Tag Archives: False Accusations

A Secured Tomb

Jesus’ murder is complete. Caiaphas, the chief priest, and those who participated in the decision to have the Romans execute an innocent man have spent the night thinking about what had just occurred. It was Passover, the holiest Sabbath of the year. There verbal intent to Pilate was to celebrate Passover without the spectacle of dying people hanging on crosses outside of Jerusalem to offend God.

Passover originated when God brought His people out of Egypt. It is a day of remembrance. He wanted those who are His to concentrate on what He had done freeing His people from the slavery of the Egyptian nation. His last plague, the plague which broke the grip of Pharaoh on the people he enslaved, was the sudden death of all first born in the entire nation from the lowest slave to the highest official including his own first born son. Israel was exempted from the death of the first born in their homes when they spread the blood of a lamb on their doorposts before eating their meal while waiting expectantly to be freed. All of Israel was commanded by God to remember His deliverance every year.

Were these people remembering what God had done for them so long ago as God commanded? Had they prepared themselves to celebrate the historical event which solidified Israel as a nation with their own land? Were they even thinking about God?

Apparently, they were more concerned about what they had just done than in anything God had done. They were consumed in their thinking and feeling and actions in making sure Jesus stayed dead. Not that they thought Jesus would become not dead but that his disciples would make it look like he was resurrected. Remembering Jesus words, they paid attention only as far as it suited their emotional need to keep control of the people, they went back to Pilate with a request. They did not rest on the Sabbath as commanded by God but instead went and presented themselves to the executioner, a Greek, the Roman Governor on the day of the Passover. “The next day, that is, after the day of Preparation, the chief priests and the Pharisees gathered before Pilate” [Matthew 27:62 ESV]. Whether they entered Pilate’s residence like they had done the day before or sent in a messenger to speak with him is unknown. What we do know is they gathered together and went to him as a group.

Sir, we remember how that impostor said, while he was still alive, ‘After three days I will rise.’ Therefore order the tomb to be made secure until the third day, lest his disciples go and steal him away and tell the people, ‘He has risen from the dead,’ and the last fraud will be worse than the first. [Matthew 27:63-64 ESV]

They remember Jesus saying he would be resurrected which means they knew he would have to first die. Thinking Jesus’ disciples capable of engineering a lie of outrageous proportions they asked Pilate to secure the tomb for at least a few days. Did his disciples have a plan, could they even think of such a plan, where they would steal a corpse and then claim the corpse was still alive, or had never died, or was raised from death? Devious thinkers believe everyone as devious as they. There was no concept of what Jesus’ disciples were thinking or feeling. Jesus’ disciples followed a man the Chief priest and his followers considered an imposter making them as much like their teacher as they thought their teacher had been. Jesus was a fraud in their minds and hearts. His disciples were also frauds and capable of defrauding everyone in their lust for control. Jesus was deluded. So were his disciples. Perhaps if they had listened to all of the words of Jesus their thinking would have been different? But now that Jesus was dead they wanted his influence to die with him.

Pilate didn’t care about them or the man he executed, let alone anyone associated with them or Jesus. He gives them permission to do what they think necessary for whatever reason. Jesus was dead. He was not coming back to life. What anyone did with a dead body was no concern of his. His response shows his lack of caring. “You have a guard of soldiers. Go, make it as secure as you can” [Matthew 27:65 ESV]. Use your own guards. You’re not taking any of my men for such a silly request. Keep the corpse in the tomb. Don’t let anyone steal a dead body.

Caiaphas and those with him had obviously been thinking about what they could do. They had a plan to thwart the supposed preparation of the disciples to deceive everyone. They would lock the tomb with wax and a seal and post a group of armed men around it to keep anyone from opening the tomb. “So they went and made the tomb secure by sealing the stone and setting a guard” [Matthew 27:66 ESV]. By sealing the tomb they would know if anyone broke the seal and could declare to the world the evidence of intent. By posting the guard they could keep anyone, even a mob, from approaching the tomb for any reason.

Jesus was dead. People saw him die. Jesus was buried, placed in a tomb by men from their own ranks. A huge stone was rolled in front of the tomb which would take many men to move. A seal was placed on the tomb. A guard was placed around the tomb to make sure the corpse in the tomb was not removed. How much more could be done?

