Jesus’ Last Steps

This past summer, a number of people from my church went on a tour of Israel. On their return, one of the pastors was marveling at the great distance that Jesus was required to walk on the morning of his crucifixion. Of course, it is not possible to say with total certainty what route He took that morning, but I believe with a little research it is possible to make some fairly good guesses. The relevant passages in Scripture are Matthew 26:17-27:45; Mark 14:12-15:37; Luke 22:7-23:51; and John 13:2-19:38.

©Leen & Kathleen Ritmeyer, from Jerusalem at the Time of Jesus. Annotated by me.

The paragraph numbers below correspond to points on the accompanying map.

  1. The Upper Room – The trek, of course, began at the Upper Room. Most of the sites visited can be located today with some degree of confidence. Not so the Upper Room. Church tradition places it at the site of the Church of the Apostles on Mt. Zion, in the southwestern quarter of the city, in an upper story directly above the traditional location of the Tomb of David. I don’t believe that this is the correct location of either shrine. David’s real tomb was probably in a known cave complex on the southeastern slope of the City of David, but the Upper Room could be anywhere in the city. Due to the proximity of the Gihon Spring and given that the host was described as a man carrying a jar of water, some authors tentatively place it on the Ophel, south of the Temple Mount; however, everybody in Jerusalem had to fetch water, and the room was described as “large”, leading me to place it somewhere in the more upscale Upper or Lower City (the Western Hill or the Tyropoeon Valley). After killing the sacrifices on Thursday, Nisan 14 (probably April 4, AD 30), food for the Seder had to be prepared and the Sabbath candles lit before sundown. Then the meal could begin during the twilight period. Most celebrations wrapped up at around midnight and the celebrants went outside, either into the streets or onto the roofs, to join in citywide singing of the Hallel psalms.
  2. The Mount of Olives – After singing the Hallel, Jesus and his party adjourned to the Mount of Olives, presumably leaving the City of David via the Water Gate, above Gihon Spring. There was most likely a switch-back road descending from the gate into the Kidron Valley below, intersecting with a road running along the valley floor. Matthew and Mark describe this stage of the trek similarly: as they arrived at The Mount of Olives, Jesus prophesied that his apostles would lose faith in him that night. He quoted from the apocalyptic 13th chapter of Zechariah which speaks of the End of Days (acharit hyamim). At that time, the people in the Land will be scattered, with 2/3 of them purged and those who remain purified. He then said that after His resurrection He would meet the disciples in Galilee. At this point, we see the exchange with Peter, when his threefold denial is foretold. They then proceeded on to Gethsemane. Luke only says that Jesus told them to pray that they might not be put to the test. He then went “about a stone’s throw away” to pray—presumably the John 17 prayer—and returned to find them sleeping. John’s account is quite different. There is no clear transition from the Upper Room to the Mount of Olives. Chapters 13 through 17 cover in great detail the exhortations and warnings to the disciples, and Jesus’ prayer. Given only this passage, one would conclude that the entire conversation, including the prayer, took place around the Seder table, though that is not actually stated. From this passage it appears that the exchange with Peter occurred near the end of the Seder, in the Upper Room. Conservative hermeneutics, based on examination of ancient literary practices, allows conversations to be paraphrased and chronologies to be out of order, as long as the message is not distorted by doing so, so this part of the conversation could have taken place in either location. Another likely possibility is that Jesus said the same thing twice in order to drive the point home to Peter.
