39. The Trial Before the Jews

During our last lesson in this series on the life of Jesus, we saw the arrest of Jesus in the garden of Gethsemane by a crowd of people sent by the chief priests and led by Judas Iscariot. Jesus was not hiding. He did not resist. He let himself be led away. And as we will see today, he did not defend himself during the false trial which followed that arrest.

He came into the world to give his life as a sacrifice for sin, but this does not excuse those who condemned him and put him to death. They did not want to understand anything about the mission of Jesus for salvation. They were acting insincerely, out of selfish-interest and jealousy. It was said by the prophet Isaiah that Christ would be put to death without protection and without justice. That is to say, unjustly and without the benefit of a fair and legal trial (Isaiah 53:8). As we will see, this prophecy was fully fulfilled.

Jesus had more than one trial. He was condemned first by the Sanhedrin which was the supreme court of the Jews of that time. Then he was handed over to the Roman authorities to be executed. So let us look at the Jewish trial.

Jesus appeared first before Annas, who was the high priest from the year 6 to the year 15, until he was removed from that post by the Romans. He had four sons and a grandson who succeeded him as high priest, one after the other, but Annas continued to pull the strings and be called high priest. Before the Roman Empire, high priests occupied the post until their deaths, but in the first century, Roman governors had the habit of giving this position to the highest bidder.

The high priest at this time was a big collaborator with the oppressor of the Jewish people. He bought the honor and the power not only with money but also with a close collaboration with Rome. Annas was extremely rich, and he amassed his wealth by exploiting those who came to worship at the temple. He was the greatest beneficiary of the selling of animals in the temple court, a practice which Jesus twice condemned and stopped.

After his appearance before Annas, Jesus was brought, while it was night, to the home of Caiaphas, son-in-law of Annas and the one who officially occupied the position of high priest at that time. With him were many members of the Sanhedrin, the supreme court of the Jews, composed of priests, scribes and elders of the Jews. After having condemned Jesus, they delivered him to the temple guards who mistreated and scorned him until morning. At dawn, he was led to the place where he would officially meet with the Sanhedrin before being delivered to the Romans.

Here is the story of those three trials, beginning with the arrest in the garden of Gethsemane:

“Then the detachment of troops and the captain and the officers of the Jews arrested Jesus and bound Him… The high priest then asked Jesus about His disciples and His doctrine. Jesus answered him, ‘I spoke openly to the world. I always taught in synagogues and in the temple, where the Jews always meet, and in secret I have said nothing. Why do you ask Me? Ask those who have heard Me what I said to them. Indeed they know what I said.’ And when He had said these things, one of the officers who stood by struck Jesus with the palm of his hand, saying, ‘Do You answer the high priest like that?’ Jesus answered him, ‘If I have spoken evil, bear witness of the evil; but if well, why do you strike Me?’” (John 18:13,19-23)

“And those who had laid hold of Jesus led Him away to Caiaphas the high priest, where the scribes and the elders were assembled.” (Matthew 26:57)

“Now the chief priests and all the council sought testimony against Jesus to put Him to death, but found none. For many bore false witness against Him, but their testimonies did not agree. Then some rose up and bore false witness against Him, saying, ‘We heard Him say, “I will destroy this temple made with hands, and within three days I will build another made without hands.”’ But not even then did their testimony agree. And the high priest stood up in the midst and asked Jesus, saying, ‘Do You answer nothing? What is it these men testify against You?’ But He kept silent and answered nothing. Again the high priest asked Him, saying to Him, ‘Are You the Christ, the Son of the Blessed?’ Jesus said, ‘I am. And you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the Power, and coming with the clouds of heaven.’ Then the high priest tore his clothes and said, ‘What further need do we have of witnesses? You have heard the blasphemy! What do you think?’ And they all condemned Him to be deserving of death. Then some began to spit on Him, and to blindfold Him, and to beat Him, and to say to Him, ‘Prophesy!’ And the officers struck Him with the palms of their hands.” (Mark 14:55-65)

“As soon as it was day, the elders of the people, both chief priests and scribes, came together and led Him into their council, saying, ‘If You are the Christ, tell us.’ But He said to them, ‘If I tell you, you will by no means believe. And if I also ask you, you will by no means answer Me or let Me go. Hereafter the Son of Man will sit on the right hand of the power of God.’ Then they all said, ‘Are You then the Son of God?’ So He said to them, ‘You rightly say that I am.’ And they said, ‘What further testimony do we need? For we have heard it ourselves from His own mouth.’” (Luke 22:66-71)

“Then they led Jesus from Caiaphas to the Praetorium, and it was early morning. But they themselves did not go into the Praetorium, lest they should be defiled, but that they might eat the Passover.” (John 18:28)

“And they began to accuse Him, saying, ‘We found this fellow perverting the nation, and forbidding to pay taxes to Caesar, saying that He Himself is Christ, a King.’” (Luke 23:2)

The dishonesty of the judges

Motivated by jealousy and hate, the Jewish leaders violated the rules of their own system of justice. There was no respect for the law, neither that of God nor of men. Their goal was to destroy Jesus of Nazareth, by whatever means necessary. These are some of their own laws that they violated in the course of the trial.

The rules of the Jewish justice system of that time did not allow a trial to be held at night or for a gathering of the Sanhedrin outside the hall of justice. Preliminary hearings or private interrogations of the accused, such as the one which took place at the home of Annas, were prohibited. No trial could take place on a Sabbath or a holy day; and for a crime that carried a penalty of death, the trial could absolutely not begin on the day before a Sabbath or a feast day, nor was it permitted to put a condemned person to death the same day he was convicted. It was necessary to allow one night to intervene during which the judges were to sleep, fast, meditate and pray. A second hearing was to take place the next day to review the proceedings of the previous day and to hear new arguments before making each judge vote a second time to confirm the condemnation. During both ballots, each judge was to be questioned individually, beginning with the youngest. The high priest gave his opinion last in order to avoid influencing the decision of the others. A unanimous decision was not allowed in a death penalty case—it would raise suspicion of a conspiracy. You see, there were no lawyers in the modern sense, and it was thought that the accused had to have at least one sympathizer among the judges.

It was forbidden to put the defendant under oath or make him testify against himself. Even a voluntary confession from the defendant was not enough proof if there was no other testimony to confirm it. When witnesses contradicted one another, they were automatically rejected. All of this explains, in part, Jesus’ behavior during the trials. According to Hebrew law, it was necessary to reject contradictory testimony and to release the prisoner if his guilt could not be proven. This is what should have taken place in Jesus’ case. But instead, the judges, without taking into account the law, turned against the accused and said, “Do you answer nothing?” Jesus said, more or less, “Are you asking me to incriminate myself when our law forbids you to make me? Look for your evidence in a legal way.” When a bailiff hits him, he says: “If I have spoken evil, bear witness of the evil; but if well, why do you strike Me?”

The Sanhedrin condemned Jesus for blasphemy (although they told Pilate that they condemned him for rebellion against the Roman Empire). The greatest fault with their false trial was that they did not examine any evidence proving that that Jesus had committed blasphemy in saying that he was the Christ, the Son of God. They didn’t try to demonstrate that Jesus was not who he claimed to be. On this point, there was no debate. The Sanhedrin automatically rejected the possibility and proceeded to commit the greatest injustice in the history of the world.

Conclusion

If we also refuse to believe in and submit to Jesus, either because we don’t want to change our way of life or because we cling to too many preconceived ideas which don’t allow us to objectively examine or even understand the claims of Jesus, then we are as guilty as the Sanhedrin. In our next study, we’ll see why the Jewish leaders should have recognized Jesus as the Christ. In the meantime, examine your own heart and be ready to give Jesus a fair hearing.

40. They Had to Know

In dragging Jesus before Pontius Pilate, the Sanhedrin—or supreme court of the Jews—accused Jesus of having tried to stir up a rebellion against the Roman emperor. But among themselves, it was for a very different so-called crime that they condemned the man from Nazareth. At the end of the trial, the high priest had said, “You have heard the blasphemy! What do you think?” And they all condemned Him to be deserving of death (Mark 14:64). Blasphemy means denying God verbally, insulting His name, cursing Him, disloyalty toward God in action or in word, dishonoring him or attributing to one’s self the honor that belongs to God alone. According to the Sanhedrin, Jesus had spoken against God in claiming to be the Christ, the Son of God.

The word “Christ” comes from Greek and the word “Messiah” comes from Hebrew. Both words indicate “anointed.” Formerly in Israel, one anointed (that is, poured oil on) priests, prophets and kings to designate them as being chosen by God to perform their functions. But the expression “The Christ” or “The Messiah” did not refer to just any priest, prophet or king. It referred to a very special person that God had promised to send. He would be a prophet, priest AND king at the same time, as well as the Savior of his people. In the first century, the nation of Israel was under the rule of the Roman Empire. Almost all of the Jews hoped ardently for the coming of this Savior.

Of course, it was not a crime to claim to be the Messiah, especially if one really were the Anointed One. But Jesus was condemned for having said that he was the Christ. In our last lesson, we saw the numerous violations of the law committed by the members of the Sanhedrin in the proceedings against Jesus. But without any doubt, the greatest fault committed was that the judges condemned Jesus without even trying to establish that Jesus was not the person He claimed to be. They did not prove that Jesus had lied in saying that he was the Christ, the one whose coming the Scriptures had foretold.

As for the expression “Son of God,” it was used in several ways, but it seems to have been a term that was often associated with the Messiah for whom they waited. When Peter confessed his faith in Jesus in Matthew 16:16, he said, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” In Luke 4:41, we see that the demons used the term “Son of God” as an equivalent to “Messiah.” “And demons also came out of many, crying out and saying, ‘You are the Christ, the Son of God!’ And He, rebuking them, did not allow them to speak, for they knew that He was the Christ.” Again in John 1:49, we see that Nathaniel clearly associated the two terms: “Nathanael answered and said to Him, ‘Rabbi, You are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!’” Remember that everyone knew that the Christ would be “king of Israel.”

I cannot say to what extent these different people understood the significance of the phrase “Son of God” as it applies to Jesus. The Jews would not have used the phrase in the same way as the Greeks and Romans, whose gods married one another, committed adultery and produced numerous divine or half-divine offspring. Nevertheless, they believed that the Messiah would be much more than a mere man, and for this Messiah it would not be blasphemy to refer to himself as the Son of God. This brings us back to the fact that supreme court of the Jews condemned Jesus for claiming to be the Christ without hearing a single argument supporting what he said about himself.

