Their Eyes Were Opened

28 So they drew near to the village to which they were going. He acted as if he were going farther, 29 but they urged him strongly, saying, “Stay with us, for it is toward evening and the day is now far spent.” So he went in to stay with them. 30 When he was at table with them, he took the bread and blessed and broke it and gave it to them. 31 And their eyes were opened, and they recognized him. And he vanished from their sight. 32 They said to each other, “Did not our hearts burn within us while he talked to us on the road, while he opened to us the Scriptures?” 33 And they rose that same hour and returned to Jerusalem. And they found the eleven and those who were with them gathered together, 34 saying, “The Lord has risen indeed, and has appeared to Simon!” 35 Then they told what had happened on the road, and how he was known to them in the breaking of the bread. Luke 24:28-35 ESV

The two disciples who had been making their way to Emmaus were joined by a stranger who seemed totally ignorant of all that had happened in Jerusalem. They had to inform Him all about Jesus’ arrest, trial, and crucifixion. But. to their surprise, this same man was extremely  knowledgeable about the Hebrew Scriptures. In fact, Luke records that He “took them through the writings of Moses and all the prophets, explaining from all the Scriptures the things concerning himself” (Luke 24:27 NLT).

So, as they walked along the path from Jerusalem to Emmaus, this stranger unpacked the Scriptures, revealing how “the Messiah would have to suffer all these things before entering his glory” (Luke 24:26 NLT). He provided them with an overview of the law and the prophets, opening their eyes to the many predictions concerning the Messiah’s role as the suffering servant. These prophetic pronouncements had been there all along but the Jews had chosen to ignore them or to rationalize them away. Yet, this unknown pilgrim seemed to know things that were hidden from the religious leaders of Israel. And it’s likely that this unknown scholar shared some of the following passages.

I gave my back to those who strike,
    and my cheeks to those who pull out the beard;
I hid not my face
    from disgrace and spitting.

But the Lord God helps me;
    therefore I have not been disgraced;
therefore I have set my face like a flint,
    and I know that I shall not be put to shame. – Isaiah 50:6-7 NLT

See, my servant will prosper;
    he will be highly exalted.
But many were amazed when they saw him.
    His face was so disfigured he seemed hardly human,
    and from his appearance, one would scarcely know he was a man. – Isaiah 52:13-14 NLT

But he was pierced for our transgressions;
    he was crushed for our iniquities;
upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace,
    and with his wounds we are healed.
All we like sheep have gone astray;
    we have turned—every one—to his own way;
and the Lord has laid on him
    the iniquity of us all. – Isaiah 53:5-6 ESV

As they considered these familiar passages in light of all they had just witnessed in Jerusalem, they couldn’t help but connect the dots and understand that the death of Jesus had been preordained by God – down to the smallest detail – even foreshadowing Jesus’ death between two criminals and His burial of Jesus in a borrowed tomb.

He had done no wrong
    and had never deceived anyone.
But he was buried like a criminal;
    he was put in a rich man’s grave. – Isaiah 53:9 NLT

For the two disciples, time must have flown by as they listened to these exciting revelations from this unknown teacher. When they realized that they had reached their destination, they dreaded the thought of their conversation coming to an end, so they begged their new friend to stay overnight. Their curiosity had been peaked and they longed to hear more.

After making preparations, they reclined at the table to share the evening meal. And, surprisingly and rather presumptuously, the stranger took it upon Himself to play the role of host. He “took the bread and blessed it. Then he broke it and gave it to them” (Luke 24:30 NLT).

This scene is reminiscent of three other occasions from the life and ministry of Jesus. The first took place at the feeding of the 5,000.

Jesus took the five loaves and two fish, looked up toward heaven, and blessed them. Then, breaking the loaves into pieces, he kept giving the bread and fish to the disciples so they could distribute it to the people. – Luke 9:16 NLT

The second is the feeding of the 4,000.

Then he took the seven loaves and the fish, thanked God for them, and broke them into pieces. He gave them to the disciples, who distributed the food to the crowd. – Matthew 15:36 NLT

The third is the final Passover meal Jesus shared with His disciples.

He took some bread and gave thanks to God for it. Then he broke it in pieces and gave it to the disciples, saying, “This is my body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” – Luke 22:19 NLT

In all three cases, Jesus broke bread, blessed it, and then distributed it among His followers. And it was in keeping with His designation of Himself as the bread of life.

My Father…offers you the true bread from heaven. The true bread of God is the one who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.”

“Sir,” they said, “give us that bread every day.”

Jesus replied, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry again.” – John 6:32-35 NLT

So, that evening, in a home somewhere in the village of Emmaus, Jesus broke bread, blessed it, and then handed it to His two disciples, and immediately, “their eyes were opened, and they recognized him” (Luke 24:31 ESV). For the first time since they had met this unknown traveler, they could see Him for who He really was: Jesus, the Son of God and the Messiah of Israel. They not only recognized their friend and Rabbi, but they also comprehended the amazing truth about His identity as the anointed one of God. All those Scripture began to make sense for the first time in their lives.

Yet Luke states that, as soon as they recognized Him, Jesus “vanished from their sight” (Luke 24:31 ESV). One second He was there and, the next, He was gone. He simply disappeared from sight. But this time, His departure didn’t leave them saddened hearts. In fact, they immediately declared, “Didn’t our hearts burn within us as he talked with us on the road and explained the Scriptures to us?” (Luke 24:32 NLT). What a contrast to the depressed and demoralized state they had exhibited when Jesus first encountered them on the road. All their dreams had been crushed.

“We had hoped he was the Messiah who had come to rescue Israel.” – Luke 24:21 NLT

But now, things were different. Their grief had been turned to joy. Their hope had been restored. And “within the hour they were on their way back to Jerusalem” (Luke 24:33 NLT). Since it was still evening, they must have made the trip back to Jerusalem in the dark, not exactly a safe thing to do. But this time they were motivated by the realization that their Messiah was alive. Nothing was going to stop them from returning to the “scene of the crime” and telling the rest of the disciples what they had seen and heard.

Upon their return, they found the 11 disciples gathered together along with some other of Jesus’ followers. They entered the room just in time to hear the exciting news that Peter had also seen Jesus alive. And they added to the joy of the occasion by announcing “how Jesus had appeared to them as they were walking along the road, and how they had recognized him as he was breaking the bread” (Luke 24:35 NLT). The room must have been electric with excitement as everyone asked questions and began to speculate as to the meaning of all these things. Jesus was alive! Did that mean He would finally set up His earthly Kingdom? Was He about to pay back the Romans for their brutal treatment of Him? Would He hold Caiaphas and the Sanhedrin responsible for their role in His arrest and crucifixion. Was the Kingdom they had longed for about to begin? But as they peppered one another with questions and shared their opinions about what lie ahead, an unexpected visitor suddenly appeared.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

Limited Expectations

13 That very day two of them were going to a village named Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem, 14 and they were talking with each other about all these things that had happened. 15 While they were talking and discussing together, Jesus himself drew near and went with them. 16 But their eyes were kept from recognizing him. 17 And he said to them, “What is this conversation that you are holding with each other as you walk?” And they stood still, looking sad. 18 Then one of them, named Cleopas, answered him, “Are you the only visitor to Jerusalem who does not know the things that have happened there in these days?” 19 And he said to them, “What things?” And they said to him, “Concerning Jesus of Nazareth, a man who was a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people, 20 and how our chief priests and rulers delivered him up to be condemned to death, and crucified him. 21 But we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel. Yes, and besides all this, it is now the third day since these things happened. 22 Moreover, some women of our company amazed us. They were at the tomb early in the morning, 23 and when they did not find his body, they came back saying that they had even seen a vision of angels, who said that he was alive. 24 Some of those who were with us went to the tomb and found it just as the women had said, but him they did not see.” 25 And he said to them, “O foolish ones, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! 26 Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into his glory?” 27 And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself. Luke 24:13-27 ESV

Luke opened his gospel by clearly confessing that he had not been the first to chronicle the story of Jesus’ life and ministry. He even admitted that he investigated those other resources as part of the extensive research he did for his own writing project. 

Many people have set out to write accounts about the events that have been fulfilled among us. They used the eyewitness reports circulating among us from the early disciples. Having carefully investigated everything from the beginning, I also have decided to write an accurate account for you, most honorable Theophilus, so you can be certain of the truth of everything you were taught. – Luke 1:1-3 NLT

Luke, a physician by trade, appears to have been a stickler for details. He went to great lengths to locate and interview those who had been eyewitnesses to Jesus’ earthly ministry, including many of the disciples. But it seems that his detective work uncovered some whose stories had not been included by the other gospel authors. Luke’s goal all along had been to write an accurate and detailed account that disclosed as much about the life of Jesus as was humanly possible. And in his research, he ran across the testimonies of two disciples of Jesus whose recounting of their post-resurrection encounter with their former Rabbi and friend just begged to be included in his gospel account.

When Luke interviewed these two individuals, they shared with him the remarkable story of their unexpected encounter with the risen Messiah. On the same Sunday when the women had come to the tomb of Jesus and discovered it to be empty, these two disciples had been traveling from Jerusalem to the village of Emmaus, located just seven miles away. They had to have been emotionally drained as they discussed the events of the last 3-4 days. It had all begun with the arrest and crucifixion of Jesus. Like all of Jesus’ followers, they had been devastated by this unexpected end to their hopes and dreams. They had believed Jesus to be their long-awaited Messiah who would usher in His earthly kingdom and restore Israel to glory. But instead, He had suffered a brutal death at the hands of the Romans. It’s likely that these two individuals had taken part in the raucous and celebratory triumphal entry that marked Jesus’ arrival in Jerusalem earlier the previous week. They had heard the shouts of “Hosanna!” and had watched as the crowds threw down their cloaks and declared, “Blessed is the King who comes in the name of the Lord! Peace in heaven and glory in the highest!” (Luke 19:38 ESV).

