Passion of Jesus
In Christianity, the Passion (“suffering, enduring”) is the short final period in the life of Jesus beginning with his triumphal entry into Jerusalem and ending with his crucifixion and his death on Good Friday.
It includes, among other events, the last supper, Jesus’ agony in the garden, his arrest by the Sanhedrin priests, and his trial before Pontius Pilate. Those parts of the four Gospels that describe these events are known as the “Passion narratives”. In some Christian communities, commemoration of the Passion also includes remembrance of the sorrow of Mary, the mother of Jesus, on the Friday of Sorrows.
The word passion has taken on a more general application and now may also apply to accounts of the suffering and death of Christian martyrs, sometimes using the Latin form passio.
Gospel narratives according to the four evangelists
The accounts of the Passion are found in the four canonical gospels, Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. Three of these, Matthew, Mark, and Luke, known as the Synoptic Gospels, give very similar accounts. The Gospel of John account varies slightly.
The events include:
- The conspiracy against Jesus by the Jewish Sanhedrin priests and the teachers of the law, now known as Council Friday.
- Triumphal entry into Jerusalem, his anger and outburst at the Cleansing of the Temple
- A meal a few days before Passover. A woman anoints Jesus. He says that for this she will always be remembered.
- In Jerusalem, the Last Supper shared by Jesus and his disciples. Jesus gives final instructions, predicts his betrayal, and tells them all to remember him.
- On the path to Gethsemane after the meal. Jesus tells them they will all fall away that night; after Peter protests he will not, Jesus says Peter will deny him three times before the cock crows.
- Gethsemane, later that night, Jesus prays, meanwhile, the disciples rest. Then Judas Iscariot leads in either “a detachment of soldiers and some officials from the chief priests and Pharisees” (accompanied according to Luke’s Gospel by the chief priests and elders), or a “large crowd armed with swords and clubs, sent from the chief priests and elders of the people,” which arrests Jesus; all his disciples run away. During the arrest in Gethsemane, someone (Peter according to John) takes a sword and cuts off the ear of the high priest’s servant, Malchus.
- The high priest’s palace, later that night. The arresting party brings Jesus to the Sanhedrin (Jewish supreme court); according to Luke’s Gospel, Jesus is beaten by his Jewish guards prior to his examination;the court examines him, in the course of which, according to John’s Gospel, Jesus is struck in the face by one of the Jewish officials; the court determine he deserves to die (see Sanhedrin Trial of Jesus). According to Matthew’s Gospel, the court then “spat in his face and struck him with their fists.” They then send him to Pontius Pilate. According to the synoptic gospels, the high priest who examines Jesus is Caiaphas; in John, Jesus is also interrogated by Annas, Caiaphas’ father-in-law.
- The courtyard outside the high priest’s palace, the same time. Peter has followed Jesus and joined the mob awaiting Jesus’ fate; they suspect he is a sympathizer, so Peter denies he knows Jesus. Suddenly, the cock crows and Peter remembers what Jesus had said.
- The governor’s palace, early morning. Pilate, the Roman governor, examines Jesus, decides he is innocent; the Jewish leaders and the crowd demand Jesus’ death; Pilate gives them the choice of saving Barabbas, a criminal, or saving Jesus. In response to the screaming mob Pilate sends Jesus out to be crucified. According to the Gospel of Matthew, Judas, the betrayer, is filled with remorse and tries to return the money he was paid for betraying Jesus. When the high priests say that that is his affair, Judas throws the money into the temple, goes off, and hangs himself.
- Golgotha, a hill outside Jerusalem, later morning through mid afternoon. Jesus is crucified and dies.
The Gospel of Luke states that Pilate sends Jesus to be judged by Herod Antipas because as a Galilean he is under his jurisdiction. Herod is excited at first to see Jesus and hopes Jesus will perform a miracle for him; he asks Jesus several questions but Jesus does not answer. Herod then mocks him and sends him back to Pilate after giving him an “elegant” robe to wear.
All the Gospels relate that a man named Barabbas  was released by Pilate instead of Jesus. Matthew, Mark and John have Pilate offer a choice between Jesus and Barabbas to the crowd; Luke lists no choice offered by Pilate, but represents the crowd demanding his release.
