10. Jesus' Death and Resurrection
Why did people want to put Jesus to death?
What/when was Jesusí own understanding of his coming death?
- The Roman authorities, who ruled over the mostly non-cooperative Jews, were very nervous about Jewish "liberators" who would rise up from time to time in an effort to throw the Romans out of Judea. Jesus made them nervous--for he seemed to be exciting the people. Did this excitement mean what such excitement usually meant: another Jewish rebellion in the making?
- But many Jewish leaders were just as interested in seeing Jesus silenced--by death if necessary. For some, it was simply a matter that they had become very rich and comfortable under Roman rule and didn't want some hot-head from among their own people upsetting the cozy relationship they had with the Romans. The Sadducees (wealthy and powerful temple priests) were particularly guilty of this kind of reaction to Jesus.
- For other Jewish leaders, they were very comfortable in their religion and did not like the way Jesus constantly challenged them to think and act beyond mere religious principles--to try to open themselves up to the working of God's Spirit instead. Jesus constantly challenged them to let go of all the intellectual, moral and spiritual control they tried to impose on life--and trust God to provide instead. They didn't want to let go and trust God. They preferred to trust their own religious achievements instead, as if God were somehow forced to do their bidding because they were such "good" people, becauseGod simply had to reward their religous achievements. Jesus made fun of their religious pretensions--which angered them deeply. The Pharisees (Jewish religious lawyers and teachers) were particularly guilty of this kind of reaction to Jesus.
- Even many common people (even among Jesus' closest followers) turned against Jesus because Jesus was not turning out according to their expectations for him. When he first entered Jerusalem on Palm Sunday, the crowds were wild with enthusiasm because they supposed that Jesus had arrived as long predicted to restore the Kingdom of David, one that would rule the whole world from Mount Zion in Jerusalem. When however nothing happened, no army arrived with him, no new government was put into place, and the Romans showed no signs of leaving just because Jesus had arrived, they grew discouraged, frustrated and then angry. Clearly Jesus was to them just a fake Messiah--and deserved only death for failing them in their hopes and dreams. They became bitter, and by Friday were ready to have Jesus done in.
- Of course, they thought entirely as the world (governed by our Adversary, Satan) thinks--and had no ability whatsoever to see what wonders God was up to with Jesus. They were blind because they thought and acted entirely as the world thinks and acts.
What was the reaction of the disciples to this news--and Jesus' reaction to their reaction?
- It seems at first (as we have already seen) that Jesus thought his ministry was about bringing all of Israel to repentance in preparation for the coming of the Son of Man.
- But with the passing of time--and through many prayers to his heavenly Father--Jesus' own understanding of his ministry began to shift. Clearly all of Israel was not going to repent.
- Moreover, it looked as if events were moving faster than even Jesus expected--that the Son of Man and the Kingdom of God were already there--in Jesus' very own presence with them!!! That must have been an astonishing piece of self-understanding--one that must have come upon Jesus himself only gradually.
- Something in Jesus' conversations with the Father also began to show him that this great event was going to end tragically: the Son of Man was going to be put to death by the very people he had come to rescue or redeem. Jesus was going to become the "Suffering Servant" that the prophet Isaiah had long predicted would become the savior of the world. It was not going to be a pretty sight.
- Further, he knew that this was going to happen (as it must) in Jerusalem--and sensed that it would most likely take place during Passover.
- And he knew that it would happen in part because of a major betrayal from among even his closest followers.
- But Jesus also became aware of the odd outcome even beyond his death: his own return from the grave in order to appear once again before his followers. This was to take place as a testimony of the heavenly Father (for who else could bring him back from death?!!!) reaffirming the truth about everything that Jesus taught, performed and simply was.
How was Jesus again tempted as death approached?
- The disciples failed to understand what Jesus was telling them when he announced all this simply because they didn't want to hear such news. They were looking for grand things to happen. Anway, his death (they thought) would certainly end the dream of a New Israel--and their hope to be key political leaders in the new Israel. Looking at Jesus through worldly (Satan's) eyes they had no other way to understand events.
