Pontius Pilate

If left to our own devices, Mom and I would have ad-libbed the entire way through Ben-Hur. One can’t help it. The former style of film-making, the grandiose melodrama that pervades each and every frame, and the absolute stupidity (at least to logical females) of Judah setting eyes on Esther and falling madly, desperately, violently, passionately in love with her. Just because she’s beautiful. Because we all know beauty lasts, right? But we restrained ourselves, mostly because now and again our snickering got us The Look from my dad. My dad does not give The Look often, so when it happens, we take notice.

But at one point, we could not resist. It came to our minds at the same moment, a simultaneous thought, and had to be expressed. Without even looking at one another, together we said with open horror, “… is Pilate gay??”

Each year around Easter it is the same question: what to watch? or watch anything at all? Each of our family members has seen The Passion at least once and for most of us, that was enough. This year I remembered giving my dad Ben-Hur at some point in time, so I suggested it. You may think given the nature of the first paragraph and our behavior that we do not like it, but that’s untrue — we do like it, very much, which enables us to poke some good-natured fun at it now and again. I had not actually watched it in five or six years, so it was a bit of a surprise to me how it unfolded and… yes, in its depiction of Pontius Pilate. Because you must admit, from the moment he enters the screen, there is something… uh… effeminate about him.

Ten years ago, this “wimpy” version of Pilate would not have made me look twice; I would merely have accepted it and thought nothing of it, but that was before I spent months researching the historical figure. I learned all that secular, religious, and theological history have to say about him. I plundered old text books, Catholic symbolism, historical references, recorded mentions, and horror of horrors, the internet. What I learned cast a different light on the man who has been “wussified” throughout history.

The real Pilate was no wimp. He was not even much of a politician. He was a military man — a brutal, ruthless, tyrannical governor who was hated and feared. Prior to his arrival in Judea, his heavy-handed actions as the governor of Crete raised brows in Rome. They sent him to Judea because he was one of the few military officials they believed could force the unstable region into submission. Judea was a thorn in their side and Pilate their last hope to halt rebellion. He did his best. In fact, shortly before Jesus’ trial, word came from the Emperor, Tiberius, that Pilate was to lessen his brutal tactics; his nemesis, Herod, had launched an official complaint that he was being too severe.

The presence of his wife is significant. Judea was an unstable region and certainly no place for a woman. Most governors left their wives and children in Rome, often not seeing them for years at a time. But Pilate took his wife, whom most scholars agree was named Claudia, with him. This implies two things: that he could not bear to be parted from her, and she was invaluable to him. Based on the evidence, it is logical to theorize his hesitation in condemning Jesus comes not only from his own reservations but the warning from his wife. His willingness to heed her advice implies this is not the first time she has advised him. (Could it have been that she was known for her prophetic dreams?) Her very existence shows us a different side of Pilate, one willing to some extent to be guided, and one who refused to enter Judea without her at his side.

Whenever I remark on my fondness for Pilate in public, I get a series of curious and almost accusing stares. I can read it in their eyes: how could you like the man who sent our Lord to his death?

Because I see more in him than just that; I see that he was caught in an impossible situation, and if left to his own devices, he would have let Jesus go — but Rome had warned him of punishment if there were further uprisings and there was the makings of a riot in his courtyard. Pilate clearly did not want to condemn Jesus — he attempted to convince them in every way possible of the man’s innocence. He offered them a choice between their Messiah and Barabbas, a notorious murderer and troublemaker who had brought no end of punishment and misery on the Jews. He had him beaten hoping that would satisfy them. But in the end, other than to risk political upheaval and repercussions from Rome,  going against his own conscience and his wife’s warning, Pilate washed his hands of the affair and played a significant role in the death of the Messiah.

History is certain of his existence, and many facts of his governorship both in Crete and Judea, but it loses him once he eventually returns to Rome. The explanations for his ultimate end are varied: some say he went mad with guilt, others that he retired to a distant island and lived out the remainder of his life apart from public officer, and a few believe he was so profoundly impacted by Christ’s death that he became a Christian martyr. I do not know what happened to Pilate. But standing in the presence of God’s Son changed everyone who came into contact with him, for no one went away untouched. Some, like the Sanhedrin, increased their hatred while others relinquished it and became followers. So whatever happened to Pilate, I know he was not the same man before he questioned the Messiah as he was after it.

And suffice to say, he bore little resemblance to the smarmy governor in Ben-Hur.

16 Replies to “Pontius Pilate”

  1. I really enjoyed reading this. I think too often we read the Bible and make assumptions about someone based on the little that’s in there. I think Pilate definitely made the wrong choice and he could have chosen to not let Christ be crucified, but like you said, he would have died. The choice before him was not easy. It’s easy for us to judge him thousands of years later, but I can’t imagine having crowds out for blood with two undesirable choices before you.

