By Jessica Brodie, Christianity.
What happened during Jesus’ final hours was agonizing, heartbreaking — and necessary. Jesus gave Himself willingly as a gift and sacrifice so we all could live in eternity with Him. This shows God’s great mercy, compassion, love, and capacity for forgiveness.
Most of us know the basics of the Easter message — how Jesus was betrayed by one of His closest friends, then arrested, mocked, beaten, tortured, and finally nailed to a cross, where He died.
Three days later, He rose from the dead in a glorious triumph, and all who repent, believe in and follow Him are promised eternal life with God in heaven.
But not everyone knows what happened in that final span before Jesus took His last breath.
Here, I explore what happened during Jesus’ last hours before His death—and why it matters for us today.
What Happened Just Before Jesus Was Arrested?
Before his crucifixion Jesus was betrayed by one of His closest friends, then arrested, mocked, beaten, tortured, and finally nailed to a cross, where He died.
In Jesus’ last hours before His death—and why it matters for us today.
The Bible tells us Jesus was arrested sometime at night outside the Garden of Gethsemane, a short distance from the city. After the Last Supper, when He had washed His disciples’ feet and offered the first Holy Communion (Mark 14:12-25), Jesus and the disciples retreated to Gethsemane.
The garden there was a location special to Jesus, a place where He sought much-needed comfort and solace. Distraught, for He knew what was coming, Jesus prayed fervently to God throughout the night, periodically returning to His disciples to find them sleeping (Matthew 26:36-46).
Then, led by Judas, an armed mob arrived and arrested Him (Matthew 26:50). Jesus went willingly, fully aware of what would happen.
What Happened Just after Jesus’ Arrest?
After His arrest, Jesus was taken before a number of officials — the Jewish high priest, Caiaphas, and the rest of the chief priests and religious experts, who beat Jesus and sent Him off to Pontius Pilate, the governor of Judea; Pilate questioned Jesus, found no fault with Him, then sent Him off to Herod Antipas; Herod also questioned Jesus, found no fault, and sent Him back to Pilate. Pilate wanted to release Jesus, but the crowd insisted he execute Jesus, so he complied.
Pilate “had Jesus flogged, and handed him over to be crucified” (Matthew 27:26, NIV). All of this occurred between nighttime, when He was arrested, and midmorning.
The soldiers beat Jesus, mocked Him, and jammed a crown of thorns onto His head, jeering as they hailed the “King of the Jews.”
Then they led Jesus away to Golgotha, or Calvary, where they planned to crucify Him. They forced a passerby, Simon of Cyrene, to carry Jesus’ cross for Him (Mark 15:21).
Then the soldiers crucified Jesus, flanked by two other crucified criminals (Luke 23:33).
What Happened While Jesus Was on the Cross?
Scholars believe it took about six hours from the time Jesus was crucified until the time He died. A number of significant things happened during those last hours before His death.
Most of the four gospel accounts — that of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John — agree on the major points, though some contain extra details the others don’t include:
Jesus showed mercy. He asked God to forgive those who crucified Him, “For they do not know what they are doing” (Luke 23:34). The soldiers cast lots and divided his clothes among themselves (Luke 23:34).
The people, rulers, and soldiers mocked Jesus, taunting Him to save Himself if He’s truly the Messiah and offering Him wine vinegar (Luke 23:35-37). A written notice was fastened to the cross-identifying Jesus as king of the Jews (John 19:19).
One of the criminals crucified with Jesus begged Him to remember Him when He came into the Kingdom, and Jesus agreed, stating, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise” (Luke 23:42-43).
The women of Jesus’ inner circle gathered in reverence and grief to witness His crucifixion: his mother, his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene (John 19:25).
Jesus turned the care of His mother over to “the disciple whom he loved,” which most scholars believe was the Apostle John (John 19:26-27). The sun stopped shining, and darkness fell from noon until three p.m. (Luke 23:44-45).
And at three in the afternoon, Jesus shouted, “Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?” (which means “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”) (Mark 15:34).
They thought he was calling Elijah. Someone fetched and offered Jesus a sponge with wine vinegar (Mark 15:35-36).
Jesus gave over His life. One account has Jesus saying, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit” (Luke 23:46), and another has Him saying, “It is finished” (John 19:30).
The curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom (Mark 15:38). The earth shook, the rocks split, and the tombs broke open (Matthew 27:51-52).
A centurion who witnessed all this proclaimed, “Surely this man was the Son of God!” (Mark 15:39; Matthew 27:54).
Why What Happened on the Cross Matters to Us Today
What happened on the cross means a great deal today. First, the fact that Jesus was crucified was necessary, for He had to die and then be resurrected both in order to fulfill prophecy and to serve as a sacrifice to pay our sin-debt so we could be saved.
Second, the things that happened on the cross in Jesus’ final hours aren’t just random events but had greater meaning. For instance, the casting of lots by the soldiers for Jesus’ clothes shows that a long-ago prophecy had come true.
The proclamation that Jesus was “king of the Jews” indicates the magnitude of the sacrifice Jesus made. God’s own Son paid our penalty and bought our freedom.
The darkening of the land and the quaking of the earth shows how grievous of a tragedy this was — the Word become flesh, God incarnate, had been killed by the very people He’d come to rescue.
Jesus stating, “It is finished” (John 19:30) also points to a deeper meaning, for that was a statement people used in those days when paying off a debt.
The tearing of the temple curtain in two is thought to symbolize a number of things, most importantly the breaking of the wall between us and God and the establishment of the new covenant.
What happened during Jesus’ final hours was agonizing, heartbreaking — and necessary. And the fact that it happened, that Jesus gave Himself willingly as a gift and sacrifice so we all could live in eternity with Him if we choose to follow Him, shows God’s great mercy, compassion, love, and capacity for forgiveness.
As Scripture reminds us, “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him” (John 3:16-17).
Because of Jesus, we are saved.