- Jesus, of course, recognized their thoughts, understood the source of them (Satan), but figured that little would open them to true understanding until after these events actually took place--and after the Holy Spirit had come to take Jesus' place in directing their lives (and give them their first understanding of what these events had been truly about all along).
- Even then the betrayal by Judas, the bold maneuvering by James and John to become top officials in Jesus' kingdom, and Peter's bold verbal attack on Jesus when he first told them how things were going to be--saddened Jesus very much. But he knew that these tragic misunderstandings had to be. Nothing was going to go the way the world would like or understand--but only according to the way of God, in line with God's own plan and actions.
Why was Jesusí forgiveness the power that broke Satan?
- The temptations or testings by Satan that Jesus underwent (and overcame) in the wilderness at the beginning of his ministry came back to be replayed in his final days.
- Possibly Jesus could have refused to go to Jerusalem and thus avoid the destiny that awaited him there. He certainly could have found all kinds of reasons (including the reasons given him by his disciples) why he should have avoided such a tragic end. But Jesus trusted the Father with his life--all of his life including his death--and would do nothing to alter the plan that the Father had set out for Jesus. Jesus remained obedient to the Father--to the very end.
- When Jesus was arrested by the Jewish guard and brought before the Jewish High Court, he could have perhaps softened the anger of the Jewish leaders with a speech that played to their feelings. But instead Jesus remained silent (as Isaiah had long ago predicted he would) as they went on and on with their tragic joke of a "trial."
- When the Jewish leaders found Jesus guilty of blaspheming against God (though they had not one single piece of evidence supporting their verdict), they turned Jesus over to the Roman governor, Pilate, because they wanted the Roman authority to be responsible for Jesus' death. But Pilate himself gave Jesus many opportunities to talk himself out of his mess. But Jesus would take none of the opportunities, for he knew that the Father, not Pilate, was the one who alone would set Jesus' fate. This upset Pilate--and frightened him a bit. He really did try to distance himself from all these goings-on. But not even Jesus gave him any help in the effort.
- Possibly Pilate thought that the crowds might call for Jesus' release, for clearly Jesus was guilty of no crime that Pilate could detect. But Pilate was astonished that the crowds preferred to see the release of a common criminal and murderer (Barabbas) rather than Jesus, for whom even Pilate recognized that the world should have only the deepest respect. But Pilate's hands were tied by his own laws. He could do nothing to help Jesus--especially as Jesus himself gave Pilate no opportunity to change the course of events.
- Finally, even as Jesus was finally nailed to the Roman cross (used to torture criminals and horrify the people into submission to Roman power) and then raised up into position, one from which the only escape was death, people cruelly teased Jesus by offering to bow down and worship him if he would miraculously come down from the cross--for surely a man claiming to be the Son of God ought to be able to carry off that simple trick. What a cruel challenge--especially since Jesus indeed did possess such powers. However, Jesus must have recognized that this was just a replay of the temptation of Satan from the pinnacle of the temple--one that Jesus had already rejected. So Jesus was not moved to accept the Satanic challenge.
Why is Jesusí crucifixion considered the essential ingredient for God's new covenant with us?
- Forgiveness is the one thing that drives law-and-order people ("control-freaks") crazy.
- Human self-control over life (actually only the appearance, not the reality, of such control) is what Satan offers people in exchange for their souls. What God, of course, hopes to see coming from us is simply our total trust in him with our very lives. But Satan knows that if we trust first in ourselves and our handiworks, we will never find it in our hearts to trust in God--until it's too late.
- Control freaks believe in the human world-system and have pledged their lives to advancing it. They definitely do not like it when people do not play along with the program.
