Andrew C. Skinner, “Restored Light on the Savior’s Last Week in Mortality,” Ensign, Jun 1999, 15
The Joseph Smith Translation of the Bible offers powerful insights on the last week of the Savior’s mortal ministry.
Many years ago, President J. Reuben Clark Jr. of the First Presidency summarized two fundamental beliefs of every true Latter-day Saint—“two prime things which may not be overlooked, forgotten, shaded, or discarded.” The first is “that Jesus Christ is the Son of God, the Only Begotten of the Father in the flesh, the Creator of the world, the Lamb of God, the Sacrifice for the sins of the world, … [and] that He was raised from the tomb a resurrected being.” The second is “that the Father and Son actually and in truth and very deed appeared to the Prophet Joseph in a vision in the woods; that other heavenly visions followed to Joseph and others.” 1
The Joseph Smith Translation of the Bible (JST) is one of the most powerful yet underused sacred sources that confirm these two prime truths. And no part of the JST gives a clearer picture of the mission and message of the Messiah, as well as the Prophet Joseph Smith’s understanding of it, than the chapters which report the last week of the Savior’s mortal life: Matthew 21–28 [Matt. 21–28], Mark 11–16, Luke 19–24, and John 12–20.
These chapters constitute a special and powerful part of the “restitution [restoration] of all things” promised to come forth in the latter days before the Second Coming of Christ (see Acts 3:21). Readers of this portion of the JST will come to know information about the Savior—especially the circumstances surrounding His atoning sacrifice—that had been lost to the world for almost 1,800 years. The entire JST New Testament, but especially the chapters which discuss the last week of Christ’s life, show us that the Prophet Joseph Smith received much revelation beyond the First Vision, that he knew the Lord and knew what the Lord wanted His Saints to know about Him better than any other man.
Insights on the Savior’s Mission
In the following passages, JST additions or corrections to the King James Version are presented in bold, italic type. When JST verse numbers differ from the KJV, the KJV reference is listed in parentheses. All JST references are from the standard text: Joseph Smith Jr., The Holy Scriptures, Inspired Version (1974).
The JST restores one of the most dramatic verses in all of scripture, which capsulizes and encompasses the mission and meaning of the Savior’s mortal life. JST, Matthew 27:54 [Matt. 27:54] (KJV, Matt. 27:50) preserves the full text of Jesus’ last declaration in mortality, once lost to the world but now restored in all its solemnity and power: “Jesus when he had cried again with a loud voice, saying, Father, it is finished, thy will is done, yielded up the ghost.” Here is confirmation of the fulfillment of the Savior’s premortal promise to do the Father’s will.
These few restored words teach the essence of the plan of salvation by propelling us both backward and forward in time, reminding us that the eternal nature of the plan hinged upon the faithfulness of one being: Jesus Christ. The restored text of JST, Matthew 27:54 [Matt. 27:54] recalls for us the realm of the premortal council of Gods and spirits when the Savior volunteered, was chosen and ordained to do His Father’s will in mortality, and thereby put into effect all the terms, conditions, and operations of His Father’s plan (see Moses 4:1–4; Abr. 3:22–27).
These words also compel us to remember that the future of all created things centered on the sacrificial act of the Savior, whose crucifixion was a significant part of redemption and whose cry on the cross in declaring the successful completion of the plan confirmed the destiny of all the faithful (see D&C 76:41–42).
We find a companion verse in JST, Mark 14:40, which reminds us of the terrible price paid in the Garden of Gethsemane when Jesus cried out in agony of body and spirit but never lost sight of His premortal promise: “Abba, Father, all things are possible unto thee; take away this cup from me; nevertheless not my will, but thine be done.”
Had we been given nothing else in the JST except these profound insights, we would be grateful. However, the JST has given us much more. The JST New Testament is expansive and clarifying. The way of the world is to decrease and diminish both the words of the New Testament and our faith in them—especially the Atonement of Jesus Christ. By contrast, the JST New Testament reflects the nature of the work of prophets: to restore and clarify information about the hope of redemption.
