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The Last Hours of Christ
The Last Hours of Christ
Davi P. Silva

Soon after partaking of the Passover meal with His disciples, Thursday evening, Jesus headed to the Garden of Gethsemane, one of His habitual places of prayer. Many times He had spent the entire night at that very spot, in deep communion with His Father. Now, at the end of His mission in behalf of sinners, Christ left the upper chamber, and went to the garden located at the foot of Mount Olivet. With Him were His eleven disciples (Judas was absent, since he was away plotting the betrayal of his Master).

Before arriving there, Christ comforted His disciples with the promise of His second coming and of sending the Holy Spirit as His representative to assist them. Along the way, He saw a grapevine which He used as an illustration of the relationship that must be maintained between Him and His disciples. He made clear that our spiritual life, our victory over temptation and sin depend on a vital connection with Him. He also emphasized the need of brotherly love among His followers. “Love one another,” He repeated to His disciples. “A new commandment I give unto you, . . . that ye also love one another.” And He gave them a pattern: “As I have loved you” (John 13:34).

Jesus dedicated time to stress the need of the Holy Spirit for all His followers. Like the Lord Jesus, the Holy Spirit who is the third Person of the Godhead and another Comforter, must be considered the “best Gift” sent by heaven to all who believe in Christ as their Saviour and Lord.

Before reaching Gethsemane, Christ offered an earnest intercessory prayer in behalf of His disciples. He declared: “This is life eternal, that they might know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent” (John 17:3). He had made clear that we cannot know the Father except by knowing the Son.

“The experimental knowledge of God and of Jesus Christ whom He has sent, transform man into the image of God. It gives to man the mastery of himself, bringing every impulse and passion of the lower nature under the control of the higher powers of the mind. It makes its possessor a son of God and heir of heaven. It brings him into communion with the mind of the Infinite, and opens to him the rich treasures of the universe.”1

In His prayer, Christ revealed His great desire that His disciples should be so united among themselves as He is united with the Father and the Holy Spirit.

“That they all may be one; as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee, that they also may be one in us: that the world may believe that thou hast sent me. . . . I in them, and thou in me, that they may be made perfect in one; and that the world may know that thou hast sent me, and hast loved them, as thou hast loved me” (John 17:21, 23).

After giving precious words of comfort and encouragement to His close followers, Christ arrived at the Garden of Gethsemane. As soon as He entered the garden, He felt deep anguish. At that moment, the sins of the entire world were imputed to Him. Although He had never committed a single sin, He took upon Himself the guilt of the whole of humanity—all your sins, and all my sins. “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. . . . The Lord hath laid on him the iniquity of us all” (Isaiah 53:4–6).

Paul summarizes the essence of the gospel with the following words, explaining that “[God] hath made him [Jesus] to be sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in him [Jesus]” (2 Corinthians 5:21).

“He who through His own atonement provided for man an infinite fund of moral power, will not fail to employ this power in our behalf. We may take our sins and sorrows to His feet; for He loves us. His every look and word invites our confidence. He will shape and mold our characters according to His own will.”2

Deep anguish that we cannot imagine took possession of Christ. Because of our sins, He felt separated from His Father. Leaving eight of His disciples at a certain distance, the Lord invited Peter, James, and John to be closer to Him in His suffering. His human nature was being shaken before the terrible sacrifice. Then He prayed: “Father, if thou be willing, remove this cup from me: nevertheless, not my will, but thine, be done” (Luke 22:42). He had told His disciples: “My soul is exceeding sorrowful, even unto death: tarry ye here, and watch with me” (Matthew 26:38).

Jesus felt the need of human support and sympathy, and so He returned to His disciples. But He found them asleep. He said to Peter—the same person who had promised to be with Him even unto death—“What, could ye not watch with me one hour? Watch and pray, that ye enter not into temptation.” But the Lord tried to excuse His disciples, adding the words: “The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak” (verses 40, 41).

Then He prayed the second time, saying: “O my Father, if this cup may not pass away from me, except I drink it, thy will be done” (verse 42). He offered that prayer three times, but no favorable answer came from the Father.

In that critical hour, when the plan of salvation of humanity was at risk, Gabriel, the most powerful angel of heaven, came to support the Son of God. He did not come to remove the cup but to strengthen Him to drink it. Then he presented in a panoramic view the millions of souls who would be saved by Christ’s sacrifice. Christ was comforted. Isaiah had foretold: “He shall see of the travail of his soul, and shall be satisfied: by his knowledge shall my righteous servant justify many; for he shall bear their iniquities” (Isaiah 53:11).

