Friday, March 25, 2016

Good Friday

"And he, bearing his cross went forth into a place called the place of the skull, which is called in Hebrew Golgotha: where they crucified him . . .
"After this, Jesus knowing that all things were now accomplished, that the scripture might be fulfilled, saith, I thirst . . . When Jesus therefore had received the vinegar, he said, It is finished: and he bowed his head, and gave up the ghost." (John 19:17–18, 28–30)

Harry Anderson, The Crucifixion

Good Friday is observed with great solemnity in some Christian traditions.  While not marked as a holiday as such in the LDS community, Good Friday can be a tender and reflective time for individuals and families to pause and consider how Jesus, as our great high priest, offered himself as a sacrifice for us: "Neither by the blood of goats and calves, but by his own blood he entered in once into the holy place, having obtained eternal redemption for us" (Hebrews 9:12).  Understanding how and why he died makes the miracle of his resurrection on Easter morning all the more glorious and joyous.

Customarily the day Jesus died on the cross is called "Good Friday" in English, either because it is a "holy" Friday, or, more likely, because in English "good" is often an archaic expression for "God."  For instance, "goodbye" means "go with God."  Accordingly, the Friday before Easter is "God's Friday" because this day saw the culmination of God's efforts to reconcile the world to himself through the death of his Son.  The apostle Paul described it this way:

But God commendeth his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. Much more then, being now justified by his blood, we shall be saved from wrath through him.  For if, when we were enemies, we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, being reconciled, we shall be saved by his life.  And not only so, but we also joy in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom we have now received the atonement. (Romans 5:8–12).
The gospel narratives all agree that Jesus was first tried before Pilate, the Roman governor.  Luke adds that he was also questioned by Herod Antipas, the client ruler of Galilee. During his trial and after his conviction, Jesus was mocked and physically abused before being led to the place of crucifixion, where, after hanging on the cross for three to six hours, he died.  He was then hastily buried in a borrowed tomb.

Scriptural Accounts: Matt 27; Mark 15; Luke 23; John 18:28–19:42; see also 3 Nephi 8

Episodes for Personal Study

  • Jesus in the Hands of the Romans (Mark 15:1–19; Matt 27:1–30; Luke 23:1–25; John 18:29–19:15)
  • Jesus is Crucified (Mark 15:20–28; Matt 27:31–38; Luke 23:26–34, 38; John 19:16–24)
  • Jesus’ Final Hours (Mark 15:29–37; Matt 27:39–50; Luke 23:35–46; John 19:25–30)
  • Signs and Reactions to Jesus’ Death (Mark 15:38–41; Matt 27:51–56; Luke 23:47–49; John 19:31–37)
  • The Burial of Jesus (Mark 15:42–47; Matt 27:57–66; Luke 23:50–56; John 19:38–42)
Carl Bloch, Crucifixion

Suggested Listening: Bach, St . John Passion; Handel, Messiah, Part II.

For further reading: Raymond Brown, The Death of the Messiah (New York: Doubleday, 1994), 665–1313..

Eric D. Huntsman, "Before the Romans," 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), 269–317.

Kent P. Jackson, "The Crucifixion," From the Last Supper to the Resurrection, 318–337.

Eric D. Huntsman, "The Lamb of God: Unique Aspects of the Passion Narrative in John," Behold the Lamb of God: An Easter Celebration (Provo: Religious Study Center, 2008), 49–70, n.b., 60–65.

Dawn C. Pheysey, "Picturing the Crucifixion," Behold the Lamb of God: An Easter Celebration, 155–164.

Robert Millet, "Glorying in the Cross of Christ," Behold the Lamb of God: An Easter Celebration, 125–138.

Cecilia M. Peek, "The Burial," From the Last Supper to the Resurrection, 338–377.

