Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Wednesday

Tissot, The Meal in the House of the Pharisee

Some gospel harmonies do not list any events for the Wednesday of Jesus’ last week, but using Mark’s time references as a guide, three episodes actually fall on this day in our working chronology.  Additionally, these events have long been assigned to Wednesday in the traditional Christian liturgical calendar. These are the plot of the Jewish leadership against Jesus, the story of an unnamed woman in Bethany anointing Jesus’ head, and Judas’ decision to betray Jesus.

The collocation of these three episodes in the Marcan narrative, which is followed by Matthew, highlights the loving act of the unnamed woman by framing it with dark stories of conspiracy and betrayal.  Indeed, in some traditions this day has been called “Spy Wednesday” because of Judas’ actions.


Scriptural Accounts for Wednesday:
       

Episodes for Personal Study
  • The Plot to Kill Jesus (Mark 14:1–2; Matt 26:1–5; Luke 22:1–2)  
  • Matthew and Mark’s Anointing at Bethany (Mark 14:3–9; Matt 26:6–13;
  • Another Anointing at Bethany (Matt 26:6–13; Mark 14:3–9; here his head, Mary having anointed his feet the day before Palm Sunday in John 12:1–9)
  • Judas Agrees to Betray Jesus (Matt 26:14–16; Mark 14:10–11; Luke 22:3–6)

For Further Reading: John Nolland, The Gospel of Matthew, NIGTC (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 2005), 1043–1060.

Frank F. Judd, Jr., "Interpreting Caiaphas’s ‘Prophecy’ of the Savior’s Death," Behold the Lamb of God: An Easter Celebration (Provo: Religious Study Center, 2008), 87–104.


Ideas for Families
  • Discuss why some people accepted Jesus and others became so hostile to him, working for his death or, in the case of Judas, deciding to betray him. How can we remain faithful to the Lord and share our love for him?
  • Read the story of the woman anointing Jesus in either Mark or Matthew.  Then share examples of women of Christ in our lives who have strengthened our testimonies
  • Sing "O Love That Glorifies the Son" (hymn 295)
  • Discuss how the priestly, saving mission of the Son in his first coming, perhaps represented by this anointing, differs the kingly role that will be particularly manifest in his second coming. What kind of king and priest had most Jews at the time of Jesus been expecting and how might this have led them to be disappointed as the Savior's last week advanced?  What kind of king and priest do we expect?
    • Listen to the final four movements of Part I of Messiah to be moved by the promises that had been foretold for Jesus' saving, healing mission. 

For lovely images and blocks of scripture quotations that nicely supplement what I am doing on this blog, please see the blog of my friend Chad Emmett, Beit Emmett, Holy Week: Wednesday.


Traditional Anglican collect of the day:
Lord God, whose blessed Son our Savior gave his body to be whipped and his face to be spit upon: Give us grace to accept joyfully the sufferings of the present time, confident of the glory that shall be revealed; through Jesus Christ thy Son our Lord, who lives and reigns with thee and with Holy Spirit, one God, forever and ever.  Amen.


Brief Discussion of the Events of the Wednesday before Easter
See the longer discussion in God So Loved the World, 39–47

THE PLOT TO KILL JESUS
Tissot, Conspiracy of the Jews
And it came to pass, when Jesus had finished all these sayings, he said unto his disciples, Ye know that after two days is the feast of the passover, and the Son of man is betrayed to be crucified. Then assembled together the chief priests, and the scribes, and the elders of the people, unto the palace of the high priest, who was called Caiaphas, And consulted that they might take Jesus by subtilty, and kill him. But they said, Not on the feast day, lest there be an uproar among the people. (Matthew 26:1–5)
Although some harmonies of the gospels list "No Events Recorded" for Wednesday, both Matthew 26:2 and Mark 14:1 place the conspiracy of Judas with the Jerusalem leadership with the Passover "after two days." This is better rendered "in two days time" or "two days away" (Luke just says that the Passover "was nigh"). This does not securely place Judas meeting with the priests on "Spy Wednesday," however, since the two days can be counted either inclusively or exclusively, and Passover may have begun at sundown either on Thursday evening (as the Synoptics seem to suggest) or Friday evening (as John probably records more accurately, see Thursday discussion below).