Jesus was resurrected. What God does no one can stop.

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Centurion

From the time Jesus was presented to Pilate until his death there was probably one man in charge of the prisoner and may have witnessed everything which happened to him. This was the centurion, a man in charge of a hundred Roman soldiers. Jesus was too important a prisoner for anyone else to take charge. He was a Roman soldier ascending the ranks to his current position. He was not a Jew but more likely a pagan who may have cared nothing for any god. Probably superstitious to his core he was also hardened by the life of a Roman soldier. There was nothing in this man to suggest compassion or emotion other than the steel strength to do his duty no matter the suffering his duty visited upon anyone.

When Jesus was brought into the Praetorian a centurion took over from the temple guards who had charge. They, the temple guards were now in a Roman court. He was bruised and bleeding and probably haggard. I envision the Roman’s present laughing at the sight and making derisive comments. They hated the Jews as much as the Jews hated them. Pilate comes down and plays his part, posturing his way through the spectacle. Sending Jesus to Herod it was most like the centurion tasked with making sure Jesus did not escape or was abducted on the way and the way back. He probably stood by and watched as Herod questioned and abused the prisoner. Driving Jesus back to Pilate it was he who would then prepare Jesus for death by crucifixion. He led the guard in the scourging and abuse and he would then stop it to bring the man back for final judgment. He approved the crown of thorns and the mockery of the prisoner. He led the procession to Golgotha and he supervised the impaling of the prisoners with spikes through arms and feet. He was responsible for the prisoner and would not let him come down from the cross until he was dead.

But, he was also the one who heard the words of Jesus before Pilate, during his trial, on the way to the place of death and while he died on the cross. He heard Jesus speak with Pilate, never asking for his life, never begging to be let go, and never trying to prove his innocence. He heard the false accusations of the Jewish leaders and their request to release a known murderer instead of Jesus. He watched as Jesus was abused and witnessed the man’s demeanor. Jesus never tried to defend himself, never turned away from the torture inflicted. Nor did Jesus curse the men accusing him or abusing him. When Jesus was led up the hill the centurion heard him speak to the women, he watched the people who loved this man led away to die. When he crucified him and gambled for his cloths he heard every word Jesus gasped to those nearby, his compassion and love for them, his forgiveness. Jesus forgave the centurion for what he was doing.

Then darkness and he was there for he would not leave the men he had crucified. He was commanded to stay and guard them, not to protect them from the elements or the mobs walking by but to make sure they stayed on their crosses and finally died. He heard Jesus utter his last words and die. He felt the earthquake and heard the rocks move. He saw everything and heard everything. He had watched men die before having executed them himself. There was no fear in this man but at this moment he was afraid. Matthew says he and those with him “were filled with awe” [Matthew 27:54 ESV]. Their awe was fear. This is what the words mean. Great fear. His only frame of reference was superstition and seared emotions and hatred for the Jews. His words in Matthew and Luke are consistent and give a true impression of Jesus. “Truly this was the Son of God!” [Matthew 27:54 ESV] and “certainly this man was innocent!” [Luke 23:47 ESV]. There is no reason to suggest the centurion said “son of a god” as in one of the superstitious idols which filled his life. Both statements lend credence to Jesus’ innocence. Even Pilate and Herod determined Jesus was innocent of any crime deserving death. Now, the centurion who executed Jesus gives his firsthand opinion.

Jesus is dead, an innocent man executed by the religious leaders of the Jews who used the Romans as executioners.

It was not just the centurion who was affected but also his men and the crowds who had witnessed Jesus’ death. “All the crowds that had assembled for this spectacle, when they saw what had taken place, returned home beating their breasts” [Luke 23:48 ESV]. An innocent man was legally murdered by the authorities. Many knew Jesus and his life and words and actions. Only the hardest of the hardened would continue declaring Jesus guilty. It is hard to imagine any harder than the Roman soldiers who were there.