  3. Gethsemane – From the Mount of Olives, the party moved on to the Garden of Gethsemane (Gat-Sh’manim), where Jesus was arrested. Since Gethsemane is an olive grove and olive press on the Mount of Olives, this can of course be interpreted to mean that they simply moved from outside to inside the borders of the grove; however, I have a personal theory based on the passage in John. John records that after the prayer of chapter 17, “He went out with his talmidim (disciples) across the stream that flows in winter through the Vadi (Vale, or Valley) Kidron, to a spot where there was a grove of trees; and He and His talmidim went into it (CJB).” They must at some time have crossed the Brook Kidron, but is this the stream referred to? At that time the Kidron was fed year-round by the seasonally varying Gihon Spring, and by other sources in the mountains to the east and north during the rainy seasons of early and late winter. Since they would have had to cross this stream below Gihon, it would have always held water. I don’t see how it would be described as “the stream that flows in winter.” I am therefore postulating that the stream may have been just a small rill spilling down off of the Mount, to the south of the grove. That would allow the entire conversation of chapters 13 through 17 to have taken place on the Mount close to, but not strictly within, Gethsemane. One possibility is a small stream that separates what we currently think of as the Mount of Olives and the Mount of Offense. In those days these two mountains, along with Mount Scopus to the north were all considered part of the Mount of Olives.
  4. Annas’ House – Only John mentions that after His arrest, Jesus was first taken to the house of Annas, father-in-law of the current High Priest. Annas was an extremely wealthy man who, though no longer High Priest, was still perhaps the most powerful man in the city. Annas was probably the inhabitant of a house in the richest part of the city which has been excavated, partially restored and named the “Palatial Mansion.” The arresting party is likely to have taken one of two routes from Gethsemane: I have drawn them retracing Jesus’ earlier steps to the Water Gate, then taking the most direct route to Annas’ house. As an alternative, they could have entered the city on the north side near the present Lions’ Gate, passing between the Pool of Israel and the Bethesda Pools and rounding north of the Antonia Fortress. The second route is longer, the first more tortuous.
  5. Caiaphas’ House – After briefly questioning Jesus, Annas sent Him to Caiaphas. Matthew and Mark say that “The head cohanim (priests) and the whole Sanhedrin” then put Him on trial. Luke says, “Having seized Him, they led Him away and brought him into the house of the cohen hagadol (High Priest).” Caiaphas’ house has been identified by many with an archaeological site in the southwestern portion of the city, near the traditional site of the Upper Room. Many scholars have long assumed that since the Sanhedrin was involved, Jesus must have then been moved to the Chamber of Hewn Stones in the Temple complex, since that was where they normally met until a few years later when they moved into the Royal Porch. This view is not credible, because (a) they were holding an illegal trial at that time of day (before daybreak); (b) the Temple gates were still locked at that time of day; (c) Peter was described as “outside in the courtyard, (of a residence); and (d) the accompanying Roman soldiers had custody and would not have handed him over to the Jews at this time, which would have been necessary since they could not enter the inner courts of the Temple.
  6. The Praetorium – This was Pilate‘s (the governor’s) headquarters. It has been variously identified as (a) the Antonia Fortress; (b) The Hasmonean Palace, near the Palatial Mansion; and (c) Herod the Great’s Palace, at the site of the later Citadel. It is presently believed that (c) is the correct location. Jesus was taken here “early in the morning”, around daybreak, and questioned by Pilate.
  7. Herod Antipas – This son of Herod the Great normally lived in Caesarea Maritima but was visiting Jerusalem for the Passover. When in Jerusalem, he normally lodged in the Hasmonean Palace (see above). Only Luke mentions this side trip. Herod questioned Jesus and sent Him back to Pilate.
  8. The Praetorium again – When Herod sent Jesus back to the Praetorium, Pilate tried unsuccessfully to release him in order to avoid confrontation with the masses of common people. Instead, he was compelled to kill Jesus instead of Barabbas (Bar-Abba). Jesus was led inside, tortured, and prepared for crucifixion.
  9. Golgotha (Gulgolta) and Joseph of Arimathea’s (Yoseph from Ramatayim’s) Tomb – In a previous blog I explained why Gordon’s Golgotha and the Garden Tomb are not possibly where Jesus’ life was temporarily put to an end. Instead, the crucifixion and burial almost certainly occurred at the traditional Christian site inside the Church of the Resurrection.

Author: Ron Thompson

Retired President of R. L Thompson Engineering, Inc.

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