Few days ago, I finished reading Justin Taylor and Andreas Köstenberger’s book The Final Days of Jesus. In between loads of laundry, I turned to the book and was gripped again and again with the events of the final week of Jesus.
I’ve probably read the gospels a few dozen times since I became a Christian and have studied some parts of it in detail but nothing prepared me for the sense of clarity that I got by reading the story again in chronological order. That, I think, is the biggest strength of this book. I have always tried to ignore the “inconsistencies” of the gospel accounts of the final week of Jesus because I could not figure out how to reconcile them. For example, Jesus’ triumphal entry in Matthew 21 concluded with him overturning the tables of money-changers in the temple. In Mark, however, he simply looked around and went home to Bethany. Which one is correct? Or take the resurrection story as another example. How many women went to the tomb? And how many angels were there? Matthew and Mark mentioned only one angel while Luke said there were two. The authors showed that these details are not inconsistencies but marks of authenticity of the accounts. Even in modern investigations, no two witnesses say the same exact things.
Köstenberger and Taylor did a great job weaving together one complete narrative out of the four gospel accounts. Of course I am aware that there are already books and commentaries that did this but what really separates this book from the rest is the “play-by-play” feel of the events that led to Jesus’ death and resurrection. By adding the day and the date in the chapter headings, the narrative felt more tight and full of suspense. In effect, the teachings of Jesus in between the key events felt more crisp and pointed. Maybe it’s just me and maybe I just didn’t pay attention to my readings before but I really could say that I understood better now. The story of the final days of Jesus now feels less disjointed and more coherent. The seven woes, the question about paying taxes to Caesar, the parable of the two sons and the other teachings of Jesus in this context made more sense after I learned that they were spoken on Tuesday while the people were giddy about their ideas of the Messiah and the religious leaders were scampering around trying to figure out how to stop Jesus.
Other people might complain that this book doesn’t add much to what one already knows. I don’t think that’s the purpose of the book anyway but I perfectly understand the feeling. I read this book because I thought I would learn something very theological. I was wrong too. But what I got was something I didn’t know I needed. I can always go to the commentaries to plumb deeper on theology (Köstenberger’s commentary on John has been sitting on my Kindle for months now) but the fresh chronological understanding of the final days of Jesus that I got from this book is priceless. To be gripped by the magnitude of the sacrifice of Jesus and to understand His suffering in a new way is a big win for me and for that, I am not complaining.
**Thank you Crossway for the review copy.