Pharisees and Jewish Leadership – Evocations from Jesus

Pharisees and the Jewish leadership were the dogged antagonists of Jesus of Nazareth – what did their provocations elicit from Jesus about being the Son of God, the prophesied Messiah?

Key to understanding the dynamics is knowing the profile of the Pharisees and the Jewish leadership. Two famous Jewish historical figures were Pharisees who provided insider knowledge.

Flavius Josephus was as a Sanhedrin-appointed Pharisee General before he was captured by the Romans and became an official Jewish historian for Rome.[1] Saul, before his conversion to the Apostle Paul, was also a Pharisee who actively worked for the Sanhedrin.[2]

Three main religious factions in Jerusalem were identified by Josephus – the Pharisees, Sadducees and Essenes – all with common ground on the written Law of Moses.[3]A very closed sect, Essenes kept to themselves whereas the Sadducees strongly disagreed with the Pharisees:[4]

“…[Pharisees] have delivered to the people a great many observances by succession from their fathers which are not written in the laws of Moses; and for that reason it is that the Sadducees reject them”[5]Antiquities of the Jews

Jewish leadership was comprised of the high priests, Pharisees and Sadducees often with membership in the Sanhedrin (Sanhedrim), a supreme court of 71 judges established under Moses.[6] The Sanhedrin progressively gained  political power during its final years under the Roman Empire.

For the Pharisees, power and influence increased significantly under Jewish Queen Alexandra a generation before King Herod.[7] On his death bed, King Alexander advised Queen Alexandra to grant some of her powers to the Pharisees to gain their favor in the kingdom. [8]

Queen Alexandra granted the Pharisees “all things into their power, both to the dead body, and as to the affairs of the kingdom…”[9] In return, the Pharisees threw their support behind Queen Alexandra as ruler…but it came with a price:

“Now Alexandra hearkened to them to an extraordinary degree….while she governed other people, and the Pharisees governed her.” – Wars of the Jews [10]

Pharisees had their own contingent of officers with full arrest powers.[11] Once they were sent to arrest Jesus simply because the crowd was murmuring about things he was teaching.[12] Part of the posse that arrested Jesus on Mt. Gethsemane were officers of the Pharisees.[13] Saul admitted zealously arresting Christian before his own conversion.[14]

Josephus described the Pharisees as legal experts “esteemed most skillful in the exact explication of their law.”[15] And so it was that the Pharisees “valued themselves highly upon the exact skill they had in the law of their fathers, and made men believe they were highly favored by God.”[16]

Gospel accounts of the Pharisees indicate Jesus of Nazareth had a very similar view as Josephus – Jesus acknowledged the religious authority of the Pharisees yet despised their hypocritical behavior.[17] References to the Pharisees in the Gospels are 10-fold greater than the Sadducees.[18]

Confronting Jesus numerous times, the Pharisees and Jewish leadership  wanted to know by what authority he was forgiving sins and performing miracles. Responses from Jesus came in the form of parables, riddles or not answered at all. On a few dramatic occasions shortly before he was captured and crucified did Jesus answered them directly…

October, the Feast of the Tabernacles celebration, now known as Sukkot, is observed in Jerusalem.[19] Six months before Jesus would be crucified, the Disciples of Jesus attended the week-long festival without him.[20] Midweek Jesus secretly slipped into the city and taught at the Temple.

Officers reported Jesus to the Pharisees and Jewish leadership prompting them to find him.[21] When they heard Jesus say “I am the light of the world,” the Pharisees objected pressing him further when Jesus said:[22]

JN 8:24 “…for unless you believe that I AM, you’ll die in your sins.” (ISV)

Turning to his Judean believers, Jesus explained further and the dialog turned to Abraham. When Jesus spoke as though he knew Abraham, it led to this exchange:

JN 8:57-58 “‘You are not yet fifty years old, and have You seen Abraham?’ Jesus said to them, ‘Most assuredly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I AM.’” (NKJV)

Blasphemy, according to the Law of Moses, was to be punished by stoning.[23] “They picked up stones to throw at him, but Jesus hid himself and went out from the temple area.”[24]