    1. (Why is this post popular all of a sudden?)

      People underestimate how much richer the Bible can be if you do a little external studying of the people and times. Now, I just have to force myself to shut up in class whenever we talk about Pilate, because I’m a big know-it-all. 😉

      I LOVE talking about Pilate, so here goes.

      Pilate didn’t have much of a choice — he could condemn Jesus and go against his prophetic wife’s warnings (and his own conscience) or he could let Jesus go and risk a riot in Jerusalem. I think the state of Pilate’s heart becomes even more interesting in light of his true identity — Josephus, the Jewish historian, chronicles how much of a burning resentment Pilate had toward the Jews; he was extremely racist against them. Yet, when confronted with this one particular Jew, he finds “no fault in [H]im”! In the tradition of releasing one prisoner to the crowd, he chooses Barabbas — a murdering insergent that caused the Jews no end of grief, in the hope that they would choose the peaceful “Messiah” instead. He had Jesus flogged in the hope that would satisfy the crowd enough to let Christ go.

      Pilate SENSED something in Jesus… yet still fulfilled the task God knew he would play. In a sense, it wasn’t Pilate’s fault at all — he told his soldiers to do whatever the Sanhedrin said with the Messiah, thus ridding himself of the responsibility, due to his adamant disagreement with their demands.

      1. I noticed it was old, but when I opened Google Reader, it’s at the top, yet when I got to your actual website, it’s nowhere to be found. So I clicked on the title to read it because I didn’t remember it from before.

        Your last paragraph is what gives me hope for Pilate. He sensed something and believed his wife, so hopefully he made the decision to believe in who Christ is.

        1. That’s weird. Maybe Google Reader is hiccuping today! (And yeah, it is really old! It’s a carry-over from my old blog!)

          I hope Pilate was changed through his experience, I really do.

  2. You do two things – firstly you underestimate the ability of a man to fall madly in love with a woman just because of her looks (and probably her pesonality, since the two are usually revealed at the same time – my wife was that way).

    Secondly, you are right, I think, about Pontius Pilate. I can imagine him upon interrogating Jesus seeing what a mess he was in, for this man was certainly no revolutionary, and certainly the Jewish leadership were not about to let Jesus get away. So while he saw no harm in Jesus, he saw a great deal of harm in an angry crowd of Sanhedrin, priests, those who agreed with them, and those who saw that Jesus was not the conquering Messiah they longed for, one knee deep in the blood of their enemies – e.g., the Romans.

    And especially if he thought his wife had prophetic powers, he knew the end was coming and he could do nothing about it. The Jewish Revolt was coming, and whether it did during his term of office, or some later governor’s, he would not be able to stop it. The Old Testament is full of explanations that God made the enemies of the Hebrews do what they did so that he could (a) teach them that He was serious about their following the covenant and repenting their sins, and (b) after a suitable term of behavior modification exile (or whatever), they would be released from punishment and hopefully lead better lives.

    So however that might have played out in the Passion Story, I think Plan A had been to send Jesus to Palestine to try behavior modification again. And then in the very real likelihood that this would fail, as it had done every time before, God would implement Plan B. Plan B was crucifixion, ressurrection and the Holy Ghost. Since the crowds had fallen away, it was going to take something like that to get them to “Come to Jesus” anyway. It does in reality not matter whether God put Pilate in the wrong place at the wrong time or not, he WAS there and he had NO CHOICE.

    Anyway, I enjoyed your comments on Ben Hur. They will get me to watch it again pretty soon.

    Sincerely,
    Larry M. Southwick
    Cincinnati, Ohio

    1. Larry,

      Thanks for commenting! I always enjoy a well-thought-out response. =)

      Regarding a man’s ability to fall in love with a woman based on her looks — I suppose you’re right, although I would argue that’s attraction and not genuine “love” (which for me is long-lasting and continues on even when hardship, faded appearances, and disagreements come).

      Pilate indeed had very little choice in the matter. Condemn Jesus, please the crowd. Let him go, risk an uprising, get himself and his entire family killed for disobedience to Rome. It’s a shame that he’s the modern-day scapegoat, a means of finger pointing instead of realizing that it is us sinners who placed Christ on the cross. God used whomever would be willing to carry out His designs — it was not that He created Pilate (or Judas, for that matter) to be “evil,” but that He knew they would fulfill his purpose; either could have turned aside at any moment, and not been a part of Jesus’ death, but because He knew they wouldn’t alter from their path, He let them participate in it.

      I’m curious as to your meaning behind the Plan A concept, because it contradicts spiritual teaching — Jesus came to earth not to show us how to live, or to attempt to “modify our behavior,” but to die for our sins. There never was a Plan A or a Plan Be, there was only ever Christ’s intended sacrifice for the redemption of human souls from eternal damnation.

      Enjoy Ben Hur. Cliched and silly or not, it’s still a terrific cinematic experience.