The evidence in support of Jesus

However the evidence in favor of this claim of Jesus was substantial, and all of it was available to the judges. These men had the duty to consult the scripture to see if the prophecies concerning the Messiah were fulfilled in Jesus. But they did not do this. Consider these proofs that would have been able to convince fair and objective men:

  1. According to Daniel 2:44, the kingdom of the Messiah, promised for more than a thousand years, had to be established in the time of the Roman emperors. The Romans were the uncontested masters of the world at the time of Jesus. The time was right, because it was necessary that the Messiah come during this time in history.
  2. According to Micah 5:2, the Messiah would be born in Bethlehem of Judea. The leaders of the Jewish people understood this prophecy very well. Because they knew that Jesus lived in Galilee, they supposed, wrongly, that he was born in Galilee. If they had asked a few questions, they would have discovered that, due to the census, Jesus was actually born in Bethlehem (Matthew 2:1; Luke 2:4-7) as the entire world knows today.
  3. Matthew 1:22,23 tells us that the conception of Jesus by a virgin was prophesied in Isaiah 7:14. Matthew said, “So all this was done that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the Lord through the prophet, saying: ‘Behold, the virgin shall be with child, and bear a Son, and they shall call His name Immanuel,’ which is translated, ‘God with us.’”
  4. All the Jews knew that the Messiah would be a descendant of King David. A title commonly used to speak of the Messiah was “Son of David.” Indeed, Jeremiah 23:5-6 says, “‘Behold, the days are coming,’ says the Lord, ‘that I will raise to David a Branch of righteousness; a King shall reign and prosper, and execute judgment and righteousness in the earth.’” The genealogies of Jesus in Matthew 1 and Luke 3 show clearly that Jesus was a descendant of David. From a legal point of view, he was a descendant of David through his adoptive father, Joseph. From a biological point of view, he was a descendant of David through his mother Mary, who was also a descendant of David. The people recognized this fact. When Bartimaeus, the blind beggar near Jericho, called to Jesus, he cried out, “Son of David, have mercy on me!” (Mark 10:48).
  5. The Jews understood that, according to the prophets Isaiah and Micah, God would send a messenger to prepare the way for this great person, the Messiah. Malachi 3:1 says: “Behold, I send My messenger, and he will prepare the way before Me. And the Lord, whom you seek, will suddenly come to His temple, even the Messenger of the covenant, in whom you delight.” In chapter 4, Malachi associated this messenger with the prophet Elijah. All the members of the Sanhedrin knew very well that a prophet called John the Baptist had appeared about four years earlier. They had sent some priests to find out about him for them. According to John 1:23, they had received this response: “He said, ‘I am “The voice of one crying in the wilderness: ‘Make straight the way of the Lord,’” as the prophet Isaiah said.’” The next day Jesus had come to be baptized by John. This same John was the one who testified publicly that Jesus was the one who was to come, the Son of God (John 1:29-34).
  6. The Jewish leaders knew that Jesus had worked a lot in the region of Galilee, north of Palestine, an area inhabited both by Jews and by many Gentiles, or non-Jews. These leaders must also have remembered that scripture had foretold activity by the Messiah in this region. Matthew reminds his readers, “Now when Jesus heard that John had been put in prison, he departed to Galilee. And leaving Nazareth, he came and dwelt in Capernaum, which is by the sea, in the regions of Zebulun and Naphtali, that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by Isaiah the prophet, saying: ‘The land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, by the way of the sea, beyond the Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles: The people who sat in darkness have seen a great light, and upon those who sat in the region and shadow of death light has dawned’” (Matthew 4:12-16).
  7. All Jews expected, and correctly so, that the Christ would do miracles. They thought of passages such as Isaiah 35:5,6: “Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened, and the ears of the deaf shall be unstopped. Then the lame shall leap like a deer, and the tongue of the dumb sing…” The people saw the miracles of Jesus and took them as evidence that He was the Messiah. Matthew 12:22,23 says, “Then one was brought to Him who was demon-possessed, blind and mute; and He healed him, so that the blind and mute man both spoke and saw. And all the multitudes were amazed and said, ‘Could this be the Son of David?’” John 7:31 says, “And many of the people believed in Him, and said, ‘When the Christ comes, will He do more signs than these which this Man has done?’” The leaders of the people were well aware of the miracles of Jesus but instead of believing, they wanted to kill Jesus and even destroy some of the evidence of his miracles. After he resurrected Lazarus from the dead, “…the chief priests and the Pharisees gathered a council and said, ‘What shall we do? For this Man works many signs. If we let Him alone like this, everyone will believe in Him, and the Romans will come and take away both our place and nation.’… Then, from that day on, they plotted to put Him to death… Now a great many of the Jews knew that He was there; and they came, not for Jesus’ sake only, but that they might also see Lazarus, whom He had raised from the dead. But the chief priests plotted to put Lazarus to death also, because on account of him many of the Jews went away and believed in Jesus” (John 11:47,48,53; 12:9-11).

Many more facts could be added to the list. According to Zechariah 9:9, the Messiah would make his entrance into the city of Jerusalem seated on an ass. This is what Jesus had done less than a week earlier. According to Psalm 41:10, the Christ would be betrayed by a close friend, and according to Zechariah 11:12,13, he would be sold for the sum of 30 pieces of silver—the exact amount the chief priests had paid to Judas Iscariot to deliver Jesus to them.

Conclusion

If the Sanhedrin had taken the time to listen calmly to the evidence, could they have condemned Jesus for having said he was the Christ, the Son of God? Certainly not. In their prejudice, their jealousy, and their hated for the one who had denounced their hypocrisy, they rejected their savior and that of the whole world. And what about you? What will you decide about Jesus of Nazareth?

42. The Crucifixion

Jesus said in Mark 10:45, “For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many.” He left the glory of heaven in order to submit to death in our place. So today, we will contemplate the fulfillment of our Lord’s mission.

We have already seen that in the course of Jesus’ trial before Pilate, he was beaten by the Roman soldiers. The Roman way of whipping one who was condemned often killed the prisoner, even if he had not been condemned to death. The instrument used for this beating was made of several leather strips interlaced with pieces of bone or sharpened stones, attached to a handle. It left the flesh of the victim looking like minced or ground meat, with all the nerves exposed. Most of the victims lost consciousness before the soldiers finished the job. It was not unusual for the victim to lose his mind during this torture. Jesus endured this, and after that he was again struck, humiliated in many ways, and then forced to carry the heavy wood to which he would be attached.

But the crucifixion which would follow this lashing and painful trek was even worse. This was a death so shameful and so cruel that it was forbidden, even inconceivable, to administer it to a Roman citizen, regardless of his crime. It was reserved for slaves or the most detestable criminals, being the most dreaded form of death anywhere in the world in the first century. Our lesson is taken from Matthew 27, Luke 23 and John 19.

The story

“Then the soldiers of the governor took Jesus into the Praetorium and gathered the whole garrison around Him. And they stripped Him and put a scarlet robe on Him. When they had twisted a crown of thorns, they put it on His head, and a reed in His right hand. And they bowed the knee before Him and mocked Him, saying, ‘Hail, King of the Jews!’ Then they spat on Him, and took the reed and struck Him on the head.” (Matthew 27:27-30)

“They took Jesus and led Him away. And He, bearing His cross…” (John 19:16,17)

“Now as they came out, they found a man of Cyrene, Simon by name. Him they compelled to bear His cross.” (Matthew 27:32)

“And a great multitude of the people followed Him, and women who also mourned and lamented Him. But Jesus, turning to them, said, ‘Daughters of Jerusalem, do not weep for Me, but weep for yourselves and for your children. For indeed the days are coming in which they will say, “Blessed are the barren, wombs that never bore, and breasts which never nursed!” Then they will begin to say to the mountains, “Fall on us!” and to the hills, “Cover us!” For if they do these things in the green wood, what will be done in the dry?’ There were also two others, criminals, led with Him to be put to death.” (Luke 23:27-32)

“And when they had come to a place called Golgotha, that is to say, Place of a Skull, they gave Him sour wine mingled with gall to drink. But when He had tasted it, He would not drink.” (Matthew 27:33,34)

“And when they had come to the place called Calvary, there they crucified Him, and the criminals, one on the right hand and the other on the left. Then Jesus said, ‘Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they do…’” (Luke 23:33,34)

“Now Pilate wrote a title and put it on the cross. And the writing was: Jesus of Nazareth, The King of the Jews. Then many of the Jews read this title, for the place where Jesus was crucified was near the city; and it was written in Hebrew, Greek, and Latin. Therefore the chief priests of the Jews said to Pilate, ‘Do not write, “The King of the Jews,” but, “He said, ‘I am the King of the Jews.’”’ Pilate answered, ‘What I have written, I have written.’”

“Then the soldiers, when they had crucified Jesus, took His garments and made four parts, to each soldier a part, and also the tunic. Now the tunic was without seam, woven from the top in one piece. They said therefore among themselves, ‘Let us not tear it, but cast lots for it, whose it shall be,’ that the Scripture might be fulfilled which says: ‘They divided My garments among them, and for My clothing they cast lots.’ Therefore the soldiers did these things.” (John 19:19-24)

“And those who passed by blasphemed Him, wagging their heads and saying, ‘You who destroy the temple and build it in three days, save Yourself! If You are the Son of God, come down from the cross.’ Likewise the chief priests also, mocking with the scribes and elders, said, ‘He saved others; Himself He cannot save. If He is the King of Israel, let Him now come down from the cross, and we will believe Him. He trusted in God; let Him deliver Him now if He will have Him; for He said, “I am the Son of God.”‘ Even the robbers who were crucified with Him reviled Him with the same thing.” (Matthew 27:39-44)

“Then one of the criminals who were hanged blasphemed Him, saying, ‘If You are the Christ, save Yourself and us.’ But the other, answering, rebuked him, saying, ‘Do you not even fear God, seeing you are under the same condemnation? And we indeed justly, for we receive the due reward of our deeds; but this Man has done nothing wrong.’ Then he said to Jesus, ‘Lord, remember me when You come into Your kingdom.’ And Jesus said to him, ‘Assuredly, I say to you, today you will be with Me in Paradise.’” (Luke 23:39-43)

“Now there stood by the cross of Jesus His mother, and His mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene. When Jesus therefore saw His mother, and the disciple whom He loved standing by, He said to His mother, ‘Woman, behold your son!’ Then He said to the disciple, ‘Behold your mother!’ And from that hour that disciple took her to his own home.” (John 19:25-27)

“Now from the sixth hour until the ninth hour there was darkness over all the land. And about the ninth hour Jesus cried out with a loud voice, saying, ‘Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani?’ that is, ‘My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?’ Some of those who stood there, when they heard that, said, ‘This Man is calling for Elijah!’” (Matthew 27:45-47)

“After this, Jesus, knowing that all things were now accomplished, that the Scripture might be fulfilled, said, ‘I thirst!’ Now a vessel full of sour wine was sitting there; and they filled a sponge with sour wine, put it on hyssop, and put it to His mouth.” (John 19:28,29)

