Friday 19 April 2024

Jesus and those Crowds (edn2)

Jesus was welcomed to Jerusalem at the start of the last week by a deliriously happy crowd. At the end of the week he was rejected and scorned. How could that be? 

However, first I want to start this post at an earlier climactic moment, which lead to the crowd scenes. 
Now when Jesus came into the district of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” And they said, “Some say John the Baptist, others say Elijah, and others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” Simon Peter replied, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” And Jesus answered him, “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven. And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock[a] I will build my church, and the gates of hell[b] shall not prevail against it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed[c] in heaven.” Then he strictly charged the disciples to tell no one that he was the Christ.
From that time Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised. (Matthew 16:13-21, ESV). Jesus asks his disciples. Peter speaks - for them all? Peter has not heard Jesus say that he is the Christ. Peter (like the others) has watched and listened, and with God's inner working has come to recognise the unspoken truth. [That working of God's Spirit Jesus later described (John 15 & 16).] They are not to make Jesus' identity known (not yet).
They would then leave this quiet location in the far north, near that centre of Emperor and Pan worship, and go to Jerusalem and the crowds.

Crowds, or throngs, (large and small) were a main feature of these days, and of the times leading to that week, and even earlier. (It is a mistake and oversimplification to identify the crowds in these different scenes; "a crowd", or "a large crowd", or "the crowds", is not a specific single entity. Our own crowds at the one location are sometimes oppositional, and need to be separated.)

Jesus had a reputation and his doings were noticed.  He was visiting friends in Bethany, near Jerusalem. People wanted to find out... Then a large crowd of the Jews learned he was there. They came not only because of Jesus but also to see Lazarus, the one he had raised from the dead. But the chief priests had decided to kill Lazarus also, because he was the reason many of the Jews were deserting them[a] and believing in Jesus (John 12:9-11, CSB).  So we meet the "crowd" - one of them - a large one. (I wonder if Lazarus survived that attention...?)

There were many people about, for this was that time of year. The next day a large crowd was in Jerusalem for Passover. When they heard that Jesus was coming for the festival, they took palm branches and went out to greet him.[a] They shouted,
God bless the one who comes
    in the name of the Lord!
God bless the King
    of Israel!”
Jesus found a donkey and rode on it, just as the Scriptures say,
“People of Jerusalem,
    don't be afraid!
Your King is now coming,
and he is riding
    on a donkey.”
At first, Jesus' disciples did not understand. But after he had been given his glory,[c] they remembered all this. Everything had happened exactly as the Scriptures said it would.
A crowd had come to meet Jesus because they had seen him call Lazarus out of the tomb. They kept talking about him and this miracle.[d] But the Pharisees said to each other, “There is nothing we can do! Everyone in the world is following Jesus” (John 12:12-19, CEV). I think that crowd now contains people who had been looking into the restoration of Lazarus, and others, many others. There was something to talk about! The disciples will understand later. Exasperated Pharisees speak as though all is lost (for them). 

Riding a donkey into the city? Those ancient words being deliberately enacted right before their eyes. This expanded crowd of disciples spontaneously let their feelings known.When he came near the place where the road goes down the Mount of Olives, the whole crowd of disciples began joyfully to praise God in loud voices for all the miracles they had seen:
“Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord!”[a]
“Peace in heaven and glory in the highest!” (Luke 19:37-38, NIV) "King"? Pilate was in Jerusalem, perhaps reluctantly, with some troops. There just to maintain peace. (I imagine that Pilate heard about this entry, but evaluated the "threat" as insignificant.) How could people really think Jesus was about to launch a revolt (insurrection) against Rome? (Yes, his band did have two swords!)