      – Charity

      1. As to longevity to immediate attraction, my wife and I have been married 48 years.

        On Plan A or Plan B, the point is that I think God gave the people the benefit of the doubt and through Jesus tried once again to get them back to following their covenant. So I think Jesus was ministering in good faith, healing, expelling demons, preaching the Christian gospel of love, and raising the dead. At first that seemed to be working, but as time went on the people, who had long (as in 400+ years) been awaiting a Messiah who would conquer their enemies, the peaceful approach lost followers. I think the agonizing Jesus did in the last several weeks was coming to terms with the fact that the people did not want to be converted. Conversion mean nothing, they were the chosen people and they would always be.

        The problem was and had always been that bad things were happening to good people (them, by definition), and good things were happening to bad people (anyone else, by definition). They saw no reason to change, they would not be convinced, and so Jesus (and God) realized that his message that he was the son of God and that what he said was needed, was needed, would take something special to convince unbelievers. And even so, a whole nation denied him to the end. Many did believe, and they became the nucleus of the early church. But many did not, and never would.

        If he could have saved their souls without going to the cross, converting them to a new covenant simply with his ministry, he would have done so. But it was not to be. I don’t think he came among us to die, but to heal, to teach, to convert. The old most favored nation status was not to be, it was never intended to be what the people took it to be, and yet that was the only part of the covenant they would adhere to. So Jesus died to save us all, because that was the only option left.

        Larry M. Southwick

        1. Larry, it’s possible you and I agree more than we might think, but at the moment our theology seems to be radically different because your opinion appears to directly contradict the Bible. (May I ask what church you come out of?)

          You state that God gives people the “benefit of the doubt.” How do you reconcile this with God being omniscient and omnipresent (knowing everything, being everywhere at once, and never taken by surprise)?

          Where in scripture do you find your theology for Plan A and Plan B? What leads you to believe that Jesus’ original intentions were thwarted? (How do you reconcile His intentions being thwarted with Him being God — and therefore, un-thwart-able?) How does your theology match up with the 45 prophecies concerning Jesus’ birth, life, mission, betrayal, arrest, death, and resurrection, some of them taking place over 700 years before His birth?

          Do you believe the nation of Israel could be reconciled to God simply through “behavior modification”? What about the centuries of blood sacrifices as atonement for sin? What about the fact that the Jewish nation was still faithful to God when Jesus arrived? Had Jesus not arrived and died, would we still be sacrificing “pure and untainted” animals in order to be “right” with God?

          Does your statement about Jesus (“if he could have saved them without going to the cross… he would have done so”) mean that you believe some things are beyond Jesus’ ability, and therefore He is neither divine nor omniscient?

          1. Firstly, i do not think the Bible ever says Jesus came to die on the cross. He came to save mankind, which he did.. So I am not contradicting the Bible. If the people (and their rulers) had listened and truly repented, then he would not have had to die

            Secondly, God had tried behavior modification several times – most notably with the exile to Babylon. The people constantly felt they were being punished, usually in their minds unfairly, but whether they were or not is not the point. The point is that by feeling they were not getting their just deserts, the prophets telling them to repent was to open their eyes to what was going on. That they were getting their just deserts. And then to modify their behavior. If you think God is punishing you, maybe He is, and so quit doing what is making Him punish you.

            Thirdly, in several place it is emphasized that man has free will. Thus, how can God fully control events if people are free to do what they want to do? Why indeed would God let His people disobey time and time again if He really had control? Was 2000 years of Yahweh focused history just preamble to Jesus? All that pain, all that exhorting of the people by prophets, all that destruction of the temple and so on, was all that just, what, a game? No it was not a game, God was not playing with His people’s emotions. God gave them a set of rules, with a covenant to obey, and behaving that covenant would have made them a lamp to all the nations. Yet they continued to transgress God’s commandments and their covenant. Through their own free choice. So I think they always could have obeyed God, and had they done so earnestly, Jesus would not even have had to come to earth.

            With those 2000 years of His trying to get them to obey, God’s patience was running thin. The prophets one way or the other had over the centuries said it was going to happen. God’s messenger would some day come and bring retribution. And with Jesus, they could not say God did not tell them He really meant it. Jesus time and again reminded them of their disobedience, and that only through him, God’s son, could they be saved.

            With 2000 years of history to judge them by, God knew exactly how His people would react to Jesus. But He gave them another chance, as He could always be couned on doing. Unforunately, their human institutions, not just Roman but all the paraphenalia and functionaries it took to run the Temple and its practice of religion, were a final and immovable object. For a good picture of just how complicated and tangled a web their religion was, read Maier, “The Judaic System of the Dead Sea Scrolls” in Part II of “Neunser’s Judaism in Late Antiquity”, 2001. They thought all that was too big to fail, but it was not. Rooke’s book on the Zadok’s will help also.