But now, they were walking away from the city of Jerusalem, their minds filled with confusion and questions. They were having a difficult time reconciling all that had happened. The death of Jesus had left them completely devoid of hope. The one whom they had believed to be the rightful king of Israel was dead. Their dreams of Him ushering in the end times by restoring David’s dynasty and fulfilling all the Messianic prophecies had been crushed. But these two men had been in the room when the women showed up and made the mind-blowing announcement that Jesus was alive.

“…some women from our group of his followers were at his tomb early this morning, and they came back with an amazing report. They said his body was missing, and they had seen angels who told them Jesus is alive!” – Luke 24:22-23 NLT

It seems a bit strange that these disciples were on their way out of Jerusalem when they had heard reports that Jesus had been spotted in the city. But it could be that they were acting on the report of the women, who had delivered the following message from Jesus.

“…go and tell his disciples, including Peter, that Jesus is going ahead of you to Galilee. You will see him there, just as he told you before he died.” – Mark 167 NLT

Perhaps they were going to make a stop in their home village of Emmaus and then head on to Galilee. But as they walked along the way, they couldn’t help but discuss all that had happened. It was all a mind-bending blur of confusion and contradictions. There is no indication as to the exact content of their discussion, but it seems clear that they were wrestling with doubt and disbelief. Was Jesus truly alive or were the women simply delusional? How could anyone have survived such a brutal death?

And as they were busy debating and discussing the events of the last three days, a stranger suddenly appeared alongside them. Noting the intensity of their conversation, the stranger asked them what they were talking about. And Luke reports that they “stopped short, sadness written across their faces” (Luke 24:17 NLT). This statement suggests that they were anything but hopeful. The womens’ report that Jesus was alive had failed to convince them. And this stranger’s apparent ignorance of all that had happened in Jerusalem surprised them. 

Then one of them, Cleopas, replied, “You must be the only person in Jerusalem who hasn’t heard about all the things that have happened there the last few days.” – Luke 24:18 NLT

With His identity somehow hidden from them, Jesus played the part of the innocent and uninformed stranger perfectly. He asked them, “What things?” (Luke 24:19 NLT). And this led them to disclose not only the events of the last three days but the state of their own hearts.

“He was a prophet who did powerful miracles, and he was a mighty teacher in the eyes of God and all the people. But our leading priests and other religious leaders handed him over to be condemned to death, and they crucified him. We had hoped he was the Messiah who had come to rescue Israel. This all happened three days ago.” – Luke 24:19-21 NLT

Notice their use of the past tense. He was a prophet. He was a mighty teacher. We had hoped he was the Messiah. They make no mention of the news they had received from the women. For whatever reason, they can’t bring themselves to believe that Jesus might be alive. All the evidence pointed to a very different and disappointing outcome. They had hoped Him to be the Messiah but obviously, He wasn’t.

They admitted that some of their fellow disciples had run to the tomb and found it to be empty, just as the women had declared. But they were having a difficult time accepting the possibility that Jesus had somehow survived His crucifixion. There was absolutely no way He could be alive. And yet, the irony of it all was that Jesus was standing right in front of them. Blinded by their doubt, they had failed to recognize their Lord and Savior walking right beside them as they gloomily made their way to Emmaus. Then Jesus spoke.

“You foolish people! You find it so hard to believe all that the prophets wrote in the Scriptures. Wasn’t it clearly predicted that the Messiah would have to suffer all these things before entering his glory?” – Luke 24:25-26 NLT

Jesus didn’t scold them for failing to believe the testimony of the women. He rebuked them for refusing to believe the word of the prophets. These good, God-fearing Jews had completely missed the predictions of Messiah’s suffering and sacrificial death. Like all their fellow Jews, they had focused all their attention on the conquering Messiah, the warrior-king who would bring the Kingdom of God to earth and re-establish Israel as a superpower in the region once again.

All throughout His earthly ministry, Jesus had attempted to open the eyes of His disciples so that they might understand the true nature of His coming kingdom. It would not come as they expected. And His reign would not appear in the form they so greatly desired. He had not come to establish an earthly kingdom and bring heaven to earth – at least not yet. For centuries, the Jewish people had read the Hebrew Scriptures through a distorted lens that blurred the truth regarding the Messiah and His coming kingdom. They had made the Messiah’s arrival all about themselves. He would be the Jewish Messiah who would bring victory to the Jewish people. But Jesus had come to fulfill the promise that God had made to Abraham.

“…in your offspring shall all the nations of the earth be blessed.” – Genesis 22:18 ESV

And the apostle Paul would later explain the significance of that promise.

And the Scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, preached the gospel beforehand to Abraham, saying, “In you shall all the nations be blessed.”

Now the promises were made to Abraham and to his offspring. It does not say, “And to offsprings,” referring to many, but referring to one, “And to your offspring,” who is Christ. – Galatians 3:8, 17 ESV

So, Jesus, His identity still hidden from the two disciples, “took them through the writings of Moses and all the prophets, explaining from all the Scriptures the things concerning himself” (Luke 24:27 NLT). The “offspring” of Abraham gave these two descendants of Abraham an Old Testament survey class that revealed God’s sovereign will concerning the Messiah. This must have been a mind-altering experience for these two men as they received a masters-level lecture on all that the prophets had written about the coming of the Messiah. It was a paradigm-shifting, mind-bending revelation that would radically transform their myopic view of the kingdom.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

He Is Risen!

1 But on the first day of the week, at early dawn, they went to the tomb, taking the spices they had prepared. And they found the stone rolled away from the tomb, but when they went in they did not find the body of the Lord Jesus. While they were perplexed about this, behold, two men stood by them in dazzling apparel. And as they were frightened and bowed their faces to the ground, the men said to them, “Why do you seek the living among the dead? He is not here, but has risen. Remember how he told you, while he was still in Galilee, that the Son of Man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men and be crucified and on the third day rise.” And they remembered his words, and returning from the tomb they told all these things to the eleven and to all the rest. 10 Now it was Mary Magdalene and Joanna and Mary the mother of James and the other women with them who told these things to the apostles, 11 but these words seemed to them an idle tale, and they did not believe them. 12 But Peter rose and ran to the tomb; stooping and looking in, he saw the linen cloths by themselves; and he went home marveling at what had happened. Luke 24:1-12 ESV

According to Luke, a group of women had “who had accompanied Jesus from Galilee” (Luke 23:55 NLT), had watched Joseph and Nicodemus as they buried His body. Because the Sabbath was about to begin, they went away “and prepared aromatic spices and perfumes” (Luke 23:56 NLT), with the intention of returning once the Sabbath was over.

Early on Sunday morning, the women returned to the garden and the tomb of Jesus. Luke reveals that the group was made up of Mary Magdalene, Salome, Mary the mother of James, and a few other unnamed women. In his gospel, Mark dispels any thought that they were expecting to find an empty tomb and a risen Lord. He indicates that they had “bought spices, so that they might go and anoint him” (Mark 16:1 ESV). In the frenetic moments after Jesus’ death, Joseph and Nicodemus had been the only ones who had done anything to prepare the body of Jesus for burial. According to John, Nicodemus had brought “a mixture of myrrh and aloes, about seventy-five pounds in weight” (John 19:29 ESV) with which to anoint the body. But none of Jesus’ followers had been able to participate in this final expression of grief and honor. So, these women made their way to the tomb with that end in mind, and they had even discussed who they could get to roll away the stone so they could gain access to the body. They were fully expecting to find a dead man, not a risen Savior.

But they were in for a surprise. When they arrived at the tomb, they witnessed a life-altering, world-changing event of truly epic proportions. And their sober and somber expectations would be radically realigned by what they saw.

As they walked up to the tomb, burial spices in hand, the ground shook violently, and an angel descended from heaven. This divine emissary promptly had rolled away the massive stone that had sealed the tomb’s entrance, breaking the seal placed on it by Pilate (Matthew 27:64-66).

The angel’s supernatural strength and dazzling appearance left the guards in a state of shock. Matthew describes them as becoming ‘“like dead men.” They had been tasked with preventing the followers of Jesus from stealing His body, something the Jewish religious leaders feared they would do so that they might claim He had risen from the dead. But rather than a rag-tag group of Galilean disciples, these battle-hardened soldiers were confronted by an agent of God Almighty.

The women, having witnessed this remarkable event, still made their way into the tomb and were perplexed to find it empty (Luke 24:3-4). The body was gone. Luke records that the angel who rolled away the stone was accompanied by a second angel. And these two heavenly beings confronted the women, asking them, “Why do you seek the living among the dead?” (Luke 24:5 ESV). But before the women could respond, the angels informed them, “He is not here, but has risen” (Luke 24:6 ESV).

They had come seeking and expecting to find a dead man. But, to their shock and surprise, they were informed that the one they sought was alive. This entire encounter must have left the women dealing with a strange mixture of elation and confusion. Could it be true? Was Jesus really alive? This news was too good to be true. But the angels didn’t give the women time to dwell on the shocking nature of their announcement. They commanded them, “go quickly and tell his disciples that he has risen from the dead, and behold, he is going before you to Galilee; there you will see him. See, I have told you” (Matthew 28:7 ESV).

