For Christians across the globe, this week is referred to as “Holy Week.”

Historians believe, based on the biblical accounts, that in Jerusalem around 33 A.D., Roman authorities executed by crucifixion Jesus of Nazareth, a Jewish carpenter who claimed to be the Son of God. This kind of execution was not an unusual occurrence as Judea, like much of the world at the time, was occupied by Roman forces. However, the details surrounding Jesus’ execution certainly were unusual. 

Jews at the time believed that God would send a Messiah, a chosen savior, to save them and lead them to new heights. Most Jews were hoping for a priest king descended from the legendary Israelite King David, who ruled in the 11th century B.C. and whose exploits are chronicled in the Old Testament. They hoped for a warrior who would restore the Davidic kingdom. Many believed that Jesus was that Messiah. Others rejected Jesus as a heretic who did not meet their expectations of the Messiah as a leader of men in battle. Many influential Jewish leaders at the time feared that Jesus could destabilize the occupied land of Israel leading to a Roman crackdown. Paganism, the worship of many gods, was the official religion of the Roman Empire at the time, and the Jewish belief in one God was diametrically opposed to the Roman worldview. There were fears that a Roman crackdown would result in suppression of the Jewish religion. The Jews had already experienced this in 587 B.C., when the Babylonians conquered Judea and destroyed the Jewish temple. The Jews that survived were led away into exile and would not return until after the Persians toppled the Babylonians. Fears of Roman oppression were realized in 70 A.D. when the temple was destroyed again and the people exiled after they revolted against Emperor Nero.

Jesus predicted that he would be killed when he broke bread with his 12 disciples one last time at the Last Supper. Christians celebrate that moment with the Holy Thursday services. That night, according to the gospel accounts, the temple authorities sent troops to arrest Jesus. He was betrayed by the disciple Judas for 30 pieces of silver. Jesus was then taken to a special, and illegal, nighttime trial before the Sanhedrin, a Jewish legislative body. They wanted to execute Jesus, but to do so was illegal under Roman law so they took Jesus to the Roman Governor of the Province, Pontius Pilate. Jesus was not a soldier or politician so Pilate saw no reason to execute the man. Pilate then sent Him to Herod Antipas, the king of Galilee and son of Herod the Great, since Jesus was a Galilean. Herod was very unpopular for his less than devout lifestyle, and he lacked the courage to either order that Jesus be executed or freed so he sent Him back to Pilate. Still unsure of what to do, Pilate then asked the people of Jerusalem whether Jesus or Barabbas, a revolutionary, should be released. They wanted Barabbas pardoned. Pilate then had Jesus severely flogged and mockingly crowned with thorns. He was then forced to carry his own cross up a hill to the site of His execution. Jesus was nailed to a cross and crucified along with two thieves. Christians remember Jesus’s execution as Good Friday. For many Christians, it is a day of fasting followed by a memorial service. Jesus’ lifeless corpse was then placed in a tomb.

This should have been the end of the Jesus story. Men got executed all the time, especially in the Roman era, but Jesus had predicted that he would rise again on the third day. Sure enough, the tomb was empty on Sunday morning. Authorities at the time believed that His followers stole the body away. His disciples believed that He rose from the dead and feasted with them before ascending into Heaven.

Christianity is based on this belief. The Sunday where Christians celebrate the resurrection of Jesus is Easter Sunday and is celebrated as a global holiday. In the United States, it is also considered a spring festival.

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