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Editor's Note:

This thread is for posting Rotation workshop "Bible Background", comments, and RESOURCES for teaching about the Trial and Crucifixion of Jesus.

This first Bible Background post comes from Jaymie Derden, one of our top posters! She wrote it for the workshop lessons she has also in this forum.

Jaymie's background is thorough and useful for ANY lesson set you put together about Jesus' Trial and Crucifixion. It is especially helpful for new teachers.

If you want to see Jaymie's lessons, BACK UP to the Trial and Crucifixion Forum page and look in the workshop threads for her lessons (
Or here are the direct links to her lessons: Art; DramaComputer; Cooking; Games & Bible Skills; Music & Movement;  and Video.

State St UMC's Bible Background

Scripture References:

Matthew 26:47-56, Mark 14:43-15:47, Luke 22:47-23:56, John 18-19

Memory Verse:
John 3:16. “For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son, that whoever believes in him will never die but have eternal life.” (Using song version which is slightly different than the version in the children’s Bibles.)

Objectives and Life Application:

  • Children will locate the story in the Bible.
  • Children will identify the four gospels.
  • Children will locate Jerusalem on the map.
  • Children will identify Golgotha.
  • Children will identify key characters and their role in the Passion narrative: Pilate, Sanhedrin, Herod.
  • Children will retell the story in their own words.
  • Children will discuss the reasons why Jesus died, and know he died for their sins.
  • Children will memorize John 3:16.

Background Information
This is our Easter rotation. Because the Easter story is repeated each year, we focus on a particular aspect of it each year. This year we focus on Jesus’ trial and crucifixion. This is certainly the most difficult part of the story. Because we know the end of the story (Jesus’ resurrection) we tend to rush past the suffering of the cross. We do want to impress on the children the extent of Jesus’ sacrifice for us without overwhelming them. Be sure that each week ends with a telling of Jesus’ victory over death in the resurrection.

Jesus has eaten his last Passover meal with his disciples and has gone to the Garden of Gethsemane to pray. After agonizing prayer the guards come to arrest him, led by his disciple Judas who betrays Jesus with a kiss. Here in the middle of the night, Jesus is led away to face his final trials...

Political Leaders and Times
Life in 30 CE Jerusalem was turbulent. Israel chafed under Roman dominion. To better understand trial and crucifixion of Jesus, it is important to have an understanding of the political issues and leaders of the times. Who were all these different individuals? What were their responsibilities? Who was really in charge?

Caesar or Emperor Tiberius was king and ruler of the entire Roman empire, but governors or procurators were assigned to various localities. Pontius Pilate was the assigned governor of Judea. Pilate was known as a brutal and fearsome man, much hated for his cruelty and noted for his intense disdain for all things Jewish. He lived in Caesarea, but visited Jerusalem during the Jewish feasts. An especially vigilant Roman presence was needed during feast times due to crowds and the patriotic fervor that accompanied the feasts, particularly the Passover. Herod was a technically (though only partly) Jewish man, whose family gained its political clout through its loyalty to Rome. Herod Antipas (trial and crucifixion) was the son of “King” Herod the Great (of birth story fame). Herod the Great, though a suspicious, jealous and violent leader, managed to bring the regions of Israel under a relatively calm consolidation, placating Rome and his Jewish subjects. Upon the death of Herod the Great, Israel was fragmented into separate regions again. Herod Antipas, two of his brothers and his sister became the shared rulers or tetrarchs of Israel. (technically = one-fourth ruler =  Herod Antipas maintained his father’s loyalty to Rome. He served as tetrarch to Galilee throughout the lifetime of Jesus from 4 BCE until 39 CE. Herod aspired to become known as the “King of the Jews” like his father.

The Sanhedrin was the Jewish ruling council during New Testament times. Technically, Israel was under Roman rule, but the Sanhedrin ruled in religious matters; they were the Jewish Court of Justice. This group of seventy-one men consisted of chief priests and scribes, Pharisees and Saducees. They were a powerful group. They made laws, had their own police force and could arrest people and send them to jail. The “president” of the Sanhedrin at this time was the high priest, Caiaphas. The gospels portray the Sanhedrin as a group most interested in preserving their own power and position. They were obviously threatened by Jesus and his message and were violently opposed to him. Only one member, Joseph of Arimathea, was a supporter of Jesus, though a secret one, “for fear of the Jews.” (John 19:38) Joseph of Arimathea is the one who requested permission from Pilate to remove Jesus’ body from the cross and used his own tomb for Jesus’ burial.

