Exposition of 1 Corinthians 2:6–10a God’s wisdom revealed in Paul’s message

1 Corinthians 2:6–10a

We do, however, speak a message of wisdom among the mature, but not the wisdom of this age or of the rulers of this age, who are coming to nothing. 7 No, we declare God’s wisdom, a mystery that has been hidden and that God destined for our glory before time began. 8 None of the rulers of this age understood it, for if they had, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory. 9 However, as it is written: “What no eye has seen, what no ear has heard, and what no human mind has conceived” — the things God has prepared for those who love him — 10 these are the things God has revealed to us by his Spirit.

After his rejection of human wisdom (1 Cor. 2:1–5), Paul recounts his own “message of wisdom among the mature” (1 Cor. 2:6). In today’s passage, he presents:

  • The origin of the wisdom (1 Cor. 2:6b–9)
  • The means by which the wisdom is revealed (1 Cor. 2:10–13)
  • The recipients of this wisdom (1 Cor. 2:14–16a)
  • The outcome of this wisdom (1 Cor. 2:16b).[1]

Paul explains these four points using a series of contrasting statements. As we get into them, you will do well to keep in mind Fee’s insight: “The real contrast is therefore between Christian and non-Christian, between those who have and those who do not have the Spirit. Paul’s concern throughout is to get the Corinthians to understand who they are — in terms of the cross — and to stop acting as non-Spirit people.”[2]

First, the wisdom that comprises Paul’s message is not from this age or its rulers but comes from God (1 Cor. 2:6b–7). By “this age” he means the entire worldly arrangement of power, relationships, money and ideas that opposes God — an arrangement we still have in 2012 — which is already being replaced by the final age to come in which Christ reigns forever.

Fee defines the word mystery by saying that it “ordinarily refers to something formerly hidden in God from all human eyes but now revealed in history through Christ and made understandable to his people through the Spirit.”[3] Fee goes on the explain that the mystery is also paradoxical in that it consists of the crucifixion — an expression of the greatest shame and degradation — of “the Lord of glory” (1 Cor. 2:8). Before time began, God determined that his people would attain glory through union with a crucified Christ.

If the rulers of this age had known this mystery, they would never have sealed their own downfall by crucifying Christ (1 Cor. 2:8). The irony is sweet. Paul concludes this idea by quoting a semi-poetic statement of Jewish reflection on the Old Testament (1 Cor. 2:9–10 citing Isa. 64:4):

What no eye has seen, what no ear has heard, and what no human mind has conceived [human wisdom, so treasured by the Corinthians, drew a complete blank] — the things God has prepared for those who love him [which is Christ crucified, to win glory for his people] — 10 these are the things God has revealed to us by his Spirit [Christ has been crucified and the significance is now unveiled to God’s people].

Copyright © 2012 Barry Applewhite. All rights reserved worldwide. Derived from materials created for Christ Fellowship, McKinney, Texas. Used by permission.



[1] David E. Garland, 1 Corinthians, Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2003) 90.

[2] Gordon D. Fee, The First Epistle to the Corinthians, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1987) 101.

[3] Fee, The First Epistle to the Corinthians, 105.

Exposition of 1 Corinthians 2:1–5 The power is always from God

1 Corinthians 2:1–5

1 And so it was with me, brothers and sisters. When I came to you, I did not come with eloquence or human wisdom as I proclaimed to you the testimony about God. 2 For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. 3 I came to you in weakness with great fear and trembling. 4 My message and my preaching were not with wise and persuasive words, but with a demonstration of the Spirit’s power, 5 so that your faith might not rest on human wisdom, but on God’s power.

Not only did Paul stick to the crucifixion of Christ as the message during his time in Corinth (1 Cor. 2:2), but he also reminds them that fancy rhetoric and human philosophy played no part in his presentation of “the testimony about God” (1 Cor. 2:1). Paul is not expressing anti-intellectualism here; he is running toward, and not away from, the message that is “a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles” (1 Cor. 1:23): Christ crucified.

Verse 3 is difficult, but it probably means that Paul was all-in with his counter cultural approach to speak the message without “the strength and boldness of a cultured orator.”[1] One indication that this explanation is correct is that verse 4 says that in different words. The marvelous result of this modest method is that any result — such as those who trusted in Christ through the message — could only be attributed to the power of the Holy Spirit. By eliminating the negative clause, Paul says, “My message and preaching [came] . . . with a demonstration of the Spirit’s power” (1 Cor. 2:4). As a result, no one in Corinth could ever say that Paul used persuasion or rhetorical tricks to bring people to Christ. The many new Christians could only be a result of God’s power.

How could Paul speak of the Spirit’s power? In Acts 18:7–8, we learn that when Paul finished his preaching in the synagogue, the synagogue leader and his entire household trusted in Jesus as their Messiah and were baptized. Not long afterward, the Lord — meaning Jesus — “spoke to Paul in a vision: ‘Do not be afraid; keep on speaking, do not be silent. For I am with you, and no one is going to attack and harm you, because I have many people in this city’” (Acts 18:9–10).

When the Holy Spirit is at work, the simple message of Jesus crucified is all you need.

Copyright © 2012 Barry Applewhite. All rights reserved worldwide. Derived from materials created for Christ Fellowship, McKinney, Texas. Used by permission.



[1] David E. Garland, 1 Corinthians, Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2003) 85.

Exposition of 1 Corinthians 1:18–25 God’s power and wisdom: Christ crucified

1 Corinthians 1:18–25

18 For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. 19 For it is written: “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise; the intelligence of the intelligent I will frustrate.”

20 Where is the wise person? Where is the teacher of the law? Where is the philosopher of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? 21 For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not know him, God was pleased through the foolishness of what was preached to save those who believe. 22 Jews demand signs and Greeks look for wisdom, 23 but we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, 24 but to those whom God has called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. 25 For the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength.

In verse 17 Paul has rejected “words of eloquent wisdom” (ESV) as not having anything to do with what God has done in the cross of Christ. Now, in verse 18, he adds that “the word of the cross” (ESV) divides the world into two parts” “those who are perishing” and “[we] who are being saved.”

The Greco-Roman system offered human wisdom — including philosophy, rhetoric and military power — as a solid basis for life, leading to the constant scramble for wealth and power. The cross of Christ stands in utter contradiction to all that. Garland summarizes: “The story behind Jesus’ death discloses that he was rejected by the very people he came to save, was deserted by his own disciples, was strung up by the proper authorities, and apparently was powerless to save his own skin.”[1] But God used this seeming defeat to pay the penalty for all sin, to reconcile humanity to God and to be the basis for those who commit themselves to Jesus to be eternally saved.

The choice is simple: jump into the Great Game of the World and join “those who are perishing” or rely on the cross of Christ, which made it possible for us to join those “who are being saved.” Paul immediately summons Old Testament Scripture (Isa. 29:14 LXX) to support his argument against human wisdom. The whole reason that human wisdom will not prevail is that God will not allow it to succeed! “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise; the intelligence of the intelligent I will frustrate.