Finished

Jesus has been on the cross for at least three hours, likely more. His body has reached the end of its endurance. I have briefly described the torture and torment suffered by this man since the early hours of the morning. Not only has he suffered at the hands of men, not only has he been exposed to the elements, not only has he heard the taunts and mocking of those who falsely accused him before the Religious and Roman court, but even his God forsook him. How many people could stand, could endure the complete abandonment faced by Jesus? Yes, his mother was there and at least of few people he knew who loved him. They were a small contingent surrounded by a mob who did not care for him, who were doing their job executing him, or who wanted him dead. Those who loved him gave some comfort but not to his body. They could not. Jesus was truly alone on the cross when he died.

All four documents are witnesses to the death of Jesus on the cross. Matthew and Mark tell us Jesus “cried a loud cry” [Mark 15:37 ESV] or “cried out again with a loud voice” [Matthew 27:50 ESV] before dying. Luke, relying on eye-witnesses to the events to tell us the words of Jesus gives us a long statement, especially long for someone exhausted from such an ordeal. “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit” [Luke 23:46 ESV]! I can hear him uttering these words in short, rasping, guttural cries. God, who had abandoned him, as he exclaimed just moments earlier, did not cease being God to him. This statement carries a number of assumptions which can be discovered and determined only by examining the life and ministry of Jesus.They cannot be ignored nor explained away. There is no reason to suggest Jesus did not cry this statement just before he died.

Finally, as he dies, for he truly dies, Jesus utters one more word. “Finished” [John 19:30 ESV] or “completed.” There is more to the word than a declaration the torture is over, the suffering is done, and they can do nothing else to his body. This word carries the meaning of a debt which has been completely paid in full. His job is done. His task is complete. His reason for coming is fulfilled. He has nothing left to do. These are the implications of this last word.

And, Jesus died.

He did not swoon, descending into a coma or catatonic state, immobilized yet retaining even the vaguest spark of life. He died. His death is a real death. There is no evidence suggesting he did not die. Jesus the person died on the cross. When he breathed his last his body died. There was no possibility of rescue. Those Roman soldiers standing around guaranteed his death. They would let no one rescue him. When they put him on the cross there was only one possible outcome. He would die. How long it would take is irrelevant. Some have lasted days on a cross. Jesus lasted hours. He died.

“Finished.” Before Jesus is resurreected he first died.

Eli, Eli, Lama Sabachthani

Of all the people living at that time, in that place, Jesus was the one closest to God. At least, this was his claim and the reason for his crucifixion. Accused of blasphemy, the High Priest and those with him charged Jesus with claiming to be equal with God. This they could not tolerate. God is unapproachable by the ordinary person and Jesus was certainly ordinary. He was not a Priest or a trained Pharisee. Only those born to the priesthood, whose lineage could be traced back to Levi and they were could be priests. Those who were Priest were given the privilege of serving in the temple and only one was permitted to enter the most holy place where God dwelled. He was an uneducated carpenter from the dirtiest, the most unclean corner of the country. However, he was followed by people, men and women, who were devoted to him, even calling him Messiah, the God promised savior of Israel. He was ignored by the Romans because he was no political threat to their sovereignty. He did, according to those who hated him, lead the people astray, telling them to worship God in ways not sanctioned by the traditions and thinking of the religious leaders. His motivations, his words and his actions suggest his relationship with God was different and strong.

Yet, here he hung, beaten, stripped of flesh by a scourge, bleeding, exhausted, nailed to pieces of wood, immovable and unable to do anything to alleviate his pain and torment. We do not know when exactly the torture began except it was the day he was crucified. He was approaching the end of his life. All he had to do now was die.

It was noon and “from the sixth hour there was darkness over all the land until the ninth hour” [Matthew 27:45 ESV]. Passover is celebrated during a full moon. It is impossible for the moon to eclipse the sun because it is facing the sun. It is in the wrong position. There is no adequate explanation for darkness at this time. Was it a cloudy day, threatening rain, making the day cold and increasing the discomfort of those hanging from the crosses? Three of the four documents tell about the darkness. Considering the reliability of the accounts this far, for what we have studied, there is no reason to suggest it was not dark. That there are no other documents which describe the darkness is not pertinent nor evidence to refute the historical accuracy given.

