I Am With You Always

11 While they were going, behold, some of the guard went into the city and told the chief priests all that had taken place. 12 And when they had assembled with the elders and taken counsel, they gave a sufficient sum of money to the soldiers 13 and said, “Tell people, ‘His disciples came by night and stole him away while we were asleep.’ 14 And if this comes to the governor’s ears, we will satisfy him and keep you out of trouble.” 15 So they took the money and did as they were directed. And this story has been spread among the Jews to this day.

16 Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them. 17 And when they saw him they worshiped him, but some doubted. 18 And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” – Matthew 28:11-20 ESV

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Of all the gospel authors, Matthew provides us with the most abbreviated version of the events surrounding Jesus’ last hours on earth. For whatever reason, he chose to leave out all the appearances Jesus made after His resurrection. We know from the accounts penned by John, Luke, and Mark, that Jesus appeared to His followers repeatedly during the hours between His resurrection and His ascension. There was the occasion when He had walked alongside the two distraught disciples on the road to Emmaus as they discussed the recent death of their master (Luke 24:13-32). Initially, they had been unable to recognize Jesus. But when they eventually realized they were talking with the resurrected Lord, they made a beeline to the room where the 10 disciples were gathered together, informing them of their encounter with Jesus.  And as they were sharing the exciting news, Jesus suddenly appeared among them (Luke 24:33-40).

John records that Thomas had not been in the room that day, and when his fellow disciples told him what had happened, he expressed his reservations. So, eight days later, Jesus revealed Himself to Thomas, telling him, “Do not disbelieve but believe” (John 20:27).

The apostle Paul provides a succinct summary of all of Jesus’ post-resurrection appearances.

He was seen by Peter and then by the Twelve. After that, he was seen by more than 500 of his followers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have died. Then he was seen by James and later by all the apostles. Last of all, as though I had been born at the wrong time, I also saw him. – 1 Corinthians 15:5-8 NLT

But Matthew chose to leave out all of this. Not only that, He doesn’t even mention the ascension of Jesus. Dr. Stanley Toussaint provides us with a compelling explanation for Matthew’s decision to leave out this seemingly vital part of the narrative.

The reason for Matthew’s diligence in approaching the resurrection in such an apologetic manner is evident since so much is dependent upon the resurrection of the Messiah. It authenticated His person. To the nation of Israel, His resurrection was the sign of the prophet Jonah (Matthew 12:38-49) attesting the fact that Jesus was the Messiah. The reason Matthew says nothing about the ascension is bound up in this point. If Jesus is the Messiah, then an account of the ascension is both unnecessary and self-evident to the Israelite. He would yet come in clouds of glory. What mattered to Matthew was that Jesus was Israel’s Messiah and the resurrection proved that fact; therefore he goes no further. – Toussaint, Stanley D. Behold the King: A Study of Matthew. Portland, Oreg.: Multnomah Press, 1980.

For Matthew, the resurrection said it all. If Jesus had been raised from the dead, which Matthew clearly believed, then His ascension would have been an undisputed fact. Matthew’s primary point was to prove the Messiahship of Jesus. That’s because, as a Jew, Matthew had written his gospel with a Jewish audience in mind. He had been out to prove that Jesus was the Messiah, the Son of God, and the Savior of the world. And, for him, the resurrection was clear evidence and conclusive proof of that claim.

The tomb was empty, and news of that reality had already begun to spread. In fact, the temple guards who had been tasked with protecting the tomb had already delivered their report of the missing body to Caiaphas, the high priest, and his father-in-law. The Jewish high council had placed these guards at the tomb of Jesus in order to prevent the disciples from stealing His body. The members of the Sanhedrin had been informed of Jesus’ bold and blasphemous claim that He would rise from the dead. So, they assumed His fanatical disciples, in a pathetic attempt to keep their little revolution alive, would try to steal the body of Jesus and declare Him to be alive.  Much to their surprise and chagrin, that is essentially what the guards reported. And Matthew records that the guards told the high priest “all that had taken place.” That would have included exactly what Matthew had reported.

…there was a great earthquake, for an angel of the Lord descended from heaven and came and rolled back the stone and sat on it. His appearance was like lightning, and his clothing white as snow. And for fear of him the guards trembled and became like dead men. – Matthew 28:2-4 ESV

These guards would have feared for their lives. They had failed in their assignment. The body they had been instructed to guard was no longer there. If anything, these men could have fabricated a lie that provided them with a plausible alibi. But instead, they told the truth – as crazy as it may have sounded. Not only had they failed to secure the tomb, but they had also fallen asleep on the job. So, they most likely told their bosses exactly what had happened in great detail.

But Matthew records that Caiaphas, after having heard the unwelcome news, assembled the rest of the high council. Amazingly, Caiaphas determined that the best strategy was to pay off the guards and spread the rumor that the disciples had stolen the body – the very thing he had hoped to prevent. It seems evident that he knew something else had taken place, and this decision was nothing more than a poor attempt at a coverup. The last thing he wanted was a rumor of Jesus’ resurrection spreading throughout the city.

And yet, that fact was Matthew’s primary point. Jesus was alive. He had risen from the dead, just as He had promised. He was the Messiah of Israel and the Savior of the world. Matthew had opened up his gospel with the encounter between Joseph and the angel.

“Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary as your wife, for that which is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” – Matthew 1:20-21 ESV

Matthew had followed that story with the one involving the arrival of the wise men, who had come in search of “he who has been born king of the Jews?(Matthew 2:2 ESV).

Next, Matthew recorded Herod’s attempt to eliminate the infant Jesus as a threat by having all the male babies executed. He reported Jesus’ baptism by John the Baptist and the divine pronouncement from God, stating, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased” (Matthew 3:17 ESV).

Matthew had been out to prove that Jesus was Immanuel, “God with us” (Matthew 1:23 ESV). And the resurrection of Jesus was the final, conclusive piece of evidence.

Jesus had directed His disciples to meet Him at a mountain in Galilee. We are not told which mountain, but it may have been the very place where Jesus had given His sermon on the mount recorded in Matthew 5-7. But regardless of the exact location of their place of rendezvous, Jesus appeared yet again to His followers. Matthew reports that while all 11 of the disciples worshiped Him, some still harbored doubts. He doesn’t explain what he meant by this. Did they doubt Jesus’ resurrection? That seems hard to imagine, based on the fact that He was standing right in front of them. Did they doubt that He was the Messiah? Perhaps. It could be that they were still harboring hopes that He would reveal Himself to be the King they had long hoped for.

The Greek word translated as “doubted” is edistasan, and it refers to a spirit of hesitation. It is likely that they were uncertain and fearful of all that was going on around them. They probably harbored concerns about the future. They were in unchartered waters. The events of the last few days were not what they had expected, and they had no idea what was going to happen next. What were Jesus’ plans? What would happen to them? The Sanhedrin had already proven just how far they would go to eliminate Jesus as a threat, and they were not going to give up easily.

But Jesus attempted to calm their fears and doubts by telling them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me” (Matthew 28:18 ESV). This statement was meant to assure His wavering, fear-focused disciples that He was in complete control of the situation. The very fact that He was standing before them, alive and well, was proof that He had authority from God Almighty. He had done what no other man had ever done before – He had conquered death and the grave. And they had no reason to fear.

But they did have work to do. And Jesus, according to His God-given authority, commissioned His followers to continue His work in His absence.

“Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” – Matthew 28:19-20 ESV

No more hiding. No more fearing. They were to boldly proclaim the good news of Jesus’ Messiahship. He was the Son of God. He was Immanuel, God with us. He was the King of the Jews and the Savior of the world. And that remarkable news was to be proclaimed throughout the world. While the temple guards and the Sanhedrin were busy spreading lies, the disciples were to spread the truth about the death-defeating, sin-forgiving power of the resurrected Savior.

And Jesus assured His followers that, though He was leaving, He would still be with them. This promise was fulfilled when the Holy Spirit came to dwell in them on the day of Pentecost. The Spirit would be their constant companion and source of divine power. And, while Jesus would soon depart and return to His Father’s side in heaven, the Spirit of God would remain with them all the days of their lives. And He will remain with all those who make up the body of Christ, the Church, until the end of the age.

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
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His Blood Be On Us!

24 So when Pilate saw that he was gaining nothing, but rather that a riot was beginning, he took water and washed his hands before the crowd, saying, “I am innocent of this man’s blood; see to it yourselves.” 25 And all the people answered, “His blood be on us and on our children!” 26 Then he released for them Barabbas, and having scourged Jesus, delivered him to be crucified.

27 Then the soldiers of the governor took Jesus into the governor’s headquarters, and they gathered the whole battalion before him. 28 And they stripped him and put a scarlet robe on him, 29 and twisting together a crown of thorns, they put it on his head and put a reed in his right hand. And kneeling before him, they mocked him, saying, “Hail, King of the Jews!” 30 And they spit on him and took the reed and struck him on the head. 31 And when they had mocked him, they stripped him of the robe and put his own clothes on him and led him away to crucify him. – Matthew 27:24-31 ESV

Jesus mockedPilate washed his hands of Jesus. He wanted nothing to do with the death of this innocent man, but because of the growing anger of the mob that had gathered outside his home, he gave in to their demands and turned Jesus over to be crucified. Yet, he made his position on the matter perfectly clear: “I am innocent of this man’s blood; see to it yourselves” (Matthew 27:24 ESV).

According to Luke’s account, Pilate had attempted to set Jesus free. His own wife had warned him not to have anything to do with putting Jesus to death because she had experienced disturbing dreams about him. Upon discovering that Jesus was a Galilean, Pilate sent Jesus to Herod so that he might examine him.

“…after examining him before you, 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. I will therefore punish and release him.” – Luke 23:14-16 ESV

The people could have cared less about what Pilate or Herod thought. Their minds were made up. They wanted Jesus dead, and the continued to cry out, “Crucify, crucify him!” (Luke 23:21 ESV). And Luke records that, for the third and final time, Pilate had responded:

“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

But the people would have none of it. They were not interested in the facts of the case. The guilt of Jesus had been established by the religious leaders, and that was enough for them. And Luke continues in his account:

But they were urgent, demanding with loud cries that he should be crucified. And their voices prevailed. So Pilate decided that their demand should be granted. – Luke 23:23-24 ESV

Fearing a riot, Pilate gave in to the demands of the people, and handed Jesus over to his guards to begin the process of His crucifixion. The people responded with what would be a prophetic statement that would seal their own fates, as well as those of their descendants, for generations to come.

