Jesus’s death

February 6, 2010 at 7:05 pm (Christianity)

It’s strange, but I don’t think I ever actually knew why Jesus was executed! Sanders puts forward his view in chapter 16 of “The Historical Figure of Jesus”.

Jesus and his followers went to Jerusalem for Passover and Unleavened Bread (two feasts, one long event) – all Jewish males were required to go, it was like a pilgrimage. They would sacrifice a lamb at the Temple and eat it at the Passover meal. Jesus did more teaching during that week, but he also did 3 symbolic acts: the triumphal entry on a donkey, which fulfilled scriptural prophecies; the turning over of the money-changers’ tables at the Temple; and the last supper with his disciples.

1. He made a triumphal entry on a donkey in which people greeted him as “king”. Probably not huge numbers of people, as he would have been arrested there and then if that were the case: “Passover was a prime time for trouble-makers to incite the crowd, and both the high priest and the Roman prefect were alert to the danger.” By the way, the high priest Caiaphas was sort of the governer of Jerusalem; he answered to the Roman prefect, Pilate, who was not normally involved in local governance but made a point of coming during the pilgrimage incase there was trouble to deal with.

2. He turned over the tables of the money-changers and the seats of the pigeon-sellers. This was a symbolic act but is difficult to interpret. Sanders is sceptical of the sciptural quotations Jesus is supposed to have made at the time of this act, which are often interpreted as meaning that he wanted reform of the system; Sanders instead links the act with a prediction Jesus made that the Temple would be destroyed. This predictive statement is likely to be authentic as it does not describe exactly what happened later (the Temple wall actually still stands). “…we can say that Jesus did not otherwise (as far as we can tell) spend his time … attacking the commerce that was necessary to the functioning of the Temple. He did, however, have quite a lot to say about a looming dramatic change to be wrought by God. This inclines me to think that the actions of overturning symbolized destruction rather than cleansing as an act of moral reform.”

Further, at his trial, Jesus was accused of threatening to destroy the Temple; this accusation also appears during his crucifixion, and mention of the threat even resurfaces in Acts. Sanders says about this: “The authors of the gospels are at pains to assure us that Jesus did not really threaten to destroy the Temple. … They protest too much. It is probable that he made some kind of threat. … It is more likely that Jesus said and did something that onlookers believed to be a threat and that genuinely alarmed them. They reported it to the authorities. But when they were examined in court, they – like other eyewitnesses – gave slightly different accounts. We cannot know precisely what Jesus said. I shall assume that he threateningly predicted the destruction of the Temple; that is, he predicted destruction in such a way as to make some people think that he was threatening it.”

He probably believed God would destroy and rebuild it as a newer, better Temple.

It was this act of turning over tables, along with whatever he said about the destruction of the Temple, that Sanders believes earned Jesus his execution. “If the high priest Caiaphas and his advisers knew that Jesus had been hailed as ‘king’ when he entered Jerusalem, they would have already worried about him. The Temple action sealed his fate.” It wasn’t that they thought Jesus could physically destroy the Temple, or that they thought he had amassed a secret army; it was simply that they feared he could incite the large crowds at the pilgrimage and cause unrest. Sanders cites other similar cases recorded by Josephus, a first-century documenter of history, that show it would be fairly normal to execute someone who did what Jesus did.

3. The last supper is very well-attested and was symbolic of what things would be like in the new kingdom. Sanders makes little commentary on the statements about the wine being Jesus’ blood and the bread being his body, but says it is very likely Jesus knew he was “a marked man” at this point. He didn’t run away, though. “He hoped that he would not die, but he resigned himself to the will of God.”

It is this resignation to the will of God that I can’t decide whether I think is impressive, or horrifying. This attitude continued through his arrest and his trial: “Conceivably he could have talked his way out of execution had he promised to take his disciples, return to Galilee and keep his mouth shut. He seems not to have tried.” I guess he was so committed to his truth that he was prepared to die for it. He wasn’t going to take back anything he said, or be dishonest, just to save his life.

A couple more interesting points:

The bit where the high priest, Caiaphas, tears his clothes in response to Jesus’ supposed blasphemy (verse 63 here) – if it really happened – was an exaggerated overreaction designed to get the advisers on board with the execution. Blasphemy was not the reason for execution.

Interestingly Pilate (the Roman prefect) is made to look sympathetic in the gospels, so as not to offend the Roman authorities who would read them! In reality Pilate would just have OK’d the high priest’s recommendation to execute Jesus – he “probably regarded him as a religious fanatic whose fanaticism had become so extreme that it posed a threat to law and order.”

Finally, chapter 17 briefly deals with the resurrection accounts. Sanders rules out that the accounts are all fabricated, since people were willing to die over their convictions that they had seen the risen Jesus. He believes at least some followers had “resurrection experiences”, but the accounts differ so much that we can’t even know who had the experiences, or how they experienced Jesus to be like. “The reader who thinks that it is all perfectly clear – the physical, historical Jesus got up and walked around – should study Luke and Paul more carefully. The disciples could not recognize him; he was not ‘flesh and blood’ but a ‘spiritual body’. He was not a ghost, or a resusciated corpse, or a badly wounded man limping around for a few more hours: so said Luke and Paul, and John (20.14f.) agrees.”