Jesus’ relationship with God, the extent of his injuries, the length of time spent on the cross, and the darkness, probably amplified and exacerbated his emotional state. He cannot move, except to lift himself by his feet using the nails impaling him so he might breathe another gasping, rasping, desperate breath. No one could help him. He was surrounded by people who loved him, who were watching him die, and with people whose purpose was to insure he died. He was mocked and reviled. His body was traumatized and exposed. He was near death. His only hope was God. Then he cries out, as best any man could under his circumstances. “Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani” [Matthew 27:46 ESV]? His words are in Aramaic. They mean “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me” [Matthew 27:46]? Jesus felt abandoned by God.

Is this an unusual thing for anyone to say who has devoted his life to knowing God? Yet, his words suggest more than simple emotional desperation of one facing eminent death. There is more to him, more to what is happening, more to the outcome of his death than what is on the surface. On the surface he should not be hanging from a cross. There was no reason for the High Priest or the religious leaders to demand his execution. On the surface both Pilate and Herod found nothing in him deserving death. On the surface, everything he had done to this point helped people. He hurt no one. On the surface he is an innocent man persecuted for suspect reasons, condemned to death based on false evidence, unjustly executed by an unjust authority acting against his better judgment. If we could see all of history how many people would we find who endured similar circumstances and results, persecuted for no true reason, reviled and mocked, murdered? Probably many. But, there is something more to this man.

As usual, he is misunderstood by those standing nearby. Though he had cried out in a loud voice they thought he was crying out for Elijah. And some of the bystanders, hearing it, said, ‘This man is calling Elijah'” [Matthew 27:47]. There are two possible explanations for their misinterpretation. Either they did not understand him as he spoke to God because his voice was garbled and forced, or they continued mocking him. “Wait, let us see whether Elijah will come to take him down” [Matthew 27:49 and Mark 15:36 ESV]. God will not answer this man, perhaps Elijah will. To those mocking Jesus the evidence God did not answer Jesus’ cry, did not help him or keep him from dyeing was evidence they were right in their judgment of him and he was wrong. What more justification do they need to dignify and legitimatize their criminal acts? Jesus is a fake. Not even Elijah will come to his aid.

How utterly mistaken they are. Jesus died. All of the evidence says he died. All of the evidence also says he rose from the dead. There is more to this man than the misunderstood and mistaken beliefs of those who hate him or mock him.

Four Types of People

There were a number of identifiable types of people with similar characteristics witnessing Jesus’ crucifixion and death. They came by in groups or singly but could be easily classified into one of four groups. A few people who loved Jesus or many who hated him, and those who didn’t know him, didn’t care about him, and two who were crucified with him. Everyone present, who walked by that hill, who stood and watched or tried to ignore what was happening was affected by his death in some way.

Many people traveled into and out of Jerusalem and had to pass by the public place of execution. I visualize many simply lowering their heads and trying to ignore the suffering displayed for the world to see by those brutalized by the Romans. Many, I think having become desensitized to the suffering of the condemned ceased to care for any affixed to a cross. They faced too many almost daily acts of terror and in order to continue living a meaningful existence, especially to care for themselves, they could no longer empathize or sympathize with those who suffered. Taught, through gruesome exposure and the examples of their parents, relatives, friends and others, they lost, if they ever had, the idea another human, especially one they did not know, was valuable. Included in this large group are the Roman guards who had been taught to care for no one but Caesar and themselves.

Others, recognizing him, disfigured as he was, or being informed of who he was, reviled him. They had been taught in the same way but their hatred or apathy toward Jesus was shown in their decided lack of understanding of who he was. “And those who passed by derided him, wagging their heads and saying, “You who would destroy the temple and rebuild it in three days, save yourself! If you are the Son of God, come down from the cross” [Matthew 27:39-40 ESV]. They vilified him. Some, remembering statements from the beginning of his public appearances threw his words back in his bruised and bleeding face. He had made, in their memory, extravagant claims which seemed impossible and fantastic. Some of these may have been the same false witnesses who accused him hours earlier, in the middle of night during the illegal and illegitimate trial. “Now the chief priests and the whole council were seeking false testimony against Jesus that they might put him to death, but they found none, though many false witnesses came forward. At last two came forward and said, “This man said, ‘I am able to destroy the temple of God, and to rebuild it in three days'” [Matthew 26:59-61 ESV]. Others may have just been walking by and picked up the derisive comments from those present.

