Wednesday, April 4, 2012

A chronology of the passion and death of Jesus

The events of last twenty-four hours of our Savior’s life can be a bit confusing to fit into a chronology. No single gospel relates all that happened, and (what is more difficult) some of the gospels seem to contain points of contradiction.

Here, I will set forth a simple chronology of the events from the Last Supper through Christ’s burial. But first, we will show the Catholic tradition regarding the question of whether Holy Thursday or Good Friday was the feast of Passover.

The Last Supper was a Passover Meal

That the Last Supper was a Passover Meal is clear from both Scripture and Tradition. This is made explicit by Sts. Matthew, Mark and Luke.

And on the first day of the Azymes [i.e. of the Unleavened Bread], the disciples came to Jesus, saying: Where wilt thou that we prepare for thee to eat the pasch [i.e. the Passover Lamb]? (Matthew 26:17)

And St. Mark tells us that this was also the day in which the priests celebrated the Passover: Now on the first day of the unleavened bread, when they [i.e. the priests of the Temple] sacrificed the pasch, the disciples say to him: Whither wilt thou that we go, and prepare for thee to eat the pasch? (Mark 14:12)

The Catechism of the Catholic Church confirms this: “By celebrating the Last Supper with his apostles in the course of the Passover meal, Jesus gave the Jewish Passover its definitive meaning” (CCC 1340)

Now, the Jewish feast of Passover extended from the eve of the fourteenth day of the month of Nissan through to the following day. The Passover meal was celebrated on the eve of the day of Passover. Further, the Feast of the Unleavened Bread continued for the octave, that is, the next seven days.

Thus, as is clear from the Scriptures themselves, our Lord celebrated the Last Supper as a Passover meal (on the eve of 14 Nissan), at the same time as the priests offered the Passover in the Temple.

Reconciling St. John with the Synoptics

Some claim that St. John is in tension (or even open contradiction) with the Synoptics (Matthew, Mark, and Luke). However, St. John never states anything which is contrary to the other Evangelists.

St. John tells us that the Last Supper occurred, Before the festival day of the pasch (John 12:1). However, he counts time according to the natural distinction of days (from midnight to midnight), rather than according to the Jewish ritual (from sundown). Thus, when he states that the Last Supper is before the festival of Passover, he means that it was on the evening before the first full day of Passover – in other words, the eve of Passover, which is to say, 14 Nissan (just as the Synoptics state).

Likewise, when St. John tells us that the chief priests did not enter into Pilate’s hall on Friday morning so that they might not be defiled, but that they might eat the pasch (John 18:28), he does not intend that the Passover meal (including the paschal lamb) was to be eaten Friday evening. Rather, St. John here refers to the Paschal victims which were sacrificed during the whole seven days of the feast of Unleavened Bread.

Further, when St. John states that Friday was the parasceve of the pasch (i.e. the day of preparation for the Passover), he does not mean that it was the eve of Passover itself, but the eve of the Solemn Sabbath in the Passover Octave (cf. John 19:14).

Indeed, that St. John makes this explicit when he speaks of the soldier thrusting Christ’s side threw with a spear:

Then the Jews, (because it was the parasceve [i.e. day of preparation]) that the bodies might not remain on the cross on the Sabbath day, (for that was a great Sabbath day,) besought Pilate that their legs might be broken, and that they might be taken away (John 19:31).

From this, we are to understand not that the Passover fell on Saturday that year, but that the Saturday was the Solemn Sabbath after the Passover (which came on Thursday eve – Friday, as the other Evangelists relate).

This is the Latin Tradition, and has been maintained in the Church for nearly two-thousand years. It is simply astonishing that so many modern “scholars” dismiss this long-held tradition to run after ill-conceived and wholly fanciful theories about the Essenes and Qumran.

Even the Greeks, following St. John Chrysostom, generally maintain that Christ celebrate the Last Supper on the true eve of Passover (14 Nissan) – claiming that the priests of the Temple delayed the Passover a day in order to crucify Jesus.

Holy Thursday

Mid-day: Jesus’ disciples prepare the upper room for the Passover meal.

About 6pm: Our Savior begins the Passover meal with his disciples.
After the institution of the Eucharist and the reception of communion by all twelve of the Apostles (and our Lord himself), Judas receives the dipped morsel (which was not the Eucharist, but simple bread) and departs.

About 8pm: Jesus goes forth to the Garden of Gethsemane.

About 9pm: Judas leads the soldiers to Jesus and the other apostles. Our Lord is arrested.
All flee, excepting Sts. Peter and John.