Ideas for Families

  • Discuss the trial and abuse of Jesus.  How did these experiences constitute part of “descending below all things?” 
  • Read Isaiah 53:3–4 and discuss what it means that Jesus was “a man of sorrows.”  What is the connection between the Lord’s sufferings and how we are falsely judged and badly treated?
  • Sing "O Savior, Thou Who Wearest a Crown" (hymn 197).
  • Read one of the gospel accounts of the crucifixion, such as John 19:17–30.
  • Take turns reading the Last Words of Christ (Luke 23:34; 23:43; John 19:26–27; Mark 15:34/Matthew 27:46; John 19:28; Luke 23:46; John 19:30).
  • Sing one of the sacrament hymns that described Jesus’ death on the cross, such as “Upon the Cross of Calvary” (hymn 184), “Behold the Great Redeemer Die” (hymn 191), or “There Is a Green Hill Far Away” (hymn 194).
  • Read John 3:14–18, John 12:32, and 3 Nephi 27:14–15 and talk about the symbolism of the cross.
  • Share testimonies of how Jesus died for our sins.

On this, the most solemn day of the year, I often begin my reflections and devotions by listening to the sad strains of "Kommt, ihr Töchter, helft mir klagen," the opening chorus of The St. Matthew Passion.

Kommt, ihr Töchter, helft mir klagen,

Sehet—Wen? Den Bräutigam,

Seht ihn—Wie? - als wie ein Lamm!

Sehet—Was? Seht die Geduld,

Seht—Wohin? Auf unsre Schuld;

Sehet ihn aus Lieb und Huld

Holz zum Kreuze selber tragen!

Come, you daughters, help me to lament,
See—Whom? The bridegroom,
See him—How? Like a lamb! See—What? See his patience,
See—Where? Our guilt;
See how from love and grace
He bears the wood of the cross himself!

Traditional Anglican collect for the day:

 Almighty God, we pray you graciously to behold this thy human family for whom our Lord Jesus Christ was willing to be betrayed, and given into the hands of sinners, and to suffer death upon the cross: who lives and reigns with thee and the Holy Spirit, one God, forever and ever.

Brief Discussion of the Events of the Friday before Easter
See the much longer discussion in God So Loved the World, 71–93.