During a religious festival, such as Passover, the Jewish people were reminded of Rome’s rule over their religious life. Because Passover celebrated Israel’s deliverance from slavery, this feast especially aroused the resentment and ire of the Jews. Herod and Pilate were responsible for keeping the Pax Romana. The religious leaders also knew that the crowds must be kept under control or they risked losing their freedom to observe their religion. The death of one obscure rabbi was a small price to pay to keep the peace...

So, Jesus is arrested by the guards of the Sanhedrin and taken to the house of the high priest, Caiaphas. There the Sanhedrin is waiting to put Jesus on trial. The Sanhedrin was known throughout the world for their just laws. Ironically many of these laws were broken in the trial of Jesus including:

  1. No nighttime arrests.
  2. All trials open to public.
  3. No trials held during feast days or on the Sabbath.
  4. Trials were to be held in the Hall of Hewn Stone at the Temple.
  5. No accused persons were to be questioned without having someone to defend him.
  6. All accused persons were to be treated with respect.
  7. The jury was to consider each trial for 2-3 days (with one day to be a day of fasting).
  8. Only acquittals could be made on the same day as the trial – convictions required two days.
  9. Each juror was required to vote individually – no group voting allowed.

Jesus had angered the Sanhedrin on several occasions, by cleansing the Temple and by making them appear ridiculous during question and answer sessions. The resurrection of Lazarus a month ago had been the final nail in Jesus’ coffin! The Sanhedrin was convinced that the problem of Jesus must be settled once and for all. There would no fair trial for Jesus. Several witnesses spoke against Jesus. Caiaphas commanded Jesus to respond to the charges. “Are you the Christ, the Son of God?” Jesus replied, “I AM... In days to come, you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the Mighty One...” This outraged the high priests who immediately demanded that Jesus be put to death. They then spit on him, hit and slapped him. The guards took him and beat him.

Pilate and Herod:
Early the next morning the chief priests, elders, teachers and Sanhedrin brought Jesus to Pilate. Only Pilate could sentence a criminal to death. Pilate listened to their complaints but was not interested and essentially told them to deal with Jesus themselves. But the priests were insistent. Jesus should be put to death and for that they needed Pilate. Pilate questioned Jesus and found no reason to charge him. But the chief priests were adamant that this troublemaker from Galilee be stopped. When Pilate heard that Jesus was from Galilee, he sent him to Herod (the tetrarch of Galilee) who was also in Jerusalem for the Passover. Herod was actually glad to see Jesus and hoped to witness some of his miracles. But Jesus did not respond to Herod’s questions. Herod and his soldiers taunted Jesus, placing a royal robe on him and sending him back to Pilate.

Once again Jesus was in Pilate’s presence. The crowds were whipped into a frenzy by the priests and religious leaders. They shouted for Jesus to be crucified. The practice at Passover was to let one prisoner go free. Pilate offered to release Jesus, but the crowd demanded instead the release of Barabbas, a known robber, murderer and rabble-rouser. The gospel accounts make it clear that Pilate did not believe that Jesus was guilty. The gospel of Matthew even records Pilate’s wife warning him of a dream she had about Jesus’ innocence. But Pilate eventually succumbed to the will of the crowd and ordered Jesus to be whipped and then to be crucified.

Crucifixion was a brutal and humiliating form of torture and execution. The Persians and the Phoenicians and their descendants, the Carthaginians, practiced crucifixion prior to Rome adopting this method. This punishment was exceedingly cruel, and was thus reserved for the very worst crimes or for the lowest of classes of people – slaves, the poor, deserters and of course, non-Romans. In fact, crucifixion was forbidden for Roman citizens. Public shame was a major part of the horror of crucifixion. As a deterrent to any potential rebels, the executions were always performed in very visible and public locations.

Prior to the actual crucifixion, the prisoner was stripped and beaten with a cat-of-nine-tails. This consisted of a whip with nine leather cords with small, sharp objects such as bones or metal attached to the cords. These scourgings were at times so severe that prisoners bled to death before ever reaching the cross. Jewish rules stipulated that only 39 lashes could be given, but the Romans had no such limit.