            As to where all this comes from, it comes from a study of the Bible, study of the many commentaries on the Bible, Protestant, Catholic and Jewish, OT, NT, Pseudepigrapha or Apocrypha, a number of scholarly periodicals, and individual studies like those referenced above. The series of writings of the Ancient Christian Fathers and the new one on writings from the Reformation are also of interest. And many, many hours in thought and contemplation. No time for TV or texting, I’m late, I’m late, I’m late.

            Each year, I understand more and more. We belong to a mainstream church, but that is where we go to hear inspiring music, watch children singing, enjoy the fellowship of other Christians, and participate in Bible study. None of this comes from any set preaching. Unless it be by the likes of a Matthew Henry or a William Barclay, of which there are few. I do not follow one set of commentaries, I read several (for each week’s lessons from a protestant lectionary) and noodle out what makes sense and what in the end is consistent with what I have learned to date, or an improvement thereon.

            So far, everything in the OT or the NT makes sense. One cannot find one meaning in one place and another elsewhere. The human hand may often have edited and redacted what we have now, but amazingly it still seems to have been inspired. Some prophesies may be found to be later additions, and God’s hand may not be so heavy as some suppose, but God is everywhere telling the people to love God, then to repent and sin no more. And to love thy neighbor.

            Except for the paraphrases, which are an abomination and are not to be trusted by anyone trying to learn what the Bible is really saying to mankind. And more recently the scourge of political correctness has fiddled with the texts, so I tend towards the older versions if there are serious issues to resolve.

            I am comfortable that I am getting close to what God, and Jesus, have been trying to tell us. If anyone is uncomfortable with my analysis, by all means do their own study. A few things I have come up with on my own, but it all began with what someone else wrote and then following that to a logical conclusion. The important thing God wants is for us to put what we learn into practice. The Bible tells me so.

            Larry M. Southwick

          2. I agree to some extent with your conclusions, but not all.

            “For the wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord” (Romans 6:23)

            What was Adam and Eve’s punishment for sin? To be cast out of Eden (and God’s presence) and eventually die — not be immortal. Had they, or no one after them, ever sinned then you’re right, Jesus wouldn’t have had to come to the earth to die.

            From the moment sin entered the world, Jesus’ death became necessary, because only He could fulfill the Law. He was sent for that purpose – to fulfill the Law (as he states in Matthew 5:17 “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to FULFILL them”).

            So what was the Law? Total obedience to God and, if that is not possible, death as punishment for disobedience.

            No one can live in total obedience to God. Everyone sins. The moment you opened your eyes as an infant, and was jealous that your mother’s attention was elsewhere, you sinned. Have you tried living without ever having a sinful, jealous, or selfish thought? Humans are vile, fallen, twisted, utterly depraved sinners, wholly incapable of earning the right of salvation on their own merit.

            The Israelites could NEVER HAVE fulfilled the Law through “behavior modification” or total obedience, because that is impossible for humans. Thus, God established blood sacrifices, which were foreshadowing’s of Jesus’ eventual death. Only through death can sin be atoned for – in the past, through innocent animals, now, through Jesus’ sacrifice.

            It is hard to wrap your mind around the sovereignty of God. No one will ever fully understand how we can have free will yet everything works according to God’s purpose. But in believing God ISN’T in control, you are in danger of undermining His status AS our sovereign God. It is a roundabout way of saying He isn’t really God.

          3. I’m sorry, I just cannot agree.

            I’ve stated my reasons and nothing you present can be supported by the words in the Bible. If Adam and Eve’s actions condemned all mankind, then why later did God even make a covenant with the Hebrew people? After Adam and Eve, and Cain and Able, comes Noah, who was to reclaim a purged land. Still mankind went astray. So God decided to give man a set of rules to live by, and thus He finds Abraham and makes a covenant with rules.. So was God putting him on? When God told Moses to take His people to the promised land, was that a put on too, guaranteed to fail? I don’t think so. Everywhere you are taking this requires God to be talking out of both sides of His mouth, and He does not do that.

            I cannot buy into any statements that are predicated on the beginning point that Abraham’s covenant was set up to fail. If it was not set up to fail, then Jesus did not come to earth to die. The Jewish people could have fulfilled the covenant, why else make one with them, and why else keep sending prophets to bring them back into line? Again, was God playing games? No, of course not. He was serious. Deadly serious, which they never understood. But He was still serious about His covenant. Jesus was the “final prophet”, God’s son, who should have been listened to as if he were God himself. “He is my son, with whom I am well pleased”.

            And the covenant did not promise death if one could not live by the law. Even Jesus said that no one could follow the 615 or whatever laws the priests had come up with. These were not the laws God gave Moses in the tablets he brought to the people. The only laws Jesus ever mentioned to follow were the Ten Commandments. And he never said death would come to those who sinned and disobeyed. They had to repent and then go back to loving their neighbors and their God, but they were not written off. The Day of Judgment would look into the cases of the sheep and the goats, and it would indeed be serious for those who disobeyed God’s commandments, who had not acknowledged they had sinned, and who had not repented.