“His blood be on us and on our children!” – Matthew 27:25 ESV

With this rashly spoken vow, these people unknowingly admitted their culpability for Jesus’ death and included their children and grandchildren in their guilt. Sometime later, after Jesus was resurrected and had ascended back into heaven, Peter would remind the high priest and the Sanhedrin:

“The God of our ancestors raised Jesus from the dead after you killed him by hanging him on a cross.” – Acts 5:30 ESV

Peter was simply restating what the crowd had declared. The blood of Jesus was on their hands. They would be held responsible by God for the death of His Son. And it would be because of their refusal to accept Jesus as their Messiah that God would turn to the Gentiles with the offer of salvation through His Son. The apostle Paul makes this fact perfectly clear in his letter to the Romans. But he also reminds us that, in spite of their blood-guilt, God was not yet done with Israel.

Did God’s people stumble and fall beyond recovery? Of course not! They were disobedient, so God made salvation available to the Gentiles. But he wanted his own people to become jealous and claim it for themselves. Now if the Gentiles were enriched because the people of Israel turned down God’s offer of salvation, think how much greater a blessing the world will share when they finally accept it. – Romans 11:11-12 NLT

And just in case we fail to understand the weight of Paul’s words, he adds:

What does all this mean? Even though the Gentiles were not trying to follow God’s standards, they were made right with God. And it was by faith that this took place. But the people of Israel, who tried so hard to get right with God by keeping the law, never succeeded. Why not? Because they were trying to get right with God by keeping the law instead of by trusting in him. They stumbled over the great rock in their path. God warned them of this in the Scriptures when he said,

“I am placing a stone in Jerusalem that makes people stumble,
    a rock that makes them fall.
But anyone who trusts in him
    will never be disgraced.” – Romans 9:30-33 NLT

The people of Israel had stumbled over Jesus. His arrival on the scene had left them disappointed and disillusioned. He was not the kind of Messiah they had been expecting, so they rejected Him. And their refusal to accept Him led to the gospel being sent to the Gentiles. But there is a day coming when God will refocus His divine will and His everlasting love on His chosen people, the Israelites. Paul goes on to state the unmistakable reality of that fact.

Some of the people of Israel have hard hearts, but this will last only until the full number of Gentiles comes to Christ. And so all Israel will be saved. As the Scriptures say,

“The one who rescues will come from Jerusalem,
    and he will turn Israel away from ungodliness.
And this is my covenant with them,
    that I will take away their sins.” – Romans 23:25-27 NLT

The crowd gathered outside Pilate’s residence had demanded the death of Jesus. They had rejected Him as their Messiah and demanded that a common criminal be released in His place. They would be complicit in the death of the Savior of the world. But it would be His death that made redemption possible for the world. Their rejection of Jesus made His offer of salvation available to the Gentile world. And since the day of Pentecost, when the church began, millions upon millions of Gentiles from all tribes, nations, and tongues, have come to faith in Jesus. But the day is coming when the full number of Gentiles that God has ordained for salvation will be complete. Then, He will turn His attention to Israel once again, extending His grace and mercy to a people responsible for the death of His own Son. The blood of Jesus, covering their heads as a sign of their guilt, will also be used by God to cleanse them from all unrighteousness. The one they crucified will be the one who will deem them fully justified.

But first, Jesus was going to have to suffer and die. And HIs suffering began at the hand of Pilate’s guards, who stripped Him, beat Him, and mocked Him by sarcastically proclaiming Him to be the king of the Jews. In this depressing scene, we see Jews and Gentiles alike rejecting the Savior of the world. They ridicule rather than revere Him. They spit in the face of the one who created them. They crush a hastily fabricated crown of thorns onto the head of the King of kings and Lord of lords. And in their ignorance, they jokingly, and prophetically cry out, “Hail, King of the Jews!”

Little did they know how true those words would prove to be. Jesus was the King of the Jews, and He was willingly laying down His life for His people. He was dying so that they might live. He was taking on their guilt and suffering the death they deserved so that they might receive His righteousness and God’s forgiveness. He was willingly shedding His blood so that the sins of mankind might be atoned for once and for all. The apostle John reminds us that “the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin” (1 John 1:7 ESV).

And in the book of Revelation, John records a vision he was given into heaven during the days of the Great Tribulation.

After this I saw a vast crowd, too great to count, from every nation and tribe and people and language, standing in front of the throne and before the Lamb. They were clothed in white robes and held palm branches in their hands. And they were shouting with a great roar,

“Salvation comes from our God who sits on the throne and from the Lamb!” – Revelation 7:9-10 NLT

When John inquired as to who made up this vast crowd dressed in white, he was told:

“These are the ones who died in the great tribulation. They have washed their robes in the blood of the Lamb and made them white.” – Revelation 7:14 NLT

The precious blood of Jesus shed for the sins of men, will continue to provide atonement and salvation for generations to come, all the way up to the end. But when the crowd gathered outside Pilate’s home had boldly shouted, “His blood be on us and on our children!” they had no idea how prophetic their words would be. Because, as the author of Hebrews reminds us, “without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins” (Hebrews 9:22 ESV).

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

Let Him Be Crucified!

11 Now Jesus stood before the governor, and the governor asked him, “Are you the King of the Jews?” Jesus said, “You have said so.” 12 But when he was accused by the chief priests and elders, he gave no answer. 13 Then Pilate said to him, “Do you not hear how many things they testify against you?” 14 But he gave him no answer, not even to a single charge, so that the governor was greatly amazed.

15 Now at the feast the governor was accustomed to release for the crowd any one prisoner whom they wanted. 16 And they had then a notorious prisoner called Barabbas. 17 So when they had gathered, Pilate said to them, “Whom do you want me to release for you: Barabbas, or Jesus who is called Christ?” 18 For he knew that it was out of envy that they had delivered him up. 19 Besides, while he was sitting on the judgment seat, his wife sent word to him, “Have nothing to do with that righteous man, for I have suffered much because of him today in a dream.” 20 Now the chief priests and the elders persuaded the crowd to ask for Barabbas and destroy Jesus. 21 The governor again said to them, “Which of the two do you want me to release for you?” And they said, “Barabbas.” 22 Pilate said to them, “Then what shall I do with Jesus who is called Christ?” They all said, “Let him be crucified!” 23 And he said, “Why? What evil has he done?” But they shouted all the more, “Let him be crucified!” – Matthew 27:11-23 ESV

Munkacsy_-_christ_before_pilateJudas had hung himself. The rest of the disciples were in hiding. Peter, in particular, was in a state of deep sorrow, having fulfilled Jesus’ prediction by denying Him on three separate occasions.

But Jesus was still in the custody of the high priest’s guards and on His way to Pilate, the Roman governor. The Jewish religious leaders were no fans of the Roman government, but they knew they needed Rome’s authority and legal jurisdiction in order to have Jesus put to death.

In his gospel account, John indicates that it was early in the morning when Jesus arrived at the governor’s residence. And Matthew records that the first thing the governor asked Jesus was, “Are you the King of the Jews?” (Matthew 27:11 ESV). This seems like an odd way for Pilate to start his interrogation of Jesus, but it reveals that he had been informed of the rumors concerning Jesus. He had most likely heard all the details concerning Jesus’ somewhat spectacular entry into Jerusalem a few days earlier and had been told about the shouts of the crowds who had greeted Him as He made His way into the city.

“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

It would also seem apparent that the high priest and the members of the Sanhedrin had accused Jesus of claiming to be the king of the Jews. They knew their charge of blasphemy against Jesus would be of no interest to Pilate. But the threat of a possible insurrection against Herod, the Roman-appointed king of Israel, would have gotten Pilate’s attention. The Jews wanted Jesus dead because He had claimed to be the Son of God. But they knew the best way to get the Romans to sanction His death would be to portray Jesus as a dangerous radical and revolutionary, whose very presence was a threat to the Pax Romana, the Roman peace that allowed them to keep their vast empire under control.

John records that, when the Jews showed up at Pilate’s house with Jesus in tow, the governor had asked them what accusations they were bringing against Jesus. And they had replied, “If this man were not doing evil, we would not have delivered him over to you” (John 18:30 ESV). They wanted to paint Jesus as dangerous. And both Matthew and Mark make it clear that the Sanhedrin leveled many charges against Jesus. They were doing their best to destroy the reputation of Jesus and to give Pilate no other recourse than to sentence Him to death. And through it all, Jesus remained silent. He said nothing. He was not interested in self-defense, but in fulfilling the will of His Father.

Pilate, a seasoned and savvy political leader, saw through the motives of the Sanhedrin. Matthew records that “he knew that it was out of envy that they had delivered him up” (Matthew 27:18 ESV). It was the Jewish religious leaders who saw Jesus as a threat, not Rome. During His three years of ministry, Jesus had done nothing to engender the least bit of fear or paranoia on the part of Rome. He was not a rabble-rouser or trouble-maker. He had not promoted the overthrow of the Roman government. He had not encouraged dissent or preached revolutionary rhetoric aimed at overthrowing Herod or eliminating Roman rule. That was not His mission.

So Pilate, desiring to release the obviously innocent Jesus without having to make the decision himself, provided the Jews with a choice. During his tenure as governor, Pilate had created an annual act of goodwill that took place during the Jewish celebration of Passover. He would release to them a Jew being held in captivity by the Roman government. On this occasion, he offered them a choice between two individuals: Jesus or a notorious criminal named Barabas. According to Mark, this man was a murderer and an insurrectionist. And it seems apparent that Pilate believed the people would prefer to have Jesus released over this well-known and dangerous criminal. But he was wrong. Due to the insidious influence of the Sanhedrim, the crowd that had gathered outside Pilate’s home overwhelmingly expressed their choice of the murderer over the Messiah. They wanted Barabas released, not Jesus.

And when Pilate asked the crowd, “what shall I do with Jesus who is called Christ?” they responded, “Let him be crucified!” (Matthew 27:22 ESV).

Shocked at their response, Pilate asked, “Why? What evil has he done?” (Matthew 27:23 ESV). And again, the people shouted, “Let him be crucified!” The mob mentality fomented by the Jewish religious leaders overruled common sense and reason. Jesus was innocent of all charges brought against Him, but they did not care. Sensing the blood in the water, the feeding frenzy had begun. 