“That Jesus’ followers (and later Paul) had resurrection experiences is, in my judgement, a fact. What the reality was that gave rise to the experiences I do not know.”

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41 Comments

  1. LK said,

    I want this book! I am completely fascinated now. You never learn much about historical context through church classes and the church itself. They seem to be big fans of keeping historical content and the Bible separate. And from what is written above it is very obvious as to why they would want to keep the two separated. However, I think it just attests to how great Jesus was and what he did for society.

    I love learning about prophets, they are so extraordinary. Id love to find a book like this on Moses and some of the smaller prophets (David, Joseph, Solomon etc).

    • Wrestling With Religion said,

      I know – it’s so strange that I didn’t know about the circumstances of Jesus’ death… I guess to most Christians it’s the significance of the fact he died, not how it came about, that matters. I still think Jesus was great too, he was super-radical for sure but he did and said some amazing things.

      Wouldn’t it be amazing if we could know this much about the older prophets? I think we’d need to build a time machine to accomplish that! lol.

  2. sanil said,

    Very interesting! I’ve thought about why he was executed quite a bit but couldn’t really figure it out. This makes a lot of sense, and explains why the gospel writers make sure to explain the things he said in symbolic terms. Thanks for posting! I’ll definitely have to look for this book.

  3. Stacy said,

    I think the author has done a great job of making sense of the historical and textual evidence.

    “Sanders rules out that the accounts are all fabricated, since people were willing to die over their convictions that they had seen the risen Jesus.”

    I agree. The historical personhood of Jesus as well as his death and resurrection are well-supported.

  4. Hubby said,

    I guess I would have to read the book to learn more of what the author felt to be historically accurate. I realize that turning over tables in a market would have been deemed bad during any time period, but; This was inside the temple, not at “the market” which is the moral portion of it as he was showing that the temple should be clean of proffit and loss, but rather for moral gain. Also, I can completely see that during a time in which Jerusalem was held hostage under the Roman government, that the laws of Judaism were being explicitely stressed by the Jewish leaders. So; blasphemy by a person that showed those same leaders to be looking for monetary gain (probably to keep bribing their way into leadership) and pursuing other morally corrupt avenues, would look to Kill that man especially if given the tool of blasphemy.

    Again, I am sure the author was trying to be perceived as unbiased, but it is irritating that he is showing Jesus more as an instigator than as the perfect loving embodyment of our God which he obviously was. It is almost like he is trying to push the Islamic perspective even though he is claimed to be protestant. So, rather than being unbiased he went out of the way to keep Christianity out the Christ which is biased.

    • Wrestling With Religion said,

      Of course, these are just the author’s opinions. I don’t think he’s made Jesus look like an instigator though. That may be what the authorities thought, but I get the impression Jesus thought God alone would bring the kingdom, and wasn’t trying to instigate anything himself. He was just expressing his ideas maybe. But there was a heavy price to pay for that in those times!

      • Hubby said,

        Well, if you think about it, there were many Roman Soldiers back in that time keeping the peice in their territories. In any populous area including synagogues, you would have found at least one Roman soldier. Thus, should Jesus have caused such a fuss that death was the penalty, a soldier would have took him in on the spot. However, this was not the case. The Romans had no desire to kill him. He did not preach offensive action, but love and even stated “Give onto Rome what is Rome’s”. It is Obvious that during those times with the proof we have been given on what took place, the only thing that they (the Jews or Romans) were willing to kill Jesus over was Blasphemy and as the scriptures read, that would have been due to the Jewish leaders, not the Romans who cleaned their hands of the act.

        • Wrestling With Religion said,

          Maybe this is the more Christian interpretation of history which I never knew about.
          I don’t really understand why, in Judaism, a person would be killed for blasphemy. But then we hear of such things in Islam, e.g. Rashad Khalifa. So maybe it was that. I’ll have another look through the chapter and see if I missed an argument as to why he didn’t think it was that.

  5. susanne430 said,

    Did he address the reasons given in the gospels where the Jews wanted to kill Jesus because he made himself the son of God/equal with God? Or is this covered in “blasphemy”?

    Thanks for sharing the author’s opinion on this matter. Seems quite an interesting book! I’m glad you told us what you learned from it.

    I highly recommend “Jesus Through Middle Eastern Eyes” by Kenneth Bailey. He lived 60 years in the Middle East and so far I’ve found his book fascinating. He tells stories from the gospel in a cultural context. So instead of reading the gospels through my “western eyes,” I can now picture it the way it was given in that time and place.

    • Wrestling With Religion said,

      That was covered in blasphemy. It is unclear whether he took on the titles “Messiah” or “Son of God”, but he certainly saw himself as “king” in some sense. He regarded himself as being in a close relationship with God, but there’s no historical evidence that he saw himself as more than human and certainly not equal with God!