In 1 Cor. 1:20, we find three different types of human experts representing rationalism, Jewish law, and Greek rhetoric. The idea behind the repeated “where is . . .?” is that in the realm of knowing God those three are not to be found. Garland says, “One can know God only according to the cross, not through human wisdom.”[2] The wisdom of the world is a general way of assessing life that is egocentric, and it leads away from the cross and its shame.

But the Bible informs us that our kind and loving God did not leave us in this clueless state. He both sent Christ to die for us on the cross and sent emissaries to tell how those who believed could be saved (1 Cor. 1:21). This belief consists of accepting the kindness of God-given to us in Jesus Christ.

Paul looks into the culture of his day and sees some demanding one sort of divine proof and others demanding another form, but God is revealing “Christ crucified” by preaching the message, no matter how it is received (1 Cor. 1:22–23). Garland explains: “The ‘called’ . . . is parallel to ‘those who believe’ in 1:21 and ‘us who are being saved’ in 1:18. Part of being called is being able to hear God’s call and being open to it.”[3] Christ is both power and wisdom in one person.

Paul again displays his sarcasm in 1 Cor. 1:25, because there is no such thing as the “foolishness of God” or “weakness of God.” Only those committed to the world’s alleged wisdom and strength would discuss it as if it were comparable to God’s wisdom and strength. The death of Christ overturned all earthly wisdom, and the resurrection of Christ overwhelmed those powers resisting it.

Copyright © 2012 Barry Applewhite. All rights reserved worldwide. Derived from materials created for Christ Fellowship, McKinney, Texas. Used by permission.



[1] David E. Garland, 1 Corinthians, Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2003) 61.

[2] Garland, 1 Corinthians, 67.

[3] Garland, 1 Corinthians, 70.

Exposition of Romans 5:6-8 Love and Death — Christ Gave Both

Part of the problem in being a twenty-first century American is that the idea that God loves us has been around for a long time. Indeed, that is by far the most popular theological idea even among people who do not think Jesus is anyone special.

The amazing thing is that reasonably intelligent, well-informed people, who read the newspaper and know a little history, would find it next to impossible to give you one good reason why God should not hate humankind in view of how we have behaved!

(NET) Romans 5:6–8  For while we were still helpless, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. 7 (For rarely will anyone die for a righteous person, though for a good person perhaps someone might possibly dare to die.) 8 But God demonstrates his own love for us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.

This group of three verses is remarkable by any standard. First, Paul uses three words to describe our condition before Christ took action: we were helpless, ungodly sinners. Second, we are told that God responded to our desperate situation with love and death. Indeed, each of the three Greek sentences ends with the same Greek verb for death (ἀποθνῄσκω) — clearly intentional.

From a theological viewpoint — something you should definitely strive to develop — it is vital to see that before we trusted in Christ we were helpless (5:6) to save ourselves from God’s wrath. Osborne says, “This does not mean that human beings are incapable of good — JohnCalvin, the Protestant reformer, called this ‘common grace,’ the ability of the natural person to do good since all are made in the image of God — but it conveys that they can do nothing that will make them right with God.”[1]

In relation to the word translated “ungodly” (5:6), the Greek adjective ἀσεβής here means “pertaining to violating norms for a proper relation to deity, irreverent, impious, ungodly.”[2] It is more than sad that contemporary American society is filled with such people, who pay no attention whatever to God. Secularism marginalizes God more now than at any time in a thousand years.

We have looked at the bad-news part of Romans 5:6, but the good news utterly overwhelms the bad news: “at the right time Christ died for the ungodly” (5:6b). C.E.B. Cranfield says, “For Christ’s death on behalf of sinners compare . . . 3:25; 4:25; 6:10; 7:4; 8:32; 14:15 (in the last two of these passages [the Greek preposition] huper is used, as it is here [5:6] and also in a good many other NT passages dealing with the same subject).”[3] Next we will discuss why that is important.

Huper — meaning “for, in behalf of, for the sake of”[4] — is one of the few Greek words that every serious student of the New Testament should know about because it stresses that Jesus died as our substitute. See also 2 Cor. 5:14, Gal. 3:13 and John 11:50. The preposition also occurs three more times in Romans 5:7–8.

Romans 5:7 is a comparative verse in which Paul presents the absolute most you can expect in terms of human love. Rarely, one person might dare to die for some other deserving person, described as either righteous or good. Such behavior is rare enough that we widely honor the sacrifice it requires. Think of the firemen rushing into the burning World Trade Center to help others during the 9/11 attack.

But God has done so much more in “his own love” (5:8) than the greatest acts of human love. Christ, the beloved Son of God, keeps on demonstrating God’s love toward us in that he died for the helpless, ungodly sinners — the very ones also called God’s enemies (5:8). Seeing the desperate plight of sinful, lost humanity, God did not sit in heaven feeling affection for us and yet doing nothing. Christ came among us to suffer and die for us.

Grant Osborne rightly says:

This is the primary point Paul is making. Christ did not die for righteous people or for friends; he died for sinful human beings in all their degrading depravity, for those who “suppress the truth by their wickedness” (1:18) and do “not think it worthwhile to retain the knowledge of God” (1:28), who are “filled with every kind of wickedness, evil greed and depravity” (1:29). Therefore we deserved to experience the wrath of God and eternal judgment, but Christ took our punishment upon himself and paid the penalty in our place, thereby procuring redemption on our behalf (3:21–26).[5]

God’s love brings death and offers life

An ancient church father known as Ambrosiaster once said: “If Christ gave himself up to death at the right time for those who were unbelievers and enemies of God . . . how much more will he protect us with his help if we believe in him!”[6]

1. We will take a moment to review: (1) the penalty for sin is death (Rom. 1:32), and (2) you may pay the penalty either with your own death or use the death of Jesus instead (Rom. 5:8). Which will you choose? Keep in mind that not to decide is a decision in itself; you are not in a fail-safe position if you have never trusted in Christ!

2. Why do you think Christ was willing to die in your place? How does the extent of God’s love for you, expressed in Christ’s death, make you feel?

Each day’s lesson begins with a six-word theme. Here is another one:
Jesus Christ died in your place. Praise God forever!

Copyright © 2012 Barry Applewhite. All rights reserved worldwide. Derived from materials created for Christ Fellowship, McKinney, Texas. Used by permission.

 


[1] Grant R. Osborne, Romans, The IVP New Testament Commentary Series (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2004) 132.

[2] BDAG-3, ἀσεβής, ungodly, q.v.

[3] C.E.B. Cranfield, The Epistle to the Romans, The International Critical Commentary (Edinburgh: T.&T. Clark Limited, 1975) 264.

[4] BDAG-3, huper, on behalf of, q.v.

[5] Osborne, Romans, 134.

[6] Gerald Bray, ed., Romans, Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1998) 131.

Exposition of Romans 1:1-6 — The significance of the resurrected Son

This post begins a series on Romans 1-5. The subtitle is “The Significance of the Resurrected Son.” I hope you enjoy it!

