• Daniel Baker
Posted in Easter
This year we want John's Gospel to help us encounter the glory of Easter. If you get a chance to read John 12–21 this week, please do. These are the chapters that depict the week of all weeks in human history.
The Gospel of John presents a very different Easter week than do the Synoptics (Matthew, Mark, and Luke). At times John is silent where the Synoptics speak (like the verbal sparring with the Jewish leaders in Matt 21:23–23:36), and at other times John is verbose where the Synoptics say nothing (like the Upper Room Discourse in John 13–17). John also presents emphases that are different. John emphasizes Jesus as King more than the Synoptics do. It's a bit of an overstatement, but not far off to say that to answer the question, “Who was crucified?”, Matthew’s answer is, “The Christ” (Matt 27:22), but John’s answer is, “The King” (John 19:15).
But we’re getting ahead of ourselves. Let’s go back to the beginning of Easter week and see how John develops this final chapter of Jesus’ earthly ministry.
John launches into the final week by speaking of the anointing of Jesus by Mary the sister of Lazarus (12:1–8) as “for the day of my burial” (12:7). The sacrifice and act by Mary was costly, an act of lowering herself in a public manner, and profoundly prophetic. Only Jesus knew at this time that his burial would follow in a mere matter of days. This anointing was a fitting preparation for that. John tells us it took place “six days before the Passover” (12:1).
On “the next day” there is the triumphal entry, the loud and public and excited response of a “large crowd” to Jesus entering Jerusalem on a donkey (12:12–19). We might think that a white stallion would be more fitting, but to think that is to miss the prophecy spoken by Zechariah:
Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion!
Shout aloud, O daughter of Jerusalem!
Behold, your king is coming to you;
righteous and having salvation is he,
humble and mounted on a donkey,
on a colt, the foal of a donkey. (Zech 9:9)
To ride into Jerusalem on a donkey, then, is not a statement of humility—but a declaration that this is “your King”!
The triumphal entry is what we call “Palm Sunday,” since “branches of palm trees” were laid on the road for Jesus to ride on (12:12).
The next days, Monday to Thursday afternoon, are compressed in John’s gospel. Matthew has chapters on these days (Matt 21:23–25:46), but John has thirty-one verses (12:20–50).
In these verses of John, though, Jesus speaks of the Son of Man being glorified (v. 23), of his life as seed dying which then bears fruit (v. 24), the Father speaking from heaven to say he will now glorify the Son (v. 28), Jesus being “lifted up from the earth” to “draw all people” to himself (v. 32), and then the unbelief of the Jews being due to the sovereign purposes of God and their sinful pursuit of human glory (12:36–43). The final words recorded in these days are a promise that life in Jesus brings light in the darkness and life (12:44–50).
The next chapters of John focus on the last evening Jesus has with the disciples. If your Bible has the words of Jesus in red, then John 13–17 is almost entirely in red. In these chapters Jesus gives his final teaching to the disciples. He calls them to service and love, he unpacks the most profound teaching on the Trinity anywhere in Scripture, he tells us he is the vine and we are the branches in that vine, and we hear him pray to the Father. None of this is in the Synoptics, and the last supper where Jesus tells us to eat bread and drink the cup in remembrance of him is not in John.
And then comes the darkest chapter in human history where we conspire to crucify our Savior. It unfolds in such a way that no one is without blame. Judas the tool of the devil plays his ordained part (13:27–30; 18:1–3). Roman soldiers will play their role as enforcers and executioners (18:12; 19:23).
The jealous and vengeful Jewish leaders are the real human force behind these events. Their evil blindness comes out vividly when Pilate presents Jesus to them and asks, “Shall I crucify your King?” They respond tellingly: “We have no king but Caesar” (19:15). Pilate had even reminded them of what was absolute truth. Jesus was “your King.” But their calloused hearts were unable to let them see what was right in front of their faces.
Pilate could see Jesus shouldn’t be crucified, but his fear of man and love of political power prevented him from releasing the innocent one. In the moment it was a political necessity to crucify Jesus—even if it was a judicial travesty. He chose politics instead of justice.
But then there’s Peter, too, reminding us that “none is righteous, no, not one” (Rom 3:10). He denies Jesus three times (18:15–18, 25–27). Not once or twice, but three times to make it emphatically clear we all need a Savior.
This parade of human depravity takes place between midnight and noon on Friday. The culmination is that Jesus was then crucified. Death by being hung on a wooden cross was the creation of the Romans. It was a humiliating, brutal, and slow means of death. Ultimately it was suffocation that killed the victim. Your strength gives out and you can no longer raise yourself up to take a breath. With Jesus it would be different, however. When all was completed, he would give up his life and then take his last breath (19:30).
While Jesus was dying he continued to minister to his people, however. He provided for his mother Mary by telling John to care for her (19:26–27).
Then all was complete. The suffering required to save God’s people was accomplished, and so he could finally say after years of trial and suffering for us, “It is finished” (19:30). With that, “he bowed his head and gave up his spirit.”
Joseph of Arimathea, a secret disciple of Jesus, would then take Jesus’ body and bury it in his family tomb in a nearby garden (19:38–42). Then, silence.
No one had any idea of what was about to happen, but it would change everything. A dark and sinister Friday was here...but the Sunday of Sundays was coming.
 The name “Synoptic” is from two Greek words that mean “together” (sun) and “seeing” (opsis). The word is trying to capture the way Matthew, Mark, and Luke present a very similar plotline and selection of events in telling the story of Jesus. They "together see" the earthly ministry of Christ. Yet, they aren’t identical; both the differences and the similarities serve to reinforce the truthfulness and depth of what they write. John is no less reliable in his history and narrative, but he opts for a different presentation of the words and deeds of Jesus. He goes for a more straightforward chronological approach, where the Synoptics give a thematic structure. Further, John records fewer but longer conversations of Jesus.