      Seeing himself as “king” or “Messiah” in some sense would probably constitute blasphemy in some people’s minds. But Sanders argues that that’s not why Jesus was arrested and ultimately executed.

  6. Achelois said,

    “… but he resigned himself to the will of God.” That is what I have believed all along and which is why Jesus to me is who he is – my guide.

    I chose Jesus as a guide not knowing him as the son of God or an Islamic prophet but knowing Jesus for who he was. There isn’t and can never be anyone even close to Jesus in mercy, honesty and complete submission to God.

    Thank you so much for posting this, WWR! This is an amazing post. My books arrived yesterday otherwise I would have added this to the order. Well, maybe I’ll buy it in Scotland in the summer. I must!

    • Wrestling With Religion said,

      I agree totally about Jesus’ mercy, honesty, integrity, and compassion and love. He feared only God! I would like to understand better what the preoccupation with a kingdom of God was all about at that time. It wasn’t just Jesus but it seems it was the main idea he passionately believed in and died for.

      • susanne430 said,

        “I would like to understand better what the preoccupation with a kingdom of God was all about at that time.”

        I may be totally wrong about this so perhaps someone else can add to it, but I tend to think that the Jews were looking for their Messiah (the Christ) to come and deliver them from the Roman occupation of Palestine. They thought their Messiah would be a conquering king who would free them from those dirty Gentile occupiers and set up God’s kingdom in Jerusalem.

        Many people were dismayed at the thought that this JESUS was their Messiah! This man who told us to love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us is our deliverer??? They wanted no part of this craziness! They wanted freedom from Rome.

        Jesus was sent to free them from their sins — to give them spiritual freedom, eternal freedom. But most of them wanted earthly freedom not someone who preached love for the outcasts and outsiders, compassion, mercy, righteousness and so forth.

        To Jesus the kingdom of God was different from the main thoughts of the Jews. One sought physical deliverance while the other was thinking more long-term.

        Those are my thoughts anyway. Perhaps someone else can share their own.

        • Wrestling With Religion said,

          This has turned out to be such an interesting topic! Thanks for sharing your thoughts and making me think about it more.

          Maybe the Roman occupation *was* what prompted all these thoughts of a kingdom of God. I suspect the book explained it and I wasn’t paying enough attention. I’ll have to have another look.

          What do Christians think Jesus meant by kingdom of God? Do Christians still believe the Son of Man will descend on a cloud one day in a dramatic intervention by God? How do Christians deal with the fact that Jesus expected these things within his own generation?

          It seems that Jesus’s teaching drew large crowds and people were amazed by it. So I’m not sure if it was that that prevented them accepting him as Messiah. It sounds like they were quite receptive to what he had to say.

          Perhaps it was the fact that he surrendered to a crucifixion that people couldn’t get their heads around?

          • susanne430 said,

            Sarah, I saw these questions last night and wanted to reply. This link has a good explanation and says it better than I could. I’m not familiar with this ministry, but the article on “What is the Kingdom of God” is what I tend to believe about it. So if you are interested in hearing the point of view of some (most?) Christians, this is a good explanation.

            http://www.wcg.org/lit/gospel/kingdom.htm

            Others may not agree, but maybe they can share their POV so we can learn from them.

            Yes, I think many people followed Christ, but at times his teachings were too hard so they left him (see John 6). And, I’m sure many were dismayed by his crucifixion. That was a horrible, shameful way to die and they didn’t expect this of their Messiah/Deliverer. He was supposed to save them from the occupation NOT die on a Roman cross!

            But you can see in the book of Acts how changed the disciples were after they had seen the risen Lord for themselves. They had boldness to spread the good news as they didn’t have pre-crucifixion/resurrection.

            People will die for what they *believe* is true, but they will NOT die for what they *know* is a lie.

            • Wrestling With Religion said,

              Thank you for sharing that article. It’s very helpful – definitely something I’ll refer to again as I read through the gospels. I still have to check Sanders’ book again for his POV on “kingdom” too, and if I find anything more than what I described before, I’ll share it here.

            • Wrestling With Religion said,

              From Sanders:

              “The simplest and in some ways the best view to take of the complicated question of the kingdom in the teaching of Jesus is that he said allall the things listed above – or things like them. There is no difficulty in thinking that Jesus thought that the kingdom was in heaven, that people would enter it in the future, and that it was also present in some sense in his own work.”

              “…the only thing that Jesus ever asks people to do is to live right. In none of the material does he urge them to build an alternative society that will be the kingdom of God. … He said that by living right, people can enter the kingdom…”

  7. Wrestling With Religion said,

    I was so curious, I had to look through the latter parts of the synoptics (set in Jerusalem) and pick out the parts that indicate conflict with authorities, including the trial scenes, to see what I thought. Here is what I found – it really seems to me that blasphemy was a minor part of the conflict, if at all. Let me know if you disagree!