Partial Outline of the Romans 1–6 (C.E.B. Cranfield)

I.          Superscription, address and salutation (1:1-7)

II.         Paul and the Roman church (1:8-16a)

III.       The theme of the epistle is stated (1:16b-17)

IV.       The revelation of the righteousness which is from God by faith alone — “He who is righteous by faith” expounded (1:18-4:25)

1. In the light of the gospel there is no question of men’s being righteous before God otherwise than by faith (1:18-3.20)

a. Man under the judgment of the gospel (1:18-32)

b. Jewish man is no exception (2:1-3:20)

2. The manifestation of the righteousness that is from God in the gospel events (3:21-26)

3. All glorying is excluded (3:27-31)

4. The case of Abraham as confirmation of the statement that glorying has been excluded (4:1-25)

V.         The life promised for those who are righteous by faith — “shall live” expounded (5:1-8:39)

1. A life characterized by peace with God (5:1-21)

a. Peace with God (5:1-11)

b. Christ and Adam (5:12-21)

2. A Life characterized by sanctification (6:1-23)

The significance of the resurrected Son

If we look at church steeples or at interior areas near the pastor, we will see the cross, the symbol of Christ’s death. Nowhere will we see any symbol of Jesus’ resurrection. God’s good news for humankind has always been about both the cross and the resurrected Son, yet Christ’s church has been slow to grasp this.

The cure for this imbalance is not to put less emphasis on the cross but to enhance understanding of how important the resurrection really is. The resurrection of Jesus Christ authenticated his sacrificial death for our sins and provided the power to resist sin (Rom. 6). Further, it is as our risen Lord that Jesus intercedes for us at the right hand of the Father (Heb. 7:25).

(ESV) Romans 1:1-6  Paul, a servant of Christ Jesus, called to be an apostle, set apart for the gospel of God, 2 which he promised beforehand through his prophets in the holy Scriptures, 3 concerning his Son, who was descended from David according to the flesh 4 and was declared to be the Son of God in power according to the Spirit of holiness by his resurrection from the dead, Jesus Christ our Lord, 5 through whom we have received grace and apostleship to bring about the obedience of faith for the sake of his name among all the nations, 6 including you who are called to belong to Jesus Christ,

This remarkable letter begins with a name that stands among the top ten in human history ? Paul. In calling himself “slave” (1:1, NET), he immediately declares his utter commitment to the one who summoned him ? Christ Jesus. New Testament scholar Douglas Moo says: “’Slave of Christ Jesus’ is patterned after the familiar OT phrase ‘slave’ or ‘servant’ of Yahweh.”[1] That puts Paul in the company Moses, David and the prophets.

In saying he has been “set apart for the gospel of God” (1:1), Paul mentions the likely theme of his letter ? the gospel, a term not accurately understood by many Christians. In evangelical circles, “the gospel” is often seen as a brief set of ideas shared with non-Christians to which they may respond with faith in Jesus as their savior. That understanding of the word gospel is far too narrow to fit Paul’s meaning.

To understand the word gospel as Paul used it, we will first look at its lexical meaning. The Greek euangelion means “good news,”[2] originally news of victory. Both NLT and HCSB use the phrase “good news” in their translation of Romans 1:1. [We get our English word “evangelism” from the Greek euangelion.]

It is obviously important to consider what gospel would have meant to Roman citizens. NT scholar C.E.B. Cranfield says, “For the inhabitants of the Roman Empire it had special associations with the Emperor-cult [worship of the Emperor as a god], since the announcements of such events as the birth of an heir to the Emperor, his coming-of-age, and his accession, were referred to as [euangelia].”[3] Since gospel had these secular associations for Romans, Paul expressed it as the “gospel of God” (1:1) to distinguish it from the Roman civil idea; then he elaborated the broader meaning in the immediately following verses.

Summarizing Paul’s statements about the gospel in Romans 1:2-4, NT scholar Grant Osborne says: “First, he tells us it was promised beforehand in the Old Testament. . . . Second, the heart of the gospel is the Son of God as descended from David. . . . The gospel centers on God’s designation (better than NIV’s declared) of Jesus as his divine Son.”[4] To this we should add some other things — chiefly justification by faith — but to show the breadth of Paul’s concept of gospel we must consider that he even adds judgment when he speaks of the “day when, according to my gospel, God judges the secrets of men by Christ Jesus” (2:16).

Moo delivers what I consider the correct conclusion about the theme of Romans when he says, “My own outline reflects what I think is the theme of the letter: the gospel.”[5] The ESV Study Bible says, “The theme of Romans is the revelation of God’s judging and saving righteousness in the gospel of Jesus Christ.”[6] The NIV Study Bible agrees: “Paul’s primary theme in Romans is the basic gospel, God’s plan of salvation for all peoples, Jew and Gentile alike.”[7]

Now that we have considered the theme of Romans — the gospel concerning Jesus Christ — we will focus our attention on Romans 1:3. Above all else, what God promised beforehand in the holy Scriptures was “concerning his Son.” The remainder of 1:3 focuses on Jesus’ physical descent from David, which was necessary for him to qualify as the promised Messiah (2 Sam. 7:12-16; Isa. 11:1, 11:10). Using his famous contrast between flesh and Spirit, Paul next adds to Jesus’ title of Messiah another title that comes in the spiritual realm; NET says that Jesus was “appointed the
Son-of-God-in-power” (1:4, NET) by virtue of his resurrection from the dead.[8]

This is a very important point: Jesus has eternally been the Son of God, but he took on added authority after his resurrection. Moo summarizes, “What Paul is claiming, then, is that the preexistent Son, who entered into human experience as the promised Messiah, was appointed on the basis of . . . the resurrection to a new and more powerful position in relation to the world.”[9] This explains why Jesus appeared to his disciples after the resurrection to say, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me” (Mat. 28:18). He was announcing his new status!

Osborne notes that “Jesus Christ our Lord” culminates verses 3-4,” and then he adds: “This incredible passage tells us that the Gospel is all about Jesus — Messiah, Son of God and Lord of all creation.”[10]

If you think Paul has merely been exercising his theological skills, get ready for his powerful application. Paul has revealed the supreme power of the resurrected Jesus. Now he reminds his Roman readers that this exalted Lord has appointed Paul his apostle “to bring about the obedience of faith” (1:5) among all nations, including the Christians in Rome! Zap! Roman Christians certainly understood imperial politics, and Paul represents a ruler far above the emperor.

The phrase “obedience of faith” (1:5) is subject to various interpretations. Osborne summarizes the most probable one: “Obedience is the natural result of a faith relationship with Christ, and faith always produces obedience.”[11] NT scholar Ernst Käsemann says, “When the revelation of Christ is accepted [faith], the rebellious world submits again to its Lord [obedience].”[12]

The Son-of-God-in-power

Jesus said: “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live” (John 11:25). Jesus made this audacious statement because he knew that he would rise from the dead and that our faith in him would bring us the same result.

1. Read 1 Corinthians 15:12-22. How important does Paul say the resurrection is to your faith?

2. Read Psalm 2 about the enthronement of Christ as King. How is the Son-of-God-in-power received by the rulers and nations? What does the final verse mean to you personally?

In the days of the Roman Empire men and women would aspire to be named a “friend of Caesar.” We have the greater privilege of being the friends of Jesus Christ, the Son-of-God-in-power. That is worth celebrating!