John’s account had placed the beginning of this plot before the Passion week, shortly after the raising of Lazarus:
Then gathered the chief priests and the Pharisees a council, and said, "What do we? for this man doeth many miracles. If we let him thus alone, all men will believe on him: and the Romans shall come and take away both our place and nation." And one of them, named Caiaphas, being the high priest that same year, said unto them, "Ye know nothing at all, Nor consider that it is expedient for us, that one man should die for the people, and that the whole nation perish not." And this spake he not of himself: but being high priest that year, he prophesied that Jesus should die for that nation. (John 11:47–51, emphasis added)
Reflection

The prophecy of Caiaphas in the Johannine addition to the plot story is laden with irony, because it has Jesus’ chief opponent actually teach a true doctrine: Jesus did come to die for the sake not just of the Jewish people but for all people. Oddly, the divine economy can often use the enemies of that which is right and good to accomplish God’s purpose. Jesus’ vicarious death was not just for good men, it was for all and can benefit all, even those who, like the Jerusalem leadership who plotted against him, provided that at some point they repent and turn to him whom they rejected.


ANOTHER ANOINTING AT BETHANY 

The anointing of Jesus from the Bethany Church
After noting the plot to kill Jesus, Mark and Matthew provide another account of Jesus’ anointing:

There came unto him a woman having an alabaster box of very precious ointment, and poured it on his head, as he sat at meat. But when his disciples saw it, they had indignation, saying, "To what purpose is this waste? For this ointment might have been sold for much, and given to the poor." When Jesus understood it, he said unto them, "Why trouble ye the woman? for she hath wrought a good work upon me. For ye have the poor always with you; but me ye have not always. For in that she hath poured this ointment on my body, she did it for my burial. Verily I say unto you, Wheresoever this gospel shall be preached in the whole world, there shall also this, that this woman hath done, be told for a memorial of her." (Matthew 26:8–13)
Gospel harmonies have conventionally assumed that this anointing is the same as the one mentioned earlier in John 12:1–9. While this may be true, there are specific differences in circumstances that make it possible that there were, in fact, two anointings. Although both took place in Bethany, the Matthean and Marcan anointing take place in the house of one Simon the Leper, whereas the Johannine anointing was in the house of Lazarus and Martha. Their sister Mary anointed Jesus’ feet in John’s account, but here the woman anoints his head and is unnamed. Like Mary, who anointed Jesus’ feet at Lazarus’ house the previous Saturday (John 12:1–9), Jesus explicitly recognizes that this woman had performed the act in part to prepared him for his burial and provides a moving tribute and commendation: wherever the gospel is preached, we should recall her act of love and faith.

The Franciscan church at Bethany
Luke omits the anointing of Jesus’ head in Bethany at the house of Simon the Leper, presumably because the episode is so similar to an unrelated washing and anointing of Jesus’ feet earlier in the Galilean ministry which are described in Luke 7:36–50 as an act of love by a woman "who was a sinner." Once again, some harmonies and studies of the gospel have associated all of these anointing stories with the same woman and the same incident. While this may be the case, there is no indication that the unnamed woman here was a sinner, and the timing and setting of Luke’s account is much different.

Reflection

As noted in the discussion of the anointing as recorded in John, the woman's act of preparing Jesus for his burial presupposes that she understood, at some level at least, that he had come to Jerusalem to die.  This stands in contrast to the perceived understanding of the male disciples in the gospel of Mark, generally followed by Matthew and Luke.  In those gospels the Twelve, starting with Peter at Caesarea Philippi, had received powerful testimonies of who Jesus was, the Christ and son of God (Mark 8:27–30; par Matt 16:13–20, Luke 9:18–20).  Notwithstanding this revelation, when Jesus tried to explain to them three different times on the road to Jerusalem that he would be taken by the chief priests and elders when he arrived in Jerusalem, delivered to the Gentiles, and finally killed, they either resisted this sad reality or failed to understand (see the so-called "Passion Predictions" in Mark 8:31–9:1, 9:30–3, and 10:32–45, as well as the parallels in Matthew and Luke). At least in the literary record, the male disciples knew who he was but did not yet fully understand what he had come to do, still thinking perhaps in terms of an earthly king and messiah.