            Jesus “fulfilling the Law” did not require him to die. He was the Messiah, what they were looking for, but yet not what they were looking for. A conquering Messiah, knee deep in the blood of their enemies was what they wanted. God never promised anything like that. Jesus fulfilled the Law when he came as the Messiah. Everything he did fulfilled the Ten Commandments. A very human Messiah, one who would not rule as a king but by the force of man’s love for each other and his God. He came to save mankind from itself, preferably by Plan A.

            Except those with whom God had a covenant did not want to be saved on God’s terms (Plan A) – live in love with their neighbors. Bring the Gentiles into the fold by the light of their example. How many missionary Hebrews can you name? Their terms for salvation were as rulers of all the nations, or at least to be left alone by all the other nations. Except by making themselves a nation in the political sense (i.e., with boundaries and kings, as Saul and David set up), then they put themselves at odds with their neighbors.

            But that is what the people wanted, way back to before Saul. First Judges, then Kings, then David, a united monarchy, and by the end of the rule of David’s son, it was back to a divided nation. Too much me, me, me, and not enough thou, thou, thou.

            The religious hierarchy would have nothing less than full control of their nation. And many of the common people went along with them, they felt so aggrieved from continually being ruled by other nations and seeing their less holy neighbors do better than they that it was time to right the tables. The 5000 were fed, but they would still be hungry tomorrow – because all they partook of was bread and fish, not the bread and wine of the covenant.

            Jesus performed wonderful miracles, thus he was the Man they just knew could pound their enemies into dust. Yet he kept saying and demonstrating that pounding enemies into dust was something he was not going to do. So they said enough, prove he is just a man by stringing him up, and we’ll wait for someone better to come along. After all, that’s what they had done with self-proclaimed messiahs who came before. They had all failed. The Romans strung them and their followers up on crosses, thousands of them, to put finis to their claims. The sort of unrest for which Pontius Pilate was sent to Jerusalem.

            This treatment was very much on the mind of Jesus in the latter days where he tells his listeners and disciples not to say that he was the Messiah – he knew that if the public made too much of an uproar, there would be mass executions. Read Rabbi Rivkin’s “What Crucified Jesus” (formerly of Hebrew Union College here in Cincinnati), which details the end of these earlier failed Messiahs and their followers.

            So, yes, Jesus came to save the Hebrew people, keeping them in the fold if they listened. If they did not, their covenant was finished, and his death and resurrection would establish a new covenant and a new God’s chosen people – followers of Christ. But he embarked on three years of missionary work in order to give the people of the old covenant a chance. John the Baptist, before Jesus even started, told them to come out of the wilderness of their sins, to repent, and to follow he who would come after John. Plan A.

            Yours in Christ,

            Larry

          4. Let’s take a look at what the Bible and Theology say about expectations the Hebrew people had of a Messiah and what Jesus himself said of why he came among us. Was he sent to fail, or was this a last real attempt at salvation?

            This topic is overwhelmingly complicated with a vast literature, so my remarks are but a brief survey. Thus only a few general observations will be made, using quotes from the Bible as much as possible so that we remain grounded in scripture. Generally the King James Version (KJV) or the Revised Standard Versions (RSV) are used for Christian readings, and the Masoretic text (MT) from the Jewish Study Bible (JPS, 2004) for Hebrew versions. Readers are encouraged to pursue the many other examples and references on their own.

            Christmas Joy
            First off, having just come through Christmas and the Advent season, one is overwhelmed by the joy expressed in the Gospels for the coming of Christ. It is hard to imagine, for example, why the Magi would have been misled were the Christ child coming just to be crucified: “Where is the child who has been born king of the Jews? For we observed his star at its rising, and have come to pay him homage” (Matthew, chapter 2).

            The High Priest knew what city (Bethlehem) and where in the Scriptures to find an answer when questioned by Herod about this new king – “From you one shall come forth to rule Israel for me” (MT, Micah 5:1). Nowhere in these passages is reference made to a Messiah, a word which in any case does not appear often in the OT. However, as time went on and the trials and tribulations of the Hebrew people continued, the words of Micah, Isaiah and other prophets took on new meaning, and the belief grew that the ruler of whom they spoke would come. He would be the Messiah. He would free them from their enemies and give them once again wealth and power.

            The anointed one of Jehovah
            The book of Isaiah has many references to the presence or coming of an “anointed one”, which Christian commentary associate with Jesus, yet Rabbinical commentary does not. For example, Isa. 61:1 says “The spirit of the Lord God is upon me, Because the Lord has anointed me, He has sent me as a herald of joy to the humble, To bind up the wounded of heart, To proclaim release to the captives, Liberation to the imprisoned” (MT) and so on.