 [1] Douglas Moo, The Epistle to the Romans, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Wm. B. Eerdmans Pub. Co., 1996) 40-41.

[2] BDAG-3, euangelion, good news, q.v.

[3] C.E.B. Cranfield, The Epistle to the Romans, The International Critical Commentary (Edinburgh: T.&T. Clark Limited, 1975) 55.

[4] Grant R. Osborne, Romans, The IVP New Testament Commentary Series (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2004) 29.

[5] Moo, Romans, 32.

[6] ESV Study Bible (Wheaton: Crossway Bibles, 2008) 2151.

[7] Zondervan NIV Study Bible (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2008) 1736.

[8] TNIV corrects NIV (1984) in Romans 1:4 so that it reads “appointed the Son of God in power.”

[9] Moo, Romans, 48-49.

[10] Osborne, Romans, 32.

[11] Osborne, Romans, 33.

[12] Ernst Käsemann, Romans, Trans. Geoffrey W. Bromiley (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1980) 15.

Copyright © 2011 Barry Applewhite. All rights reserved worldwide. Derived from material created for Christ Fellowship, McKinney, Texas. Used by permission.

Books: The Path to the Cross — Chapter 12

Front Cover

 

 

BIBLICAL CONCEPTS PRESS

 

 

 

 

Available at Amazon.com

 

Chapter 12

An X-Ray of Reality

Jesus’ death dictates choices

Nobody likes feeling foolish! But sometimes we get caught by a deficient set of facts. To give you an idea of what I’m talking about, let me tell you about what happened one August. At that time every year the drinking water in my hometown tastes bad because of algae growing in the warm lake waters. The water company dumps in great quantities of chlorine to kill the offending life-forms. That tastes awful!

I decided to fix the taste problem by installing one of those water filters that you attach to the kitchen water faucet. It took only a few minutes to attach the little metal cylinder that holds the filter, and I felt very pleased when the job was finished.

I decided to convince my family about the benefits of the new device by conducting a taste test of filtered and unfiltered water. My family didn’t know which glass had been filtered and which one had not, but they all picked the water that had passed through the filter as tasting better. Needless to say, I was feeling pretty smug by that point!

In about three months it was time to change the used filter and put in a new one. I carefully unscrewed the filter container and found — nothing! There was no used filter inside. There never had been!

What about the taste test, you ask? There is only one chance in eight that my family members would all pick the supposedly filtered water as tasting better when in reality it was no different at all. But they did. My original wrong assumption about the filter had been confirmed by a statistical fluke.

You see, reality isn’t always what we think it is. Fortunately, it didn’t matter very much that I entrusted the water quality of our home to a nonexistent water filter. But each of us regularly relies on things that have far more import. We trust a life-partner, a career, an airplane or a way of raising children. But if we entrust ourselves to something that will ultimately fail us, then we are in trouble.

Christians, who have access to the inerrant Scriptures, have a tremendous advantage over others in terms of knowing true reality. For example, one such reality is that a person must entrust themselves to Jesus Christ to have eternal life.

In addition, God has also revealed many principles for living that guide us in making the complex choices of modern life. He tells us in general terms what will work out better and what will not. But, in the short run, events may seem to contradict what God has said and may make the faith approach look foolish.

A Shortsighted View of Reality

32 Two other men, both criminals, were also led out with him to be executed.
33 When they came to the place called the Skull, they crucified him there, along with the criminals—one on his right, the other on his left. 34 Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.” And they divided up his clothes by casting lots.
35 The people stood watching, and the rulers even sneered at him. They said, “He saved others; let him save himself if he is God’s Messiah, the Chosen One.”
36 The soldiers also came up and mocked him. They offered him wine vinegar
37 and said, “If you are the king of the Jews, save yourself.”
38 There was a written notice above him, which read: THIS IS THE KING OF THE JEWS.
39 One of the criminals who hung there hurled insults at him: “Aren’t you the Messiah? Save yourself and us!”
(Luke 23:32–39)

All those who watched as Christ was crucified encountered a reality that was very hostile to any kind of faith in him. The hearts of many believers must have sunk to rock bottom as they saw that the One to whom they had entrusted themselves now seemed powerless to resist Roman justice. The unbelievers who were watching had ample evidence to confirm their rejection of Jesus as the Messiah. Everything they saw seemed to cry out that his messianic claims were false.

But behind such dark external “reality,” the hand of God was moving those events toward final victory. Only by using the expanded reality of revealed truth could those grim events be seen as progress toward that glorious goal. The eyes of faith must always be able to look beyond the circumstances of the moment.

Just the night before, Jesus had warned his disciples about what was to follow by quoting the Isaiah prophecy that he would be “numbered among the transgressors.” Now it was all taking place right before their eyes as he hung on a cross.

Crucifixion inflicted tremendous suffering on its victims. Death came partly through starvation, partly through blood loss, and to some extent by exposure and long-term pain. The Romans found crucifixion so repulsive that Roman law prohibited its citizens from being crucified.

The Roman statesman Cicero once said, “Even the mere word, cross, must remain far not only from the lips of the citizens of Rome, but also from their thoughts, their eyes, their ears.” In spite of their revulsion against this penalty, the Romans had no hesitation in using it against foreigners such as Jesus.

It is significant that Luke did not dwell on the brutality of crucifixion. In fact, none of the Gospel writers stressed that — though preachers sometimes do. Instead, Luke focused on the response of those watching Christ’s crucifixion. He paid careful attention to the varied reactions of the onlookers to the reality in front of them. I feel confident that this was Luke’s intent because of the way he arranged his historical material. He presented four responses of condemnation toward Jesus followed by four responses that vindicate Jesus.

All history is selective, and Luke arranged his account of the crucifixion to contrast the responses of the people who saw it. This can be best seen by looking at Table 7.

Table 7

Responses to Christ’s Crucifixion

Condemnation Vindication
1 The People 5 Second Criminal
2 Rulers 6 God
3 Soldiers 7 Centurion
4 First Criminal 8 The People

                    Condemnation = Rejection | Vindication = Faith

Perhaps by this arrangement Luke was implying that the people in the first column should have listened to the testimony of their counterparts in the second column and responded to Jesus in faith.

The four condemning responses are expressed in Luke 23:35–39. Here Luke described the people, the rulers, the soldiers, and one of the criminals. In his entire account Luke tended to downplay the role of the people, but here he grouped them with those antagonistic to Jesus. The other gospel writers also inform us that the people were mocking Jesus while the crucifixion took place (Matt. 27:39).

The Greek verb tense strongly suggests that the rulers “sneered” at Jesus over a considerable period of time. Jesus hung on the cross beginning not long after noon (John 19:14) and the rulers responded to him in this way even while darkness fell on the land. When the rulers mocked Jesus, they quoted a psalm from the Old Testament, twisting it to suit their interpretation of the events at hand.

We have seen the same tactic used on Jesus before. Satan tried the same thing when he tempted Jesus in the wilderness. At the end of his description of these temptations, Luke said that Satan would return at an opportune time (Luke 4:13). This is it.

Satan does not speak with his own voice, but through the mouths of others as they jeer at the dying Messiah. The rulers derisively challenge Jesus to save himself if he were who he had claimed to be.

