What is Holy Week?
Updated: Apr 1, 2021
Greetings my dear friends,
I am so excited for Holy week to begin. I think my church is tired of me talking about it so much. But it is a great time to celebrate the fulfillment of the restoration process that God has enacted solely for the reason of restoring us to our original purpose. To be free of sin and to worship Him in his completeness. Let me ask questions you might have.
Is this a biblical mandate?
No, we have no mandate from Jesus or his apostles to mark these days for a particular observance. Paul, for one, would be pretty happy for us to partake or not. "One person esteems one day as better than another, while another esteems all days alike. Each one should be fully convinced in his mind" (Romans 14:5).
The celebration should not be pressed upon the conscience of others. "Let no one pass judgment on you in questions of food and drink, or concerning a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath" (Colossians 2:16).
Celebrating Holy Week is not an obligation, but it is an opportunity. It is a chance to walk with the church, throughout time and the world, as she walks with her Bridegroom through the most critical week in the world's history. It is a chance to focus our minds on and intensify our affections for the most essential and timeless realities.
Is there biblical backing?
Yes, the New Testament does give us an indirect reason if we're looking for it. The final eight of Matthew's 28 chapters are assigned to this one week, along with the last six of Mark's sixteen and the final six of Luke's 24.
Most significant, though, is John. Ten of the Gospel's 21 chapters — essentially half — deal with the final week of our Lord's life, his betrayal, his trials, his crucifixion, and his triumphant resurrection.
What are the days, and when does it begin?
Beginning on Palm Sunday and going until Easter morning.
Day 1: Triumphal Entry on Palm Sunday:
On the Sunday before his death, Jesus began his trip to Jerusalem, knowing that soon he would lay down his life for our sins. Nearing the village of Bethphage, he sent two of his disciples ahead, telling them to look for a donkey and its unbroken colt. Jesus instructed the disciples to untie the animals and bring them to him.
Then Jesus sat on the young donkey and slowly, humbly, made his triumphal entry into Jerusalem, fulfilling the ancient prophecy in Zechariah 9:9:
"Rejoice greatly, O Daughter of Zion! Shout, Daughter of Jerusalem! See, your king comes to you, righteous and having salvation, gentle and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey."
The crowds welcomed him by waving palm branches in the air and shouting, "Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest!"
Day 2: On Monday, Jesus Clears the Temple:
The following morning, Jesus returned with his disciples to Jerusalem. Along the way, he cursed a fig tree because it had failed to bear fruit. Some scholars believe this cursing of the fig tree represented God's judgment on Israel's spiritually dead religious leaders. Others believe the symbolism extended to all believers, demonstrating that genuine faith is more than just outward religiosity; true, living trust must bear spiritual fruit in a person's life.
When Jesus arrived at the Temple, he found the courts full of corrupt money changers. He began overturning their tables and clearing the Temple, saying,
"The Scriptures declare, 'My Temple will be a house of prayer,' but you have turned it into a den of thieves" (Luke 19:46).
Day 3: On Tuesday, Jesus Goes to the Mount of Olives:
On Tuesday morning, Jesus and his disciples returned to Jerusalem. They passed the withered fig tree on their way, and Jesus spoke to his companions about the importance of faith.
Back at the Temple, religious leaders were upset at Jesus for establishing himself as a spiritual authority. They organized an ambush with the intent to place him under arrest. But Jesus evaded their traps and pronounced harsh judgment on them, saying:
"Blind guides!...For you are like whitewashed tombs—beautiful on the outside but filled on the inside with dead people's bones and all sorts of impurity. Outwardly you look like righteous people, but inwardly your hearts are filled with hypocrisy and lawlessness...Snakes! Sons of vipers! How will you escape the judgment of hell?" (Matthew 23:24-33)
Later that afternoon, Jesus left the city and went with his disciples to the Mount of Olives, which sits due east of the Temple and overlooks Jerusalem. Here Jesus gave the Olivet Discourse, a detailed prophecy about Jerusalem's destruction and the end of the age. He speaks, as usual, in parables, using symbolic language about the end times events, including His Second Coming and the final judgment.
Scripture indicates that this Tuesday was also the day Judas Iscariot negotiated with the Sanhedrin, the rabbinical court of ancient Israel, to betray Jesus (Matthew 26:14-16).
Day 4: Holy Wednesday:
The Bible doesn't say what the Lord did on the Wednesday of Passion Week. Scholars speculate that after two exhausting days in Jerusalem, Jesus and his disciples spent this day resting in Bethany in anticipation of Passover.
Day 5: Passover and Last Supper on Maundy Thursday:
Holy Week takes a sad turn on Thursday.