In this light, the unnamed woman's act, like that of Mary earlier in John, was one of deep love and faith, one that resonates strongly with anyone, man or woman, who has lost or faces the prospect of losing a loved one.  In such instances, letting go is in itself an act of love when one recognizes that the loss is God's will.  The glorious message of Easter, of course, is that such loss is never permanent:
O love that glorifies the Son, O love that says, "Thy will be done!"  Pure love whose spirit makes us one, come fill my soul today.  O love that overcomes defeat, O love that turns the bitter sweet, Pure love that makes our lives complete, come fill my soul today. (hymn 295)
While the anointing of Jesus explicitly deals with Jesus' coming death, remembering that one who was anointed was a māšîāḥ in Hebrew or a christos in Greek suggests a possible, additional symbol in this act. While Jesus was the chosen Messiah from the foundation of the world, perhaps these acts symbolize that Jesus was at this point fully prepared now to complete his mission as the Savior of the world.  Regardless of how many anointings there may have actually been, the evangelists may have used this motif in different settings for different literary purposes. Thus the anointing by Mary on Saturday could thus represent the anointing of Jesus as king prior to the Triumphal Entry the next day, and the anointing by the unnamed woman in the middle of the week could represent his anointing as priest, preparing him to return to Jerusalem for a final time to complete the priestly act of atonement.




My wife, Elaine, with some of the other Jerusalem center women in Bethany
Women of Christ, Then and Now

Of the woman who anointed his head with oil, Jesus said, "Wheresoever this gospel shall be preached throughout the whole world, this also that she hath done shall be spoken of for a memorial of her" (Mark 14:9; parallel 26:13).  As a result, in recent years I have taken time to read and think about her story each year as I prepare for Easter.  In God So Loved the World, I wrote:
Rachel with the Jerusalem Center students reading about the anointing
"I am stirred by the faith of this woman, and it calls to my memory many influential women in my life—both of my grandmothers, my mother, my wife, friends, and teachers—who have similarly been stalwart and believing women of Christ.  Their testimonies have planted the seed of faith in my heart and nurtured it, just as the faith of Lois and Eunice did for Timothy (see 2 Timothy 1:5).  Jesus has asked us to remember the faith of this woman, saying, "Wheresoever this gospel shall be preached in the whole world, there shall also this, that this woman hath done, be told for a memorial of her."  Each year as we read this account, we can fulfill that injunction, and hopefully be moved to remember the faith of other women and men who believed in Christ and his sacrifice, and in the process passed that faith to us." (p. 45)  

In harmony with this sentiment, each year on the Wednesday before Easter, I choose to honor my grandmothers, my mother, my sister, my wife, and now my daughter for their testimonies of Jesus and their examples to me.





Messiah Reflections for the Day

As the anointing in Bethany shifts the focus of Jesus' ministry to his more priestly, saving role, the four final movements of the first part of Handel's Messiah come to mind. The fact that all of these except the final chorus are sung by women helps these movements fit nicely with the image of the unnamed woman who anointed Jesus on Wednesday, because she, and all the women close to him in his ministry, seem to have had such a sweet knowledge of his mission.

The first, the soprano air "Rejoice Greatly, O Daughter of Zion," comes from Zechariah 9:9-10 and easily fits the context of the Triumphal Entry just three days before.  But whereas some in Jerusalem had rejoiced as Jesus entered the city that day, on this eve of the saving events leading to Gethsemane, Calvary, and the Empty Tomb, Jesus is about to truly become "the righteous Savior" and the one will "speak peace to the heathen."  The sad irony, however, was that no one would herald with joy his quiet entry into the city on Thursday, and it is only when the disciples looked back at these events after the resurrection, and as we look back at them after the advent of grace, that we understand that it is what Elder Holland called "Passover Thursday, Atoning Friday, and Resurrection Sunday" that truly causes us to rejoice.
Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion:
     Shout, O daughter of Jerusalem
     behold, thy king cometh unto thee.
He is the righteous Savior,

     and He shall speak peace unto the heathen.
This soprano solo is followed by an alto recitative and air that speak beautifully of the healing miracles and the other miracles of provision that had already happened during Jesus' ministry.  These were, however, but types of the rich spiritual healing, revelation, sustenance, and care that come to us through Christ's atonement.
Then shall the eyes of the deaf be opened,
     and the ears of the deaf unstopped;
then shall the lame man leap as an hart,
     and the tongue of the deaf shall sing. (Isaiah 35:5-6)