In discussing the JST relative to the last week of the Savior’s life, we cannot make an exhaustive presentation—too much space is needed even for that narrow focus. But we can review enough of the major additions and corrections to show how the JST gives brilliant and unparalleled illumination to the last few days of the life of Jesus that make it, by far, the best biblical translation in existence. To facilitate our discussion, the JST changes are grouped into five main categories:
1. Public Appearances before Passover
2. Private Moments with the Disciples
3. Details about the Betrayal
5. The Arrest, Trial, and Crucifixion
Public Appearances before Passover
The signal event of the Savior’s last week among mortals was His triumphal public entry into Jerusalem on Sunday during the Passover season Christians now call Easter. The JST adds significant clarification regarding the oft-confusing account describing how Jesus rode into the city. Matthew’s account in the KJV has the disciples setting Jesus on an ass and a colt to ride into Jerusalem, as opposed to the following account in JST, Matthew 21:1–5 [Matt. 21:1–5] (KJV, Matt. 21:1–7):
“And when Jesus drew nigh unto Jerusalem, and they were come to Bethphage, unto the mount of Olives, then sent Jesus two disciples,
“Saying unto them, Go into the village over against you, and straightway ye shall find a colt tied; loose it, and bring it unto me; and if any shall say aught unto you, ye shall say, The Lord hath need of it; and straightway he will send it.
“All this was done, that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the prophet, 2 saying,
“Tell ye the daughter of Zion, Behold, thy King cometh unto thee, and he is meek, and sitting upon an ass, and a colt the foal of an ass.
“And the disciples went, and did as Jesus commanded them; and brought the colt, and put on it their clothes; and Jesus took the colt and sat thereon; and they followed him.” The JST indicates that Jesus sat upon a single colt, which was the foal of an ass.
Next, the JST helps us to see that opposition, even hatred, on the part of Jewish leaders toward Jesus was even more intense during the last week than other textual evidence has shown. Note the comment of JST, Mark 12:44 (KJV, Mark 12:37): “And the common people heard him gladly; but the high priest and the elders were offended at him.”
The chief priests and elders seem to be constant antagonists, as the JST points out. But the JST also shows that Jesus was very blunt in calling His opponents to repentance. When the chief priests and elders of the people challenged Jesus’ authority as He came into the temple on a certain day (perhaps Tuesday of the last week), He refused to tell them directly whence His authority derived. But He taught them a series of parables, the second of which (the parable of the wicked husbandmen) He introduced with the following stern rebuke found only in JST, Matthew 21:33–35 [Matt. 21:33–35] (KJV, Matt. 21:33):
“For he that believed not John concerning me, cannot believe me, except he first repent.
“And except ye repent, the preaching of John shall condemn you in the day of judgment. And, again, hear another parable; for unto you that believe not, I speak in parables; that your unrighteousness may be rewarded unto you.
“Behold, there was a certain householder, who planted a vineyard, and hedged it round about, and digged a wine-press in it; and built a tower, and let it out to husbandmen, and went into a far country.”
“And when the chief priests and Pharisees had heard his parables, they perceived that he spake of them.
“And they said among themselves, Shall this man think that he alone can spoil this great kingdom? And they were angry with him.
“But when they sought to lay hands on him, they feared the multitude, because they learned that the multitude took him for a prophet.”
Note that in the JST the leaders refrain from harming Jesus not because they recognized Him as a prophet (as reported in the KJV) but only because the multitude believed Him to be a prophet; thus they seem to have been worried only about their image and standing.
During the last week, Jesus gave a warning to the gathered multitude about the scribes and Pharisees. The contrast between the KJV and the JST is striking. In the first six verses of JST, Matthew 23 [Matt. 23], we immediately get a sense of how pointed a denunciation Jesus intends to level against the vanity and hypocrisy of the Jewish leaders. In the JST, unlike the KJV, Jesus did not even encourage the people to do as the Jewish leaders taught, let alone as they behaved. And only in the JST do we understand that Jesus originally included a brief but profound discourse on His role in the Father’s plan for His children:
“The scribes and the Pharisees sit in Moses’ seat.
“All, therefore, whatsoever they bid you observe, they will make you observe and do; for they are ministers of the law, and they make themselves your judges. But do not ye after their works; for they say, and do not. …
“But be not ye called Rabbi; for one is your master, which is Christ; and all ye are brethren. And call no one your creator upon the earth, or your heavenly Father; for one is your creator and heavenly Father, even he who is in heaven.
“Neither be ye called masters; for one is your master, even he whom your heavenly Father sent, which is Christ; for he hath sent him among you that ye might have life” (JST, Matt. 23:1–2, 5–7 [KJV, Matt. 23:2–3, 8–10]).