Paul, in his epistle to the Hebrew Christians, said: “Looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith; who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame” (Hebrews 12:2).

“What sustained the Son of God during His life of toil and sacrifice? He saw the results of the travail of His soul and was satisfied. Looking into eternity, He beheld the happiness of those who through His humiliation had received pardon and everlasting life. His ear caught the shout of the redeemed. He heard the ransomed ones singing the song of Moses and the Lamb.”3

After this vision, Christ was comforted and encouraged to go ahead with a strong commitment to accept to suffer all the physical, mental, and spiritual sacrifices necessary to save human beings from eternal ruin.

Jesus arrested

Soon after His prayer, Jesus led His disciples to meet their enemies. All that was done to the Lord that night was totally illegal. Before being judged, He was arrested and abused. Judas had agreed with the chief priests and the mob that made up the group, that he would kiss Jesus to identify Him to His persecutors. Christ received the kiss from His betrayer and uttered just a few words: “Judas, are you betraying the Son of God with a kiss?” But the conscience of Judas was gone. He was under the direct control of the prince of darkness. Seeing that Christ didn’t resist Judas, the mob became bolder to arrest the Saviour.

At the beginning of the arrest, Peter tried to defend his Lord with a sword. The zealous disciple tried to behead one of the criminals, but he was only successful in cutting one ear off his target. Even at the arrest, Christ performed a miracle, restoring to the unhappy man his ear. After that, all the disciples ran away, leaving their Master at the hands of those “wolves” who were so thirsty for the blood of the Saviour.

A mere pretense of justice

Before arriving at the palace of the high priest, Caiaphas, Christ was led to the house of Annas, the father-in-law of Caiaphas. Jesus was to be examined by that experienced and cunning fox. Annas was already retired but still highly respected among the Sanhedrin and was judged to be able to destroy anyone who, it was supposed, was undermining the leadership of that council. Annas would examine Christ before the “trial” of Caiaphas, who was a less experienced man than his father-in-law. Annas tried to trap Jesus with questions about:

1. His teachings, and

2. His disciples.

His intention was to insinuate that Christ had held some secret meetings and teachings that could be used as insurrection against the Roman government. He hoped to find some ground to accuse Jesus before the authorities as a leader of a subversive movement against Rome. Christ’s answer to Annas made it clear that His work and teachings were known by the public and that He had nothing to hide. Nothing had been taught in secret.

The same priests had previously sent spies to follow Jesus step by step to find some ground for accusation and condemnation. Christ’s answer silenced Annas. His words also had greater meaning, for they condemned Annas for trying to condemn Jesus in a secretive way.

The so-called “judgment” of Christ was totally illegal because:

1. The Sanhedrin was not authorized to meet at night. Their meetings could only be held during the hours of the day.

2. All the members of the Council were required to be present.

3. The one who would be judged had the right to defend himself.

4. He couldn’t be arrested before being legally accused on the basis of strong evidence and testimony from credible witnesses.

All of these basic rules were disrespected. Christ had been arrested before the trial, at night, and mistreated before, during and after His condemnation.

Being a nation under the control of Rome, the Jews had no right to condemn anyone to death without the approval of the Romans. Their decision, to be valid, needed to be approved by the Roman government.

Since the Sanhedrin didn’t find any valid accusation against Christ, the innocent Victim was taken to Caiaphas, the high priest. It was a last attempt to condemn Jesus, and He was questioned about His relationship with the Father: “I adjure thee by the living God, that thou tell us whether thou be the Christ, the Son of God.” Until now, Christ had kept silence before Caiaphas in spite of all the false accusations against Him, but now He had to answer: “Thou hast said: nevertheless I say unto you, Hereafter shall ye see the Son of man sitting on the right hand of power, and coming in the clouds of heaven” (Matthew 26:63, 64). Caiaphas lost his temper. Being a Sadducee, he didn’t believe in the resurrection, and hoped that all his own crimes would be buried by his death. He rent his sacred garment and accused Jesus of blasphemy. The Jews understood the expression “Son of God” as a clear statement meaning that Christ was a divine Being. Because of His identification with Divinity, Jesus was condemned to death. The action of Caiaphas of rending his garment was totally contrary to God’s commandment, and he revealed a burst of human passion that demonstrated that he was not worthy of being a high priest.