The Roman soldiers also join in the black humor of the occasion. The Jewish people hated the Roman army of occupation, and the feeling was mutual. These Romans felt little sympathy for this Jew dying on the cross. Over Jesus’ head there hung a notice that read, “This is the King of the Jews.”

Roman justice demanded that the condemned person’s crime be specified on the notice. What then was the crime? Can you find it? Well, Pilate couldn’t find it either, and in writing those words — “THIS IS THE KING OF THE JEWS” — he again made the point to the Jews that Jesus was innocent.

Roman society had a strong sense of class consciousness. The common soldiers of the execution squad could afford only the very cheapest kind of wine. It bordered on vinegar, a drink that would hardly be offered to a king. So, in extending this swill to Jesus, they mocked him in yet another way. They also took up the refrain of the others: “Save yourself.”

Even one of the criminals — an insurrectionist against Roman rule (Mark 15:27) — hanging next to Jesus joined the taunting crowd and rulers. Perhaps he hoped to ingratiate himself to the crowd, the Romans, and the religious leaders. Perhaps in that way he hoped he might be spared from death. After all, one other criminal, Barabbas, had already been delivered by the voice of the multitude from Roman justice that day.

The criminal’s only source of hope seemed to be the surrounding crowd. By entrusting his hope to them, however, he assured not only his physical death but his spiritual death as well. He relied only on what he could see. Such tragic consequences overtake those who do not take advantage of God’s revelation to guide their trust.

The people, the rulers, the soldiers, and the unfortunate criminal all shared a common view of reality. They did not accept Jesus for who he really was, and they considered his death on the cross as the final proof of their views. So that we do not condemn them too quickly, we should consider how common it is in our own culture to focus on short-term results.

Looking Beyond the Cross

40 But the other criminal rebuked him. “Don’t you fear God,” he said, “since you are under the same sentence? 41 We are punished justly, for we are getting what our deeds deserve. But this man has done nothing wrong.”
 42 Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.”
 43 Jesus answered him, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise.”
(Luke 23:40–43)

Having considered those who condemned Christ, Luke shifts attention to those who spoke to vindicate him. Those groups stand in stark contrast to one another, and the contrast begins with the two criminals. Consider carefully that the second criminal looked out on exactly the same scene as the first one. He saw the jeering mob, and beside him the man from Nazareth, dying just as he was. But he obviously brought far more than just those few surrounding facts to guide his understanding of the whole situation.

The Greek verb tenses suggest that as frequently as the first criminal mocked Jesus, this second one spoke up to defend him! By doing so he made it clear that he did not share the earthbound perspective of the first thief. Instead, his view of reality had been expanded by the truth of God, so he responded to it in an entirely different way.

The rebel who defended Christ repeatedly called on the other criminal to consider his own plight before God. He had only a few short hours to make whatever peace with God that he could. For him to waste his time by condemning an innocent man was the height of foolishness. This whole discussion may have been repeated several times in the course of the hours.

When death for all neared, the second rebel said to Jesus, “Remember me when you come into your kingdom” (Luke 23:42). To “remember” someone in the biblical sense of that phrase does not mean to recall certain events in which they took part. That’s how we might use such a phrase, but they used it differently. It means to remember others for good; to remember them in such a way that you act in their behalf.

This man was clearly looking beyond the moment at hand, when Jesus was hanging on the cross dying. He was looking toward a time when Jesus would be in a position to confer such benefits. He asserted that Jesus would have a kingdom and implied that he was the King of the Jews, just as the notice over his head declared.

Jesus quickly rewarded such faith that could look beyond the grim circumstances. Jesus remembered the man for good by bringing him to paradise that very day (Luke 23:43).

By using the word “paradise” the translators don’t do the reader any favors, for that word simply spells out in English the Greek word used by Luke. To the Jewish mind the word represented the conditions of the garden of Eden. The Jews imagined that when the Messiah set up his kingdom, he would refashion the world to resemble the Garden of Eden. There would be immediate communion with God, an absence of the effect of sin, and tremendous bounty on every side.

The contrast between the two criminals reminds me of a verse Luke recorded earlier in his Gospel. Jesus had said, “Whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will save it” (Luke 9:24). The first rebel had tried to save his own life and lost it. The second rebel, who defended Christ, lost his life for Jesus’ sake and saved it.

The two criminals who hung on either side of Jesus illustrated quite clearly the great difference it makes to have faith to guide one’s choices in the face of contrary “reality.”

Further Vindication

44 It was now about noon, and darkness came over the whole land until three in the afternoon, 45 for the sun stopped shining. And the curtain of the temple was torn in two. 46 Jesus called out with a loud voice, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.” When he had said this, he breathed his last.
 47 The centurion, seeing what had happened, praised God and said, “Surely this was a righteous man.” 48 When all the people who had gathered to witness this sight saw what took place, they beat their breasts and went away. 49 But all those who knew him, including the women who had followed him from Galilee, stood at a distance, watching these things.
(Luke 23:44–49)

The second person who spoke in defense of Christ did so without words, but with a message of compelling power. God the Father spoke through supernatural events first in the heavens and then within the temple itself. Starting at noon when the sun reached its zenith, darkness fell over the whole land until three in the afternoon. The darkness likely extended over the entire land of Israel. In this way, the Father spoke eloquently to authenticate the claims of the One who hung on the cross.

Some have suggested that the darkness was caused by a solar eclipse, but they simply misunder­stand astronomy. It was the time of Passover, which occurs during the full moon. When the moon is full, it stands in exactly the opposite side of the sky from the sun. So it would have been physically impossible for the moon to block the light of the sun, as it does in a solar eclipse.

No, this darkness had a totally supernatural origin. The darkness that God sent was probably identical to that which he sent in the time of the Exodus (Exod. 14:19–20), a gloom so deep as never to be forgotten by those who experienced it. Thus, God spoke in cosmic terms to the entire nation.

The second sign God gave occurred before the eyes of a very few. He caused the curtain in the temple to split down the middle! The curtain in the temple was sixty feet wide and thirty feet high and had a thickness equal to the width of a man’s palm. It took over three hundred priests to hoist the curtain into place, and it was replaced every three years so that deterioration of the fabric would not occur.

This curtain stood between the Holy Place and the Holy of Holies. It was no human hand that ripped this curtain in two. Among its other meanings, the ripping of the curtain probably communicated that the way between man and God had now been opened through the death of God’s own Messiah.

When it first occurred, I’m sure only a few of the priests even knew about the event. But such a thing cannot long be hidden, and perhaps that helps to explain how a number of the priests trusted in Christ during the early days of the church. (Acts 6:7). So it was that in cosmic signs to the people and in supernatural miracles before the priesthood, God the Father spoke to vindicate the Son.

Finally Luke brings forward the final two witnesses to speak for Jesus by their responses to the overall situation. The first is the Roman centurion who led the execution party. After watching Jesus die, he repeatedly praised God and declared the innocence of Christ. What this man had seen transformed his whole opinion. We can only imagine what it must have taken to overcome his dislike for the Jewish people and his revulsion against anyone who was being crucified.