Matthew reports that they did as they were told “with fear and great joy” (Matthew 28:8 ESV). And as if this news was not enough to elevate their endorphin levels and raise their heart rates, their journey to tell the disciples was interrupted by a personal encounter with Jesus Himself. Matthew records that “Jesus met them and said, ‘Greetings!’” (Matthew 28:9 ESV). This totally unexpected reunion with their formerly deceased friend and master was too much for them. All they could do was bow down and worship Him. And Jesus calmed their fears, telling them to take the news of His resurrection to His disciples and to request that they meet Him in Galilee.

When reading the various gospel accounts of this event, there seem to be contradictions. Was there one angel or two? Did Mary Magdalene arrive at the tomb on her own or with the other women? But by piecing the various gospel accounts together, you arrive at a credible chronology that provides an accurate accounting of the order of events.

First, Luke records that Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome started for the tomb (Luke 23:55-24:1). When they arrived, they found the stone rolled away (Luke 24:2-9). According to John’s account, Mary Magdaline was the first to arrive at the tomb and find it empty. She ran to tell the disciples the news (John 20:1-2). It was Mary the mother of James, who arrived next and encountered the angel (Matthew 28:1-2). She ran back to tell the other women who were bringing the spices they had prepared to anoint the body of Jesus.

In the meantime, Peter and John arrived on the scene, discovered the tomb empty, just as Mary Magdalene had said, and then departed (John 20:3-10). The disciples had evidently outrun Mary Magdalene, because she returned to the tomb, weeping, still unaware that Jesus was alive. All she knew was that the tomb was empty. But she was greeted by the two angels and then Jesus Himself (John 20:11-18), who told her to tell the disciples (John 20:17-18). According to Luke’s account, Mary the mother of James returned with the women (Luke 24:1-4), saw the two angels, and heard their message (Luke 24:5; Mark 16:5; Matthew 28:6-8). It was while they were on their way to find the disciples that these women had their encounter with the risen Jesus (Matthew 28:9-10).

What an incredible morning! What a shocking sequence of events. None of these people had expected this to happen, even though Jesus had repeatedly told them He would rise again on the third day. He had tried to assure them that His death would be followed by His resurrection, but that part of the story had never registered with them. Until now.

He was alive. As the angel had said, “He is not here, but has risen.” The tomb was empty. Jesus was alive and well, and they were witnesses of that incredible fact. The one whom they had watched die a brutal death on the cross, just three days earlier, was fully alive. The women had touched His feet. They had heard Him speak. And He had promised to meet them in Galilee. All of this was beyond their wildest imaginations. Their sorrow had suddenly been turned to joy. Their weeping had turned to laughter. Their disappointment and disillusionment had given way to hope and happiness.

Jesus had won a stunning victory over death. He had conquered the grave. And His actions would leave His enemy, Satan, reeling from the shock of it all. The high priest and the Sanhedrin would refuse to believe it. But it was true. He was alive. And, as the apostle Paul reminds us, that irrefutable news is good news to all those who place their faith in Jesus Christ.

“Death is swallowed up in victory. O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?” For sin is the sting that results in death, and the law gives sin its power. But thank God! He gives us victory over sin and death through our Lord Jesus Christ. – 1 Corinthians 15:54-57 NLT

A new day had dawned and things would never be the same again. As the old hymn so aptly puts it:

Low in the grave He lay,
Jesus, my Savior,
Waiting the coming day,
Jesus, my Lord!

Up from the grave He arose,
With a mighty triumph o’er His foes,
He arose a Victor from the dark domain,
And He lives forever, with His saints to reign.
He arose! He arose!
Hallelujah! Christ arose!

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

The Inexplicable Ways of God

50 Now there was a man named Joseph, from the Jewish town of Arimathea. He was a member of the council, a good and righteous man, 51 who had not consented to their decision and action; and he was looking for the kingdom of God. 52 This man went to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus. 53 Then he took it down and wrapped it in a linen shroud and laid him in a tomb cut in stone, where no one had ever yet been laid. 54 It was the day of Preparation, and the Sabbath was beginning. 55 The women who had come with him from Galilee followed and saw the tomb and how his body was laid. 56 Then they returned and prepared spices and ointments.

On the Sabbath they rested according to the commandment.  Luke 23:50-56 ESV

The death of Jesus was a devastating and demoralizing blow to His followers. He had repeatedly told them that His trip to Jerusalem would end in His death, but they had refused to believe Him because His words did not comport with their understanding of the Messiah. Peter had even rebuked Jesus for making such illogical and unacceptable statements. These men had no place for a dying Savior in their Messianic vision. They had been longing for Jesus to curtail His preaching ministry and begin His campaign to destroy the Romans and set up His kingdom in Jerusalem.

Earlier in the week, as the disciples sat with Jesus on the Mount of Olives, they asked Him, “Tell us, when will these things be, and what will be the sign of your coming and of the end of the age?” (Matthew 24:3 ESV). They were distraught because Jesus had delivered some devastating news to them. On their way to the Mount of Olives, they had passed through the eastern gate of the city near the temple mount. When the disciples mentioned the beauty of the temple complex, Jesus surprised them by stating, “You see all these, do you not? Truly, I say to you, there will not be left here one stone upon another that will not be thrown down.”

Now, as they sat on the Mount of Olives, with the temple mount in view just across the Kidron Valley, they wanted to know if the destruction of the temple was the sign they should be looking for. They were desperate to know what would be the sign or evidence of His coming as the Messiah. Up to this point, Jesus had done nothing king-like. He had healed, preached, and taught, but none of that was what they expected the Messiah to do. They were looking for some kind of tangible proof that His kingdom was about to begin. But Jesus went on to tell them that things were going to get dramatically worse before they got better. The “sign” they longed for would come, but not when during their lifetimes and not before they would face difficult days.

“Then they will deliver you up to tribulation and put you to death, and you will be hated by all nations for my name’s sake.  And then many will fall away and betray one another and hate one another. And many false prophets will arise and lead many astray. And because lawlessness will be increased, the love of many will grow cold. But the one who endures to the end will be saved. And this gospel of the kingdom will be proclaimed throughout the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come.” – Matthew 23:9-14 ESV

Everything about the death of Jesus was unexpected and unacceptable to the disciples. They had envisioned a far different ending to the story. In their minds, Jesus should have been seated on the throne of David and not hanging on a cross like a criminal.  And yet, it was all according to the will of God. As dark as the moment may have appeared to Jesus’ followers, the invisible, yet sovereign hand of God was evident throughout the narrative. Everything was taking place according to His divine plan – down to the last detail. Every facet of the story was unfolding just as the prophet Isaiah had written centuries earlier.

…he was pierced for our rebellion, crushed for our sins… – Isaiah 53:5 NLT

…He was beaten so we could be whole. – Isaiah 53:5 NLT

…He was whipped so we could be healed. – Isaiah 53:5 NLT

…He was oppressed and treated harshly. – Isaiah 53:7 NLT

…He was led like a lamb to the slaughter. – Isaiah 53:7 NLT

…Unjustly condemned, he was led away. – Isaiah 53:8 NLT

his life was cut short in midstream… – Isaiah 53:8 NLT

…he was struck down for the rebellion of my people. – Isaiah 53:8 NLT

he was buried like a criminal; he was put in a rich man’s grave. – Isaiah 53:9 NLT

And, as Luke points out, the rich man Isaiah prophesied about was none other than Joseph of Arimathea, “a member of the council, a good and righteous man” (Luke 23:50 ESV). Everything about the death of Jesus was unexpected and counterintuitive. It made no sense. And, as further proof, here was a well-respected member of the Sanhedrin, unknowingly fulfilling the preordained will of God. Matthew describes Joseph as “a disciple of Jesus” (Matthew 27:57 ESV). Luke states that “he was looking for the kingdom of God” (Luke 23:51 ESV). Somewhere along the way, this high-ranking member of Israel’s religious elite had determined that Jesus was the Messiah. He had broken ranks with the rest of his brothers on the high council and begun to believe that Jesus was who He claimed to be: The long-awaited Messiah of Israel. In fact, Joseph had risked his reputation by refusing to give his consent to the council’s decision to have Jesus arrested and crucified (Luke 23:51).

And now, he was further jeopardizing his livelihood and life by asking Pilate for permission to remove the body of Jesus from the cross. Luke provides no insight into the motivation behind Joseph’s actions, other than the fact that he was a follower of Jesus. And it’s interesting to note that the Gospels provide the name of only one other individual who assisted in the burial of Jesus, and he too was a member of the Sanhedrin.

Nicodemus also, who earlier had come to Jesus by night, came bringing a mixture of myrrh and aloes, about seventy-five pounds in weight. – John 19:39 ESV

This was the same man whose curiosity had compelled him to schedule a late-night, clandestine meeting with Jesus.

Now there was a man of the Pharisees named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews. This man came to Jesus by night and said to him, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher come from God, for no one can do these signs that you do unless God is with him.” – John 3:1-2 ESV

Jesus had gone on to tell this highly educated Pharisee about the key to seeing and experiencing the Kingdom of God. And it was not what Nicodemus had expected. In fact, Jesus’ words confused him. When Jesus had stated, “unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.,” Nicodemus responded, “How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born?” (John 3:3-4 ESV). None of this made sense to Nicodemus. As a Jew and a highly-respected member of the Sanhedrin, Nicodemus believed himself to have a permanent place reserved for himself in the kingdom. He truly believed he had earned his rightful place in the coming kingdom of the Messiah. But Jesus revealed that entrance into the kingdom would require far more than good deeds and the right genes.