    The response to his turning over the tables:

    Mark 11:15-18 On reaching Jerusalem, Jesus entered the temple area and began driving out those who were buying and selling there. He overturned the tables of the money changers and the benches of those selling doves, and would not allow anyone to carry merchandise through the temple courts. And as he taught them, he said, “Is it not written: “‘My house will be called a house of prayer for all nations’? But you have made it ‘a den of robbers.'” The chief priests and the teachers of the law heard this and began looking for a way to kill him, for they feared him, because the whole crowd was amazed at his teaching.

    Matthew 21:12-15 Jesus entered the temple area and drove out all who were buying and selling there. He overturned the tables of the money changers and the benches of those selling doves. “It is written,” he said to them, ” ‘My house will be called a house of prayer,’ but you are making it a ‘den of robbers.'” The blind and the lame came to him at the temple, and he healed them. But when the chief priests and the teachers of the law saw the wonderful things he did and the children shouting in the temple area, “Hosanna to the Son of David,” they were indignant.

    Luke 19:45-48 Then he entered the temple area and began driving out those who were selling. “It is written,” he said to them, ” ‘My house will be a house of prayer’; but you have made it ‘a den of robbers.'” Every day he was teaching at the temple. But the chief priests, the teachers of the law and the leaders among the people were trying to kill him. Yet they could not find any way to do it, because all the people hung on his words.

    In Mark 11:27-28, Matthew 21:23 and Luke 20:1-2, the chief priests, teachers of the law and elders question by what authority he is teaching in the temple. He refuses to give an answer.

    The parable of the talents offends the authorities who know it is about them, but here we see why they don’t arrest him immediately: it would cause a riot among the crowd who are hanging on his every word:

    Mark 12:12 Then they looked for a way to arrest him because they knew he had spoken the parable against them. But they were afraid of the crowd; so they left him and went away.

    Matthew 21:45-46 When the chief priests and the Pharisees heard Jesus’ parables, they knew he was talking about them. They looked for a way to arrest him, but they were afraid of the crowd because the people held that he was a prophet.

    Luke 20:19 The teachers of the law and the chief priests looked for a way to arrest him immediately, because they knew he had spoken this parable against them. But they were afraid of the people.

    In Mark 12:13-17, Matthew 22:15-22 and Luke 20:20-26 they use “spies” – Pharisees and Herodians – to try to trap him into telling people not to pay taxes to Caesar, which would be an arrestable offense, but he doesn’t do that. It seems the authorities suspect him of being “trouble” but are looking for concrete evidence.

    More statements as to why they didn’t immediately arrest him:

    Mark 14:1-2 Now the Passover and the Feast of Unleavened Bread were only two days away, and the chief priests and the teachers of the law were looking for some sly way to arrest Jesus and kill him. “But not during the Feast,” they said, “or the people may riot.”

    Matthew 26:3-5 Then the chief priests and the elders of the people assembled in the palace of the high priest, whose name was Caiaphas, and they plotted to arrest Jesus in some sly way and kill him. “But not during the Feast,” they said, “or there may be a riot among the people.”

    Luke states exactly why they wanted to arrest Jesus:

    Luke 22:1-2 Now the Feast of Unleavened Bread, called the Passover, was approaching, and the chief priests and the teachers of the law were looking for some way to get rid of Jesus, for they were afraid of the people.

    Mark 15:9-10 and Matthew 27:18 state that Pilate knew “it was out of envy” that the chief priests arrested Jesus and brought him before Pilate.

    The first trial is before the high priest – in Mark and Matthew, the accusation of the threat to the temple comes first, which Jesus does not respond to. The “blasphemy” seems to be provoked out of Jesus almost as a last resort:

    Mark 14:53-64 They took Jesus to the high priest, and all the chief priests, elders and teachers of the law came together. Peter followed him at a distance, right into the courtyard of the high priest. There he sat with the guards and warmed himself at the fire. The chief priests and the whole Sanhedrin were looking for evidence against Jesus so that they could put him to death, but they did not find any. Many testified falsely against him, but their statements did not agree. Then some stood up and gave this false testimony against him: “We heard him say, ‘I will destroy this man-made temple and in three days will build another, not made by man.'” Yet even then their testimony did not agree. Then the high priest stood up before them and asked Jesus, “Are you not going to answer? What is this testimony that these men are bringing against you?” But Jesus remained silent and gave no answer. Again the high priest asked him, “Are you the Christ, the Son of the Blessed One?” “I am,” said Jesus. “And you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the Mighty One and coming on the clouds of heaven.” The high priest tore his clothes. “Why do we need any more witnesses?” he asked. “You have heard the blasphemy. What do you think?” They all condemned him as worthy of death.