            Hebrew commentary says of this passage that “the identity of the speaker is debated. The text describes the prophet’s divine inspiration and God-given mission”. Jesus himself goes further in his opening ministry in the synagogue in Nazareth, as reported in Luke 4:21: “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing”. Jesus will be the predicted and divinely anointed Servant of Jehovah who will brings the gospel of redemption to His people.

            One can imagine many such exchanges even earlier in Jesus’ life, as recounted in the story of Jesus at age 12 remaining behind in the Temple while his parents returned to Nazareth. Mary and Joseph finally found him, “sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions; all who heard him were amazed at his answers.” When his parents asked why he stayed behind, he replied that he “must be about his Father’s business” (KJV, Luke 2:42-48). This was further the first recorded instance in which Jesus referred to God as “my Father”.

            As the Interpreter’s Bible explains regarding this latter passage, Jesus was in good favor by the people – “the common people heard him gladly”, (Mark 12:37). He was a man of joy, and when his enemies wanted to slander him, they did so by exaggerating his zest for life. They said he was “a man gluttonous and a winebibber, a friend of publicans and sinners” (Matt. 11:19).

            So while he faced bitter, and in the end deadly opposition, he had a friendliness which won the responsive friendliness of people. The “Man of Sorrows”, which he became towards the end, was the result of the unrelenting opposition he faced from the authorities and their followers, refusing to accept that he was indeed the Son of God and possessed of divine powers. That opposition eventually brought about the shift from a Plan A (reaching out to the people) to a Plan B (realizing that outreach was a lost cause and preparing for the worst).

            There is also an interesting omission in this section of Isaiah. In Isaiah chs 60-62, God is trying to comfort and reassure the people who have returned from Babylon exile and found themselves still facing opposition and foreign rulers (Persian this time). The omission is that the covenant with David is not mentioned and is in fact overturned. In 55:3 (“I will make with you an everlasting covenant”), He democratizes the nation as a whole, extending royal status from the line of David to the people, Judah will have no human king. As we will see, this was an effort to get the people more committed.

            What God wanted:
            To further get the people involved, in 61:5-6 he democratizes the priesthood (“you shall be called ‘priests of the Lord’”). The role of the sons of Aaron (Levites, more specifically Zadokites, a “son” of Aaron who became David’s first High Priest) is to be extended to the people as a whole. God will become Israel’s king, and further his people are to bring Gentiles into the fold.

            As Paul has it in Ephesians 3:1-12, God’s blessings will extend to the Gentiles, obliterating the old line of demarcation, making them “heirs together”, “members together” and “sharers together” in the covenant with God. Israel will indeed become “a light to all the nations” (Gen. 12:3), exercising priestly duties to all mankind.

            God (via Trito-Isaiah) wanted that which, in the end, He had to send Jesus to accomplish – all mankind brought to God (see also Isa. 56:5 for the foreigners who hold fast to His covenant, “I will give them a name better than of sons and of daughters”). Now two things went haywire with this. First, merging with the Gentiles was toxic to Israel, absorbed in their own privileges and considering that any extension of their nation would lead to Gentiles joining the theocracy.

            Secondly, the role of the priests was never abrogated, God’s will as expressed here was not done. The Zadokites contended with the rest of the Levites for their roles in the temple, and both maintained considerable bureaucracies for the administering of religious services. Conflicts which led to the rise of the Pharisees and Sadducees. All this was a structure “too large to fail”, and only the conquest of Jerusalem by the Romans in 70CE brought it all down.

            What Crucified Jesus
            This bureaucracy and its inbred hold on the people was a major reason for the failure of Jesus’ mission, and the shift from Plan A to Plan B. The vested interests of the Priests, Scribes and Pharisees was such that even had they believed Jesus was the Son of God, they could not have afforded to embrace him. Rabbi Rivkin’s book, What Crucified Jesus (1997), beginning on page 54 describes the growing fear among these groups that Jesus and his followers were a threat to their peace. “They never emphasized the messianic concept prior to the destruction of the Temple in the year 70” (Rivkin, page 166). They may not have wanted a Messiah, but the people did.

            Further, the Scribe and Pharisee movement arose out of conflict against the old reliance on the Aaronic priesthood. When Jesus quoted from OT scripture, he sounded just like a priest, thereby raising their determination to maintain their control. Thus they became more concerned with exposing would-be messiahs rather than finding one.

            The cross was the normal end of the road for would-be messiahs. It had been for several others in the century or more before Christ. Except, this time, the cross was the beginning, not the end. “Only the stubborn could deny the fact of the resurrection. Christ had been crucified, but he had arisen”. Even the Pharisees’ own belief in resurrection was being called upon to confirm Jesus’ claim to be the Messiah. “It was not as easy for them to disproved the Second Coming as it had been for them to disprove the First” (Rivkin, page 171-2).