“The rest said, ‘Let Him alone; let us see if Elijah will come to save Him.’” (Matthew 27:49)

“So when Jesus had received the sour wine, He said, ‘It is finished!’ And bowing His head, He gave up His spirit.” (John 19:30)

“And when Jesus had cried out with a loud voice, He said, ‘Father, into Your hands I commit My spirit.’ Having said this, He breathed His last.” (Luke 23:46)

“Then, behold, the veil of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom; and the earth quaked, and the rocks were split, and the graves were opened; and many bodies of the saints who had fallen asleep were raised; and coming out of the graves after His resurrection, they went into the holy city and appeared to many. So when the centurion and those with him, who were guarding Jesus, saw the earthquake and the things that had happened, they feared greatly, saying, ‘Truly this was the Son of God!’ And many women who followed Jesus from Galilee, ministering to Him, were there looking on from afar, among whom were Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James and Joses, and the mother of Zebedee’s sons.” (Matthew 27:51-56)

“And the whole crowd who came together to that sight, seeing what had been done, beat their breasts and returned.” (Luke 23:48)

“Therefore, because it was the Preparation Day, that the bodies should not remain on the cross on the Sabbath (for that Sabbath was a high day), the Jews asked Pilate that their legs might be broken, and that they might be taken away. Then the soldiers came and broke the legs of the first and of the other who was crucified with Him. But when they came to Jesus and saw that He was already dead, they did not break His legs. But one of the soldiers pierced His side with a spear, and immediately blood and water came out. And he who has seen has testified, and his testimony is true; and he knows that he is telling the truth, so that you may believe. For these things were done that the Scripture should be fulfilled, ‘Not one of His bones shall be broken.’ And again another Scripture says, ‘They shall look on Him whom they pierced.’” (John 19:31-37)

He thought about others

Even during the atrocious suffering at Calvary, Jesus was thinking of others. When the women beside the road wept for him, Jesus thought about the suffering that awaited the city of Jerusalem when its destruction would come several years later. If the green wood burns, won’t the dry wood burn even more surely? If this is how Jesus, the innocent one, was treated, what would be the fate of the city whose inhabitants had unjustly demanded his death?

When the Roman soldiers pounded hard iron nails into his hands and feet, Jesus thought about them and prayed, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they do…” The Jews, who in jealousy and hate had demanded his death, knew what they were doing. Pilate also knew that he was delivering an innocent man to death. But the Roman soldiers were probably brought from Caesarea to increase security in Jerusalem during the Passover holiday. They may not have known the man they were putting to death. Their crime was actually wicked beyond description, but they were acting out of ignorance and Jesus asked that God forgive them.

When Jesus was in agony on the cross, he thought about Mary, the one who had given birth to him and raised him. He thought about the sadness and loneliness of Mary after the death of her first son. Jesus’ brothers did not yet believe in him (John 7:5). So he entrusted his mother Mary to John, his disciple, so that he might comfort and help her. Jesus thought about others despite his own suffering. Isn’t it certain that he also thought of you and me and all those for whom he was giving his life?

He gave his life willingly

Long before his arrest, Jesus said in John 10:17,18: “Therefore My Father loves Me, because I lay down My life that I may take it again. No one takes it from Me, but I lay it down of Myself. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it again. This command I have received from My Father.” When Peter wanted to defend him so they would not seize him, Jesus told him, “Or do you think that I cannot now pray to My Father, and He will provide Me with more than twelve legions of angels?” (Matthew 26:53). But he didn’t do that. Through the course of his trial, he made no attempt to defend himself to defend himself against the false and unjust accusations that were brought against him against the false accusations and injustices that were brought against him. He could have saved himself easily by saying that he was not the Christ. But he didn’t do this. When he was offered vinegar mixed with gall, a bitter drug that would have reduced his pain, he refused it. He was ready to fully endure the punishment deserved by our sins.

Those who mocked Jesus—the soldiers, the priests, the thieves, the passers-by—told him to come down from the cross if he was the Son of God so they could believe in him. Thank God he didn’t do that. And it is because he stood firmly until the end that we can put all our trust in him today for our salvation.

43. The Burial

Here is what the Gospel tells us about the burial of Jesus:

“After this, Joseph of Arimathea, being a disciple of Jesus, but secretly, for fear of the Jews, asked Pilate that he might take away the body of Jesus; and Pilate gave him permission. So he came and took the body of Jesus. And Nicodemus, who at first came to Jesus by night, also came, bringing a mixture of myrrh and aloes, about a hundred pounds. Then they took the body of Jesus, and bound it in strips of linen with the spices, as the custom of the Jews is to bury. Now in the place where He was crucified there was a garden, and in the garden a new tomb in which no one had yet been laid. So there they laid Jesus, because of the Jews’ Preparation Day, for the tomb was nearby.” (John 19:38-42)

Mark 15:46,47 adds that Joseph placed the body in “…a tomb which had been hewn out of the rock, and rolled a stone against the door of the tomb. And Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of Joses observed where He was laid.”

“On the next day, which followed the Day of Preparation, the chief priests and Pharisees gathered together to Pilate, saying, ‘Sir, we remember, while He was still alive, how that deceiver said, “After three days I will rise.” Therefore command that the tomb be made secure until the third day, lest His disciples come by night and steal Him away, and say to the people, “He has risen from the dead.” So the last deception will be worse than the first.’ Pilate said to them, ‘You have a guard; go your way, make it as secure as you know how.’ So they went and made the tomb secure, sealing the stone and setting the guard.” (Matthew 27:62-66)

The scandal of the cross

According to the apostle Paul in 1 Corinthians 15:3,4, the Gospel is summarized in three facts: Jesus Christ died for our sins, according to the scriptures, he was buried, and he was resurrected on the third day, according to the scriptures. Jesus’ burial is important as confirmation of his death. He had to be buried because he was really dead. And that is an idea that some people have had difficulty in accepting, especially because Jesus died in a humiliating way, nailed to a cross like the lowest of criminals. This is what is sometimes called “the scandal of the cross.”

Paul said in 1 Corinthians 1:22-24, “For Jews request a sign, and Greeks seek after wisdom; but we preach Christ crucified, to the Jews a stumbling block and to the Greeks foolishness, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.” Most Jews did not want a suffering and humiliated Messiah. Rather they wanted a conquering Messiah who could use God’s miraculous power to deliver them from the political and military oppression of the Romans. Most Greeks did not want a Savior either. They wanted a philosopher who could impress them with his knowledge and eloquence.

A false appearance?

But the Jews and the Greeks of the first century were not the only ones who were predisposed against the message of the death and resurrection of Christ. Most Muslims do not accept the idea that Jesus, whom they recognize nevertheless as a prophet, died on the cross. Their most important argument is based on the fourth surah of the Koran, which says on the subject of the Jews:

“But they broke their covenant; and they rejected the signs of God; and put the prophets to death without justification, and said, ‘Our hearts are sealed.’ It is God who has sealed their hearts, on account of their denial of the truth. Except for a few of them, they have no faith. They denied the truth and uttered a monstrous slander against Mary. They declared, ‘We have put to death the Messiah, Jesus, son of Mary, the Messenger of God.’ They did not kill him, nor did they crucify him, but it only seemed to them [as if it had been so]. And those who differ in this matter are in doubt concerning it. They have no definite knowledge about it, but only follow mere conjecture. But they certainly did not kill him. God raised him towards Himself. God is almighty and wise.” (An-Nisa’ 4:155-158) Goodword (2013-12-11). Quran: A Simple English Translation by Khan, Maulana Wahiduddin

This passage has been explained in several ways by Muslims. Some say that Jesus was hidden or that an angel protected, him then one of his companions was killed in his place. Some say that God made Judas Iscariot to take on the appearance of Jesus and that it was he who was killed. Others say that Simon of Cyrene who carried the cross behind Jesus was substituted for him on the way to Calvary. Others simply say that the Jews tried to kill him but were unable to, and that God raised him to heaven without him going through death.

All these explanations have certain problems. For example, there is a moral problem if we say that God used trickery or deception to deliberately cause men to believe a lie. God is perfectly holy, pure and without sin. The Bible says clearly in Hebrews 6:18, “It is impossible for God to lie,” and in Titus 1:2, “God… cannot lie.” He had commanded in the Law of Moses, “You shall not steal, nor deal falsely, nor lie to one another” (Leviticus 19:11). He who tells us not to use deceit, would He turn around and use deceit with us? How could we trust Him from then on? Far be it from God, the God of truth—far be it from Him to deceive people, to persuade them to believe what is false. He would not use His miraculous power to deceive people. Satan is the one who acts this way. Let us not dishonor God.

But can we believe that without miraculous intervention by God, men could crucify and bury another in Jesus’ place? While he was on the cross, he was recognized by the Roman centurion and his soldiers, the passers-by who had heard him preach, the Jewish leaders and the two thieves. There were also those who knew him well—women who had accompanied him in Galilee, his own mother and his disciple, John. His body would have been easily recognizable after having been raised on the cross, not only by his face but also by the wounds caused by the crown of thorns that the soldiers had placed on his head. Moreover Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus who buried his body, as well as the women who observed when the body was prepared, knew Jesus very well. Without miraculous deceit, they could not have mistaken another for him.

We should point out that there is another way of understanding the passage of the Koran which we read. In context, this is a rebuke spoken against the Jews who had rejected the prophets of God, spoken against Mary and boasted of having crucified Jesus Christ. In refuting the Jews, the Koran says, “They did not kill him, nor did they crucify him, but it only seemed to them [as if it had been so].” This is not to say that there was no crucifixion but that if it took place, it was God who was responsible for it. The Jews only did what God, the Almighty, allowed them to do to carry out His plan. The same sort of language is found in the eighth surah of the Koran, which speaks of the actions of the Muslims in the battle of Badr: “You did not slay them, but God slew them, and when thou threwest, it was not thyself that threw, but God threw, and that He might confer on the believers a fair benefit” (al-Anfal 8:17). The Muslim believers had, in fact, killed their adversaries, but it was only, according to the idea of this verse, with the aid and according to the will of Allah.

This way of understanding the passage on the crucifixion of Jesus is in closer agreement with certain other passages of the Koran that speak of the death of Jesus. For example, in the Surah 19, Jesus, while still a baby in Mary’s arms, says these words: “Peace be upon me, the day I was born, and the day I die, and the day I am raised up alive!” (19:34). And in the third surah, God said, “O Jesus, I will cause thee to die and exalt thee in My presence” (3:55).

