James Patrick’s Blog

April 8, 2009

Good Thursday? part 4 – Lazarus, triumphal entry and temple cleansing

Filed under: History — alabastertheology @ 11:11 pm
Tags: , , , , , , ,

In Part 3, we considered the significance of the ‘Passover’ meal that Jesus ate with His disciples, one evening too early and therefore without the lamb.  This observation would hold true even if one were to maintain a belief in ‘Good Friday’, because in that case, the 14th of Nisan would be the Thursday evening / Friday, followed by the (extra special) normal Sabbath, and then the resurrection on the Sunday.  As it is, I am proposing that there were two Sabbaths in a row, a ‘special’ Sabbath (15th of Nisan) on the sixth day of the week that kicked off the Feast of Unleavened Bread, followed by a normal Sabbath on the seventh day.  That means Jesus celebrated the Passover meal early and was then arrested and crucified all on the evening and morning of the fifth day of the week, the Day of Preparation (14th of Nisan = Wednesday evening / Thursday).  If this is so, how does it affect our understanding of the days prior to the Last Supper?

The ‘four days’ of Lazarus
The progression of events recorded by John in his Gospel seems to lay particular weight on the story of Lazarus as a ‘sign’ of Jesus’ own death and resurrection, which makes it worth considering carefully.  From chapter ten of John’s Gospel onwards there is a clear focus on Jesus’ power over death.  In John 10:18 Jesus says, “I have authority to lay [my life] down, and I have authority to take it up again.”  Then in 10:38, He says, “…though you do not believe me, believe the works [I do], that you may know and understand that the Father is in me…”  Chapter eleven is all about the death and resurrection of Lazarus, and Jesus tells His disciples in 11:4, “This sickness is …for the glory of God, so that the Son of God may be glorified by it.”  This is part of a theme of glory found throughout John’s Gospel, and in particular, the glorification of Jesus that came through His death (see 12:23-33).

In 11:25, Jesus tells Martha, “I am the resurrection and the life.”  When Martha then pointed out at the tomb that Lazarus had been dead for four days, and would be rotting behind the stone, Jesus replied to her, “Did I not say to you that if you believe, you will see the glory of God?” (11:40).  At the beginning of the next chapter is the story of when Mary anointed Jesus’ feet with pure nard, which Jesus justified by referring to “the day of my burial” (12:7).  This story begins the Passion narrative in John’s Gospel, culminating in Jesus’ death and resurrection.  Perhaps the clearest contrast between the resurrection of Lazarus and that of Jesus a few weeks or months later is the fact that when the weeping women went to Jesus’ tomb on the fourth day, the stone was already moved, the graveclothes folded neatly rather than wrapped around the body, and the body itself had no hint of rottenness about it.  God had not allowed His “Holy One to see decay” (Acts 2:27); Jesus had risen before the start of the fourth ‘day’.  This ‘evidence’ for a ‘3 days and 3 nights’ burial is perhaps less than conclusive, but taken together with John’s interest in clarifying details of Jesus’ death and resurrection seen elsewhere, it may gain more weight.

Traveling to Bethany on the Sabbath?
John starts the Passion week in 12:1-2 earlier than any of the other Gospels, by noting that “six days before the Passover, Jesus came to Bethany where Lazarus was…  So they made Him a supper there,” and Lazarus’ sister Mary anointed Jesus’ feet with nard.  The following day Jesus approached Jerusalem over the Mount of Olives on a donkey, and the crowds came out with palm branches to meet Him (12:12-14).  Those who hold to Good Friday calculate backwards six days, and therefore have Jesus arriving in Bethany on the previous Saturday, which means that Jesus would have entered Jerusalem on what has therefore become known as ‘Palm Sunday’.

The problem with this is that Jesus must have therefore travelled from the city called Ephraim, “near the wilderness” (John 11:54), to Bethany on the Sabbath.  Scholars suggest Ephraim may have been a certain town about twelve miles north-east of Jerusalem.  Acts 1:12 tells us that the Mount of Olives where Bethany was located was “a Sabbath day’s journey” from Jerusalem (2000 cubits = 3/5 mile).  The Sabbath would have been the wrong day to choose to journey to Bethany from a town any distance away.

On the other hand, if we calculate six days earlier from the Day of Preparation (i.e. the Feast of Passover – 14th Nisan), which was Wednesday night / Thursday, we arrive at Thursday night / Friday of the previous week.  This would have Jesus arriving in Bethany on the Thursday night, and then riding into Jerusalem on a donkey on Friday.  We know it was against the Law of Moses to let even donkeys work on the Sabbath (Deuteronomy 5:14), so Jesus would not have ridden into Jerusalem on a Saturday.  But a Friday would have been perfectly acceptable.