The JST gives testimony that Jesus spoke plainly during the last days of His life. The Savior’s boldness in condemning Jewish leaders to their faces is especially emphasized in that very significant portion of restored text which immediately precedes His lament over Jerusalem (probably just three days before the Crucifixion). Likely, He was confronting some of those who would play a role in having Him executed:
“Wherefore, ye are witnesses unto yourselves of your own wickedness, and ye are the children of them who killed the prophets;
“And will fill up the measure then of your fathers; for ye, yourselves, kill the prophets like unto your fathers. …
“Ye bear testimony against your fathers, when ye, yourselves, are partakers of the same wickedness.
“Behold your fathers did it through ignorance, but ye do not; wherefore, their sins shall be upon your heads.
“Then Jesus began to weep over Jerusalem, saying,
“O Jerusalem! Jerusalem! Ye who will kill the prophets, and will stone them who are sent unto you; how often would I have gathered your children together, even as a hen gathers her chickens under her wings, and ye would not” (JST, Matt. 23:28–29, 34–37 [KJV, Matt. 23:31–32, 37]).
Private Moments with the Disciples
As the JST makes clear, not everything Jesus did during the last week was for public consumption or in front of the public eye. From the very first day, He spent significant time with only His disciples. JST, Mark 11:13 (KJV, Mark 11:11) adds this arresting comment regarding the closing scenes of the triumphal entry:
“And Jesus entered into Jerusalem, and into the temple.
“And when he looked round about upon all things, and blessed the disciples, the eventide was come; and he went out unto Bethany with the twelve.” What more appropriate place could there be for the Lord to bless His special followers than the temple?
The JST emphasizes that Jesus’ testimony of Himself to His disciples during the last week of His mortal ministry was more clear, sure, and powerful than the KJV portrays. The following text (all added by revelation through the Prophet Joseph Smith) is from JST, Matthew 21:50–56 [Matt. 21:50–56]:
“And now his disciples came to him, and Jesus said unto them, Marvel ye at the words of the parable which I spake unto them?
“Verily, I say unto you, I am the stone, and those wicked ones reject me.
“I am the head of the corner. These Jews shall fall upon me, and shall be broken.
“And the kingdom of God shall be taken from them, and shall be given to a nation bringing forth the fruits thereof; (meaning the Gentiles.)
“Wherefore, on whomsoever this stone shall fall, it shall grind him to powder.
“And when the Lord therefore of the vineyard cometh, he will destroy those miserable, wicked men, and will let again his vineyard unto other husbandmen, even in the last days, who shall render him the fruits in their seasons.
“And then understood they the parable which he spake unto them, that the Gentiles should be destroyed also, when the Lord should descend out of heaven to reign in his vineyard, which is the earth and the inhabitants thereof.”
One of the best-known private teaching moments between Jesus and His disciples resulted in the Savior’s discourse on the last days and end of the world in JST, Matthew 24 [Matt. 24], now published in the Pearl of Great Price as Joseph Smith—Matthew [JS—M]. Because it is better known than most other JST passages, we will not say much else, except to note that the corresponding chapters in Mark and Luke were also revised and should be studied carefully for doctrinal nuggets. The last verse of JST, Luke 21:36, for example, uniquely emphasizes obedience: “And what I say unto one, I say unto all, Watch ye therefore, and pray always, and keep my commandments, that ye may be counted worthy to escape all these things which shall come to pass, and to stand before the Son of man when he shall come clothed in the glory of his Father.”
A significant private moment between the Savior and His special disciples, the Apostles, occurred in the Upper Room during the Last Supper. The JST presents important background information not found elsewhere in the Gospels about the actual customs followed that evening:
“Jesus saith unto him, He that has washed his hands and his head, needeth not save to wash his feet, but is clean every whit; and ye are clean, but not all. Now this was the custom of the Jews under their law; wherefore, Jesus did this that the law might be fulfilled” (JST, John 13:10).
JST, Mark 14:20–26 (KJV, Mark 14:22–25) preserves magnificent details not found in the KJV about the inauguration of the ordinance of the sacrament and the emotional response it evoked:
“And as they did eat, Jesus took bread, and blessed it, and brake, and gave to them, and said, Take it, and eat. Behold, this is for you to do in remembrance of my body; for as oft as ye do this ye will remember this hour that I was with you.
“And he took the cup, and when he had given thanks, he gave it to them; and they all drank of it.
“And he said unto them, This is in remembrance of my blood which is shed for many, and the new testament which I give unto you; for of me ye shall bear record unto all the world.