From 9pm till midnight: Jesus is brought first to Annas and then to Caiaphas. These are the first two trials which our Lord undergoes. The trial before Caiaphas is often called the “Night Trial before the Sanhedrin”.
During the trial at the house of Annas, St. Peter denies Jesus the first time.
During the trial before Caiaphas, St. Peter denies the Lord twice more. The cock crows, and Peter flees weeping.
It is here that the Temple guards blindfold our Lord and strike him, asking him to prophecy for them.
Our Lord spends the evening in the dungeon of Caiaphas’ house.

Good Friday

6am: The Lord is brought to a brief trial before the Sanhedrin. They send him directly to Pilate.
Immediately after Jesus is sent forth from the Sanhedrin to Pilate, Judas returns to the chief priests, regretting his betrayal. Returning the money, Judas departs and hangs himself (probably before noon).

From 6am to 9am: The fourth trial now, which is before Pilate, is very brief. The Lord is sent to Herod (the fifth trial) and then back to Pilate. The second time before Pilate is the occasion of the more extensive questioning of Jesus by Pilate, including the infamous question: What is truth? (John 18:38)
The fifth trial (which is before Pilate) is when the Jews choose Barabbas over Jesus.

About 10am: The crowds ask for Jesus to be crucified.
Jesus is scourged, crowned with thorns, cloaked in purple, and mocked.
Then, taking up the Cross, our Savior begins the journey to Golgotha.

A little before noon: Jesus reaches Golgotha, the place of the skull.
Then, he is stripped and nailed to the Cross.

From noon until 3pm: Our Lord hangs, crucified upon the blessed Cross. Darkness covers the land.

3pm: Jesus dies. The veil of the Temple is split in two. The earth shakes.

A little before 5pm: St. Joseph of Arimathea courageously goes to Pilate and requests the body of Jesus. To prove that our Lord has expired, the centurian thrusts a lance through Christ’s side – blood and water pour forth.
Jesus’ body is prepared for burial by Nicodemus, the women, and his Mother.

Before 6pm: Our Savior is laid in the tomb. A stone is sealed across the entrance.

Reconciling the time of the crucifixion

St. Mark states that the crucifixion occurred at the third hour (i.e. nine in the morning). And it was the third hour, and they crucified him (Mark 15:25)

Sts. Matthew and Luke seem to indicate that the crucifixion occurred at the sixth hour (i.e. noon), since it is from the noon till three that darkness covered the land. Now from the sixth hour there was darkness over the whole earth, until the ninth hour (Matthew 27:45). And St. Mark also states that the darkness began at the sixth hour as well (cf. Mark 14:33).

St. John, on the other hand, seems to state that it was the sixth hour (i.e. noon) when Jesus first took up the Cross. And it was the parasceve of the pasch, about the sixth hour, and he [i.e. Pilate] saith to the Jews: Behold your king. But they cried out: Away with him; away with him; crucify him. […] Then therefore he delivered him to them to be crucified. And they took Jesus, and led him forth (John 19:14-16)

We must recognize that the hours of the day were generally divided by the Jews into multi-hour blocks: The “third hour” extended from 9am to noon, the “sixth hour” from noon till 3pm, and the “ninth” from 3pm till 6pm.

Now, when St. Mark states that they crucified him at the third hour, we may understand him to mean that it was at the end of the third hour which would be just a little before noon. Otherwise, we can also see that it was during the third hour (a bit after 9am) that they crucified him in their hearts by demanding his death.

Likewise, when St. John states that it was about the sixth hour when they demanded our Lord’s crucifixion, we may see that this does not mean right at noon, but indicates that it was a bit before noon (before the beginning of the sixth hour). Thus, we may well conclude that Jesus was condemned to crucifixion around 10am and was then led forth along the way of the Cross.

St. Augustine explains this well (De Consensu Evang. III): “It was about the sixth hour when the Lord was delivered up by Pilate to be crucified,” as St. John states. For it “was not quite the sixth hour, but about the sixth – that is, it was after the fifth, and when part of the sixth had been entered upon until the sixth hour was ended – that the darkness began, when Christ hung upon the cross. It is understood to have been the third hour when the Jews clamored for the Lord to be crucified: and it is most clearly shown that they crucified Him when they clamored out. Therefore, lest anyone might divert the thought of so great a crime from the Jews to the soldiers, he says: It was the third hour, and they crucified Him, that they before all may be found to have crucified Him, who at the third hour clamored for His crucifixion.”

Easter Sunday

Just before 6am: Without any seeing or knowing, our Lord rises from the dead.

6am: The women come to the tomb and, seeing an angel roll back the stone, realize that our Lord had risen and come forth from the sealed tomb during that most blessed night.


JP said...

Dear Father,

The Holy Father gives a good survey of the exegetical interpretations of the status of Christ's passover meal in his latest book on Jesus of Nazareth. In his analysis he rejects the thesis that John's chronology is merely theological and asserts its historical plausibility. He makes no mention of John diverging from the Jewish ritual of counting time and hence he argues that both the passover and sabbath began after sundown on the friday of the crucifixion. On this point he is in agreement with others modern scholars though he is by no means a mere modern "scholar".