Standing at a distance reveling in their handiwork were the ones who manipulated Pilate to murder an innocent man. These were the religious leaders charged with knowing, teaching and upholding the law of God. Even Caiaphas, the High Priest, was present. Having abandoned themselves to emotional false conclusions they exhibited the qualities and evidences of thugs. Considered thinkers, wise and knowledgeable in their abilities to remember the law and teach others to follow it they switched off their ability to reason and took up the characteristics of a barbaric and vulgar people. “So also the chief priests, with the scribes and elders, mocked him” [Matthew 27:41 ESV]. In the most real sense their mocking statements were not against Jesus but against God. Taking the core of Jesus’ teaching they twisted it and placed upon the words requirements they had to see in order to believe. Their words threw a test into God’s face demanding from Him fulfillment of their requirements before they would acknowledge truth. In their deepest selves they would never believe the truth even if the almost dead man hanging on the cross before them actually died and was then raised as he said he would.

Listen to their statements:

“He saved others; he cannot save himself.” This statement begs a question. Did Jesus want to save himself? In their minds the only legitimate and reasonable response to being crucified was the desire to get off the cross and escape the executioners. For them being saved is limited to the physical, temporary, touchable world and has nothing to do with the internal and eternal being of the person.

“He is the King of Israel.” This is not what Jesus said but it is what they heard. Jesus said his kingdom was from another place implying not geographic boundaries but “other” or spiritual boundaries reaching places unimaginable by the limited abilities of anyone. For them Jesus declaration of royalty was a lie. For Pilate Jesus’ agreeing to the question of royalty was lunacy. His coming resurrection is the evidence of reality.

“Let him come down now from the cross, and we will believe in him.” He will. They won’t.

“He trusts in God; let God deliver him now, if he desires him. For he said, ‘I am the Son of God.'” [Matthew 27:42-43 ESV] Now they demand God work. Again, their statement begs another question. Does God desire to deliver Jesus in a way acceptable to them? They have set aside God’s known law by murdering an innocent man. His only “crime” was his words, which contradicted their teaching, and the undisputable (we will look at these in time) “miracles” he did in front of too many witnesses for them to refute. Their thinking, driven by their emotions and not their reasoning, says if Jesus is actually the son of God then God will not allow him to die in such a way.

Next to him, hanging from their own devices, soon to die were two criminals. “And the robbers who were crucified with him also reviled him in the same way” [Matthew 27:44 ESV]. Luke gives a different perspective. These perspectives are not contradictory just different. One of the men crucified with him, seeking his own deliverance from death, showing no remorse at the actions which condemned him, “railed” or vilified him, picking up the mocking words of those who hated Jesus. “Are you not the Christ? Save yourself and us” [Luke 23:39 ESV]! He did not care who Jesus was as long as the man could get them down and away. No one got down or away.

The other criminal, facing his own mortality, reasoned instead of reacted. He knew he had done wrong, violated known law, done criminal actions deserving death. He knew the sentence for his crimes was death. He also seemed to know something about God. “Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation” [Luke 23:40 ESV]? He knew this other man. He didn’t know Jesus. Or, maybe he knew of Jesus. To fear God means to hold Him in high honor, with respect and reverence, as the One who is Judge. He knew he had done wrong in the eyes of Rome and of God. Until this moment he may have not cared. Seeing Jesus, an innocent man, subjected to the same punishment brought a conviction of the justice for his crimes but the unjust actions of the authorities toward Jesus. “And we indeed justly, for we are receiving the due reward of our deeds; but this man has done nothing wrong” [Luke 23:41 ESV].

Now he makes a surprising statement. This is probably the first truly extraordinary statement made by anyone from the time he was arrested in the middle of the night until now. Every other statement made and action done was the result of a logical progression of events or thought process. Of this man’s background and thinking we know almost nothing and have to assume much. We know he was a criminal deserving of death. He admits this. We know he has a concept of God, probably closely related to the Jewish idea and theology of the time because of his question to his dying colleague. But how and why he jumps to the next statement seems only an act of desperation, of grasping at straws, anything to give hope to a helpless man in a hopeless situation. “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom” [Luke 23:42 ESV]. Does he really believe Jesus is a king? Does he really believe Jesus is something other than a man, falsely accused, dying a slow torturous death on a cross a few feet away?