December before Jesus would be crucified, he attended the Feast of Dedication in Jerusalem, today known as Hanukkah.[25] Under Solomon’s Portico at the Temple, the Jewish leaders confronted Jesus asking, “How long will you keep us in suspense?  If you are the Christ, tell us plainly.”[26] They got a succinct answer:

JN 10:30 “The Father and I are one.” (NET)

Again, the reaction was severe – Jewish authorities picked up stones to kill Jesus and he asked them why – “I have shown you many good deeds from the Father. For which one of them are you going to stone me?”[27] Their response, “We are not going to stone you for a good deed but for blasphemy, because you, a man, are claiming to be God.”[28]

Even if they did not believe his words, Jesus suggested they should instead consider the “good deeds” he had performed; miracles that could only be accomplished with the power of his Father, God:[29]

JN 10:36-38 “…do you say about the one whom the Father set apart and sent into the world, ‘You are blaspheming,’ because I said, ‘I am the Son of God’? If I do not perform the deeds of my Father, do not believe me. But if I do them, even if you do not believe me, believe the deeds, so that you may come to know and understand that I am in the Father and the Father is in me.” (NET)

An attempt was then made to seize Jesus rather than to stone him. The reason for their change in reaction may have been more for political self-interests and less for religious reasons. The Pharisees were afraid of the people because they viewed him as a prophet and yet he threatened their controlling influence over the people.[30]

Just hours before he was to be crucified came the most dramatic moment involving the high priest himself. During his nighttime Sanhedrin trial at the Temple, undoubtedly knowing it would cost him his life, Jesus testified under oath that he is ego eimi, Greek for “I AM”.[31]

MK 14:62 Jesus said, “I AM, and ‘you will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of the Power’ and ‘coming with the clouds of heaven.'” (ISV)

Jewish leadership and Pharisees of the Sanhedrin bore witness to the fact that Jesus testified he is “I AM.” Caiaphas immediately exclaimed, “‘He has blasphemed! Why do we still need witnesses? Listen! You yourselves have just heard the blasphemy! What is your verdict?’ They replied, ‘He deserves to die!’”[32]

On three occasions, Jesus specifically identified himself as equal to God, the Son of God, and each time the Pharisees and Jewish leadership who heard it wanted to kill him. There can be no question Jesus said it; the question is, was he right? Is Jesus truly the Son of God, the Messiah?


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[1] Josephus, Flavius. The Life of Josephus. 12. <>
[2] Acts 8:1-3; 9:1-23. “Paul the Apostle.” Denova, Rebecca. Ancient History Encyclopedia. 2013. <,was%20the%20Law%20of%20Moses> “St. Paul the Apostle.” Encyclopædia Britannica. 2020. <>
[3] Antiquities. Book XIII, Chapter V.9.  The Life of Flavius Josephus. I.2.
[4] Whitson, William. The Complete Works of Josephus. Antiquity of the Jews, Book XIII, Chapter X.4 foot note *. Josephus. Wars. Book II, Chapter VIII.7-11.
[5] Josephus, Flavius. Antiquity of the Jews. Book XIII, Chapter XI.6. <>
[6] “Sanhedrin.” Jewish Encyclopedia. 2011. <>  “Sanhedrin.” Encyclopædia Britannica. 2020. <> “Sanhedrin.” Jewish Virtual Library. 2020. <>
[7] Whitson, William. The Complete Works of Josephus. Antiquity of the Jews, Book VI, Chapter IV.3 foot note †;   Book XIV, Chapter IX.4, footnote †; Dissertation I.V; Book XIII, Chapter XVI foot note †. <>  Josephus. Antiquity. Book IV, Chapter VII.14; Book XIV, Chapter IX.4. Josephus. The Life of Josephus. 12.  Josephus, Flavius. Wars of the Jews. Book II, Chapter XV.6. <> “Salome Alexandra.” New World Encyclopedia. 2019.
[8] Josephus. Antiquity. Book XIII, Chapter XV.5, XVI.1.
[9] Josephus. Antiquities. Book XIII, Chapter XVI.1.
[10] Josephus. Wars. Book I, Chapter V.2.
[11] John 1:24; 7:32, 45; 11:57; 18:3, 12.
[12] John 7:32.
[13] John 18:1-12.
[14] Acts 8:1-3; 9:1-23.
[15] Josephus. Wars. Book II, Chapter VIII.14.  Josephus. Antiquities. Book XIII, Chapter XI.6.
[16] Josephus. Antiquities. Book XVII, Chapter II.4.
[17] Matthew 3:7, 16:6, 12, 23:1-13, 15, 25, 27, 29, 33; Mark 12:38-40; Luke 11:43, 12:1, 18:11, 20:45-47.
[18] 93 Gospel mentions of Pharisees, 9 Gospel mentions of Sadducees or which 6 also included the Pharisees.
[19] “Sukkoth.” Encyclopædia Britannica. 2020. <>  “The Meaning of the Feast of Tabernacles.” One For Israel. 2020. <>
[20] John 7:2.
[21] John 7:1-9, 14, 32, 45; 8:12.  CR John 1:24; 11:57; 18:3, 12.
[22] John 8:12.
[23] Leviticus 24:16.
[24] John 8:59.
[25] John 10:22. “Hanukkah.” Encyclopædia Britannica. 2020. <> “Hanukkah.” 2020. <>
[26] John 10:24. NET.
[27] John 10:31-32. NET. John 10:24. Footnote 1. <>  CR John 10:31. International Standard Version, New Heart English Bible. <>
[28] John 10:33. NET.
[29] John 9:16. CR John 10:40-41
[30] Matthew 19:2, 21:46, 26:4-5; Mark 11:18, 14:1-2; Luke 12:1, 21:38; John 11:47-48; 12:18-19.  Josephus. Antiquities. Book XIII, Chapter XI.5, Chapter XI.5-6, Book XVII, Chapter II.4.
[31] Matthew 26:63-64.
[32] Matthew 26:65-66. ISV. CR Mark 14:63-64.