God bless


PS I wonder if you could help me understand why the chief priests etc needed Judas to betray Christ before they laid hands on Him. Indeed, Christ makes this point Himself to the temple police when they come to forcibly arrest Him in the garden. It seems that Judas' betrayal is incidental.

Alessandro said...

Dear Father,
I have a little doubt on the accuracy of your reconstruction, namely on the timing of Peter’s denial.
According to three Gospels out of four (Matthew, Luke and John), Jesus warned Peter by saying: “Before the cock crow, thou shalt thrice deny me”. This statements is apparently at odds with Mark’s version, which states “Before the cock crow twice, thou shalt thrice deny me”. This has often (and rightly) been solved by saying that cocks crow twice: at 1 AM (the first cockcrow, generally unheard by common villagers who at the time are asleep) and 3 AM (the second cockcrow, which was used as a marker for the beginning of daily activity). Now, since only the second cockcrow was heard and used as a marker of the day, that word was obviously taken by the Jews to mean the second cockcrow at 3 AM, and Mark’s gloss was meant to make this identification clearer to the Gentiles who weren’t accustomed to the Jewish idioms.

This makes it unlikely that Jesus was put under arrest as early as you say.

PS: A last perplexity: if Jesus was meant to die before Passover, as the Jewish authorities had decided to do, why was Jesus put under arrest on the very day of Passover, delaying the Crucifixion by two days? This is still something I can’t easily solve but adopting the traditional chronology.


Father Ryan Erlenbush said...

Before Judas had agreed to betray Jesus, the priests were afraid to arrest him during the Passover -- because a public arrest could have triggered a riot from the crowds.
However, with Judas' help, they were able to arrest him at night and then have more controlled trials so as to turn the crowds against our Savior.

This is why, at first, the priests said "Let us not arrest him during the festival" ... but then changed their plans after Judas came to them.

Hope that makes sense! +

Mick Jagger Gathers No Mosque said...

Dear Fr. Excellent as usual. But, our Holy Father disagrees with you that The Last Supper (First Mass) was a Passover Meal:

"...A Marginal Jew: Rethinking the Historical Jesus, by John P. Meier, who at the end of his first volume presents a comprehensive study of the chronology of Jesus' life. He concludes that one has to choose between the Synoptic and Johannine chronologies, and he argues, on the basis of the whole range of source material, that the weight of evidence favors John..."

Father Ryan Erlenbush said...

The authorities had not decided to put Jesus to death before the Passover ... they had only said, NOT DURING the feast.
But, when Judas agreed to spy for them ... so that they could arrest Jesus at night, when he had only a few disciples with him ... that is when the priests decided to go ahead and arrest and crucify him during the feast.

Regarding the "cockcrow" ... it was the Roman name for the third division of the night, lasting from midnight to 3am.
If Jesus said, "You will deny me before cockcrow", then we are to understand that it occurred before midnight.
However, I am open to other opinions on the matter.

Still, Luke is specific: "Before the cock crows TODAY, you will deny three times that you know me." (Luke 22:34)
Today -- that is, Thursday. Hence, before midnight on Thursday.

Also, St. John seems to indicate that the three denials occurred within only a bit more than an hour's time (from the 1st to the 3rd).
And we consider that the agony in the garden was also about an hour (i.e. "could you not watch one hour with me?").
Thus, it is hard for me to see how we would get all the way to 3am.

Josemaria Paulo Jeromino Martin Carvalho-Von Verster said...

Is there Evidence to Prove that Our Lord spent the Night at the Dungeon of Caiphas?

Alessandro said...

Dear Father,
you wrote:
"Still, Luke is specific: "Before the cock crows TODAY, you will deny three times that you know me." (Luke 22:34)
Today -- that is, Thursday. Hence, before midnight on Thursday."

Yet, as you wrote in your own reconstruction of the chronology:
"However, [John] counts time according to the natural distinction of days (from midnight to midnight), rather than according to the Jewish ritual (from sundown)."

Which means you imply that the Synoptic gospels counted the day according to the Jewish use (from sundown to sundown), which is indeed the reason for their discrepancy with the Fourth Gospel. If that be the case, St. Luke's TODAY had already begun at sundown, and the same day had to last until Friday evening. So, I think that Luke's use of the word Today can't be positively used to show that Jesus was denied by Peter before midnight. On the contrary: Jesus may disprove your position in Mark 13,35: "Vigilate ergo; nescitis enim quando dominus domus veniat, sero an media nocte an galli cantu an mane". Here the cockcrow is distinguished from midnight and put between midnight (= 00:00 AM) and dawn (= 06:00 AM), which means that cockcrow probably was at about 03:00 AM (changing slightly according to the seasons, of course).

