Passover in Jerusalem.
Passover in Jerusalem.
Passover in Jerusalem.
THE PASSOVER. Mat ch 27 v 32 – ch 28 v 20. Mat ch 27 v 62 –ch 28 v 15.
1Cor ch 15 v 12 – 26.
The whole account of creation is confined to the first two chapters of the Bible. One third of the Gospel of Mark is devoted to the last seven days of Jesus’ life. This indicates that the death and resurrection of Jesus is essential to the message of God to mankind. The trial of Jesus, followed by His death and resurrection have to be taken together. What were the events, which took place in Jerusalem 2000 years ago? The arrest and trial of Jesus of Nazareth is a matter of the utmost seriousness. From early in His life Jesus knew from the Scriptures that He had come to die in Jerusalem. Jesus had come to accomplish a number of purposes. He had come to teach. He had come to introduce the Kingdom of God – the rule of God in the hearts of men. He had come to restore the relationship between a holy God and sinful man. He had come to destroy the works of the Devil. For three years He had preached about the Kingdom of God. He had demonstrated His authority and power over the Devil. He had shown His compassion for the broken people in Judah. He found them like sheep without a shepherd. But the central purpose and focus of His coming to Earth was to pay the price in His own body for the sins of mankind and to avert the wrath of God towards sinful man. Many times Jesus had told His disciples that He had to go to Jerusalem to die. Now that time had arrived. The death of Jesus – awful as it was – was good news for mankind. God has made a provision for the sins of man and has provided a way whereby His wrath can be averted. Religion cannot do anything about the sins of man. No matter how hard a man tries, he cannot put an end to sin without the provision of a saviour.
What was the situation in Judea in those days? The World in the days of Jesus was much like it is today. Only about 7% of the people were religious Jews. Isaiah ch 9 v 2 saw the situation: “The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light.” The Jewish people were dwelling in a land of great darkness. Not since the days of Malachi over 400 years before had there been a word from God. Now God the Son was living in their midst. There was no shortage of religious people – Rabbis, Pharisees, Scribes and Lawyers taught the people. Sadducces were the wealthy landowners, who ruled the people, under the jurisdiction of the Roman Empire. They liked to keep on good terms with the Roman governor. However the Roman governor and the head of the Sanhedrin – Caiaphas the High Priest – disliked one another intensely. There were people called the Essenes who lived a monastic religious life and had their own ideas about God. There were people called Zealots, who were fighting for freedom from Roman rule. Young boys played games of Zealots and Romans. These people may have seen themselves as freedom fighters. Others viewed them as terrorists. The kings appointed by the Romans liked their privileged position of importance. Then there were the ordinary people, traders and teachers, builders, farmers and fishermen. The province of Judea was a province of the mighty Roman Empire and the people there were exceptionally heavily taxed by the Romans. The census taken at the time of the birth of Jesus was related to registering people so that they could be taxed. After centuries of rule by the Babylonians, the Persians, the Greeks and now the Romans it was hardly surprising that the Jewish people wanted to be free from oppression and to rule themselves. That is why so many hoped that their Messiah Jesus would free them from Roman rule. The Roman soldiers were prepared to snatch a handful of Jewish youths and use them for spear practice or to capture Jewish women and use them for their sexual gratification. Despite being trampled beneath their occupiers the Jewish people believed that they were superior to the Romans and were the greatest race to walk the Earth. They had a false concept of being the chosen people. They were not chosen because they were better than any other people but had been chosen to be a holy people. Through their communal life God had wanted to reveal Himself to an ignorant World. Isaiah had pointed out that the people had failed to live up to their calling. He used a graphic illustration to make his point. “We were with child but have brought forth wind.” Isaiah ch 26 v 18. This attitude of superiority was an offence to the Romans. They considered themselves superior. Pride is the only disease, which makes everyone sick except the one who has it. The Jews were sick of the Romans and the Romans were sick of the Jews. Under the rule of Herod the Great in the days before the birth of Jesus there had been an uprising by the Jews against Roman rule. Thousands of Jews had perished. 2,000 people had been crucified as an example. There was a legacy of bitterness and mistrust.
Originally the Romans had governed Judea by appointing a local person as King, who had ultimate responsibility to Rome. But by the time of Jesus’ public ministry the Romans had appointed a Roman as governor of Judea. The Roman governor had ultimate authority from Rome to ensure order and stability in Judea as a province of the great Roman Empire. It was the most remote and most insignificant posting for any governor in the Roman Empire. It was to this posting that Pontius Pilate was sent as the fifth Roman governor of Judea. He had to submit to Rome regular and detailed accounts of events in Judea. He was determined to ensure that no trouble broke out in Judea. He had 6,000 troops at his disposal. As an example of his rule there was a law that any Jew found carrying an unauthorised weapon was executed.
Yet Judea was not fully integrated into the Roman Empire. The Sanhedrin, composed of Sadducees and Pharisees, had certain administrative powers. Traders and tradesmen wanted peace and stability so that their businesses could thrive and they could prosper. The Roman Empire was an economic empire. Law and order were important to the Romans. The local rulers liked their privileged positions and did not want anything to disturb the peace. It was into this situation that Jesus arrived to proclaim the Kingdom of God – the rule of God in the hearts of men. The World was in a mess. There was pride and hypocrisy – injustice and oppression – brutality – hatred by the Jews of the Romans and hatred by the Romans of the Jews. There was a great deal of sickness and disease and the evil spirits were having things pretty much their own way. Some people were doing well materially out of the Empire but most of the people were downtrodden and weary, living in fear of the Roman soldiers. So often Jesus is presented as gentle Jesus meek and mild. Nothing could be further from the truth. Jesus spoke fearlessly against the religious hypocrisy. He exposed the cruelty and brutality of the Roman regime. He resisted the temptations and the wiles of the Devil. In his gospel Luke describes Jesus as the ideal man. The sort of man every man should be like. Jesus addressed the situation, which confronted Him. He showed the people how to live under the rule of God and invited people to follow Him. “This is the way to live – follow me.” The early disciples were actually called “people of the way.”
