The word passion is from the Latin pati, which simply means “to endure” or “to suffer.” The term passion of Christ has taken on a technical or semi-technical meaning in theology, referring to the time from Jesus’ prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane to His death on the cross—the time of His greatest suffering. Mel Gibson’s film The Passion of the Christ covers these events. Likewise, “passion plays”—re-enactments of the last few hours of Jesus’ life in which He suffered—are popular around Easter. The passion of Christ is recorded in Matthew 26:36–27:56, Mark 14:32–15:41, Luke 22:39–23:49, and John 18:1–19:37.
Scripture often highlights the suffering of Christ. Indeed, the crucifixion of Christ is the apex of human history and the grand theme of the apostles’ teaching: “I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified” (1 Corinthians 2:2). It is through the passion of Christ that we are made right with God.
It is important to note that Christ’s suffering—His passion—was real. It is not as though He simply appeared to suffer; He actually suffered and died. When Jesus prayed in Gethsemane, “My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me” (Matthew 26:39), He was in genuine anguish over what He was to suffer (cf. Luke 22:44). When He was beaten and mocked, when the crown of thorns was pressed on His head, when He was nailed to a cross, when He hung there and struggled to breathe, He was experiencing genuine, excruciating suffering to pay for our sins. He endured all that to save those who would trust in Him.
Isaiah 53:4–12 foretold the passion of Christ and revealed its meaning:
Surely he took up our pain
and bore our suffering,
yet we considered him punished by God,
stricken by him, and afflicted.
But he was pierced for our transgressions,
he was crushed for our iniquities;
the punishment that brought us peace was on him,
and by his wounds we are healed.
We all, like sheep, have gone astray,
each of us has turned to our own way;
and the Lord has laid on him
the iniquity of us all.
He was oppressed and afflicted,
yet he did not open his mouth;
he was led like a lamb to the slaughter,
and as a sheep before its shearers is silent,
so he did not open his mouth.
By oppression and judgment he was taken away.
Yet who of his generation protested?
For he was cut off from the land of the living;
for the transgression of my people he was punished.
He was assigned a grave with the wicked,
and with the rich in his death,
though he had done no violence,
nor was any deceit in his mouth.
Yet it was the Lord’s will to crush him and cause him to suffer,
and though the Lord makes his life an offering for sin,
he will see his offspring and prolong his days,
and the will of the Lord will prosper in his hand.
After he has suffered,
he will see the light of life and be satisfied;
by his knowledge my righteous servant will justify many,
and he will bear their iniquities.
Therefore I will give him a portion among the great,
and he will divide the spoils with the strong,
because he poured out his life unto death,
and was numbered with the transgressors.
For he bore the sin of many,
and made intercession for the transgressors.
In modern usage, the word passion can have the sense of strong emotion and is even associated with love. But Jesus did not endure suffering because of a strong emotion that flamed up for a time and then passed. People today can have “fits of passion” and do rash things that they later regret, but that is not the passion of Christ. Jesus came to earth for the purpose of laying down His life for us, and He never wavered from it (see Matthew 16:21–23 and 21:24). Indeed, in the book of Revelation, Jesus is described as the Lamb slain from the creation of the world (Revelation 13:8).
Jesus’ passion (suffering) was not due to passion (strong emotion) but to settled purpose!