Jesus’ answer is just a startling as any he has given throughout the night and trial. Our question is not whether it is startling but if it is true. There is only one way to show the truth of any of Jesus’ statement. If what he said would happen actually happens then we can trust him to tell truth in all he says. “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise” [Luke 23:43 ESV]. Jesus believes his own words. He knows something only he can know with ultimate certainty. Both men will soon be dead. For Jesus death is not final.

Among the people witnessing the horror of Jesus’ execution were some of those who followed him. These people loved him. Here is the final type of person who witnessed his death.

Before Pilate

Everyone who saw Jesus that night betrayed him in some way. Judas sold Jesus for 30 silver coins, it does not matter how much they are worth in any current economy, then tried to give the money back. He would not keep it. Then he killed himself.

Peter bragged he would never abandon Jesus, as did all those who heard his bragging. All fled when Jesus was arrested by the mob. Within hours of his bragging Peter denied knowing Jesus three times. All who were close to him, who had walked with him, been taught by him, watched him work and do the impossible, forgot everything, forgot their relationship with him and ran away leaving him to die.

Jesus was at the beginning of his murder as the Sanhedrin falsely arrested him and began accusing him of things untrue in order to manufacture an excuse to have him killed by the Romans. They were the ones responsible for leading the people in righteousness before God. Their responsibility included teaching truth and leading a life based upon truth. Yet, they were unwilling to accept truth and tried to cover up their actions with outrageous lies. Their lies were based upon the rituals and traditions of men. As representatives of God nothing they did was godly. Is it any wonder Jesus criticized the religious leaders, calling them hypocrites and worse almost every time they spoke?

“Then the whole company of them arose and brought him before Pilate.” [Luke 23:1-2 ESV]

It is now morning, the day before Passover. It is called Preparation day. Passover is a celebration of remembrance, when God freed the Jews from the slavery of Egypt, bringing them out with power, then destroying the Egyptian army. God commanded all those who are His to take the blood of a lamb and smear it on their doors, the frame and posts. God passed over every house which had the blood of a lamb painted on its doors, visiting only those places who refused to obey his command. It was those places and those people who did not recognize God who felt His wrath. Every first born son, from the lowest in the stable to the palace of Pharaoh died that night. Every house was touched. Every family grieved. Except those of the Hebrews who had sprinkled the blood on their doors. God commanded this celebration of remembrance so His people would not forget and rebel against Him, to remember how He redeemed them from slavery.

They, those seeking to have Jesus murdered, wanted to eat and celebrate the Passover according to God’s will, so when they brought Jesus to Pilate, the Roman governor, they refused to enter his residence. To do so would make them unclean and keep them from being part of the celebration. Then they led Jesus from the house of Caiaphas to the governor’s headquarters. It was early morning. They themselves did not enter the governor’s headquarters, so that they would not be defiled, but could eat the Passover” [John 18:28 ESV]. Perhaps they had forgotten two of the Ten Commandments, or felt they did not apply, or they were somehow exempt. “You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor” and “you will not murder” [Exodus 20:16 and 20:13 ESV]. Perhaps the excuse they used was to manipulate Pilate into committing the murder. As long as they didn’t actually commit the crime they felt immune from the consequences of involvement. How little they knew God.

Once before Pilate, the governor, the false accusations continued. In the middle of the night, in the courtyard of the High Priest, many people tried to accuse Jesus of doing anything deserving death. There was nothing. So the High Priest concluded Jesus should die because of blasphemy, a capital offense in Jewish law. But Pilate could care less about Jewish law. He was bound by Roman law. So the mob of the High Priest tried to charge Jesus with violations of Roman law and deserved death. “And they began to accuse him, saying, “We found this man misleading our nation and forbidding us to give tribute to Caesar, and saying that he himself is Christ, a king” [Luke 23:2 ESV].

How had Jesus misled the nation? By telling the people the truth about the hypocrisy of their leaders and teachers? Then Jesus said to the crowds and to his disciples, ‘The scribes and the Pharisees sit on Moses’ seat, so practice and observe whatever they tell you–but not what they do. For they preach, but do not practice'” [Matthew 23:1-3 ESV]. This doesn’t sound like he is misleading anyone. Its reads like it is the leaders who are misleading the people and Jesus wants them to know the truth. He pegs them when he says they say one thing but do another. This fake trial is a perfect example.