When Jesus entered Jerusalem – the city chosen by God as the emblem of eternity – the people sang His praises. Did the angels orchestrate the praise? They recognised that here was a man who was offering a better way of life. Suddenly there was hope for the future. His was a life of truth and integrity. Here was a man who was full of compassion for the people. Here was a man who could be trusted. This was a new way of life. It was one thing that Jesus taught in Galilee but now He was here in Jerusalem at the headquarters of the religious and political life of the province. He could be ignored as long as He kept up north. Now His presence confronted the chief people of the land. What was the trouble all about? Then, as now, there was plenty of talk about God. There were religions other than the Jewish religion. There was an awareness of a greater being or power and a realisation that this World and human beings did not just happen by chance. It was nothing new for people to claim to be the Messiah.
Why did Jesus pose such a threat to the religious and civil authorities of His day? The answer to that question throws light on why the same Jesus poses such a threat to people today. Talk about other religious figures from history and there may be some interest but some people become very upset when the claims of Jesus are presented today. Why could the authorities of His day not just ignore Jesus? Surely it was because the claims, which He made, were backed up by actions. He practised what He preached. By His actions, such as raising His friend Lazarus from the dead, Jesus demonstrated that He was quite unlike any other human being. He was not found guilty of any sin. He taught with authority. He healed the sick. He had control over the elements. He performed miracles. It is interesting to note that His enemies did not question the miracles or cast doubt on them. They simply asked: “By what authority do you do these things?” They recognised that Jesus was in touch with a higher authority. It was that contact with a higher authority, which led the religious leaders to be afraid of Jesus and held them back from acting for almost three years. Jesus did not speak obliquely. Mat ch 12 v 45. The Pharisees got the point of the parable and were furious. Jesus was exposing their hypocrisy. Jesus challenged the people openly to follow Him and not the Pharisees. Their very existence and their religious teaching was being threatened. Now the Pharisees were not necessarily evil and wicked but they simply had no place for the teachings of Jesus in their theology. Actually some of the Pharisees were secret admirers of Jesus and some like Joseph of Arimathea ad Nicodemus became His followers. The Pharisees were trapped. They had been talking about God for centuries. Suddenly God was in their midst in the person of a carpenter. “How do you do. I am pleased to meet you.” There were only two choices. They had either to bow the knee to Jesus and accept Him as Lord or to kill Him. If they had killed Jesus themselves it would have started a riot. Then the Romans would have come down heavily on them, removing their privileges.
Political regimes are not threatened by a single man, who did not even carry arms. It took an army to pose a threat to such as the Roman Empire. However a riot in the streets was the last thing Pilate wanted. But Pilate knew that to execute a popular figure could have brought that about. He was trapped. Pilate’s spies were watching as Jesus taught in the Temple at the Feast of Tabernacles. The comfortable relationship, which the Sanhedrin had with the Romans, would have been at an end. The members of the Sanhedrin wanted to maintain the status quo but they also wanted to get rid of Jesus. Under Roman rule the local rulers – the Sanhedrin or parliament composed of Sadducees and Pharisees did not have the authority to pass the death sentence. Only the Roman governor had that power. What were they to do? It was at this point that Jesus gave them what they wanted. He offered to lay down His life as the pass-over lamb at the Feast of Passover. The Feast of Passover in A. D. 30 was the climax to the life of Jesus. From the age of 12 He knew it was coming. He set His face to go to Jerusalem to die.
The trial and execution of Jesus is one of the most authenticated events in the history of the World. There are a number of pressing questions, which force themselves on the reader of the accounts of these events.
What was the reason for such urgency to have the arrest, trial and execution carried out with such speed? Both the Jewish and Roman legal traditions were known for fairness and justice. Such speed was totally out of character.
From a reading of the accounts of the trial from the pages of the Bible, certain facts are clear.
1. Jesus knew that He was sent to die in Jerusalem by way of crucifixion. He told the Disciples on a number of occasions that this would happen. Psalm 22 spells out in detail how the Messiah was to die, surrounded by those who wanted Him out of the way.
2. Jesus was not afraid to die. He predicted His own death and all the sufferings and said that He would rise on the third day.
3. Jesus was willing to die. He wanted to fulfil God’s purpose for His life.
4. Jesus laid down His life on His own initiative. No one forced Him into the events concerning His death.
5. Jesus set His mind to go to Jerusalem. When Peter tried to dissuade Jesus from going to Jerusalem, Jesus replied: “Get behind me Satan.” He recognised that it was so important to go to Jerusalem to die that the words of Peter were actually the device of Satan to try to avert Him from His purpose.
6. Jesus knew that the Jewish religious leaders could not find any fault with Him either by way of sin or by a breach of the civil law. How then could the conviction be established? Jesus knew that He would have to take the initiative and give them the opportunity to pass the death sentence by crucifixion.
7. Jesus did not hide from the authorities. By going to the Garden of Gethsemane late at night and letting the authorities know, through Judas, that He would be there, Jesus was in effect offering Himself as available for arrest.
8. As a legal process, the trial was bordering on a farce, such were the irregularities. However, the trial was not entirely fraudulent. There were some good men in the system, who had to be satisfied. Caiaphas – the High Priest – was the supreme figure in Jewish religion. No one knew better than he did the full political consequences of the coming of the Messiah in the flesh. Caiaphas was particularly under threat by Jesus. If Jesus was who He claimed to be, then Caiaphas’ job was finished. The real High Priest stood before him.
For all that the Roman Empire was ruthless against its opponents, there was a sound system of law and order. Had Jesus wanted either to avoid arrest or establish an acquittal He could have done so. He not only facilitated His death sentence but a close examination of the events of the trial reveal that He alone masterminded the outcome, otherwise the whole trial would have collapsed from a lack of evidence and preparation and the process would have run out of time.