After the beating, the prisoner was forced to take up the patibulum (the shorter, horizontal piece of the cross) and carry it to the place of execution. (The vertical post was already at the site) The prisoner was next fastened to the patibulum with nails through the wrists (not the hands). The patibulum was hoisted up and attached to the vertical post. The prisoner’s feet were placed one on top of the other and parallel to each other, probably with knees bent to one side (rather than the traditional picture we see of legs outstretched), with a single nail piercing both heels. The vertical post had a small wooden ledge, the sedicula, on which the condemned could just barely sit. This actually served to prolong the torture, by allowing the prisoner to push up in order to breathe. Death by crucifixion was slow and agonizing – some prisoners took up to a week to die. The pain from the scourging and the nails, thirst, exposure to the elements, rigid fixation, and the torture of insects all created a supremely humiliating and horrific torture.
Occasionally to speed death, the legs of the crucified were broken. Unable to support himself, the prisoner was soon asphyxiated.

This was Jesus’ fate. He was taken to Golgotha, the Place of the Skull, (Calvaria in Latin – thus Calvary as we sometimes call it) and there he was crucified between two robbers. Attached to the top of the cross was a wooden board describing his crime, “The King of the Jews.” It was 9:00 a.m. At noon, darkness fell over the land and lasted for three hours. Each gospel tells the story in a slightly different manner. Matthew and Mark’s gospels record Jesus crying out, quoting from Psalm 22, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” Mark’s gospel especially focuses on the continued spiritual blindness of the religious leaders. (we have talked about this in our previous miracle studies this winter) Who recognized Jesus for who he truly was? A robber next to him on his own cross and a Gentile, Roman soldier! Mark also focused on the fulfillment of scripture and the divine will of God who provides for human salvation through the sacrifice of His son. In Luke’s gospel Jesus asks God to forgive those who have done this to him. He then breathed his last. It was 3:00 p.m.

Precisely at 3:00 p.m. the high priest blew the shofar to announce the daily sacrifice of a lamb that took place at exactly that time. At this moment, other amazing things happened:

1. The curtain in the Temple was torn in two from top to bottom. The Temple curtain was immense – 15 feet high and very thick and heavy. It separated the Holy of Holies from the rest of the Temple. Only the high priest was allowed inside this space and he could only enter if he brought with him the blood of an animal sacrifice. This physical boundary was now gone. Jesus opened the way for all to have access to God’s grace.
2. The earth shook, rocks split and tombs opened.
3. A Roman commander confessed belief in Jesus.

It was Friday. The Sabbath began at sundown, just a few hours away. Once the Sabbath began, the Jews were permitted to do no work. Because of the offensiveness of crucifixions at such a religious time, the Jews asked Pilate to break the legs of the prisoners, speeding their death, so that the bodies could be removed before the Sabbath. The legs of the other two prisoners were broken, but Jesus was already dead. A Roman soldier stuck his spear into Jesus’ side. The Old Testament scriptures were thus fulfilled: “Not one of his bones will be broken.” (Exodus 12:45, Numbers 9:12, Psalm 34:20) and “They will look to the one they have pierced.” (Zechariah 12:10)

A Theology of the Cross
Alan Watson in his book, "The Trial of Jesus", writes that the gospels are not written as a modern biography would be, but rather are theological accounts of the life of Jesus whose aim is to help Jesus’ followers understand the significance of his life, death and resurrection. The passion narratives, especially, serve this purpose. How could Jesus’ followers reconcile what happened in Jesus’ humiliating death with what they had come to know about him? The Jewish people were well aware of the Old Testament scripture stating, “anyone hung on a tree is under God’s curse.” (Deuteronomy 21:23) Crucifixion, as already mentioned, was one of the vilest punishments, reserved for the very lowest of criminals. How could someone thus condemned be the Messiah?

This event created profound conflict and induced a great deal of reflection on the part of the early Christians. After Jesus’ resurrection, the followers struggled with their dashed dreams and came to a new understanding of the Old Testament scriptures. They began to see these scriptures in a new light through the lens of Jesus’ life, death and resurrection. They came to understand a different Messiah – and a different salvation. For many of religious Jews, the cross was a stumbling block that was exceedingly difficult to overcome. They could not imagine that the Messiah should be treated in such a way. To many of them, this Christian claim was a shocking blasphemy! As Paul writes in I Corinthians 1:18, “For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved, it is the power of God.” How many times in scripture does God use the unlikely, the unbelievable, the unusual to teach us?