            Putting God’s will into men’s hearts
            To further illustrate these dynamics we have to first understand God’s will to bring about a change in the personality of the people. It began at least 600 years before Christ. If God was to bring man into a new communion, how could man stand without again coming to grief because of his heart’s opposition to God’s will?

            To see how this goal was to be reached, we move to the preaching of Jeremiah, a prophet just after Isaiah, son of Amoz (though perhaps coeval with Deutero- and Trito-Isaiah). Much of what follows is discussed at length in von Rad, Old Testament Theology.

            In Jer. 31:1-34, we have “See, a time is coming, declares the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the House of Israel. It will not be like the covenant which I made with their fathers, which they broke, though I espoused them. I will put My Teaching into their inmost being and inscribe it upon their hearts.” And in Jer. 32:37-41, “I will give them a single heart and a single nature”. As a result of this crafting of God’s will onto the hearts of men, theological teaching offices become unnecessary. Jeremiah is speaking of an outpouring of God’s spirit, bringing about a spiritual awareness and observance of the will of God.

            This change in the hearts of men was intended to bring about Israel’s full and final return to her God.

            In Isaiah (7:3) and Hosea (3:5 etc.) that return was promised. In Jeremiah though, that return has a human side. Man’s disposition must be changed. So Jeremiah ponders upon how to do this, and God has him to conduct an assay on what motivates man. Jeremiah finds the human heart to be deceitful and incurable, “they are all stubbornly defiant, all of them act corruptly, yet the smelter smelts to no purpose – the dross is not separated out. They are called ‘rejected silver’, for the Lord has rejected them” (Jer. 6:27-30). Man is a prisoner of his own guilt, a prisoner to his own opposition to God.

            The Son of man
            Ezekiel speaks similarly of a spirit being planted in what had before been stony hearts. Note here God calls him “Son of man”, which Jesus uses repeatedly. “Son of Man, go to the House of Israel and speak My very words to them” (we may imagine God giving the same command to Jesus). “But the House of Israel will refuse to listen to you, for they refuse to listen to me; for the whole House of Israel are brazen of forehead and stubborn of heart. Go to your people, the exile community. Say to them, ‘Thus says the Lord God’; whether they hear or refuse to hear.” (Ezekiel 2:1 and 3:4-15)

            What follows describes the profound task Ezekiel is assigned, and later given to Jesus – he becomes responsible for the fate of the people. Up to then wicked men were to be judged by their evil acts and condemned, having failed to live in harmony with God. But God does not want His people to fail, He wants them to see His concerns that they follow His covenant are rooted in his love for them. So he has Ezekiel take on an awesome responsibility (as He does with Jesus later): “Son of man, I appoint you watchman for the House of Israel. You must warn them for Me. If you do not speak to warn the wicked man, he shall die for his iniquity; but I will require a reckoning from you (the Son of man becomes responsible for the sin). But if you do warn the wicked man, and he does not turn back from his wickedness, he shall die for his iniquity, but you will have saved your own life” (Ezekiel, 3:16-21).

            Through the centuries of the OT, God sends Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel and many other prophets to warn the sinful nation, but they will not listen. Finally He sends His only begotten son, Jesus, to perform the task of the Son of man. He is to change the hearts of men and so bring about perfect obedience. Although Jesus tells the people they are wicked, they do not listen. Except this time, after Jesus had conducted his ministry, and nothing changes from all the centuries before, God is finished with the people who will not listen.

            Yet, though they will not listen, he still wishes to save them from their sin. He now requires of the Son of man to give up his life so that all those who have not listened and continue to sin will be forgiven. Their bondage to sin and the stain of their guilt is broken. After the resurrection, it is the Christian who is now to live with God’s instructions written “upon their hearts”.

            Plan A and Plan B
            What I have tried to show is that throughout the Nevi’im (Prophets) section of the OT God retains His love for His people and continually tries to find a way to change their hearts and bring them back to follow their covenant. None of this works, and for 400 years (until the coming of John the Baptist) there has been no prophet in Israel. During this time, expectations rise for a messiah.

            John though is just the harbinger, he who will announce the coming of the one anointed to bring the people out of their long wilderness of sin and disobedience. And that Anointed One, the Son of man, is God’s son Christ Jesus. Surely the people will listen, for he will perform miracles only someone with divine powers can carry out. But this was to be their last chance.

            But it was a real chance. As all the others had been. The people were being given a legitimate chance to change their hearts and follow Jesus. The table was a level playing field, it was not set up for Jesus to fail. As with all of God’s efforts before, everyone was to be given their chance – those who will listen, those who will not listen, those who could not give up their vested interests in cultic practices, those whose power depended on continued Roman support.