Now Jerusalem was humming with activity as Jews from all over the Roman Empire gathered there to celebrate the Passover festival. The Temple Mount held 300,000 people. Judea was a Roman colony. After centuries of occupation by Babylonians, Persians, Greeks and Romans, there was a great longing in the hearts of the Jewish people to be able to run their own affairs without an occupying power. There had always been groups, which had sought to liberate the Jewish people. In the days of Jesus there was a group called the Zealots. Indeed one of the Disciples had come from this group. There were people who desperately hoped that Jesus would be a political leader to set the people free from Rome. The religious leaders sensed that if there was a popular uprising their position would be destroyed. They had a good relationship with their political masters in that they were given certain political power, within the framework of the Empire. A revolt would sweep away that special relationship. They had a lot to lose – their position of standing in the community – their secure financial position – their limited power. They had unquestionably an interest in maintaining the status quo. What is more, any civil unrest would create a backlash from Rome and would result in the recall of the Governor – Pontius Pilate.
That is just the position with people today all over the World. They like things as they are. They like to be in control of their own lives, doing what they want to do. Jesus threatens to change their situation and they would lose control of their own lives. Jesus Himself said just that in Mark ch 8 v 35. “If any man would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.” Mark ch 8 v 35. “He who loses his life for my sake will find it.”
Like any other trial, a person is innocent until proved guilty. So what were the charges against Jesus?
1. That He had threatened to destroy the Temple.
2. That He had claimed to be the Son of God.
3. That He had stirred up the people against Caesar.
The first charge, taken at face value, is so ridiculous as to be unworthy of consideration. What credibility was there that a man could destroy the huge Temple in Jerusalem and rebuild it in three days? A court could not convict a person on such a ridiculous charge. However, John says that Jesus was not speaking literally of the Temple building but was speaking of His body.
The second charge was that Jesus had claimed to be God. He had already claimed to be the Messiah and to be God in human flesh. He did not leave his hearers in any doubt about that. He had said that, if they killed Him, He would rise again in three days. That was the very fact, which caused such alarm to the religious leaders of His day. He claimed to be God. “You have been talking about God for centuries. Well, how do you do?” They had two choices. Bow to Him or get rid of Him. They chose the latter. It was bad enough that Jesus was claiming the allegiance of others. The real problem was that He was claiming their allegiance. That is the same problem, which faces mankind today, when the claims of Jesus are preached.
Ironically the third charge, that of treason, was not really of interest to the Jewish leaders. But they could not succeed on the religious charges because they had no power to carry out a sentence of death. Only the occupying power could do that. They had no alternative but to proceed on the third charge – treason.
The Romans were always quite pleased to encourage religion within the various parts of the Empire, because religion is the glue, which holds a people together. As long as there was no physical uprising the Roman authorities were not really interested in the intricacies of a particular religion. It posed no threat to their power. The Jewish leaders knew that. Therefore the only hope, which they had of securing a death sentence was to convince Pilate that Jesus posed a threat to the security of the province of the Empire. Treason was the charge they had to make stick.
The trial before the religious leaders was a shambles by any standard of legal proceedings. Many false witnesses were brought but their evidence did not agree. It is of interest that Jesus was not represented. Any good lawyer would have secured an acquittal. There were so many irregularities. It was illegal for the Temple Guard to carry out an arrest on the orders of the High Priest. It was illegal to hold a trial after sunset. It was illegal for the judges to cross-examine the accused after the witnesses had failed. As the proceedings faltered the stakes were increasing. If the prisoner was acquitted, word would spread round the city at daybreak like wildfire and the danger of an uprising was very real. It was at this point in the trial that Caiaphas, the High priest, threw caution to the wind and used his last weapon. He used the most solemn oath in the Hebrew Constitution, the famous oath of Testimony. Mat ch 26 v 63. I adjure you by the living God, are you the Christ? As a good Jew, Jesus was bound to answer. He did. “Yes.” At last Caiaphas had evidence that Jesus claimed to be the Messiah and as such he, Caiaphas, could persuade Pilate that Jesus was a threat to civil law and order. Caesar might be indifferent to the somewhat eccentric utterances of an itinerant preacher. He could not be indifferent to a claimant to the throne. In the hush of the court, as the solemn words of Jesus fell from His lips, certain other words were probably already forming in the mind of Caiaphas: “If you let this man go, you are not Caesar’s friend.”
From a consideration of the events of that night another fact becomes clear. The religious leaders were unable to convict Jesus of a charge of treason, unless Jesus enabled them to do so. It is also clear that they could not have arranged the trial in time to have Pilate confirm the conviction early the next morning unless Jesus had masterminded the whole timetable of events. Jesus was a master of psychology and determined to deliver Himself into their hands. It was Jesus who told Judas when to leave the Upper Room and He told Judas where to find Him. Without the co-operation and planning of Jesus the authorities could not have achieved what was undoubtedly their desire. The remains of the house of Caiaphas have been uncovered today in Jerusalem. Had Peter not denied Jesus, would he have faced crucifixion also? Until Jesus rose again, Peter and the others did not fully understand the purpose of Jesus in all He did.
Pilate had come from Caesarea – a port on the coast – where he normally lived, to Jerusalem with enough troops to ensure that there was no trouble or disturbance at Passover time. That was the principal aspect of his job – to ensure peace. 300,000 normally visited Jerusalem during Passover. If only he had stayed away he would not have been caught up in the plot of the religious leaders. Pilate was informed by Caiaphas that Jesus was a threat to the peace of Jerusalem. Pilate had to take the report seriously. He could not afford to make a mistake. If it was true, he dare not ignore it.