Psalms – Are Any Messiah Prophecies?

Psalms are quoted in the New Testament more than any other book from the Old Testament, the Tenakh.[1] Often associated with King David such as praises, songs, travails, salvation; some describe characteristics of God; others are considered parallels to the Messiah – are any Psalms prophecies about the Messiah?[2]

Psalms identified by Jesus of Nazareth as prophecies to be fulfilled by him raises the bar to the highest level – he must fulfill them if his claim to be the Messiah is credible.

MT: 5:17-18 “Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets; I have come not to abolish but to fulfill. For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth pass away, not one letter, not one stroke of a letter, will pass from the law until all is accomplished. (NRSV) [*] [3]

Pharisees had been watching and listening to Jesus since early in his ministry. At one point, Jesus took an opportunity to engage them directly asking, “”What do you think of the Messiah? Whose son is he?”[4] Thinking the question was simple, they answered, “The son of David.” Jesus pointedly quoted from Psalms 110:1:

MT 22:43-45 …”How then does David in the Spirit call Him ‘Lord,’ saying: ‘The LORD said to my Lord, “Sit at My right hand, Till I make Your enemies Your footstool’? If David then calls Him ‘Lord,’ how is He his Son?” (NKJV)

PS 110:1 ‘The LORD said to my Lord, “Sit at My right hand, Till I make Your enemies Your footstool”’? (NKJV)

No answer came from the Pharisees, according to Matthew. They were unable to debunk Psalms 110:1 as a Messiah prophecy.

Visiting Bethany days just before entering Jerusalem for the last time, curiously the Pharisees warned Jesus to leave because Tetrarch Herod Antipas wanted to kill him. Ignoring the warning, Jesus said he was busy casting out demons and performing cures, then finished with a prophecy quoting from Psalms 118:26:

LK 13:35 “I say to you, you shall not see Me until the time comes when you say, ‘Blessed is He who comes in the name of the LORD!’” (NKJV)

PS .118:26 “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the LORD! We have blessed you from the house of the LORD.” (NKJV)

Days later, known in Christianity as “Palm Sunday, Jesus rode into the city seated on the unbroken colt of a donkey with the people of the crowd chanting and placing palm branches in his path:[5]

JN 12:12-13  “… a great multitude that had come to the feast, when they heard that Jesus was coming to Jerusalem, took branches of palm trees and went out to meet Him, and cried out: “Hosanna! ‘Blessed is He who comes in the name of the LORD!’ The King of Israel!””[6]

All four Gospel authors write about that triumphal day when Jesus entered Jerusalem. Citing the Gospel of John, states: [7]

“According to John xii. 13…which has the story preserved in its original form, the same cry was raised by the multitude on the occasion of Jesus’ arrival at Jerusalem. They “took branches of palm-trees, and went forth to meet him, and cried, Hosanna: Blessed is he that cometh in the name of the Lord”—that is, the verse following “Anna Adonai hoshi’ah-nna” in the Hallel psalm— and then called him “the King of Israel.”