When Pilate had asked Jesus if He was the king of the Jews, He had simply replied, “You have said so” (Matthew 27:11 ESV). With those four words, Jesus confirmed His identity. He was the King of the Jews. But not in a sense that Pilate could have understood or in a way that the Jews could have anticipated. He was a King over a different kind of Kingdom. And He ruled with far more power and authority than Pilate could have ever imagined. Jesus would tell Pilate:

“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

In these closing hours of Jesus’ life on earth, the topic of His kingship will come up repeatedly. He will even be mocked by the guards and given a purple robe and a crown of thorns to wear. These war-hardened legionnaires will bow down before Him, sarcastically shouting, “Hail, King of the Jews!” (Mark 15:18 ESV). When Jesus is nailed to the cross, Pilate will command that a placard be placed above His head, stating the nature of His crime. And it will read “King of the Jews.”

Jesus was and is the King of the Jews. And as the book of Revelation makes clear, He is the King of kings and Lord of lords (Revelation 19:16). Pilate was standing before the rightful King of Israel and the righteous ruler over all of creation. And it’s amazing to think that Pilate was more willing to wrestle with the reality of Jesus’ sovereignty than the Jewish religious leaders were. Pilate wanted to release Jesus. But the high priest and the Sanhedrin were adamant that He be put to death – all because they refused to accept His identity as their King and Lord.

The Jews would get their wish. Their arch-nemesis would meet an untimely end. But their relentless crusade to seek Jesus’ death and their successful efforts to secure Rome’s official sanctioning of it were all part of the sovereign will of God. Every aspect of this dark chronology was in fulfillment of the divine strategy. As Jesus had stated in the garden, “But this is all happening to fulfill the words of the prophets as recorded in the Scriptures” (Matthew 26:56 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

What Is Your Judgment?

 57 Then those who had seized Jesus led him to Caiaphas the high priest, where the scribes and the elders had gathered. 58 And Peter was following him at a distance, as far as the courtyard of the high priest, and going inside he sat with the guards to see the end. 59 Now the chief priests and the whole council were seeking false testimony against Jesus that they might put him to death, 60 but they found none, though many false witnesses came forward. At last two came forward 61 and said, “This man said, ‘I am able to destroy the temple of God, and to rebuild it in three days.’” 62 And the high priest stood up and said, “Have you no answer to make? What is it that these men testify against you?” 63 But Jesus remained silent. And the high priest said to him, “I adjure you by the living God, tell us if you are the Christ, the Son of God.” 64 Jesus said to him, “You have said so. But I tell you, from now on you will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of Power and coming on the clouds of heaven.” 65 Then the high priest tore his robes and said, “He has uttered blasphemy. What further witnesses do we need? You have now heard his blasphemy. 66 What is your judgment?” They answered, “He deserves death.” 67 Then they spit in his face and struck him. And some slapped him, 68 saying, “Prophesy to us, you Christ! Who is it that struck you?” – Matthew 26:57-68 ESV

CaiphasJesus had been arrested and His disciples had fled into the night. Even Peter, the one who had earlier boasted, “Though they all fall away because of you, I will never fall away” (Matthew 26:33 ESV). Their fear had gotten the best of them and they had resigned themselves to the fact that it was all over. Matthew even records that Peter, having followed the guards who were taking Jesus to Caiaphas, the high priest, did so, “to see the end” (Matthew 26:58 ESV). It was all over. Their dreams of Jesus being their Messiah and the one who would sit on the throne of David had been dashed. Jesus was as good as a dead man and there was nothing Peter or any of the other disciples could do about it.

While they sought safety and solace in the dark, Jesus was dragged before Annas, the father-in-law of Caiaphas, the high priest. Annas had been the high priest at one time and still held sway over the Sanhedrin, the Jewish high council. It was Annas who questioned Jesus about His disciples and His teaching. And Jesus had responded:

“I have spoken openly to the world. I have always taught in synagogues and in the temple, where all Jews come together. I have said nothing in secret. Why do you ask me? Ask those who have heard me what I said to them; they know what I said.” – John 18:20-21 NLT

Taking Jesus’ statement as a sign of disrespect for Annas, one of the guards struck Him in the face. Then Jesus was hauled before Caiaphas.

It’s important to note that all of these gatherings took place at night and in secret. These men were not conducting a trial, but an inquisition. They had already determined the guilt of Jesus and were simply looking for concrete evidence or proof to justify their predetermined plan to have Him put to death. They had made their fateful decision immediately after Jesus had raised Lazarus from the dead. John records that, as a result of that miraculous event, “Many of the people who were with Mary believed in Jesus” (John 11:45 ESV). And when the Sanhedrin had gotten word of what Jesus had done, they were disturbed by the news, asking, “What are we going to do? This man certainly performs many miraculous signs. If we allow him to go on like this, soon everyone will believe in him. Then the Roman army will come and destroy both our Temple and our nation” (John 11:47-48 NLT). But it had been Caiaphas, the high priest, who had calmly laid out the solution to this vexing problem.

“You don’t know what you’re talking about! You don’t realize that it’s better for you that one man should die for the people than for the whole nation to be destroyed.” – John 11:49-50 NLT

So, by the time Jesus was dragged in front of the Sanhedrin, His fate had been sealed. The so-called trial was a sham. And these religious leaders, in an attempt to find proof against Jesus, resorted to hiring false witnesses. And as Matthew makes perfectly clear, their intent was to put Jesus to death. But because the Jews were forbidden by the Romans of practicing capital punishment, they would need proof that Jesus was a threat to national security and worthy of death. They would have to convince the Romans to do their dirty deed for them.

But the false witnesses proved to be no help at all. They couldn’t get their stories straight. But then, two came forward who remembered the words Jesus had spoken immediately after He had overturned the tables of the money changers in the temple. When Jesus had been asked by the religious leaders who had given Him the authority to do what He had done, He had responded, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up” (John 2:19 NLT). And these two witnesses had been there. So, they related this incendiary statement to the high priest and the members of the high council.

Obviously, these two men had missed Jesus’ point. In his gospel account, John clarifies what Jesus had meant. “But when Jesus said ‘this temple,’ he meant his own body” (John 2:21 NLT).

Yet when Jesus was given an opportunity to respond to the testimony of these men, He didn’t clarify His meaning. He didn’t attempt to qualify His original statement. Matthew records that Jesus remained silent. Unlike His encounter with Annas, this time Jesus chose not to respond to Caiaphas. And His actions were in direct fulfillment of the prophecy of Isaiah.

He was oppressed and treated harshly, yet he never said a word. He was led like a lamb to the slaughter. And as a sheep is silent before the shearers, he did not open his mouth. – Isaiah 53:7 ESV

Jesus was not interested in defending Himself – either physically or verbally. This entire evening had been preordained by His heavenly Father, and Jesus was fully committed to doing what His Father had commanded Him to do.

“No one can take my life from me. I sacrifice it voluntarily. For I have the authority to lay it down when I want to and also to take it up again. For this is what my Father has commanded.” – John 10:18 NLT

But Caiaphas was not satisfied. He needed Jesus to commit blasphemy – to claim to be God. That was the evidence the high priest needed to justify the death of Jesus. So, he said to Jesus, “I adjure you by the living God, tell us if you are the Christ, the Son of God” (Matthew 26:63 ESV). This was not a case of Caiaphas expressing hope that Jesus was the Messiah, but a last desperate attempt to get Jesus to blaspheme by claiming to be God’s Son and, therefore, divine.

On an earlier trip to the city of Jerusalem, at the Feast of Dedication, and in the temple courtyard, Jesus had made the bold claim, “I and the Father are one” (John 10:30 ESV). That statement had incensed the Jews and they had taken up rocks to stone Him. But Jesus had expressed confusion, stating that He had performed many good works that proved He was from God. So, He asked, “for which of them are you going to stone me?” (john 10:32 ESV). And the people shouted, “It is not for a good work that we are going to stone you but for blasphemy, because you, being a man, make yourself God” (John 10:33 ESV).

That was what Caiaphas was looking for. He needed Jesus to verbally express His claim to be God. And in response to the high priest’s question, “are the Christ, the Son of God,” Jesus said, “You have said so. But I tell you, from now on you will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of Power and coming on the clouds of heaven” (Matthew 26:64 ESV). The true meaning of this statement escaped the high priest and the members of the high council. But it was exactly what they had been waiting for. Accusing Jesus of blasphemy, Caiaphas asked the Sanhedrin for their verdict and they wasted no time in declaring their decision: “He deserves death.”

Think about that statement. From their earth-bound, sin-soaked perspective, they saw Jesus as the one deserving of death. And yet, as the Scriptures make perfectly clear, it was mankind that deserved death at the hands of a righteous, holy and just God.

For everyone has sinned; we all fall short of God’s glorious standard. – Romans 3:23 NLT

Surely there is not a righteous man on earth who does good and never sins. – Ecclesiastes 7:20 ESV

No one is righteous–not even one. – Romans 3:10 NLT

Only fools say in their hearts, “There is no God.” They are corrupt, and their actions are evil; not one of them does good! – Psalm 53:1 NLT

And Scripture tells us that the God-ordained penalty for man’s sin and unrighteousness is death.

…the wages of sin is death. – Romans 6:23 ESV

When Adam sinned, sin entered the world. Adam’s sin brought death, so death spread to everyone, for everyone sinned. – Romans 5:12 NLT

Yet, in spite of mankind’s guilt and the looming sentence of death, God chose to provide a way of escape, a plan of redemption that would make acquittal possible and righteousness available. God’s solution? The sacrificial death of His own Son.

…he was pierced for our rebellion, crushed for our sins. He was beaten so we could be whole. He was whipped so we could be healed. – Isaiah 53:5 NLT

…the LORD laid on him the sins of us all. – Isaiah 53:6 NLT

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. – 1 Peter 2:24 NLT

You were dead because of your sins and because your sinful nature was not yet cut away. Then God made you alive with Christ, for he forgave all our sins. He canceled the record of the charges against us and took it away by nailing it to the cross. – Colossians 3:13-14 NLT

Jesus did not deserve to die. We did. As did every man in the room that night. Yet, “God made Christ, who never sinned, to be the offering for our sin, so that we could be made right with God through Christ” (2 Corinthians 5:21 NLT). But rather than seeing Jesus as the Son of God and their Savior from sin, the members of the Sanhedrin spit on Him, slapped Him, and mocked Him. They abused the one who had come to save them. They ridiculed the only righteous man in the room. And it was all part of God’s plan.