Secular historians do not argue the historical fact of Jesus’ death on the cross. The meaning of his death has created much more discussion. Over the centuries, humans have struggled with estrangement from God. We have sought to understand something that is really beyond our explanation. How can we explain God’s grace of seeking to be “at one” with us? How can we fully comprehend or describe what God has done for us through Christ? Over the centuries, several theories of atonement have been proffered in an effort to interpret exactly what it is that Jesus has done for us. There is much overlap in these understandings and much that cannot be fully explained. Certainly God’s sovereign plans are always beyond the complete grasp of any one of us.

One of the earliest understandings of atonement was that of a sacrifice for sin. This is the core of the expiation theory of atonement. Expiation means to appease or purify through a sacred ritual. Expiation cleanses sin and changes the sinner. Jesus’ sacrifice is compared with the Hebrew system of sacrifices whereby priests sprinkled blood from sacrificial animals onto the altar to atone for the peoples’ sins. The blood of cows and goats is substituted with Christ’s blood. This means of atonement was especially meaningful to Jesus’ followers because they were so familiar with the Temple rituals. The Jewish sacrificial rituals were seen in a new light – Jesus is now the final Passover lamb, whose blood is shed once and for all for atonement for sin.

The redemption theory looks to the Old Testament concept of the kinsman redeemer. This provision of Jewish law allowed persons who were in serious debt, beyond their ability to repay, to call upon their closest kin to redeem them. This suggests that we are deeply in debt, mortgaged beyond our own power to repay and essentially slaves to sin. We cannot save ourselves, so we turn to our nearest Kin, Jesus, who redeems us through his blood.

The substitution theory of atonement simply means the giving of one life for another. In many ways this is similar to the expiation and redemption understandings, especially in viewing Christ as the true Passover lamb. Christ, who is innocent, takes upon himself our sins and dies for us so that we might be restored to right relationship with God.

Another understanding of Jesus’ saving work is the moral example or moral influence theory. Because of the death of Jesus, we see the greatest example possible of God’s love for us. Recognition of this love leads individuals to seek to live lives of love and to be like Christ. This understanding focuses more on the life of Christ rather than his death.

The reconciliation theory understands sin as a barrier between God and humanity. Jesus, through his death on our behalf, intercedes for us with God. He pleads our case, and becomes our advocate with God.

The ransom theory is believed to be the oldest theory and is often called the “classic” theory. In this understanding, Satan is seen as having a claim on the human race because of our sins. We belong to him. Christ’s shed blood is given as a ransom to Satan and humans are delivered from bondage to Satan.

The Christus victor or conquest of evil atonement theory is similar. Through Christ’s death and resurrection, Christ has triumphed over death and all evil.

Meaning of the Cross - FAQs
For many of us, and certainly for children, the death of Jesus is not an easy story. Children may have many questions or they may accept this story without questioning at all. Many of these questions are the same ones with which we all struggle. Be sensitive to the mood of your class, but be prepared to discuss some of these questions with the children each week.
[Exchange Volunteer notes: For each question below, another way of answering it with children is shown in blue.]

  • Why did Jesus have to die?
    This is really the essence of our Christian faith. Jesus was obedient to God. He perfectly fulfilled the will of God, the Father. He was obedient even to death, because of his great love for us. How many of us would be willing to give up our lives for another? All theories of atonement recognize that through Christ’s death, we are made right with God. Jesus died for US so that we might be in relationship with God for eternity! The cross reveals to us the extent of God’s tremendous love for us and his relentless pursuit of relationship with us. The cross reveals to us the new possibilities that exist for us in spiritual rebirth and new relationship with God and with our neighbors.
    Answering with kids: This is really the essence of our Christian faith. Jesus obeyed God, the Father. He knew that God’s purpose for Him was to die so that all of us could be forgiven for our sins and live forever with God. This is what our memory verse says… God loved us so much, that he was willing to give up his one and only Son to die. If we believe in Jesus, we will live forever with God.
    For older children: Jews for thousands of years had performed sacrifices to God for forgiveness of their sins. They sprinkled the blood of animals on the altar and prayed for God’s forgiveness. Blood paid for the sins of the people. When Jesus died, he was the perfect, sinless one, the “Lamb of God,” who gave his blood (died) once and for all. He took on all of our sins and paid for them with his death. Now we don’t have to make animal sacrifices anymore. Jesus took care of that forever. All we have to do is believe in Jesus and accept what he has done for us! Have you done that?