Titian, "Christ Crowned with Thorns," 1540

Jesus in the Hands of the Romans
Trial, Scourging, and Mocking

  • Before Pilate (Mark 15: 2–5; Matt 27:2–14; Luke 23:1–12; John 18:28–38a)
  • Suicide of Judas Iscariot (Matt 27:3–10)
  • Pilate and Jesus
  • Pilate interviews Christ Privately Jjohn 18:33–38a: Art thou a king?)
  • Jesus before Herod (Luke 23:6–12)
  • Jesus again before Pilate and the mob (Mark 15:6–11; Matt 27:15–23; Luke 23:13–23; John 18:38b–19:12)
  • Pilate hands jesus over to be crucified (Mark 15:12–15; Matt 27:24–26; Luke 23:24–26; John 19:13–16)
  • The soldiers mock Jesus preliminary to his crucifixion (Mark 15:16–20a; Matt 27:27–31)
  • Simon of Cyrene bears the cross (Mark 15:20b–21; Matt 27:32; Luke 23:26; the Johannine Jesus carries his own cross)
  • Women bewail Jesus (Luke 23:27–31)
Mihály Munkácsy, Christ before Pilate
Whereas the charge in the Jewish hearing was one of blasphemy, the one laid against Jesus in the Roman trial was political: Jesus claimed to be a king, an offense against the Roman order.  Pilate is described in the gospels as indecisive and at times even desirous to let Jesus go.  This in no way exculpates him; when political pressure is brought upon him by the Jewish leadership ("If thou let this man go, thou are not Caesar's friend . . ." John 19:12), Pilate knowingly allowed an innocent man be executed.  In the end, discussions of immediate responsibility are irrelevant.  Jesus' death was a critical part of the plan of salvation, and it was made necessary by us.  Elsewhere I have written,
. . . what remains important is that judgment took place, and it is both significant and ironic that the two 'trials' of Jesus took place before the two peoples who were most dedicated to and obsessed by law. Just as the two trials reflect the two realities of Christ’s identity—as both Son of God and King—so the Jews and the Romans represent all Gentiles and all of Israel (Acts 4:27). Examining the trial should not be for us an issue of assigning culpability—to Judas, the chief priests, or Pilate—for the betrayal and condemnation were necessary parts of the Atonement." ("Roman Trial of Jesus," From the Last Supper to the Resurrection, 316)
Stained glass window in the Church of the Flagellation
And the world, because of their iniquity, shall judge him to be a thing of naught; wherefore they scourge him, and he suffereth it; and they smite him, and he suffereth it. Yea, they spit upon him, and he suffereth it, because of his loving kindness and his long-suffering towards the children of men. (1 Nephi 19:9)
After both the Jewish hearing and the Roman trial, Jesus was subjected to abuse: mocking, scourging, spitting.  Although often overlooked as we concentrate on the three pivotal points of the Atonement—Gethsemane, Golgotha, and Garden Tomb---this abuse was a prophesied part of what Jesus would suffer for us.  The fact some of the most powerful recorded prophecies of the abuse and mockery are found in the Book of Mormon in such passages as 1 Nephi 19:9, 2 Nephi 6:9, and Mosiah 3:9 suggests that they cannot be overlooked.  "The focus there is not with when and how the scourging, hitting, and spitting took place, but why. Christ was willing to suffer these things ‘because of his loving kindness and his long-suffering towards the children of men.’" (Huntsman, 316317)
Crown of thorns mosaic from Church of the Flagellation
Much of this experience is powerfully represented in the beautiful hymn adapted from a Bach chorus, "O Savior, Thou Who Wearest a Crown."
O Savior, thou who wearest
A crown of piercing thorn,
The pain thou meekly bearest,
Weigh’d down by grief and scorn.
The soldiers mock and flail thee;
For drink they give thee gall;
Upon the cross they nail thee
To die, O King of all.
No creature is so lowly,
No sinner so depraved,
But feels thy presence holy
And thru thy love is saved.
Tho craven friends betray thee,
They feel thy love’s embrace;
The very foes who slay thee
Have access to thy grace.

Thy sacrifice transcended
The mortal law’s demand;
Thy mercy is extended
To ev’ry time and land.
No more can Satan harm us,
Tho long the fight may be,
Nor fear of death alarm us;
We live, O Lord, thru thee.

What praises can we offer
To thank thee, Lord most high?
In our place thou didst suffer;
In our place thou didst die,
By heaven’s plan appointed,
To ransom us, our King.
O Jesus, the anointed,
To thee our love we bring! (Hymn 197)
Reflection: A Man of Sorrows

As noted yesterday, the cumulative feelings of betrayal, abuse, rejection, and false judgment despised were foreseen by Isaiah, whose words are movingly caught by Handel in the sorrowful mezzo-soprano air "He Was Despised" (see
(Isaiah 53:3).  Today, on Good Friday, with the image of our Lord, bruised and bleeding and bearing the cross, the wrenching choruses "Surely He Hath Born Our Griefs" and "With His Stripes We Are Healed" are particularly poignant:
Surely he hath borne our griefs, 
      and carried our sorrows: 
yet we did esteem him stricken, 
     smitten of God, and afflicted. 
But he was wounded for our transgressions, 
     he was bruised for our iniquities: 
the chastisement of our peace was upon him; 
     and with his stripes we are healed. (Isaiah 53:4-5)
Frieze from the Church of the Condemnation
The fact that "with his stripes we are healed" demonstrates that these incidents were, in fact, parts of our Lord’s atoning journey. Further, what Jesus experienced personally in this terrible day, together with the vicarious suffering that began in the Garden the night before, seem part of the filling his bowels with mercy "that he may know how to succor his people according to their infirmities" (See Alma 7:12).