According to the Gospel of John, Pilate has Jesus brought out a second time, wearing the purple robe and the crown of thorns, in order to appeal his innocence before the crowd, saying Ecce homo, (“Behold the man”). But, John represents, the priests urge the crowd to demand Jesus’ death. Pilate resigns himself to the decision, washing his hands (according to Matthew) before the people as a sign that Jesus’ blood will not be upon him. According to the Gospel of Matthew they replied, “His blood be on us and on our children!”
Mark and Matthew record that Jesus is returned his own clothes, prior to being led out for execution. According to the Gospel accounts he is forced, like other victims of crucifixion, to drag his own cross to Golgotha, the location of the execution. The three Synoptic Gospels refer to a man called Simon of Cyrene who is made to carry the cross (Mark 15:21, Matthew 27:32, Luke 23:26), while in the Gospel of John (19:17) Jesus is made to carry his own cross. The Gospel of Mark gives the names of Simon’s children, Alexander and Rufus. However, the Gospel of Luke refers to Simon carrying the cross after Jesus, in that it states: “they laid hold upon one Simon, a Cyrenian, coming out of the country, and on him they laid the cross, that he might bear it after Jesus”. Luke adds that Jesus’ female followers follow, mourning his fate, but that he responds by quoting Hosea 10:8.
According to the Gospels, two thieves are also crucified, one on each side of him. According to Luke, one of the thieves reviles Jesus, while the other declares Jesus innocent and begs that he might be remembered when Jesus comes to his kingdom (see Penitent thief).
John records that Mary, his mother, and two other women stand by the cross as does a disciple, described as the one whom Jesus loved. Jesus commits his mother to this disciple’s care. According to the synoptics, the sky becomes dark at midday and the darkness lasts for three hours, until the ninth hour when Jesus cries out Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani? (“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”) The centurion standing guard, who has seen how Jesus has died, declares Jesus innocent (Luke) or the “Son of God” (Matthew, Mark).
John says that, as was the custom, the soldiers come and break the legs of the thieves, so that they will die faster, but that on coming to Jesus they find him already dead. A soldier pierces his side with a spear.
Gospel of Saint Peter
The narrative begins with Pilate washing his hands, as in Matthew, but the Jews and Herod refuse this. Joseph of Arimathea, before Jesus has been crucified, asks for his body, and Herod says he is going to take it down to comply with the Jewish custom of not leaving a dead body hung on a tree overnight. Herod then turns Jesus over to the people who drag him, give him a purple robe, crown him with thorns, and beat and flog him.
There are also two criminals, crucified on either side of him and, as in Luke, one begs Jesus for forgiveness. The writer says Jesus is silent as they crucify him, “…as if in no pain.”  Jesus is labeled the King of Israel on his cross and his clothes are divided and gambled over.
As in the canonical Gospels, darkness covers the land. Jesus is also given vinegar to drink. Peter has “My Power, My Power, why have you forsaken me?” as the last words of Jesus, rather than “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?” as quoted in Mark. He is then “taken up”, possibly a euphemism for death or maybe an allusion to heaven. Peter then has a resurrection, similar to the other books.
Serapion of Antioch urged the exclusion of the Gospel of Peter from the Church because Docetists were using it to bolster their theological claims, which Serapion rejected. Many modern scholars also reject this conclusion, as the statement about Jesus being silent “as if in no pain” seems to be based on Isaiah’s description of the suffering servant, “as a sheep that before its shearers is silent, so he opened not his mouth.” (Isaiah 53:7).
The Trials of Jesus
The gospels provide differing accounts of the trial of Jesus. Mark describes two separate proceedings, one involving Jewish leaders and one in which the Roman prefect for Judea, Pontius Pilate, plays the key role. Both Matthew and John’s accounts generally support Mark’s two-trial version. Luke, alone among the gospels, adds yet a third proceeding: having Pilate send Jesus to Herod Antipas. The non-canonical Gospel of Peter describes a single trial scene involving Jewish, Roman, and Herodian officials.
Old Testament prophecy
The first and most obvious is the one from Isaiah 52:13–53:12 (either 8th or 6th century BC). This prophetic oracle describes a sinless man who will atone for the sins of his people. By his voluntary suffering, he will save sinners from the just punishment of God. The death of Jesus is said to fulfill this prophecy. For example, “He had no form or comeliness that we should look at him, and no beauty that we should desire him. He was despised and rejected by men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief; and as one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not. Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted. But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that made us whole, and with his stripes we are healed” (53:2-5).
