Jerusalem’s Relentless March to Divine Destiny – Pt 8
“His blood be on us and on our children.” Matthew 27: 25 NAS
In the late night rush to judgment they brought Jesus first to the court of Annas, head of the preeminent priestly family of the time in Jerusalem. Five of his sons would be high priests and Caiaphas the current high priest was his son-in-law. Annas questioned Jesus and then sent Him on to the house of Caiaphas where the scribes and elders were gathered. There He was again interrogated and when Jesus admitted to being “the Christ, the Son of the Blessed One” Caiaphas tore his robe crying “blasphemy!” Those assembled declared “He is deserving of death!” and began spitting on him, pummeling Him with their fists and slapping Him (Matthew 25:65-68). In the morning, after being mocked and beaten throughout the night, Jesus was taken to the council chambers of the Sanhedrin. It was now Friday. The questioning continued. “’If you are the Christ, tell us.’ But He said to them, ‘If I tell you, you will not believe.’” …. “’Are you the Son of God, then?’ and He said to them, “Yes, I am” (Luke 22:66-70). Hearing the testimony from Jesus’ own lips, the religious courts of the Jewish hierarchy concluded their inquiry. Convinced of His guilt, but requiring a Roman death sentence to do away with Jesus, the Sanhedrin now had Him bound and brought to the Roman court of Governor Pontius Pilate.
The civil headquarters from which Pilate governed while in Jerusalem was the Praetorium, likely part of the Citadel and Palace complex constructed by Herod the Great west of the Temple. Pilate had a reputation as an abusive, violent ruler and in the natural was no friend of the Jews, having become odious in their sight with his frequent punishment and executions of their own people. Pilate, upon hearing the religious leaders’ accusations against Jesus, questioned Him personally. Jesus’ answers were brief and to the point. He admitted to being the “King of the Jews,” spoke of His kingdom as not being of this world, and ended with “Everyone who is of the truth hears My voice.” Pilate’s response of “What is truth?” is ironically self-condemning. (John 18:37-38 NAS). Jesus, who declared “I am the way, the truth, and the life,” was standing right before him and he failed to recognize the very person who is The Truth (John 14:6 NIV). Despite the insistence of the Jewish leaders, Pilate could find no reason to condemn Jesus to death. Upon hearing Jesus was a Galilean and therefore under the jurisdiction of Herod Antipas who was in town for the feast, Pilate decided to send Jesus to him. Herod was delighted to finally meet Jesus face to face and questioned Him at length. But unlike all the others before whom He stood, Jesus refused to answer “that fox” a word. Filled with contempt, Herod and his soldiers mocked Jesus, dressed Him in a royal robe, and sent Him back to Pilate. Up to this time, these two Roman rulers, Pilate and Herod, had been enemies, but their shared interrogation of Jesus made them fast friends.
Pilate was faced with a dilemma. Both he and Herod found no guilt in Jesus warranting the death sentence, but the chief priests, elders, and Jewish crowds were demanding otherwise. “Crucify him, crucify him!” Despite the hue and cry, Pilate, being warned by his wife to have nothing to do with “this righteous Man” sought to release Him. Jesus, who had been silent refusing to speak, was questioned by Pilate one last time. “’Don’t you realize I have power either to free you or to crucify you?’ Jesus answered, ‘You would have no power over me if it were not given to you from above. Therefore the one who handed me over to you is guilty of a greater sin’” From then on, Pilate tried to set Jesus free, but the Jewish leaders kept shouting, “If you let this man go, you are no friend of Caesar. Anyone who claims to be a king opposes Caesar’” (John 18:10-12 NIV). With that, Pilate, fearing a crowd on the verge of riot and accusations of being disloyal to Caesar, gave in to their demands. In accordance with their request, he set the insurrectionist Barabbas free and in his place sentenced Jesus to death by crucifixion. As Pilate washed his hands in front the mob, he proclaimed “I am innocent of this Man’s blood.” History records it would not be enough to absolve him of his guilt. All the people assembled replied “His blood be on us and on our children” (Matthew 27:24-25 NAS). Unbeknownst to them, within a generation, what they had pledged would be exacted from them in the destruction of Jerusalem.