Yet even while the Lord can truly empathize with us in our afflictions, there are ways in which our sorrows, heartaches, and sufferings allow us, in some measure, to be more like our Savior. Paul wrote, "For as the sufferings of Christ abound in us, so our consolation also aboundeth by Christ" (2 Corinthians 1:5). How often we pray to be more like Jesus, but when pain, rejection, loss, and heartache come our way, we recoil and beg for these experiences to be taken away! Yet when we learn true patience, the Latin root of which is "suffer," from these experiences, our ability to trust in God and understand and empathize with others who similarly suffer grows exponentially.

Click here for a moving performance of this hear-rending song by Liz Hilton, one of our Jerusalem Center alums.

Down the Via Dolorosa in Jerusalem that day
The soldiers tried to clear the narrow street
But the crowd pressed in to see
A Man condemned to die on Calvary
He was bleeding
from a beating, there were stripes upon His back
And He wore a crown of thorns upon His head
And He bore with every step
The scorn of those who cried out for His death

Down the Via Dolorosa called the way of suffering
Like a lamb came the Messiah, Christ the King,
But He chose to walk that road out of His love
For you and me.
Down the Via Dolorosa, all the way to Calvary.

Por la Via Dolorosa, triste dia en Jerusalem
Los saldados le abrian paso a Jesus
Mas la gente se acercaba
Para ver al que llevaba aquella cruz
Por la Via Dolorosa, que es la via Del dolor
Como oveja vino Cristo, Rey, Señor
Y fue El quien quiso ir por su amor
Por ti y Por mi
Por la Via Dolorosa al Calvario y a morir

The blood that would cleanse the souls of all men
Made its way to the heart of Jerusalem.
Down the Via Dolorosa called the way of suffering
Like a lamb came the Messiah, Christ the King
But He chose to walk that road out of His love
For you and me
Down the Via Dolorosa, all the way to Calvary.

The Crucifixion

The Synoptics, following Mark, have Jesus crucified at the third hour (approximately 9:00 a.m.).  Darkness and physical manifestations of the suffering of Jesus occurred at the sixth hour (12:00 noon), and Jesus died at the sixth hour (about 3:00 p.m.).  Some scholars have suggested that Mark wrote his gospel to be read aloud, and that these precise hours reflect an early Christian practice of dramatizing the Passion narrative and perhaps praying or worshiping at these hours.  John portrays the crucifixion as taking place at noon, which gives more time for the trial and the events of that morning; he agrees that our Lord died about 3:00.
J. Kirk Richard, Grey Day at Golgotha

  • Jesus is crucified (Mark 15:22–28; Matt 27:33–38; Luke 23:32–34, 38; John 19:17b–24)
  • Jesus is mocked (Mark 15:29–32; Matt 27:39–44; Luke 23:3–39)
  • "Salvation" of the Believing Bandit (Luke 23:40–43)
  • Women at the Foot of the Cross (John 19:25)
  • Jesus’ Mother Commended to the Beloved Disciple (John 19:26–27)
While it became popular in the Middle Ages to focus on extreme suffering of Jesus' scourging and crucifixion, the gospels themselves are sparing of such brutal details.  They simply state, for instance, "there they crucified him."  Instead the emphasis is on the words and symbolic acts of Jesus that fulfill prophecy.  These include the the division of his garments, his crucifixion between two bandits or criminals, mocking that Jesus endured upon the cross, the so-called "Seven Last Sayings of Jesus," offering poor wine as a drink, the failure to break his legs, and his side being pierced.

Further reflections from Handel's Messiah

The mocking that Jesus endured on the cross—from those passing by, from the chief priests and scribes, and from even one of the thieves being crucified at his side—is introduced in Messiah by a tenor recitative adapted from Psalm 22:7.