The second prophecy of Christ’s Passion is the ancient text which Jesus himself quoted, while he was dying on the cross. From the cross, Jesus cried with a loud voice, Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani? which means, “My God, my God, why hast Thou forsaken me?” These words of Jesus were a quotation of the ancient HE. King David, in Psalm 22, foretold the sufferings of the messiah. For example, “I am a worm and no man, the reproach of men and the outcast of the people. All who see me, laugh me to scorn, they draw apart their lips, and wag their heads: ‘He trusts in the Lord: let him free him, let him deliver him if he loves him.’ Stand not far from me, for I am troubled; be thou near at hand: for I have no helper… Yea, dogs are round about me; a company of evildoers encircle me; they have pierced my hands and feet – I can count all my bones – they stare and gloat over me; they divide my garments among them, and for my raiment they cast lots” (Psalm 22:7-19). The words “they have pierced my hands and feet” are disputed, however.
The third main prophecy of the Passion is from the Book of the Wisdom of Solomon. Protestant Christians place it in the Apocrypha, Roman Catholics and Eastern Orthodox among the deuterocanonical books. But it was written about 150 BC, and many have understood these verses (12-20 of chapter 2) as a direct prophecy of Jesus’ Passion. For example, “Let us lie in wait for the just, because he is not for our turn… He boasteth that he hath the knowledge of God, and calleth himself the son of God…and glorieth that he hath God for his father. Let us see then if his words be true… For if he be the true son of God, he will defend him, and will deliver him from the hands of his enemies. Let us examine him by outrages and tortures… Let us condemn him to a most shameful death … These things they thought, and were deceived, for their own malice blinded them” (Wisdom 2:12-20).
In addition to the above, it deserves to be mentioned that at least three other, less elaborate messianic prophecies were fulfilled in Jesus’ crucifixion. Namely, the following Old Testament passages:
“Many are the afflictions of the just man; but the Lord delivers him from all of them. He guards all his bones: not even one of them shall be broken” (Psalm 34:20).
“And they gave me gall for my food, and in my thirst they gave me vinegar to drink” (Psalm 69:21).
“And they shall look upon me whom they have pierced; and they shall mourn for him as one mourneth for an only son; and they shall grieve over him, as the manner is to grieve for the death of the firstborn” (Zechariah 12:10).
New Testament prophecy
“So the soldiers came and broke the legs of the first, and of the other who had been crucified with Jesus; but when they came to Jesus and saw that he was already dead, they did not break his legs. But one of the soldiers pierced his side with a spear, and at once there came out blood and water… For these things took place that the scripture might be fulfilled, ‘Not a bone of him shall be broken.’ And again another scripture says, ‘They shall look on him whom they have pierced’” (John 19:32-37).
In the Gospel of Mark, Jesus is described as prophesying his own Passion and his Resurrection three times:
- On the way to Caesarea Philippi, predicting that the Son of Man will be killed and rise within three days.
- After the transfiguration of Jesus, again predicting that the Son of Man will be killed and rise within three days.
- On the way to Jerusalem, predicting that the Son of Man will be delivered to the leading Pharisees and Sadducees, be condemned to death, delivered to the Gentiles, mocked, scourged, killed, and rise within three days.
Christians argue that these are cases of genuine and fulfilled prophecy and many scholars see Semitic features and tradition in Mark 9:31. Skeptics argue they are cases of postdiction (prophecy after the events have already occurred).
After the third prophecy, the Gospel of Mark states that the brothers James and John ask Jesus to be his left and right hand men, but Jesus asks if they can drink from the cup he must drink from. They say that they can do this. Jesus confirms this, but says that the places at his right and left hand are reserved for others. Many Christian see this as being a reference to the two criminals at Jesus’ crucifixion, thus relating to the Passion. The cup is sometimes interpreted as the symbol of his death, in the light of Jesus’ prayer at Gethsemane “Let this cup be taken from me!”