Peter denies Jesus

Peter was one of the most faithful disciples of Jesus and was among the three disciples closest to the Master. He was willing to do whatever was necessary to fulfill Christ’s instruction. Before going to Gethsemane, the Lord had foretold that all His disciples would forsake Him during the soon-coming crisis. Peter had responded with the declaration that even if all would leave the Master, he would follow Jesus even to death. Peter was very sincere in his words and desires, but there was a very serious problem with this disciple. He trusted in himself and didn’t know his own character. Jesus revealed that unknown character to Peter by mentioning that before the rooster would crow two times, the disciple would deny Jesus three times.

When Christ faced the most hostile environment in the palace of Caiaphas, Peter tried to follow the Master at a comfortable distance. Then a young lady asked him if he was a follower of Christ. Peter denied the Master for the first time. Again Peter was asked about his relationship with Jesus, and again he denied the Master. Finally, the third time, Peter was questioned about being part of the small group of Jesus’ followers, and this time he used hard words to assert his ignorance about Christ. Peter looked to Christ and the Master looked to him. In the look of Jesus, Peter saw only love and forgiveness.

Peter was devastated when he remembered the words of Christ. He realized that Jesus knew him very well, while he didn’t know himself. From that place Peter went to Gethsemane, where he wept bitterly. He sincerely repented of his wicked action against the Master. Christ had said to him ahead of time: “When you are converted, confirm your brothers.”

Christ before Pilate, the Roman governor

Early in the morning of Friday, Christ was taken to the palace of Pilate, the Roman procurator. The condemnation of Jesus by the Jews couldn’t be implemented without the approval of the Romans. Pilate understood that the Jews were anxious to get rid of someone who was crossing their way. The members of the Sanhedrin were sure that Pilate would endorse their condemnation without preliminary actions or questions, but when the Roman judge saw Jesus, he was very favorably impressed. Even though he wasn’t a righteous judge, Pilate demanded from the Jews grounds for the condemnation of Jesus. This request from a heathen judge was really embarrassing for the Jews. They insisted that, since the most important tribunal from the Jews had already condemned Christ, Pilate should accept their decision as a final and undisputable action. But the purity and nobleness revealed in Christ’s character was a clear index of His innocence.

Pilate declared that he couldn’t find any guilt in Jesus. This declaration uttered by a Roman authority was a clear rebuke to the evil intentions of the Jews. When they accused Christ of perverting the nation from Judea to Galilee, Pilate found a way to get rid of such a difficult task, and he sent Jesus to Herod. The tetrarch of Galilee was eager to satisfy his curiosity about Jesus; He was the same Herod who had murdered John the Baptist because the prophet had rebuked him regarding his second marriage while the first husband of Herodias was still alive. His conscience was now hardened much more than before he became guilty of the murder of God’s greatest prophet.

At first, Herod treated Jesus very kindly, expecting that Christ would satisfy his requests. But Christ had no word for this wicked and hardened man. The silence of Christ was the best message that He could give to the impenitent king. Herod became angry about Christ’s behavior, and eventually the king started attacking Him physically and opened the way for the rabble to do the same to Him. Now the people behaved like demons as they attacked Christ, and the Saviour would have been killed right there if the Roman soldiers had not intervened. However, the Holy Spirit bore such a powerful influence over this situation that even Herod did not dare to condemn Christ. To Pilate’s disappointment, Jesus was sent back to him. Pilate was in a great difficulty. He was sure that Christ was innocent, but he had also other political interests and therefore he was hesitant about what to do. The Roman official vacillated between being faithful to his conscience and satisfying the wicked desires of the people and their leaders.

Pilate was amazed at the calm, holy behavior of Christ when faced with the cruel treatment that He received from His bitter enemies. In the midst of that crowd, Christ was the only one who revealed a perfect peace in His mind, and He did so in spite of that desperately antagonistic environment.

The Holy Spirit was working in the heart of Pilate and the governor was moved to ask a very important question to Jesus: “What is truth?” Christ was ready to instruct him in the whole truth, but Pilate had other interests. He was concerned about his own political power and didn’t wait for Christ’s answer.

On the other hand, the Jewish leaders were pressing the multitude to accuse Christ and demand His death. Pilate was trying to appease the Jews while still declaring the innocence of Christ, but they were eager to condemn the Saviour. Pilate tried to use several alternatives to release Jesus, but he wasn’t successful. He decided to chastise Jesus to appease the Jews. Although he had declared Jesus innocent, he acted against his own conscience in ordering the scourging of a just Man. The Jews realized the Roman official’s weakness and pressed more and more for the condemnation of Jesus. Finally, Pilate used a pagan custom of offering two condemned people to the multitude so that the people could choose one of them to be freed and the other to be executed. Pilate reasoned that the people—as they looked on the purity of Christ as revealed in His appearance and behavior—would release the Saviour and condemn another man, Barabbas, to death. To his great surprise, the mob instead decided to release Barabbas, a notorious criminal, and to crucify Christ. Pilate gave up. He symbolically washed his hands, declaring himself free from the guilt of condemning Christ but gave Him to the soldiers to be crucified.