He shall feed his flock like a shepherd;
     and He shall gather the lambs with His arm,
and carry them in His bosom
     and gently lead those that are with young. (Isaiah 40:11)
The soprano soloist then replaces the alto, inviting all to come to the Good Shepherd:
Come unto Him, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, 
     and He will give you rest.
Take His yoke upon you, and learn of Him; 

     for He is meek and lowly in heart: 
     and ye shall find rest unto your souls.  (Mat 11:28-29)

The invitation to "take his yoke upon us" creates a double image. Particularly from a modern perspective, influenced perhaps by the experience of Latter-day Saints crossing the plains, we tend to see the image of the cattle yoke that links two draft animals together in pulling a burden.  In a sense, then, one can apply this passage by seeing in it how Jesus joins us in pulling our burdens.  But very few of the Galilean peasants whom Jesus taught and served in his ministry could even afford one ox let alone two.  For them, the more common yoke of their experience was the single shoulder yoke (zygos) that allowed a person to carry a heavy load.  Indeed, often in OT prophecy, carrying a yoke was a symbol of slavery, and interestingly rabbinical literature shortly after this period portrayed the law of Moses as a yoke that one gladly chose to bear.  This contrasts the burdensome law of Moses with the light, joyful law of Christ and gives additional meaning to the final chorus of Part I of Messiah:
For my yoke is easy, 
    and my burden is light. (Mat 11:30)
Yet on the eve of the Passion, the grave irony is that the zygos or "yoke" could also refer to a cross beam, so while the gospel yoke is easy and light for us to bear, it was made so because Jesus has borne the cross for us, the heaviest burden of all.



JUDAS AGREES TO BETRAY JESUS

Giotto, Payment of Judas

One of the disciples who may have been the most bothered by the woman’s supposed waste could have been Judas, since Matthew and Mark both place his decision to betray Jesus immediately following their account of the anointing at Bethany.
Then one of the twelve, called Judas Iscariot, went unto the chief priests, And said unto them, "What will ye give me, and I will deliver him unto you?" And they covenanted with him for thirty pieces of silver. (Matthew 26:14–16)





Easter Quick Links

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Tuesday



Jesus seems to have continued teaching in the temple in Tuesday.  As mentioned in the discussion of Jesus’ temple teachings on Monday, the material falls into two major blocks, making it natural to treat the second block, the authorities’ attempts to catch Jesus in his words, on this second day. This day also seems to have been the occasion of Jesus’ powerful prophecies about the future.  

Both of these episodes signal the imminent shift from the kingly to the priestly phase of the Savior's last week.  Because the questioning of Jesus coincided with the priestly examination of the the paschal lambs that were to be sacrificed later in the week, it underscores that Jesus was the actual Lamb of God "who taketh away the sin of the world" (John 1:29). Likewise, his prophecy of his future return in glory makes clear that his actual reception as the True King of Israel lay in the future with his Second Coming, his first coming being focused instead on his great atoning work.

Gary Smith, Christ Laments over Jerusalem

Scriptural accounts for Tuesday: Mark 11:20–13:37; Matt 21:23–25:46; Luke 20:1–21:38; John 12:37–50


Episodes for Personal Study
  • Lesson from the Withered Fig Tree (Mark 11:20–26)
  • More Teachings in the Temple: Attempts to Trap Jesus in His Words (Mark 11:27–12:44; Matt 22:15–23:36; Luke 20:20–21:4)
  • Jesus’ Lament over Jerusalem in Matthew (Matt 23:37–39)
  • The Olivet Discourse or “Little Apocalypse” Concerning Jesus’ Prophecies Regarding the Last Days Before His Second Coming (Matthew 24:1–25:46; Mark 13:1–37; Luke 21:5–36. Because few events are recorded for Wednesday, parts of Tuesday’s Olivet Discourse can be read on Wednesday).
  • Summary of Jesus’ Teaching (Luke 21:37–38; John 12:37–50)


For Further Reading: Jo Ann Seely, "From Bethany to Gethsemane," in From the Last Supper to the Resurrection, The Life and Teachings of Jesus Christ 3, edited by Richard Neitzel Holzapfel and Thomas A. Wayment (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 2003), n.b. 51–56.