Judaism regards Psalms 118 as the concept of salvation pointing to the arrival of the Messiah recited in the Hallel during Festival holidays.[8] articulates, “The Psalm verses recited have been interpreted by the Rabbis also as referring to the advent of the Messiah (see Midr. Teh. to Ps. cxviii. 17, 21, 22; comp. Matt. xxi. 42).”[9]

MT 21:42 “”Have you never read in the scriptures: ‘The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone; this was the Lord’s doing, and it is amazing in our eyes’?” (NRSV)

PS 118:22-23 “The stone that the builders rejected has become the chief cornerstone. This is the Lord’s doing; it is marvelous in our eyes” (NRSV)

Jewish sage Rabbi Rashi viewed Micah 5:1 (5:2 in Christian translations) as a prophecy predicting the Messiah would be born in Bethlehem. Breaking down the prophecy phrase by phrase, he commented “from you shall emerge for Me the Messiah, son of David, and so Scripture says (Ps. 118:22): ‘The stone the builders had rejected became a cornerstone.” Intriguingly, Rashi did not provide a similar commentary for Psalms 118:22.

Teaching in the Temple just 3 days before he would be crucified, the Pharisees again questioned Jesus by what authority he was teaching. His answer included one of the few parables common to Mathew, Mark and Luke.[10]

Payment was due for the lease of his tenant’s crops so the owner of the vineyard sent one, then a second servant to collect the debt. Both were beaten and stoned by the tenants even killing the last one. The vineyard owner then sent his own son to collect the debt thinking surely they would respect him, but they killed his son, too.

“Bring those wretches to a wretched end!” responded the Pharisees.[11] For the second time in a week, Jesus then quoted from Psalms 118:22. Realizing the parable was about them, “They wanted to arrest Jesus, but they feared the crowds, because they regarded him as a prophet.”[12]

Passover meal became “The Last Supper” for Jesus.[13] As they were eating, Jesus identified a prophecy soon to be fulfilled and he didn’t want there to be any question about it. He quoted Psalm 41:9 as a prophecy of duplicity foretelling he would be imminently betrayed by one of his own Disciples.[14]

JN 13:18-19 “I am not referring to all of you; I know those I have chosen. But this is to fulfil the scripture: ‘He who shares my bread has lifted up his heel against me.’ “I am telling you now before it happens, so that when it does happen you will believe that I am He. (NIV)

PS 41:9 Even my close friend, whom I trusted, he who shared my bread, has lifted up his heel against me. (NIV)

Once Judas Iscariot knew his unscrupulous intentions were known by Jesus, he quickly left the Passover meal. His act of betrayal occurred just hours later.[15]

During his nighttime trial by the Sanhedrin, Jesus spoke only once. When he did, it was consequential in more ways than one. Admitting he is the Messiah, he again quoted from Psalms 110:1. “‘I am,’ said Jesus, ‘and you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand  of the Power and coming with the clouds of heaven.’”[16]

Psalms 22 is generally recognized by Christianity as either a foreshadowing or prophecy about the crucifixion of Jesus. The 1000-year older Psalm describes physical and metal effects that remarkably match an execution by Roman crucifixion as well as three specific actions by others, mocking, gambling and piercing. In his excruciating dying moments on the cross, Jesus quoted Psalms 22:1:

MK 15:34 And at the ninth hour Jesus cried out in a loud voice, “Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani?”—which means, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”

PS 22:1 …“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from saving me, so far from the words of my groaning?” (NIV)

“Why have you forsaken me?” Rashi commented, “David recited this prayer for the future.” Later in verse 27 commenting on the phrase “The humble shall eat,” the Rabbi said this meant “at the time of our redemption in the days of our Messiah.”[17]

If the Psalms identified by Jesus as prophecies later matched actual events that occurred during his life and crucifixion, is Jesus then the Messiah and does it make these Psalms Messiah prophecies?


