jerusalem, Jesus sent two of the disciples into the village of Bethphage to get a donkey and colt. When asked why they were taking the donkey and colt these disciples said it was for The Lord and the villagers permitted them to take it. After the disciples returned they laid garments over the colt and Jesus rode into Jerusalem.
“The crowds that went ahead of him and those that followed shouted, ‘Hosanna to the Son of David!’ ‘Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!’ ‘Hosanna in the highest heaven!” Matthew 21:9
This filled the prophecy in Zechariah 9:9,
“Rejoice greatly, Daughter Zion! Shout, Daughter Jerusalem! See, your king comes to you, righteous and victorious, lowly and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey. Zechariah 9:9
The crowds were also laying palm branches in front of Jesus as He rode by, this is why we call it Palm Sunday. That night Jesus and the disciples went to the town of Bethany to visit with Lazarus, Mary, and Martha.
An interesting fact I learned in my studies is that palm branches symbolize triumph and victory and the origin of the word Hosanna comes from the word save. (Bucher)
On Monday, Jesus and the disciples were on their way to the temple. Jesus became hungry as they walked, He noticed a fig tree in full leaf and went over to inspect for figs. When He saw that there were no figs He cursed the tree saying,
“Then he said to the tree, ‘May no one ever eat fruit from you again.’ And his disciples heard him say it.” Mark 11:14.
According to Bible Study Tools, “Some scholars consider this cursing of the fig tree symbolizes God's judgment on the spiritually dead religious leaders of Israel. Others believe the analogy reached to all believers, explaining that true faith is more than just outward religiosity; true, living faith must bear spiritual fruit in a person's life.” (BibleStudyTools Staff)
After stopping by the fig tree, the group continued on to the Temple but when they arrived Jesus was outraged to see His father’s house filled with corrupt money changers selling animals for sacrifice. Jesus overturned tables and drove out the livestock and said;
“He said to them, ‘The Scriptures declare, ‘My Temple will be called a house of prayer for all nations,’ but you have turned it into a den of thieves.’ ” Mark 11:17
Jesus remained in the temple and began teaching. This upset the temple leaders and they began to plot to kill Jesus. That night Jesus and His disciples went back to Bethany.
Jesus returns to the temple, on the way the group passed the cursed fig tree that was now completely withered. Jesus takes the opportunity to speak on the importance of faith to His disciples.
“Jesus said to them in reply, ‘Have faith in God. Amen, I say to you, whoever says to this mountain, ‘Be lifted up and thrown into the sea,’ and does not doubt in his heart but believes that what he says will happen, it shall be done for him. Therefore I tell you, all that you ask for in prayer, believe that you will receive it and it shall be yours. When you stand to pray, forgive anyone against whom you have a grievance, so that your heavenly Father may in turn forgive you your transgressions.’ ” Mark 11:22-25
Jesus enters the temple and begins teaching, but the religious leaders are enraged that Jesus is establishing himself as a spiritual authority and began to question His authority. Jesus is able to elude their questions and declared judgment on them (Matthew 23:24-33). Jesus teaches in many parables on this day including; the parable of the evil tenant farmer, the widow’s offering, and the wedding feast. Jesus also gives an extensive revelation about the destruction of Jerusalem, His second coming, and the final judgment.
Tuesday is also the day that Judas Iscariot agreed to betray Jesus. (Mark 14:10-11)
Scripture does not give an exact account of what happened on this Wednesday, but many believe that Jesus rested on this day in Bethany in preparation for the Passover. It is also believed that Wednesday is the day that the women anointed Jesus’ feet with the perfume in preparation for his burial. (Bucher) You can read about this in Mark 14:3-9.
A lot happened this Thursday! Peter and John were sent to prepare the upper room for the Passover dinner, also known as the last supper. During this meal, Jesus washed the disciples' feet, blessed the bread and wine before giving it to the disciples as a sign of His body being broken and the new covenant. Jesus also predicted His betrayal and Peter’s denial of Him before the rooster crow.
After dinner, Jesus and all of the disciples other than Judas went to the Garden of Gethsemane. Jesus prayed in agony to the Father to take away the cup of suffering.