From Bethany, Jesus sent Peter and John ahead to the Upper Room in Jerusalem to prepare the Passover Feast. That evening after sunset, he washed his disciples' feet as they prepared to share in the Passover. By performing this humble act of service, Jesus demonstrated by example how believers should love one another. Today, many churches practice foot-washing ceremonies as a part of their Maundy Thursday services.
Then, Jesus shared the feast of Passover with his disciples, saying:
"I have been very eager to eat this Passover meal with you before my suffering begins. For I tell you now that I won't eat this meal again until its meaning is fulfilled in the Kingdom of God." (Luke 22:15-16, NLT)
As the Lamb of God, Jesus was about to fulfill the meaning of Passover by giving his body to be broken and his blood to be shed in sacrifice, freeing us from sin and death. During this Last Supper, Jesus established the Lord's Supper, or Communion, instructing his followers to continually remember his sacrifice by sharing in the elements of bread and wine (Luke 22:19-20).
Later, Jesus and the disciples left the Upper Room and went to the Garden of Gethsemane, where Jesus prayed in agony to God the Father. Luke's Gospel says that "his sweat became like great drops of blood falling to the ground" (Luke 22:44, ESV).
Late that evening in Gethsemane, Jesus was betrayed with a kiss by Judas Iscariot and arrested by the Sanhedrin. He was taken to the home of Caiaphas, the High Priest, where the whole council had gathered to begin making their case against Jesus.
Day 6: Trial, Crucifixion, Death, and Burial on Good Friday:
Good Friday is the most challenging day of Passion Week. Christ's journey turned treacherous and acutely painful in these final hours leading to his death.
According to Scripture, Judas Iscariot, the disciple who had betrayed Jesus, was overcome with remorse and hanged himself early Friday morning.
Meanwhile, before the third hour (9 a.m.), Jesus endured the shame of false accusations, condemnation, mockery, beatings, and abandonment. After multiple unlawful trials, he was sentenced to death by crucifixion, one of the most horrible and disgraceful capital punishment methods known at the time.
Before Christ was led away, soldiers spit on him, tormented and mocked him, and pierced him with a crown of thorns. Then Jesus carried his cross to Calvary where, again, he was mocked and insulted as Roman soldiers nailed him to the wooden cross.
Jesus spoke seven final statements from the cross. His first words were,
"Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing." (Luke 23:34, NIV).
His last words were, "Father, into your hands I commit my spirit." (Luke 23:46, NIV)
Then, about the ninth hour (3 p.m.), Jesus breathed his last breath and died.
By 6 p.m. Friday, Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathea took Jesus' body down from the cross and lay it in a tomb.
Day 7: Saturday in the Tomb:
Jesus' body lay in its tomb, where Roman soldiers guarded it throughout the day on Saturday, the Sabbath. When the Sabbath ended at 6 p.m., Christ's body was ceremonially treated for burial with spices purchased by Nicodemus:
"He brought about seventy-five pounds of perfumed ointment made from myrrh and aloes. Following Jewish burial custom, they wrapped Jesus' body with the spices in long sheets of linen cloth." (John 19: 39-40, NLT)
Like Joseph of Arimathea, Nicodemus was a member of the Sanhedrin, the court that had condemned Jesus Christ to death. For a time, both men had lived as secret followers of Jesus, afraid to make a public profession of faith because of their prominent positions in the Jewish community.
Similarly, both were deeply affected by Christ's death. They boldly came out of hiding, risking their reputations and their lives because they had come to realize that Jesus was, indeed, the long-awaited Messiah. Together they cared for Jesus' body and prepared it for burial.
While his physical body lay in the tomb, Jesus Christ paid the penalty for sin by offering the perfect, spotless sacrifice. He conquered death, both spiritually and physically, securing our eternal salvation:
"For you know that God paid a ransom to save you from the empty life you inherited from your ancestors. And the ransom he paid was not mere gold or silver. He paid for you with the precious lifeblood of Christ, the sinless, spotless Lamb of God." (1 Peter 1:18-19, NLT)
Day 8: Resurrection Sunday:
The resurrection of Jesus Christ is the most important event of the Christian faith. The very foundation of all Christian doctrine hinges on the truth of this account.
Early Sunday morning, several women (Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Salome, and Mary, the mother of James) went to the tomb. They discovered that the large stone covering the entrance had been rolled away. An angel announced:
"Don't be afraid! I know you are looking for Jesus, who was crucified. He isn't here! He is risen from the dead, just as he said would happen." (Matthew 28:5-6, NLT)
On the day of his resurrection, Jesus Christ made at least five appearances. Mark's Gospel says the first person to see him was Mary Magdalene. Jesus also appeared to Peter, to the two disciples on the road to Emmaus, and later that day to all of the disciples except Thomas, while they were gathered in a house for prayer.
May this help explain and give light to holy week.
Grace & Peace,
Rev. Abe Williams