“…unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God.” – John 3:5 ESV

And then He added the one vital element that was missing from Nicodemus’ understanding of the coming kingdom.

“…as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life.” – John 3:14-15 ESV

The Messiah would have to die. Jesus would have to be “lifted up” on the cross. And He would later restate this unexpected requirement for the coming kingdom.

“And when I am lifted up from the earth, I will draw everyone to myself.” – John 12:32 ESV

Nicodemus had left that night confused and concerned by all that he had heard. But evidently, he had come to the conclusion that the words of Jesus were true and that He was the long-awaited Messiah of Israel. He showed up at the cross of Jesus, carrying 75-pounds of spices in order to properly prepare the body of Jesus for burial, and he had gone to great expense and was taking a great risk to do so.

There at the cross of Jesus, these two members of the Sanhedrin carefully removed the lifeless body of Jesus and prepared it for burial. They “took it down and wrapped it in a linen shroud and laid him in a tomb cut in stone, where no one had ever yet been laid” (Luke 23:53 ESV). And then they “rolled a great stone to the entrance of the tomb and went away” (Matthew 27:60 ESV).

What a remarkable and totally unexpected scene. It’s fascinating to consider that, over the centuries, countless paintings have been created that attempt to depict this event. But most of them portray images that are figments of the artist’s imagination. They show a dejected Mary cradling her dead Son in her arms, surrounded by compassionate and equally mournful disciples. But that is not what happened. Matthew reports that “Mary Magdalene and the other Mary were there, sitting opposite the tomb” (Matthew 27:61 ESV). Luke indicates that the women watched as Joseph and Nicodemus prepared and buried the body of Jesus. They took note of where the tomb was located and made plans to return with spices so that they too might anoint His body. But the 11 disciples of Jesus are strangely absent from this scene. It appears that only John was near enough to know the details surrounding Jesus’ burial place, and he reports that “in the place where he was crucified there was a garden, and in the garden a new tomb in which no one had yet been laid” (John 19:41 ESV).

In the place of death, there was a garden, and in the garden, there was a tomb. And as the lifeless body of Jesus was placed in the ground, a remarkable and unexpected reality was about to take place, just as Jesus had predicted.

“The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. Whoever loves his life loses it, and whoever hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life. If anyone serves me, he must follow me; and where I am, there will my servant be also. If anyone serves me, the Father will honor him.” – John 12:23-26 ESV

Don’t overlook the fact that it was two Pharisees who buried “the grain of wheat” in the ground. This unlikely pair was given the privilege of sowing the seed that would produce a harvest of righteousness. They served the Savior by placing His body in the tomb. They risked their reputations and their lives so that the Son of God might be given a proper burial. But what they didn’t realize was that they were planting the seed that would produce fruit for generations to come.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

The Inextinguishable Light

44 It was now about the sixth hour, and there was darkness over the whole land until the ninth hour, 45 while the sun’s light failed. And the curtain of the temple was torn in two. 46 Then Jesus, calling out with a loud voice, said, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit!” And having said this he breathed his last. 47 Now when the centurion saw what had taken place, he praised God, saying, “Certainly this man was innocent!” 48 And all the crowds that had assembled for this spectacle, when they saw what had taken place, returned home beating their breasts. 49 And all his acquaintances and the women who had followed him from Galilee stood at a distance watching these things. Luke 23:44-49 ESV

The cross is one of the most recognizable symbols in all of human history. And its image conjures up all kinds of emotions and associations. For some, it elicits a strong sense of reverence and veneration. Yet others are repulsed by the sight of it, seeing in its simple form a sinister reminder of man’s inhumanity to man. And there are those who view the cross as an archaic religious icon that no longer holds any relevance in the more complicated and scientifically sophisticated age of post-modernity.

Yet, over the centuries, the cross has left a lasting and indelible impact on the lives of countless millions and continues to do so to this day. Jesus had told His disciples, “And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself” (John 12:32 ESV). And John, the one who recorded those words, added the explanatory note: “He said this to show by what kind of death he was going to die” (John 12:33 ESV). Jesus was clearly predicting that His death would have long-lasting and life-altering implications. And it began the very day He was crucified.

This beaten and bloodied Rabbi from Nazareth hung helplessly on the cross as a wooden placard placed above His head proclaimed His crime: “This is Jesus, the King of the Jews” (Matthew 27:37 ESV). Jesus was being executed for being exactly who He had claimed to be: The Messiah, the anointed one of Israel. He was the long-awaited seed of Abraham and the son of David. He was the fulfillment of every Old Testament prophecy that had predicted the coming Messiah and He was the divine culmination of every promise God had made to Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and David. And yet, on that fateful day in the city of Jerusalem, the Son of God and Savior of the world hung between heaven and earth, nailed to a wooden cross. He had been beaten, spit upon, slapped, and mercilessly mocked. The skin on His back had been laid open by the sharp pieces of bone and metal attached to the flagellum or whip that was used to flog Him. He had endured the excruciating pain of having His wrists and feet pierced by the large iron spikes that were used to nail Him to the cross. And then for hours, He had been put on display and subjected to the ongoing mockery of the onlookers.

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

So also the chief priests with the scribes mocked him to one another, saying, “He saved others; he cannot save himself. Let the Christ, the King of Israel, come down now from the cross that we may see and believe.” – Mark 15:31-32 ESV

And as Jesus endured the pain of the cross and the unrelenting insults of His enemies, He could see below Him, the soldiers who callously gambled over His garments. Then suddenly, at Noon, “the sun’s light failed” (Luke 23:45 ESV). Inexplicably and unexpectedly, the brightness of day was replaced by the darkness of night. This disconcerting cosmic display got everyone’s attention. But few would have understood the relevance of the moment, except John, the one disciple who had faithfully stayed by his Master’s side all throughout His painful ordeal. John records in his gospel account how Jesus had placed upon him the responsibility for caring for Mary, the mother of Jesus.

When Jesus saw his mother and the disciple whom he loved standing nearby, he said to his mother, “Woman, behold, your son!” Then he said to the disciple, “Behold, your mother!” And from that hour the disciple took her to his own home. – John 19:26-27 ESV

And as John stood at the base of the cross and watched the light fade, he must have recalled the words that Jesus had spoken.

“I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” – John 8:12 ESV

And years later, long after Jesus’ death and resurrection, he would open his gospel with the statement: “In him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it” (John 1:4-5 ESV). Yet, on the day that Jesus was crucified, he must have seen the sudden appearance of darkness as an ominous sign. The one who had declared Himself to be the light of the world was suddenly plunged into darkness and, from John’s perspective, all hope must have drained from His heart. The Light of the world was about to be extinguished – forever. Or so he must have thought. As John looked up at the cross, with tears streaming from his eyes, he heard what he believed to be the final words he would ever hear from his Master’s lips.

“Father, into your hands I commit my spirit!” – Luke 23:46 ESV

And then, Jesus died. The Light went out.

Yet even in death, Jesus made an impression. There at the foot of the cross stood a Roman centurion. We are not told his name or whether he was on official duty that day. But for some reason, he was struck by the injustice of all that he had observed, and declared, “Certainly this man was innocent!” (Luke 23:47 ESV). But even more surprisingly, this pagan military commander praised Yahweh, the God of Israel. What would have possessed him to do such a thing? Could it be that this was the same Centurion whom Jesus had encountered in the city of Capernaum sometime earlier? Luke recorded that scene in chapter seven of his gospel account and revealed how this pagan military leader had approached Jesus with a request. His servant was sick and in need of healing. When Jesus had agreed to come to the Centurion’s house, the man had responded, “Lord, don’t trouble yourself by coming to my home, for I am not worthy of such an honor. I am not even worthy to come and meet you. Just say the word from where you are, and my servant will be healed” (Luke 7:6-7 NLT). And having heard this man’s humble statement, Jesus declared that his servant had been healed. Then He declared, “I tell you, I haven’t seen faith like this in all Israel!” (Luke 7:9 NLT).

Perhaps this Centurion had received orders to bring his troops to Jerusalem to help manage the large crowds arriving for the Passover. And while he was there he heard about the arrest of Jesus and Pilate’s order to have Jesus crucified. This man had once told Jesus, “Just say the word from where you are, and my servant will be healed. I know this because I am under the authority of my superior officers, and I have authority over my soldiers. I only need to say, ‘Go,’ and they go, or ‘Come,’ and they come. And if I say to my slaves, ‘Do this,’ they do it” (Luke 7:7-8 NLT). Now, he had just witnessed Jesus doing the will of His Heavenly Father. He had heard Jesus say, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit!” (Luke 23:46 ESV). And putting two and two together, the Centurion realized that this man truly was the Son of God, who had come to do the will of His Father.

Whoever this Centurion was, his life was changed. We are not told what happened to him but it seems safe to assume that he walked away transformed by what he had seen. Even in the darkness of that moment, the Light still shone forth, illuminating the heart of a hardened Roman Centurion. And he praised God.

But not far from the very spot where the Centurion stood praising the God of Israel, the followers of Jesus looked on in sadness and hopelessness. Their Messiah was dead. Their dreams had been shattered. The darkness of the moment enveloped them like a flood, and they found themselves drowning in sorrow and self-pity as the stark reality of their circumstances began to sink in. From their perspective, the Light had gone out. But what they failed to understand was that the Light, while temporarily dimmed, had not been overcome.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

A Powerful, Parenthetical Statement

33 And when they came to the place that is called The Skull, there they crucified him, and the criminals, one on his right and one on his left. 34 And Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” And they cast lots to divide his garments. 35 And the people stood by, watching, but the rulers scoffed at him, saying, “He saved others; let him save himself, if he is the Christ of God, his Chosen One!” 36 The soldiers also mocked him, coming up and offering him sour wine 37 and saying, “If you are the King of the Jews, save yourself!” 38 There was also an inscription over him, “This is the King of the Jews.”