            Jesus tries to make sure that the authorities do not act precipitously. So he continually asks his audiences to not say that he is the messiah (see the many examples, especially in Mark). Without the added turmoil of a messianic parade, maybe the strength and wonder of his message will bring enough along to convert the rest. Before, such uproars that he sought to avoid caused a premature end to other movements, resulting in mass crucifixions (as described in the various works of Josephus).

            However, it was not to be. That is not to say God (and Jesus) did not have a good idea of how things would end up. Even so, how can anyone say God was not being honest with His people? Jesus was determined and sincere in his ministry. If more had come over, it might have been a different story.

            Surely the lack of active unrest gave Jesus time to assemble, train and motivate a group of followers, Disciples and Apostles, who, after the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, were able to follow in his footsteps. Further, the righteous who accepted Jesus had been brought into the fold, even some among the establishment came along as well. The Romans pretty much put paid to the rest during the Jewish War 35 years later. But no one can say they were not given a full and fair chance. Jesus was sent to convert, not to fail. Would God really send His son on a lesser task?

          5. You’re ignoring the need for blood to be spilled to atone for sin, which renders your argument unscriptural. No matter how may sources you cite, if you deny that innocent blood must be spilled in order to reconcile us with God, you miss the entire point.

          6. The message you sent seemed to indicate to respond via a direct reply to the email. Certainly there does not appear to be a means left to do so via the web page, were I to so desire. You may post the following if you wish, but in any case I am finished with the one way effort. There are two points that remain to be made. Your replies seem to indicate that there is a misunderstanding on what Plan A and Plan B are. Plan A is strictly conversion to what God wants of his people in the old manner, via exhorting and preaching. Just as Ezekiel had been asked to do. With the added force of Divine miracles. No blood sacrifice was required to save souls if the sinner repented. Plan B was Jesus going to the Cross to save sinners who had not repented, and the stubborn and headstrong who would not listen. His blood was of course the sacrifice you mention. The other point is that our discussion has been trumped my position has appeared in print. In A.M. Hunters book, Gleanings from the New Testament (1975), we find the following: The purpose of Jesus mission was to create a new people of God who would be what old Israel had failed to bea light for revelation to the Gentiles (Isa. 42.6) and so bring the saving knowledge of the only true God to all men. To this end Jesus called various men to follow him, their task being, in his own vivid metaphor, to hook men for God. Unfortunately, the people were more drawn by his miracles than his message. Thus, after the feeding of the five thousand (Mark 6:30-44), the crowds did not want to turn back to God, but instead demanded more miracles and saw the chance of a nationalistic uprising against Rome, with Jesus as their leader (John 6:15). But this was not the role God wanted His son to play. No riding a war chariot, no swinging a great sword, no wading knee deep in the blood of Israels enemies. So, refusing to play the role they had cast for him, Jesus retired with his twelve men outside of Galilee, there in communion with his Father to rethink the strategy of the kingdom. God willed that he should go to his triumph not by leading a revolt against Rome but by giving his life (like the Suffering Servant, Isa. 53) as a ransom for many (Mark 10.45). Marching on Jerusalem, Jesus made there his last appeal to old Israel. What happened is history. Yet Gods purpose was not to be defeated by the blind obduracy of his own people. The planted seed of the kingdom must be watered by the bloody sweat of his Passion, and from, and through, his death as the Servant Messiah would arise a new people of God, united not by the blood of Abraham but of Christ, to realize and fulfill the high vocation which old Israel had renounced. As I said at the beginning of all this, the reader needs to reach their own conclusions. I did, and was fortunate that my brother had the above reference at hand to support was is probably the generally accepted view. But whatever is done, please base it upon scripture. One further suggestion regarding a scripture reading. When in doubt about a reading, try finding the passage in the Bible used by the Eastern Church, the Peshitta. It was recorded in Aramaic (or Syriac), the language of Jesus. The word peshitta means straight, sincere and true. Reputedly it has retained its precise wording through the millennium, which if true is more than can be said of any other text, Christian or Hebrew. It was not readily available in translated and printed form until fairly recently, so only a few earlier commentaries used portions of it (R.H. Charles for example for his Apocrypha work, and Bruce Metzger I believe did as well). Whatever version one uses, I would avoid anything like the NIV or newer, or something like The Living Bible or the Message. You need accurate translations, not translations that feel good. Even the commentators who use the NIV remark that many passages have words added or are otherwise changed, and so go back to an earlier version to be closer to what the writer intended. Larry M. Southwick (P.S., whatever your perceived need to reply, I am really not interested. If you don’t agree with me, fine, but your cryptic comments are devoid of substance and add nothing to the discussion.)

          7. “You may post the following if you wish, but in any case I am finished with the one way effort.”

            Oh, Larry — I was finished two weeks ago. There’s no point in arguing, since neither one of us are going to change our minds. You’d just better hope you’re right when you get to heaven, because our view on redemption through the blood of Christ is all that’ll matter in the end.

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