Jesus was then scourged by the Roman soldiers and led, along with two others condemned to die, to the place of execution located just outside the city walls called Golgotha or “Place of the Skull.” In the years to come, many followers of Jesus would suffer a similar fate at the hands of the Jews and the Romans. Perceived as a threat to the status quo, their gospel testimonies rejected, they would be persecuted, arrested, and taken from Jerusalem to their appointed places of martyrdom just like Jesus. “If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also” He had said (Jon 15:20 NIV). As the three cross bearers proceeded along the street, great multitudes of people were following them, including some women who were mourning and lamenting for Jesus. Turning to the women, Jesus issued a somber warning. It would be the fourth and last such prophetic pronouncement given over the course of the past week regarding the fate of the Temple and the city because of their rejection of Him. “Daughters of Jerusalem, do not weep for me; weep for yourselves and for your children. For the time will come when you will say, ‘Blessed are the childless women, the wombs that never bore and the breasts that never nursed!’ Then “ ‘they will say to the mountains, “Fall on us!” and to the hills, “Cover us!”’ For if people do these things when the tree is green, what will happen when it is dry” (Luke 23:28-31 NIV)? In other words, if the Romans treat the blameless Christ this way, beware of what judgments and punishment they will mete out on a guilty city!
When the Roman soldiers had crucified Jesus, they affixed to the His cross an inscription written by Pilate. “This is Jesus, the King of the Jews” (Matthew 27:37 NAS). It was written in the three languages used throughout the Roman world, Hebrew, Latin, and Greek, so that everyone who passed by could read it. Pilate wrote this not realizing the prophetic nature of what he was saying – the universality of Jesus’ salvation offer to all who would look to the cross and believe in Him, be they “Jew or a Gentile, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbaric, uncivilized, slave, or free” (Colossians 3:11 NLT). Jesus’ offer of grace from the cross, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing,” would echo from there throughout the ages, to all who would receive it. The thief, crucified on His right, took up the offer and received the promise of paradise. It appears the centurion, standing in front of Jesus when He died, may also have done so. Praising God and declaring Jesus’ innocence he confessed “Truly this man was the Son of God” (Luke 23:47, Mark 15:39 NAS).
Simultaneously as Jesus died, the veil in the Temple was ripped from top to bottom (symbolic of God’s initiative from heaven) and an earthquake shook all of Jerusalem and Golgotha. Fear gripped the hearts of those looking on, as rocks split, tombs were opened, and many saints were resurrected and made appearances in the city. The elimination of the veil, guarding access to the Holy of Holies, marked the commencement of a “new and living way” into God’s presence through the blood and sacrifice of Jesus Christ (Hebrews 10:20). Through the predetermined death of His Son, albeit at the hands of the Romans and His own Jewish people, God was fulfilling His Old Covenant promises by instituting a New Covenant. Through this covenant, redemption and unrestricted access to God’s mercy, grace, and presence would be extended to all of humankind, including the perpetrators.
A courageous man named Joseph, who was from a Judean city north of Jerusalem named Arimathea, went to Pilate to request the release of the body of Jesus for burial. Joseph was a secret disciple of Jesus and member of the Sanhedrin who had refused to consent to their actions to have Him put to death. Together with Nicodemus, another Sanhedrin member and clandestine believer, Joseph retrieved the body and gave Him a proper burial in an unused tomb nearby. Pilate, at the urging of the Jewish leaders, then had a seal set on the stone covering the tomb and posted a guard, lest Jesus’ disciples “come and steal the body and tell the people that He has been raised from the dead” (Matthew 27:64 NIV).
As with so many details surrounding the death of Jesus, the sovereignty of God prevailed once again, insuring His resurrection while befuddling the plans of man. As predicted by the Scriptures and Jesus’ own words the grave could not contain Him. On the third day God shook the place with violent earthquake. An angel, appearing like lightning rolled the stone away and the guards fainted with fear. When the soldiers came to, seeing the empty tomb, they went into the city to report what had happened to the chief priests. Given huge sums of money as a bribe, they were instructed to say Jesus’ disciples came and stole His body while they slept, and not to report the arrangement to governor.
During the next forty days, the risen Christ appeared to over five hundred people both in Jerusalem and in Galilee. He gave significant time to instructing the eleven disciples, including commissioning them to take His gospel of the kingdom and His healing, delivering power to all creation throughout the earth. When it came time for His ascension into heaven, He led them to the top of the Mount of Olives, overlooking the city and Temple for which He had wept and pleaded. Reminding them that they could not know the times and dates the Father had set for the things He had predicted, He instructed them instead to make being His witnesses, empowered by the Holy Spirit, their priority. Finally, lifting up His hands He blessed them and was taken up, disappearing into the clouds. As they continued to gaze skyward, two angelic beings appeared. “Men of Galilee,” they said, “why do you stand here looking into the sky? This same Jesus, who has been taken from you into heaven, will come back in the same way you have seen him go into heaven” (Acts 1:11 NIV). Bottom line, be assured, Jesus will return to Jerusalem, but only when it is ready to receive Him and declare “Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord.”
To be continued in my next blog post. Your comments and feedback are always welcome.