    Matthew 26:57-66 Those who had arrested Jesus took him to Caiaphas, the high priest, where the teachers of the law and the elders had assembled. But Peter followed him at a distance, right up to the courtyard of the high priest. He entered and sat down with the guards to see the outcome. The chief priests and the whole Sanhedrin were looking for false evidence against Jesus so that they could put him to death. But they did not find any, though many false witnesses came forward. Finally two came forward and declared, “This fellow said, ‘I am able to destroy the temple of God and rebuild it in three days.'” Then the high priest stood up and said to Jesus, “Are you not going to answer? What is this testimony that these men are bringing against you?” But Jesus remained silent. The high priest said to him, “I charge you under oath by the living God: Tell us if you are the Christ, the Son of God.” “Yes, it is as you say,” Jesus replied. “But I say to all of you: In the future you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the Mighty One and coming on the clouds of heaven.” Then the high priest tore his clothes and said, “He has spoken blasphemy! Why do we need any more witnesses? Look, now you have heard the blasphemy. What do you think?” “He is worthy of death,” they answered.

    Luke 22:66-71 At daybreak the council of the elders of the people, both the chief priests and teachers of the law, met together, and Jesus was led before them. “If you are the Christ,” they said, “tell us.” Jesus answered, “If I tell you, you will not believe me, and if I asked you, you would not answer. But from now on, the Son of Man will be seated at the right hand of the mighty God.” They all asked, “Are you then the Son of God?” He replied, “You are right in saying I am.” Then they said, “Why do we need any more testimony? We have heard it from his own lips.”

    Then, the trial before Pilate. In Luke, it states that they handed him over to Pilate for inciting the crowds. (Pilate finds him not guilty but the chief priests insist on crucifixion; Sanders says this is probably just put in to make Pilate look lenient, when in reality he would have been just as worried about Jesus causing trouble as the chief priests were.) In Mark and Matthew, they accuse him of things which are left unspecified, and he makes no response – but it is not blasphemy that they accuse him of, as he freely admits here to being the king of the Jews. So it seems reasonable to me that they are accusing him of inciting the crowds.

    Mark 15:1-3 Very early in the morning, the chief priests, with the elders, the teachers of the law and the whole Sanhedrin, reached a decision. They bound Jesus, led him away and handed him over to Pilate. “Are you the king of the Jews?” asked Pilate. “Yes, it is as you say,” Jesus replied. The chief priests accused him of many things. So again Pilate asked him, “Aren’t you going to answer? See how many things they are accusing you of.” But Jesus still made no reply, and Pilate was amazed.

    Matthew 27:11-14 Meanwhile Jesus stood before the governor, and the governor asked him, “Are you the king of the Jews?” “Yes, it is as you say,” Jesus replied. When he was accused by the chief priests and the elders, he gave no answer. Then Pilate asked him, “Don’t you hear the testimony they are bringing against you?” But Jesus made no reply, not even to a single charge — to the great amazement of the governor.

    Luke 23:1-25 Then the whole assembly rose and led him off to Pilate. And they began to accuse him, saying, “We have found this man subverting our nation. He opposes payment of taxes to Caesar and claims to be Christ, a king.” So Pilate asked Jesus, “Are you the king of the Jews?” “Yes, it is as you say,” Jesus replied. Then Pilate announced to the chief priests and the crowd, “I find no basis for a charge against this man.” But they insisted, “He stirs up the people all over Judea by his teaching. He started in Galilee and has come all the way here.” On hearing this, Pilate asked if the man was a Galilean. When he learned that Jesus was under Herod’s jurisdiction, he sent him to Herod, who was also in Jerusalem at that time. When Herod saw Jesus, he was greatly pleased, because for a long time he had been wanting to see him. From what he had heard about him, he hoped to see him perform some miracle. He plied him with many questions, but Jesus gave him no answer. The chief priests and the teachers of the law were standing there, vehemently accusing him. Then Herod and his soldiers ridiculed and mocked him. Dressing him in an elegant robe, they sent him back to Pilate. That day Herod and Pilate became friends — before this they had been enemies. Pilate called together the chief priests, the rulers and the people, and said to them, “You brought me this man as one who was inciting the people to rebellion. I have examined him in your presence and have found no basis for your charges against him. Neither has Herod, for he sent him back to us; as you can see, he has done nothing to deserve death. Therefore, I will punish him and then release him.” With one voice they cried out, “Away with this man! Release Barabbas to us!” (Barabbas had been thrown into prison for an insurrection in the city, and for murder.) Wanting to release Jesus, Pilate appealed to them again. But they kept shouting, “Crucify him! Crucify him!” For the third time he spoke to them: “Why? What crime has this man committed? I have found in him no grounds for the death penalty. Therefore I will have him punished and then release him.” But with loud shouts they insistently demanded that he be crucified, and their shouts prevailed. So Pilate decided to grant their demand. He released the man who had been thrown into prison for insurrection and murder, the one they asked for, and surrendered Jesus to their will.”

    • susanne430 said,

      Yes, that’s interesting. So it seems his popularity with the crowds is what made them kill him. So envy was the reason?

      I suppose I was thinking of these verses and others when I asked about blasphemy.

