Our faith stands on the shoulders of one person: Jesus Christ. Many of us, however, have never studied what it was like for our Savior to walk out his final days on earth. Justin Taylor, PhD candidate at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and vice president of book publishing and an associate publisher at Crossway, wrote a book to help us understand those final days.
The Final Days of Jesus: The Most Important Week of the Most Important Person Who Ever Lived can be used as a devotional, in small groups, or for general equipping. It is also designed to be read during Lent which begins on March 5.
I corresponded with Taylor to learn more about his book.
The Final Days of Jesus was co-written with Dr. Andreas J. Köstenberger? What led you to collaborate?
Several years ago I decided to post on my blog the complete ESV text for each day of Holy Week. So, for example, on Palm Sunday I’d post, “What Happened on Sunday?” and then include all of the biblical text—so on and so forth throughout the whole week. I did that for a couple of years, and began to hear from readers who found it to be a helpful tool during Lent and Easter. One friend suggested it might even work as a book. So after thinking and praying about it, I decided to get in touch with Dr. Köstenberger, an expert on the Gospel of John in particular and on the New Testament in general. He’s an outstanding biblical scholar, as well as a friend. I knew he would bring to the project a great deal of wisdom and expertise, as well as a passion to serve the church.
Why is it important that we follow or understand the timeline for Jesus’ death?
That’s a great question, Trillia, and it’s one that we often don’t ask. I’d answer it in two ways: first, we have to remember that the Gospels are not just a collection of Jesus’s sayings but are historical narrative. There is a beginning, a middle, and an end. Christianity is more than history, but it is not less. And if this is so, then it matters what happened when. Secondly, if this final week really is the culmination of the gospels and the end-game of Christ’s earthly ministry, then every detail matters. We often get confused when reading a narrative if we lose track of where we are. Because there are four accounts, and because we often tend to skim through them (or just focus on the final 24 hours), most of us actually know less about that final week and its timeline than we assume.
Your book, though written by scholars and definitely useful to scholars, is not just for scholars. It has a devotional feel, was that intentional? How might churches, small groups, or families use it?
Yes, we wanted this book to be accessible while being informed by the best of evangelical scholarship. We envision the book being used by lots of different people, from pastors to families to small groups. I am really thankful that Crossway is making available a study guide with discussion questions, as well as a 40-day guide to read through each day of Lent. We hope these tools will make it all the more accessible and user-friendly.
Also, when do you suggest beginning the book if it is to be used as a learning tool, teaching, or devotional leading up to Holy Week?
It can be read any time of year, but I’d recommend starting it on Wednesday, March 5, which is the first day of Lent. If someone wanted to read each section of the book on the corresponding day of Holy Week, Palm Sunday this year is on April 13.
You write that each of the Gospels shares the story of Jesus slightly differently. How do you reconcile that in your book?
It reminds me of when someone once asked Charles Spurgeon how he “reconciled” God’s sovereignty and human responsibility. He replied, “I never have to reconcile friends!”
We sometimes wonder why God didn’t inspire just one account. But having four accounts is actually a blessing. It helps us to look at the one person of Jesus through four different lenses. And even if we had 100 lenses, it still wouldn’t exhaust the reality of Christ. As John says at the close of his Gospel, “Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book” (John 20:30).
It’s helpful to step back and remember that the gospels were written by four different men at four different times for four different audiences in order to present four complementary pictures of Jesus. It may be helpful to lay it out in a little chart:
|Author||Date||Audience||Picture of Jesus|
|Matthew||Tax collector turned follower of Christ; one of the Twelve||50s or 60s||Jews||Jesus is the Jewish Messiah predicted in the OT, the son of David who comes to establish the kingdom of heaven|
|Mark||Close associate of the Apostle Peter; may be the young man in Mark 14:50–51||Mid to late 50s||Gentiles in Rome||Jesus is the authoritative, suffering son of God who gives his life as a ransom for many|
|Luke||Gentile physician and companion of the apostle Paul who interviewed eyewitness for his two-volume work (Lk 1:2)||58–60||A man named Theophilus||Jesus is the Savior of the world who seeks and saves the lost in fulfillment of the OT promises to Israel|
|John||The beloved disciple; not only one of the Twelve but in the inner circle of Jesus’ closest friends (with Peter and James)||Mid to late 80s or early 90s||The church in Ephesus||Jesus is the messiah who demands belief and the lamb of God who dies for the sins of the world and gives those who believe eternal life|
How were you personally affected through your studies while writing this book?
We know that one day when we see Christ face to face, we will be like him (1 John 3:2). And we know that by beholding him we become like him (2 Cor. 3:18). So even though we cannot see him now, we love him and believe in him and rejoice in him (1 Pet. 1:8–9). As we wait for that day when we can know him fully, even as we are known (1 Cor. 13:2), we can behold him in the pages of his word. As I worked on this project, that was the result for me. My affection and admiration for my Savior grew as I walked again and again with Jesus on this final week toward Calvary.
How do you think the church could benefit from reading your book?
Most of us have the besetting sin of rushing through life. Even if we have devotionals—reading our Bible and saying our prayers—we go pretty quickly. One way folks could benefit from this book is simply to use it as an opportunity to slow down. We usually don’t know what to do with Lent, though perhaps a few of us might give us chocolate or something for 40 days! But if we were to take these 40 days leading up to Easter, using them to meditate just a couple of pages at a time on this final week of Christ’s earthly life, we may be surprised at what the Lord does in our hearts and minds. So we have hopes that small groups and families and individuals might take up the challenge to slow down this month and decide to walk through the final days of the most important week of the most important person who ever lived!