Kent P. Jackson, "The Olivet Discourse," in From the Transfiguration to the Triumphal Entry, The Life and Teachings of Jesus Christ 2, edited by Richard Neitzel Holzapfel and Thomas A. Wayment (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 2006), 318–343.


Ideas for Families
  • Using the final lesson from the fig tree, talk about how things are possible with faith and why we should always forgive others.
  • Read Luke 20:45–47 and discuss why Jesus was unhappy with the scribes but pleased with the widow’s modest offering.
  • Discuss how the questioning of Jesus paralleled the examination of the lambs that were being selected for the Passover that year. How is he the true Lamb of God?
    • Listen to Handel's "Lamb of God"
  • Read Mark 13, the shortest version of the Mount of Olivet discourse and discuss why it would have reassured Jesus’ disciples once the Lord had been taken from them?  How could it have reassured them that Jesus would still be the rightful king even though he was rejected by his own people? How can we prepare for the Second Coming?
  • Sing "Jehovah, Lord of Heaven and Earth" (hymn 269)
For lovely images and blocks of scripture quotations that nicely supplement what I am doing on this blog, please see the blog of my friend Chad Emmett, Beit Emmett, Holy Week: Tuesday.

Anglican collect of the day:
O God, by the passion of your blessed Son you made an instrument of shameful death to be for us the means of life: Grant us so to glory in the cross of Christ, that we may gladly suffer shame and loss for the sake of thy Son our Savior Jesus Christ; who lives and reigns with thee and the Holy Spirit, one God, forever and ever.  Amen.


Right: The verdant cross represents how the shameful means of Jesus' death, a dead tree of cursing, became through his sacrifice on it a New Tree of Life for us.









Brief Discussion of the Events of the Tuesday before Easter 
See the longer discussion in God So Loved the World, 27–37



This path along the Mount of Olives leads from Bethany to Jerusalem


LESSON FROM THE WITHERED FIG TREE: EXHORTATIONS TO FAITH AND FORGIVENESS

On Tuesday Jesus returned to Jerusalem after having again spent the night in Bethany, presumably with Lazarus and his sisters. Crossing the Mount of Olives, according to the Marcan sequence, he saw the fig tree he had cursed for fruitlessness the day before and found that it was withered. As already noted, the literary result of "sandwiching" the cleansing of the temple between the cursing of the fig tree on Monday and the finding of the tree dead on Tuesday graphically illustrates that contemporary Israel was fruitless and warned that their similarly fruitless temple would be overthrown. The Matthean order, which can be taken to place the parables illustrating the rejection of Old Israel also on Monday, further underscores this fact, showing that the fault for the destruction of the temple would lie primarily at the feet of those who had usurped its control and had misused it. Yet rather than obsessing about the failing of the biblical chief priests and Pharisees, it is probably best, as always, to see how they most frequently represent our own failings.  As the prophet had declared, and as  a chorus of Handel's Messiah so vividly portrays, "All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way; and the Lord had laid on him the iniquity of us all" (Isaiah 53:6)


Nonetheless, the cursing of fig tree had also vividly revealed the power of Jesus over the natural world. When Peter then noted the demise of the tree, Jesus used his action as an opportunity to issue an exhortation for his disciples to have faith: "What things soever ye desire, when ye pray, believe that ye shall receive them, and ye shall have them." Nevertheless, faith and prayer do not come without a cost: the Lord expects us to be Christlike in the exercise of our faith, forgiving all, even as he would do so notably later in the week.  