      John 10
      31Again the Jews picked up stones to stone him, 32but Jesus said to them, “I have shown you many great miracles from the Father. For which of these do you stone me?”

      33″We are not stoning you for any of these,” replied the Jews, “but for blasphemy, because you, a mere man, claim to be God.”

      John 8

      48The Jews answered him, “Aren’t we right in saying that you are a Samaritan and demon-possessed?”

      49″I am not possessed by a demon,” said Jesus, “but I honor my Father and you dishonor me. 50I am not seeking glory for myself; but there is one who seeks it, and he is the judge. 51I tell you the truth, if anyone keeps my word, he will never see death.”

      52At this the Jews exclaimed, “Now we know that you are demon-possessed! Abraham died and so did the prophets, yet you say that if anyone keeps your word, he will never taste death. 53Are you greater than our father Abraham? He died, and so did the prophets. Who do you think you are?”

      54Jesus replied, “If I glorify myself, my glory means nothing. My Father, whom you claim as your God, is the one who glorifies me. 55Though you do not know him, I know him. If I said I did not, I would be a liar like you, but I do know him and keep his word. 56Your father Abraham rejoiced at the thought of seeing my day; he saw it and was glad.”

      57″You are not yet fifty years old,” the Jews said to him, “and you have seen Abraham!”

      58″I tell you the truth,” Jesus answered, “before Abraham was born, I am!” 59At this, they picked up stones to stone him, but Jesus hid himself, slipping away from the temple grounds.

      “I am” was the term God used for Himself when speaking to Moses.

      Exodus 3
      13 Moses said to God, “Suppose I go to the Israelites and say to them, ‘The God of your fathers has sent me to you,’ and they ask me, ‘What is his name?’ Then what shall I tell them?”

      14 God said to Moses, “I am who I am . [b] This is what you are to say to the Israelites: ‘I AM has sent me to you.’ “

      • Wrestling With Religion said,

        I’m not sure what was meant by “envy”. I guess it just means his popularity was a threat – he was teaching in a very authoritative way in the Temple, and that worried them in terms of the potential for large-scale “trouble”!

        The book doesn’t really deal with John’s gospel at all – apparently it is not historical in the sense that it’s not based on the pericopes (oral traditions) like the synoptics are. I know Christians mostly believe it is historical, but scholars do not! Thanks for quoting it, though – it does paint quite a different picture doesn’t it? Interesting that it refers to “the Jews” throughout – as the bad guys! 🙂

        • susanne430 said,

          Ah, I missed that somehow about John. I did wonder why you only quoted from the other 3. I quoted from John because I read it recently and those stories were fresh on my mind. 🙂

          By “envy” I meant they were jealous of the popularity of Jesus because people started following him instead of them. But I may have also got that from John 12 where it says the leading priests made plans to kill Jesus: “because of Lazarus many of the Jews were leaving them and believing in Jesus” (vs. 11). Seems they were jealous of this fact!

          Well, it was nothing against ALL Jews just the ones who wanted to kill Jesus. They thought he was a false prophet, false Messiah so why not purify the religion and kill this guy? That’s what Saul was doing and on his way to Damascus to do more when he met Jesus. It’s never ALL the people – just the few zealots so John isn’t condemning all the Jews. He and all the disciples were Jews. Including Christ. 🙂

          • Wrestling With Religion said,

            Interesting. Mark and Matthew state briefly that it was out of envy… what you quoted from John seems to agree and elaborate on it. Jesus was actually undermining their authority, getting a lot of followers and they were jealous!

            So maybe it was a bit of worry about possible riots, a bit of jealousy, and a bit of offense at “blasphemy”?

            • NeverEver said,

              it is also interesting that when Jesus says: “before Abraham was, I AM”

              The word that here is attributed to Jesus means “I existed” and when the same word is used later by several of the apostles it is translated as “I existed” So I think at least the heavy emphasis put on this verse to mean “I Am” as opposed to “I existed” is a translational thing. It is an emphasis put by the translator that may not exist in the original.

              There is also another in the New Testament who is attributed with life without end, existing in the Beginning of times until the end of the times with no mother or father. He was a priest and his name starts with an M, lol. I will try to remember what it is. He was the godly priest that Abraham gave his tithe to.

              Just an interesting tid-bit I found! 😀

    • susanne430 said,

      One last thing…the verses you quoted about Jesus’ trial and how he didn’t defend himself against his accusers made me think of the prophecy in Isaiah 53. I encourage you to read the whole chapter including the last part of chapter 52. But this is the part that reminded me of Jesus as you quoted above. Well, the last verse especially. Most Christians believe Isaiah 53 is a prophecy about Christ written 700 years prior to his birth.

      5 But he was pierced for our transgressions,
      he was crushed for our iniquities;
      the punishment that brought us peace was upon him,
      and by his wounds we are healed.

      6 We all, like sheep, have gone astray,
      each of us has turned to his own way;
      and the LORD has laid on him
      the iniquity of us all.

