Tuesday, May 6, 2014

The Jews Sought to Kill Him

Life of Christ 80

      It is hard for those of us who love Christ to grasp how bitter the hatred was toward Him in His own day. History has completely vindicated Him at the expense of those who attacked Him. But beyond history, we who have been saved through His sacrifice have a warmly personal love for Him who loved us first. But the opposition that marked this point in His ministry, an increasingly virulent hostility, had its genesis in different reasons for different groups. I think it is helpful to understand a bit of it as we come into the section of His ministry that finds this opposition dangerously proliferating.
          'After these things Jesus walked in Galilee: for he would not walk in Jewry, because the Jews sought to kill him' (John 7.1). Jesus never sinned one time (John 8.46). He 'went about doing good' (Acts 10.38). Why then did He keep running into this resistance? What was behind it? What caused it?
          The underlying reason behind all of the opposition to Him was Satan. The devil rose up in rebellion against God in Heaven. God cast him out down to Earth. Satan didn't content himself with either Earth or with losing and he has been waging war against God ever since. This war has many fronts and many battles, but it isn't a stretch at all to say that since the Creation it has always revolved around Jesus Christ. 'And I will put enmity between thee and the woman, and between thy seed and her seed; it shall bruise thy head, and thou shalt bruise his heel' (Genesis 3.15).
          We can see this in this viciousness with which Satan has attacked the Jewish people through millennia. Why? Simply because they are God's chosen people, and because one day one of them would be born the Messiah. It was Satan that motivated Pharaoh to kill the Jewish male children in Exodus. It was the same Satan that stirred up Herod the Great's paranoia, and pushed him to slaughter all the little boys in Bethlehem. We must never forget that Satan is a murderer (John 8.44), and that the one he wanted to murder, more than any other, was the ultimate seed of the woman Israel, Jesus Christ.
          I'm convinced that so much of what we see in politics and war in human history is simply the visible evidence of the invisible hand of the devil. Three times Scripture calls him 'the prince of this world.' Ephesians 6 tells us that our fight in this life isn't with earthly powers, but with spiritual ones. Daniel 10 tells us that Satan and his minions have divided up sections of the Earth to rule over. In this light, I believe that Satan's murderous intent is the real source of all the trouble that Jesus faced. He stirred up all of the human opposition that Jesus faced, from Herod the Great in His infancy all the way to Caiaphas in His maturity.
          Humanly speaking, there were three groups and one family arrayed against Him. The Pharisees, by far the largest group, were opposed to Him for doctrinal reasons. To the Jews, the greatest commandment is that there is only one God (Deuteronomy 6.4-5). Alone for centuries, they had struggled to learn the concept of monotheism, and finally succeeded in the years following the Babylonian Captivity, helped in no small part by the emerging movement of rabbinic pharisaism. This commandment was hugely important to them. Imagine how they felt, then, when this Galilean carpenter came along, and claimed to be God. Jesus couldn't be; there was only one God, Jehovah, and He was in Heaven.
          Actually, the truth is that the Old Testament is filled with clues or allusions to the concept Christianity calls the Trinity, and to the deity of the Messiah. For instance, in the very first chapter of the Torah, Elohim says, 'Let us make man in our image, after our likeness' (Genesis 1.26). The Psalms reference Jehovah's Son, such as 'the LORD hath said unto me, Thou art my Son; this day have I begotten thee' (Psalm 2.7) and a verse Jesus would later quote in His own defense, 'the LORD said unto my Lord, Sit thou at my right hand, until I make thine enemies thy footstool' (Psalm 110.1). Then there is that indisputable reference to the Messiah, 'For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given: and the government shall be upon his shoulder: and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counsellor, The mighty God, The everlasting Father, the Prince of Peace' (Isaiah 9.6). To this day, of course, the Jews ignore all of these, just as they ignored them back in Jesus' day.
          It is true that Jesus didn't claim to be God immediately upon launching His public ministry. Wisely, He understood that He needed to establish a baseline level of belief in Himself first so that He didn't come across as a crackpot. The noonday sun will blind a man emerging from a dark room rather than enlighten him, and Jesus realized that the concept of His deity needed to dawn gradually on His followers. But that doesn't mean He didn't claim it. In fact, I think that is perhaps the most ignorant argument that theological liberals and biblical minimalists make against Him. He most certainly did claim to be God, did so repeatedly, and was clearly understood to make that claim by the Jews in His own day. As we shall see, this was the very reason that the Pharisees sought so urgently to kill Him at His trial (Matthew 26.63-66). He claimed to be God, and the Pharisees viewed that as heretical blasphemy and worthy of death.
John The Baptist Rebukes Herod, Giuseppe Fattori, 1865
        The Sadducees and Herodians were opposed to Him for political reasons. The former were a distinct minority in Israel, compared to the Pharisees, and many came from the priestly class. The rejected the pharisaic concept of the oral Torah, with its fence of traditional and extra-biblical protections around the garden of the Torah. Consequently, they fought constantly with the Pharisees. They embraced a strictly literal interpretation of it, though, curiously, they rejected any belief in an afterlife of any kind. They appealed to and focused on the here and now. Though not large in number, they were usually highly educated and wealthy, and so found often in positions of power and influence. The Pharisees, through the rabbis, controlled the religious direction of the common people. The Sadducees, through wealth and position, influenced the Jewish bureaucracy and the Sanhedrin.