When it comes to the second part of the proceedings before Pontius Pilate two things are clear. Firstly, there had been prior consultation between the religious leaders and Pilate. They had to be sure that, if they overcame the difficulties of arresting Jesus and securing a conviction under the religious courts, Pilate would confirm the sentence. Otherwise they would be totally exposed and be discredited in the eyes of the people. There was no love lost between Pilate and the religious leaders. They were not in a position to demand a court case to be dealt with first thing in the morning during the Feast of Passover. The facts point to a meeting between Caiaphas and Pilate late in the evening or early morning. Secondly, when he met Jesus, Pilate did not want to touch the thing. He knew that Jesus was innocent. He had had dealings with Caiaphas and his colleagues and knew them for what they were. By comparison, Jesus was no threat to him, nothing like the threat of Barabbas and his Zealots. Pilate had earned a reputation of being a ruthless and callous man. He had married Claudia Procula, the grand daughter of Augustus Caesar. He was in a better job than his abilities merited, because of his wife. He was course, tactless and obstinate. He was prepared to exceed his powers to attain his own ends. He would not normally have wasted more than five minutes in passing the death sentence on a political nuisance, which is what the religious leaders presented to him.
Suddenly, Pilate was standing in the very presence of God – a man of utter integrity. Jesus saw through his imperfections and falsehood. The chief priests accused Jesus before Pilate. When they realised that Pilate wanted to set Jesus free, they sent people into the crowd to stir up the crowd and to cry for Barabbas to be set free. Barabbas was a terrorist who deserved to die. He was one of the Zealots. Jesus was from Galilee and Herod Antipas – one of the sons of Herod the Great and ruler of Galilee was also present in Jerusalem. So to some extent it was Herod’s problem. Pilate wanted rid of the problem and sent Jesus to Herod. But the threat was in Jerusalem. It was Pilate’s problem and Herod sent Jesus back to Pilate. Neither wanted to appear unpopular with the people. Neither wanted the responsibility of killing this unique man. It was Herod’s soldiers who abused Jesus and made fun of Him. There was a cruel game played by soldiers against a man accused to die. They dressed him up like a king for the day before his death. That happened to Jesus.
This was not the man who tried desperately to avoid dealing with Jesus and who washed his hands in public. There were two problems facing Pilate, which caused Pilate to act in a way, which was out of character. Firstly, Pilate’s wife Claudia had had a dream that night, as a result of which she sent an urgent message to her husband not to have anything to do with Jesus, because He was a righteous man. It is clear that she had discussed the matter with her husband the previous evening after the meeting between Caiaphas and Pilate and knew what Pilate had agreed to do. Secondly, when Pilate met Jesus, he was, like so many others, deeply affected by the personality of the man Jesus and afraid of the holiness of the man. It is apparent from the account of the events that Pilate is more on trial than Jesus.
His conscience was troubled in a way, which was not customary in his position as Governor. Pilate tried desperately to shift responsibility back to the Jewish leaders. Again Jesus could have remained silent when asked by Pilate if He was a king. He spoke out, telling Pilate that he was indeed a King but not of this World. What that meant to Pilate is not clear. Perhaps no more that it would mean to people today. Pilate felt afraid of Jesus, until his mind was filled with a greater fear. The words, which had formulated in the mind of Caiaphas, rang out. “If you release this man, you are no friend of Caesar’s.” Pilate’s future career was at stake. If he released Jesus, there might be an uprising. If he did not, he did not know what would happen, but it was probable that the crowd would be passified. Certainly if he confirmed the death sentence, the religious leaders would be satisfied, so at least he would have peace in one quarter. Time was against him. The city was full and pressure was rising. He was not the first to sell his soul for a bit of peace and quiet. He would not be the last. All the years of surviving by instinct rather than seeking the truth and obeying his conscience led him to sacrifice an innocent life. After all, thousands had died during the days of the Empire. What would one more matter? What is truth? Does man make his decisions based on the truth as revealed in the Bible or does he rely on instinct to get by. Does he take time to think through the consequences of his decisions? What man has the right to accuse Pilate? Particularly when Jesus was putting up no real plea for His life nor were there any legal or emotional arguments. Pilate was caught up in a situation not of his making nor to his liking – just like Saul was when Goliath challenged the Israelites.
There are three matters, which come across very clearly from this incident. How determined the religious leaders were to retain the status quo, despite the facts, which were staring them in the face. That seems to be just the same today. The one fact, which is absolutely certain, is that all human beings will die. Yet mankind refuses to face the basic question of what lies beyond death.
The second aspect is the peer pressure, which forced Pilate to compromise with the truth. Does man do things because of what others think and say or does he do them because God says so – because in the Word of God he finds the truth?
Thirdly, from beginning to end of the events of that period of 12 hours approximately, despite all the schemes of mankind, Jesus, although exhausted physically, was totally in control, as He willingly carried out the purpose of His Heavenly Father and laid down His life for the sins of the World, so that man might be set free from the power of the prince of this World.
The essential fact concerning the trial of Jesus is that He arranged it from beginning to end. He masterminded the timing of the trials and the crucifixion. Had Jesus asked Pilate for release, the clear indications are that Pilate would have released Jesus. But Jesus had come to Jerusalem to die. It is not known what effect these events had on Barabbas – on Pilate – or on the thousands who were in Jerusalem on that day. What is important is the effect these events have on man today – how man responds to the love of God as revealed in Jesus Christ – who died so that he might live.
After the trial when Pilate had ordered the execution, Jesus was handed over to the soldiers for flogging. He was taken to the courtyard of the Antonio Fortress, near to the Temple. The Jews were limited to 39 lashes in accordance with the Old Testament. Deut ch 25 v 3. However, the Romans had no limits imposed on them. There would have been at least 41 lashes. The prisoner was stripped naked and tied in shackles to a pole at the top and the bottom so that his body was tautly arched against the post or pole in the courtyard and the bare back was exposed to the lash. Actually in Roman law all parts of the body could be beaten. Sometimes the prisoner was scourged to death. A Roman lash had 4 thongs, with a piece of bone or metal at the end of each thong. As a result, each time the lash struck the flesh of the prisoner it cut it open. Eventually the back was a mass of pulp and flesh with blood. Often the prisoner died under the lashing, especially if he was weak. Jesus survived. Pilate’s entourage included Syrian conscripts. They had no love or respect for the Jews and would have shown no mercy to Jesus.