  • Why such a violent and gruesome death?
    Some theologians believe that by dying in such a violent way Christ exposes the violence of our world for what it is – coercion that leads to death. Christ’s non-violent love is revealed in stark contrast to the ugliness and rebellion of our own inclinations. Christ’s actions have overcome the evil and power of darkness. God’s nonviolent love is much more powerful than our own violent ways. Answering with kids: Crucifixions were terrible deaths and only the very worst criminals were executed this way. Jesus was perfect and sinless. Did he deserve to die like this? No! But he was willing to do something so terrible because he loved us so much. By dying like this, Jesus proved just how much he loved us and was willing to do for us! How much do you love Jesus?

  • Why did Jesus have to suffer so much?
    The amount of Jesus’ suffering shows us just how serious a matter sin is. We sometimes tend to gloss over the issue of sin and focus on God’s grace and love. Certainly God is loving. Where would we be without his grace? But sin is a serious matter. All sin is primarily against God. We can hurt others, steal from them, lie or cheat them, but ultimately we sin against God, himself. God is holy and condemns this sin. The cross symbolizes just how severe the problem of sin is – and just how abundant God’s grace and love is! Answering with kids: Jesus suffered so that we can see just what a big problem sin is. Sin is the wrong things we do, the bad thoughts we have, and all of these things are what separate us from God. Sin separates us from God because God is perfect and holy. But thankfully, God made a way for us to be together with God again. God’s love and grace is so great that he sent Jesus to die for us so that we could be back together again with God, without the separation that sin made. That is what God wants because God loves us so much!

  • Why do we call it Good Friday, since that is the day Jesus died?
    By calling it Good Friday, we remember that the death of Jesus is not the end of the story. We know that the resurrection is coming. We look forward to the empty tomb of Sunday morning and the rejoicing that will occur! We recognize that God’s love for us is truly good – so good that we cannot possibly describe it or thank him enough for it! Answering with kids: By calling it Good Friday, we remember that the death of Jesus is not the end of the story. We know that the resurrection is coming. We look forward to the empty tomb of Sunday morning and the rejoicing that will occur! We recognize that God’s love for us is truly good – so good that we cannot possibly describe it or thank him enough for it!

Definitions and People to Know:

Sanhedrin – Jewish ruling council, made up of 71 religious leaders, including chief priests, scribes, Pharisees and Saducees (religious leaders)
Caiaphas – chief priest and president of the Sanhedrin
Pontius Pilate – Roman governor of Judea
Herod (Antipas) –ruler of Galilee region
Caesar – supreme ruler over all of Roman Empire
Joseph of Arimathea – member of the Sanhedrin who supported Jesus, gave his tomb for Jesus’ burial
Sin - doing wrong things, what keeps us separate from God


  • From Jesus to Christ, Jesus’ Many Faces,
  • Smith’s Bible Dictionary, Thomas Nelson Publishers.
  • Who’s Who in the Bible, Reader’s Digest Association, 1994.
  • The Bible is History, Ian Wilson, Regenery Publishing, Inc., 1999.
  • The New Media Bible Times: The Crucifixion, The Genesis Project, 1980.
  • Jesus Christ: Holy Week and Crucifixion, Thomas Langford and C. Clifton Black,II, Graded Press, 1985.
  • Journey to the Cross, Helen Haidle, Zonderkidz, 2001.
  • Christian Believer: Knowing God with Heart and Mind Study Manual, J. Ellwsorth Kalas, Abingdon Press, 1999.
  • FaithQuest: The Trial and Crucifixion of Jesus, Kirk of Kildaire Presbyterian Church, Cary, NC, 2002.
  • 1001 Things you Always Wanted to Know About the Bible, Stephen Lang, Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1999.
  • Easter: Trial/Cross Rotation, St. Elmo’s Choir, 2002.

Extra Resource Provided in Workshops
Journey to the Cross by Helen Haidle (Zonderkidz, 2001, 9780310700234). This is an excellent book that explains a great deal of the background to the Easter Story on a child’s level – it has since gone out of print, but copies can still be found on-line.  At the time of doing this lesson we provided a book to each teacher to use it as they felt appropriate during their teaching session.

Last edited by Luanne Payne
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