[*] Greek word nomos translated as “law” means “anything established, anything received by usage, a custom, a law, a command” i.e. the word includes the Law of Moses as well as other established laws, customs or traditions.

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[1] “44 Prophecies Jesus Christ Fulfilled.” Roman Catholic Church of St Thomas More, Swiss Cottage. n.d. <> Kranz, Jeffrey. “Which Old Testament Book Did Jesus Quote Most?” 2014. <> Morales. L. Michael “Jesus and the Psalms.” 2011. <>  Wilson, Ralph F. “10. Psalms: Looking Forward to the Messiah.” (Psalms 2, 110, and 22).” 2020. <>
[2] “Hallel.” 2020. <>
[3] “nomos <3551>.” Greek text. 2020. <>  “G3551” n.d.  <>
[4] NET, NIV, NASB, NRSV, NKJV. Greek text. <> Lexicon-Concordance Online Bible. n.d. <>
[5] CR Matthew 21:2-11; Mark 11:1-11; Luke 19:28-40; John 12:12-16.
[6] NKJV.
[7] “Hosanna.” Jewish Encyclopedia. 2011. <>
[8] “Psalms 118.” 2011. <>  McKelvey, Michael G. “The Messianic Nature of Psalm 118.” Reformed Faith & Practice. 2017. <> “Hallel” EncyclopædiaBritannica. 2020. <>
[9] “Hosanna.” Jewish Encyclopedia. <>  CR Mark 12:11; Luke 20:17.
[10] Matthew 21:33-41; Mark 12:1-12; Luke 20:9-19.
[11] Matthew 21:42. NIV, NASB.
[12] Matthew 21:46. NRSV.
[13] Matthew 26:17-19; Mark 14:12-16; Luke 22:7-20; John 13:1-3.
[14] CR Matthew 26:21-25; Mark 14:17-21; Luke 22:21-23.
[15] Matthew 26:46-56; Mark 14:42-52; Luke 22:47-53; John 18:1-11.
[16] Mark 14:62. NIV. CR Matthew 26:64. Luke 22:69-70.
[17] The Compete Jewish Bible – with Rashi Commentary. K’tuvim – Scriptures | Tehillim – Psalms, Chapter 22.  <>


Resurrection On the Third Day Prophecies?

Nowhere in the Old Testament or Tenakh can a prophecy be found predicting the Messiah would rise from the dead on the third day. It is a prophecy belonging exclusively to Jesus of Nazareth – three times.

Isaiah 52-53 describes the death of the Servant of God who would be despised, suffer greatly, be judged and killed. Psalms 22 describes a death wholly consistent with the horrors of Roman crucifixion a 1000 years later with Jesus quoting from the Psalm in his dying moments on the cross. Zechariah 12:10 distinctly predicts the Messiah would be killed.

Life after death is depicted in Isaiah 53:8-12. The Servant of God is killed along with rebels; buried in a rich man’s tomb and afterwards sees the prosperity of his deeds in a prolonged life. What isn’t predicted is how long the Servant would be dead before he would live again. Only in the Gospels can be found any prophecy of a Resurrection on the third day.

First of the third-day Resurrection predictions by Jesus occurred in Caesarea Philippi early in his 3-year ministry.[1] Up to this point, Jesus had been in Galilee giving amazing sermons interspersed by performing miracles of healing incurable diseases and birth defects; casting our demons; and raising the dead. To his Disciples, it didn’t get much better than this.

Word got back to the Jewish leadership in Jerusalem who began watching and listening to Jesus. According to Mark, Jesus openly prophesied that he would be rejected by the Jewish leaders, killed and then rise again after three days:[2]

MK 8:31-32 “And He began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things, and be rejected by the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again. He spoke this word openly. And Peter took Him aside and began to rebuke Him.” (NKJV)

Peter took Jesus aside and said, “Far be it from You, Lord; this shall not happen to You!”[3] Seeing that Peter’s comment came straight from Satan, Jesus responded directly, “Get behind Me, Satan! For you are not mindful of the things of God, but the things of men.”[4]