As Jesus entered the courtyard, He would have seen the two prisoners, who had just been scourged. He knew that the time had come for the destruction of His physical body – but not His soul. As the lashes tore open the skin the commander would keep watch to estimate how much more the prisoner could endure before dying. It was the responsibility of the officer in charge to ensure that the prisoner did not die before the crucifixion could take place or else he would face disciplinary procedure. The writers of the Gospels had been brought up with scourging. They knew all about the shame of nudity, the unbearable physical pain and the degradation of being punished as a criminal. Pilate had inflicted this revolting suffering on a man whom he knew to be innocent. By the end of the scourging the body would be in shock. Even after that Pilate claimed that he found no fault in Jesus. Still came the cry to crucify Him.
The prisoner was then made to carry the crossbeam for the crucifixion. It was heavy, especially for a weak prisoner. The rough wood laid across the back reduced to blood and open flesh would cause extreme pain. A detachment of soldiers and some prisoners would set off to walk from Antonio Fortress to Golgotha. The location of Golgotha was outside of the city walls of Jerusalem. The place was called Golgotha, either because the rocky outcrop looked like the shape of a skull or because of the skulls of unclaimed bodies, which lay about the area from previous crucifixions. The Romans crucified people outside the city gates. As businessmen were entering the city they would see above them on the hill the bodies of people hanging on crosses. They knew that they should be very careful what they said while in the city, or else they might find themselves in the same situation – hanging on a cross.
The route from Antonio Fortress to Golgotha took the prisoner up the Via Dolorosa – a narrow street about 9 feet wide with shops or trading units on either side. What was on the mind of Jesus as He made His painful way up that road? Any normal person would just hold on and hope that it would soon be over. There was no prospect of escape. Death was inevitable. Remember that Jerusalem was full of pilgrims – 300,000 of them. This was the peak opportunity for the traders to do business and make money. There would not be another day like this until next year. The presence of the soldiers and prisoners was an interruption to business. Did Jesus have in His thoughts the phrases He had used often when speaking about His Second Coming. It would be like it was in the days of Noah – people would be indifferent to the things of God – right up to the moment when the door of the ark closed and the rain began to fall. It would be like it was in the days of Lot – people would be going about their daily business right up to the moment when the men of Sodom grabbed for Lot and the two angels and sulphur began to fall. Jesus knew that one day these traders would stand before Him to give a personal account for what they had done in their lives. He did not want them to face Him on the day of judgement, without giving them one last opportunity to consider the claims He had made during the last three years. “Who do people say that I am?” This was the greatest moment in the history of the World as God the Son was giving His life for the sins of the World. One by one Jesus would look directly into their eyes and without saying a word challenged them to consider where they stood before Almighty God. “If you deny me before men, than I shall deny you before my Father in Heaven.” One by one they were held by the gaze of Jesus for a few seconds – and then the moment was passed – and they looked towards the crowds of pilgrims following along behind looking to sell their goods to the pilgrims. The great question had been asked of them: “What think you of Christ?” and they failed to answer it. Or did they? Perhaps some of the traders were among the 3,000 people on the Day of Pentecost. After Peter preached they called out: “What must we do?” The Bible does not say. It poses the question of them so that the same question is put before every man who reads the Bible.
Believers are not called to accept the crucifixion blindly but are invited to look at the facts. Strictly speaking the Jews are not guilty of Jesus’ death. The Jewish leaders wanted Jesus dead but they could not kill Him. They had no authority to do so. The Gentiles actually did the killing. The Roman authorities actually carried out the sentence of death. In that sense all of mankind is guilty, for all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.
The method of crucifixion was one of the cruellest methods of death man has devised for his fellow man. God chose to allow His Son to experience such a death. Nails were driven by hammer through the wrists and feet. He was lifted up for all to see. Men and women were crucified naked in order to humiliate them. For the Jews nakedness was a terrible thing to suffer. It was the final insult to the Jews. Nakedness has always been a sign of sin, since the days Adam was aware that he was naked. The victim could not continue to breathe without awful pain. Thirst was part of the torture. Sometimes it took several days before the person died. The legs were broken to bring death, if it had not occurred in a reasonable time. If the legs were broken the victim could not push up to take in air.
Jesus gave up His spirit and laid His life down. The Roman system of execution employed 4 executioners. They tested the victims to see if they were dead. If not, they would break the legs of the victims. If the officials made a mistake, they would themselves be executed. The guard who watched Paul escape wanted to kill himself, because he knew what would happen to him. It was better to kill himself than face crucifixion. Acts ch 16 v 27. Jesus gave up His spirit and died.
Without the actual death of Jesus there can be no resurrection. Without the death of Jesus there can be no atoning for sins. The certainty of death is essential to deal with sin. The Muslims attempt to persuade people that Jesus did not die. They believe in the virgin birth, that Jesus was a prophet and that He did miracles. But they deny that Jesus died. If Jesus did not die, then there would be no atonement for sins. Pilate confirmed that Jesus was dead. He insisted in calling Jesus the King of the Jews. He arranged for an inscription to be placed on the cross above His head, whether as a gesture to the High Priest, who had forced him into this situation or in recognition that Jesus was unlike anyone else he had ever met, including the Emperor of Rome. Jesus was born King of the Jews and He died King of the Jews. He is still King of the Jews. It seems out of character that Pilate allowed Joseph of Arimathea to have the body of Jesus for burial. Normally Pilate would have shown no interest whatsoever in the body of a criminal. Yet it is clear that Pilate was deeply affected by the very presence of Jesus. He had been more on trial than Jesus was. Did he talk over the events of the day with his wife? She had had a dream and warned Pilate to have nothing to do with Jesus. Pilate’s wife may have been a secret admirer of Jesus. It is clear that she had certainly heard about Jesus. There is a story – true or otherwise – that six years later, after Pilate was sent to Gaul, he committed suicide. He had just dealt with the request by Joseph and here were these meddlesome religious people, who had got him into so much trouble. They asked for a guard. Despite all the events of the last 24 hours, they referred to Jesus as a liar.