His death in the plan of God

Yes, Jesus was crucified and put to death, but it was according to the will and eternal plan of God. In the course of his ministry, Jesus had warned his disciples several times about the death that awaited him. In Luke 18:31-33, for example, we read:

“Then He took the twelve aside and said to them, ‘Behold, we are going up to Jerusalem, and all things that are written by the prophets concerning the Son of Man will be accomplished. For He will be delivered to the Gentiles and will be mocked and insulted and spit upon. They will scourge Him and kill Him. And the third day He will rise again.’”

When he was on the cross, Jesus said, “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?” (Matthew 27:46). These words come from Psalm 22. In quoting this, Jesus brought to the attention of everyone that the psalm had predicted a thousand years in advance the suffering he was undergoing. This passage contains the exact words that were used by those who mocked Jesus (verses 8,9). It spoke of the thirst of one who is crucified, of the way the hands and feet of the Lord would be pierced, how his bones would separate, and that men would draw lots to divide up his clothes among themselves. God had seen and announced all of this in a single psalm of David.

But let’s return to those words, “My God, My God, why have You forsaken me?” This was not just a way of saying “Read Psalm 22 and you will see that my death was predicted in detail.” Jesus, for the first time since eternity, was separated from the Father, actually abandoned. In that moment, he carried the sins of the entire world.

We read the following about Jesus in 2 Corinthians 5:21: “For He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.” Now, God cannot tolerate sin or be in communion with sin. The Old Testament says, “You are of purer eyes than to behold evil, and cannot look on wickedness” (Habakkuk 1:13). On the day of judgment, the Lord will say to the guilty, “Depart from Me, you cursed” (Matthew 25:41); “These shall be punished with everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of His power…” (2 Thessalonians 1:9). Physical death is the separation of body and soul. Spiritual death is the separation of man from God. Jesus submitted to both of these for us so that we could have eternal life.

The message of the Gospel—the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus—may be a scandal to some, but for those of us who believe, it is truly the power and wisdom of God for our salvation. Why deny the death of Christ? Not only is it confirmed by history and by the Word of God, but without it we have no hope.

45. His Resurrection: The Certainty

In our last study, we saw—almost without commentary—the Sunday after Jesus’ crucifixion. At dawn of the first day of the week, his disciples saw that the tomb where his body had been placed was empty. In addition, different people began to claim that Jesus, who was alive again, had appeared to them. First there was Mary Magdalene, then certain other women, then Cleopas and another disciple who talked with Jesus on the road to Emmaus. On their return to Jerusalem, they learned that Peter, also, had seen the Lord.

Finally Jesus presented himself to ten disciples at one time. Judas had already committed suicide and Thomas was not with the others. But the other ten were able, on this first Sunday evening after the death of Jesus, to speak with him, touch him and see him eat (showing that he was not a ghost). Other appearances of the risen Savior followed during a period of forty days, and we will examine some of these in future studies. But two facts have already been set forth which give clear evidence of the reality of the resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth: the empty tomb and the eye witnesses.

The empty tomb

Three days after the crucifixion of Jesus, his tomb was found to be empty. It is a historical fact, well attested to. If the body of Christ had been found in the tomb where it was laid, Christianity would have been stillborn. Who would have proclaimed Jesus as the living Lord while his body rotted in the sepulcher? No one.

Those who don’t want to accept the idea that Jesus was resurrected have proposed three theories to explain why the body was no longer there.

1. The body stolen by his disciples? Some tell us that the disciples of Jesus stole his body. This was the first explanation offered by non-believers.

Let’s recall that after Jesus’ death, the chief priests and Pharisees had gone to Pilate and said:

“‘Sir, we remember, while He was still alive, how that deceiver said, “After three days I will rise.” Therefore command that the tomb be made secure until the third day, lest His disciples come by night and steal Him away, and say to the people, “He has risen from the dead.” So the last deception will be worse than the first.’ Pilate said to them, ‘You have a guard; go your way, make it as secure as you know how.’” (Matthew 27:63-65)

So all appropriate precautions were taken: the burial place was a tomb carved out of the rock; a large stone weighing at least one ton was rolled over the opening; the seal of the Roman government was placed on the stone as a warning to any person who might think about disturbing it. And soldiers were assigned to guard it. According to experts, this would have included sixteen men, with four on duty at all times. According to Roman custom, a soldier who was found asleep at his post would be put to death.

In spite of all these precautions, some people still have claimed the body was stolen.

In Matthew 28:11-15, the Bible tells us what happened when certain women saw the Lord:

“Now while they were going, behold, some of the guard came into the city and reported to the chief priests all the things that had happened. When they had assembled with the elders and consulted together, they gave a large sum of money to the soldiers, saying, ‘Tell them, “His disciples came at night and stole Him away while we slept.” And if this comes to the governor’s ears, we will appease him and make you secure.’ So they took the money and did as they were instructed; and this saying is commonly reported among the Jews until this day.”

Matthew does not even bother to refute this idea—after all, who can say what happens around him while he is asleep? Moreover, none of these soldiers would have dared fall asleep at the risk of losing their lives. The disciples would not have had the opportunity to steal Jesus’ body.

If the disciples had been able to steal the body of Jesus, they would have committed the greatest fraud that history has ever seen. It would also mean that they lied deliberately. But their behavior is not that of conscious liars. On the contrary, nearly all the apostles died for their testimony (and they were all beaten and imprisoned). One would not be willing to endure all of that or to give one’s life for something he knew was a deliberate lie. Not only did they give their own lives rather than retract their words, but they knew that all those who believed that message would also die for having believed. Yet none of them renounced their testimony about the resurrection of Jesus.

2. The body stolen by Jewish authorities? A second theory says that the body of Jesus was stolen by his enemies. But this idea is even more improbable than the first. The Jewish authorities wanted to put an end to the preachings of Christians. They said to the disciples: “Did we not strictly command you not to teach in this name? And look, you have filled Jerusalem with your doctrine, and intend to bring this Man’s blood on us!” (Acts 5:28). If the Jewish authorities had the body of Jesus, they could have simply produced it and paraded it through the streets of Jerusalem. There would have been no need to tell the apostles not to preach—they would have been ridiculed. No one would have converted to Christianity. The fact that the leaders did not do such a thing proves clearly that they had not taken the body.

3. Jesus was not dead? The third theory offered by adversaries of the Gospel is that Jesus had not really died on the cross—He had fainted. It was the cool air in the tomb that revived him. But again we have to be realistic. Jesus was definitely dead. He had been severely beaten by experts in that process before the crucifixion. The Roman soldiers knew perfectly well how to use their leather whips embedded with sharp pieces of glass and stone to bruise the body and leave the skin hanging in bloody ribbons.

They knew their method of execution very well—one of the cruelest methods of execution ever invented by men, a slow death of pain and suffocation. They knew well how to determine if their victim was dead. And in Jesus’s case, they went the extra mile and pierced his side with a sword. But when they came to Jesus and saw that He was already dead, they did not break His legs. But one of the soldiers pierced His side with a spear, and immediately blood and water came out (John 19:33,34). Let us also add that Jesus was buried according to Jewish custom: And Nicodemus, who at first came to Jesus by night, also came, bringing a mixture of myrrh and aloes, about a hundred pounds. Then they took the body of Jesus, and bound it in strips of linen with the spices, as the custom of the Jews is to bury (John 19:39,40).

Even if we suppose that Jesus had not died but merely fainted, how could he have survived for three days shut up in a humid tomb, severely wounded, wrapped in several meters of cloth strips stuck together with 50 kilos of sticky spices—without food or water or any medical care? How would he have had the strength to free himself from the bandages, roll away the gigantic stone from the entrance to the tomb, gain control of the guards, travel several kilometers on feet that had been pierced by nails, and then present himself to his disciples in a condition that would convince them that he was Lord of life?

Let’s be frank—other than resurrection, there is no reasonable explanation for the empty tomb of Jesus. But there is another incontrovertible proof of the resurrection.

The Eyewitnesses

Remember that as soon as the first day after the resurrection, Jesus presented himself to a variety of people in different circumstances. The witnesses did not all have the same temperament. There were men and also women who saw him. He presented himself to individuals and to groups. Some appearances took place in closed spaces and some were outdoors—some in the mornings and some in the evenings.

Notice also that the witnesses of the resurrection did not expect to see him. In spite of the promises that he had made to return from the dead, one cannot say that these disciples ardently desired or hoped for his resurrection. The women who saw him went to the tomb to embalm a body, not to find a living Lord. When the women returned and said that they had seen the risen Jesus, the other disciples did not welcome the news with joy—they mocked them. Before Jesus made himself known to the two disciples on the road to Emmaus in Luke 24 beginning in verse 13, he found them sad and downcast, without hope in spite of the women’s testimony that they had heard.

All this shows that, when it comes to the appearances of Jesus, they were not hallucinations or a mirage. This was not like the person in the desert who believes he sees an oasis with plenty of water and trees though there is really only sand. Such visions are not a group activity where everyone sees and hears the same thing. Also, one generally sees what one very much hopes or desires to see. Finally, all these appearances stopped abruptly about 40 days after the resurrection, after Jesus went back up into heaven in the sight of his disciples.

The witnesses of the resurrection were men and women who knew him very well. They could not have been mistaken about his identity. These were also pious people who were never accused of dishonesty or immorality. They called others, also, to live according to absolute righteousness. If they were deliberately lying, we find it very difficult to find a motive. Indeed, they never received any material advantage for what they preached. On the contrary, they were persecuted to death. If this were about a modern trial, there would not be reason enough to gather a jury. Historians have found no reason to reject their writings. Many historians have solemnly said that no historical event is better attested to than the resurrection of Jesus.

Conclusion

In our next study, we will see the importance of this historical fact for us today. Nearly two thousand years ago, a man who was called Jesus of Nazareth was crucified in the city of Jerusalem. The third day after his death, he returned to life. Nothing is more certain. But what does this certain knowledge tell us of the real identity of this Jesus and what does all this mean for you and me? These are the questions we must consider.

46. His Resurrection: Its Importance

Our last study together demonstrated the certainty of the fact that Jesus Christ not only died on the cross and that he was buried but also that he was resurrected from the dead on the third day. No fact in history is better attested than these. These three facts—the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus—establish the base of what we call the Gospel, the good news. It has been the heart of the Christian message since the first century. In 1 Corinthians 15:1-4, the apostle Paul wrote this to those who had been converted in the city of Corinth:

“Moreover, brethren, I declare to you the gospel which I preached to you, which also you received and in which you stand, by which also you are saved, if you hold fast that word which I preached to you— unless you believed in vain. For I delivered to you first of all that which I also received: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He rose again the third day according to the Scriptures…”

Now we will see the special meaning the Bible attaches to the resurrection.