MORE TEACHINGS IN THE TEMPLE

After drawing lessons from the withered tree, he spent the morning in the temple.  The second block of these teachings in Matthew, which also cover most of the material preserved in Mark and Luke, focus on attempts by the Pharisees, Herodians, and Sadducees to trap Jesus in his words (22:15–40.  The following chart again reviews the Temple Teachings, here emphasizing the teachings that seem to have been delivered on Tuesday:

Matthew
[Monday]

Authority of Jesus Questioned (21:23–27)
Old Israel Rejected (21:28–22:14)
  • Parable of the Two Sons (21:28–32) 
  • Parable of the Wicked Tenants (21:33–46) 
  • Parable of the Wedding Banquet (22:1–10) 
  • Parable of the Man Without a Wedding Garment (22:11–14)









[Tuesday]

Attempts to Trap Jesus in His Words (22:15–46) 
  • Question about Paying Taxes (22:15–22, Pharisees and Herodians) 
  • Question about the Resurrection (22:23–33, Sadducees)
  • Question about the Greatest Commandment (22:34–40, Pharisees) 
  • Question about David’s Son (22:41–46, Christ to the Pharisees)








Denunciation of the Leaders of Old Israel (23:1–36)
  • Hypocrisy of Scribes and Pharisees (23:1–12)
  • Seven Prophetic "Woes" (23:13–36)

  • Mark

    Exhortations (11:22–26)
    • On Faith (11:22–24) 
    • On Forgiveness (11:25–26)

    Six Interrogations in the Temple (11:27–12:37)








  • Jesus’ authority questioned (11:27–33)
  • Parable of the Wicked Tenants (12:1–12)
  • Question over paying taxes (12:13–17)
  • Questions about the resurrection (12:18–27)
  • The great commandments (12:28–34)
  • Question about David’s son (12:35–37)
  • The scribes and the widow (12:38–44, narrative)


    Luke
    • Authority of Jesus Questioned (20:1–8)
    • Parable of the Wicked Tenants (20:9–19)
    • Question about Paying Tribute to Caesar (20:20–26)
    • Question about the Resurrection (20:27–40)
    • Question about David’s Son (20:41–44)
    • Jesus Denounces the Scribes (20:45–47)
    • The Widow’s Offering (21:1–4)



    Whether the question was about the paying of taxes to Rome, about the reality of the resurrection (particularly in the hypothetical case of a woman who had married seven successive men!), or concerning what was the greatest commandment of the law, Jesus gave responses that silenced his opponents.  Finally, he posed a question to them that proved impossible for them to answer:
    While the Pharisees were gathered together, Jesus asked them, Saying, What think ye of Christ? whose son is he? They say unto him, The Son of David. He saith unto them, How then doth David in spirit call him Lord, saying, The LORD said unto my Lord, Sit thou on my right hand, till I make thine enemies thy footstool? If David then call him Lord, how is he his son? And no man was able to answer him a word, neither durst any man from that day forth ask him any more questions. (Matthew 22:41–46)

    Their inability, or refusal, to answer this question about himself was followed by a scathing denunciation of the these leaders of Old Israel (23:1–36). 


    Reflection 

    This verbal sparring about authority points back to the reality symbolized by Jesus’ earlier triumphal entry: he was the rightful king in Israel, while the chief priests and elders opposed to him were, in fact, usurpers who set themselves up in Jerusalem and in the temple as leaders of Israel. In the days between the selection of the Passover lambs five days before Passover and their sacrifice when the holiday began, the chosen animals were kept separate from the rest of the flocks (Exodus 12:3–6). Because the lambs were to be without blemish, in Jesus’ day the priests in the temple spent this time examining them carefully for fault. While this very examination of the paschal lambs was going on during Jesus’ last week, his opponents were, in fact, trying to find fault in him.


    MESSIAH Chorus for the Day: "Behold the Lamb of God"


    The examination of the paschal lambs in the temple early in the Savior's last week reminds us of the testimony of John the Baptist that Jesus was the Lamb of God and explains why Charles Jennens chose to begin Part II of Handel's Messiah, the Passion section, with a powerful quotation from John 1:29: 
    Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world. 
    Francisco de Zurbarán. Agnus Dei.

    This text is the subject of the opening chorus of Part II, a chorus that is incredible powerful even as it is pervasively sad, moving performers and audiences alike from the joy of the Promise that was the subject of Part I to the heaviness of Jesus' weighty atoning work 


    Frequently this verse is misquoted, people often reading, and singing, the plural "sins" instead of the scripture's singular "sin." In accordance with the high christology of the Gospel according to John, Jesus' work is about far more than redeeming us from our individual sins and transgressions. Rather it is about totally undoing the effects of the Fall, overcoming not only our mortal state but also the state of spiritual death that holds us captive. As Jacob in the Book of Mormon wrote, “O how great the goodness of our God, who prepareth a way for our escape from the grasp of this awful monster; yea, that monster, death and hell, which I call the death of the body, and also the death of the spirit” (2 Nephi 9:10).

