NOTHING of what I say here should take anything away from the essential value of Jesus’ death, that it redeemed humankind from sin and evil. I only mean to help us appreciate the politics behind His death by Roman crucifixion and not by stoning according to Judaism’s Mosaic law.
In Jesus’s time, the Temple’s High Priest was also the political boss of the Jews. He performed his duties with a committee of elders, the Sanhedrin. The Romans found that making Judaism’s respected High Priest the top political official was the most cultural and least conflicted way of ensuring Pax Romana (Roman Peace) in Judea. They would intervene only if the High Priest failed to prevent public unrest.
Jesus was a religious reformer. He accused the Jewish religious establishment of being corrupt. Like they were strict with the letter but not with the spirit of the Law of Moses. He further advocated that people could worship God directly in their hearts and not through the Temple.
Accused of these “blasphemies” and of working (miracles) on the Sabbath, Jesus should have been stoned to death as prescribed by Jewish religious law. But He also claimed to be the Messiah-King of the Jews who in Jewish tradition was not thought of as a spiritual savior but as a liberator from Roman bondage. Hence, Caiphas, the High Priest asked the Roman governor Pilate to crucify Jesus ostensibly to save the Jewish nation from annihilation by the Romans. In his words to the Sanhedrin, “It is better for one man to die than for a whole nation to perish.”
Inwardly, however, the High Priest’s principal concern was to be seen by Rome as keeping the Pax Romana as was his responsibility. He, therefore, asked for Jesus’s crucifixion to assure the Romans, and thus keep his top political position, he was in firm control of his people and there was no threat of rebellion.
Jesus, of course, was not a rebel against Rome. We’ve heard Him tell Jews to “give to Caesar what belongs to Caesar...etc.” But falsely accused of political dissidence He was sentenced to death by crucifixion as prescribed by Roman law so the High Priest can stay in the good graces of Roman authorities and as an example to would-be defiers of the High Priest’s religious cum political authority.
Jesus was killed by Judea’s religious establishment that reacted negatively to His criticism of corruption (whitened sepulchers?) and by Rome that was only interested in an undisturbed rule over the Jews. If Jesus had not risen, His death would have been the death of an innocent man sacrificed on the altar of religious and political power. By resurrecting He proved his death to be the sacrifice of a loving God to bring salvation to His children.
Happy Easter everyone.
March 28, 2018
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