Most Christian denominations will read one or more narratives of the Passion during Holy Week, especially on Good Friday. In the Roman Catholic church, a large cross depicting the crucified Christ is brought out into the church and each of the faithful come forward to venerate the cross. Rather than having the Gospel read solely by the priest, whole Roman Catholic congregations participate in the reading of the Passion Gospel during the Palm Sunday Mass and the Good Friday service. These readings have the Priest read the part of Christ, a narrator read the narrative, other reader(s) reading the other speaking parts, and either the choir or the congregation reading the parts of crowds (i.e.: when the crowd shouts “Crucify Him! Crucify Him!”) 
In the Eastern Orthodox and Greek-Catholic Churches, the Matins service for Good Friday is called Matins of the Twelve Passion Gospels, and is remarkable for the interspersing of twelve readings from the Gospel Bookdetailing chronologically the events of the Passion—from the Last Supper to the burial in the tomb—during the course of the service. The first of these twelve readings is the longest Gospel reading of the entire liturgical year. In addition, every Wednesday and Friday throughout the year is dedicated in part to the commemoration of the Passion.
During Holy Week/Passion Week Congregations of the Moravian Church (Herrnhuter Bruedergemeine) read the entire story of Jesus’ final week from a Harmony of the Gospels prepared for that purpose since 1777. Daily meetings are held, some times two or three times a day, to follow the events of the day. During the course of the reading, the Congregation sings hymn verses to respond to the events of the text.
Most liturgical churches hold some form of commemoration of the Crucifixion on the afternoon of Good Friday. Sometimes, this will take the form of a vigil from noon to 3:00 pm, the approximate time that Jesus hung on the cross. Sometimes there will be a reenactment of the Descent from the Cross; for instance, at Vespers in the Byzantine (Eastern Orthodox and Greek-Catholic) tradition.
Reparation to Jesus
The Roman Catholic tradition includes specific prayers and devotions as acts of reparation for the sufferings and insults that Jesus endured during his Passion. These Acts of Reparation to Jesus Christ do not involve a petition for a living or deceased beneficiary, but aim to repair the sins against Jesus. Some such prayers are provided in the Raccolta Catholic prayer book (approved by a Decree of 1854, and published by the Holy See in 1898) which also includes prayers as Acts of Reparation to the Virgin Mary.
In his encyclical Miserentissimus Redemptor on reparations, Pope Pius XI called Acts of Reparation to Jesus Christ a duty for Catholics and referred to them as “some sort of compensation to be rendered for the injury” with respect to the sufferings of Jesus.
Pope John Paul II referred to Acts of Reparation as the “unceasing effort to stand beside the endless crosses on which the Son of God continues to be crucified“.
Several non-liturgical devotions have been developed by Christian faithful to commemorate the Passion.
The Stations of the Cross
The Stations of the Cross are a series of religious reflections describing, or artistic representations depicting, Christ Carrying the Cross to his crucifixion. Most Roman Catholic churches, as well as many Anglican, Lutheran. and Methodist parishes, contain Stations of the Cross, typically placed at intervals along the side walls of the nave; in most churches, they are small plaques with reliefs or paintings, although in others they may be simple crosses with a numeral in the centre. The tradition of moving around the Stations to commemorate the Passion of Christ began with Francis of Assisi and extended throughout the Roman Catholic Church in the medieval period. It is most commonly done during Lent, especially on Good Friday, but it can be done on other days as well, especially Wednesdays and Fridays.
The Passion Offices
The Passion Offices were the special prayers said by various Roman Catholic communities, particularly the Passionist fathers to commemorate the Passion of Christ.
The Little Office of the Passion
Another devotion is the Little Office of the Passion created by Francis of Assisi (1181/82–1226). He ordered this office around the medieval association of five specific moments in Jesus’ Passion with specific hours of the day. Having then attributed these to hours of the Divine Office, he arrived at this schema:
- Compline – 21:00 – Jesus’ Arrest on the Mount of Olives
- Matins – 00:00 – Jesus’ Trial before the Jewish Sanhedrin
- Prime – 06:00 – “an interlude celebrating Christ as the light of the new day”
- Terce – 09:00 – Jesus’ Trial before Pontius Pilate
- Sext – 12:00 – Jesus’ Crucifixion
- None – 15:00 – Jesus’ Death
- Vespers – 18:00 – “recalling and celebrating the entire daily cycle”
- The sons of Simon of Cyrene are named as if they might have been early Christian figures known to Mark’s intended audience (Brown et al. 628). Paul also lists a Rufus in Romans 16:13.