“And as oft as ye do this ordinance, ye will remember me in this hour that I was with you and drank with you of this cup, even the last time in my ministry.
“Verily I say unto you, Of this ye shall bear record; for I will no more drink of the fruit of the vine with you, until that day that I drink it new in the kingdom of God.
“And now they were grieved, and wept over him.”
In recounting the concluding moments of the Last Supper, important clarifications are offered by JST, John 14:30–31:
“Hereafter I will not talk much with you; for the prince of darkness, who is of this world, cometh, but hath no power over me, but he hath power over you.
“And I tell you these things, that ye may know that I love the Father; and as the Father gave me commandment, even so I do. Arise, let us go hence.”
Here Jesus is concerned that His disciples know that He loves the Father, and not that the world knows, as portrayed in the KJV.
Details about the Betrayal
The JST reveals unique details about Judas Iscariot and his despicable act. Immediately after describing the Savior’s prophecy of His Resurrection and appearance in Galilee, the JST for Mark 14:30–31 (KJV, Mark 14:28, 10) reports a startling exchange between the Lord and Judas which helps us understand how one who was a special witness (“even one of the twelve,” as the JST puts it) could have proceeded with his act of betrayal. These JST verses leave no doubt that Judas lost his teachableness, that he acted out of rebellion and ignored an ultimate warning from the Messiah Himself:
“And he [Jesus] said unto Judas Iscariot, What thou doest, do quickly; but beware of innocent blood.
“Nevertheless, Judas Iscariot, even one of the twelve, went unto the chief priests, to betray Jesus unto them; for he turned away from him, and was offended because of his words.”
JST, Matthew 27:4–6 [Matt. 27:4–6] (KJV, Matt. 27:4–5) adds to our understanding of the death of Judas when it tells us that he was later rejected by the very ones from whom he sought acceptance by betraying his master. We also see that Judas did understand the gravity of the warning he had received earlier about shedding innocent blood and that his confession is related to that earlier warning restored in the JST:
“Saying, I have sinned in that I have betrayed the innocent blood.
“And they said unto him, What is that to us? See thou to it; thy sins be upon thee. And he cast down the pieces of silver in the temple, and departed, and went and hanged himself on a tree.
“And straightway he fell down, and his bowels gushed out, and he died.”
The JST teaches remarkable things about what occurred in Gethsemane, revealing to us what was in the minds of both Jesus and His disciples better than any ancient text we now possess. Many of the truly surprising changes and additions to the Gethsemane story occur in JST, Mark 14. We note first that the JST records it was the disciples who began to be sore amazed and feel heavy (not Jesus, as reported in the KJV) because they began to doubt that Jesus was the Messiah.
“And they came to a place which was named Gethsemane; which was a garden; and the disciples began to be sore amazed, and to be very heavy, and to complain in their hearts, wondering if this be the Messiah.
“And Jesus knowing their hearts, said to his disciples, Sit ye here, while I shall pray.
“And he taketh with him, Peter, and James, and John, and rebuked them” (JST, Mark 14:36–38 [KJV, Mark 14:32–33]).
The JST informs us that the disciples fell asleep because “they were filled with sorrow” (JST, Luke 22:45). JST, Mark 14:41–43 (KJV, Mark 14:37–38) tells us that after Jesus awakened them, it was the disciples who responded with the famous words the KJV attributes to Jesus:
“And he cometh and findeth them sleeping, and said unto Peter, Simon, sleepest thou? Couldest not thou watch one hour?
“Watch ye and pray, lest ye enter into temptation.
“And they said unto him, The spirit truly is ready, but the flesh is weak.”
In the JST we also see that Jesus finally let His disciples finish their sleep before summoning them to confront the approaching betrayer: “And after they had finished their sleep, he said, Rise up, let us go; lo, he who betrayed me is at hand” (JST, Mark 14:47 [KJV, Mark 14:42]).
The Arrest, Trial, and Crucifixion
The JST even increases our understanding of the last hours of the Savior’s mortal life. JST, Mark 14:56–57 (KJV, Mark 14:50–52) teaches that when Jesus was arrested, the disciples fled in response to His pronouncement that the scriptures were about to be fulfilled. It also clarifies that a young man who fled away naked was also a disciple:
“And the disciples, when they heard this saying, all forsook him and fled.
“And there followed him a certain young man, a disciple, having a linen cloth cast about his naked body; and the young men laid hold on him; and he left the linen cloth and fled from them naked, and saved himself out of their hands.”