Its importance according to Jesus himself

Jesus sometimes spoke in a veiled way but throughout his ministry he referred to his resurrection from the dead as the ultimate proof that he had the right to act as he did. After the first time he chased the vendors of animals and the moneychangers out of the court of the temple of God in Jerusalem (John 2:18-22), he said:

“So the Jews answered and said to Him, ‘What sign do You show to us, since You do these things?’ Jesus answered and said to them, ‘Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.’ Then the Jews said, ‘It has taken forty-six years to build this temple, and will You raise it up in three days?’ But He was speaking of the temple of His body. Therefore, when He had risen from the dead, His disciples remembered that He had said this to them; and they believed the Scripture and the word which Jesus had said.”

In Matthew 12:38-40, in speaking of the same miracle, Jesus uses another comparison, this one referring to an event from the life of the Old Testament prophet Jonah:

“Then some of the scribes and Pharisees answered, saying, ‘Teacher, we want to see a sign from You.’ But He answered and said to them, ‘An evil and adulterous generation seeks after a sign, and no sign will be given to it except the sign of the prophet Jonah. For as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the great fish, so will the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth.’”

But with his apostles, Jesus did not always speak in parables. In Mark 9:31,32, we see that he told them, “The Son of Man is being betrayed into the hands of men, and they will kill Him. And after He is killed, He will rise the third day.” But they did not understand this saying, and were afraid to ask Him. Before his death, Jesus’ disciples could not understand what he said to them about this. Surely he did not have to die so soon! And if, according to them, he did not have to die, then he must be talking in parables when he spoke of resurrection. But in this case he was no longer speaking in parables. He was speaking openly and literally about the fulfillment of his mission on earth.

Its effect on the disciples

When we think about the effect of Jesus’ resurrection on his disciples, we see that Jesus was right to emphasize this miracle as one that would make him known more emphatically than all the others—the one which would most clearly proclaim his divinity. This is the way Thomas understood the real identity of the Master he had followed for more than three years. John 20:24-29 shows us his reaction before the risen Lord:

“Now Thomas, called the Twin, one of the twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. The other disciples therefore said to him, ‘We have seen the Lord.’ So he said to them, ‘Unless I see in His hands the print of the nails, and put my finger into the print of the nails, and put my hand into His side, I will not believe.’ And after eight days His disciples were again inside, and Thomas with them. Jesus came, the doors being shut, and stood in the midst, and said, ‘Peace to you!’ Then He said to Thomas, ‘Reach your finger here, and look at My hands; and reach your hand here, and put it into My side. Do not be unbelieving, but believing.’ And Thomas answered and said to Him, ‘My Lord and my God!’ Jesus said to him, ‘Thomas, because you have seen Me, you have believed. Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.’”

(Notice that Jesus does not reproach Thomas for having called him Lord and God, as if it were a blasphemy. On the contrary, he pronounced a blessing on those who would accept this truth without having been eyewitnesses of the resurrection.)

The disciples of Jesus were transformed by his resurrection. Before seeing their Lord returned to life, they were hiding somewhere behind closed doors, because they were afraid of the Jewish leaders (John 20:19). After the resurrection, we see them full of courage in spite of threats from the authorities, in spite of beatings and prison, proclaiming Jesus as Lord of all men. They aren’t even afraid of death anymore, being convinced that Jesus has triumphed over it.

If Jesus had not been resurrected, Christian preaching and faith would be pointless according to 1 Corinthians 15. There would still be no salvation from sin. The sufferings of persecuted Christians would be for nothing. But since Christ was resurrected, Christians know that he has the power to resurrect and to reward those who believe in him. With this assurance, the apostles bore unbelievable trials and almost all of them died rather than renounce their testimony.

Its place in the preaching of the apostles

Considering the importance of the resurrection of Christ in making the faith of the apostles unshakeable, it is not surprising that it occupies the place of honor in their preaching. They return to the subject again and again throughout the book of Acts. On the day of Pentecost, the apostle Peter said to the crowd, “But God raised Him up again, putting an end to the agony of death, since it was impossible for Him to be held in its power” (Acts 2:24). He continued by demonstrating that the resurrection had been prophesied a thousand years before by King David. He concluded by applying the passage to Jesus: “This Jesus God has raised up, of which we are all witnesses… Therefore let all the house of Israel know assuredly that God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Christ.” (Acts 2:32,36).

The apostle Paul also gave the resurrection an important place in his preaching. In Acts 13, he said this to a Jewish audience:

“But God raised Him from the dead. He was seen for many days by those who came up with Him from Galilee to Jerusalem, who are His witnesses to the people. And we declare to you glad tidings— that promise which was made to the fathers. God has fulfilled this for us their children, in that He has raised up Jesus. As it is also written in the second Psalm: ‘You are My Son, today I have begotten You.’ And that He raised Him from the dead, no more to return to corruption, He has spoken thus: ‘I will give you the sure mercies of David.’ …Therefore let it be known to you, brethren, that through this Man is preached to you the forgiveness of sins; and by Him everyone who believes is justified from all things from which you could not be justified by the law of Moses.” (Acts 13:30-34,38,39).

In preaching to the Gentiles, this same Paul again spoke of the resurrection of Christ. He said to the philosophers in the city of Athens, “Truly, these times of ignorance God overlooked, but now commands all men everywhere to repent, because He has appointed a day on which He will judge the world in righteousness by the Man whom He has ordained. He has given assurance of this to all by raising Him from the dead” (Acts 17:30,31).

Conclusion: Proof of the divinity of Christ

According to Romans 5:8, the death of Christ is proof of the love of God for each of us. According to Romans 1:4, the resurrection of Christ is proof of his divinity. Paul wrote, “[He was] declared to be the Son of God with power according to the Spirit of holiness, by the resurrection from the dead.” To be “son of God” does not mean that Jesus did not exist and that God had sexual intercourse with Mary, Jesus being born as a result of their sexual relations. No. Jesus existed long before “taking the form of a bondservant” (Philippians 2:7), in other words becoming human, and being born among men.

He himself says, “Before Abraham was, I AM.” (John 8:58). Like God the Father, he always existed. When he refers to himself as the Son of Man, he acknowledges that he had, at least for the space of 33 years, the nature of a man. The expression does not mean that Jesus was inferior to a man or that he was the offspring of a man, because physically he had no human father. But he had become a man and experienced existence as a man. When Jesus spoke of himself as the Son of God, he claimed to have the nature and traits of God—he had existed since eternity; he was without sin; he had all power and all knowledge, etc. To be the “Son of God” does not indicate that he was inferior to God or that he was born of any sexual intercourse.

The expression means that Jesus was divine and always had been divine. The resurrection was the proof of this. Because he returned to life forever, we know that he was not simply another false prophet or doer of miracles, come to trick people or take advantage of them. On the contrary, he came to reconcile us to our Creator and to give us eternal life.

To be saved, it is necessary to believe that Jesus rose from the dead and that he is therefore the Son of God (Romans 10:9,10). It is necessary to repent of our sins if we want to be forgiven of them (Acts 3:19). It is necessary to confess or declare in front of others that we believe in Jesus (Romans 10:9,10). And it is necessary to be baptized in Jesus’ name. This means to be immersed in water for the forgiveness of sins (Acts 2:38), a kind of picture of Jesus dying and being resurrected from the grave. But all of this is effective for our salvation only because Jesus went to the cross, died for us and was resurrected. As the Bible reminds us in 1 Peter 3:21, “Baptism now saves you—not the removal of dirt from the flesh, but an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ.”

47. His Appearance by the Sea

Before his death, Jesus promised his disciples, “But after I have been raised, I will go before you to Galilee” (Mark 14:28). On the day of his resurrection, when he showed himself to certain women, he told them, “Do not be afraid. Go and tell My brethren to go to Galilee, and there they will see Me” (Matthew 28:10). Before the disciples returned to Galilee from Judea, where the Lord had been crucified and buried, he appeared to them two times. Since the Jewish Passover is followed by the Feast of Unleavened Bread, which lasts seven days, the disciples had waited for the end of this feast before heading home to Galilee. But today we will see a narrative where the resurrected Lord actually appears to the followers in Galilee, a province where a large part of his ministry had taken place. The text is found in John 21:1-14:

“After these things Jesus showed Himself again to the disciples at the Sea of Tiberias, and in this way He showed Himself: Simon Peter, Thomas called the Twin, Nathanael of Cana in Galilee, the sons of Zebedee, and two others of His disciples were together. Simon Peter said to them, ‘I am going fishing.’ They said to him, ‘We are going with you also.’ They went out and immediately got into the boat, and that night they caught nothing. But when the morning had now come, Jesus stood on the shore; yet the disciples did not know that it was Jesus. Then Jesus said to them, ‘Children, have you any food?’ They answered Him, ‘No.’ And He said to them, ‘Cast the net on the right side of the boat, and you will find some.’ So they cast, and now they were not able to draw it in because of the multitude of fish. Therefore that disciple whom Jesus loved said to Peter, ‘It is the Lord!’ Now when Simon Peter heard that it was the Lord, he put on his outer garment (for he had removed it), and plunged into the sea.

“But the other disciples came in the little boat (for they were not far from land, but about two hundred cubits), dragging the net with fish. Then, as soon as they had come to land, they saw a fire of coals there, and fish laid on it, and bread. Jesus said to them, ‘Bring some of the fish which you have just caught.’ Simon Peter went up and dragged the net to land, full of large fish, one hundred and fifty-three; and although there were so many, the net was not broken. Jesus said to them, ‘Come and eat breakfast.’ Yet none of the disciples dared ask Him, ‘Who are You?’— knowing that it was the Lord. Jesus then came and took the bread and gave it to them, and likewise the fish. This is now the third time Jesus showed Himself to His disciples after He was raised from the dead.”

Like the other appearances of Jesus, this one served to reassure the disciples of the reality of the resurrection. It was not simply a vision that they had seen the preceding times. He was not a ghost or a spirit. After all, it’s not likely that a spirit would light a fire to cook fish and that he would share a meal with people. Even the first time that Jesus showed himself to his disciples, he had made the effort to make them understand this truth. According to Luke 24:39-43, he told them:

“‘Behold My hands and My feet, that it is I Myself. Handle Me and see, for a spirit does not have flesh and bones as you see I have.’ When He had said this, He showed them His hands and His feet. But while they still did not believe for joy, and marveled, He said to them, ‘Have you any food here?’ So they gave Him a piece of a broiled fish and some honeycomb. And He took it and ate in their presence.”

As we’ve already seen in the previous three lessons, the disciples of Jesus, although they were not predisposed to believe in the resurrection, ended up being totally convinced. In fact, they gave their lives rather than renounce their testimony.