39 One of the criminals who were hanged railed at him, saying, “Are you not the Christ? Save yourself and us!” 40 But the other rebuked him, saying, “Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? 41 And we indeed justly, for we are receiving the due reward of our deeds; but this man has done nothing wrong.” 42 And he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” 43 And he said to him, “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in paradise.”  Luke 23:33-43 ESV

Screen Shot 2018-10-18 at 9.10.59 AMThe crucifixion is a well-known and highly venerated part of Jesus’ earthly life. It is the fulcrum upon which the message of the Gospel balances. His sacrificial death on behalf of sinful mankind is what makes the Gospel good news. Had He not died, there would be no remission for sin. God’s righteous indignation for the rebellion of mankind against His sovereign rule would remain unsatisfied. The debt that sinful men owed to a holy and righteous God would remain unpaid. The penalty of death and the subsequent separation from God for all eternity would still loom large over the lives of every single human being, with no hope of a solution to their dilemma.

But Jesus died. And that scene, described by the gospel writers, has been illustrated in countless ways by a vast array of painters, sculptures, and artisans. And while most are familiar with the details surrounding this well-documented scene, there is one aspect that begs further examination and concentration. Matthew records, “two robbers were crucified with him, one on the right and one on the left” (Matthew 27:38 ESV). John puts it this way: “they crucified him, and with him two others, one on either side, and Jesus between them” (John 19:18 ESV). And Luke adds, “they crucified him, and the criminals, one on his right and one on his left” (Luke 23:33 ESV).

It is fascinating to consider what these statements reveal. While we’re familiar with the idea of Jesus being crucified alongside two common criminals, we probably haven’t given this aspect of His death much thought. After all, there is so much going on in the story that appears to be of greater importance, that the deaths of these two unknown criminals appear to have no significance. Other than the conflicting statements each of them makes to Jesus while they are being crucified, these men seem to be little more than side notes in this grand drama.

And yet the gospel writers, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, make it a point to include these two men in their descriptions of Jesus’ death. And John makes it clear that they were crucified on either side of Jesus. In a sense, their crosses bracketed that of Jesus. And, as has been depicted in so many artistic renderings of the scene, John describes Jesus as hanging on the middle cross. Don’t overlook the scene as it is presented by the gospel writers. On either side of Jesus was a criminal, an unknown and unnamed individual whose guilt had warranted his execution. Each of them deserved to die. In fact, one of these men would freely admit their guilt and the appropriate nature of their executions.

“We are punished justly, for we are getting what our deeds deserve. But this man has done nothing wrong.” – Luke 23:41 ESV

Why is this important? It is because this scene depicts the sinless Son of God surrounded by two sinful men. He is innocent, while they are guilty. They are receiving the just punishment for their sins, while He is dying as a substitute for their sins and the sins of all mankind. In a sense, these two men form a kind of human parenthesis, with Jesus, the focal point of all human history, located between them.

One of the men, unrepentant and angry at his fate, shouts at Jesus, “Aren’t you the Messiah? Save yourself and us!” (Luke 23:39 ESV). While the other man, just as sinful and just as deserving of his death, cries out, “remember me when you come into your kingdom” (Luke 23:42 ESV). Two sinners, but two distinctly different responses to the Savior in their midst.

All three men were being executed for the crimes of which they had been accused. But one man, the one in the middle, was guiltless. The Jewish religious leaders had accused Him of blasphemy – of claiming to be the Son of God. Jesus had displayed the audacity and arrogance to declare Himself as divine. And they found His boasts unthinkable and unacceptable. 

But Jesus was the Son of God. He had been speaking truth, not blasphemy. He was innocent. Even the words inscribed on the sign attached to the cross of Jesus were intended to describe His crime: “This is Jesus, the King of the Jews.”

John records that the words on this placard had been placed there by the command of Pilate. And the charge it carried had been written in Aramaic, Latin, and Greek. The Jewish religious leaders had been incensed at the words inscribed on the sign and had demanded that Pilate have them altered. They wanted the statement amended to say, “This man said, I am King of the Jews” (John 19:21 ESV).

But Pilate had refused to change a thing. The sign remained, and the charge stuck. And of this particular charge, Jesus was guilty. He was the King of the Jews. He was guilty of being exactly who He had claimed to be all along. He was the Messiah of Israel, but His own people had rejected Him. He was the sovereign King of the nation of Israel, but they had refused to acknowledge Him as such. Just as the ancient Israelites had rejected God as their King and had demanded that He give them a king like all the other nations, the Jews of Jesus day had rejected the King of kings.

Three men, all accused of crimes. Two of them were guilty as charged, having broken the laws of the land. Their crimes were deserving of death, and they were simply receiving what the law required. But the man in the middle, Jesus of Nazareth, was only guilty of being who He claimed to be: The King of the Jews. He was dying because He was the Savior of the world. He was dying in order to save the world. He was sinless, and yet He would die a sinner’s death. He was completely blameless, and yet He would willingly take on the sins of mankind in order that the penalty for our sins could be marked “paid in full” by God.

He personally carried our sins in his body on the cross so that we can be dead to sin and live for what is right. By his wounds you are healed. – 1 Peter 2:24 NLT

God, in his grace, freely makes us right in his sight. He did this through Christ Jesus when he freed us from the penalty for our sins. For God presented Jesus as the sacrifice for sin. People are made right with God when they believe that Jesus sacrificed his life, shedding his blood. – Romans 3:24-25 NLT

It is no coincidence that as Jesus hung on the cross, He was bracketed by two guilty sinners who were experiencing the just punishment for their crimes. In-between them hung the Savior of the world. They both had access to Him. They could both see Him and hear the words He spoke. But one chose to curse and insult Him, while the other begged to be remembered by Him. In the midst of his pain and suffering, caused by his own sinful choices, this man called out to Jesus, and he received a response.

“Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise.” – Luke 27:43 ESV

And that’s the way it has always been. The life of Jesus has always been bracketed by two parenthetical marks, in the form of two diametrically opposed responses made by equally guilty sinners. One sees Jesus as nothing more than a man, equally hopeless and helpless to do anything about the sinful condition of mankind. But the other sees the suffering, yet sinless Savior who has a kingdom and the power to restore life to all those who submit to His Lordship. Jesus came to the world, a place filled with darkness and mired in sin. He inserted Himself into the hopeless state that plagued mankind and provided a solution to man’s condition. And John puts it in terms that describe why Jesus’ death between two sinners forms the great parenthesis.

He came into the very world he created, but the world didn’t recognize him. He came to his own people, and even they rejected him. But to all who believed him and accepted him, he gave the right to become children of God. They are reborn—not with a physical birth resulting from human passion or plan, but a birth that comes from God. – John 1:10-13 NLT

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

You Can Mourn Now or Mourn Later

26 And as they led him away, they seized one Simon of Cyrene, who was coming in from the country, and laid on him the cross, to carry it behind Jesus. 27 And there followed him a great multitude of the people and of women who were mourning and lamenting for him. 28 But turning to them Jesus said, “Daughters of Jerusalem, do not weep for me, but weep for yourselves and for your children. 29 For behold, the days are coming when they will say, ‘Blessed are the barren and the wombs that never bore and the breasts that never nursed!’ 30 Then they will begin to say to the mountains, ‘Fall on us,’ and to the hills, ‘Cover us.’ 31 For if they do these things when the wood is green, what will happen when it is dry?”

32 Two others, who were criminals, were led away to be put to death with him. Luke 23:26-32 ESV

Jesus’ legal trials may have come to an end, but His physical trials were just about to begin. A condemned criminal had been allowed to walk free, while Jesus, an innocent man, was subjected to a range of violent physical and verbal abuse. Luke goes out of his way to record the overwhelming consensus of opinion that Jesus was an innocent man.

Then Pilate said to the chief priests and the crowds, “I find no guilt in this man.” – Luke 23:4 ESV

“…behold, I did not find this man guilty of any of your charges against him. Neither did Herod, for he sent him back to us. Look, nothing deserving death has been done by him.” – Luke 23:14-15 ESV

A third time he said to them, “Why? What evil has he done? I have found in him no guilt deserving death.  – Luke 23:22 ESV

“…this man has done nothing wrong.” – Luke 23:41 ESV

Now when the centurion saw what had taken place, he praised God, saying, “Certainly this man was innocent! – Luke 23:47 ESV

As soon as Pilate relented to the demands of the Jewish religious leaders and authorized the crucifixion of Jesus, the matter fell under the jurisdiction of the Roman soldiers. These hardened legionnaires were responsible for carrying out the governor’s orders by subjecting Jesus to the gruesome ordeal of crucifixion – the Roman government’s preferred form of capital punishment. But like a cat cruelly playing with a mouse before subjecting it to death, Pilate’s guards decided to subject Jesus to a range of degrading physical and emotional abuses. With the entire regiment looking on, “They stripped him and put a scarlet robe on him. They wove thorn branches into a crown and put it on his head, and they placed a reed stick in his right hand as a scepter. Then they knelt before him in mockery and taunted, ‘Hail! King of the Jews!’” (Matthew 27:29-29 NLT).