- Most garments of the region were made of woven strips of material that were about eight inches wide and included decorative braids from two to four inches (102 mm) wide. The garments could be disassembled and the strips of cloth were frequently recycled. A single garment might hold sections of many different dates. However, in Damascus and Bethlehem cloth was woven on wider looms, some Damascene being 40 inches (1,000 mm) wide. Traditional Bethlehem cloth is striped like pajama material. It would thus appear that Jesus’ “seamless robe” was made of cloth from either Bethlehem or Damascus.
- A tradition linked to icons of Jesus holds that Veronica was a pious woman of Jerusalem who then gave her kerchief to him to wipe his forehead. When he handed it back to her, the image of his face was miraculously impressed upon it.
- “passion (n.)”. Online Etymology Dictionary. Retrieved 17 February 2016.
- Sheingorn, Pamela (1 January 1995). The Book of Sainte Foy. University of Pennsylvania Press. p. 3. ISBN0812215125.
- Matthew 26:3-5
- Mark 14:1
- Luke 22:2-5
- John 18:3
- Luke 22:52
- Matthew 26:48
- Mark 14:43
- Luke 22:63
- John 18:22
- Matthew 26:67
- Matthew 27
- Luke 23:8-12
- Bar-abbas means son of Abbas, the Lord. Some manuscripts of Matthew say “Jesus Barabbas”, suggesting that an early version of the story contrasted the fate of two men both named Jesus
- Matthew 27:25
- The meaning of Golgotha is “place of a skull.”
- “Bible gateway Luke 23:26”. Biblegateway.com. Retrieved 2012-06-05.
- The original Greek of the Gospels reads Ἰησοῦς ὁ Ναζωραῖος ὁ Bασιλεὺς τῶν Ἰουδαίων, “Jesus the Nazarene, King of the Jews”.
- Mark reports Jesus says Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani? in Aramaic; Matthew reports Eli, Eli….
- Miller 403. This is the passage that was condemned as possibly leading to Docetism.
- Miller 403
- Brown 11
- Brown 140
- Today’s Missal: Holy Week – Pentecost, March 14 – May 17, 2008, Oregon Catholic Press
- Sokolof, Archpriest D. (1962). “A Manual of the Orthodox Church’s Divine Services”. 3rd printing (re-edited). Jordanville, N.Y.: Holy Trinity Monastery (published 2001): 35.
- Catholic Encyclopedia http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/12775a.htm
- Catholic Encyclopedia http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/12620a.htm
- Joseph P. Christopher et al., 2003 The Raccolta St Athanasius Press ISBN978-0-9706526-6-9
- Ann Ball, 2003 Encyclopedia of Catholic Devotions and Practices ISBN087973910X
- Miserentissimus Redemptor Encyclical of Pope Pius XI
- Vatican archives http://www.vatican.va/holy_father/john_paul_ii/letters/2000/documents/hf_jp-ii_let_20001021_riparatrici_en.html
- Chryssides, George D.; Wilkins, Margaret Z. (11 September 2014). Christians in the Twenty-First Century. Taylor & Francis. p. 51. ISBN9781317545576.
Most churches in the Roman Catholic, High Anglican and Lutheran traditions have the stations of the cross displayed pictorially or in bas-relief form around their interior walls, and thus the stations can be used locally for devotion, without the necessity of visiting a place of pilgrimage.
- “Stations of the Cross”. St. Michael’s Episcopal Church. 2012. Retrieved 3 March 2015.
Eventually fixed at fourteen, the Stations soon became a familiar feature in Catholic; Lutheran, Anglican, and Methodist churches. The object of the Stations is to help the faithful to make a spiritual pilgrimage of prayer, by meditating upon the chief scenes of Christ’s sufferings and death, and is often performed in a spirit of reparation for the sufferings and insults that Jesus endured during His Passion.
- Herbermann, Charles, ed. (1913). Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton Company..
- Hugo, William R. Studying the Life of Saint Francis of Assisi: A Beginner’s Workbook, New City Press, 2011
- “The Chester Cycle Play XVI (16) – The Passion of Christ – Annas and Caiphas”. From Stage to Page. 2007. Retrieved 2010-03-28.
- Powerhouse Museum, Sydney, exhibition notes
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