All they that see Him, laugh him to scorn;     they shoot out their lips, and shake their heads, saying:

The chorus then begins with the basses, followed by the tenors and eventually the full choir taking the part of those opponents who had done so much to orchestrate Jesus' death:
He trusted in God that he would deliver him;
     let him deliver him, if he delight in him. (Psalm 22:8)

The tenor soloist then sings movingly of the impact of this on Jesus, who was suffering this derision on top of his physical and spiritual anguish for the very foes who were slaying him:
Thy rebuke hath broken his heart;
     He is full of heaviness.
He looked for some to have pity on Him,
     but there was no man
     neither found he any to comfort Him. (Psalm 69:20)

Behold, and see if there be any sorrow,
      like unto His sorrow. (Lamentation 1:12)

Last Sayings of Jesus
Liz Lemon Swindle, "It Is Finished"

  • "Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do" (Luke 23:34).
  • "Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in paradise" (Luke 23:43).
  • "Woman, behold your son: behold your mother" (John 19:26–27).
  • "Eli Eli lema sabachthani?" (My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?" Matthew 27:46 and Mark 15:34).
  • "I thirst" (John 19:28).
  • "It is finished" (John 19:30).
  • "Father, into your hands I commit my spirit" (Luke 23:46).
"Gordon's Calvary," a site near the Garden Tomb identified in the late eighteenth century as a Protestant alternative to the Holy Sepulchre.

Last Moments (Mark 15:33–37; Matt 27:45–50; Luke 23:44–46; John 19:28–30)

Significantly, the greatest suffering that our Lord suffered on the cross does not seem to be anything that man inflicted upon him.  Jesus’ cry, "My God, why hast thou forsaken me?" (Mark 15:34–35; Matt 27:46–47), may reflect that, as in Gethsemane, carrying the weight of our sins necessarily separated him from his Father in a way that he never experienced before, leading Elder McConkie, following Elder Talmage, to write:

Then the heavens grew black. Darkness covered the land for the space of three hours, as it did among the Nephites. There was a mighty storm, as though the very God of Nature was in agony. And truly he was, for while he was hanging on the cross for another three hours, from noon to 3:00 p.m., all the infinite agonies and merciless pains of Gethsemane recurred. (McConkie, May 1985)
When the prophecies had all been fulfilled and his work for us completed, our Lord cried out and died (Mark 15:37; Matt 27:50; Luke 23:46).  Luke sensitively notes that Jesus commended his spirit to his Father; John records that he authoritatively declared "It is finished" (John 19:30b), typical of the divine Johannine Jesus who "laid down his life" because no one could take it from him.

Two of my favorite sacrament hymns reflect these final events, portraying them with different tenors.  First, "Behold the Great Redeemer Die."

Samuel and Rachel in front of the traditional Rock of Golgotha in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre
Behold the great Redeemer die,
A broken law to satisfy.
He dies a sacrifice for sin,
He dies a sacrifice for sin,
That man may live and glory win.

While guilty men his pains deride,
They pierce his hands and feet and side;
And with insulting scoffs and scorns,
And with insulting scoffs and scorns,
They crown his head with plaited thorns.

Although in agony he hung,
No murm’ring word escaped his tongue.
His high commission to fulfill,
His high commission to fulfill,
He magnified his Father’s will.

“Father, from me remove this cup.
Yet, if thou wilt, I’ll drink it up.
I’ve done the work thou gavest me,
I’ve done the work thou gavest me;
Receive my spirit unto thee.”

He died, and at the awful sight
The sun in shame withdrew its light!
Earth trembled, and all nature sighed,
Earth trembled, and all nature sighed
In dread response, “A God has died!” (Hymn, 191)

Then, "There Is a Green Hill Far Away."

There is a green hill far away,
Without a city wall,
Where the dear Lord was crucified,
Who died to save us all.

We may not know, we cannot tell,
What pains he had to bear,
But we believe it was for us
He hung and suffered there.

There was no other good enough
To pay the price of sin.
He only could unlock the gate
Of heav’n and let us in. (Hymn 194)

In the tradition of the medieval verdant cross. Often the cross was green in stained glass windows, and sometimes paintings depicted it sprouting leaves, flowers, and even fruit. The idea was that the dead tree of cursing (the instrument of Jesus' death) became a new Tree of Life (the instrument of our salvation and resurrection).