    This, then, is the cosmic Sin that holds us prisoner. This idea of the Sin of the world as a cosmic force, which is also found in the early letters of Paul, is analogous to the "weakness" of all men and women described in the Book of Mormon (see Jacob 4:7; Ether 12:26-27, which are also frequently misquoted in the plural). This weakness is perhaps best understood as our inability in our mortal state to do anything good or lasting without the grace of Christ. And this is the captivity and death for which Jesus, our Passover, came as a sacrifice.


    Panoramic view of the Mount of Olives from today's Old City Walls


    THE OLIVET DISCOURSE 

    Leaving the temple, Jesus took his disciples to Mount of Olives, where he gave them a prophetic discourse that dealt with both the imminent destruction of Jerusalem and its temple and also focused on the destruction of "the world" at his second coming. The oldest and shortest version of this seems to be in Mark, where it is sometimes referred to as "The Little Apocalypse." Longer versions of this eschatological sermon are preserved by Matthew and Luke. The JST revision of Matthew 23:39–24:51 is an inspired expansion of part of the Olivet Discourse; it continues through 25:1–46 with parables about the last days.


    Matthew

    Prophesies: Warnings of Destruction (24:1–35)
    • Destruction of the Temple (24:1–2)
    • Signs of the End Time (24:3–8)
    • Persecutions Foretold (24:9–14)
    • Abomination of Desolation (24:15–28)
    • Parousia (Second Coming) Foreseen (24:29–31)
    • Lesson of the Fig Tree (24:32–35)
    Teachings: The Necessity for Watchfulness (24:36–25:46)

    • "But of That Day and Hour Knoweth No Man . . ." (24:36–44)
    • Parables of the Parousia (24:45–25:46)
      • Parable of the Faithful and Unfaithful Slave (24:45–51)
      • Parable of the Tens Bridesmaids (25:1–13)
      • Parable of the Talents (25:14–30)
      • Parable of the King's Division of the Sheep and the Goats (25:31–46)

    Mark

    Prophecies
    • Destruction of the Temple Foretold (13:1-8)
    • Persecution Foretold (13:9-13)
    • The "Abomination of Desolation" (13:14-23)
    • The Coming of the Son of Man (13:24-27)
    Teachings
    • Lesson of the Fig Tree (13:28-31)
    • "Watch ye therefore . . ." (13:32-37)


    Luke

    Destruction of the Temple (21:5–6)
    Deceptive Signs of the End (21:7–11)
    Persecution of the Disciples (21:12–19)
    Destruction of Jerusalem (21:20–24)
    The Coming of the Son of Man (21:25–36)
    • Parable of the Fig Tree (21:29–33)
    • Be Prepared (21:34–36)


    Preparing for the Second Coming

    "Some of the parables that Matthew records and that Jesus delivered as part of his Olivet Discourse—such as the ten virgins and their lamps or the servants and the talents they were given—are some of the best known of Jesus’ teachings. Reading them in the context of his prophecies about the end of the world, however, makes them clearly parables of preparation. To be on his right hand with his “sheep” rather than at his left hand with the “goats” at his return, we must prepare ourselves now.

    "Regarding this preparation, Elder Dallin H. Oaks taught, “While we are powerless to alter the fact of the Second Coming and unable to know its exact time, we can accelerate our own preparation and try to influence the preparation of those around us.” Regarding the parable of the ten bridesmaids (Matthew 25:1–13), Elder Oaks further observed that “the arithmetic of this parable is chilling.” Because they were invited to the wedding, the
    ten virgins represent members of the Church, and only half of them were ready when the Bridegroom came.


