The last week of Jesus’ life—often called Passion Week, was perhaps His most eventful. Certainly, it was the most significant week of His life from our human perspective, as it includes the account of His death and resurrection, without which no one, Jew or Gentile, could be saved. The last week also includes various teachings that are also especially significant. It is not that one part of Scripture is any more important than another, but as a person draws closer to their death, they tend to speak of that which is most important to them.
This final week is also important because so many Old Testament prophecies are fulfilled during this time—prophecies involving His death for sin and His resurrection.
This study is merely an attempt to highlight some of the events of Jesus’ last week and to explain these events in light of Old Testament prophecy and, where applicable, Jewish tradition and customs.
Friday, Nisan 8: Six Days Before the Passover
John 12:1 is a critical passage in establishing the chronology for this final week. “Jesus, therefore, six days before the Passover, came to Bethany where Lazarus was, whom Jesus had raised from the dead.”
Before He enters Jerusalem for the last time, Jesus visits His favorite family in Bethany six days before Passover. We know that Bethany was the home of Lazarus, Mary, and Martha, and was located on the slopes of the Mount of Olives, just outside of Jerusalem.
John writes in chapter 11, verse 18, “Now Bethany was near Jerusalem, about two miles off…” According to tradition, Bethany was an outpost for festival pilgrims, especially for those who were sick and in need of medical treatment, time to recover, or to simply rest from their journey to Jerusalem. Bethany was also the home of Simon the Leper.
The Apostle John tells us that the Messiah’s visit to Lazarus’ home took place six days before the Passover, which, working backwards, was the eighth day of the Hebrew month Nisan, as Passover fell on the fourteenth day. The dinner Jesus attended at the home of Lazarus was probably a Sabbath dinner, which would have taken place on Friday night.
Saturday, Nisan 9: Five Days Before the Passover
The Sabbath meal would have been observed that Friday evening, which was the beginning of the 9th of Nisan.
A number of critical events took place during this Sabbath meal. Mary, who somehow knew that Jesus was going to die, anoints the Lord with burial perfume (John 12:2–8, Matthew 26:6–13, Mark 14:3–9). Judas contested the use of the expensive perfume as he allegedly wanted to use the money for the poor— but he was a thief and planned to keep the money for himself (John 12:6–7). And Jesus would identify him as His betrayer during the Passover Seder (John 13:26, Luke 22:3–6).
Enemies of both Jesus and Lazarus would have been among the group gathered in Bethany that weekend. This group of Jewish leaders was already plotting to seize Yeshua as His popularity among the common people was growing. They were also going to arrest Lazarus.
John writes, “Now the chief priests and the Pharisees had given orders that if anyone knew where He was, he was to report it, so that they might seize Him.” (John 11:57) And further, “The large crowd of the Jews then learned that He was there; and they came, not for Jesus’ sake only, but that they might also see Lazarus, whom He raised from the dead. But the chief priests planned to put Lazarus to death also; because on account of him many of the Jews were going away and were believing in Jesus.” (John 12:9–11)
This tension intensified during the Jesus’ final days, culminating in His crucifixion. We should assume that nothing much happened during the Sabbath day, the ninth day of Nisan. It would have come and gone quietly and uneventfully, and included the usual Sabbath day of worship for Jesus, His disciples, and hosts.
So, in order to make this chronology work, I am saying little about Saturday, which seems plausible to me. Anyone who has ever spent a Sabbath day in a religious section of Brooklyn or Jerusalem would also agree. There was no action and nothing to report!
The Agenda for the Last Week of Jesus
The agenda, goals, and purposes for the last week of the Savior’s life are outlined in both the Old and New Testaments. Even the chronology of His last week is heavily influenced by the necessity for Jesus to fulfill all that was predicted about Him in the Law, Prophets, and Writings—the entire Old Testament.
Three Old Testament passages
There are three Old Testament passages which define the agenda of the Messiah’s last week on earth: Isaiah 53, Daniel 9:24–26, and Leviticus 23. These passages outline what He would do and when He would do it. There are other Old Testament prophecies, such as Psalm 22, Zechariah 12:10, and others, which further describe the circumstances of the last week of Jesus’ life, but most of the information in these passages is contained is the first three mentioned.
