Every year around the time of Easter, I try to make a point of listening to Handel’s Messiah in its entirety. It is over two hours of music, the words of which are almost completely taken directly from Scripture. Handel wrote the work for an Easter service, and it is broken into three parts: Jesus’ birth, death, and resurrection. This has become a habit to get my mind focused on the gospel story as we celebrate Easter together at the church. Perhaps, however, a lengthy symphonic oratorio is not something that interests everyone, or is even something that everyone can endure sitting through. If so, or if you are looking for another way to reflect on the story of Palm Sunday, Good Friday, and Easter, I recommend the book The Final Days of Jesus by Andreas Köstenberger, Justin Taylor, and Alexander Stewart.
The authors state early on that their intent is not to be academic in their approach, but to write a devotional “aid to informed worship.” They accomplish this goal splendidly. If we are honest, even familiar parts of the Bible can be difficult to understand at times. Knowing this, the authors seek to make the most important part of the story more digestible by arranging the various Gospel accounts chronologically in order to make it read more like a modern-day narrative. Each of the book’s chapters covers one day of the week, beginning with Jesus’ Triumphal Entry on Palm Sunday and concluding with his resurrection the following Sunday. This structure allows readers to read the chapters on their corresponding days of the week as a devotional meditation for the week of Easter.
The introduction should not be skipped, for the authors give helpful explanations of how and why the Gospel accounts were written, as well as how having four accounts of Jesus’ life is valuable for us. For each significant event, the book gives the texts of Scripture from each Gospel account and provides a short commentary to explain the significance of that event. The inclusion of the passages of Scripture is helpful, as it shows the parallels and differences between the Gospel accounts. The authors are careful to point out that these differences between the accounts are not contradictions, but are instead reflective of different points of view. Though the book does not focus on these differences, it helpfully addresses them. One particularly beneficial example of this practice is found in a brief footnote on page 53, where the authors point out the difference between the Day of Passover and the week-long Feast of Unleavened Bread.
The short commentary passages are also beneficial. The authors demonstrate a knowledge of the cultural and historical background of the Gospel accounts, which allows them to share valuable insight that aids the reader’s understanding of the events. The authors highlight the significance of how details in the story fit together, relate to Old Testament imagery, foreshadow what is coming, and help us understand the story from a broader perspective. Along with this commentary, the authors include several maps, charts, diagrams, and pictures to help illuminate geographical and spatial clues that readers unfamiliar with the cultural context will find helpful.
The authors date Christ’s death and resurrection to AD 33. Some scholars put it closer to AD 30, but this difference among scholars is insignificant. However, by identifying a specific year for Christ’s death and resurrection, the authors are able to apply the appropriate dates on the calendar to the days of the week. This is a wise choice that benefits readers, as thinking of specific events as happening on particular days (such as March 31st) helps us to think of these events as occurring in real-world time and space. When we think about historical events, especially those from thousands of years ago, we can often feel like imagining a story happening in Middle Earth or Narnia, merely because of distance. Identifying the days of the week with specific calendar dates helps ground our thinking to this world. The impact this has on our reading of these events is quite valuable, for this approach helps the authors accomplish their goal of aiding in informed worship.
Overall, The Final Days of Jesus is a helpful guide to aid in our understanding of the events surrounding Jesus’ death and resurrection. The authors help bridge the gaps of time and culture, enabling us to see a familiar story in a new light. The life, death, and resurrection of Christ are the cornerstone events of our faith, and we can be grateful for a resource like The Final Days of Jesus that helps us understand and meditate on these days with a fresh perspective.
Nathan Hunter (BA, Maranatha Baptist Bible College) serves as a lay elder of Oak Park Baptist Church.