Had Jesus ever told the people to not give “tribute” to Caesar? Quite the opposite.

Then the Pharisees went and plotted how to entangle him in his words. And they sent their disciples to him, along with the Herodians, saying, “Teacher, we know that you are true and teach the way of God truthfully, and you do not care about anyone’s opinion, for you are not swayed by appearances. Tell us, then, what you think. Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar, or not?”

But Jesus, aware of their malice, said, “Why put me to the test, you hypocrites? Show me the coin for the tax.” And they brought him a denarius. And Jesus said to them, “Whose likeness and inscription is this?” They said, “Caesar’s.” Then he said to them, “Therefore render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” When they heard it, they marveled. And they left him and went away. [Matthew 22:15-22 ESV]

These are not the words of a man telling people to rebel against Rome. They are the words of a man who recognizes the authority of those over him even when he disagrees with them. He never spoke against Rome. He continually spoke against the religious leaders who were misleading the people.

Finally, had Jesus ever claimed to be a king? He spoke often about the kingdom of heaven or the kingdom of God. His words were with authority and his works were the evidence of who he is. This is the only accusation which might raise Pilate’s suspicions. Pilate knew no one could keep the Roman’s from collecting taxes. Pilate thought the entire people he governed were reprehensible and valueless, except for the money he could get out of them. He had heard of Jesus, at least in passing. Had there ever been a hint of rebellion by Jesus and those who followed the man he would have squashed it without a thought. Jesus was not a threat to him or to Rome.

Pilate did begin questioning Jesus. “Are you the King of the Jews?” [Luke 2:3 ESV]. Jesus’ answer gives Pilate no reason to condemn him. In fact, Jesus answer vexes Pilate. “Do you say this of your own accord, or did others say it to you about me” [John 18:34 ESV]? Jesus recognizes how the Jews had influenced the way Pilate thought. They had accused him of being a king. He never acted like a king. How many kings do you know who tell people to not talk about the things he just did? How many kings walk around the countryside openly speaking to prostitutes, tax collectors, lepers, the lame and blind and sick? How many seeking a place of authority would walk away from a crowd of people who wanted to make him king? How many kings give away their wealth? If anyone who wants to be recognized as a king does these things it is for political expediency, for people to look up to them, place them on a pedestal. Jesus was not political. Nothing he did was as the world wanted. He will finally be placed on a cross, executed like a common criminal.

Jesus is extraordinary in his worldview. He is facing death and does not defend his actions, plead for his life, belittle or contradict those accusing him. His life is open, his words spoken in public, his actions seen by many who will witness and testify to their genuineness. There is nothing in this exchange with Pilate, the exchange which follows after Pilate sends Jesus to Herod and receives him back again, which suggests we are reading fiction.

Before Caiaphas

Caiaphas, the high priest for that year and figurehead leader of the people of Israel, since Annas his father-in-law was the true leader, is next to question Jesus during this midnight interrogation. He probably lived close to his father-in-law, maybe even in the same compound. Caiaphas, like most of the other religious leaders, had already made up his mind about what should be done with Jesus. Long before this night Jesus had raised another man from the dead. Lazarus was four days dead, buried and rotting, when Jesus called him out of the tomb. He was a walking, living, breathing witness to one of Jesus’ miracles. These leaders wanted to kill Lazarus as well as Jesus. Perhaps disposing of all the evidence would allow the people who knew the truth to eventually forget.

Let me be blunt here. We will examine the death, burial and resurrection of Lazarus at a different time. (I have written about this in Roar of the Lion: Encounters with the Christ in the story The Twin.) When Jesus raised Lazarus from death he did something only God can do. He gave life. Lazarus died again. But his living witness was never contradicted by anyone.

As you read the documents you will see there are three reasons the religious leaders, lead by Caiaphas, wanted Jesus dead.