“Abba, Father,” he cried out, “everything is possible for you. Please take this cup of suffering away from me. Yet I want your will to be done, not mine.” Mark 14:36
As Jesus prays, the disciples were not able to stay awake and continued to fall asleep even after Jesus asked them to stay awake. Later that night, Judas arrived with a crowd and kissed Jesus. This was the sign that Jesus was the one who should be arrested. Peter put up a fight and cut off the ear of the High Priest’s slave but Jesus was still taken to the house of the High Priest and the trial began. The High Council was looking for any evidence to convict Jesus, there were many false witnesses that spoke against Him but they contradicted each other. When they asked Him if He was the Messiah, Son of the Blessed One, He responded by saying;
“I am,” said Jesus. “And you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the Mighty One and coming on the clouds of heaven.” Mark 14:62.
Most of the disciples scattered when Jesus was taken but Peter followed the men at a distance. He was sitting by a fire in the High Priest’s courtyard when a handmaid noticed him and began asking if he was one of the men with Jesus. He denied knowing Jesus three times before the rooster crowed the next morning just as Jesus had predicted.
The remainder of Jesus’ trial continued on this day. The leading priest and elders made plans to kill Jesus. They took Him to Pilate, who was the Roman Governor at the time. Pilate also questioned Jesus but found nothing wrong with Him. It was customary during Passover to release one of the prisoners at the request of the people. When Pilate asked who the people would like released they asked for Barabbas, a revolutionary who had committed murder in an uprise. The crowd chanted that they wanted Jesus crucified, Pilate had no choice but to convict Him even though He felt Jesus was not guilty. Jesus was flogged and a crown of thorns was put on His head. The soldiers mocked Jesus, hit him, spit on Him, and forced Him to carry His own cross to Golgotha (which is translated Place of the Skull).
“And they began to call out to him, "Hail, king of the Jews!" Again and again they struck him on the head with a staff and spit on him. Falling on their knees, they paid homage to him. And when they had mocked him, they took off the purple robe and put his own clothes on him. Then they led him out to crucify him.” Mark 15:18-20
Judas was filled with grief over what he did and hung himself on this day.
When they arrived at Golgotha around 9 am, Jesus was nailed to the cross and put up between two revolutionaries. One of them asked Jesus to forgive him and Jesus said,
“Amen, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise.” Luke 23:43.
The soldiers continued to mock Jesus and divided up his clothes. Jesus makes seven remarks as he is on the cross;
Jesus said, "Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing." And they divided up his clothes by casting lots. Luke 23:34
Jesus answered him, "Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise." Luke 23:43
When Jesus saw his mother there, and the disciple whom he loved standing nearby, he said to her, "Woman, here is your son," John 19:26
About three in the afternoon Jesus cried out in a loud voice, "Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?" (which means "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?"). Matthew 27:46
Later, knowing that everything had now been finished, and so that Scripture would be fulfilled, Jesus said, "I am thirsty." John 19:28
When he had received the drink, Jesus said, "It is finished." With that, he bowed his head and gave up his spirit. John 19:30
Jesus called out with a loud voice, "Father, into your hands I commit my spirit." When he had said this, he breathed his last. Luke 23:46
Around noon the sky went dark until around 3 pm. At 3 pm, Jesus said;
When Jesus had taken the wine, he said, “It is finished.” And bowing his head, he handed over the spirit. John 19:30
At that moment, the ground shook and the veil in the temple was torn. Joseph of Arimathea along with Nicodemus, who were both members of the High Council and secret followers of Jesus asked Pilate for Jesus’ body. They were risking their lives to serve Jesus by preparing the body for burial and laying it in the tomb. A rock was rolled in front of the tomb entrance.
Saturday was the sabbath, so no preparations could be done to the body. The Priests and Pharisees went to Pilate to request that the tomb be sealed so that no one could steal the body and claim that Jesus has risen from the dead. Pilate allowed for soldiers to be stationed at the tomb for security.
When Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of James arrived at the tomb the stone was rolled away from the entrance and the tomb was empty. An angel told the women that Jesus has risen from the dead and they needed to go tell the disciples.
