All the Way to Calvary: Passion Predictions

Calvary. The word is found only once in Scripture,[1] and most of us have never visited the actual site. But it is undoubtedly the most frequented place on earth in our meditations. Hardly a day passes without thinking about our Savior and “the place, which is called Calvary,” where “they crucified Him” (Luk 23:33).

No matter how many times we read the Gospel narratives describing the final days of our Lord Jesus Christ, His willingness to go all the way to Calvary astounds us again. That Calvary and His approaching death there were constantly on His mind is evident from the many predictions He made. Some of these were clearly stated, others given in pictures, and one expressed in the form of a heartbreaking parable.

Plain Predictions

Our Savior plainly foretold the place of His death. He informed His disciples, “Behold, we go up to Jerusalem; and the Son of man shall be betrayed unto the chief priests and unto the scribes, and they shall condemn him to death” (Mat 20:18).[2] He told them Jerusalem would be the place of His death, the very location where decades prior His parents had presented Him to the Lord with the proper accompanying sacrifice (Luk 2:22-24). In Jerusalem again, He would present Himself to the Lord, not with an accompanying sacrifice, but as a sacrifice, offered up to take our sins away.

Jesus also spoke about the perpetrators of His death. The Jewish leaders had been plotting His death for some time, and our Lord named them in His predictions (elders, chief priests, scribes). But not having power themselves to carry out the death penalty, they were forced to take their case against Jesus to the Roman authorities. Pontius Pilate, the governor of the Roman province of Judaea, eventually granted them permission to crucify Jesus (Joh 19:16). Our Savior predicted Gentile involvement in His death – “he shall be delivered unto the Gentiles … and they shall scourge him, and put him to death” (Luk 18:32-33). Note the accuracy of Christ’s words. The Jewish authorities condemned Him to death. The Roman authorities put Him to death. But there was another perpetrator. Jesus stated that the Son of man would be “betrayed into the hands of men” (Mat 17:22), an early hint (see also John 6:70-71) that one of the Twelve would be involved in a treacherous plot against Him.

Unsurprisingly, the omniscient Lord foretold the mode of His death. “And they shall condemn him to death, and shall deliver him to the Gentiles to mock, and to scourge, and to crucify him” (Mat 20:18-19). Given the horrific nature of suffering and death by crucifixion, one wonders if there was a perceptible trembling in His voice as He spoke those words, “to crucify him.”

But Christ also predicted His own role in His death. Describing Himself as “the good shepherd” that gives His life for the sheep, our Lord added, “I lay down my life, that I might take it again. No man taketh it from me, but I lay it down of myself. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it again” (Joh 10:11,17-18). The Lord Jesus was the only person who had the authority to lay down His life. Rather than simply recording passively, “And Jesus died,” all four Gospel writers are careful to describe the actual death of Christ as something He Himself accomplished (Mat 27:50; Mar 15:37; Luk 23:46; Joh 19:30).

Incredibly, the disciples failed to comprehend the many plain predictions Christ had given in relation to His death (e.g., Mar 9:32). His clear announcements would not make sense until after His resurrection.

Pictorial Predictions

Jesus not only foretold His death with carefully worded sentences, but with memorable metaphors. For one, He spoke of His death as an exodus. On the Mount of Transfiguration, “there talked with him two men, which were Moses and Elias [i.e., Elijah]: Who appeared in glory, and spake of his decease which he should accomplish at Jerusalem” (Luk 9:30-31). The word “decease” is a translation of the Greek word exodus, meaning “departure.” As Peter, James and John listened in wonder, perhaps their thoughts led them to consider another exodus. Moses had guided their nation in an exodus from bondage to Pharaoh in Egypt. Elijah led an exodus of sorts in bringing the nation out of bondage to false gods. Soon it would become clear to them that the Messiah they had embraced would lead the greatest exodus of all from the heaviest bondage of all for the greatest number of people. Christ came to deliver a world in bondage to sin, Satan and death.

Our Savior also spoke of His death as a ransom in a response to James and John’s request for honor in His coming kingdom. “The Son of man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give his life a ransom for many” (Mat 20:28). His death as an exodus focuses on a release from bondage. His death as a ransom focuses on how that release would be effected. Christ would give His precious life as a ransom payment necessary to free us from bondage to sin.  James and John (and their mother) had it all wrong. Self-sacrifice characterizes those who will be great in His coming kingdom.

His death as a planting is yet another of Christ’s memorable metaphoric predictions. Just days before His lifeless body would be placed in a tomb, bringing bewilderment and immeasurable grief to His followers, Jesus said, “Unless a kernel of wheat falls into the ground and dies, it remains by itself alone. But if it dies, it produces much grain” (Joh 12:24 NET). Ironically, the Pharisees had just said that “the world is gone after him” (v19). Even the Greeks wanted to see Him (v20). But Christ spoke of Himself as being buried in the earth, out of sight, like a kernel of wheat. Yet such a planting was most necessary if there was to be a harvest to follow. How many grains have come from that one seed! Thank God we are a part of such a bountiful harvest.

In a remarkable contrast to His being planted in the ground, Jesus spoke on the same occasion of His death as a lifting up. “And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself. Now he said this to indicate clearly what kind of death he was going to die” (Joh 12:32-33 NET). This is the third time in John’s Gospel that we find this metaphor, a clear indication of His death on a cross. In John 8:28, Jesus foretold that His lifting up would lead some to recognize Him (“When ye have lifted up the Son of man, then shall ye know that I am he”). Here in John 12, His lifting up would lead the world not just to recognize Him, but to come to Him, as if drawn by a spiritual magnet (“I … will draw all people to myself”). In John 3, the result of coming to Him is described to Nicodemus and all those who have placed their faith in Christ – “the Son of man must be lifted up: That whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have eternal life” (vv14-15).

Chronologically, the last of Jesus’ metaphoric predictions of His death came when He sat down at the table with His disciples and instituted the Lord’s Supper. Taking bread, He said, “This is my body which is given for you …. Likewise also the cup after supper, saying, This cup is the new testament in my blood, which is shed for you” (Luk 22:19-20). Quite evidently, He spoke of His death as a sacrifice. He was just hours away from giving His all for us. Don’t overlook those precious words stated twice – “for you.”

Parabolic Prediction

In Matthew 21, Jesus gave two vineyard parables, the first (vv28-32) foretelling the rejection of the Father by Israel’s leaders. In the second (vv33-41), He predicts their rejection and killing of the Son, “the heir” (v38), who had been sent to receive the fruit that the vineyard owner expected. Rather than receiving and honoring the son, the tenants of the vineyard cast him out and kill him (v39) in the hopes that the inheritance might become theirs. But rather than the tenants receiving the inheritance, the owner sends judgment for their wicked actions. Jesus then quoted Psalm 118:22-23, explaining that He was the rejected Son and the religious leaders of Israel were the tenants. Interestingly, although Jesus’ disciples often failed to comprehend His passion predictions, Israel’s leaders didn’t miss it here – “And when the chief priests and Pharisees had heard his parables, they perceived that he spake of them” (Mat 21:45).

We have only scratched the surface of our Savior’s passion predictions. Remarkably, the Apostle John tells us, “Jesus therefore, knowing all things that should come upon him, went forth” (Joh 18:4). In the months to follow, we will attempt with great reverence to study Christ’s sacred path to the cross, moving from prediction to fulfillment. As we do, may we pause often to marvel and worship the One whose steps took Him all the way to Calvary.

[1] “Calvary” is from the late Latin calvaria (“skull”) translation of the Greek Golgotha (“place of a skull”).

[2] All Scripture quotations in this article are from the KJV unless otherwise noted.