But the narrative of this appearance of Jesus by Sea of Galilee (or the Sea of Tiberius, as it was called near the end of the first century when the apostle John wrote) contains not only another assurance of the resurrection, but also an interesting exchange between Jesus and the apostle Peter:

‘So when they had eaten breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, ‘Simon, son of Jonah, do you love Me more than these?’ He said to Him, ‘Yes, Lord; You know that I love You.’ He said to him, ‘Feed My lambs.’ He said to him again a second time, ‘Simon, son of Jonah, do you love Me?’ He said to Him, ‘Yes, Lord; You know that I love You.’ He said to him, ‘Tend My sheep.’ He said to him the third time, ‘Simon, son of Jonah, do you love Me?’ Peter was grieved because He said to him the third time, ‘Do you love Me?’ And he said to Him, ‘Lord, You know all things; You know that I love You.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Feed My sheep. Most assuredly, I say to you, when you were younger, you girded yourself and walked where you wished; but when you are old, you will stretch out your hands, and another will gird you and carry you where you do not wish.’ This He spoke, signifying by what death he would glorify God. And when He had spoken this, He said to him, ‘Follow Me.’” (John 21:15-19).

Some people, believing that Jesus established Peter as chief among the apostles and head of the Church on earth, take this passage to support this idea. They state that in telling Peter to care for his sheep, Jesus designated him to be chief shepherd for the flock of Christians. If we take into account the words of Peter himself in his first epistle, we will have difficulty in accepting this theory. In 1 Peter 5:1-4, the apostle actually attributes the work of shepherding the flock of God, not to himself but to the elders of the local church. He said, “The elders who are among you I exhort, I who am a fellow elder… Shepherd the flock of God which is among you… not as being lords over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock.” In addition, Peter clearly identifies the true pastor or Chief Shepherd: “And when the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the crown of glory that does not fade away.” The only sovereign pastor of the church is, of course, Jesus, the one who will appear to reward each one in bestowing on them the crown of glory. No other supreme shepherd is mentioned in the New Testament.

So why this scene where Jesus asks Peter if he loves him and answers by telling him to care for his sheep and to follow him? To better understand, it is necessary to remind ourslves of what Peter had done. During the last supper, before Jesus was arrested, the Lord told his disciples that they would all fall away and abandon him. According to Mark 14:29-31:

“Peter answered, ‘I will never leave you, even though all the rest do!’ Jesus said to Peter, ‘I tell you that before the cock crows twice tonight, you will say three times that you do not know me.’ Peter answered even more strongly, ‘I will never say that, even if I have to die with you!’”

But as we know, Peter actually did deny Jesus three times in a row. He even swore that he did not know him. Now Jesus asks him, “Simon, son of Jonah, do you love Me more than these?” This question could be understood in two ways. Jesus may have indicated with his hand or glance the boat, the nets and the fish when he asked, “Do you love me more than these things? Are you ready to give up all hope of success in the affairs of the world, all the security and small comforts of your old life in consecrating yourself to my service?” But another way of understanding this phrase would be the following: “Do you love me more than these do?”, speaking, of course, of the other apostles of whom Peter had said, “Even if all are made to stumble, yet I will not be.” Now Peter no longer makes any comparisons. He simply said, “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.” But Jesus asks the same question a second and a third time. And although Peter may be grieved that Jesus asks him the question three times, surely thinking of the three times that he denied his master, this was a blessing. In a spirit of forgiveness, Jesus gave Peter the opportunity to erase the memory of his triple denial with this triple statement of love.

After this reaffirmation of Peter’s sincere love, Jesus told him, “Follow me” (v. 19). It is good to remember that this is the way that Jesus called men to be his apostles. To the future apostles, he had said in Matthew 4:19, “Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.” In chapter 9.9 of the same gospel, we read: “As Jesus passed on from there, He saw a man named Matthew sitting at the tax office. And He said to him, ‘Follow Me.’ So he arose and followed Him.” By his unfaithfulness, his denial of the testimony he was to bear for Jesus, Peter had disqualified himself to be an apostle and witness. Having sincerely and humbly reaffirmed his love and loyalty, Peter is now re-established as an apostle—not as the head apostle, but as an apostle like the others.

The love that Peter confesses for Jesus brings him two things: a task to accomplish and a cross to bear. The task is represented by the words: “Tend my sheep.” If Peter loves Jesus, he must show it by dedicating his life to serving the sheep and lambs of Jesus’ flock. We prove our love for Jesus by our way of loving others. The cross is represented by the words: “…when you are old, you will stretch out your hands, and another will gird you and carry you where you do not wish.” This He spoke, signifying by what death he would glorify God. According to traditions from sources other than the Bible, Peter really did die for Jesus. He was led to a cross, but he asked to be hung upside down because he did not deserve to die in the same manner as his Lord. Love always comes with responsibility and with sacrifice. In spite of his initial failure, Peter’s love got the better of his fear. He carried out his responsibility and made the ultimate sacrifice.

The Word of God assures us that Jesus returned to life as he promised he would. He returned literally and physically. We can count on this truth. The Word also asks us to take a stand in regard to Jesus. As he did with Peter, Jesus asks each of us, “Do you love me?” What will your answer be?

48. The Mission Entrusted to the Disciples

After his resurrection, according to Acts 3:1, Jesus showed himself alive to his disciples during a period of forty days. In reading the four accounts in the Gospel of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, it is not always easy to determine the chronology of the events which took place in those days. One thing, however, is very clear: Jesus wanted to entrust his disciples with a very important mission. This is emphasized in every narrative of the Gospel.

“I also send you” (John)

According to John 20:19-23, Jesus spoke to them about it already the very day he was resurrected:

“Then, the same day at evening, being the first day of the week, when the doors were shut where the disciples were assembled, for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood in the midst, and said to them, ‘Peace be with you.’ When He had said this, He showed them His hands and His side. Then the disciples were glad when they saw the Lord. So Jesus said to them again, ‘Peace to you! As the Father has sent Me, I also send you.‘ And when He had said this, He breathed on them, and said to them, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.’”

We don’t have many details here concerning this mission, but Jesus said clearly that he would “send” the disciples. It seems clear that to accomplish this mission they would also have the aid of the Holy Spirit. At first, it seems that Jesus was already conferring the Spirit he spoke of on them at this moment. However, taking into account other passages, we see that the apostles would not receive the Holy Spirit until after the ascension of Jesus (John 16:7; Luke 24:49; Acts 1:4, 2:33). By breathing on them and saying “Receive the Holy Spirit,” Jesus was surely indicating to them what would happen afterward.

In this passage, Jesus did not directly tell them the nature of the mission, but it concerned the forgiveness of sins. Jesus said, “If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.” Again, we need a word of explanation. Some take from this passage the idea that the apostles would have the right in themselves to determine who would have God’s forgiveness and who would not have it. Others have gone even further in imagining successors to the apostles whom they call bishops and priests and who would also have the power to forgive or to refuse God’s forgiveness to people.

Before going too far in this direction, it would be good to consider how the apostles, according to the book of Acts, exercised the power that Jesus speaks of here. In every case they simply declared to people, by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, the conditions under which God would remove their sins. On the Day of Pentecost, Peter told the crowd to do exactly what Jesus himself had said that people would have do to be saved—to repent and be baptized. Peter told them, “Repent, and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins…” (Acts 2:38).

Later, Peter found himself faced with a Christian who had sinned after his conversion, Simon, the former sorcerer of Samaria. Instead of teaching that he himself had the power to forgive or “to absolve” Simon’s sin, Peter tells him, “Repent therefore of this your wickedness, and pray God if perhaps the thought of your heart may be forgiven you” (Acts 8:22). The mission of the apostles truly concerned the forgiveness of sins but it did not consist of deciding who to forgive and who not to forgive; it consisted of making known the conditions according to which God, because of the sacrifice of Jesus, would forgive people.

“Preach the good news to all creation” (Mark)

The gospel according to Mark, also, tells us of an occasion when the resurrected Christ gave his disciples the same mission. It doesn’t seem that Mark is speaking of the same occasion as John, because he specifies that the eleven disciples were present, whereas in John, there were only ten. Perhaps it was the following Sunday when Jesus had returned to find Thomas with the others. Here is what is said in Mark 16:14-18:

“Later He appeared to the eleven as they sat at the table; and He rebuked their unbelief and hardness of heart, because they did not believe those who had seen Him after He had risen. And He said to them, ‘Go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature. He who believes and is baptized will be saved; but he who does not believe will be condemned. And these signs will follow those who believe: In My name they will cast out demons; they will speak with new tongues; they will take up serpents; and if they drink anything deadly, it will by no means hurt them; they will lay hands on the sick, and they will recover.’”

This time, the mission is much more explicit. It was a worldwide mission—a mission which would concern everyone in the world. It would also clearly be a mission of evangelism. It would require preaching the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus, the gospel of salvation from sin offered by God to all men and women. At the same time, Jesus specifies two conditions which every person must meet in order to benefit from God’s grace: one has to believe in this good news—believe in Jesus the Son of God, and one has to be baptized. Without doing these two things, a person cannot be saved.

It is true that many people preach today that in order to be saved it is enough to just believe and that baptism comes after salvation. That does not change the fact that Jesus himself cited baptism as well faith as a condition of salvation. We are often told that Jesus did not say: the one who does not believe and who is not baptized will be condemned; he said simply that one who does not believe will be condemned. But let’s think about this a little. From the beginning of Christianity, those who were converted were persecuted, often put to death, for the name of Christ. In being baptized, a person identified himself clearly as a supporter of Christ. He openly displayed his faith in Jesus and exposed himself to all sorts of bad treatment from unbelievers. If a person did not believe in Jesus, why would he be willing to bring persecution on himself by being baptized? Besides, why would we obey a command given by someone whose authority we do not recognize?

Logically, only believers would ask for baptism, so it would not have been necessary for Jesus to say, “The one who does not believe AND is not baptized will be condemned.” Finally, even if an unbeliever received baptism, he would not be saved since Jesus said he must believe AND be baptized.

According to this text in Mark 16, Jesus, in charging the apostles with their mission, also promised them the help of the Holy Spirit. He said, “And these signs will follow those who believe…” and then he lists several of them. Many people in our time claim that every believer should expect to receive the powers that are listed in this text. It is important to notice, however, that between verse 16 and verse 17 there was a change in the subject of the verbs.

After having spoken of “he who believes,” Jesus now speaks of miracles which will accompany “those who believe.” He is no longer referring to individuals but to a group. For this promise concerning the miracles to be accomplished, it would not be necessary for every believer to perform the miracles, but only that the miracles would be observed in the group of those who would have believed. This is important, because when we come to the book of Acts which tells the history of the church in its beginnings, we discover that miracles certainly accompanied the church but they were never attributed to all the believers.