    As I read Jesus’ admonitions to us in the Olivet Discourse as part of my yearly Easter preparations, my joy at the prospect of the return of my King turns to a sober sense of responsibility. His appearance in glory will be “the great and the terrible day of the Lord” (Joel 2:31): welcome and great to his Saints who are ready to meet him, and fearful and terrible to those who are not. The signs of the times that the discourse includes certainly
    lead us to make physical preparations, but we should not wait until we think the Second Coming is about to occur to prepare, because for each of us, tomorrow or even today could be our last day. Accordingly, Elder Oaks warned: “What if the day of His coming were tomorrow? If we knew that we would meet the Lord tomorrow—through our premature death or through His unexpected coming—what would we do today? . . . We need to make both temporal and spiritual preparation for the events prophesied at the time of the Second Coming. And the preparation most likely to be neglected is the one less visible and more difficult—the spiritual.”


    In the end, our judgment will be of our works and our hearts, and the best preparation that we can make for the Second Coming is to have faith in Jesus as the Christ—our anointed Prophet, Priest, and King—and then allow that faith to bear fruit in our lives as repentance, obedience to his gospel and its ordinances, and good works. The message of Easter week is that our King has made it possible for us to be found spotless and pure, with our lamps burning brightly at that last day." (God So Loved the World, 37)
     
    Rachel and I at the Pater Noster Church on the Mount of Olives, the traditional site of the Olivet Discourse



    Reflection 

    The Lord’s private teaching to his closest disciples about his Second Coming was once again a natural result of the events of Palm Sunday. He had entered Jerusalem, seemingly as a recognized Messiah, and many of them may have expected him to take the throne as king. Peter and others of the Twelve had earlier obtained powerful witnesses that he was the Messiah, the true Son of God, but while they understood correctly who Jesus was, they still did not correctly understand what he had come to do. Three times on the road to Jerusalem he had prophesied in the so-called "Passion Predictions" that he would go to Jerusalem to suffer and die (see, for instance, Matthew 16:21–23, 17:22–23, and 20:17–19), and each time they had failed to understand.
    Harry Anderson, Second Coming

    Now, perhaps understanding how confused, terrified, and heart-broken they would be at the end of the week when their Master was taken, tortured, and cruelly slain, he sought to reassure them by pointing their minds forward to that future time when he would, in fact, come in glory as king of all the earth.

    And then shall appear the sign of the Son of man in heaven: and then shall all the tribes of the earth mourn, and they shall see the Son of man coming in the clouds of heaven with power and great glory. And he shall send his angels with a great sound of a trumpet, and they shall gather together his elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other. (Matthew 24:30–31)

    The occasion of their reassurance has, in turn, provided us with a helpful road map to prepare us in the Last Days, which also fills us with hope and anticipation as we look forward to his return.  As we look for the return of our King and the establishment of his millennial reign, the words of hymn 269 reflect our united wish:

    Jehovah, Lord of heav'n and earth, thy word of truth proclaim!  Oh may it spread from pole to pole, till all shall know thy name . . . Roll on thy work in all its power, the distant nations bring!  In thy new kingdom may they stand, and own thee God and King.

    SUMMARY OF JESUS’ TEACHING 

    Luke summarizes Jesus’ teaching in the early part of the week by writing simply:
    And in the day time he was teaching in the temple; and at night he went out, and abode in the mount that is called the mount of Olives. And all the people came early in the morning to him in the temple, for to hear him. (Luke 21:37–38)
    As usual, the material from John is not easily placed in a particular chronological position during the week. These passages are placed here on Tuesday for convenience, but they likewise summarize the reaction of both the people and the leaders to Jesus:
    But though he had done so many miracles before them, yet they believed not on him . . . Nevertheless among the chief rulers also many believed on him; but because of the Pharisees they did not confess him, lest they should be put out of the synagogue: For they loved the praise of men more than the praise of God. (John 12:37–43)
    John, however, closes Jesus’ temple ministry with a powerful testimony of who the Savior is, however, and he further stresses the responsibility of each person to accept or reject him . . . something for us to think about as we review our discipleship this week and consider how strong our faith in Jesus is.
    Jesus cried and said, He that believeth on me, believeth not on me, but on him that sent me.  And he that seeth me seeth him that sent me.  I am come a light into the world, that whosoever believeth on me should not abide in darkness.  And if any man hear my words, and believe not, I judge him not: for I came not to judge the world, but to save the world.  He that rejecteth me, and receiveth not my words, hath one that judgeth him: the word that I have spoken, the same shall judge him in the last day. (John 12:44–48)


    Easter Quick Links