As for the rest of your response, I must agree with you that the Jewish authorities didn't mean to arrest Jesus during a festivity - yet I remain perplexed that the word pasch could be used to mean the ordinary sacrifice of the day at the temple. Where can I found a source for that statement? Thank you for your attention, Father!

Anonymous said...

Father Ryan, don't miss the two sermons our Holy Father gave today, Holy Thursday - one for priests and the one at the Chrism Mass. They're gems!!

Paddy said...

Dear Father,

an excellant and useful outline of events.
Two small points re. Judas, which may be slightly off topic:

1. A recent blog post on Rorate-Caeli ( suggested that the bread received by Judas was the Eucharist (I'm afraid the idea got me fired up engough to base a blog post of my own on it ( ...

2. Are you able, by any chance to reconcile the apparent conflict between the suicide of Judas in Matthew 27 and what sounds like an accidental death in Acts 1?

A blessed Easter to you and all in your community.

James Joseph said...

You can really see how God baited the Devil into action. Evil knows little patience when it thinks it has got a lock on something without consequences.

David Urbanski said...

@JP & Fr. Ryan,

I was wondering the same thing about Judas this year--that is, what exactly did Judas do for them that they couldn't just do on their own. Last night at mass the idea came to me, for what it's worth, that the betrayal of Judas is part of a mystery involving evil and how it spreads. There is something very personal about the evil of Judas's betrayal: evil needs a leader or 'champion' who makes a decision, and then scandal follows in its wake, making it all the easier for others to follow through with their own bad choices.

Father Ryan Erlenbush said...

Fr. Levi,
While I am quite certain that Judas did indeed receive communion at the Last Supper ... there are many reasons to think that the "dipped morsel" event happened after communion -- to much for me to get into hear, but St. Thomas speaks to this in his commentary on John (and you can also see what Romano Guardini says in "The Lord", though he does deny that Judas received communion at all).

Thanks for continuing to stop by! +

Father Ryan Erlenbush said...

I do not say it is absolute that Peter's denial was before midnight ... but the fact is that cockcrow was midnight to 3am (and this would still fit with your citation from Mark 13) ... and Jesus says that it is before the cock crows.

In any case, let me assure you that the idea that one (and only one) cock would crow at 1am and then there would be silence until another single (one and only one) cock would crow at 3am is far from reality.
Growing up in Montana and having some little experience with roosters, they can crow and crow and crow at any time - though I would suppose that it is more common towards 3am.

So, the cock crowing, for it to stand out as something unique and different (ordered by divine providence) would seem to me to have to be set apart in some fashion.
One way this could happen would be if the cock were to crow earlier in the night (say, about midnight).

In any case, did you notice my point that St. John specifies that the three denials happen in only just over an hour ... that would seem to cause problems for your theory that the denials extended from 1am to 3am.

It is certainly an open question, though.
But there does seem to be a reason why the Church has us end solemn adoration on Thursday before midnight ... perhaps it is because at midnight Jesus' trials were complete and he was locked away in the dungeon for the night? +

Father Ryan Erlenbush said...

We know that the last trial in the night was at Caiaphas' house ... and that the trial before the Sanhedrin did not begin until right at dawn.
So, it stands to reason that our Lord spent the night at Caiaphas' home -- and he wouldn't have been given the guest room after all!! :-)

Peace! +

Alessandro said...

Dear Father,
I don't know for the Ordinary Form of the Mass, but my Roman Missal for the Extraordinary Form reads: "Nella serata, almeno fino a mezzanotte, i fedeli vedranno ad adorare il Salvatore presente nel Santissimo Sacramento", i.e. "In the evening and up AT LEAST (=almeno) to midnight, the faithful shall come and worship the Saviour who is present in Most Holy Sacrament". Unfortunately, I don't know how the original rubrics (in Latin, I mean) actually read. Anyway, midnight may be the time of Christ's arrest as well. To tell the truth, I think that Jesus' arrest at 9 PM is very difficult to achieve if the Last Supper was a Pesach Seder, as the latter must begin after sunset (otherwise Jesus wouldn't have died on the same Jewish day) and is very long, consisting of memorials, prayers, a full meal and many azyme breads and wine cups to consume. If we add to this rite the fact that Jesus included his long priestly prayer, his prophecies on Judas' betrayal and Peter's denial, and that there were some moments of tension, you can clearly see how the rite would be very... "compressed" within at least 3 hours after sunset. And if you consider that sunset in Palestine in the month of April is at about 7 PM, Jesus couldn't reasonably end the Passover Seder before 10 PM.

Hope this makes sense, especially with my bad English...

Post a Comment

When commenting, please leave a name or pseudonym at the end of your comment so as to facilitate communication and responses.

Comments must be approved by the moderator before being published.