On the contrary, from the day of Pentecost, the church counted more than 3,000 members, but Acts 2:43 says clearly, “Then fear came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were done through the apostles.” Later, in chapter 5, the same situation prevails: “And through the hands of the apostles many signs and wonders were done among the people” (Acts 5:12). It is true that even later, by the laying on of the hands of the apostles, certain other people received miraculous powers, but these gifts were never given to all who believed. The apostle Paul confirms this idea in 1 Corinthians 12:29,30: “Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Are all workers of miracles? Do all have gifts of healings? Do all speak with tongues? Do all interpret?”

The miracles Jesus spoke of have a purpose—to confirm the Gospel, this new revelation that came from God. Hebrews 2:3,4 says, “[This] salvation… at the first began to be spoken by the Lord, and was confirmed to us by those who heard Him, God also bearing witness both with signs and wonders, with various miracles, and gifts of the Holy Spirit, according to His own will.” The message of salvation having been confirmed, there is no need for this type of miracle to continue.

“Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations” (Matthew)

In Matthew 28:16-20, we have yet another occasion where Jesus insists on the solemn mission that he was entrusting to his disciples:

“Then the eleven disciples went away into Galilee, to the mountain which Jesus had appointed for them… And Jesus came and spoke to them, saying, ‘All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.’”

The mission that Jesus gives here does not concern Jews only or Europeans only. Salvation is offered to all—all are on an equal footing. We also learn in this passage that it is not necessary to learn everything before being baptized. The apostles had to teach enough so that listeners could believe in Christ, that is, make the decision to become his disciples. They then were to baptize these people so they might be saved, and then continue to teach them, after baptism, the things that Jesus had commanded. (So obviously, the apostles were to teach the new disciples the duty with which Jesus had just charged them, that of making disciples of all nations. This is a mission that becomes the job of every person who is converted.)

“Repentance and forgiveness of sin must be preached to all nations” (Luke)

Finally, the Gospel according to Luke, like all the others, also contains a passage where the resurrected Christ speaks to the apostles of the mission he was giving to them. Just before his ascension, “He said to them, ‘Thus it is written, and thus it was necessary for the Christ to suffer and to rise from the dead the third day, and that repentance and remission of sins should be preached in His name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem.’”

The great mission entrusted to the apostles and to all Christians, the mission that consists of preaching the gospel to all nations, is a part of God’s eternal plan just as much as the sufferings, death and resurrection of Christ.

Each of us has a duty regarding this great mission. I have either the duty of accepting and obeying the gospel, or, if I have already done that, the duty of sharing it with others. What is your duty in regard to the Gospel? Will you assume it today?

37. Betrayal

In our study of the life of Jesus, we are still at the eve of his death, the night when he was arrested by messengers of the religious leaders of the Jews. Today we will see by what means these messengers were able to find and take Jesus without the crowds of ordinary Jews who loved him interfering to prevent his arrest. It was by such an unworthy and terrible act that its author’s name, Judas, is synonymous even today with the word “traitor.” But this disloyal and totally reprehensible act is another factor which shows the great love of Jesus.

What did Judas do?

To better understand what happened, we need to back up a little, to two days before the Jewish Passover. Luke 22:1-6 tells us this:

“Now the Feast of Unleavened Bread drew near, which is called Passover. And the chief priests and the scribes sought how they might kill Him, for they feared the people. Then Satan entered Judas, surnamed Iscariot, who was numbered among the twelve. So he went his way and conferred with the chief priests and captains, how he might betray Him to them. And they were glad, and agreed to give him money. So he promised and sought opportunity to betray Him to them in the absence of the multitude.”

The Gospels of Matthew and Mark give us another detail. They specify that Judas sold Jesus for the sum of 30 pieces of silver.

Later, during the last meal Jesus had with his disciples, Judas was with the disciples as usual. When they were lying around the table, each leaning on his left elbow and using his right hand according to the customs of the Jews at that time, Judas was even sitting in a place of honor, at the right hand of Jesus where the Lord could talk to him in private. During the meal, Jesus announced that one of them would betray him to those who wanted him dead. We read in John 13:21-30:

“He was troubled in spirit, and testified and said, ‘Most assuredly, I say to you, one of you will betray Me.’ Then the disciples looked at one another, perplexed about whom He spoke. Now there was leaning on Jesus’ bosom one of His disciples, whom Jesus loved. Simon Peter therefore motioned to him to ask who it was of whom He spoke. Then, leaning back on Jesus’ breast, he said to Him, ‘Lord, who is it?’ Jesus answered, ‘It is he to whom I shall give a piece of bread when I have dipped it.’ And having dipped the bread, He gave it to Judas Iscariot, the son of Simon. Now after the piece of bread, Satan entered him. Then Jesus said to him, ‘What you do, do quickly.’ But no one at the table knew for what reason He said this to him. For some thought, because Judas had the moneybox, that Jesus had said to him, ‘Buy those things we need for the feast,’ or that he should give something to the poor. Having received the piece of bread, he then went out immediately. And it was night.”

Some time later, Jesus and the others left the place where they had eaten the Passover. They went out of the city of Jerusalem and traveled to the Mount of Olives. They went into one of the private gardens found there. The Gospel of John tells us: “Then Judas, having received a detachment of troops, and officers from the chief priests and Pharisees, came there with lanterns, torches, and weapons” (John 18:2,3). Mark continued the story:

“Now His betrayer had given them a signal, saying, ‘Whomever I kiss, He is the One; seize Him and lead Him away safely.’ As soon as he had come, immediately he went up to Him and said to Him, ‘Rabbi, Rabbi!’ and kissed Him. Then they laid their hands on Him and took Him.” (Mark 14:44-46)

What makes his act so reprehensible?

So here is how Jesus was betrayed and delivered into the hands of those who wanted to kill him. It was a particularly wicked and condemnable act. Jesus used these words to speak of it: “He who dipped his hand with Me in the dish will betray Me” (Matthew 26:23). In this verse, Jesus refers to a prophecy in the Psalms which was about to be fulfilled: “Even my own familiar friend in whom I trusted, who ate my bread, has lifted up his heel against me” (Psalm 41:9).

In the Middle East, the act of eating with someone was a sign of friendship or an act of loyalty. When a man who had eaten at the table of a person, declaring his friendship in this way, afterward turned against this person, it was a very bitter thing. Psalm 55:12-14 well explains the feeling of the person betrayed in this way:

“If it were an enemy insulting me, I could bear it. If it were my enemies attacking me, I could hide. But it is you, the one so close to me, my companion, my good friend, who does this. We used to share our secrets with one another, as we walked through the crowds together in God’s Temple.” (Easy-to-Read translation)

Jesus knew well what was in the heart of Judas, but he never treated him less favorably than the others. On the contrary, until the end he showed him signs of love which should have touched Judas’ heart. Sometimes by trusting someone who does not deserve it, we can affect that person and encourage him to act better. So Jesus allowed Judas to carry the common moneybag for the apostles. He already knew that Judas was going to sell him out to the priests, but he washed his feet as he did the others. Judas received a place of honor, beside Jesus at the last supper. Jesus gave him a piece of bread dipped in the dish from which they ate, another sign of favor among them. But it is when he received the piece of bread that Judas left to commit his act of treason.

According to Matthew 26:14-16, Judas took the initiative of going to the chief priests, and he is the one who said to them, “What are you willing to give me if I deliver Him to you?” Judas loved money. When Mary, the sister of Martha, anointed Jesus’ feet with an expensive perfume, Judas said, “‘Why was this fragrant oil not sold for three hundred denarii and given to the poor?’ This he said, not that he cared for the poor, but because he was a thief, and had the moneybag; and he used to take what was put in it” (John 12:5,6). He stole from the moneybag of his friends because he loved money and apparently he sold his master for the same reason. This was not an act motivated by a spiritual concern. It was not an act of passion motivated by a sudden anger or strong fear. It was a premeditated crime.

Finally Judas put the topping on his wickedness by the way in which he identified Jesus for his enemies. He kissed him, always an action of a friend. He kissed him with a greeting of respect. But it was a mockery.

Did Judas have a choice?

Are we too hard on Judas? Some say that Judas’ action was necessary for our salvation. If he had not betrayed Jesus, the Lord would not have died for our sins. But, Let us remember that even though God is able to make all things to work together for the good of His chosen ones, even the sinful actions of rebellious men, that does not excuse those sins.

In the Old Testament, the brothers of Joseph, filled with hatred and jealousy, sold him as a slave. He was then taken to Egypt and resold. But God was with Joseph and raised him to a position of great power in Egypt, and through him all of his father’s family, including his wicked brothers, were saved from famine and death. The brothers’ action in selling him was no less guilty, but God used that action. In the same way, God used Judas’s wicked deed, but that does not reduce his guilt.

Others say that Judas did not have a choice… that he had been predestined to commit this act. The prophecies had to be fulfilled. But God does not predestine our actions. He decided in advance how he would bless his children. He decided in advance that it would be through Jesus Christ that salvation would be granted. But He did not determine before the foundation of the world that this person would be lost and that one would be saved, that this person would commit a theft and that one would be faithful to his wife, and that it would be Judas who would betray Jesus. Otherwise there would be no sense in a last judgment, and God would be unjust to hold us responsible for acts that He Himself caused us to commit.

However Judas will be punished for his act. Jesus said clearly, “The Son of Man indeed goes just as it is written of Him, but woe to that man by whom the Son of Man is betrayed! It would have been good for that man if he had not been born” (Matthew 26:24). So it is important to make the distinction between predicting and predetermining, between foreknowledge (knowing something in advance) and predestination. Knowing these things, God, in His Word, predicted certain events. He knew in advance what would happen. But He did not order these things to occur, and He doesn’t oblige anyone to do wrong.

Others say that it was Satan who forced Judas’ hand. Luke 22:3,4 says that Satan entered into Judas, and he went and conferred with the chief priests. In John 13:27,30, it also says, “Now after the piece of bread, Satan entered him… Having received the piece of bread, he then went out immediately…” Evidently Satan had a role in the betrayal of Jesus by Judas Iscariot. But we cannot say that this relieved Judas of his responsibility for what he did.

In Acts 5, we have the story of a man named Ananias. He agreed with his wife, Sapphira, to sell a piece of property but also to lie about the price that was obtained. Then he brought, as a gift to the church, part of what they received for the sale, indicating that it was it was all the money received. They had the right to keep part of the money, but they wanted the church to think that they were more generous than they were. In reproaching him, the apostle Peter said to Ananias, “Ananias, why has Satan filled your heart to lie to the Holy Spirit and keep back part of the price of the land for yourself?… Why have you conceived this thing in your heart? You have not lied to men but to God” (Acts 5:3,4). Peter attributed this sin to the presence of Satan in the heart of Ananias, but also to the fact that Ananias had put into his own heart this dishonest plan.