Jesus took not only the sins of man but also his shame to the cross – the pain, the shame, the grief for others, especially His Mother, who had shared such agony for her son, and the disappointment of the Disciples. A man can be burdened when a friend is in distress. Multiply that by millions times thousands of sins. The mental anguish was far greater than the physical pain. Such was the pain Jesus endured when He bore the sins of the World.
As Jesus hung on the cross and gazed across to the city of Jerusalem, fighting the very depths of rejection, what thoughts must have filled His mind? He had been betrayed, denied and forsaken by friends. From there He would have seen the Temple built to the glory of God, where He had once driven out the traders. He would have seen the road into Jerusalem where the crowds sang “Hosannah” and rejoiced at His coming. Where were they now? Had some of them been in the crowd shouting “Crucify Him?” Perhaps Jesus recalled the tears He had wept over Jerusalem a few days before. Then there were the Disciples in deep distress, helpless and confused. “Why did Jesus have to die?” They had not yet fully grasped that it was for their sins too that He chose to die.
But despite the memories and the pain there was little time to reflect. There was some urgent unfinished business to be completed. There was still time for the thief He did not know. He was not ignorant but had been taught about Jesus and clearly recognised who Jesus was. Death was the penalty for sin. They had heard Jesus asking God to forgive the people. The thief realised that Jesus was talking and behaving as one who had a future and did not consider that physical death was the end of his life. He appeared to be in control of events – as indeed He was from beginning to end. God does not look at the degree of sin but the principles of sin. No one has committed too many sins to be forgiven his sins. The thief came very close to a lost eternity. Many others have died with curses against Jesus on their lips. Why do they curse Jesus? What has He done to them to deserve a curse? It is the final rebellion against God to reject His provision of a saviour. Many good people had listened to His message and walked away. Here was a thief with no prospects – yet he recognised Jesus as God. Perhaps the thief had stolen only a loaf of bread. Did the soldiers on duty hear the conversation and wonder at a man, who could offer paradise to a thief He did not know in the time of His own greatest suffering? One of those on duty had heard and said: “Truly this was the Son of God.”
There was still time to make arrangements for His mother. Jesus gave a message to John to look after His mother. What secrets Jesus had shared with His mother concerning His amazing birth. Despite His own situation, Jesus was interested in the welfare of others.
There was still time to preach a last sermon to the World, calling them to acknowledge Him as Messiah. “My God, my God why have you forsaken me?” Here was the Messiah prophesied in Psalm 22 as the one surrounded by dogs (Gentiles), bulls (religious leaders) and horns (demons). The first line of the Psalm would challenge the hearers to recite the whole Psalm. It was a messianic Psalm.
He called out so that the accusers could hear: “Father forgive them, for they know not what they are doing.” It was one last attempt to stir their consciences to acknowledge their guilt. Jesus knew that one day each of them would stand before Him on judgement day. He called out: “I thirst“, needing liquid in His mouth in order to make the final statement: “It is finished.”
At midday and until 3 p.m. the sky went dark as if to signify that darkness had taken over the World. It was not an eclipse of the sun. That would not have lasted for three hours. The hour of 9 o’clock arrived – 3 p.m. In Scripture the number nine is the number for judgement. It was at this hour Jesus gave up His spirit. The wrath of God fell upon God’s only begotten Son. One angel could have pulled the cross and Jesus on it out of the ground and removed the nails setting Jesus free. But Jesus did not call on the angels, as He could have done. Angels knelt and wept, while demons stood and screamed. Eph ch 3 v 10. The principalities watched in amazement at the love of God for those He had created.
The normal procedure was for the Roman soldiers to leave the victim’s body hanging on the cross for a few days as a salutary warning. The body was eaten by birds of prey and then finally the stinking remains were dumped in the Hinnon Valley. It was at this point that Joseph of Arimathea – one of the Pharisees – went to Pilate and asked for the body for burial. Pilate had to be certain that Jesus was dead before releasing the body. The body was cleaned from the dust and treated with expensive mixture of myrrh, aloes and resin. The body was bound in fine linen cloth and then placed on a ledge cut inside the tomb. Finally the round stone was pushed into place to seal the tomb.
What would happen now? The Disciples had been with Jesus for three years and had given up everything. Had they grasped the last words of Psalm 22 – the sermon by Jesus? “God will rescue me.” Did they believe that? Obviously not. They were not expecting the resurrection. Why not? Do believers really believe in Heaven? Obviously not, if they are not preparing for it. The religious leaders had asked for a sign and Jesus had told them that the only sign they would have was the sign of Jonah. As Jonah had been dead three days in the belly of the whale, so Jesus would be three days in the grave. But as Jonah came up alive out of the whale, so Jesus would come up out of the grave. An onan is a day of 24 hours or a part of a day. The sign of Jonah – Jonah was 3 days in the belly of the whale. The burial on Friday night was 1 onan. Saturday while the guard was set was 1 onan. The early hours of Sunday morning was 1 onan.