Many of the Jews therefore, who had come with Mary and had seen what he did, believed in him, but some of them went to the Pharisees and told them what Jesus had done. So the chief priests and the Pharisees gathered the Council and said, “What are we to do? For this man performs many signs. If we let him go on like this, everyone will believe in him, and the Romans will come and take away both our place and our nation.” [John 11:45-49 ESV]

They were afraid of losing control over the people. They were afraid of the Romans taking away their control over their positions before the people. They were afraid the Romans would not allow worship in the temple in which the people were commanded to worship, which they controlled. They were afraid the Romans would remove them from Israel, their nation, dispersing them throughout the world. They wanted the Romans gone. They wanted God to remove them and give them autonomy over their nation. But mostly they were afraid of losing control. Jesus challenged their authority and their control over the people.

When God created man in His image He gave him dominion over the world.

So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them. And God blessed them. And God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth” [Genesis 1:27-28 ESV].

Dominion means supremacy, to have total control over something. The word actually means “to tread upon” but not in the sense of a malevolent dictator but a benevolent ruler, whose whole purpose is to care for and encourage growth. Sin brought loss of control and man, created in the image of God, whose image is now bent, has sought to regain control ever since. It is striking to realize God uses the same word when He “curses” Eve’s by saying she will “desire” to control her husband, and by extension all wives desires to control their husbands, is the same word He speaks to warn Cain, telling him sin “desires” him. The word means to stretch out toward or long for, meaning control. Not benevolent control but all encompassing control, to the place where the other is enslaved, with no mind or heart of their own. Such desire to control is opposite the dominion God originally gave man as part of His image.

Sin wants to dominate all and Caiaphas is dominated by it, wrongly thinking he has control over all which happens. His control is an illusion and temporary. Even his words, known by God, reflect what will happen, not what Caiaphas wants to happen. God can never be taken out of the equation.

But one of them, Caiaphas, who was high priest that year, said to them, “You know nothing at all. Nor do you understand that it is better for you that one man should die for the people, not that the whole nation should perish.” He did not say this of his own accord, but being high priest that year he prophesied that Jesus would die for the nation, and not for the nation only, but also to gather into one the children of God who are scattered abroad. So from that day on they made plans to put him to death. [John 11:50-53 ESV]

There is much in this passage which needs examining. God speaks through even those who hate Him. He is God, after all. But He will never force someone who hates Him to change. He will provide all of the evidence needed to encourage those to change, then provide the strength and wisdom and desire to change but will force no one to love Him. Forced love is not true love but slavery.

Jesus is brought before Caiaphas, who has seen the evidence of Jesus’ life, heard his words, maybe only through others, and decided Jesus needs to die. He is the one who sent out the mob to arrest Jesus. It is not a stretch to believe Caiaphas, even though he was the religious leader, would look for any excuse to have Jesus put to death. False witnesses are normal in regimes headed by sycophants and tyrants.

Now the chief priests and the whole Council were seeking false testimony against Jesus that they might put him to death, but they found none, though many false witnesses came forward. At last two came forward and said, “This man said, ‘I am able to destroy the temple of God, and to rebuild it in three days.'” And the high priest stood up and said, “Have you no answer to make? What is it that these men testify against you?” [Matthew 26:59-62 ESV]

What kind of an answer were they looking for? Jesus did say he would do what they are accusing, sort of. But he wasn’t talking about the physical structure of the temple. He was standing in front of the temple when he made his statement, so it is easy to understand how someone could misinterpret what he said. They were not paying attention to his words. He was predicting his own death and resurrection. He did this three years before his trial.

Jesus answered them, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.” The Jews then said, “It has taken forty-six years to build this temple, and will you raise it up in three days?” But he was speaking about the temple of his body. When therefore he was raised from the dead, his disciples remembered that he had said this, and they believed the Scripture and the word that Jesus had spoken. [John 2:19-22 ESV]

Jesus did not respond to their false accusations and statements. He did not defend himself because he knew they had already condemned him. They would not see the evidence of his life and words before. They will not listen to his defense now. Having decided long before this time Jesus was to die all they needed was an excuse.

There is nothing abnormal about this exchange. It is easy to see such attitudes in leaders in danger of losing control over those lead. I have seen it in fathers and bosses and government officials and pastors. I have experienced the unjust accusations of people who hate God. This kind of trial happens regularly. There is nothing about it which is fanciful and fictional. Throughout his time on earth Jesus was accused of being something he was not. This time is no different.