The people, who began by condemning Christ, also changed their attitudes because of the events that took place. Many of them “beat their breasts,” symbolizing their remorse over what had happened. Luke used the very same word (Luke 18:13) when he described the repentant tax collector who was so ashamed of his sins that he could not even look up to heaven.

Those people came to jeer, but having seen everything, their hearts had turned. Perhaps that explains why in a few short weeks so many thousands of people in Jerusalem trusted in Jesus as their Messiah when Peter preached on the day of Pentecost.

A Backward Glance

All of the people involved in this story were looking at the same set of external events. Jesus, in whom so many had placed great hope, seemed powerless to prevent his own death on the cross. Those who did not have a spiritual perspective could see only the external realities, and so they joined in the condemnation of Jesus.

However, another group of people who believed in him responded very differently because they had additional revelation to help them interpret the situation. Through faith they could take a longer view and look beyond the realities of that moment.

Responding to the Reality of the Cross

I find that believers don’t usually understand what biblical faith is. Sometimes that’s because they have been soured on faith through exposure to some distortion of the real thing.

Faith is not some inner experience or intuition totally separate from our ability to reason. That’s mysticism. We have a faith that can be explained, is based on revelation, and which involves the shared experience of other believers. Faith does not involve some secret insight that is magically given to one person.

Faith is not some emotion, mood, or experience. That’s emotionalism. I don’t think the second thief (hanging on a cross) felt very good, but he had a lot of faith!

Faith is not knowledge alone (even biblical knowledge). That’s intellectualism or Pharisaism. Biblical knowledge is not faith, even though it provides a basis for faith.

Now I will define biblical faith. Faith is a certain response to reality, including revealed reality. Faith is a response of surrender or obedience to the reality of revealed truth. In salvation, the emphasis falls on the surrender aspect, as a person surrenders himself to Jesus Christ as his Savior. In Christian living the emphasis lies on obedience to the teachings of the Lord.

To help clarify what faith is, consider the following diagram:

Those who don’t know Jesus Christ can only respond to the reality that they can see, perceived reality. Like those who condemned Jesus, their observable world imprisons them. But believers have access to a far larger perspective of reality, including unseen reality and future reality, both revealed through the Word of God.

The Holy Spirit is one example of an unseen reality of which the Scriptures inform us. Jesus held out a future reality to the second thief when he promised him that he would be with Jesus in paradise that very day. That man could not have known that, apart from Jesus telling him. But it was a fact. It was a reality.

Use the following ideas to sharpen your own understanding of what faith is and how you respond to short-term situations.

1. How would you respond to the following statements:

The world doesn’t live by faith, and I have/have not conformed to such a viewpoint.

I have/have not reacted against faulty forms of faith and denied true forms of faith much room in my life.

With my education as an engineer, I like to consider myself a no-nonsense kind of person. People like me may be more prone than most to let distortions of real faith turn us off. At some point we may have been exposed to mysticism, emotionalism, or intellectualism and reacted by saying within ourselves, “If that’s what living by faith is all about, then you can keep it.” If you have overreacted to some situation like that, I would like to encourage you to reconsider the whole issue and give faith a larger place in your life.

2. Americans are constantly encouraged to look for short-term results or payoff. As a culture we have embraced pragmatism; we determine what is true by looking at short-term, positive, measurable results. But many of the results and rewards of living for Christ lie beyond our view or measure. That puts our faith in tension.

Have you given up on living by faith because you did not see immediate results and rewards?

3. Biblical faith always involves real-life responses to God and his Word. Perhaps you know of a response you personally need to make in faith. Why not commit yourself to do it now?

The area I need to respond in:

The specific thing I need to do:

A Final Word

All of us have to respond to life situations in one way or another. By our behavior, we will entrust our lives to something — a person, a concept, a truth that we hold as reality. But biblical faith always involves more than mental assent to an idea. It always involves committed action in response to what God has revealed.

In the nineteenth century, a young man destined to be the ruler of Germany sat in a chemistry class, learning about the Leidenfrost effect. If you have ever ironed a shirt, then you may know what this effect is. Perhaps you have licked your finger before touching an iron to find out if it was hot.

When you touched the hot iron, your finger didn’t get burned because of the Leidenfrost effect. The moisture flashes to steam and forms a small vapor barrier between the sensitive finger and the hot surface of the iron. Now, consider one other physical fact: lead melts at a temperature of 621 degrees Farenheit.

After teaching the whole class about the Leidenfrost effect, the chemistry teacher approached the young man destined to rule. He asked whether the young man believed in the principles of chemistry. When he said yes, the teacher asked him to go over to a bowl and soak his hands in ammonia.

Then he had the young man cup his hands together. Into his outstretched hands the teacher poured molten lead! Because the ammonia formed a vapor barrier ? the Leidenfrost effect ? his hands were not burned for the brief seconds of contact.

Believing in the Leidenfrost effect was not faith, but trusting his hands to it was!

In a similar way, God wants us to respond with living faith to the realities that he sets before us.

 Coming next . . .

In Chapter 13, we find that the stunning resurrection of Jesus from the dead was not only a historical fact but also provides the basis for Christians to live a new life for God.

Books: The Path to the Cross — Chapter 11

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Available at Amazon.com

 

 Chapter 11

Stress Test

Jesus’ trial mocks justice

Vera Menchik, the world’s first women’s chess champion, found the whole situation quite amusing. It all started when she became the first woman to play in an international chess tournament with men. Few chess tournaments either before or since have gathered such an array of stars — all men, except Vera.

But some of the men didn’t think Vera belonged at the tournament. In particular, a master named Albert Becker declared before the tournament that if anyone lost a game to her, they ought to be forced to join the Vera Menchik Fan Club.

During the competition, Vera won only one game: she defeated Albert Becker! He became the first member of the Vera Menchik Fan Club.

That story both amuses and pleases us because we have a God-given sense of justice. We feel closure when the punishment so beautifully fits the crime.

But things don’t always turn out like that. Justice is not always done. I’m sure you’ve seen at least one grade-B western in which the leader of a lynch mob glances with cold rage at an unfortunate prisoner and says, “We’re going to give this man a fair trial and then hang him.”

That raises a note of fear within us, because we realize that real justice is being thrown to the winds. Unfortunately, that perverted kind of “justice” prevailed on April 3, A.D. 33, in the trial of Jesus Christ.[1]

Twisted Justice

On the previous night, Thursday, Jesus had observed the Passover with his disciples, a time we refer to as the Last Supper. Before the celebration had run its course, Judas left the group to consummate his betrayal of Jesus to the Jewish religious leaders. After singing a psalm to conclude the Passover meal, Jesus and the others crossed over a ravine into the garden of Gethsemane. As he was arrested there, Jesus said to his captors, “This is your hour — when darkness reigns” (Luke 22:53).

Through that long night, Jesus faced the mock justice of a crooked court composed of the leaders who had plotted his death and held in the home of Caiaphas the high priest.

On the way toward their certain verdict, they broke literally dozens of the Sanhedrin’s laws regarding trials. Their own laws accused them of perverting justice, but in Christ’s case they plunged ahead. At about dawn, when they had reached the appointed verdict, they took Jesus to the headquarters of Pontius Pilate, the Roman governor.