In the same way we can point out that the Holy Spirit lives in the heart of a faithful Christian, but this does not force the Christian to always do the right thing. He must cooperate with the Holy Spirit and exercise his own free will to avoid committing sin.

Conclusion

We have already seen that Jesus treated Judas with love and consideration to the end. Yet he knew what Judas was thinking of doing. Other people would have been made bitter by this disloyalty. They would even have abandoned the mission of saving such creatures, telling themselves that men do not deserve such a sacrifice. And this is true. We are not worthy of it. We are rebellious, self-centered, ungrateful and deserving of punishment. But the love of God is so great that Jesus did not turn away from the cross, even in the face of such a clear demonstration of the sin of man. When Judas left to find the men who would arrest Jesus, John tells us that it was night. Jesus is light, and when a man turns his back on Jesus, it is always night. Such a man plunges into darkness. Judas topped off his sinfulness when, leading an armed mob, he betrayed Jesus with a kiss. He showed to what extent the wickedness of man could go. But Jesus showed the extent of His love for men in going to the cross anyway.

38. Gethsemane

Many Christian songs are inspired by the idea of Jesus in tears in the garden of Gethsemane. This is a scene that allows us to see a little more clearly the magnitude of the sacrifice that the Lord made for each of us. When we see the great courage with which he calmly faced his accusers, with which he accepted blows and insults, with which he allowed himself to be crucified, we may wonder if all this was not easier for him than it would have been for an “ordinary man” like one of us. Was he not so different from us that he would not truly feel his ordeal as we would have? Seeing him in Gethsemane ought to set us straight on this point.

Each of the four Gospel accounts tells us in detail of the events of that night when Jesus was in Gethsemane. Some things are told by all four, but each contains details the others omit. In our lesson today, in order to follow more easily the events and discussions, we will try to weave together the four accounts which are found in Matthew 26, Mark 14, Luke 22 and John 18.

The Text

Matthew 26:31-35: “Then Jesus said to them, ‘All of you will be made to stumble because of Me this night, for it is written: “I will strike the Shepherd, and the sheep of the flock will be scattered.” But after I have been raised, I will go before you to Galilee.’ Peter answered and said to Him, ‘Even if all are made to stumble because of You, I will never be made to stumble.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Assuredly, I say to you that this night, before the rooster crows, you will deny Me three times.’ Peter said to Him, ‘Even if I have to die with You, I will not deny You!’ And so said all the disciples.”

Mark 14:32-40: “Then they came to a place which was named Gethsemane; and He said to His disciples, ‘Sit here while I pray.’ And He took Peter, James, and John with Him, and He began to be troubled and deeply distressed. Then He said to them, ‘My soul is exceedingly sorrowful, even to death. Stay here and watch.’ He went a little farther, and fell on the ground, and prayed that if it were possible, the hour might pass from Him. And He said, ‘Abba, Father, all things are possible for You. Take this cup away from Me; nevertheless, not what I will, but what You will.’ Then He came and found them sleeping, and said to Peter, ‘Simon, are you sleeping? Could you not watch one hour? Watch and pray, lest you enter into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.’ Again He went away and prayed, and spoke the same words. And when He returned, He found them asleep again, for their eyes were heavy; and they did not know what to answer Him.”

Matthew 26:47-49: “And while He was still speaking, behold, Judas, one of the twelve, with a great multitude with swords and clubs, came from the chief priests and elders of the people. Now His betrayer had given them a sign, saying, ‘Whomever I kiss, He is the One; seize Him.’ Immediately he went up to Jesus and said, ‘Greetings, Rabbi!’ and kissed Him.”

John 18:4-10: “Jesus therefore, knowing all things that would come upon Him, went forward and said to them, ‘Whom are you seeking?’ They answered Him, ‘Jesus of Nazareth.’ Jesus said to them, ‘I am He.’ And Judas, who betrayed Him, also stood with them. Now when He said to them, ‘I am He,’ they drew back and fell to the ground. Then He asked them again, ‘Whom are you seeking?’ And they said, ‘Jesus of Nazareth.’ Jesus answered, ‘I have told you that I am He. Therefore, if you seek Me, let these go their way,’ that the saying might be fulfilled which He spoke, ‘Of those whom You gave Me I have lost none.’”

Luke 22:49: “When those around him saw what was going to happen, they said to him, ‘Lord, shall we strike with the sword?’” John 18:10: “Then Simon Peter, having a sword, drew it and struck the high priest’s servant, and cut off his right ear. The servant’s name was Malchus.” Matthew 26:52-54: “But Jesus said to him, ‘Put your sword in its place, for all who take the sword will perish by the sword.’ [Luke 22:51: “And he touched his ear and healed him.”] ‘Or do you think that I cannot now pray to My Father, and He will provide me with more than twelve legions of angels? How then could the scriptures be fulfilled that it must happen thus?”

Mark 14:50-52: “Then they all forsook him and fled. Now a certain young man followed him, having a linen cloth thrown around his naked body. And the young men laid hold of him, and he left the linen cloth and fled from them naked.”

John 18:12,13,15-18: “Then the detachment of troops and the captain and the officers of the Jews arrested Jesus and bound Him. And they led Him away to Annas first, for he was the father-in-law of Caiaphas who was high priest that year… And Simon Peter followed Jesus, and so did another disciple. Now, that disciple was known to the high priest, and went with Jesus into the courtyard of the high priest. But Peter stood at the door outside. Then the other disciple, who was known to the high priest, went out and spoke to her who kept the door, and brought Peter in. Then the servant girl who kept the door said to Peter, ‘You are not also one of this Man’s disciples, are you?’ He said,  ‘I am not.’ Now the servants and officers who had made a fire of coals stood there, for it was cold, and they warmed themselves. And Peter stood with them and warmed himself.”

Matthew 26:69-75: “And a servant girl came to him, saying, ‘You also were with Jesus of Galilee.’ But he denied it before them all, saying, ‘I do not know what you are saying.’ And when he had gone out to the gateway, another girl saw him and said to those who were there, ‘This fellow also was with Jesus of Nazareth.’ But again he denied with an oath, ‘I do not know the Man!’ And a little later those who stood by came up and said to Peter, ‘Surely you also are one of them, for your speech betrays you.’ Then he began to curse and swear, saying, ‘I do not know the Man!’ Immediately a rooster crowed…”

Luke 22:61,62: “And the Lord turned and looked at Peter. Then Peter remembered the word of the Lord, how he had said to him, ‘Before the rooster crows, you will deny me three times.’ So Peter went out and wept bitterly.”

Jesus had another choice

An undeniable fact is that Jesus chose to die. He said in John 10:17,18, “Therefore My Father loves Me, because I lay down My life that I may take it again. No one takes it from Me, but I lay it down of Myself. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it again. This command I have received from My Father.” This becomes very clear in his last hours. When Jesus prayed in the garden, he said, “Abba, Father, all things are possible for You. Take this cup away from Me…” (Mark 14:36). He knew perfectly well that his Father could have prevented his death and he would have done so if Jesus had asked Him to. This is what Jesus said to Peter when Peter drew a sword to defend his Lord. “Do you think that I cannot now pray to My Father, and He will provide Me with more than twelve legions of angels?” (Matthew 26:53). Jesus could have resisted. His Father did not force him to give his life. And men could not take away his life against his will.

He chose to die and he helped his enemies to arrest him. John 18:3 says that the crowd who arrived in Gethsemane to arrest Jesus “came there with lanterns, torches and weapons.” Jesus died at the time of the full moon of the Jewish Passover. The night was already illuminated enough. Why then did the crowd need to come with lanterns and torches? This is because the people expected to look for a man hiding among the shadows of the trees. But Jesus did not make it necessary to search for him. He approached the crowd and asked what they were looking for. And when they said “Jesus of Nazareth,” he answered without hesitation, “That’s me.”

Jesus could have avoided death. But he chose to die.

It was not an easy or automatic choice

Don’t think, however, that this means it was an easy choice. That is just what we see in the agony of Jesus as the time to die on the cross drew near. The Bible tells us that he experienced fear and anxiety. You and I would be afraid of beatings, afraid of the humiliation, afraid of being abandoned by everyone including God, afraid of being nailed to a cross to die writhing in pain, thirst and suffocation. Jesus knew everything that was coming, and he was afraid. In this, he was no different from us. He had really become a man. In this very strong emotion, he prayed intensely and the sweat flowed to the ground like drops of blood.

One could say that the eternal fate of each of us hung in the balance. Would he go all the way? Would he ultimately agree to suffer so horribly for unworthy people like us?

His sacrifice became more difficult because he was abandoned and denied by his friends

In our last study, we saw how Judas, one of the twelve, betrayed Jesus for a small amount of money. He went to the enemies of his master and promised to deliver Jesus to them so they could put him to death. It would have been easy to become bitter, to turn against the human race which was capable of such acts of disloyalty. In the garden of Gethsemane, Jesus sees again to what point people were capable of deception. First, he asks his three closest friends—Peter, James and John—to watch with him while he prays. He felt the need for their company at that hour. He knew that they also needed prayer for themselves to stand firm. But they disappoint him. They cannot even stay awake for an hour to keep him company. Then he sees them all fleeing at the time of his arrest. They had all said they would die with him, if necessary. But none stayed by his side.

In addition to all that, he knew in advance how he would be denied by Peter. The one who declared most forcefully his undying loyalty was the one who would say more than once and with an oath, “I don’t know this man.” Jesus, bound and standing before the Jewish council to be judged by it, heard the words from the mouth of his friend Peter. How could he give his life for such men?

Yet, in a way, Peter was among the best of men. It’s true that he denied the Lord, a completely reprehensible act that could only hurt Jesus deeply. But let’s remember that all the other disciples, except for John (if John was the one who was known by the chief priest), had abandoned Jesus. Because of his love, Peter had followed him, though from a distance. He was anxious to see what would happen. He had shown enough courage in the garden to fight alone against a large crowd of hundreds of soldiers to protect his master. And it’s because he had this courage that he was among the enemies of the Lord. But he failed. Fear got the better of him; and three times he declared that he did not even know Jesus. And Jesus, who was already being mistreated, heard this each time. If Peter acted in this despicable way, what would we expect from everyone else?

With great courage, he made the necessary choice

No, it wasn’t easy, but Jesus mastered his emotions of fear and anguish. By struggling with his fate in the garden of Gethsemane, he pronounced the key words which gave us salvation. After asking God to spare him the cup of suffering so that he didn’t have to drink it, Jesus said: “Nevertheless, not as I will but as You will” (Matthew 26:39). Whatever the pain, whatever the humiliation, Jesus would submit to the will of the heavenly Father. He would face with resolution and flawless courage everything that was coming. He would be obedient until death. He would give his life for his sheep. He would open heaven for us.