Pacino de Buonaguida, Tree of Life
In God So Loved the World, 84–85, I wrote the following about the symbolism and importance of the cross:
For many Christians the experience on the cross has become central to the expressions of their faith in what Jesus did for us.  For them it is not purely a symbol of death, particularly in the Protestant tradition, where the cross is empty, because he has risen and is no longer there.  As Latter-day Saints we rarely use cross imagery, largely because of our focus on a living Christ rather than a crucified Christ.  But part of this may also have arisen from the fact that the early members of the Church in the New York and Ohio periods came out of a fairly Puritan Protestant background that generally avoided images of any kind.

In 1975 President Hinckley addressed the issue of such symbolism in an important address subsequently reprinted in the April 2005 Ensign.  In it, he pointed out that the greatest symbol of Christ is found in the lives of his people.  Indeed, we are charged to bear his image in our countenances and hold up his light in the examples of our lives (Alma 5:14; 3 Nephi 18:16b, 24).  Nevertheless, although we do not use the symbol of the cross, we remember weekly what happened on it, as revealed by the texts of most of our sacrament hymns, which often focus on the final act of Calvary more than on Gethsemane.  But Jesus did not just bear our sins or even suffer for them-he died for them, and he died in a way that had long been prophesied.  As President Hinckley has noted,           

". . . no member of this Church must ever forget the terrible price paid by our Redeemer who gave his life that all men might live-the agony of Gethsemane, the bitter mockery of his trial, the vicious crown of thorns tearing at his flesh, the blood cry of the mob before Pilate, the lonely burden of his heavy walk along the way to Calvary, the terrifying pain as great nails pierced his hands and feet, the fevered torture of his body as he hung that tragic day . . . This was the cross, the instrument of his torture, the terrible device designed to destroy the Man of Peace, the evil recompense for his miraculous work of healing the sick, of causing the blind to see, of raising the dead. This was the cross on which he hung and died on Golgotha's lonely summit. We cannot forget that. We must never forget it, for here our Savior, our Redeemer, the Son of God, gave himself a vicarious sacrifice for each of us."
Hendrick Goltzius, "Christ on the Tree of Life," 1610
The cross was not just the means of our Lord's death, it was also a symbol of what that death has and will accomplish for us.  Historically, the cross was not necessarily the Latin or Greek cross of art; it was just as likely to have been scaffolding or upright poles to which crossbeams of various kinds were attached for any number of criminals.  Instead, the significance of the cross is found in the image of raising Jesus up, like the brazen serpent in the wilderness (Numbers 21:9; see also 2 Nephi 25:20; Alma 33:19; Helaman 8:14-16).  Three times the Savior referred to this symbolism in the gospel of John (John 3:14; 8:28; 12:32), but nowhere is the point made more clearly than when the Risen Lord himself said this to the Nephites:
" . . . my Father sent me that I might be lifted up upon the cross; and after that I had been lifted up upon the cross, that I might draw all men unto me, that as I have been lifted up by men even so should men be lifted up by the Father, to stand before me, to be judged of their works, whether they be good or whether they be evil—And for this cause have I been lifted up; therefore, according to the power of the Father I will draw all men unto me, that they may be judged according to their works." (3 Nephi 27:14-15, emphases added)
Finally, the crucifixion left lasting tokens of the Lord's saving act, marks that were used to impart a sure witness that he was the Lord and God of those whom he saved.  Although the experience of Thomas after the resurrection does suggest that we should be believing before we receive such assurance (John 19:24-29), Jesus' display of the marks in his hands, feet, and side took on almost ritual significance when he appeared to the Nephites at the temple in Bountiful: "Arise and come forth unto me, that ye may thrust your hands into my side, and also that ye may feel the prints of the nails in my hands and in my feet, that ye may know that I am the God of Israel, and the God of the whole earth, and have been slain for the sins of the world." (3 Nephi 11:14)

Musical Reflection: "When I Survey the Wondrous Cross"

The noted Christian poet Isaac Watts (1674–1748) wrote the words to this stirring hymn as he was preparing for a communion service in 1707.  He was inspired by Galatians 6:14, which reads, "But God forbid that I should glory, save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom the world is crucified unto me, and I unto the world."  Charles Wesley (1717-1788), another noted English hymn composer, is claimed to have said that he would rather have written this than all of his other hymns, and Matthew Arnold (1822-1888) called it the greatest hymn of the English language (see Osbeck, Amazing Grace, second edition, 103, and Morgan, Then Sings My Soul, special edition, 89).