Into the Pressure Cooker

In the early morning stillness, the Sanhedrin brought Jesus to the entrance of Herod’s Palace. In this imposing structure, surrounded by his own Roman troops, Pilate stood tall, ready to meet any disturbance that might arise during the Passover celebration. I find it ironic that, in such a position of power, it was Pilate who would come under enormous pressure and would ultimately crumble.

The Jews had to bring tremendous pressure on Pilate to accomplish their goal of putting Jesus to death. The Romans had wisely reserved to themselves the right to execute criminals so that civil leaders couldn’t start trouble through rash actions. The Sanhedrin also faced the double difficulty that Jesus had done nothing wrong and that they could not show any breach of Roman law.

Little survives from Roman times down to our present day, but the rigorous Roman legal system has profoundly influenced our own forms of justice. To accomplish their goal, the Sanhedrin knew that they would have to put such enormous pressures on Pilate that he would be forced to violate the legal system he had sworn to uphold.

The Jews accused Jesus of three things before Pilate (Luke 23:2–5): (1) opposing payment of taxes to Caesar, (2) stirring up the people by his teaching, and (3) claiming to be Messiah, a king. Pilate totally ignored the first two charges. He knew that Christ’s teaching had not led to any insurrection.

Knowing the Roman sensitivity to possible trouble, we can surmise that Pilate’s agents had heard what Jesus said about rendering to Caesar that which was Caesar’s (Matt. 22:21). Accordingly, Pilate realized that Jesus had not made any attempt to subvert the taxation system.

Only the charge about kingship gave Pilate any concern at all. As Caesar’s agent, Pilate had to ensure that no person set up his own authority in opposition to Roman authority. For anyone to do that would constitute high treason, punishable by the death penalty.

An Open and Shut Case

33 Pilate then went back inside the palace, summoned Jesus and asked him, “Are you the king of the Jews?”
“Is that your own idea,” Jesus asked, “or did others talk to you about me?”
33 Pilate then went back inside the palace, summoned Jesus and asked him, “Are you the king of the Jews?”
34 “Is that your own idea,” Jesus asked, “or did others talk to you about me?”
35 “Am I a Jew?” Pilate replied. “Your own people and chief priests handed you over to me. What is it you have done?”
36 Jesus said, “My kingdom is not of this world. If it were, my servants would fight to prevent my arrest by the Jewish leaders. But now my kingdom is from another place.”
 37 “You are a king, then!” said Pilate.
   Jesus answered, “You say that I am a king. In fact, the reason I was born and came into the world is to testify to the truth. Everyone on the side of truth listens to me.”
 38 “What is truth?” retorted Pilate. With this he went out again to the Jews gathered there and said, “I find no basis for a charge against him.
(John 18:33–38)

Christ’s Roman trial began quietly enough. Pilate seemed unruffled and in complete command of the situation. Jesus, in spite of the fact that his life was at stake, betrayed no hint of fear or concern about the outcome. He cogently observed that if he were the kind of king that Pilate was concerned about, then his followers would be fighting for him at that moment. Pilate hardly needed to concern himself with a kingdom that was “from another place” (John 18:36).

Pilate continued to press Jesus on the central issue of his kingship. By admitting he was a king only when directly questioned by Pilate, Jesus demonstrated that he was not flaunting his right to rule in opposition to Rome. All of the initiative on that subject had originated with Pilate.

At the end of Pilate’s remarks, Jesus skillfully took the offense by saying, “Everyone on the side of truth listens to me.” Implicitly he was asking whether Pilate was on the side of truth. But the mighty governor had come to ask questions, not to answer them, so he contemptuously swept the matter aside. The quiet phase of Christ’s Roman trial ended with Pilate’s declaring Jesus innocent of all charges. Before the whole matter ended, Pilate would pronounce Jesus innocent three different times, yet he was executed.

Because Jesus was innocent, we ought to be told that he was set free. But the fact that Pilate, who held supreme power in Palestine, did not release Christ has caused controversy for many years. Research into this period of history has provided a satisfying explanation.[2]

In his early years as governor, Pilate had treated the Jews quite brutally and had done whatever he pleased. How then could he appear as such a weak and vacillating figure, allowing an innocent man to be crucified? The answer lies in Pilate’s relationship to Roman central authority.

During all of the years of Pilate’s governorship, Tiberius ruled as Roman emperor (A.D. 14 – A.D. 37). However, Tiberius bordered on insanity and isolated himself on the island of Capri. He ruled through deputies and seldom took a direct part in the everyday affairs of the Empire. The real power behind the throne during those years was a man named Lucius Sejanus, the head of the Praetorian Guards, who guarded the Roman Emperor. It was he who appointed Pilate as governor in A.D. 26. Sejanus hated the Jews and undoubtedly backed Pilate’s harsh measures against them.

But in A.D. 31, Emperor Tiberius had Sejanus executed and began to take a stronger role in the affairs of the Empire. Late in that year he issued orders that the Jews should not be mistreated. And in A.D. 32 Tiberius reversed certain actions that Pilate had taken toward the Jews.

So by the time Jesus came to trial before Pilate, the prefect was skating on very thin ice with Tiberius. Because of Pilate’s tenuous political situation, the Jewish leaders knew exactly where to apply pressure on him. Table 6 in the Appendix to this chapter summarizes the historical background of the trial.

An Attempt to Wiggle Out

39 But it is your custom for me to release to you one prisoner at the time of the Passover. Do you want me to release ‘the king of the Jews’?”
40 They shouted back, “No, not him! Give us Barabbas!” Now Barabbas had taken part in an uprising.
1 Then Pilate took Jesus and had him flogged. 2 The soldiers twisted together a crown of thorns and put it on his head. They clothed him in a purple robe 3 and went up to him again and again, saying, “Hail, king of the Jews!” And they slapped him in the face.
4 Once more Pilate came out and said to the Jews gathered there, “Look, I am bringing him out to you to let you know that I find no basis for a charge against him.” 5 When Jesus came out wearing the crown of thorns and the purple robe, Pilate said to them, “Here is the man!”
6 As soon as the chief priests and their officials saw him, they shouted, “Crucify! Crucify!”
But Pilate answered, “You take him and crucify him. As for me, I find no basis for a charge against him.”
(John 18:39–19:6)

Knowing that the Sanhedrin wanted Jesus to die, Pilate tried to maneuver around them by appealing to the Passover crowds. He first attempted to release the popular teacher, in accordance with a custom that had long been followed at Passover. But by working hard among the crowd, the leaders thwarted this attempt and prompted the crowd to call for the release of Barabbas, a common thief.

The Aramaic name Barabbas means “son of the father.” The guilty son of a human father was released, while the innocent Son of the divine Father was condemned to death. That irony highlights the miscarriage of justice that occurred on this day.

Frustrated in his first attempt to free Jesus, Pilate then tried a second strategy. He would have Jesus reduced to a bleeding, savagely beaten state and bring him back before the crowd in hope they would feel pity for their fellow countryman. To carry out this plan he had Jesus flogged with a Roman whip. How understated the Gospel account is! A Roman whip normally had pieces of glass, bone, and metal tied in the strips of leather so that every blow would tear the victim’s skin open.

