Tracing Jesus’ Final Hours in Jerusalem

My name is Paul Schirmer, and I’m pursuing the M. Div. degree at Shepherd’s Theological Seminary. During our trip to Israel, we spent a day tracing Jesus’ footsteps during the 24 hours leading up to his death on a cross. One of the many takeaways for me was the importance of considering the chronology of events – especially these crucial events!

Between the time that Jesus was arrested in the Garden of Gethsemane, to the moment that he was delivered over to be crucified, no more than some 6-8 hours passed. We know that he was arrested sometime after they had already eaten the Passover feast, and it was so late that the disciples he was with were falling asleep; and we know that he was crucified at the 3rd hour, which is 9am, and this must have been at least a couple of hours after Pilate delivered him over to be crucified, since this would take some time to prepare. Yet, when I read the narratives in the four gospels, it seems impossible that so many events could have occurred in so little time – and much of it, after dawn. Here is a summary of the various trials which occurred, as has been explained and laid out by our guide, Dr. Bookman:

Before dawn:

Jesus arrested (Matt 26:47-56)

Jesus privately questioned by Annas (John 18:12-14, 19-23)

Jesus informally tried by the Sanhedrin (Matt 26:57, 59-68)

After dawn (around 4:30 in the morning)

Jesus formally condemned by the Sanhedrin (Matt 27:1)

Jesus appears before Pilate publicly (Matt 27:2)

Jesus questioned by Pilate privately (John 18:33-38)

Jesus questioned by Herod (Luke 23:6-12)

Jesus is scourged (John 19:1)

Jesus appears before Pilate a second time publicly (Matt 27:15-26)

Jesus questioned by Pilate a second time privately (John 19:9-11)

Pilate delivers Jesus over to be crucified (Matt 27:26)

How could all of these things happen in one night? How could the majority of the trial, including three different locations and at least eight different discourses, occur in the span of an hour and a half?

It is at this point that seeing the specific locations of each event, and walking them myself, helps me understand how this is possible. The answer to this question, “how does all of this happen so quickly?” lies in one location: Herod’s palace.

Herod’s palace was located on the Western hill of Jerusalem; it was built a few years before Jesus was born, and built to be both a plush, luxurious palace and a fortified safe-haven for Herod the Great. After Herod’s death, this building was most likely used by the authorities who replaced him: in this case, the procurator Pontius Pilate, and Herod’s sons (who held some control of nearby land) such as Herod Antipas.

This Herod (Antipas) is the same one to whom Pilate sent Jesus, hoping to shrug off some of the responsibility of the trial; this makes sense especially if both Pilate and Herod were staying somewhere on the grounds of Herod the Great’s palace. Neither one of them would have made that their permanent residence (since neither of them lived in Jerusalem), but both had ample reason to choose this location for their stay. Assuming that this is in fact what happened, then the quick succession of events becomes understandable: Jesus is first illegally questioned by the Sanhedrin, then sent to Pilate once he had made a confession at dawn; Pilate, with a mob growing outside his palace, has a series of dialogues with Jesus and the crowd, sends him to Herod (to whom Jesus says not a word), converses with Jesus privately twice, and has him flogged, all in an attempt to buy time and find a way to release him. Over the course of this hour and a half, the crowd grows in size and is stirred up against Jesus, so that in the end, Pilate feels he has no choice but to crucify him. Having washed his hands, he delivers him over.

Thinking it through in this manner, Jesus’ trial comes into focus in a new way. Not only was it the most horrific series of injustices that has ever occurred; it was a sudden and unthinkable turn of events for those who followed Jesus and believed in him as Messiah. Moreover, it is evidence that Jesus himself was not surprised, nor did he need more time than was given to him; he knew what awaited him, and he did not say a word in his own defense, nor lift a hand to shield himself, nor turn aside from the pain of his relational separation from the Father, bearing the sins of the world. Praise God for the obedience and humility of Jesus!