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.

11 Now Jesus stood before the governor, and the governor asked him, “Are you the King of the Jews?” Jesus said, “You have said so.” 12 But when he was accused by the chief priests and elders, he gave no answer. 13 Then Pilate said to him, “Do you not hear how many things they testify against you?” 14 But he gave him no answer, not even to a single charge, so that the governor was greatly amazed.

15 Now at the feast the governor was accustomed to release for the crowd any one prisoner whom they wanted. 16 And they had then a notorious prisoner called Barabbas. 17 So when they had gathered, Pilate said to them, “Whom do you want me to release for you: Barabbas, or Jesus who is called Christ?” 18 For he knew that it was out of envy that they had delivered him up. 19 Besides, while he was sitting on the judgment seat, his wife sent word to him, “Have nothing to do with that righteous man, for I have suffered much because of him today in a dream.” 20 Now the chief priests and the elders persuaded the crowd to ask for Barabbas and destroy Jesus. 21 The governor again said to them, “Which of the two do you want me to release for you?” And they said, “Barabbas.” 22 Pilate said to them, “Then what shall I do with Jesus who is called Christ?” They all said, “Let him be crucified!” 23 And he said, “Why? What evil has he done?” But they shouted all the more, “Let him be crucified!” – Matthew 27:11-23 ESV

Munkacsy_-_christ_before_pilateJudas had hung himself. The rest of the disciples were in hiding. Peter, in particular, was in a state if deep sorrow, having denied Jesus three separate times, just as predicted.

But Jesus was still in the custody of the high priest’s guards and on His way to Pilate, the Roman governor. The Jewish religious leaders were no fans of the Roman government, but they knew they needed Rome’s authority and legal jurisdiction in order to put Jesus to death.

In his gospel account, John indicates that it was early in the morning when Jesus arrived at the governor’s residence. And Matthew records that the first thing the governor asked Jesus was, “Are you the King of the Jews?” (Matthew 27:11 ESV). This seems like an odd way to start his interrogation of Jesus, but it may be that Pilate had heard rumors concerning Jesus. He had most likely heard all the details concerning Jesus’ somewhat spectacular entry into Jerusalem a few days before and had been told about the shouts of the people who welcomed Him along the way..

“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

It would also seem apparent that the high priest and the members of the Sanhedrin had accused Jesus of claiming to be the king of the Jews. They knew their charge of blasphemy against Jesus would be of no interest to Pilate. But the threat of a possible insurrection against Herod, the Roman-appointed king of Israel, would have gotten Pilate’s attention. The Jews wanted Jesus dead because He had claimed to be the Son of God. But they knew the best way to get the Romans to sanction His death would be to portray Jesus as a dangerous radical and revolutionary.

John records that, when the Jews showed up at Pilate’s house with Jesus in tow, he had asked them what accusations they were bringing against Jesus. And they had replied, “If this man were not doing evil, we would not have delivered him over to you” (John 18:30 ESV). They wanted to paint Jesus as dangerous. And both Matthew and Mark make it clear that the Sanhedrin leveled many charges against Jesus. They were doing their best to destroy the reputation of Jesus and to give Pilate no other recourse than to sentence Him to death. And through it all, Jesus remained silent. He said nothing. He was not interested in self-defense, but obedience to the will of His Father.

Pilate, a seasoned and savvy political leader, saw through the motives of the Sanhedrin. Matthew records that, “he knew that it was out of envy that they had delivered him up” (Matthew 27:18 ESV). It was the Jewish religious leaders who saw Jesus as a threat, not Rome. During His three years of ministry, Jesus had done nothing to warrant the least bit of fear or paranoia on the part of Rome. He was not a rabble-rouser or trouble-maker. He had not promoted the overthrow of the Roman government. He had not encouraged dissent or preached revolutionary rhetoric aimed at overthrowing Herod or eliminating Rome. 

So, Pilate, in an attempt to placate the anger of the religious leaders and release the obviously innocent Jesus, offered them what he thought would be a no-brainer of a choice. It seems that Pilate had created an annual act of good will that took place during the Jewish celebration of Passover. He would release to them a Jew, held in captivity by the Roman government. On this occasion, he offered them a choice between Jesus or a notorious criminal named, Barabas. According to Mark, this man was a murderer and an insurrectionist. And it seems apparent that Pilate believed the people would prefer to have Jesus released over this well-known criminal. But he was wrong. Due to the influence of the Sanhedrim, the crowd that had gathered outside Pilate’s home made their choice perfectly clear. They wanted Barabas released, not Jesus.

And when Pilate asked the crowd “what shall I do with Jesus who is called Christ?,” they responded, “Let him be crucified!” (Matthew 27:22 ESV).  Shocked at their response, Pilate asked, “Why? What evil has he done?” (Matthew 27:23 ESV). And again, the people shouted, “Let him be crucified!” Mob rule overruled common sense and reason. Jesus was innocent of all charges brought against Him, but they did not care. They sensed the blood in the water and the feeding frenzy had begun. 

Pilate had asked Jesus if He was the king of the Jews, and Jesus had simply stated, “You have said so” (Matthew 27:11 ESV). The words had come from the lips of the Roman governor, and Jesus simply confirmed them. He was the king of the Jews. But not in a sense that Pilate could have understood or in a way that the Jews could have anticipated. He was a king over a different kind of kingdom. And He ruled with far more power and authority than Pilate could have ever dreamed imaginable. Jesus would tell Pilate:

“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

In these closing hours of Jesus’ life on earth, the topic of His kingship will come up repeatedly. He will even be mocked by the guards and given a purple robe and a crown of thorns to wear, as they bow down before Him, sarcastically shouting, “Hail, King of the Jews!” (Mark 15:18 ESV). When He is nailed to the cross, Pilate will have placed above His head, a placard that reads, “King of the Jews.”

Jesus was and is the King of the Jews. And as the book of Revelation makes clear, He is the King of kings and Lord of lords (Revelation 19:16). Pilate was standing before the rightful king of Israel and the right ruler over all of creation. And it’s amazing to think that Pilate was more willing to wrestle with the reality of Jesus’ sovereignty than the Jewish religious leaders were. Pilate wanted to release Jesus. But the high priest and the Sanhedrin wanted Him dead. Even though Jesus had committed no crime. He was guilty of nothing – except the charge of being King of the Jews. For that, He was guilty as charged.

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 Broken Man.

1 When morning came, all the chief priests and the elders of the people took counsel against Jesus to put him to death. And they bound him and led him away and delivered him over to Pilate the governor.

Then when Judas, his betrayer, saw that Jesus was condemned, he changed his mind and brought back the thirty pieces of silver to the chief priests and the elders, saying, “I have sinned by betraying innocent blood.” They said, “What is that to us? See to it yourself.” And throwing down the pieces of silver into the temple, he departed, and he went and hanged himself. But the chief priests, taking the pieces of silver, said, “It is not lawful to put them into the treasury, since it is blood money.” So they took counsel and bought with them the potter’s field as a burial place for strangers. Therefore that field has been called the Field of Blood to this day. Then was fulfilled what had been spoken by the prophet Jeremiah, saying, “And they took the thirty pieces of silver, the price of him on whom a price had been set by some of the sons of Israel, 10 and they gave them for the potter’s field, as the Lord directed me.” – Matthew 27:1-10 ESV

509px-judasThe rooster crowed and the sun came up, just as it always does. Yet, this would be anything but just another morning. Jesus, the Son of God, had been betrayed, denied, libeled, mocked, and falsely condemned. Now, He was being dragged before Pilate, the Roman governor, because the Jews were going to demand His death. They were forbidden by Roman law from practicing capital punishment on their own. In John’s gospel, he records the Sanhedrin’s response when Pilate demanded that they judge Jesus according to their own law. He saw this as nothing more than a petty religious squabble. But they made their true intentions known when they demanded, “It is not lawful for us to put anyone to death” (John 18:31 ESV). They weren’t interested in a trial. They were intent on seeing Jesus put to death. These men had already pronounced their judgment against Jesus, when they stated, “He deserves death” (Matthew 26:66 ESV). And with the opening of this chapter, Matthew makes it clear that their plans were aimed at having Jesus crucified, the primary means of capital punishment practiced by the Romans.

…the chief priests and the elders of the people took counsel against Jesus to put him to death. – Matthew 27:1 ESV

But then, Matthew provides a brief detour from the journey of Jesus to the cross. He changes scenes and brings his readers up to speed on the whereabouts of Judas. His last appearance had been in Gethsemane, where he had betrayed Jesus with a kiss. Evidently, Judas had not gone far, having followed the guards who had arrested Jesus and taken Him to Caiaphas, the high priest. There are some who speculate that Judas was the second disciple John refers to in his gospel.

Simon Peter followed Jesus, and so did another disciple. Since that disciple was known to the high priest, he entered with Jesus into the courtyard of the high priest, but Peter stood outside at the door. So the other disciple, who was known to the high priest, went out and spoke to the servant girl who kept watch at the door, and brought Peter in. – John 18:15-16 ESV

Judas would have been known by the high priest. And it might explain why this particular disciple had not received the same treatment as Peter.

But somehow, Judas received the news that Jesus had been condemned, and Matthew states that he had a change of mind. The Greek word is metamelomai, and it is similar to metanoeō, the Greek word for “repent.” Judas had a change of mind. He regretted his decision to betray Jesus. It would appear that the news of Jesus’ death sentence was far more than he had anticipated. It is likely that Judas never expected the Sanhedrin to take things that far. We will never know what was in the heart of Judas when he made his fateful decision to betray Jesus, but Matthew makes it clear that he lived to regret it. But he wouldn’t live long.

Judas, in a state of despair, returned to the high priest and the Sanhedrin, bringing his 30 pieces of silver with him. Attempting to return the blood money, Judas confessed his guilt before these religious leaders: “I have sinned by betraying innocent blood” (Matthew 27:4 ESV). But they showed no compassion and exhibited no remorse of their own. They simply replied, “What is that to us? See to it yourself” (Matthew 27:4 ESV). These so-called religious leaders could have cared less about the emotional or spiritual well-being of Judas. They had one thing on their minds: The death of Jesus. The only semblance of conscience they revealed was their refusal to return the money Judas had returned to the temple treasure.