As we come to better understand that everything that Jesus suffered from the Garden of Gethsemane through his final moments on the cross was vital to the atonement that he worked on our behalf, his sacrifice can change us ever more powerfully:
When I survey the wondrous cross
On which the Prince of glory died,
My richest gain I count but loss,
And pour contempt on all my pride.

Forbid it, Lord, that I should boast,
Save in the death of Christ my God!
All the vain things that charm me most,
I sacrifice them to His blood.

See from His head, His hands, His feet,
Sorrow and love flow mingled down!
Did e’er such love and sorrow meet,
Or thorns compose so rich a crown?

His dying crimson, like a robe,
Spreads o’er His body on the tree;
Then I am dead to all the globe,
And all the globe is dead to me.

Were the whole realm of nature mine,
That were a present far too small;
Love so amazing, so divine,
Demands my soul, my life, my all.
Signs and Reactions to Christ’s Death (Mark 15:38–41; Matt 27:51–56; Luke 23:45b, 47–49; John 19:31–37)

The Synoptics Record that upon Jesus’ death, the veil of the temple was torn from the top to the bottom, indicating that it was rent by God from above rather than by any person below.  Hebrew 9:11–12, 24–26 explicates this symbolism, teaching that the blood and death of Christ have opened the way for all to come into the presence of God.

Interestingly, it was a Gentile, the Roman centurion in charge of the crucifixion, whose reaction is the most telling: “Truly this man was the Son of God” (Mark 15:39).  While the people who had gathered mourned and finally left (Luke 23:48), the women who had followed Jesus since Galilee stood afar and continued their role as witnesses—having seen how Jesus died, they will next see where he is buried and at last find that same tomb empty Easter morning.

The final images of Jesus as the Lamb of God are found after He voluntarily surrendered His spirit. When the Jewish leadership asked the Roman authorities to break the legs of those being crucified so that their bodies would not desecrate the Sabbath—and in John, the Passover itself—the soldiers first broke the legs of the two insurgents or revolutionaries (lestai, King James Version “thieves”) who had been crucified with Him. When they came to Jesus, however, and found that He was already dead, they did not break Jesus’s legs “that the scripture should be fulfilled, A bone of him shall not be broken” (John 19:31–33, 36). While this was a fulfillment of the prophecy of Psalm 34:21, not breaking any bones was a particular requirement of the Paschal Lamb, one that was as significant as the prerequisite that the Paschal Lamb, like Jesus, be without blemish (see Exodus 12:46; Numbers 9:12).

John ends his testimony of the Lord's saving death with this important event:

But when they came to Jesus, and saw that he was dead already, they brake not his legs.  But one of the soldiers with a spear pierced his side, and forthwith came there out blood and water. And he that saw it bare record, and his record is true: and he knoweth that he saith true, that ye might believe." (John 19:33-35)
John emphasized the importance of this sign, I think, because it provides a testimony of who Jesus really was and what he had done for us.  Throughout the gospel of John blood is the symbol of life but mortal life, whereas water is a symbol of eternal or divine life.  Could it be that the blood represented Jesus' mortal inheritance from his mother Mary, the power to lay his life down for sin and that water represented his divine inheritance from God his Father, the power to take it up again and be to us "a well of water springing up unto everlasting life?"  (See “The Lamb of God: Unique Aspects of the Passion Narrative in John,” Behold the Lamb of God: An Easter Celebration, 62–64, and God So Loved the World, 90–91).

Artistic Reflection: The Lamentation

Michelangelo, Pietà , 1498–99
One of the most powerful episodes artistically is one that is not accounted for scripturally. Whereas the gospels agree that Joseph of Arimathea requested the body of Jesus from Pilate and was given permission to bury it, nothing is said of the women who grimly watched the crucifixion except that they followed afar off and saw where the body was laid.