- Isaiah 53—Prediction of His suffering, death, and resurrection, and Israel’s response to His message.
- Daniel 9:24–26—Prediction of His death. Defines the chronology detailed in the prophecy of the seventy weeks.
- Leviticus 23—Prediction of the Messiah’s ministry in type, as described in the Jewish calendar. The details of the Passover in particular greatly impact a proper understanding of the last week of Jesus’ life.
Sunday, Nisan 10: Four Days Before the Passover
The “action” picks up on Sunday, the first day of the week, which has become known as the Triumphal Entry.
John writes, “On the next day the large crowd who had come to the feast, when they heard that Jesus was coming to Jerusalem, took the branches of the palm trees and went out to meet Him, and began to shout, ‘Hosanna! Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord, even the King of Israel.’” (John 12:12–14)
John uses the phrase, “the next day” in John 12:12, which we believe was Sunday, the first day of the week. Therefore, the following events took place on the tenth day of Nisan, which would have actually begun on Saturday night and continued until twilight on Sunday.
The Choosing of the Lamb
On the tenth of Nisan, the Jewish family would choose their Passover lamb from among their flock to be sacrificed on the fourteenth day of the month. During this four-day period, the lamb is observed, tested, and tried to make certain it is in good health and pure of any blemish.
As Moses writes,
Speak to all the congregation of Israel, saying, ‘On the tenth of this month they are each one to take a lamb for themselves, according to their fathers’ households, a lamb for each household. Now if the household is too small for a lamb, then he and his neighbor nearest to his house are to take one according to the number of persons in them; according to what each man should eat, you are to divide the lamb. Your lamb shall be an unblemished male a year old; you may take it from the sheep or from the goats. You shall keep it until the fourteenth day of the same month, then the whole assembly of the congregation of Israel is to kill it at twilight. (Exodus 12:3-6)
Jesus presented Himself as the Lamb of God, chosen by God before the foundations of the world (1 Peter 1:20, Revelation 13:8) on “Palm Sunday.” During the remainder of the week, He would endure fierce temptations, tests, and threats against His life and prove Himself to be pure and holy, worthy and blameless.
He was presented both as the Lamb to be slain and the King to be enthroned, but not in the manner the majority of Jewish people expected. By entering the Holy City on the foal of a donkey as a humble king, the Messiah fulfilled the prophecy of Zechariah 9:9 (Matthew 21:10–17), which the disciples fully understood after Jesus was glorified (John 12:16).
The humility with which Jesus enters the city—even as King—helps explain the actions of the multitudes as they broke palm branches before Him. This may have been a premature celebration of the Feast of Tabernacles (Leviticus 23:40 ff.), which is understandable as in the Book of Zechariah, Tabernacles was linked to the future salvation of Israel and the nations.
According to Zechariah 14, faithful Gentiles will celebrate Tabernacles in the Messianic kingdom (Zechariah 14:16–21). The Jewish people greeted Jesus as He entered the Holy City by quoting from Psalm 118:25–26, a Kingdom Psalm, as the rabbi’s tell us that this is the Psalm that will be uttered by the nation of Israel in welcoming King Messiah.
Clearly, the people believed that Jesus was about to establish the Messianic kingdom—focusing on the glories of the coming Kingdom rather than His death as the sacrificial Passover Lamb, which the Jewish people did not yet fully understand.
 In the first month, on the fourteenth day of the month at twilight is the Lord’s Passover. Then on the fifteenth day of the same month there is the Feast of Unleavened Bread to the Lord; for seven days you shall eat unleavened bread. (Leviticus 23:5–6)
 To Bethany, See Dr. Tom Constable’s Notes on John, 2015 Online PDF Edition (p 216) http://www.soniclight.com/constable/notes/pdf/john.pdf Accessed 12/3/15 2:15PM.
 For an in depth discussion of the kingdom orientation of the text and it’s use in relationship to the Feast of Tabernacles see: Brunson Andrew C. Psalm 118 in the Gospel of John: An Intertextual Study on the New Exodus Pattern in the Theology of John (Wissenscaftliche Untersuchungen Zum Neuen Testament 2, 158) pp. 40–50