- Some people are system "drop-outs" because the system simply has obviously not worked for them (permanaent disability, loss of a loved one, poverty, bad mistakes). These people are embarrassments to the system, which puts them out of sight so that they don't stand there like a bad reminder that the system doesn't always work for everyone: prisons or leper colonies or nursing homes or somewhere that they won't be a constant reminder that the system is not all-wonderful. In justifying this cruel treatment of these "failures," the control freaks offer the excuse that these failed people have somehow done something to deserve their fate (they are not useful contributors to society) and we need not concern ourselves further with them.
- But Jesus did concern himself with them. He went to them--with the Good News of a better way: "trust in God alone, and not in the works of man." He even forgave them for their failures--which angered the control freaks, who felt that "justice" was not being served when Jesus was so easy on the failed ones. The control freaks felt that in his forgiving people who failed or even broke the rules, Jesus seemed to be encouraging them not to be concerned about the system and its rules--which indeed was exactly what Jesus was doing. He was teeaching them to be concerned instead in the judgments of God.
- This made Satan and his control-freak puppets very angry. That's what angered the Pharisees so much who were watching and waiting to catch Jesus on some point of the religious law when they brought the woman caught in adultery to him.
- But where forgiveness rules supreme, Satan has lost out, has been rejected. Forgiveness puts aside the requirements of the law and offers people life (even eternal life) instead through faith in God alone.
- So even as Jesus took his last breath he refused to call even his torturers to some kind of moral accounting. Instead he simply forgive them--giving Satan no opportunity to get into his thoughts, not even as Jesus hung there, slowly dying an excruciatingly painful death. The Son of Man was the one who got completely away from Satan--and showed Satan that indeed he did not have full mastery over human creation. Satan's grip over man was now broken, because one man, Jesus, showed the way of escape: loving, even to the point of forgiving, those who, in the name of the world system, try to destroy us. Against such forgiveness Satan has no power whatsoever.
Why was Jesus raised from the dead on the 3rd day?
- Ancient Jews understood very well that life belonged to God. And the sign or symbol of life to the ancient Hebrew or Jew was blood. And it was such a sacred sign/symbol that all blood that was shed (by man or animal) was thought of as belonging to God alone. Man was forbidden to eat meat with blood still in it; and only properly "washed" priests were allowed to handle blood, such as during the animal sacrifices at the temple in Jerusalem.
- Indeed, the important exception to the restriction on handling blood occurred only when God was offering a new covenant to his people--a new deal, a new arrangement whereby he promised his protection if they promised their total obedience and service to him. The deal was signed or authorized by the offering to God of the blood of sacred or specially set-apart animals (such as bulls, rams, cattle, lambs, doves). Even at one time early in the life of the Hebrew people, they offered up their first-born sons in sacrifice as a sign of their commitment to a covenant relationship with God.
- Interestingly, in the case of the new covenant God offered the whole world in and through Jesus Christ, it was God this time that offered up as a sign or seal on the deal the blood of his first-born son, Jesus (though ironically by the hands of human murderers who had no idea of how much they were serving God through their cruelty).
- Furthermore, Jesus invited those who entered into the covenant to even themselves eat the bread and drink the wine mysteriously representing his own body and blood offered in sacrifice for their cleansing, shed as a necessary requirement for them in being permitted to enter into the saving covenant with God.
- And all that God asked of them in return for this offering of divine blood was the recognition of their own sins, the powerlessness of their own deeds to rescue them from their sins, and their total trust instead in the power of Jesus' sacrifice of body and blood to be the true payment, the only payment that could meet the full requirements of the "fines" that our sins brought on us, the only payment that could fully "atone" for our sins (bring us back into a one-ness with God).
- This was God's way of showing everyone the power we have--over even death--if we will just trust him totally with the care of our lives. Jesus returned as a sign, a God-given sign, pointing clearly for those who were willing to see with the eyes of faith that everything that Jesus had promised about the Way of God was indeed true.
- Jesus returned to increase our faith, the faith we would need to go the full way with God, even against the cruel attacks of the world system.
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Miles H. Hodges - 2002