The Jewish leaders knew that Jesus was dead. They suspected that Jesus would rise again. What that would mean to them is uncertain. They were reminded of the claim by Jesus Himself that after three days He would rise from the dead. What little impact the eclipse and the tearing of the curtain in the Temple had had on them is uncertain. Caiaphas almost certainly did not believe that Jesus would rise from the dead but feared that the Disciples might steal the body and claim that He was alive. Is that just what Caiaphas would have done himself in similar circumstances? He asked Pilate for a guard. This was only because He was dead. There is no shadow of doubt that Jesus was physically dead. Pilate told them to use their own guard. Perhaps he was fed up with them attempting to manipulate him. Perhaps he was filled with distress at what he had done. The guard reported to Caiaphas, so it must have been a temple guard. A Roman guard would have reported to Pilate. Presumably those setting the guard would have been satisfied that the body was still in the tomb at the time. The body was encased in aloes and 170 pounds of plaster. The stone at the tomb was about one and a half to two tons in weight. It was all finished properly in a dignified way. A seal was placed on the stone – meaning that it could not be moved without the authority of the guard under threat of punishment. It says that Joseph rolled the stone. But not by himself. He would have had help. Hitler advanced into France – but not all by himself. It is wrong to force onto Scripture what would not be forced on general conversation. Many people have been converted in the process of trying to refute the evidence of the resurrection e.g. C. S. Lewis.
Without His death Jesus is stripped of His manhood. He is relegated to a spiritual being, who has not experienced physical death. Mat ch 27 v 57 – 66 confirms the fact of death. v 63. By saying: “While He was still alive” proves that the religious leaders were entirely satisfied that Jesus was dead. There was not the slightest question that He was still alive. What concerned them was that He would do what He said and come back to life. He claimed that He would rise again. That is what singled Him out as a threat to the religious leaders. He was not prepared to be one of them, since He would not join any of their denominations. As today Jesus stands above denominations, which seek to limit Him in one way or another. They certainly seek to cause division to the body of Christ. They did not believe that any more than the Disciples, who were astonished when Jesus came back to life, but the religious leaders wanted to stifle any trick or suggestion that Jesus had achieved what He claimed. If they would have resorted to trickery, it is consistent that they would have thought that Jesus might do that to get His own back on them for what they knew they had done to Him. Perhaps they thought that, if it were one of them, they would have arranged to steal the body and hide it so that people would have believed the claim that he was alive. Other facts need to be considered. Without the resurrection, Jesus is restricted to His manhood.
What little impact the darkness and the tearing of the curtain in the Temple had on the religious leaders is not known. It may have been a Roman guard of 16 men, armed to the teeth or it may have been the Temple guard, which had arrested Jesus. Mat ch 26 v 47. Either was adequate to guard the tomb. Both were reliable witnesses to the fact that the body had risen and walked out of the tomb. Ch 28 v 4. The guards were certainly not asleep due to an earthquake. They were terrified, as well they might be. It seems that the body of Jesus had left the tomb by the time the angel rolled the stone away. Did Jesus walk through the wall of the tomb? What did the guards see? Did they go into the tomb to be absolutely sure? They were responsible for securing the body. Surely they would have carried out some investigation to be absolutely sure, before reporting to their superior officers that the body had gone. Did they see Jesus meeting and speaking to Mary?
What was the sequence of events on the day of the resurrection?
1. Early in the morning Jesus came back to life and left the tomb. The same power of the Holy Spirit, who created the World, brought Jesus back to life. Did Jesus walk through the wall of the tomb? Where did Jesus get His new clothes from? Did His Father clothe His Son as He had clothed Adam and Eve? Perhaps Jesus did only what He had seen His Father doing in providing clothes for Adam and Eve and He did likewise. There is no evidence that the guards saw Him. In fact the Bible says that Jesus appeared only to those who believed in Him. Therefore it is almost certain that He did not appear to the guards, who did not believe in Him.
2. Around daybreak or sunrise 3 women arrive at the tomb – Mary Magdalene, Salome and Mary the mother of James. They planned to anoint the body of Jesus.
3. There was an earthquake and an angel rolled the stone away.
4. The guards saw this and trembled.
5. The angel spoke to the three women, telling them that Jesus had risen and telling them to go and inform the Disciples. The three women looked inside the tomb and then went away rejoicing and also in fear. Perhaps this was fear of God, which means reverence.
6. The guards left. Some went to inform the religious leaders of what had happened. Presumably they looked inside the tomb to make sure that it was empty or else they might have looked very foolish. Did they hear what the angel said to the three women? There is no indication that any of the religious leaders went themselves to be satisfied that the tomb was empty. They believed the account of the guard. Anyway they were half expecting it. That is why they put the guard there in the first place. The soldiers and leaders were absolutely sure and did not look for a body or interrogate the Disciples. The religious leaders did not arrest the Disciples and charge them with stealing the body. They did not send the Guard to find the body at all costs and to exhaust every avenue of inquiry. They did not hold a public inquiry. They knew that Jesus was alive. But they were no more prepared to bow the knee to Jesus then than they had been previously. They had all the evidence they needed.
7. Peter and John arrived at the tomb. They looked inside and then left. John saw and believed. John saw that the napkin, which had been round the head of Jesus was folded. If a Jewish man was eating a meal and he was finished he threw the napkin down in a bundle on the table. If he had not finished he folded the napkin. The waiter knew not to clear away the plates, if the napkin was folded. When John saw that the napkin was folded he knew by the Holy Spirit that Jesus had not finished but was coming back. So John believed that Jesus had risen and was alive with unfinished work to do.
8. Mary Magdalene returned to the Garden, spoke to the angel and then met Jesus. “Do not touch me.” Jesus had not yet been to the Holy of Holies to see if His sacrifice had been accepted by His Father. Later He said to Thomas: “Now you can touch me.” The sacrifice had been accepted by God by that time. The Day of Atonement had arrived. The High Priest had done His work.
9. Mary left the Garden to tell the others what she had seen Jesus.
10. Somewhere in Jerusalem the guards were given money and told to go away and the leaders of the religious community would spread the rumour that the Disciples had stolen the body. The guards took the bribe and kept quiet, knowing that a lie was being told to the World that the Disciples had stolen the body. The religious leaders were corrupt even in defeat. They promised to satisfy Pilate if he heard anything about the events at the tomb. The religious leaders were faced with the supernatural. The religious leaders were qualified and would not accept the evidence of unqualified people – the disciples. They were called to make a decision but hardened their hearts to the evidence staring them in the face – just as Pharaoh had done.
