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Newcastle upon Tyne



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Our Lord's Passion

Last Updated: 21/09/2014

Four Views of Our Lord’s Passion:

A summary of Bernard Robinson’s Lenten talks

Mark was writing in Rome in violent times, in about AD 68, the year that Nero the persecutor of Christians died, while in Judaea the Jewish uprising against the Romans was in full spate. Mark’s Passion story is stark and grim, and portrays Jesus as betrayed by his male (but not his female) friends, mocked and hounded to death by the Sadducees, and seemingly abandoned by God himself. Only at the last moment does God show his support by splitting the Temple-veil, thereby endorsing his Son’s criticism of the Temple system, and through the mouth of a Gentile centurion vindicating Jesus’ messianic standing.

Luke’s concern in his gospel is with Gentiles. He is a gifted narrator and has crafted a Passion story full of pathos and poignancy. Jesus is portrayed as the supreme martyr, dignified and forgiving (“Father, forgive them…”). Luke alone has Herod Antipas interrogating Jesus. He puts the blame for Jesus’ death firmly on the Jews—but on their leaders, not the ordinary people. He stresses the need to follow Jesus’ example.


Matthew (probably not the apostle) was writing in the wake of the Fall of Jerusalem in AD 70, and for Jewish Christians. He elaborates on the theme of mockery, adding, for example, the mock sceptre. He has Pilate washing his hands and Pilate’s wife trying to save Jesus’ life. The blame, for Matthew, lies at the door of the Jewish people: the next generation will be punished for Jesus’ death by the destruction of Jerusalem. “His blood be upon us and upon our children”, the people cry: words shocking enough, but attempts down the ages to use them to legitimize ill treatment of the Jewish people are not justified by the text. Matthew’s story of the raising to life of some Old Testament saints, while historically problematic, serves to show that Jesus’ resurrection foreshadowed that of Christian believers. He was the first-fruits.

The fourth evangelist (perhaps a disciple of the apostle John) was, like Matthew, writing for Jewish Christians; like Matthew, he portrays Jesus as the inheritor of the Mosaic legacy. But his Passion story plays down the idea of suffering, so prominent in Mark and Matthew, and is concerned rather to bring out Jesus’ glory as the Mosaic Prophet-King. He is more victor than victim. The role of the other actors (Pilate, Caiaphas, the soldiers) is that of witnesses. Jesus does not so much suffer death as choose it, and this as a way of revealing the divine love which recreates, in the form of the Christian church, a new Israel. Jesus appropriately dies not with words expressive of a feeling of abandonment but with a phrase that echoes the story of the completion of the Mosaic Tent-shrine: “It is finished”.

Thus we have four different, complementary, “takes” on the Passion of the Lord which together give a rounded representation of the place that his journey to a death on Golgotha has in the divine scheme of revelation and salvation.

The Passion Narrative: a brief reading list

BROWN, Raymond E., The Death of the Messiah From Gethsemane to the Grove. A Commentary on the Passion Narratives in the Four Gospels. 2 vols. (Anchor Bible Reference Library), New York, Doubleday, 1993. Paperback edition, £15.99 {The classic work - detailed, reliable]

BROWN, Raymond E., A Crucified Christ in Holy Week. Collegeville, Liturgical Press, 1986. £5.50 [short, easy-going, inexpensive]

MARTINI, Carlo. Promise Fulfilled, Meditations on the Passion Narratives. St Paul's, 1994, £7.25.

BENOIT, Pierre, The Passion and Resurrection of Jesus Christ. New York, DLT, 1969 [out of print]

HENDRICKX, H., The Passion Narratives of the Synoptic Gospels. 2nd ed. London, Chapman, 1984. [Good, popular introduction, but it does not cover John; [out of print]


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