Those who hold to Good Friday cannot calculate six days back from the Feast of Passover as John says, on the 14th of Nisan (Thursday night / Friday).  Rather, to avoid Jesus riding into Jerusalem on a donkey on the Sabbath, they must adjust the timing John gives and push it a day later to the Feast of Unleavened Bread on the 15th of Nisan (Friday night / Saturday), therefore arriving at Palm Sunday.  As we saw above, this means that Jesus’ arrival into Bethany would have been on a Sabbath, which would have been equally unacceptable.  On the other hand, if one accepts Good Thursday, the entrance into Jerusalem naturally falls on Palm Friday.

Cleansing the temple a day late?
At this point we must observe that whereas Matthew (21:9-13) and Luke (19:37-46) both give the impression that Jesus cleansed the temple immediately on arrival into Jerusalem after His triumphal entry, Mark corrects this with a very valuable historical note in 11:11.  “Jesus entered Jerusalem into the temple; and after looking around at everything, He left for Bethany with the twelve, since it was already late.”  It was only on the following day that He returned and cleansed the temple.  One can hardly help wondering, if Jesus was so upset at what was going on in the temple courts, why would He merely look around and then leave?  Was He just a bit too tired to make a fuss?  Did it take Him a while to get zealous enough to go back and sort things out?  Had too many traders already closed up shop to make it worth His while to cause a scene so late in the day?

If one holds to Good Friday and Palm Sunday, cleansing the temple on the Monday makes practically no sense.  However with Good Thursday and Palm Friday, an explanation is immediately apparent.  Jesus saw everything in the temple late on Friday afternoon, but the Sabbath was drawing in (“it was already late”), and He wanted to be back in Bethany for the Sabbath meal with Mary, Martha and Lazarus.  The following day He walked into Jerusalem rather than riding, which was acceptable since it was “a Sabbath day’s journey” away (Acts 1:12), but the difference was that this time He was entering the temple on a Sabbath day.  What a difference!

Two details of Mark’s account of the cleansing of the temple support our interpretation.  The first is the note in 11:16, peculiar to Mark, that “He would not permit anyone to carry a vessel through the temple”.  Carrying was particularly forbidden on the Sabbath, and Jesus’ actions are reminiscent of Nehemiah’s in Nehemiah 13, when he rebuked those carrying “all kinds of loads” into Jerusalem on the Sabbath, and instead forbad traders from entering Jerusalem on the Sabbath.

Furthermore, when we consider the context of Jesus’ quotation of Isaiah 56:7, “My house shall be called a house of prayer for all the nations”, we find in Isaiah 56:2-8 that both eunuchs and foreigners are encouraged specifically to observe the Sabbath as their way of becoming acceptable to God, receiving a memorial “in my house and within my walls”.  In Jesus’ day, trading happened in what was known as the “Court of the Gentiles”, and when this took place on a Sabbath, foreigners who wanted to draw near to God were prevented from doing the very thing the Scriptures required of them.  How appropriate that Jesus cleared space for Gentiles to draw near, and prevented people carrying vessels through the temple.

One more post to follow, matching up the other events of Jesus’ passion week with regulations concerning the Feast of Passover, and then a summary of our argument.

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3 Comments »

  1. James,

    Thanx for another interesting write-up. I enjoy reading your chronology and reasoning. Sounds like mine.

    There’s one thing you may have overlooked, which I’d like to bring to your attention, based on this statement:

    “In Jesus’ day, trading happened in what was known as the “Court of the Gentiles”, and when this took place on a Sabbath …”.

    I think it is impossible for the political leaders to conduct business on the Sabbath, esp. w/i the temple precinct. So I can’t agree that trading was going on during the Sabbath hours, esp. anywhere in the temple. If this activity did occur on Sabbath, the people would ‘finger’ the law-makers and political leaders/bureaucrats as transgressors of Moses (which they undoubtedly already were, but not “openly”). So, I doubt any buying/selling happened in the temple at any time on the Sabbath as a matter of custom/law.

    If we include in your comments the proposition that no buying or selling was permitted anywhere in Israel on the Sabbath (= Friday sunset to Saturday sunset), what adjustment can you make to your chronology and musings that would account for Y’shuah observing the Pesach a day before the nationally-scheduled Holy Day, and also not on the same day as the weekly Sabbath?

    Comment by Chris — May 14, 2014 @ 5:55 pm | Reply

    • Dear Chris,

      I am not suggesting that the political leaders themselves would have been conducting business on the Sabbath in the Temple precinct. I am merely arguing that they were effectively permitting business to be conducted (by Gentiles or by less observant Jews) in the Court of the Gentiles, simply by not actively prohibiting “anyone to carry a vessel through the temple” (Mark 11:16). Yeshua drew attention to their failure by doing what they ought to have done, which then led the chief priests and scribes and elders to challenge Him as to the authority by which He did these things (Mark 11:28). I agree that the law would not permit buying and selling on the Sabbath, but to conclude just from the Law’s requirements that such activity could not be happening is perhaps to underestimate the extent of lawlessness that the chief priests might have turned a blind eye to, let alone actively participated in (e.g. convening court at night – John 18:12-14, 24, 28, in light of Luke 22:66-71; striking Yeshua – John 18:22-23, in light of Acts 23:2-3).