11. The Disciples were on fire and healings took place.
12. The Jews knew that Jesus was dead. They asked for a guard for the body. This was only because He was dead.
13. Jesus appeared only to those of His followers – not to Pilate or Caiaphas. They had had their opportunity while Jesus was alive. The religious leaders were challenged again. They would not accept the evidence of unqualified Disciples. The religious leaders hardened their hearts to the evidence staring them in the face – just as Pharaoh had done.
The resurrection body is crucial. Without the resurrection death would still be the enemy of man, with no certainty of life after death. Truth and justice would just be a good idea. No one could deliver man from his sins. Without the resurrection Jesus is limited to a religious figure like all other religious figures of history. It is the resurrection, which singles Jesus out as both divine and human. The resurrection body is the same body as that in which Christ was crucified.
This is the way to live – follow me.
EVIDENCE FOR THE RESURRECTION. Mat ch 12 v 39-40.
Hardly anyone has taken time to look at the evidence for the resurrection of Jesus. Easter is welcomed as a holiday each year but few are interested to know the basis for it. God does not expect a man to take a leap in the dark but to act on the basis of hard evidence. Paul says that without the resurrection the whole message falls apart. 1 Cor ch 15 v 12-26. If there is no resurrection, then there is no hope for mankind. Jesus said that if a man refused to believe the evidence of the resurrection then there was nothing else He could do. Thomas is the first theologian. He wanted to see the evidence for himself. John ch 20 v 24-29. After he was convinced by the evidence, Thomas trusted Jesus. The evidence is as follows:-
1. 500 people saw Jesus alive. When Paul’s letters were being circulated, many of these were still alive and could have been cross-examined to establish the truth. In a court of law only two reliable witnesses are required to establish the truth. Jesus had 500 witnesses.
2. The lives of the Disciples were transformed. They were prepared to die for their beliefs and some did die. Timid men were prepared to speak out, despite being beaten and facing persecution. Their leader had been taken away and killed but they were still prepared to speak out the same message. They claimed that Jesus was God in the flesh. Only the evidence of their own eyes that Jesus had risen, could have changed these men and had such an impact on them. They were down to earth men and certainly no fools. They were not sophisticated men but they certainly knew the difference between a dead man and a living one. Their lives were consistent with what they believed.
3. The tomb was empty. No one ever found the body. There was no dispute that the tomb was empty. The 16 strong members of the Guard were there as perfect witnesses. No one looked for a body since they had the evidence of 16 reliable witnesses that it had risen and walked out of the tomb. The penalty for a soldier failing in his duty was to be crucified upside down or burned in his own clothing. That was one reason why the Roman Empire lasted so long. To suggest that the soldiers fell asleep and let someone steal the body is simply not credible. Mat ch 27 v 62-66 and Mat ch 28 v 11-15.
4. The great battles of history are accepted without question. Few have looked for themselves at the documentary evidence. The resurrection of Jesus is one of the best-documented events of history. Yet people will not believe it despite the mass of documentary evidence.
5. The Roman authorities wanted peace. The Jewish authorities wanted Jesus dead. When the believers began to rock Judaism to the core all they had to do was to produce a body. There would have been no point of either of them stealing the body. The Romans could have killed Christianity by the production of the remains of a body.
6. It would have been pointless for the Disciples to have stolen the body. They would have been living a lie and would have died for nothing. It is not believable that they would have risked their lives for a lie. If they had, the authorities would have tortured them for the truth.
7. The persistent persecution of believers down throughout the centuries. People were prepared to face lions in an arena or being burned alive, rather than deny their Lord.
8. The fact that people use the name of Jesus as a curse. Even if Jesus was not God in human flesh He was an exceptionally good man who did no wrong. His enemies admitted that. There are plenty of bad men whose name could have been used. The Devil has a purpose to drag the name of Jesus down to the gutter. It is an exciting proof of His existence.
9. The reaction to the name of Jesus, when it is mentioned in conversation. Many try to change the subject or try to bring the conversation to an end. Dead men do not produce such a reaction.
10. The Bible can be trusted for the following reasons:
(a) Its power to change lives.
(b) The lives of those who obey it.
(c) It has withstood 20 centuries of attack, yet nothing has destroyed its authority and authenticity. The historical accuracy of the Bible is established by experts, who prove that there are 24,000 manuscript copies in existence – more than any other book. Many learned men have set out to disprove the Bible and been convicted of its truth.
(d) The unity of the Book.
(e) The superiority of its teaching.
(f) The fulfilled prophecies.
(g) The inexhaustible depth of the book.
(h) The Holy Spirit convinces the reader.
(i) Jesus believed that it was true. His life, the manner in which He spoke, the works He did and the influence, which He has had on history, all support the claims of the Bible.
Faith feeds on facts. God said: “I am.” Jesus said to John: “I am the living one. I was dead but now I am alive for ever and ever.”
1 Corinthians ch 15. Within 20 years of the resurrection problems arose within the Church at Corinth relating to marriage and immorality, Church order and the resurrection. Paul restated the facts on which faith is founded. He referred to the Scriptures as one source of witness. Isaiah chs 53 and 55. Psalm 16. Paul knew the Scriptures as well as anyone. The other witness was the personal testimony of those who saw Jesus. Corinth was a cesspool of immorality. There were philosophers who ridiculed the idea of resurrection. To Corinthianise became a Greek word for to debase a young man. In such a situation Christ had gained a foothold. Paul argued that, if the dead do not rise, there are several negative implications. Believers are liars, with nothing to believe, living an illusion and burdened with their sins. Like all great theologians he demonstrates practical outlets for his faith. Faith should lead to action.