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.