“It is not lawful to put them into the treasury, since it is blood money.” – Matthew 27:6 ESV

So, when Judas cast the tainted money onto the temple floor, the Sanhedrin took the 30 pieces of silver and purchased “the potter’s field as a burial place for strangers” (Matthew 27:7 ESV). This would have been a field outside the city gates where the potters discarded their broken or marred products. It was a landfill for broken pottery. Matthew reveals that this decision by the religious leaders was in keeping with Old Testament prophecy. He references Jeremiah but then quotes from a passage found in the book of Zechariah.

And they weighed out as my wages thirty pieces of silver. Then the Lord said to me, “Throw it to the potter”—the lordly price at which I was priced by them. So I took the thirty pieces of silver and threw them into the house of the Lord, to the potter. – Zechariah 11:12-13 ESV

But why did Matthew mention Jeremiah? It is probably because he was combining the two prophecies of Zechariah and Jeremiah into one composite prophecy, fulfilled in the actions of the Sanhedrin. In his book, Jeremiah records a message he received from God.

Thus says the Lord, “Go, buy a potter’s earthenware flask, and take some of the elders of the people and some of the elders of the priests, and go out to the Valley of the Son of Hinnom at the entry of the Potsherd Gate, and proclaim there the words that I tell you.”  – Jeremiah 19:1-2 ESV

Jeremiah was to purchase a clay pot and then take it to the Valley of the Son of Hinnom. In Hebrew, this place was called ge-hinnom. The Greek transliteration was  gehenna. This valley south of Jerusalem had a sordid history, having been the location where the ancient Israelites “passed children through the fire” (sacrificed their children) to the Canaanite god Molech (2 Chronicles 28:3). Because of its reputation, it became a site dedicated to the disposal of waste. The smoke of the fires used to burn the city’s refuse could be seen rising into the sky, marking this area as unclean. Jesus would later speak of Gehenna when referring to the reality of hell.

This is where God told Jeremiah to take the pot he had purchased. And it was in Gehenna that he was to break the pot “in the sight of the men who go with you” (Jeremiah 19:10 ESV). This was to be a visual illustration of what God was going to do to the people of Judah and Jerusalem for their rejection of Him. And God made the details of their guilt quite plain.

“…the people have forsaken me and have profaned this place by making offerings in it to other gods whom neither they nor their fathers nor the kings of Judah have known; and because they have filled this place with the blood of innocents…” – Jeremiah 19:4 ESV

Matthew saw the parallel. And he describes the actions of the Jewish religious leaders of his day as having fulfilled these two ancient prophecies. The high priest and the members of the Jewish high council were as guilty as their ancestors had been. They had forsaken God, and they had done so by rejecting the Son of God. And they had profaned the temple of God by actually worshiping a god of their own choosing. While they claimed to be faithful to Yahweh, the God of the Jews, Jesus accused them of having no relationship with God at all.

“Since you don’t know who I am, you don’t know who my Father is. If you knew me, you would also know my Father.” – John 8:19 NLT

“…you don’t even know him. I know him. If I said otherwise, I would be as great a liar as you! But I do know him and obey him.” – John 8:55 NLT

These men could not truly know God if they were incapable of recognizing the Son of God. The Messiah, the one they had longed to see, had shown up in their midst, but they had refused to accept Him. All because Jesus did not come as they expected or desired. They were blind to the reality of who He was, and Jesus pointed out their problem.

“You search the Scriptures because you think they give you eternal life. But the Scriptures point to me! Yet you refuse to come to me to receive this life.” – John 5:39-40 NLT

Yet, these men had no regrets. They showed no remorse. And they displayed no repentance. Like their ancestors, they remained stubbornly defiant. And they would end up like broken pots, discarded, and of no use to God. And yet, consider these comforting words written by the apostle Paul. He would pick up the theme of the clay pot and give it a whole new perspective. Having in mind all those who place their faith and hope in Jesus as their Savior, Paul wrote:

We now have this light shining in our hearts, but we ourselves are like fragile clay jars containing this great treasure. This makes it clear that our great power is from God, not from ourselves. – 2 Corinthians 4:7 NLT

Faith in Christ can transform broken clay pots into vessels of honor. When the light of the gospel of Jesus Christ takes up residence in a sinner’s life, the power of God is revealed through the cracks and flaws. Rather than being discarded as useless and of no value, the sinner is redeemed and made acceptable to God by the presence of the righteousness of Christ.

But what about Judas? After three years with Jesus, he would end up a broken man. And, in his desperation, he would take his own life. His time with Jesus had not resulted in the great power of God shining through his life, but with his life snuffed out and his legacy of betrayal sealed for generations to come. Like the religious leaders, Judas had been blind to the reality of who Jesus was. He had spent three years of his life with Jesus but had failed to recognize Him and accept Him as His Messiah and Savior. He would die a broken and shattered man.

But all those who place their faith in Jesus as their Savior will live eternally. Their brokenness is the key to their healing. Their recognition of their own unworthiness is the basis of their hope in Christ. It is through our brokenness and inherent uselessness that God chooses to reveal His great power. By placing our faith in Jesus, we become “a vessel for honorable use, set apart as holy, useful to the master of the house, ready for every good work” (2 Timothy 2:21 ESV).

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 Deserves Death!

 57 Then those who had seized Jesus led him to Caiaphas the high priest, where the scribes and the elders had gathered. 58 And Peter was following him at a distance, as far as the courtyard of the high priest, and going inside he sat with the guards to see the end. 59 Now the chief priests and the whole council were seeking false testimony against Jesus that they might put him to death, 60 but they found none, though many false witnesses came forward. At last two came forward 61 and said, “This man said, ‘I am able to destroy the temple of God, and to rebuild it in three days.’” 62 And the high priest stood up and said, “Have you no answer to make? What is it that these men testify against you?” 63 But Jesus remained silent. And the high priest said to him, “I adjure you by the living God, tell us if you are the Christ, the Son of God.” 64 Jesus said to him, “You have said so. But I tell you, from now on you will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of Power and coming on the clouds of heaven.” 65 Then the high priest tore his robes and said, “He has uttered blasphemy. What further witnesses do we need? You have now heard his blasphemy. 66 What is your judgment?” They answered, “He deserves death.” 67 Then they spit in his face and struck him. And some slapped him, 68 saying, “Prophesy to us, you Christ! Who is it that struck you?” – Matthew 26:57-68 ESV

CaiphasJesus had been arrested and His disciples had fled into the night. Even Peter, the one who had earlier boasted, “Though they all fall away because of you, I will never fall away” (Matthew 26:33 ESV). Their fear had gotten the best of them and they had resigned themselves to the fact that it was all over. Matthew even records that Peter, having followed the guards who were taking Jesus to Caiaphas, the high priest, did so, “to see the end” (Matthew 26:58 ESV). It was all over. Their dreams of Jesus being their Messiah and the one who would sit on the throne of David had been dashed. Jesus was as good as a dead man and there was nothing Peter or any of the other disciples could do about it.

While they sought safety and solace in the dark, Jesus was dragged before Annas, the father-in-law of Caiaphas, the high priest. Annas had been the high priest at one time and still held sway over the Sanhedrin, the Jewish high council. It was Annas who questioned Jesus about His disciples and His teaching. And Jesus had responded:

“I have spoken openly to the world. I have always taught in synagogues and in the temple, where all Jews come together. I have said nothing in secret. Why do you ask me? Ask those who have heard me what I said to them; they know what I said.” – John 18:20-21 NLT

Taking Jesus’ statement as a sign of disrespect for Annas, one of the guards struck Him in the face. Then Jesus was hauled before Caiaphas.

It’s important to note that all of these gatherings took place at night and in secret. These men were not conducting a trial, but an inquisition. They had already determined the guilt of Jesus and were simply looking for concrete evidence or proof to justify their predetermined plan to have Him put to death. They had made their fateful decision immediately after Jesus had raised Lazarus from the dead. John records that, as a result of that miraculous event, “Many of the people who were with Mary believed in Jesus” (John 11:45 ESV). And when the Sanhedrin had gotten word of what Jesus had done, they were disturbed by the news, asking, “What are we going to do? This man certainly performs many miraculous signs. If we allow him to go on like this, soon everyone will believe in him. Then the Roman army will come and destroy both our Temple and our nation” (John 11:47-48 NLT). But it had been Caiaphas, the high priest, who had calmly laid out the solution to this vexing problem.

“You don’t know what you’re talking about! You don’t realize that it’s better for you that one man should die for the people than for the whole nation to be destroyed.” – John 11:49-50 NLT

So, by the time Jesus was dragged in front of the Sanhedrin, His fate had been sealed. The so-called trial was a sham. And these religious leaders, in an attempt to find proof against Jesus, resorted to hiring false witnesses. And as Matthew makes perfectly clear, their intent was to put Jesus to death. But because the Jews were forbidden by the Romans of practicing capital punishment, they would need proof that Jesus was a threat to national security and worthy of death. They would have to convince the Romans to do their dirty deed for them.

But the false witnesses proved to be no help at all. They couldn’t get their stories straight. But then, two came forward who remembered the words Jesus had spoken immediately after He had overturned the tables of the money changers in the temple. When Jesus had been asked by the religious leaders who had given Him the authority to do what He had done, He had responded, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up” (John 2:19 NLT). And these two witnesses had been there. So, they related this incendiary statement to the high priest and the members of the high council.

Obviously, these two men had missed Jesus’ point. In his gospel account, John clarifies what Jesus had meant. “But when Jesus said ‘this temple,’ he meant his own body” (John 2:21 NLT).

Yet when Jesus was given an opportunity to respond to the testimony of these men, He didn’t clarify His meaning. He didn’t attempt to qualify His original statement. Matthew records that Jesus remained silent. Unlike His encounter with Annas, this time Jesus chose not to respond to Caiaphas. And His actions were in direct fulfillment of the prophecy of Isaiah.

He was oppressed and treated harshly, yet he never said a word. He was led like a lamb to the slaughter. And as a sheep is silent before the shearers, he did not open his mouth. – Isaiah 53:7 ESV

Jesus was not interested in defending Himself – either physically or verbally. This entire evening had been preordained by His heavenly Father, and Jesus was fully committed to doing what His Father had commanded Him to do.