      7 He was oppressed and afflicted,
      yet he did not open his mouth;
      he was led like a lamb to the slaughter,
      and as a sheep before her shearers is silent,
      so he did not open his mouth.

      • Wrestling With Religion said,

        Wow – that is quite striking. Thanks for sharing. You seem to have a tremendous knowledge of the Bible!

        One time I went looking for Jewish refutations of these prophecy fulfilments, just to see what was out there. I got the feeling it would take a lot of research for me to be convinced one way or the other whether Jesus really did fulfil Messianic prophecies. It looks really convincing, of course, but the sceptic in me says “maybe people just wrote the gospel stories with these prophecies in mind”.

        One issue I remember was that the Messiah was supposed to descend from David, but there is disagreement between the gospels over Jesus’ genealogy, and in any case it went through Joseph, who was not supposed to be his real father!

        So many things to work out…

        I suppose if the Christian message makes sense and resonates on a personal level, then that is a reason to believe in it, regardless of these type of arguments which probably can’t be resolved with any certainty anyway.

        And if it doesn’t, then no amount of miraculous coincidences are going to make any difference. It’s like when people tried to convince me there were scientific miracles in the Quran. I don’t really care if there are… I’m still not going to believe in it if I don’t agree with its message.

        I am interested in looking at Christianity again – I only recently realised that there are some quite different interpretations out there, so perhaps something will resonate with me, who knows. In any case I definitely want to read through the gospels now!

        • susanne430 said,

          “It looks really convincing, of course, but the sceptic in me says “maybe people just wrote the gospel stories with these prophecies in mind”.”

          Yes, I see what you mean. But there are some things the gospel writers could not have controlled like Jesus’ place of birth, his family going to Egypt, his living in Nazareth. I’m sure there’s more.

          “One issue I remember was that the Messiah was supposed to descend from David, but there is disagreement between the gospels over Jesus’ genealogy, and in any case it went through Joseph, who was not supposed to be his real father!”

          There are actually good explanations for this (one is Mary’s and one is Joseph’s line, etc.), but as you said above it doesn’t really matter how miraculous or how many prophecies Jesus may or may not have fulfilled since you won’t believe in it unless you agree with it’s message. But still it’s worth finding answers – at least I think so. It’s like a mystery and those can be rather fun. 🙂

        • susanne430 said,

          Yes, reread the gospels. It will be fun reading your posts on those as you continue to wrestle through all this religious stuff! 🙂

          • Wrestling With Religion said,

            I hesitate to say this, but … 😳 … Sanders reckoned Jesus could not have been born in Bethlehem because none of the reasons given in the gospels add up!

            I agree, it is fun looking at these things as a mystery to solve, but when you hear too many arguments in both directions your head starts to feel like it’s going to explode 😀

            Prophecy fulfillment and other “miraculous” content of scripture are fascinating things though.

  8. aynur said,

    Kind of on a side topic, have you seen the documentary-type movie ‘Bloodline’? It’s actually kind of interesting … goes into that idea that Jesus (pbuh) was married to Mary of Magdalene and they had children (kind of like the Da Vinci Code movie idea) … and that Jesus actually died something like 22 days after the crucifixion, in France … also the reasons the disciples found the cave empty was possibly because Mary came and got Jesus’s body from the cave. I would think if there were a “bloodline” like the documentary states, there would be certain people who wouldn’t want that information coming out.

    • Wrestling With Religion said,

      No, I haven’t seen that – sounds kind of interesting! I had wondered about whether he married, the book I read didn’t discuss that at all. He was only thirty something when he died, I don’t know whether it would be common to be unmarried at that age or not… he was living a nomadic, almost homeless life, which wouldn’t be conducive to a family, but that was only for the last 1-3 years of his life I think.

      The synoptic gospels do contain things which would have made the early Christians uncomfortable, such as the unfulfilled predictions of the kingdom coming within his generation, so… they didn’t edit out everything that didn’t fit perfectly with later Christian theology. That makes me think he probably really wasn’t married.

      As for dying in France 22 days later, well! That made me smile.

      The question of how and where he really died is an important one though, I think, especially if it is taken as an indication of God’s will and not just human circumstances. Maybe I will look into the different theories a bit more. Did God cause him to die quickly (possibly before the crucifixion), or to die torturously during the crucifixion, or even to survive the crucifixion somehow? Or did God have nothing to do with it? It all has a huge bearing on my view of God.

  9. Jasmine said,

    If Jesus was walking around in spirit form and that was his resurrection – then does that not mean that he didnt go to heaven?
    Maybe I’ve misunderstood it??
    Please keep educating us !
    Jasmine x

    • Wrestling With Religion said,

      Good question. The book doesn’t mention it but I seem to remember at a certain point he ascended into heaven – after the resurrection. But wouldn’t that have been before Paul saw him on the road to Damascus? Perhaps someone else can answer?!

    • susanne430 said,

      Here is a passage about Jesus’ return to heaven.