In mockery of his claims to be a king, the soldiers gave Jesus a crown of thorns and then greeted him in a way similar to the way a person would greet Caesar. Matthew and Luke tell us that after issuing these greetings, they beat Christ across the head with rods.

What a sight Jesus must have been when Pilate declared him innocent the second time and then had him hauled out before the multitude. But the moment Jesus came into sight, the leaders again incited a shout that Jesus should be crucified. Pilate was becoming more desperate by the moment!

The Final Crunch

7 The Jewish leaders insisted, “We have a law, and according to that law he must die, because he claimed to be the Son of God.”
8 When Pilate heard this, he was even more afraid, 9 and he went back inside the palace. “Where do you come from?” he asked Jesus, but Jesus gave him no answer. 10 “Do you refuse to speak to me?” Pilate said. “Don’t you realize I have power either to free you or to crucify you?”
11 Jesus answered, “You would have no power over me if it were not given to you from above. Therefore the one who handed me over to you is guilty of a greater sin.”
12 From then on, Pilate tried to set Jesus free, but the Jewish leaders kept shouting, “If you let this man go, you are no friend of Caesar. Anyone who claims to be a king opposes Caesar.”
13 When Pilate heard this, he brought Jesus out and sat down on the judge’s seat at a place known as the Stone Pavement (which in Aramaic is Gabbatha).
(John 19:7–13)

In the grip of a moment of emotion, the Jews finally unveiled before Pilate their real reason for wanting Christ’s death: he had claimed to be the Son of God. If Pilate had any remaining doubt about Christ’s innocence, that must have removed it, for he could now see that the charges were strictly religious in nature. He had suspected that from the start.

We know that the Romans were commonly superstitious, and Pilate had several experiences on that day that must have shaken him severely. In the midst of the questioning of Christ, Pilate’s wife had sent a message, warning him not to have anything to do with the innocent man, Jesus, because she had been warned about him in a dream (Matt. 27:19). Further, Pilate may have been rattled by the utter calm that Jesus displayed. To risk Caesar’s displeasure was bad enough, but if he offended the gods — what would become of Pilate then?

Jesus calmly responded to Pilate’s many questions and then declared that the Jewish religious leaders had the greater guilt. By implication, he was saying that Pilate, the judge, had the lesser guilt. How totally uncommon for the prisoner to declare who was guilty and how much. When Pilate began to crumble under the pressure, Jesus continued to demonstrate his calm reliance on the guiding hand of the Father.

At the height of Pilate’s desire to free Jesus, the Jews moved in on Pilate’s political weakness. They shouted, “If you let this man go, you are no friend of Caesar” (John 19:12). To be a “friend of Caesar” meant that a man was loyal to the Emperor and was part of the ruling aristocracy. In effect, the Jews were saying that for Pilate to release Jesus would demonstrate disloyalty to Tiberius. The hidden threat was that if Pilate didn’t go along with their desire to crucify Christ, they would make enough trouble to have Pilate removed from office.

John makes it clear that when Pilate “heard” those words his resistance finally broke (John 19:13). In John’s Gospel, the Greek word for “hearing” always means to hear with comprehension; the words sank in and had their intended effect. Pilate knew what the Jewish leaders were threatening.

Pilate Surrenders Jesus to the Mob

14 It was the day of Preparation of the Passover; it was about noon.
“Here is your king,” Pilate said to the Jews.
15 But they shouted, “Take him away! Take him away! Crucify him!”
“Shall I crucify your king?” Pilate asked.
“We have no king but Caesar,” the chief priests answered.
16 Finally Pilate handed him over to them to be crucified.
So the soldiers took charge of Jesus.
(John 19:14–16)

I find it quite significant that Pilate resisted the pressures brought on him throughout the morning and did not break until noon (“the sixth hour”). To understand the significance of that hour, we will need some background.

New Testament scholar Harold Hoehner presents evidence that the Galileans (including Jesus and his followers) observed Passover on Thursday, whereas the Judeans (and the temple officials) conducted Passover on Friday.[3] That explains how Jesus could share the Passover meal with his own disciples on one day and be slain as God’s appointed Passover sacrifice on the next day. There were two different observances of Passover on consecutive days.

The Passover celebration looked back to that time when the death angel had passed over every Jewish home marked with the blood of a lamb (see Exodus chapter 12). Any home in Egypt not marked with lamb’s blood on that night suffered death of a firstborn son. It was customary to begin slaying the Passover lambs at noon (the sixth hour) on Friday according to the custom of the Judeans. So at that very hour God’s Lamb was surrendered to the religious leaders who put him to death.

Pilate made a last weak attempt to sway the crowd, but when he failed he washed his hands before them, symbolically cleansing himself of any responsibility for what was to occur. An uproar was starting, and he had to avoid that at all costs (Matt. 27:24). Pilate had finally buckled under the stress.

Meeting Pressure Head-On

I would like to offer a few suggestions about how you can face pressures that are put upon you.

1. How easy it is for the end to justify the means. To do what is expedient rather than what is right eventually leads to disaster. Here are some critical questions to guide you when you have to make decisions under pressure:

As you consider God’s standards, would this action be right — for you, for your family, for others?

In a week or a year from now, will you feel good about your decision?

Are you simply taking the easy way out?

Are you merely forcing the answer to come out the way you want it, or are you being objective?

2. Many forces in life can put us under extreme pressure. How can we cope with it?

Pray for the Lord to strengthen you to resist pressure.

Get support and wisdom from other mature believers.

Be willing to trust God, even if obeying him leads to unjust suffering (see Phil. 2:8; Heb. 5:8; 1 Pet. 4:12–19).

A Final Word

Every hour of the day a military aide stays near the President of the United States. The aide carries a briefcase known as “The Football,” which carries the authentication codes that the President would give to unleash nuclear war upon the world. Imagine what it would be like to live with the stress of knowing that you might someday have to make such a decision. No wonder our presidents seem to age during their years in office.

Few Americans will ever have to worry about stress from “The Football,” but each of us will face things at various points in our lives that feel just that intense. Only by relying on the Lord, his power, and his principles for life can we hope to bear up under the strain and do what is pleasing to him. Jesus called upon those same resources during his stress test. That’s a lead we can follow with confidence.

 Appendix to Chapter 11

Table 6

Roman History and Jesus’ Trial

A.D. 26

Pilate appointed governor by Sejanus

October A.D. 31 Sejanus executed
Late A.D. 31 Emperor Tiberius’ order not to mistreat the Jews
A.D. 32 Pilate reversed by Tiberius
April A.D. 33 Jesus tried before Pilate

 

Coming next . . .

In Chapter 12, we realize that the death of Jesus on the cross brought a crisis of faith on everyone who saw it. He has been a test of faith ever since that day!



[1] Harold W. Hoehner, Chronological Aspects of the Life of Christ (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1976) 114.

[2] Hoehner, Chronological Aspects of the Life of Christ, 111–112.

[3] Hoehner, Chronological Aspects of the Life of Christ, 86–88.