Second of the third-day Resurrection prophecies came again while Jesus was in Galilee.[5] Healing and casting out demons, the crowds had been amazed at everything Jesus was doing, but the Disciples were warned by Jesus that the jubilation about him was only temporary:

MK 9:31 “The Son of Man is to be delivered into the hands of men, and they will kill Him; and when He has been killed, He will rise three days later.” (NASB) [6]

Reaction to the prophecy this time “greatly distressed” the Disciples. Not sure what it meant, they seemed to be focused only on the prediction their teacher and miracle worker would be killed, not the prediction he would rise from the dead.[7] Nevertheless, the Disciples were afraid to ask Jesus about the true meaning of the prophecy.[8]

Nearing the end of his three-year ministry, days before entering Jerusalem for last time at the Festival of the Passover. Luke’s account reports how Jesus again predicted his death providing more specific details. Jesus foretold that the Jews would hand him over to the Gentiles when he would be mocked, spat on, scourged, and crucified in fulfillment of the written prophecies: [9]

LK 18:31 “See, we are going up to Jerusalem, and everything that is written about the Son of Man by the prophets will be accomplished. For he will be handed over to the Gentiles; and he will be mocked and insulted and spat upon. After they have flogged him, they will kill him, and on the third day he will rise again.” (NRSV)

It was an inconceivable scenario. Not so much that the Jewish leadership wanted to eliminate their arch nemesis – a prediction they would kill Jesus would not be a shocking revelation. It was the prediction that the Romans would actually carry-out the execution at the behest of the Jews. The concept was incomprehensible because of how the Jews and the Romans reviled each other. Add to that, the seeming impossibility of rising from the dead on the third day.

Shortly before his arrest on Mount Gethsemane, Jesus made one last passing prophetic reference of his Resurrection to his Disciples. He told them, “But after I have been raised, I will go ahead of you to Galilee.”[10]

Matthew uniquely reports the incident between the Jewish leadership and Pilate that took place the day after Jesus was buried, the Sabbath. It is obvious that Matthew had a insider source to the Jewish Council in order to obtain this private information.

Jewish leadership approached Pilate to explain their concern and try to convince him it was a problem that required his assistance. Some unpleasant concessions had to be made.

First, the Jewish leadership had to acknowledge that Jesus did, in fact, predict he would rise from the dead. “Sir, we remember, while He was still alive, how that deceiver said, ‘After three days I will rise.’[11]

Next they had to convince Pilate the Disciples would try to steal the body to falsely fulfill the prophecy. “Therefore command that the tomb be made secure until the third day, lest His disciples come by night and steal Him away, and say to the people, ‘He has risen from the dead.’ So the last deception will be worse than the first.”[12]

By acknowledging the Resurrection prophecy, the Jewish leadership cleared up an ambiguous aspect. They understood the “Son of Man” references in the Resurrection prophecies to be about Jesus himself, no one else.

Lastly, they had to convince Pilate this was a short-term problem by placing a time constraint on their request: “Therefore command that the tomb be made secure until the third day.”[13] Requesting to only secure the tomb until the third day which was the next day, Sunday, they confirmed their recognition the Resurrection prophecy was for the “third day” by Jewish definition. Securing the tomb was not necessary beyond that time.

Only Jesus of Nazareth himself foretold he would rise from dead on the third day, exclusive of any prediction by the prophets. It was a prophecy foretold only by Jesus, not just once, but three times.

Was the prophecy of Jesus rose from the dead at sunrise on Sunday morning, the third day according to Jewish Law reckoning, and if it was fulfilled, is Jesus the promised Messiah?


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[1] Matthew 16:13, 21,; Mark 8:27, 31. CR Luke 9:18.
[2] Matthew 3-15; Mark 1-8; Luke 4-9.
[3] Matthew 16:22. NKJV.
[4] Mark 8:33. NJKV.
[5] Matthew 17:22; Mark 9:30.
[6] CR Matthew 17:22-23; Luke 9:44.
[7] Matthew 17:23.
[8] Luke 9:45.
[9] Matthew 20:18-19; Mark 10:33-34; Luke 18:31-33.
[10] Matthew 26:32. NASB.
[11] Matthew 27:63. NKJV.
[12] Matthew 27:64. NKJV.
[13] Matthew 27:64. NKJV.