Few more images are more powerful, however, than those based on the theme of the heart-rending despair felt by those who loved Jesus.  Works of art often depict Jesus’ mother, Mary, John, the other women, an even angels of the heavenly hosts lamenting over the body of Jesus. No parent who has lost a child—either in actuality or metaphorically—can fail to be moved by images of the Pietà, Mary holding the body of her beloved son.
Bloch, Burial

The Burial of Jesus

  • Joseph of Arimathaea Requests Jesus’ Body (Mark 15:42–45; Matt 27:57–58; Luke 23:50–52 [Joseph’s righteousness and messianic expectation attested]; John 19:38 [Joseph a secret disciple])
  • Nicodemus Brings a Kingly Amount of Burial Spices in Daylight (John 19:39–40; cf. 3:2a, 14)
  • Placing the Body in the New Tomb (Mark 15:46a; Matt 27:58–60a; Luke 23:53–54; John 19:41–42)
  • Sealing the Tomb (Mark 15:46b; Matt 27:60b)
  • The Women Witness Where the Body Was Laid (Mark 15:47; Matt 27:61; Luke 23:55–56)
  • The Pharisees Request and Obtain a Guard from Pilate (Matt 27:62–66)
Following Jesus' death, Joseph of Arimathea, assisted according to John by Nicodemus, obtained the body of Jesus and buried it in a "new tomb."  Nicodemus' involvement in the Fourth Gospel is telling.  Sometimes seen as a secret disciple of Jesus or as one who represents those who lacked sufficient faith to support Him openly, he had visited Jesus secretly by night in John 3 and then tried, weakly, to speak for Jesus before the council in John 7:45-53.  However, in his third appearance in the Gospel of John at the burial of Jesus (19:38-42), Nicodemus, who earlier had come to Jesus when it was dark, comes out into the light, bringing a kingly amount of spices to assist Joseph of Arimathaea in preparing Jesus= body to be placed in the tomb.  Significantly, this occurs after Jesus has been lifted up upon the cross, a fulfilment of a prophecy made by Jesus that He would be lifted up "as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness" (3:14).

Traditionally placed at the site of the Holy Sepulchre, which in the Herodian period was outside of the city walls, many Protestants and most Latter-day Saints instead identify the Garden Tomb outside the current city walls near the site of Gordon's Calvary (which today looks like a skull) as the probable site of Jesus' final resting place. 

Located in a modern garden, it conveys better the sense of what the tomb and its setting must indeed have been like, and Presidents Lee and Kimball are both on record as having had particularly strong impressions at the site.  On the other hand, many archaeologists have noted that the Garden Tomb is actually a much earlier tomb and does not date to the first century.  President Hinckley, in his personal remarks preluding the Testimony of the Living Christ that was filmed on the site, has said, "Just outside the walls of Jerusalem, in this place or somewhere nearby was the tomb of Joseph of Arimathea, where the body of the Lord was interred."  (see my discussion of sites in God So Loved the World, 81, 100-101)  

Perhaps more exactly similar to the tomb of Joseph of Arimathea is the family tomb of the Herods or a number of first-century tombs near Bethphage, which are securely dated to the time of Christ and include the rolling stones and other features described.  Still, the Garden Tomb remains in the hearts and minds the best place for picturing the setting not just of our Lord's burial but also the miracle of his resurrection.


Easter Quicklinks


  1. Thanks so much for posting these, Brother Huntsman. I couldn't have done Jerusalem with out you. Your knowledge is well adored by your students.

  2. This is an excellent resource, one I have been looking for...I came across a book not long ago about how to celebrate passover with our Jewish friends. I would like to see one with a title something like "Easter: a Guide for Latter-day Saints and How to Celebrate the Greatest Event in Human History with our Fellow Christians." Deseret Book could do this. The visual and traditional richness of source material around the world, especially from the Holy Land itself, is astounding.