JST Mark reports other scenes in greater detail than the KJV, such as Peter’s agony after his denial, “And he went out, and fell on his face, and wept bitterly” (JST, Mark 14:82 [KJV, Mark 14:72]). Of Jesus’ trial, JST, Mark 15:2 (KJV, Mark 15:1) records, “The whole council condemned him [Jesus].”
JST Matthew also clarifies small but helpful details, confirming that the color of the robe placed on Jesus was purple, as KJV John reports, not scarlet, as KJV Matthew indicates (see JST, Matt. 27:30 [KJV, Matt. 27:28]). Further, JST, Matthew 27:35 [JST, Matt. 27:35] (KJV, Matt. 27:33) changes the interpretation of Golgotha to “place of burial.”
JST, Luke 23:35 (KJV, Luke 23:34) provides a significant note on one of Jesus’ statements from the cross: “Then said Jesus, Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do. (Meaning the soldiers who crucified him,) and they parted his raiment and cast lots.”
Other additions and corrections regarding the Crucifixion are more lengthy. JST, Matthew 27 [Matt. 27], which describes the title or plaque Pilate placed on the cross, is significantly expanded from the KJV and harmonizes with the account in John 19:19–22, although JST, Matthew 27:39–42 [JST, Matt. 27:39–42] (Matt. 27:37) adds new information:
“And Pilate wrote a title, and put it on the cross, and the writing was, JESUS OF NAZARETH, THE KING OF THE JEWS, in letters of Greek, and Latin, and Hebrew.
“And the chief priests said unto Pilate, It should be written and set up over his head, his accusation, This is he that said he was Jesus, the King of the Jews.
“But Pilate answered and said, What I have written, I have written; let it alone.”
The JST adds to our understanding of Pilate in significant ways and helps illuminate the intensity of feeling which consumed the opponents of Jesus and ultimately engulfed the weak Roman governor, sweeping aside his orders. Consider a final example from JST, Matthew 27:26–27 [Matt. 27:26–27] (KJV, Matt. 27:24–25):
“When Pilate saw that he could prevail nothing, but rather that a tumult was made, he took water, and washed his hands before the multitude, saying, I am innocent of the blood of this just person; see that ye do nothing unto him.
“Then answered all the people, and said, His blood come upon us and our children.”
In the words of Elder Bruce R. McConkie (1915–85) of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, “The Joseph Smith Translation, or Inspired Version, is a thousand times over the best Bible now existing on earth.” 3 The JST is a significant part of those scriptures “given, even as they are in mine own bosom, to the salvation of mine own elect,” declared the Lord (D&C 35:20). The JST is a special gift given of the Lord. It is one of the great evidences of the Prophet Joseph Smith’s divine calling. Who can doubt that the chapters which speak of the Savior’s last week in mortality, the Easter week, are part of the “great things” which the Lord said awaited the Prophet Joseph Smith as he undertook the translation of the New Testament at the beginning of the dispensation of the fulness of times? (see D&C 45:60–62).
The message of all the scriptures is essentially that which is found in the JST—particularly those sections which speak of the last week of Jesus’ mortal life. He was and is the Messiah, our Savior and Redeemer, a living, resurrected personage. This is the restored testimony of JST, Mark 16:3–4 (KJV, Mark 16:4–6):
“But when they looked, they saw that the stone was rolled away, (for it was very great,) and two angels sitting thereon, clothed in long white garments; and they were affrighted.
“But the angels said unto them, Be not affrighted; ye seek Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified; he is risen; he is not here.”
[illustration] Christ’s Entrance into Jerusalem, by Bernhard Plockhorst, © Superstock, Inc.
[illustrations] Left: The Chief Priests Ask Jesus by Whose Authority He Acts; Right: Jerusalem, Jerusalem!, both by James Jacques Joseph Tissot
[illustration] First Sacrament, by Gary E. Smith
[illustration] Judas Betraying Jesus with a Kiss, by James Jacques Joseph Tissot
[illustration] Christ in Gethsemane, by William Henry Margetson
[illustration] The Morning After, by Heinrich Hofmann
1. “The Charted Course of the Church in Education,” in Charge to Religious Educators, 3rd ed. (1994), 3.
2. It is interesting to note that Joseph Smith’s manuscript version reads here “Prophets”—with a capital P and a plural ending. This change apparently has not been included in any printed editions.