These men, having overheard the accusations leveled against Jesus, found it laughable that this powerless and unimpressive Jewish Rabbi would consider Himself to be a king. So, they ruthlessly and mercilessly mocked Jesus, with every cruelty they poured out intended to leave Him humiliated and degraded. And Matthew describes with painful clarity the unsparing nature of their torturous treatment of Jesus.

…they spit on him and grabbed the stick and struck him on the head with it. When they were finally tired of mocking him, they took off the robe and put his own clothes on him again. Then they led him away to be crucified. – Matthew 27:30-31 NLT

John provides the added detail that Pilate ordered Jesus to be flogged. This barbaric practice, also known as scourging, was an especially cruel and inhuman form of punishment that was designed to inflict extreme pain and hasten death. According to an article by Ian Tuttle published in National Review, “The Romans meted out whippings with particular zeal, inventing new tools to increase the misery: on the mild end, a flat leather strap; on the mortal end, long whips with, at their ends, balls of metal with protruding metal fragments or pieces of bone. It was not uncommon for the scourging that preceded a crucifixion to prove fatal” (https://www.nationalreview.com/2015/01/flogging-through-centuries-ian-tuttle/).

By the time Jesus left the Roman governor’s palace, He would have been in a severely weakened state, suffering from extreme pain and blood loss. Yet, as a condemned man, Jesus was expected to carry His own cross to the place of crucifixion. But it appears that the flogging had taken its toll on Jesus, leaving Him incapable of bearing the weight of the cross. So, the Romans conscripted a stranger from the crowd to assist Him. And as Jesus painfully navigated the final steps to the crucifixion site, He was followed by “a great multitude of the people and of women who were mourning and lamenting for him” (Luke 23:27 ESV).

But rather than thank them for their compassionate display of sorrow, Jesus turned to these individuals and gave them a sobering word of warning.

“Daughters of Jerusalem, don’t weep for me, but weep for yourselves and for your children. For the days are coming when they will say, ‘Fortunate indeed are the women who are childless, the wombs that have not borne a child and the breasts that have never nursed.’ People will beg the mountains, ‘Fall on us,’ and plead with the hills, ‘Bury us.’” – Luke 23:28-30 NLT

His words are similar to the ones He spoke to His disciples while they sat with Him on the Mount of Olives, just prior to His arrest in the garden.

“Then those in Judea must flee to the hills. A person out on the deck of a roof must not go down into the house to pack. A person out in the field must not return even to get a coat. How terrible it will be for pregnant women and for nursing mothers in those days. And pray that your flight will not be in winter or on the Sabbath. For there will be greater anguish than at any time since the world began. And it will never be so great again…“ – Matthew 24:16-21 NLT

In both cases, Jesus was speaking of future events. He was warning them that even darker days lie ahead, when the judgment of God will fall upon the world for its rejection of His Son. Those weeping at the sight of Jesus’ deplorable condition and mourning the thought of His pending death had no idea He was referring to events associated with the end of time. The book of Revelation describes a future day when God will reign down judgment upon the earth.

Then everyone—the kings of the earth, the rulers, the generals, the wealthy, the powerful, and every slave and free person—all hid themselves in the caves and among the rocks of the mountains. And they cried to the mountains and the rocks, “Fall on us and hide us from the face of the one who sits on the throne and from the wrath of the Lamb. For the great day of their wrath has come, and who is able to survive?” – Revelation 6:15-17 NLT

This was the day to which Jesus was referring. While His death would be the key to salvation and eternal life, it would also result in God’s wrath being poured out on all those who refused to accept HIs Son as Savior. And that would include many in Israel. God’s chosen people would refuse to accept God’s Son as their Messiah and King. In fact, they would participate in His execution, demanding that He be put to death. When He had entered Jerusalem just a few days earlier, the crowds had shouted, “Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest!” (Matthew 21:9 ESV). But those joyous shouts of adoration and acclimation had quickly turned to cries of “Crucify Him!” And one day, all those who have chosen to reject the King of kings and Lord of lords will suffer the consequences of their decision and mourn, not for Jesus, but for their own coming destruction.

But when Jesus arrived at the placed called Golgotha, He found himself joined by two other men, both criminals, who would be executed alongside Him, “one on either side, and Jesus between them” (John 19:18 ESV). This seemingly innocuous statement conjures up memories of the conversation Jesus had with James and John. On an earlier occasion, these two brothers had approached Jesus and asked, “Grant that one of us may sit at Your right hand and the other at Your left in Your glory” (Mark 10:37 BSB). And Jesus had responded to their presumptuous request by stating, You do not know what you are asking…Can you drink the cup I will drink, or be baptized with the baptism I will undergo?” (Mark 10:38 BSB).

Little did they know at the time, that the two places of prominence they had requested would not be royal thrones, but cruel Roman crosses. For Jesus, the cross was a place of honor. He had been chosen by God the Father to lay down His life, and it was something Jesus was prepared to do – willingly and gladly. Jesus had come to lay down His life for the sheep.

“…the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve others and to give his life as a ransom for many.” – Matthew 20:28 NLT

And that time had come.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

Just Call Me Barabbas

18 But they all cried out together, “Away with this man, and release to us Barabbas”— 19 a man who had been thrown into prison for an insurrection started in the city and for murder. 20 Pilate addressed them once more, desiring to release Jesus, 21 but they kept shouting, “Crucify, crucify him!” 22 A third time he said to them, “Why? What evil has he done? I have found in him no guilt deserving death. I will therefore punish and release him.” 23 But they were urgent, demanding with loud cries that he should be crucified. And their voices prevailed. 24 So Pilate decided that their demand should be granted. 25 He released the man who had been thrown into prison for insurrection and murder, for whom they asked, but he delivered Jesus over to their will.  Luke 23:18-25 ESV

As far as Pilate was concerned, the Jewish religious leaders had done a poor job of prosecuting their case against Jesus. The litany of charges they had leveled against Him were dubious at best and outright lies at worst. And Pilate knew from the moment Caiaphas and his little entourage had shown up at His palace that their real issue with Jesus was religious in nature. He had seen through their little charade of faux civic duty and told them, “Take him yourselves and judge him by your own law” (John 18:31 ESV). He wanted no part in what was obviously a doctrinal dispute among the Jews.

Even after his personal interrogation of Jesus, Pilate remained convinced that He was innocent and had done nothing worthy of death. And he told the Jewish religious leaders as much.

“Nothing this man has done calls for the death penalty. So I will have him flogged, and then I will release him.” – Luke 18:15-16 NLT

But to men who would settle for nothing less than a death sentence, Pilate’s decision was totally unacceptable and infuriating. They were out for blood – literally – and began to demand that Pilate rethink his position and give in to their demands.

For whatever reason, Luke chose to leave out a significant part of the evening’s proceedings. Matthew and Mark disclose that Pilate had offered what he believed to be a way to spare Jesus’ life. It seems that he sincerely doubted whether the Jews were truly concerned about Jesus being an insurrectionist who posed a danger to the community. So, almost as a test, he offered them a choice between the lives of two men. One was Jesus, whom Pilate had deemed as unworthy of death. The other was a man named Barabbas, a convicted insurrectionist and murderer (Mark 15:7 ESV).

Apparently, Pilate had made it a custom to allow the people to request the release of one prisoner, in honor of the Feast of Passover. The Jewish religious leaders, who were very familiar with this rather strange policy, began to demand that Pilate honor his annual commitment. Naturally, Pilate assumed they were asking for the release of Jesus.

“Do you want me to release for you the King of the Jews?” – Mark 15:9 ESV

But much to his surprise, the Jews demanded that he set free a man who had already been condemned to death and deserved to be executed for his crimes. Yet Pilate really thought they would come to their senses and recognize that their hatred of Jesus was nothing more than a case of overinflated jealousy. Surely, they would listen to reason and not go through with this ill-fated inquisition. But he was wrong, and they vehemently vocalized their demands.

“Away with this man, and release to us Barabbas.”  – Mark 23:18 ESV

Taken aback by the degree of their hatred for Jesus, he asked,  “Then what shall I do with the man you call the King of the Jews?” (Mark 15:12 ESV). It seems apparent that Pilate was fully aware of the true intentions of the religious leaders. He was smart enough to know that they didn’t recognize Jesus as their Messiah, and by referring to Jesus as the “King of the Jews,” he was purposely poking the bear.

But Matthew reveals that there was another factor contributing to Pilate’s reticence to condemn Jesus to death. It seems that His wife had “suffered through a terrible nightmare” about Jesus (Matthew 27:19 NLT). She had even warned her husband, “Have nothing to do with that righteous man” (Matthew 27:19 ESV). She couldn’t put her finger on it, but there was something special about this man.

But when Pilate asked what was to be done with Jesus, the crowd shouted, “Crucify him” (Mark 15:13 ESV). Moved by the content of his wife’s nightmare and his belief that Jesus was an innocent man, Pilate continued to argue for his release. But the people shouted all the more loudly, “Crucify, crucify him!” (Luke 23:21 ESV).

This prompted Pilate to ask yet a third time: “Why? What evil has he done? I have found in him no guilt deserving death. I will therefore punish and release him” (Luke 23:22 ESV). And Luke records that the crowd, influenced by the high priest, members of the Sanhedrin, and their own elders, continued to demand that Jesus be crucified, “and their voices prevailed” (Luke 23:23 NLT).

Pilate finally gave up the fight. He acquiesced to the demands of the people and turned Him over to be put to death. Yet, Matthew noted that Pilate did so under duress.