          The Herodians, though again not near as numerous as the Pharisees, were a political party rather than religious group. As their name implies their loyalties lay with the various Herods, and thus implied a Jewish faction that wanted to side with Rome rather than against it, as the Zealots did (see Life of Christ 50, 'Jesus and Politics').
          Both of these groups viewed the rising popularity of Jesus as a threat to the status quo that they dearly wanted to maintain. The Sadducees, focused on the present world, and with wealth, power, and influence to protect, didn't want a political revolution. All this talk of a Galilean so-called Messiah, and the corresponding kingdom that went with it concerned them greatly. The Herodians, with all their eggs in the basket of that one family, didn't want anyone to upset that basket. You and I understand that Jesus didn't have political aspirations, as such, but the Sadducees and Herodians of His day did not.
          Well, what do you do with a highly popular man who has the ability to do miraculous things? If you cannot subvert him to your side you must assassinate him. This put them, in spite of all of their differences, directly in league with the Pharisees.
Christ Before Caiaphas, Mattias Stom, 1630
          The high priest was opposed to Him for financial reasons. The Sanhedrin was composed of 70 highly educated, powerful, religious leaders. They were, under Roman suzerainty, the body that ruled Israel politically and religiously. They were led by a high priest, the positional descendant of Aaron. Under the Romans, the high priesthood continued its long history of religious and political rule, but lost its moral integrity. By the time of Christ it had become an office in which the occupant was changed for political and financial reasons, and once the Romans found a compliant political underboss who wanted to use his position to make money they left him alone.
          In AD 6 Annas came to the high priesthood, and for the next 60 years he, five of his sons, and one of his sons-in-law, had the position. Scripture strongly implies that for these six decades the high priesthood was essentially a family business. Caiaphas was the high priest who judged Jesus at His trial, but he actively included Annas, the former high priest and his father-in-law in the deliberations (John 18.13 and 24). Later, after the Resurrection, when Peter was called on the carpet before the Sanhedrin, found himself faced with the entire family. 'And Annas the high priest, and Caiaphas, and John, and Alexander, and as many as were of the kindred of the high priest, were gathered together at Jerusalem' (Acts 4.6).
          In actuality, the high priesthood of Israel had become a family business, and it was a corrupt family business. All the Jews, inside and outside of Palestine (roughly eight million en toto) were commanded to tithe once a year to the Temple, but the Temple refused to accept any currency that had an image or face on it. Thus, before one tithed, they had to convert their national money to Temple currency. The high priest had a tremendous influence over the rate of that exchange, and it had become nothing more than a crooked opportunity to extort money.
          The other great profit making center of the high priesthood was Israel's sacrificial system. Hundreds of thousands of animals were slaughtered on the Temple precincts each year, and each of those animals was supposed to be without blemish. Of course, the Temple would provide you one, for a small fee, or you could bring your own. If you brought your own, however, you had to have a seal indicating it had been inspected and certified as without blemish. Guess who controlled the inspection side of things? Yep, you guessed it, the Temple did, which also put that under the purview of the high priest. It was ridiculously easy to fail your animal, and force you to purchase an inferior one at inflated Temple prices.
          Thus it was that between these two rackets the family of Annas had the entire Jewish over a financial barrel. It was no coincidence that one of the first public acts of Jesus' ministry was the cleansing of the Temple (John 2.14-17, see Life of Christ 27, 'He Drove Them All Out of the Temple'), and this certainly brought him to the attention of Annas, Caiaphus, and their cronies. Jesus would, yet again, at the very end of His ministry, repeat that cleansing process (Matthew 21.12-13) on the morning of His Triumphal Entry into Jerusalem the Sunday before He died. It wouldn't surprise me at all to learn that a slowly simmering hatred on the part of Israel's high priest was flipped into an open permission to the Pharisees, Sadducees, and Herodians to assassinate Jesus immediately following that last event. I do not know that this is the case, but the scriptural record is clear that the family that ran the high priesthood had great cause to hate Him, to fear Him, and to want Him completely out of the picture.
          Annas' family had money and power, and Jesus had hurt them. The Pharisees, the party of the people, viewed Jesus as heretically blasphemous. The Sadducees, the party of the elite, didn't want Him to rock the boat. The Herodians, the party of Herod, didn't want Him leading a revolution. So even though all of these groups hated each other, they hated Jesus more, and jointly determined that eliminating Him would solve a great many existing and potential problems. And Satan, pulling the strings behind all of this hatred, greed, spiritual blindness, rebellion, and lust for power, thought he had finally found a way to succeed at his aims.
          Reviewing this incredibly long post my mind cannot help but run to Psalm 2, which so eloquently describes God's reaction to those who would launch an attack on Him. 'He that sitteth in the heavens shall laugh: the Lord shall have them in derision.' When Easter Sunday rolled around and the news arrived to the Pharisees that Jesus was resurrected the Pharisees had a bad day, to put it mildly. The Herodians probably ran around in a panic. The Sadducees, with their refusal to belief in any kind of a resurrection, had to be positively apoplectic. Caiaphas and Annas, I'm sure, shouted every bad word known to man and threw the messenger out of their office. But Satan, he who schemed and planned and fought for so long to kill Jesus, well, he had the worst day of all, didn't he?

          …and I cannot help but smile at the thought. Yes, the Jews sought to kill Him, and there are many sorrows wrapped up in that phrase. But He just wouldn't stay dead!

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