A Brief Bible History/Section 2/Lesson 12


The Crucifixion

Matthew 26:1-5, 14-16, and Parallels

On the Wednesday of the week before the crucifixion, the chief priests and elders of the Jews took counsel how they might put Jesus to death. The difficulty was that if they arrested so popular a teacher in the midst of the crowds who had come to Jerusalem for the approaching feast of the passover, there would be a tumult. At first, therefore, the enemies of Jesus thought that they might have to wait until the passover was over. But they were helped out of their difficulty by one of Jesus' own friends. Judas Iscariot, one of the twelve apostles, proved to be a traitor. He received a promise of thirty pieces of silver, and watched for a time when Jesus would be away from the crowds so that he could be delivered quietly into the hands of his enemies Matt. 26:1–5, 14–16, and parallels.

Matthew 26: 17-19, and Parallels

Meanwhile, on Thursday, Jesus arranged for the celebration of the passover in company with the apostles. The passover feast commemorated the deliverance of Israel from Egypt, especially the passing over of Israel's first-born when the first-born sons of the Egyptians were slain. The feast was opened on the evening of Nisan 14, Nisan being a spring month, and the first month of the Jewish year. According to Jewish reckoning, the evening of Nisan 14 constituted the beginning of Nisan 15. Starting from that time, the feast continued for seven days, no unleavened bread being used within that period. The first and most solemn act of the whole feast was the eating of the paschal lamb on the evening of Nisan 14.

This passover supper was celebrated by Jesus and the apostles on Thursday evening, Nisan 14. And the feast was to be continued into the Christian era. The symbols were changed; bread and wine were to be used instead of the paschal lamb. But the fundamental meaning of the feast remained the same; both the passover and the Lord's Supper had reference to the atoning death of Christ. The paschal lamb prefigured the Lamb of God who was to die for the sins of the world; the bread and wine also symbolized the body of Christ broken for us and the blood of Christ poured out for the remission of our sins. Thus what the passover symbolized by way of prophecy is symbolized in the Lord's Supper by way of commemoration. And on that last evening our Lord changed the symbols in order to suit the new dispensation when, since the Lamb of God had once been offered up, other sacrifices should be no more.

Matthew 26:20-35, and Parallels

Jesus gathered with his apostles for the feast in an upper room. Matt. 26:20, and parallels. Then, lamentably enough, there was a strife among the apostles as to who should be the greatest. Luke 22:24–30. As a rebuke of all such inordinate ambitions our Lord gave an example of humility by washing the feet of his disciples. John 13:1–20. The traitor, Judas Iscariot, then left the apostolic company, John 13:21–35, and parallels, and the Lord's Supper was instituted. I Cor. 11:23–25; Matt. 26:26–29, and parallels. Then the denial of Peter was foretold; before the cock should crow twice Peter would deny his Lord three times.

John, Chapters 14 to 17

Then followed some of the most precious teaching of Jesus—teaching which is preserved only in the Gospel According to John. Chs. 14 to 17. Our Lord spoke of the mission which he had come into the world to fulfill and of the mission which his apostles were to fulfill through the power of the Holy Spirit. The meaning of Jesus' redeeming work could not fully be explained until it had been accomplished. And it was to be explained by the Holy Spirit speaking through the apostles.

Matthew 26:36-46, and Parallels

After they had sung a hymn, our Lord went out with the eleven apostles to the Garden of Gethsemane, outside of Jerusalem, on the slopes of the Mount of Olives. Matt. 26:36–46, and parallels. There he sought strength in prayer for the approaching hour when he was to bear the penalty of our sins. The disciples were no help to him in his agony; Peter and James and John slept while he prayed. But God the Father heard his prayer.

Matthew 26:47 to 27:1

Soon the traitor came with the Temple guard, and Jesus was arrested, Matt. 26:47–56, and parallels. On the same evening there was an informal hearing of the Prisoner in the house of Annas, the father-in-law of Caiaphas, the high priest. Matt. 26:57, 58, 69–75, and parallels. Meanwhile Peter and "another disciple," who was no doubt John the son of Zebedee, the writer of the Fourth Gospel, had entered into the house. There Peter denied his Lord.

The next morning there was a more formal meeting of the sanhedrin, the highest court of the Jews. Luke 22:66–71, and parallels. This meeting was intended to confirm the results of the informal hearing in the house of Annas. But both meetings were little more than a form. The court had really decided the question beforehand; it had determined to bring Jesus by any means, lawful or otherwise, to his death. When faced by his enemies, our Lord declared plainly that he was the Messiah, the Son of God. That answer was enough to satisfy the accusers. Jesus was judged guilty of blasphemy.

Matthew 27:2-56, and Parallels

But the sanhedrin did not possess the power of life and death. Before Jesus could be executed, therefore, the findings of the sanhedrin had to be confirmed by Pilate, the Roman procurator. And at first Pilate was recalcitrant to the Jews' demands; he was not able to find in Jesus any cause of death. John 18:28–38, and parallels. In his perplexity, Pilate sent the prisoner to be examined by Herod Antipas, the tetrarch of Galilee, who was at the time in Jerusalem. Luke 23:6–12. But this hearing also was without decisive result.

At last Pilate yielded, against his better judgment, to the importunity of the Jewish leaders and the mad shouts of the crowds, who had turned now against the One whom formerly they had honored. Matt. 27:15–30, and parallels. Pilate delivered Jesus up to the will of the Jews. Before the execution, however, the Prisoner was cruelly scourged and mocked by the Roman soldiers. Then when a last effort of Pilate had failed to placate the wrath of Jesus' enemies, John 19:4–16, our Lord was finally taken out of the city to be crucified. Luke 23:26–33, and parallels.

The Prisoner at first was compelled to bear the cross on which he was to be put to death, but when his strength gave way a certain Simon of Cyrene was pressed into service. A crowd of people from Jerusalem followed the Prisoner, and especially a number of women who lamented. At last the place of execution was reached. It was called "Golgotha," or according to the Latin translation of the name, "Calvary." There they crucified our Lord. Matt. 27:33–56, and parallels.

With him were crucified two thieves, of whom one repented at the last hour, and received salvation. A number of sayings which Jesus uttered on the cross are recorded in the Gospels. At the moment of death, he cried, "It is finished." John 19:30. The meaning of that saying is plain. The work for which our Lord came into the world at last was done. The Lord of glory had died to wash away the sins of all believers. The just penalty of sin had been borne by the One who knew no sin.


  1. Summarize the teaching of Jesus on the last evening before the crucifixion.
  2. What happened in Gethsemane?
  3. Describe the trial of Jesus before the sanhedrin and before Pilate.
  4. Why did the Jewish leaders put Jesus to death? Why did Jesus consent to die?
  5. Give an account of the crucifixion of our Lord.