The angel said to the women, “Do not be afraid, for I know that you are looking for Jesus, who was crucified. He is not here; he has risen, just as he said. Come and see the place where he lay. Then go quickly and tell his disciples: ‘He has risen from the dead and is going ahead of you into Galilee. There you will see him.’ Now I have told you.” Matthew 28:5-7
Jesus made five appearances on this day;
To Mary Magdalene, give a message to the disciples (John 20:11-18)
The other women at the tomb (Matthew 28:9)
Two followers on the road to Emmaus (Luke 24:13-16)
To Simon Peter (Luke 24:34)
To all the disciples other than Thomas (John 20:19)
This is the full timeline of Holy Week. In doing my study of Holy Week, I realized just how much happened in such a short amount of time. Jesus enters the city, cleanses the temple, taught, heals, spends time with some of His closest friends, celebrates the Passover, defends Himself, is beaten, executed, hands His life over, and then rises back to life. There are so many lessons that we learn from this week. I found that almost all of the struggles we face on this earth are taught about in this portion of the Bible, such as; sacrifice, doubt, fear, pain, surrender, love, and faith.
During my studies, I also came across this map that showed where each key moment happened. I found this very interesting and wanted to share this map with you as well. See this map below with the key moments explained. (UnderstandingChristianity.com)
At Bethphage, Jesus sends two disciples to find a donkey for His Triumphal Entry into Jerusalem.
At Bethany, Jesus is anointed by Mary, the sister of Martha.
The location of Jes’s Triumphal Entry
On His way to the temple, Jesus curses a fig tree. When Jesus arrives at the temple, he cleanses the temple court.
Jesus spends the night in Bethany
On “busy Tuesday” Jesus teaches in the temple court.
Jesus eats the Passover meal with the disciples in the upper room.
Following the Passover meal, Jesus and the disciples go to the Garden of Gethsemane where Jesus prays and is eventually arrested.
Jesus is taken to the house of the High Priest and interrogated. Peter disowns Jesus three times.
Jesus is interrogated by Herod and Pilate.
Jesus is beaten by Roman soldiers in the Praetorium.
Jesus is crucified at Golgotha.
Jesus is buried at the tomb of Joseph of Arimathea. Three days later He rises to life.
Another great way to see the events of Jesus’ last 12 hours on earth is to watch The Passion of The Christ movie. My husband and I have made it a tradition to watch this movie every Good Friday since we have been married. When watching this movie we normally pause and discuss or look up the biblical reference for parts of the movie. Giving us the opportunity to learn more each year. WARNING: I personally find this movie very hard to watch because it shows all of the torcher and pain Jesus experienced in His last few hours. It is heart-wrenching to watch but is also a humbling experience. It is also completely in Latin, Greek, and Hebrew so the entire movie is in subtitles.
If you have never taken a deeper look at the event of Holy Week, I encourage you to do that this year or in the near future. It was an enlightening experience that I feel brought me closer to God and allowed me to understand the true meaning of Jesus’ sacrifice. The hardest step is starting. My advice is to start with reading the Bible, you can read this story from four different perspectives or choose to focus on just one. I would also encourage you to supplement your reading with articles from biblical scholars to gain more knowledge. I personally used the Bible and some online articles to do my research. Those resources are listed in the bibliography below.
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(Due to formating limitations I am unable to cite these correctly)
BibleStudyTools Staff. “Holy Week in the Bible - Significance of Events and Meaning Explained.” Bible Study Tools, 26 January 2021, https://www.biblestudytools.com/bible-stories/holy-week-bible-story.html. Accessed 26 March 2021.
Bookman, Doug. “A Time Line of Easter Holy Week, Passion Week.” Christianity.com, 8 February 2021, https://www.christianity.com/jesus/death-and-resurrection/holy-week-and-passion/a-time-line-of-the-passion-week.html. Accessed 29 March 2021.
Bucher, Meg. “What Is Holy Week? - 8 Days of Easter You Need to Know.” Crosswalk.com, 8 February 2021, https://www.crosswalk.com/special-coverage/easter/what-is-holy-week.html. Accessed 29 March 2021.
Fairchild, Mary. “Holy Week Timeline: From Palm Sunday to the Resurrection.” Lean Religions, 17 April 2020, https://www.learnreligions.com/holy-week-timeline-700618. Accessed 29 March 2021.
UnderstandingChristianity.com. “The Events of Holy Week.” Understanding Christianity.com, 2021, https://www.understandchristianity.com/timelines/events-holy-week/. Accessed 26 March 2021.