Calvary

Golgotha was a place outside of Jerusalem where criminals were executed. The cross that had been prepared for Barabbas was now put on the shoulders of Christ.

Carrying that cross was difficult for the Saviour. Since Thursday evening, Jesus hadn’t eaten anything. The Redeemer had also passed through tremendous ordeals in Gethsemane and during the farce of a trial in the palace of Annas. He was pushed before Caiaphas, then twice before Pilate and once before Herod. Jesus had been scourged and beaten, and was the victim of the cruelest treatment. His human nature was totally exhausted and devastated. He had not enough strength to take the cross to the place of execution. After searching for someone to take the cross to Calvary, the Romans selected a man named Simon. Noticing the sympathy of this man from Cyrene, they decided that he should take the cross. Simon was really blessed from that experience. He learned to accept the cross of Christ as his only hope of salvation and to take up his own cross to represent Christ.

In the place of execution, Christ was crucified. Crucifixion was the most terrible form of torture. Now Christ took our place in spite of being innocent. His mental suffering was much worse than His physical suffering. He was feeling the terrible separation between Him and His father because of the sins of the world—your sins and my sins.

As He was crucified, Jesus became the main target of mockery, humiliation, and rejection. The whole universe was surprised when Jesus uttered His prayer in behalf of His enemies: “Forgive them, because they do not know what they are doing!” Not a word of retaliation came from the suffering Saviour’s lips, but only a request for forgiveness toward his murderers.

The most comforting experience to the Saviour, even on the cross, was the prayer of the penitent thief: “Lord, remember me when You come into Your kingdom” (Luke 23:42, NKJV). While His own disciples manifested only disappointment with the capture and condemnation of the Saviour; while the leaders and practically the whole nation despised Jesus, the repentant thief was one who recognized Christ as His Saviour and Lord. Christ answered promptly: “Today I say to you: You will be with Me in Paradise.” The repentant thief was totally saved in that moment and on that cross. He manifested a perfect peace that comes from the assurance of sins forgiven.

Before dying, Christ saw His mother close to the cross and near His disciple John. He said to her: Woman, here is your son. And to John: Here is your mother. From that time on, John received Mary in his home as a sacred legacy left by Christ.

Then, Christ uttered in loud voice: “My Father, why have You forsaken Me?” The separation between Christ and His heavenly Father was due to our sins, the just dying in the place of the sinners. That separation caused Jesus more suffering than any of His physical pain.

At the ninth hour Christ uttered words of deep meaning for the whole universe: “It is finished!” He died for you and for me. For your family and for my family. For the whole world.

The Bible declares that “the wages of sin is [eternal] death, but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ” (Romans 6:23). Because of our sins, we deserve eternal death. But because Christ died in our stead, if we accept Him as our Saviour and Lord, we can have eternal life. Christ became our Substitute and Guarantee. He lived a perfect life and died on the cross in the midst of the basest criminals. Even though He never committed a sin, He accepted to take the sins of the whole world, so that all who would accept Him could have eternal life. “God hath made him to be sin for us, who knew no sin, that we might be made the righteousness of God in him” (2 Corinthians 5:21).

Because Christ accepted to be sin for us, we can obtain righteousness through Him, if we fully believe in Him, repent of our sins, and, by His wonderful grace, obey His will.

John says about the repentant and obedient believers: “And they overcame . . . by the blood of the Lamb, and by the word of their testimony; and they loved not their lives unto the death” (Revelation 12:11). See also 2 Corinthians 6:1, 2; Hebrews 2:3; 3:13; Revelation 3:20, 21.

After being victorious on the cross, Christ resurrected and then ascended to the heavenly sanctuary where He is interceding in behalf of His children. When He finishes His work of intercession, He will come again to take His faithful followers to the heavenly home.

May the Lord help us so that we will be among the faithful to live eternally with our lovely and loving Saviour! In heaven, the strongest reason for our eternal happiness will be in living with Christ, followed by meeting those to whom we have presented the plan of salvation in Jesus Christ. May this be your and my experience today and forever!

References
1 Christ’s Object Lessons, p. 114.
2 Ibid., p. 157.
3 The Acts of the Apostles, p. 601.