Pilate saw that he wasn’t getting anywhere and that a riot was developing. So he sent for a bowl of water and washed his hands before the crowd, saying, “I am innocent of this man’s blood. The responsibility is yours!” – Matthew 27:24 NLT

He literally washed his hands of the matter and placed the responsibility clearly on the heads of the Jewish religious leaders. And their response is sad, yet insightful.

“We will take responsibility for his death—we and our children!” – Matthew 27:24 NLT

What an amazingly arrogant attitude these people displayed. They were basically calling down a curse from God on their own heads and those of their descendants. Driven by anger and a demonic-like hatred for Jesus, these men lost all sense of composure and reason. And their actions had just proven the veracity of the words that Jesus had spoken concerning them.

“For you are the children of your father the devil, and you love to do the evil things he does. He was a murderer from the beginning. He has always hated the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he lies, it is consistent with his character; for he is a liar and the father of lies.” – John 8:44 NLT

Mark records that Pilate “ordered Jesus flogged with a lead-tipped whip, then turned him over to the Roman soldiers to be crucified” (Mark 15:15 NLT). John adds that “the soldiers twisted together a crown of thorns and put it on his head and arrayed him in a purple robe. They came up to him, saying, ‘Hail, King of the Jews!’ and struck him with their hands” (John 19:2-3 NLT). And Luke provides the sobering statement: “he delivered Jesus over to their will” (Luke 23:25 ESV). This was exactly what the religious leaders had set out to do. It was their will. And yet, their will was subject to that of God. They did what they did of their own accord and driven by their own sinful hearts, but it was all according to the sovereign will of God Almighty.

But one of the most significant aspects of this story that often goes overlooked is the release of Barabbas. The details concerning this man are few and far between. The gospel authors simply reveal that he was a prisoner, charged with murder and insurrection, and likely facing execution for his crimes. And, of course, the primary form of capital punishment practiced by the Romans was crucifixion.  This man was a condemned criminal facing the most gruesome of deaths. He had already been convicted and condemned. His fate was sealed and there was nothing he could do about it.

Then, someone took his place. Jesus became the substitute for Barabbas, bearing his cross and suffering the death that had been intended for him. The sinner had been set free and the innocent man was crucified on his behalf. What an incredible picture of the entire redemptive story. Jesus, the innocent Lamb of God, was killed so that Barabbas could live. But it seems unlikely that Barabbas experienced a radical conversion experience, placing his faith in Jesus as his sin substitute. He probably went on to live his life just as he always had. He was a sinner, condemned, unclean and yet, Jesus had died in his place. Just as Jesus died in the place of all because all have sinned and fallen short of God’s glory (Romans 3:23).

The apostle Paul reminded the believers in Corinth that they too had been like Barabbas. They had been people imprisoned for their rebellion against God and facing a well-deserved death sentence. Yet, Jesus took their sins upon Himself by taking their place upon a cross that had their name on it. And, as a result, they were free to enjoy the benefits of forgiveness and a restored relationship with God.

Don’t you realize that those who do wrong will not inherit the Kingdom of God? Don’t fool yourselves. Those who indulge in sexual sin, or who worship idols, or commit adultery, or are male prostitutes, or practice homosexuality, or are thieves, or greedy people, or drunkards, or are abusive, or cheat people—none of these will inherit the Kingdom of God. Some of you were once like that. But you were cleansed; you were made holy; you were made right with God by calling on the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God. – 1 Corinthians 6:9-11 NLT

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

A Different King of King

1 Then the whole company of them arose and brought him before Pilate. 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.” And Pilate asked him, “Are you the King of the Jews?” And he answered him, “You have said so.” Then Pilate said to the chief priests and the crowds, “I find no guilt in this man.” But they were urgent, saying, “He stirs up the people, teaching throughout all Judea, from Galilee even to this place.”

When Pilate heard this, he asked whether the man was a Galilean. And when he learned that he belonged to Herod’s jurisdiction, he sent him over to Herod, who was himself in Jerusalem at that time. When Herod saw Jesus, he was very glad, for he had long desired to see him, because he had heard about him, and he was hoping to see some sign done by him. So he questioned him at some length, but he made no answer. 10 The chief priests and the scribes stood by, vehemently accusing him. 11 And Herod with his soldiers treated him with contempt and mocked him. Then, arraying him in splendid clothing, he sent him back to Pilate. 12 And Herod and Pilate became friends with each other that very day, for before this they had been at enmity with each other.

13 Pilate then called together the chief priests and the rulers and the people, 14 and said to them, “You brought me this man as one who was misleading the people. And after examining him before you, behold, I did not find this man guilty of any of your charges against him. 15 Neither did Herod, for he sent him back to us. Look, nothing deserving death has been done by him. 16 I will therefore punish and release him.” Luke 23:1-16 ESV

The next phase of Jesus’ trial was about to begin. The high priest and his compatriots on the high council now had the evidence they needed to bring accusations of treason against Jesus. By claiming to be the Messiah or king of Israel, Jesus had given them ample reason to get the Romans involved. The Roman government, while tolerant of other religions, was ruthlessly intolerant of insurrection in any form. There is little doubt that they had heard the rumors concerning Jesus. Though He was nothing more than an itinerant Rabbi from Nazareth, He had attracted a large following and many were claiming Him to be the next king of Israel. So, the Sanhedrin knew that Pilate, the Roman governor of Judea, would be more than interested in interrogating their prisoner. And their hope was that Pilate would protect the interests of Rome by having Jesus put to death.

While the Sanhedrin had determined that Jesus deserved death because of His blasphemous claims of divinity, they were prohibited by Roman law from practicing capital punishment. So, their plan was to use the rather lame charge of treason to incite the Romans against Jesus. And it seems that the entire religious leadership of Israel was party to this deadly charade. Luke indicates that “the whole company of them arose and brought him before Pilate” (Luke 23:1 ESV). The two high priests, Caiaphas and Annas, as well as the members of the council and the elders of Israel were all part of the contingent that accompanied Jesus to the Roman governor’s palace.

This angry mob dragged Jesus before Pilate and immediately began to level their charges against Him. It’s unlikely that they entered the palace of the Gentile governor because that would have rendered them unclean (John 18:28). So, they stood in the courtyard, their prized prisoner in hand, delivering their carefully crafted indictments against Him.

“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

They deliberately distanced themselves from Jesus, choosing to treat Him with disdainful anonymity. Refusing to use His name or His rightful title of Rabbi, they paint Jesus as just another radical revolutionary stirring up trouble in Israel. And they attempt to portray themselves as friends of Caesar, dedicated to protecting his interests and in full allegiance to Roman rule over their nation. In fact, John records the disingenuous response of these men when later, Pilate mockingly declared Jesus to be their king.

“Away with him,” they yelled. “Away with him! Crucify him!”

“What? Crucify your king?” Pilate asked.

We have no king but Caesar,” the leading priests shouted back. – John 19:15 NLT

Luke makes it clear that Jesus’ alleged claims of kingship were the primary focus of Pilate’s interest in Him. Having heard the accusations of the religious leaders, Pilate turned to Jesus and asked, “Are you the King of the Jews?” (Luke 23:3 ESV). Luke reports that Jesus simply responded, “You have said so” (Luke 23:3 ESV). But John provides much more detail regarding the exchange between Pilate and Jesus. He notes that Jesus responded to Pilate’s question by asking, “Do you say this of your own accord, or did others say it to you about me?” (John 18:34 ESV). This cleverly worded question seems to be inquiring whether Pilate is expressing personal interest in Jesus’ kingship or simply parroting the accusations of the religious leaders. In a sense, Jesus wanted to know if Pilate was simply looking for a confession of guilt or was curious to know if the rumors about Jesus were true. Was He really the Messiah, the son of David and the legitimate heir to the throne of Israel? But Pilate, sensing what Jesus was doing, quickly redirected the conversation.

“Am I a Jew? Your own nation and the chief priests have delivered you over to me. What have you done?” – John 18:35 ESV

Pilate was looking for proof of Jesus’ guilt. He had been accused of promoting tax evasion and of declaring Himself the rightful king of Israel. These were serious charges and Pilate was attempting to give Jesus the opportunity to tell His side of the story. But instead, Jesus chose to clarify the nature of His kingship and kingdom.

“My kingdom is not of this world. If my kingdom were of this world, my servants would have been fighting, that I might not be delivered over to the Jews. But my kingdom is not from the world.” – John 18:36 ESV

Pilate and the Romans had nothing to fear from Jesus. He was not an insurrectionist and He had no desire to disrupt the political status quo in Israel. He had not come to usher in a physical kingdom or wage war against the Romans. In fact, His battle was with the religious leaders of His own people, who were standing in opposition to His mission of repentance and redemption. They, of all people, should have recognized Jesus as the Messiah. But because Jesus had not appeared in the form they had been expecting, they had rejected Him. He had not fulfilled their expectations concerning the Messiah, so they sought to destroy Him. But what they failed to understand was that the Messiah’s kingly mission would not be about crowns and conquests or the defeat of Israel’s political enemies. Jesus had come to deliver His people from slavery to sin, not subjugation to Rome.

But all this talk of kingship led Pilate to ask, “So you are a king?” (John 18:37 ESV). To which Jesus replied, “You say that I am a king. For this purpose I was born and for this purpose I have come into the world—to bear witness to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth listens to my voice” (John 18:37 ESV). The truth was that Jesus was a king. But He was a completely different kind of king who had come to establish a different kind of kingdom. He had come to wage war “against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places” (Ephesians 6:12 ESV). His fight was not with Rome, but with Satan. His objective was the deliverance of men from spiritual slavery to sin and the condemnation of death that accompanied. The apostle Paul would later declare, “He canceled the record of the charges against us and took it away by nailing it to the cross. In this way, he disarmed the spiritual rulers and authorities. He shamed them publicly by his victory over them on the cross” (Colossians 2:14-15 NLT).