“No one can take my life from me. I sacrifice it voluntarily. For I have the authority to lay it down when I want to and also to take it up again. For this is what my Father has commanded.” – John 10:18 NLT

But Caiaphas was not satisfied. He needed Jesus to commit blasphemy – to claim to be God. That was the evidence the high priest needed to justify the death of Jesus. So, he said to Jesus, “I adjure you by the living God, tell us if you are the Christ, the Son of God” (Matthew 26:63 ESV). This was not a case of Caiaphas expressing hope that Jesus was the Messiah, but a last desperate attempt to get Jesus to blaspheme by claiming to be God’s Son and, therefore, divine.

On an earlier trip to the city of Jerusalem, at the Feast of Dedication, and in the temple courtyard, Jesus had made the bold claim, “I and the Father are one” (John 10:30 ESV). That statement had incensed the Jews and they had taken up rocks to stone Him. But Jesus had expressed confusion, stating that He had performed many good works that proved He was from God. So, He asked, “for which of them are you going to stone me?” (john 10:32 ESV). And the people shouted, “It is not for a good work that we are going to stone you but for blasphemy, because you, being a man, make yourself God” (John 10:33 ESV).

That was what Caiaphas was looking for. He needed Jesus to verbally express His claim to be God. And in response to the high priest’s question, “are the Christ, the Son of God,” Jesus said, “You have said so. But I tell you, from now on you will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of Power and coming on the clouds of heaven” (Matthew 26:64 ESV). The true meaning of this statement escaped the high priest and the members of the high council. But it was exactly what they had been waiting for. Accusing Jesus of blasphemy, Caiaphas asked the Sanhedrin for their verdict and they wasted no time in declaring their decision: “He deserves death.”

Think about that statement. From their earth-bound, sin-soaked perspective, they saw Jesus as the one deserving of death. And yet, as the Scriptures make perfectly clear, it was mankind that deserved death at the hands of a righteous, holy and just God.

For everyone has sinned; we all fall short of God’s glorious standard. – Romans 3:23 NLT

Surely there is not a righteous man on earth who does good and never sins. – Ecclesiastes 7:20 ESV

No one is righteous–not even one. – Romans 3:10 NLT

Only fools say in their hearts, “There is no God.” They are corrupt, and their actions are evil; not one of them does good! – Psalm 53:1 NLT

And Scripture tells us that the God-ordained penalty for man’s sin and unrighteousness is death.

…the wages of sin is death. – Romans 6:23 ESV

When Adam sinned, sin entered the world. Adam’s sin brought death, so death spread to everyone, for everyone sinned. – Romans 5:12 NLT

Yet, in spite of mankind’s guilt and the looming sentence of death, God chose to provide a way of escape, a plan of redemption that would make acquittal possible and righteousness available. God’s solution? The sacrificial death of His own Son.

…he was pierced for our rebellion, crushed for our sins. He was beaten so we could be whole. He was whipped so we could be healed. – Isaiah 53:5 NLT

…the LORD laid on him the sins of us all. – Isaiah 53:6 NLT

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. – 1 Peter 2:24 NLT

You were dead because of your sins and because your sinful nature was not yet cut away. Then God made you alive with Christ, for he forgave all our sins. He canceled the record of the charges against us and took it away by nailing it to the cross. – Colossians 3:13-14 NLT

Jesus did not deserve to die. We did. As did every man in the room that night. Yet, “God made Christ, who never sinned, to be the offering for our sin, so that we could be made right with God through Christ” (2 Corinthians 5:21 NLT). But rather than seeing Jesus as the Son of God and their Savior from sin, the members of the Sanhedrin spit on Him, slapped Him, and mocked Him. They abused the one who had come to save them. They ridiculed the only righteous man in the room. And it was all part of God’s plan.

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

When “The Way” Seems Wrong.

And when he had been summoned, Tertullus began to accuse him, saying:

“Since through you we enjoy much peace, and since by your foresight, most excellent Felix, reforms are being made for this nation, in every way and everywhere we accept this with all gratitude. But, to detain you no further, I beg you in your kindness to hear us briefly. For we have found this man a plague, one who stirs up riots among all the Jews throughout the world and is a ringleader of the sect of the Nazarenes. He even tried to profane the temple, but we seized him. By examining him yourself you will be able to find out from him about everything of which we accuse him.”

The Jews also joined in the charge, affirming that all these things were so.

10 And when the governor had nodded to him to speak, Paul replied:

“Knowing that for many years you have been a judge over this nation, I cheerfully make my defense. 11 You can verify that it is not more than twelve days since I went up to worship in Jerusalem, 12 and they did not find me disputing with anyone or stirring up a crowd, either in the temple or in the synagogues or in the city. 13 Neither can they prove to you what they now bring up against me. 14 But this I confess to you, that according to the Way, which they call a sect, I worship the God of our fathers, believing everything laid down by the Law and written in the Prophets, 15 having a hope in God, which these men themselves accept, that there will be a resurrection of both the just and the unjust. 16 So I always take pains to have a clear conscience toward both God and man. 17 Now after several years I came to bring alms to my nation and to present offerings. 18 While I was doing this, they found me purified in the temple, without any crowd or tumult. But some Jews from Asia— 19 they ought to be here before you and to make an accusation, should they have anything against me. 20 Or else let these men themselves say what wrongdoing they found when I stood before the council, 21 other than this one thing that I cried out while standing among them: ‘It is with respect to the resurrection of the dead that I am on trial before you this day.’” Acts 24:2-21 ESV

pauls-journey-to-rome

The day for Paul’s trial before Governor Felix had arrived. A contingent of Jews, including the high priest, Ananias, as well as a hired attorney named Tertullus, had finally made their way to Caesarea and the governor called them all to appear before him. The primary spokesman for the Jewish leadership was Tertullus, who is described by Luke as an attorney. But the Greek word he used is rhētōr, from which we get the English word, rhetoric. A rhētōr was an orator or forensic advocate. To put it in more modern terms, he was a prosecuting attorney, skilled in public debate and the intricacies of legal disputation and argumentation. In other words, the Jews had brought a professional. They saw this as their chance to not only get rid of Paul, but to do heavy damage to the cause of Christ, as we will see in Tertullus’ line of prosecution.

Tertullus started out his speech by showing proper respect for the governor, addressing him “most excellent Felix.” Then he proceeded to flatter the governor by expressing their collective gratitude for his many years of wise and proactive leadership.

2 “You have provided a long period of peace for us Jews and with foresight have enacted reforms for us. For all of this, Your Excellency, we are very grateful to you.” – Acts 24:3-4 NLT

The facts were that Felix was anything but a good governor. The historian Tacitus describes him as cruel, licentious, and base. He was a former slave who had moved up the ranks and had been appointed governor by the emperor Claudius himself. He enjoyed his position and all the power and wealth it afforded him, and would do anything to protect and preserve it. Any “reforms” he had brought about would have been for purely selfish motives and accomplished through less-than-legal means. So, the words of Tertullus were nothing more than flattering lies designed to win the governor over and make him receptive to their charges against Paul.

The charges Tertullus leveled against Paul had been well-chosen and carefully worded. First, he accused Paul of stirring up riots among the Jews all throughout the Roman empire. He wanted the governor to know that what had taken place in Jerusalem had not been an isolated incident. Paul was creating this kind of chaos and confusion everywhere he went. This charge was designed to strike fear into the heart of Felix. He reported directly to the emperor, and should news get back to Claudius that a renegade Jew from one of the provinces under Felix’s control was disrupting the peace of the empire, Felix would have to answer for it. The second charge brought against Paul was that of being a ringleader in what Tertullus called “the sect of the Nazarenes’ (Acts 24:5 ESV). The words Tertullus used were very carefully chosen and meant to strike fear into the heart of Felix. He refers to Paul as being a leader in a “sect” – using the Greek word, hairesis, from which we get the word “heresy.” Now, this word could be used in a positive manner, referring to groups such as the Pharisees and Saducees, who happened to have opposing views. But Tertullus was going out of his way to paint Paul as a leader in a dangerous and insidious group of radicals from the region around Nazareth. In essence, Tertullus was attempting to link Paul to Jesus of Nazareth, without using the name of Jesus. One of the things the Roman government feared were Messianic movements among the Jews. It was not uncommon for splinter groups to form based on a belief that they were being led by the long-awaited Messiah. The Romans were well aware of the long-held belief of the Jews in a future savior or Messiah who would restore them to power by setting them free from the oppression of Rome. By labeling Paul as a member and leader of one of these insurrectionist groups, Tertullus was attempting to paint Paul as a dangerous threat to Rome and to Felix’s power. Finally, Tertullus brought the charge against Paul that was more directly an affront to the Jews. He accused Paul of attempting to desecrate the temple. He provided no details and presented no evidence. While this final charge would have meant little to Felix, it was an attempt on the part of Tertullus to eventually make an appeal for Paul’s death. According to Roman law, the Jews could request the right to execute anyone who desecrated the temple. With that, Tertullus rested his case and invited the governor to examine Paul himself in order to corroborate their charges.

But Felix simply provided Paul with an opportunity to defend himself against the charges. It’s interesting to note that Paul, while addressing the governor in respectful terms, said nothing that could be construed as flattery. He made no attempt to heap false praise on Felix. He simply referred to the fact that Felix had been governor over the Jews for a long time, and that he was happy to have the opportunity to present his case before such a long-standing judge over Israel.

In Paul’s response, we get an insightful look into his keen intellect and thorough grasp of the circumstances surrounding his situation. As a former Pharisee, he was well acquainted with the inner workings of the Sanhedrin or high Jewish council. He knew exactly what Tertullus was trying to do. So, Paul started with the last accusation first. He addressed the charge that he had desecrated the temple by claiming that he had done nothing wrong. In spite of all Tertullus’ lofty rhetoric, Paul flatly stated:

12 My accusers never found me arguing with anyone in the Temple, nor stirring up a riot in any synagogue or on the streets of the city. 13 These men cannot prove the things they accuse me of doing. – Acts 24:12-13 NLT

He demanded proof. And his clear inference was that no proof existed or they would have presented it. Next, Paul addresses the second charge accusing him of being a ringleader in the sect of the Nazarenes.

14 “But I admit that I follow the Way, which they call a cult. I worship the God of our ancestors, and I firmly believe the Jewish law and everything written in the prophets. – Acts 24:14 NLT

But Paul made it clear that he was not part of some new and radical anti-Semitic group. He was a Jew himself and a worshiper of Yahweh, the God of the Jews. He was a faithful adherent to the Mosaic law and believed all that was written by the prophets in the Hebrew Scriptures. Now, this is where Paul made his move. He placed himself on the same level as his accusers, claiming to worship the same God, keep the same law and believe in the same Scriptures. And those Scriptures clearly taught that there would be a resurrection of the dead. Why is Paul bringing up resurrection at this point in his speech? What is he attempting to do? If you recall, when he was first arrested by the Roman tribune and forced to appear before the Sanhedrin, he had also brought up the issue of resurrection. That’s because he knew that the Sanhedrin was divided between Sadducees, who rejected the idea of the resurrection of the body, and Pharisee, who embraced it. When Paul had broached the subject in that context it had resulted in a virtual brawl between the members of the Sanhedrin. So, here we have Paul raising this touchy subject yet again. Paul described himself as “having a hope in God, which these men themselves accept, that there will be a resurrection of both the just and the unjust” (Acts 24:15 ESV). Ananias, the high priest, was a Sadducee, and he most certainly had no hope that there would be a resurrection of both the just and the unjust. He didn’t believe in resurrection at all. Paul was goading his accusers. You can imagine the frustration the high priest and the other members of the council felt as they listened to Paul speak. They most likely wanted to disagree with him, but they knew they couldn’t without revealing that his was all nothing more than a theological disagreement between themselves and Paul. If they spoke up, they ran the risk of getting their case thrown out by Felix.

Next, Paul gave his recollection of the events that had taken place in the temple and had led to his appearance before Felix. He described his presence in the temple to offer sacrifices and make purification. And he firmly denied any wrongdoing, even questioning why the Asian Jews, the very ones who had accused him, were not present at the trial. He even demanded that the members of the Sanhedrin present clear and compelling evidence as to why he had appeared before them in the first place. The truth was, at the point of Paul’s arrest, no one had been able to agree on what it was he had done wrong. There was no evidence presented or clear and compelling charge brought against him. And it was at this point that Paul brought back up the resurrection of the dead. He recalled that the only thing he had said at the time of his arrest that seemed to have caused a stir was, “It is with respect to the resurrection of the dead that I am on trial before you this day” (Acts 24:21 ESV).

Paul’s whole point in bringing up the matter of the resurrection was that, when he had done so at his trial before the Sanhedrin, there were those on the council who had declared, “We find nothing wrong in this man. What if a spirit or an angel spoke to him?” (Acts 23:9 ESV). Even the council had been divided over his guilt or innocence. Paul knew if he could expose the fact that all of this was nothing more than a theological debate, Felix would be prone to dismiss the trial as unnecessary and irrelevant to Roman concerns. The whole reason Paul was standing in front of the Roman governor was because the Jewish religious leadership refused to accept that Jesus, the one they had crucified, had actually been the Messiah and had risen from the dead. Even the Pharisees, who believed in resurrection, refused to accept Jesus as the Messiah. None of this was about desecration of the temple, insurrection, or crimes against the state. It was all about the Way, the gospel of Jesus Christ and His offer of justification before God through faith in His sacrificial death on the cross. Paul was preaching hope. But the enemies of the gospel will always see it as a threat to be exterminated, not a life-changing gift to be embraced.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001

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

Dead Man Walking.

12 When it was day, the Jews made a plot and bound themselves by an oath neither to eat nor drink till they had killed Paul. 13 There were more than forty who made this conspiracy. 14 They went to the chief priests and elders and said, “We have strictly bound ourselves by an oath to taste no food till we have killed Paul. 15 Now therefore you, along with the council, give notice to the tribune to bring him down to you, as though you were going to determine his case more exactly. And we are ready to kill him before he comes near.”

16 Now the son of Paul’s sister heard of their ambush, so he went and entered the barracks and told Paul. 17 Paul called one of the centurions and said, “Take this young man to the tribune, for he has something to tell him.” 18 So he took him and brought him to the tribune and said, “Paul the prisoner called me and asked me to bring this young man to you, as he has something to say to you.” 19 The tribune took him by the hand, and going aside asked him privately, “What is it that you have to tell me?” 20 And he said, “The Jews have agreed to ask you to bring Paul down to the council tomorrow, as though they were going to inquire somewhat more closely about him. 21 But do not be persuaded by them, for more than forty of their men are lying in ambush for him, who have bound themselves by an oath neither to eat nor drink till they have killed him. And now they are ready, waiting for your consent.” 22 So the tribune dismissed the young man, charging him, “Tell no one that you have informed me of these things.”

23 Then he called two of the centurions and said, “Get ready two hundred soldiers, with seventy horsemen and two hundred spearmen to go as far as Caesarea at the third hour of the night. 24 Also provide mounts for Paul to ride and bring him safely to Felix the governor.” Acts 23:12-24 ESV

The_Antonia_Fortress

Paul was in protective custody. The Roman tribune in charge of his care was at a loss as to what to do with Paul. He was still searching for a reason to keep Paul in custody because there appeared to be no valid charge against him or cause to keep him. But the Jews were still in an uproar and the Sanhedrin, the Jewish ruling council, had ended up in a violent debate over Paul and his guilt or innocence. Paul was most likely being kept somewhere within the Fortress of Antonio, just outside the walls of the temple compound.

Back in chapter 21, Luke recorded the arrival of Paul in the city of Caesarea, where he stayed in the home of Philip the Evangelist. While there, Paul received a visit from a man from Judea named Agabus, who had the gift of prophecy. This man had received a message from the Holy Spirit and delivered it to Paul.

11 He came over, took Paul’s belt, and bound his own feet and hands with it. Then he said, “The Holy Spirit declares, ‘So shall the owner of this belt be bound by the Jewish leaders in Jerusalem and turned over to the Gentiles.’” 12 When we heard this, we and the local believers all begged Paul not to go on to Jerusalem. – Acts 21:11-12 NLT

This man’s prophecy had come true. Paul had been bound by the Jewish leaders and now he was being kept under lock and key by the Roman authorities. Yet, all of this was part of God’s divine plan for Paul’s life, and he knew it. In fact, when those in Philip’s house had tried to convince Paul not to go to Jerusalem, he had replied: “Why all this weeping? You are breaking my heart! I am ready not only to be jailed at Jerusalem but even to die for the sake of the Lord Jesus” (Acts 21:13 NLT). And Paul, while sincere in his statement, had no idea just how prophetic his words had been.

While Paul was in the custody of the Romans, the Jewish leadership had been approached by a group of forty Jewish zealots who had developed a plan to take Paul’s life. They were so serious that they had made a pact with one another, sealed by an oath and a mutual commitment to fast from food or drink until Paul was dead. But their plot would require the assistance of the high priest and the Sanhedrin. With Paul safely sequestered within the walls of the Fortress of Antonio, where he was surrounded by Roman guards, the only hope these men had was to somehow force the Romans to bring him out in the open. So, they appealed to the Sanhedrin, saying, “ask the commander to bring Paul back to the council again. Pretend you want to examine his case more fully. We will kill him on the way” (Acts 23:15 NLT). 

Now, the text does not say whether the Jewish religious leaders agreed to this request. But Luke seems to take it quite seriously, because he records the fact that Paul’s nephew somehow got wind of what these men were planning and delivered the news to Paul. And Paul immediately sent his nephew to inform the Roman tribune. Which raises an interesting side note. Notice how Paul reacted to the information his nephew delivered to him. He didn’t smile and say, “Thanks for the warning, but I’m going to trust God.” He didn’t send his nephew away with a pat on the head and an assurance that God had this all under control. No, Paul seems to have viewed this news as having come from God and he took it seriously. Paul was not afraid to die, but he was in no rush to have his life taken by men who were driven by nothing more than hatred and motivated by Satan himself. Paul knew that there was a spiritual battle going on. He lived with a constant awareness that dark forces were gathered against the Kingdom of God and stood opposed to all that he was doing. Which is why he wrote to the believers in Ephesus:

For we are not fighting against flesh-and-blood enemies, but against evil rulers and authorities of the unseen world, against mighty powers in this dark world, and against evil spirits in the heavenly places. – Ephesians 6:12 NLT

Paul felt a strong compulsion to go to Rome. Earlier, as Paul was making his way to Jerusalem, Luke records: “Paul felt compelled by the Spirit to go over to Macedonia and Achaia before going to Jerusalem. ‘And after that,’ he said, ‘I must go on to Rome!’” (Acts 19:21 NLT). He somehow knew that a visit to Rome was in his future. He had even written to the believers in Rome, expressing his strong desire to be with them.

13 I want you to know, dear brothers and sisters, that I planned many times to visit you, but I was prevented until now. I want to work among you and see spiritual fruit, just as I have seen among other Gentiles. 14 For I have a great sense of obligation to people in both the civilized world and the rest of the world, to the educated and uneducated alike. 15 So I am eager to come to you in Rome, too, to preach the Good News. – Romans 1:13-15 NLT

So, it would appear that Paul knew the plot against his life was not part of God’s will for his life. He was not to die in Jerusalem at the hands of religious zealots. God had other plans for Paul and he knew it. As a result, Paul sent his nephew to inform the Roman tribune about the plot on his life. As we have seen all throughout the Book of Acts, this whole scene has God’s sovereign hands all over it. Nothing escapes the divine will of God. He knew all about the plot and the names of every one of the forty men who had conspired to carry it out. And God had arranged for Paul’s nephew to discover their plans so he could inform Paul. This whole sequence of events was actually God working behind the scenes to bring about His will that Paul arrive in Rome. In the eyes of the Jewish leadership, Paul was a dead man. It was only a matter of time before his life would be snuffed out, just like Jesus’ had been. But Paul was going to walk out of that Roman barracks, under armed Roman guards, and with his entire trip to Rome paid for by the Roman government. And, as we will see in tomorrow’s blog, Paul was going to be given opportunities to appear before powerful men and share the good news of the gospel, just as Jesus had told Ananias.

“Go, for Saul is my chosen instrument to take my message to the Gentiles and to kings…” – Acts 9:15 NLT

It is always amazing to see how God accomplishes His will. The sad thing is that we don’t always recognize or appreciate it when it is happening. We tend to look at the circumstances of life and see nothing but the apparent negatives that stare us in the face. Take this story as an example. Paul had been mobbed by a crowd, falsely accused and nearly beaten to death. He had been arrested by the Romans and barely escaped a violent flogging. Then, when he had appeared before the Sanhedrin, instead of getting an opportunity to defend himself, he had gotten his face slapped, and ended back in Roman custody. Now, he was facing a conspiracy to take his life. Oh, and Luke describes Paul having to depart Jerusalem in the middle of the night, surrounded by 200 Roman soldiers, 200 spearmen and 70 mounted troops. Could it get any worse? 

But if we look at this same scene from a God-focused perspective, we see this seemingly insignificant Jewish evangelist, getting an all-expenses paid trip to Rome, complete with an armed escort made up of nearly 500 Roman soldiers. Paul was on his way to Caesarea where he would get a one-on-one, divinely ordained appointment with the Roman governor, Felix. In his wildest dreams, Paul could have never imagined something like this happening to him. And he would view it all as positive, not negative. He knew that God was in control and he was willing to rest in the knowledge that God was all-knowing, all-powerful, and all-loving. He was living out the very words he wrote to the believers in Philippi.

Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done. Then you will experience God’s peace, which exceeds anything we can understand. His peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus. – Philippians 4:6-7 NLT

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001

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

All According to Plan.

1 And looking intently at the council, Paul said, “Brothers, I have lived my life before God in all good conscience up to this day.” And the high priest Ananias commanded those who stood by him to strike him on the mouth. Then Paul said to him, “God is going to strike you, you whitewashed wall! Are you sitting to judge me according to the law, and yet contrary to the law you order me to be struck?” Those who stood by said, “Would you revile God’s high priest?” And Paul said, “I did not know, brothers, that he was the high priest, for it is written, ‘You shall not speak evil of a ruler of your people.’”

Now when Paul perceived that one part were Sadducees and the other Pharisees, he cried out in the council, “Brothers, I am a Pharisee, a son of Pharisees. It is with respect to the hope and the resurrection of the dead that I am on trial.” And when he had said this, a dissension arose between the Pharisees and the Sadducees, and the assembly was divided. For the Sadducees say that there is no resurrection, nor angel, nor spirit, but the Pharisees acknowledge them all. Then a great clamor arose, and some of the scribes of the Pharisees’ party stood up and contended sharply, “We find nothing wrong in this man. What if a spirit or an angel spoke to him?” 10 And when the dissension became violent, the tribune, afraid that Paul would be torn to pieces by them, commanded the soldiers to go down and take him away from among them by force and bring him into the barracks.

11 The following night the Lord stood by him and said, “Take courage, for as you have testified to the facts about me in Jerusalem, so you must testify also in Rome.” Acts 23:1-11 ESV

Paul had caused a riot in the temple. Actually, it would more accurate to say that it was his presence that had led to a riot in the temple. The riot was the result of a contingent of Jews from Asia who, upon seeing Paul in the temple, had wrongly assumed that he had been accompanied by one of his Gentile companions, a violation of the Mosaic law. Their accusation had caused the Jews in the temple grounds to react vehemently and violently to Paul, nearly beating him to death before the Roman guards stepped in. Paul was given a chance to address the crowd, but when it went south, he was taken to the Roman barracks in chains, where the Romans made plans to flog the truth out of him. When Paul announced to them that he was a Roman citizen, he was immediately released and apologized to profusely. But the Roman tribune still had a problem: He needed to know the nature of the crime for which Paul was guilty. When he had rescued Paul from the mob in the temple courtyard, he had been unable to discern what it was that Paul had done to make the Jews so angry. Luke recorded: “He inquired who he [Paul] was and what he had done. Some in the crowd were shouting one thing, some another. And as he could not learn the facts because of the uproar, he ordered him to be brought into the barracks.” (Acts 21:33-34 ESV).

So, the Roman tribune had determined to bring in the big guns: the Jewish high council or Sanhedrin. He assumed that these religious rulers could help him get to the truth of what was going on. The following day, Paul was brought before the high priest and the council and given an opportunity to speak. But this would prove to be a less-than-receptive audience. No sooner had Paul begun his address, he was slapped in the face by order of the high priest. All Paul had said was, “Brothers, I have lived my life before God in all good conscience up to this day” (Acts 23:1 ESV). This simple opening statement had incensed the high priest so much that he had commanded Paul to be publicly humiliated. Luke does not provide us with any details as to why Paul’s words were so upsetting to the high priest. It could have been a number of things. Perhaps he was offended that Paul addressed them as his brothers. Paul had at one time been a Pharisee and, according to his own testimony, had been given letters of authority by the high priest to pursue and arrest Christians in Damascus (Acts 9:2). So, at one time, he had enjoyed a close relationship with the high priest. But it is likely that the high priest was well aware of the radical change that had come over Paul and how he had switched sides and become a follower of the Way. He would no longer have considered Paul a brother.

There is also the likelihood that Paul’s claim of having a clear conscience before God also raised the ire of the high priest. Paul was claiming moral and ethical innocence as it pertained to his actions. As far as he was concerned, there was nothing he had done that was outside of the will of God or in violation of the Hebrew Scriptures. He had done nothing to deserve being beaten or arrested. The high priest most likely sensed that Paul was trying to seize the moral high ground and was not going to allow him to proceed.

Finally, there is a strong chance that the high priest was well aware that Paul was getting ready to launch into the story of his conversion and of his ministry among the Gentiles. He would have remembered what had happened when Stephen was on trial before them and how he had lectured them on their own history and accused them of killing Jesus. The slap might have been an attempt to put Paul in his place and to prevent him from using this forum as an opportunity to spout his heresy. Whatever the case, the indignity of the high priest’s reaction angered Paul and he responded accordingly.

“God is going to strike you, you whitewashed wall! Are you sitting to judge me according to the law, and yet contrary to the law you order me to be struck?” – Acts 23:3 ESV

Paul’s words seem uncharacteristically angry. It almost appears that he lost his cool and allowed the tension of the last 24 hours to get to him. His words were harsh and vindictive, accusing the high priest of being a whitewashed wall. This statement is very similar to that of Jesus when He had referred to the scribes and Pharisees as whitewashed tombs.

“What sorrow awaits you teachers of religious law and you Pharisees. Hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs–beautiful on the outside but filled on the inside with dead people’s bones and all sorts of impurity.” – Matthew 23:27 NLT

Paul was accusing the high priest of hypocrisy. He was supposed to be the keeper of the law, but in ordering Paul to be struck, he was in direct violation of the law. Now, this is where it gets a bit interesting. Immediately after his verbal tongue lashing, Paul was informed that he had been addressing the high priest. This appears to have come as a shock to Paul, because he immediately claims ignorance, stating, “I did not know, brothers, that he was the high priest” (Acts 23:5 ESV). And Paul makes it clear that, had he known, he would not have said what he said, because to do so would have been in violation of God’s law as well. He even quotes from Exodus 22:8: “You must not dishonor God or curse any of your rulers.” So, it would appear that Paul had been unaware that his words, spoken in anger, had been addressed to the high priest. But that begs the question: But would it have mattered? According to Exodus 22:8, Paul would have been guilty no matter which one of the men had ordered him to be slapped. As members of the high council, they were all considered leaders over the people of Israel. So, there is a likelihood that Paul was being a bit sarcastic. In saying that he didn’t know it was the high priest, he may have really been inferring that the high priest had not been acting like a high priest when he had ordered Paul to be slapped. So, how was Paul to know he was addressing a leader of the people of Israel. He hadn’t acted like one, so Paul had addressed him appropriately.

We’ll never know exactly what went on at that moment. But we do know that the tensions were high, and Paul sensed an opportunity to take advantage of what he knew to be the divisive nature of the council’s makeup. The members of the high council were made up of Pharisees and Sadducees. Paul, as a former Pharisee, knew well the differences between the two groups. The Sadducees denied the very idea of the resurrection. This was a major point of disagreement between themselves and the Pharisees and, as a former Pharisee, Paul would have been well aware of this fact. So he exploited it by saying, “Brothers, I am a Pharisee, a son of Pharisees. It is with respect to the hope and the resurrection of the dead that I am on trial” (Acts 23:6 ESV). Once again, he addressed them as brothers, but this time he directs his attention to the Pharisees in the room. He was dividing his audience and setting up a confrontation. And, for the benefit of the Roman tribune, Paul cut to the chase and established the true reason for his so-called trial: The resurrection of the dead. Specifically, the resurrection of Jesus Christ. But he purposefully doesn’t mention Jesus. He simply raises the controversial issue of bodily resurrection and the room explodes. Luke records that, “when he had said this, a dissension arose between the Pharisees and the Sadducees, and the assembly was divided” (Acts 23:7 ESV). Paul just sat back and watched the fireworks. And the Roman tribune got a first-hand glimpse of Jewish religious politics in action. Paul’s little ploy worked to perfection. Luke states that “a great clamor arose” and at one point, some of the scribes who were Pharisees, shouted that they saw no reason for Paul to be on trial – he was innocent. Then things began to get violent – so much so, that the Roman tribune had to rescue Paul once again and return him to the barracks, so he wouldn’t be torn to pieces by the religious leaders.

Paul was not out of the woods. He was still under arrest and had no idea what was going to happen to him. But the following night he was given words of assurance from Jesus Himself.

The following night the Lord stood by him and said, “Take courage, for as you have testified to the facts about me in Jerusalem, so you must testify also in Rome.” – Acts 23:11 ESV

Paul was on his way to Rome. He had longed to go to Rome for some time. He had even written to the believers in Rome, telling them, “I am eager to come to you in Rome, too, to preach the Good News” (Romans 1:15 NLT). And now, after a lengthy delay, he was going to get his opportunity. But while Paul had long harbored a desire to go to Rome, he had not let that sway him from doing his job. He told the believers in Rome:

20 My ambition has always been to preach the Good News where the name of Christ has never been heard, rather than where a church has already been started by someone else. 21 I have been following the plan spoken of in the Scriptures, where it says,

“Those who have never been told about him will see,
    and those who have never heard of him will understand.”

22 In fact, my visit to you has been delayed so long because I have been preaching in these places. – Romans 15:20-22 NLT

But there would be no more delay. God was sending Paul to Rome. It would not be quite the way Paul had probably envisioned it, but it was the will of God. The timing was perfect, because it was God’s timing. The means by which Paul would make his way to Rome might appear less-than-ideal, but it was the sovereign plan of God. Paul’s very presence in Jerusalem had been the will of God. His presence in the temple had been part of God’s divine plan. His beating and arrest were as well. And all that had taken place in his trial before the Sanhedrin was just another example of God’s providential plan for his life. Paul was going to enjoy the opportunity of a lifetime: To testify about Jesus in the capital of the Roman empire.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001

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