12.04.08 Jn. 11:55-57 Nissan 8; March 31, A.D. 30.
ARREST PLANNED FOR PASSOVER
55 The Jewish Passover was near, and many went up to Jerusalem from the country to purify themselves before the Passover. 56 They were looking for Jesus and asking one another as they stood in the temple complex: “What do you think? He won’t come to the festival, will He?” 57 The chief priests and the Pharisees had given orders that if anyone knew where He was, he should report it so they could arrest Him.
Caiaphas and his co-conspirators of the Sanhedrin planned to have Jesus executed. They continued to persuade the multitudes that Jesus was a demon-possessed imposter of the messiah. There were many messianic imposters during the Roman occupation and they said that Jesus was another one of them.
A Jewish tradition said that when the messiah comes, He would announce His kingship from the temple steps during Passover. They feared what Jesus might say whenever He entered the temple. Consequently, they planned to capture Him secretly and have Him and Lazarus (Jn. 12:10) executed immediately after the festival.
Centuries later the Babylonian Talmud had the following commentary on Jesus. It did not deny that He performed miracles, but claimed He did so with demonic powers. In a negative manner, the Jews here admitted to the miracles He performed but they questioned His source of power.
He (Yeshu Hannorzr) shall be stoned because he has practiced sorcery and enticed Israel to apostasy. Anyone who has anything to say in his favor, let him come forward and plead on his behalf. Anyone who knows where he is, let him declare it to the Great Sanhedrin in Jerusalem.
The name Yeshu Hannorzri is the Hebrew for “Jesus the Nazarene.” The punishment of stoning would have been the method of execution except that capital punishment was prohibited by the Romans decades earlier. The stoning of Stephen (Acts 7) was not a judicial act, but one of a riotous mob which included the Sanhedrin.
According to the Talmud, when there was to be a trial, the custom was for a court crier to go to the major cities and post an official handbill or make a public announcement in the marketplace of the upcoming trial. Jewish law required that there be forty days between the announcement and the coming trial. This was hardly the case concerning Jesus.
12.04.08.Q1 What were the 12 reasons the Jewish leadership planned the death of Jesus?
There were many reasons why the Sadducees and leading Pharisees wanted Jesus removed from the national spotlight. And there would be three more after Jesus entered Jerusalem.
- He claimed to be the Son of God and have divine authority such as the right to forgive sin.
- He failed to be the messiah they were expecting. The nationalistic Galilean Jews who did not accept Him were expecting a political-messiah who would overthrow the Romans. The Judean Jews who did not accept Him, including the leading Pharisees and Sadducees of Jerusalem, desired to keep the status quo with Roman occupation. They would not have accepted the political-messiah if they felt that he would be a threat to their lucrative religious businesses and positions.
- Jesus “was human.” The Messiah, according to Daniel 7:13, would be like a man, and to the Jews this meant someone who would not be human, but in some mystical way, be superhuman. This individual would be expected to restore Israel to its glory days when it was an international superpower under King David. While Jesus did not fit this picture, thousands of common Jews did accept Him as their Messiah while the religious leaders rejected Him.
- He held the Written Law in superior position to the Oral Law, which was directly opposite to the position held by the leading Pharisees.
- The Jewish leaders had created laws to circumvent biblical commands, and thereby justify their own selfishness and greed. Jesus challenged their commands as well as their cold hearts when they should have demonstrated mercy and justice for everyone, especially for the poor.
- When they challenged Jesus in public, He made them look foolish by exposing the weakness of their argument or lack of knowledge.
- Neither Jesus nor His disciples attended one of the recognized theological schools of Jerusalem. In fact, Jesus came from Nazareth, a disgusting town in the eyes of the aristocrats. The religious elite were far too proud to consider that mere fishermen disciples of Jesus could possibly be ordained of God to do anything worthwhile, much less be participants in miracles of healing or teach them anything about God.
- Jesus was born of a virgin. Religious leaders said that was an impossibility and that He was born out of wedlock and, therefore, a sinner.
- He ignored some of their purity laws when He associated with sinners, including some of the most despised people in the community.
- Jesus healed on the Sabbath. There were numerous prohibitions for the Sabbath and healing violated one or more of these oral laws. The term Sabbath means rest but healing was redefined to mean work.
- Jesus was said to cast out demons with the power of Beelzebub, the prince of demons, meaning Satan.
- Jesus was accused of blasphemy for no less than seven reasons.
As stated previously, the upper echelon of the scribes, aristocratic Pharisees, and all of the Sadducees functioned well together to protect their wealth and religious status. All were involved in events of political-religious corruption during the days of Herod the Great according to Josephus, especially the Pharisees. For example, the daughter of Herod Antipas, Salome, made accusations against another woman in the royal court and accused her of “subsidizing the Pharisees” to oppose the king. The most corrupt of political figures in Rome would hardly be a match for various members of the Herodian dynasty, as John the Baptist had previously experienced. Now these religious leaders were cooperating with the Romans to rid themselves of Jesus.
The Jews carefully used the political environment to their advantage. They had rebelled against the Romans numerous times since 63 B.C. Yet they were good friends with their Roman overlords and they did not want to risk the loss of their status or comfortable lifestyles. They knew the political relationship between Pilate and Rome was strained to a breaking point. They knew Pilate attempted to please Caesar in every possible manner and believed that another Jewish revolt could possibly result in his loss of office. So they took advantage of Pilate’s predicament and used it to remove their “problem.” Therefore, Pilate was forced to appease them even though he strongly felt that Jesus was innocent of all charges. While this political issue was more of a Roman issue than a Jewish one, obviously the Sadducees used it to manipulate Pilate.
. See Appendix 25.
. Quoted by Charlesworth, Jesus within Judaism. 168-69.
. Charlesworth, The Old Testament Pseudepigrapha. 2:169; Maier, The First Easter. 114.
. See 13.01.04.
. Josephus, Antiquities 1.1.1.
. Smith, Augsburg Commentary on the New Testament: Matthew. 115.
. For a listing, see 15.03.08.Q1 “What were the reasons the Jewish leaders accused Jesus of blasphemy?”
. This is the Salome who requested the head of John the Baptist.
. Josephus, Wars 1.29.2; Neusner, “Josephus and Pharisees.” 279.