But all of Jesus’ talk of otherworldly kingdoms meant nothing to Pilate. He sensed that Jesus was no threat to Rome and delivered his conclusion to the religious leaders gathered in the courtyard of his palace.

“I find no guilt in him.” – John 18:38 ESV

But this pronouncement was not what Caiaphas and the rest of the Sanhedrin wanted to hear. So, they became even more agitated and desperate, demanding that Jesus was a clear and present danger to the Roman republic.

“He stirs up the people, teaching throughout all Judea, from Galilee even to this place.” – Luke 23:5 ESV

The mention of Galilee gave Pilate an excuse to pass the buck. He wanted nothing more to do with Jesus, so he had Him transferred to the royal palace of Herod, the governor of Galilee. Since Jesus was accused of stirring up trouble in Herod’s jurisdiction, Pilate decided to let his fellow governor get in on the action. But Herod wasn’t interested in making a deliberation concerning Jesus’ guilt or innocence. He had heard all about Jesus and was hoping this miracle worker from Nazareth would oblige him by performing one of His famous signs. But Jesus refused to play Herod’s game and, before long, Herod lost interest and sent Him back to Pilate. All the while Jesus was in Herod’s palace, the religious leaders stood outside shouting their accusations against Him. But to no avail. Herod had Jesus dressed up in “splendid clothing” (Luke 23:11 ESV) and then subjected Him to the ridicule and contempt of his guards. But before long, Jesus found Himself back in Pilate’s palace.

What happened next is critical to the story of Jesus’ final hours. Pilate reported to Jesus’ accusers that their charges were insufficient to warrant His death. They had failed to produce enough evidence to convince either him or Herod to order Jesus’ execution. And for the second time, Pilate announced, “after examining him before you, behold, I did not find this man guilty of any of your charges against him” (Luke 23:14 ESV). The Gentile rulers declared Jesus to be innocent of all charges. Pilate agreed to punish Jesus but would not condemn Him to death. At least, not yet.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

Guilty As Charged

66 When day came, the assembly of the elders of the people gathered together, both chief priests and scribes. And they led him away to their council, and they said, 67 “If you are the Christ, tell us.” But he said to them, “If I tell you, you will not believe, 68 and if I ask you, you will not answer. 69 But from now on the Son of Man shall be seated at the right hand of the power of God.” 70 So they all said, “Are you the Son of God, then?” And he said to them, “You say that I am.” 71 Then they said, “What further testimony do we need? We have heard it ourselves from his own lips.”  Luke 22:66-71 ESV

While Peter had been busy denying any knowledge of Jesus, his friend and mentor had been undergoing intense interrogation by the high priests and their associates. John provides a much more detailed description of the evening’s proceedings in his gospel by cleverly juxtaposing the “trial” of Peter with that of Jesus. In his narrative, the scene repeatedly switches from the exterior courtyard to the inner recesses of Caiaphas’ palace. Outside, Peter was being forced to answer some simple, yet potentially damning questions. Inside, Jesus was being bombarded with questions designed to produce evidence that would justify His death. He was even having to face the false accusations of witnesses who had been paid to condemn Him, but their testimonies ended up being contradictory and worthless.

Peter faced accusations of being a follower of Jesus. He was recognized as a Galilean and of having been in the garden with Jesus when He was arrested. But Peter denied any and all charges leveled against him – even though they were all true.

John indicates that Annas, the father-in-law of Caiaphas, was the first to question Jesus. He demanded to know what Jesus had been teaching His followers. But Jesus simply replied, “Everyone knows what I teach. I have preached regularly in the synagogues and the Temple, where the people gather. I have not spoken in secret. Why are you asking me this question? Ask those who heard me. They know what I said” (John 18:20-21 NLT).

Jesus’ response earned Him a slap in the face from one of the temple guards, along with a reprimand for disrespecting the former high priest. But, once again, Jesus replied calmly, “If I said anything wrong, you must prove it. But if I’m speaking the truth, why are you beating me?” (John 18:23 NLT). Refusing to answer the question, Annas had Jesus taken to his son-in-law, Caiaphas, the official high priest of Israel.

Mark picks up the story at this point. A host of so-called witnesses had been paraded before the high priest and his fellow members of the council, each leveling their own fabricated charges against Jesus. Some had even accused Jesus of planning to destroy the temple in Jerusalem.

“We heard him say, ‘I will destroy this Temple made with human hands, and in three days I will build another, made without human hands.’” – Mark 14:58 NLT

While none of the witnesses could corroborate their stories, that appears to have been a moot point to the high priest. He was not interested in the truth. He simply wanted to get Jesus to perjure or incriminate Himself. The purpose of the witnesses was to force Jesus to defend Himself and say something they could use against Him. But Jesus remained silent. Frustrated by Jesus’ lack of cooperation with their sham trial, Caiaphas stood before the council and addressed Jesus with a question of his own.

“Well, aren’t you going to answer these charges? What do you have to say for yourself?” – Mark 14:60 NLT

It seems that what Caiaphas wanted from Jesus was a clear declaration of His claim to be the Messiah. If he could get Jesus to admit that He was the long-awaited Messiah or king of Israel, he could accuse Jesus of being an insurrectionist and a potential threat to the Romans. But when Jesus refused to say anything, Caiaphas finally blurted out, “Are you the Messiah, the Son of the Blessed One?” (Mark 14:61 NLT).

At this point, Jesus spoke up, and what He said left Caiaphas and his cronies in a state of anger and astonishment. According to Luke’s account, Jesus calmly stated, “If I tell you, you won’t believe me. And if I ask you a question, you won’t answer” (Luke 22:67-68 NLT). But Matthew, Mark, and Luke all reveal that Jesus eventually answered the high priest’s question.

I am. And you will see the Son of Man seated in the place of power at God’s right hand and coming on the clouds of heaven.” – Mark 14:62 NLT

With this answer, Caiaphas knew he had hit the jackpot. Jesus had just claimed to be the king of Israel. But not only that, with His declaration, “I am,” Jesus had just claimed to be God. He had just put Himself on equal footing with Yahweh. As experts in the Old Testament Scriptures, these men fully understood the significance of Jesus’ words. They were highly familiar with the book of Exodus and recognized that Jesus was echoing the words that God had spoken when Moses had asked, “If I come to the people of Israel and say to them, ‘The God of your fathers has sent me to you,’ and they ask me, ‘What is his name?’ what shall I say to them?” (Exodus 3:13 ESV).  And God had responded, “I am who I am.” Then He went on to say, “Say this to the people of Israel: ‘I am has sent me to you’” (Exodus 3:14 ESV).

Jesus had just claimed to be God. According to the law, He had committed blasphemy. And just to ensure that they had heard Jesus right, Caiaphas asked, “So, are you claiming to be the Son of God?,” and Jesus responded, “You say that I am” (Luke 22:70 NLT). Jesus cleverly accused the high priest of Israel of validating His divinity.

But in a display of over-the-top theatrics, Caiaphas tore his garment as a sign of horror and mourning over this blatant disregard for the holiness of God’s name. Then he shouted to his associates, “Why do we need other witnesses? You have all heard his blasphemy. What is your verdict?” (Mark 14:63-64 NLT). And everyone in the room shouted, “Guilty!…He deserves to die!” (Mark 14:64 NLT).

They had what they wanted. Jesus had just condemned Himself to death. By claiming to be the king of Israel, He had declared Himself to be an enemy of Rome. Always fearful of insurrection, the Romans had a zero-tolerance policy regarding any kind of threat to their authority and they would deal swiftly and harshly with anyone claiming to be the rightful heir to the throne of David.

But for Caiaphas, the real win was that Jesus had committed blasphemy. This upstart Rabbi from Nazareth had repeatedly claimed to be the Son of God and had led the people to believe that He was on an equal footing with Yahweh. For Caiaphas, that was not only impossible, but it was also unacceptable and intolerable. This man had to die. In fact, Caiaphas had come to that conclusion a long time ago. He had already declared his assessment of the situation when he told his fellow members of the Sanhedrin:

“…it is better for you that one man should die for the people, not that the whole nation should perish.” – John 11:50 ESV

And John went on to explain that Caiaphas’ words were actually prophetic. The high priest didn’t realize it when he said them, but his words were actually echoing the preordained will of God.

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. – John 11:51-52 ESV

Jesus really did have to die. Not for blasphemy but so that the will of God might be fulfilled. Just hours earlier, in the garden, Jesus had prayed to His Heavenly Father:

“Father, the hour has come; glorify your Son that the Son may glorify you, since you have given him authority over all flesh, to give eternal life to all whom you have given him. And this is eternal life, that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent. I glorified you on earth, having accomplished the work that you gave me to do. And now, Father, glorify me in your own presence with the glory that I had with you before the world existed.” – John 17:1-5 ESV

Jesus would die. But He would do so, not for blasphemy but so that sinful man might be restored to a right relationship with God. He would die as God, not for claiming to be God. He would be executed for being holy and righteous, not sinful and blasphemous. He would be lifted up on the cross, not as an example of insurrection, but as God’s means of salvation and future resurrection. Caiaphas and his companions believed they were one step closer to ridding themselves of Jesus, but they were accomplishing the will of God. They were unwillingly, yet perfectly, playing their part in the divine plan for the redemption of the world.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson