If you had to take a flight to visit Jerusalem and journeyed to the Temple Mount, you would not actually find the Temple. You would find the Mount, a foundation that would indicate something substantial was once there.
In Jesus’ day, it would have been quite the sight for those who set eyes upon it. According to historians, the white stone and gold overlays of the Temple were just about enough for the people of that time to wish they had Ray Bans.
After entering Jerusalem in the week leading up to Passover, Jesus spent the working part of the day teaching in the Temple, retiring to the Garden of Gethsemane to camp out in the evenings.
The Temple must have seemed like it would last forever, solid, permanent. It seems from inferences in Scripture that the Temple had almost become an idol. If you think about it: if a household idol a few inches high tucked into an indoor nook, why not a building itself? Jesus remarked in Matthew 23:16 that the religious leaders swore by the gold in the temple. Speaking against it as they erroneously thought Stephen (the first martyr) did was tantamount to blasphemy.
Some of the disciples called Jesus’ attention to the awesomeness of the Temple and it probably took their breath away when He prophesied that the building would be violently disassembled.
This is the setting for what is called the Olivet discourse. As I would have done, they asked him for more details. The prophecy sets the scene for the near term as well as far into the future. In less than 40 years, the Romans would besiege Jerusalem. During the fighting, the Temple caught fire, melting the gold. In order to retrieve the gold, the Romans had to break apart the building and separate the rocks. Nobody just leaves gold lying around, unrecovered. The Romans may have been cruel but they weren’t stupid.
Just as Jesus prophesied.
This discourse is apocalyptic stuff and evokes Hollywood’s biggest disaster movies with comets and giant tidal waves. Interestingly, when Jerusalem was in fact surrounded in 70 A.D. the Christian population of the city fled with the result that very few Christians were caught unawares. They would have clearly known about this prophecy. Unfortunately, many Jews were not aware of this prophecy and some 1.1 million Jews were killed and around 97 thousand taken captive by Rome. In God’s timing, that is prophetically, the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 A.D. is connected with the end of the age.
Apocalyptic literature sometimes brings out the loony in people. I’ve read of a group called the Millerites who did precisely the opposite of what Christ instructed. They are symptomatic of many groups in history who have obsessed with date-setting. In the case of the Millerites they were certain that October 22 of 1844 was the date for the return of Christ. History has called it the ‘Great Disappointment’. When I originally read about this group some years earlier, the authors painted the picture of a bunch of people who went all-in, donned white robes and ascended the apex of the hill in the town, expecting a trumpet blast.
In one of the choicest trolls, the town drunk, Crazy Amos, blew a loud blast of a trumpet sending the Millerites into an apoplexy. Old Amos laughed thoroughly at his own joke, so we’re told.
Jesus instituted a new covenant while observing Passover. Passover literally signified the Angel of Death that passed over the houses of the Children of Israel while they were slaves in Goshen in Egypt. Observant Jews would sample bitter herbs to remind them of their status as slaves, and salt water as a reminder of their tears. At the Passover feast, Jesus and his disciples gathered around what has come to be called the ‘last supper’.
To keep them safe the Children of Israel were commanded to kill a lamb and apply the blood to the doors of their homes. The Angel of Death would see this and spare the home.
Jesus would have known he was about to go to death and his blood be shed to keep people from destruction, to provide rescue, a deliverance. A new dimension and deeper meaning to an already deep meal, laden with significance.
Bread…’this is my body,
Wine…’this cup is the new covenant in my blood’.
A new covenant, a Brit Chadashah, which his disciples (us, Christians) are to commemorate. We are not instructed to commemorate his birth or life, but his death.
That evening finds him in the Garden of Gethsemane. It would have been easy for Judas to find Jesus as he had been there a few nights in a row. Perhaps they were not the only ones, as Jerusalem would have been full of pilgrims. However, that’s just speculation.
I find Peter to be one of the most frustratingly human of the disciples. At the table Jesus reveals to Peter that the devil had apparently put in a request to target Peter, but that Jesus had also prayed for Peter, that his faith would not fail. Jesus seems to have known that Peter would blow it, but that he would ‘turn back’.
Peter was all over the map in these hours surrounding the crucifixion. First he tells Jesus that he is willing to go to jail for him and even die. When the soldiers come for Jesus, Peter is not content to take it, then dishes out a bit of hurt on Malchus’ ear. Then follows Jesus to observe what happens next, denies Him three times, and then – his faith a little battered but still there – encounters Jesus once again after his resurrection (John’s account) turns back just as Jesus prayed it would happen and strengthens his brothers.
Jesus knew Peter would stumble, but he also knew that Peter’s faith would not fail and that Peter would be back.
The trial and the charges were a set-up, a travesty full of illegality, lying witnesses, shifting charges and multiple jurisdictions. Jesus actually stood trial four times: under Annas, under Caiaphas, Pilate and he was also examined under Herod’s authority.
In a twist of irony, and to secure a death penalty under Roman law, the priests accused Jesus of rebellion against Rome. When offered the choice of whether to free Barabbas or Jesus, the crowd chose Barabbas, who was in fact under arrest for rebellion against Rome and incidentally murder.
One aspect of Jesus’ trial before Pilate is familiar in 2019: the power of the mob. Pilate overlooked procedure and legal principles because the mob threatened to get out of control if he didn’t follow through with a crucifixion. Pilate wasn’t scared of the mob per se, Roman soldiers could brutally and efficiently do some killing. Sentencing Jesus to death was simply the easiest way to satisfy the mob, immediate mass bloodshed avoided.
I could provide innumerable examples of people in authority or business making irrational decisions to satisfy a mob, or avoid being called names and accused of bias. This it seems has not changed much in the intervening years.
Scourging was apparently a legal preliminary to every Roman execution except in the case of women, Roman senators or Roman soldiers (except if they were deserters).
The details are uncomfortable when reading the text. The depiction of it in Mel Gibson’s ‘The Passion of the Christ’ are beyond words.
Jesus would have suffered through a betrayal, the scattering of his disciples, a sleepless night, the anguish of what he knew awaited him, scourging (which often killed people outright), and a strenuous walk to the site of the cross, carrying the cross-beam part of the way.
One of the criminals with whom Jesus was crucified appears to have been the first soul to believe and enjoy the intercession of Jesus in the new covenant that Jesus commemorated at the last supper, as Jesus promised him that that very day he would be in paradise.
The repentant thief also records a deathbed conversion, illustrating that people can, even at the last second, turn and be saved.
Luke’s gospel doesn’t record the words, but John’s gospel does:
Everyone amongst Jesus’ disciples and followers thought it was over. It wasn’t over but it was finished. Complete, accomplished.
Certain similarities are evoked at the resurrection of Jesus: Angels announced it, and they told people who were some of the least influential in society; in the case of his birth, shepherds, in the case of his resurrection, women.
The stone wasn’t rolled away to let Jesus out but the show that he was no longer there. By accompanying some disciples on the way to Emmaus after his resurrection and suddenly appearing in their midst back in Jerusalem, it shows that Jesus in his resurrected body was not inhibited by normal physics.
At his ascension with the disciples looking on, Jesus in his resurrected body shows that he was not inhibited by gravity either. Interestingly, Luke in his follow-up book, Acts, has the following additional information:
He’s coming back to the same spot on the Mount of Olives. The text tells us Christians what we ought to be busy doing. A lesson the Millerites could have benefited from: get busy with being an influential Christian and the return of Christ will happen when it’s supposed to.
Jesus is on the way to Jerusalem – where he knows what awaits him – and he passes through the town of Jericho. At the time Jesus travelled through the town, Jericho was known for its olives and balsam (fragrance), roses and palm trees.
Other historical sources suggest that Jericho was a base for approximately 12 thousand priests and Levites in service of the temple. After all, Jericho is a moderate distance from Jerusalem: 46 kilometres.
It was however somewhat dangerous, as Jesus’ parable of the Good Samaritan alluded to. As it stands, in 2018, the best years of Jericho lie in the past. The population is approximately 18 thousand at the most recent census, with only 1% being Christian. The primary sources of income are actually banana groves and tourism. Interestingly, there are two sycamore trees at different locations in Jericho which are reputed to be related to the tree which Zacchaeus climbed to see Jesus.
In Jesus’ day, climbing a tree was beneath the dignity of a man in society. However Zacchaeus wanted to see Jesus more than he was concerned about what people thought of him. In fact, he had two strikes against him: he was short (think Danny De Vito) and this coupled with his status as a chief tax collector (and being hated as such) meant that people probably saw him as a malignant dwarf.
Jesus invited himself into Zacchaeus’ home but it strikes me that Zacchaeus did not refuse. The Master knocked on the door, but he also opened the door and shared a meal with Christ.
The religious professionals and the broader community were not happy with the move, but we see that Zacchaeus was transformed. Jesus discerned things better (as usual) than conventional wisdom in a community. Zacchaeus freely offered half of his wealth (which was probably significant) and offered restitution for the cheating he had done before.
From Jericho, all that remained before Jesus reached Jerusalem were the speed bumps of Bethpage and Bethany and the people assumed that Jesus’ ministry would take on political importance, that he would raise an army of followers and free them from Rome. He told them a parable to sort out the misconceptions and illustrate what the rule of the Messiah was to look like.
A Nobleman prepares to go to a distant land to be made king.
Jesus didn’t just make this scenario up out of thin air. Apparently, the parable echoes a historical incident where Archelaus, the son of Herod, upon the death of Herod travelled to Rome to seek the Emperor’s approval of him succeeding his father. This was essential as Herod ruled by Rome’s consent. The Jews sent a delegation to Rome to urge that Archelaus not be made king. In any event, Augustus named him as ethnarch, not king, emphasizing his dependence on Rome.
In Jesus’ parable, the Nobleman gives money to ten servants to invest. When he returns from being made king, he asks for a report. The point is not the money, it’s that the servants take what the Master has given and they do something with it. It’s not about money, but about character as a servant.
As believers we are Christodoulos (servants of Christ). We have all been given something, something we can use in the Kingdom.
In the parable, the Nobleman-made-king deals with his servants first and then deals decisively with the rebellion against him by those who should be his subjects.
The reward for being a good servant is more responsibility.
On arriving in Jerusalem, Jesus cleanses the temple from the traders and money-changers. If the religious professionals didn’t have a reason to hate Jesus until then, they did after that. He then returns and engages with the Pharisees, Sadducees and teachers of the Law.
They all tried to get him to incriminate himself, asking leading questions. Should the Children of Israel pay taxes to Caesar? If he answered in the affirmative, he would be a betrayer of the people for recognising Rome, if in the negative, they would snitch on him to Rome to say that he was a rebel.
Whose image and inscription was on the coin? Augustus Caesar. National and civil duties were owed to Caesar. The people after all were using his coin in their trading and Rome ruled over that province. But Jesus also delineated what people owed God. The people of God are dual citizens.
I pay taxes and fulfill the requirements of the state as far as I’m aware and able. I’m a South African, but I’m also a citizen of the Kingdom. On South African currency is the crest of the government and the visage of Mandela. In my soul however is the inscription of the King of heaven. This is true for all Believers.
The Sadducees asked Jesus a leading question using their favourite talking point in that they didn’t believe in a resurrection. They used a ridiculous hypothetical of a woman who had been married to seven brothers from oldest to youngest who all died, leaving her a widow.
Seven brides for seven brothers is a charming musical. One bride for seven brothers is a sad country song devised by scowling Sadducees to illustrate a point in error.
Whose wife of the seven would she be after the resurrection? None of the above, as Jesus explained, because they did not understand the nature of the world to come.
Jesus then quotes Moses who addressed the God of ‘Abraham, Isaac and Jacob’. At the time of Moses, Abe, Ike and Jake were long gone, but as Moses observed, to God they were alive. Even the Sadducees were impressed with the answer.