      The proposition that in the days of Yeshua no buying or selling was permitted anywhere in Israel on the Sabbath can surely not be supported by historical evidence, can it? Considering the number of Gentiles and ‘sinners’ (i.e. non-observant Jews) who lived in the land, and also considering the limited power of the Pharisaic leaders to enforce such halakhic restrictions on the whole country, I would suggest that it is perfectly possible that buying or selling might have been taking place in the Temple on a Sabbath. The reason Yeshua was confronted earlier in His ministry about allowing His disciples to eat grain on the Sabbath (Mark 2:23-24) was not because Sabbath prohibitions were enforced throughout the land, but because Yeshua claimed to be completely law-observant, and yet apparently failed to instruct His disciples to observe it to a similar level of strictness. The Pharisees probably did object in a similar fashion to buying and selling taking place in the Temple on a Sabbath, but the chief priests, being closer to the Sadducees and Herodians, would not necessarily have enforced the Law in the Court of the Gentiles, particularly as it was enabling worshippers to buy animals for sacrifices (which happened every day of the week). Even Yeshua Himself makes an observation about Sabbath observance that may have been used as an argument by the chief priests in support of their laxity in ensuring Sabbath observance in the Temple: “Or have you not read in the Law, that on the Sabbath the priests in the temple break the Sabbath and are innocent?” (Matthew 12:5).

      I believe the combination of factors that point to the cleansing of the Temple being on a Sabbath are persuasive enough to support the chronology as proposed in these posts: (1) the fact that Yeshua did not see fit to cleanse the Temple the previous day when He arrived in Jerusalem, despite “looking around at everything” there (Mark 11:11); (2) the reason for Yeshua’s decision not to stay longer in the Temple being that “it was already late”, i.e. that the evening was drawing near, which fits best with the start of the Sabbath (Mark 11:11); (3) the apparent choice of Yeshua to walk into Jerusalem from Bethany, having ridden in by donkey on the previous day – riding donkeys is not permitted on the Sabbath, even if it is a permissible distance to travel (Mark 11:12-13); (4) the extra detail that Yeshua refused to allow anyone “to carry a vessel through the Temple”, which would have been permissible on any other day of the week (Mark 11:16); (5) the quotation of Isaiah 56:6-8 by Yeshua as justification of His actions in overturning the money tables – a passage which specifically speaks of taking care not to profane the Sabbath (Mark 11:17).

      I hope that helps.

      James

      Comment by alabastertheology — May 14, 2014 @ 9:20 pm | Reply

      • James,

        Thanx for your detailed answer to my question.

        I really want to agree w/this statement:
        “The proposition that in the days of Yeshua no buying or selling was permitted anywhere in Israel on the Sabbath can surely not be supported by historical evidence, can it?”, b/c I know how corrupt political leaders, and esp. bureaucrats and law enforcement persons are(!). However, I do not have enough historical evidence to agree w/you … or to disagree.

        One thing that inform my opinion is the info about halakah I learned from reading Peter Tomson’s book, “Paul and the Law: Halakah in the Letters of the Apostle to the Gentiles”. He covers the topic of anti-idolatry halakah in a very informative manner, based on texts in 1 Cor.

        Since it appears that both of our opinions are speculative, I believe, based on the info Tomson shows in his book about anti-idolatry halakah, that it seems more probable that the 2nd Temple leaders had specific and detailed halakah that regulated all gentile activity, esp. regarding the temple precinct, including buying and selling. If buying/selling was allowed in the Temple, then they must have had halakah for it. That means, if someone can find written evidence of it, we’re well on our way to converting speculation into historical fact. It is possible, but I would guess that it would apply solely to temple business of the highest magnitude. Meanwhile, I can’t imagine they would allow either Levite or (esp.) gentile to buy/sell on a Sabbath. esp. in the Temple. Again, that’s speculation at this point.

        I can’t surmise how the Tomson information would effect your reconstruction of events, but I believe you would be blessed by reading what he has to say, if you haven’t done so already. Far as I’m concerned, I can’t yet reconstruct the events, and your rendition is the best I’ve come across. I still haven’t looked into that SDA link someone posted on another one of your pages in this series. Meanwhile, I’m stuck on awaiting further evidence. The one thing I’d like to see evidence for is the dates and days for that year’s Pesach. That’s always been the key to it for me.

        Meanwhile, my personal preference is to observe “the Eucharist”, not as a “Christian” celebration, but as part of the Pesach meal, b/c that’s what the NT text says Y’shuah said he did w/his disciples. David Flusser presents a valid point about what Luke says about “the cup of blessing” and “blessing the bread” (cp. to Mt & Mk), which colors my ideas on this. If interested, you can read what he says in his book “Judaism and the Origins of Christianity”.

        Since I work in the ‘secular world’, and am not in an educational setting, this kind of talk is impossible to find.
        Therefore, I enjoyed this interaction.

        Thanx! … Chris

        Comment by Chris — May 26, 2014 @ 4:56 pm


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