      Acts 1

      1In my former book, Theophilus, I wrote about all that Jesus began to do and to teach 2until the day he was taken up to heaven, after giving instructions through the Holy Spirit to the apostles he had chosen. 3After his suffering, he showed himself to these men and gave many convincing proofs that he was alive. He appeared to them over a period of forty days and spoke about the kingdom of God. 4On one occasion, while he was eating with them, he gave them this command: “Do not leave Jerusalem, but wait for the gift my Father promised, which you have heard me speak about. 5For John baptized with[a] water, but in a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.”

      6So when they met together, they asked him, “Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?”

      7He said to them: “It is not for you to know the times or dates the Father has set by his own authority. 8But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”

      9After he said this, he was taken up before their very eyes, and a cloud hid him from their sight.

      10They were looking intently up into the sky as he was going, when suddenly two men dressed in white stood beside them. 11″Men of Galilee,” they said, “why do you stand here looking into the sky? This same Jesus, who has been taken from you into heaven, will come back in the same way you have seen him go into heaven.”

    • susanne430 said,

      And here is where Paul meets Jesus on the road to Damascus:

      Acts 9

      1Meanwhile, Saul was still breathing out murderous threats against the Lord’s disciples. He went to the high priest 2and asked him for letters to the synagogues in Damascus, so that if he found any there who belonged to the Way, whether men or women, he might take them as prisoners to Jerusalem. 3As he neared Damascus on his journey, suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him. 4He fell to the ground and heard a voice say to him, “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?”

      5″Who are you, Lord?” Saul asked.

      “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting,” he replied. 6″Now get up and go into the city, and you will be told what you must do.”

      7The men traveling with Saul stood there speechless; they heard the sound but did not see anyone. 8Saul got up from the ground, but when he opened his eyes he could see nothing. So they led him by the hand into Damascus. 9For three days he was blind, and did not eat or drink anything.

      10In Damascus there was a disciple named Ananias. The Lord called to him in a vision, “Ananias!”
      “Yes, Lord,” he answered.

      11The Lord told him, “Go to the house of Judas on Straight Street and ask for a man from Tarsus named Saul, for he is praying. 12In a vision he has seen a man named Ananias come and place his hands on him to restore his sight.”

      13″Lord,” Ananias answered, “I have heard many reports about this man and all the harm he has done to your saints in Jerusalem. 14And he has come here with authority from the chief priests to arrest all who call on your name.”

      15But the Lord said to Ananias, “Go! This man is my chosen instrument to carry my name before the Gentiles and their kings and before the people of Israel. 16I will show him how much he must suffer for my name.”

      17Then Ananias went to the house and entered it. Placing his hands on Saul, he said, “Brother Saul, the Lord—Jesus, who appeared to you on the road as you were coming here—has sent me so that you may see again and be filled with the Holy Spirit.” 18Immediately, something like scales fell from Saul’s eyes, and he could see again. He got up and was baptized, 19and after taking some food, he regained his strength.

  10. Lat said,

    I dropped by to see what you’re ‘wrestling’ with 🙂 And what an interesting topic this is!

    I learned quite a bit of Jesus life thru reading all this.But as far as I see his birth and death are the most mysterious episodes ever! 🙂 And the belief of him coming back in the future to save the world actually made people to view him as god incarnate,I think.Really enjoyed the post!

    • Wrestling With Religion said,

      Thanks for stopping by, Lat! I need to read more about early Christianity to understand how the doctrines developed, I think.

  11. Black Sheep said,

    WWR, if you’re interested in reading (seems so, lol), one of the best non-biased on-line sites I’ve found is http://www.earlychristianwritings.com . It is a compendium of, well, early Christian writings, with dates, and with traditional and non traditional commentary. It includes works like the Didache, and writings by early Church Fathers as well as gnostic texts.

    The purpose of the site is to compile what’s available to Biblical Scholars in an accessible internet library.

    I’ve enjoyed poking around that site quite a bit.

  12. NeverEver said,

    I think that the issue that I have had with the historical account in the New Testament is that the four gospels, which provide most of the background, were written by unknown authors. They could conceivably have been written by people who were not even there, or could have been changed along the way in order to play up the parts of the story that the later church leaders felt were “important.” However, if you are looking to outside, (hopefully more) unbiased sources, the picture may be a bit different. It may not say that Jesus was not a beautiful person who did so many amazing things and brought forth such great ideas, but it may just say it in a different way.

    A lot of people seem to completely disregard some historical accounts of Jesus because they do not agree to the letter with what is found in the Gospels.

  13. Wrestling With Religion said,

    Black Sheep – thanks for that link, looks interesting!

    NeverEver – yes, Sanders discusses the problems of the gospels as historical sources. It seems that although they cannot be considered pure historical accounts, there are clues in them for where the historical truth lies and he explains his methodology very well.
    Having outside sources would be ideal! but apparently there aren’t any on Jesus himself. Sanders uses outside sources to understand the historical context though.

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