Participants in, or hearers of, this spectacular entry to the City may well have thought of the more ancient words, quoted above by John:
Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion!
    Shout aloud, O daughter of Jerusalem!
Behold, your king is coming to you;
    righteous and having salvation is he,
humble and mounted on a donkey,
    on a colt, the foal of a donkey.
I will cut off the chariot from Ephraim
    and the war horse from Jerusalem;
and the battle bow shall be cut off,
    and he shall speak peace to the nations;
his rule shall be from sea to sea,
    and from the River to the ends of the earth (Zechariah 9:9-10, ESV).

The kingship proposition is there in Zechariah... is it not? But, look at the next lines - this king is not a war horse rider; he rids their world of weapons and war - that is his dominion. This procession is nothing like the triumphant procession in Rome the Roman state later allowed General Titus, when, as he lead the loot and captives (for slavery, or death), the City celebrated his final 70AD (CE) subjugation of Jerusalem and destruction of the Temple. Their commemorative arch stands there to this day:

The situation that Jerusalem day, like many a demonstration or protest, was complicated. Matthew makes the point of separate crowds - I interpret as other people responding to what was happening. Lots of people in the City for the festival. People previously arrived coming out to see what was going on. And the crowds that went before him and that followed him were shouting, “Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest!” And when he entered Jerusalem, the whole city was stirred up, saying, “Who is this?” And the crowds said, “This is the prophet Jesus, from Nazareth of Galilee” (Matthew 21:9-11, ESV). This was a very public and open event. "The city" wants to know! Pilgrims from the procession tell them. The full significance may not yet have been clear, but it was something, and right under the noses of all the authorities.

Oh, yes, it had been noticed! After that, he taught daily in the Temple, but the leading priests, the teachers of religious law, and the other leaders of the people began planning how to kill him. But they could think of nothing, because all the people hung on every word he said (Luke 19:47-48, NLT). The leaders must have been frustrated. They could think of nothing. (They did try to trip him up in his teaching.)

Jesus became very blunt. The lines were drawn.“Therefore I tell you, the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people that produces its fruits. The one who falls on this stone will be broken to pieces, and it will crush anyone on whom it falls.”[a]
When the chief priests and the Pharisees heard his parables, they realized that he was speaking about them. They wanted to arrest him, but they feared the crowds, because they regarded him as a prophet (Matthew 21:43-46, NRSVUE). So at that moment there were crowds (notice again Matthew's plurals) who were likely to support Jesus, not them. No single, coordinated, movement, but intimidatingly real. They could not stop his plain speaking.

Crowds may split! A change of mind could see a big shift... Now is the judgment of this world. Now the ruler of this world will be cast out. As for me, if I am lifted up[a] from the earth I will draw all people to myself.” He said this to indicate what kind of death he was about to die.
Then the crowd replied to him, “We have heard from the law that the Messiah will remain forever. So how can you say, ‘The Son of Man must be lifted up’? Who is this Son of Man?”
Jesus answered, “The light will be with you only a little longer. Walk while you have the light so that darkness doesn’t overtake you. The one who walks in darkness doesn’t know where he’s going. While you have the light, believe in the light so that you may become children of light.” Jesus said this, then went away and hid from them.
Even though he had performed so many signs in their presence, they did not believe in him. This was to fulfill the word of Isaiah the prophet, who said:[b]
Lord, who has believed our message?
And to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?[c]
This is why they were unable to believe, because Isaiah also said:
He has blinded their eyes
and hardened their hearts,
so that they would not see with their eyes
or understand with their hearts,
and turn,
and I would heal them.[d]
Isaiah said these things because[e] he saw his glory and spoke about him.
Nevertheless, many did believe in him even among the rulers, but because of the Pharisees they did not confess him, so that they would not be banned from the synagogue. For they loved human praise more than praise from God (John 12:31-43, CSB). It would be interesting to know just what part of their Law this crowd was arguing. That event seemed to be the final time. Not for the only time, Jesus withdrew from rejecters. Nonetheless, some ("many") did believe in him despite the risk.

One of Jesus' special band offered to lead a posse to capture Jesus. It is hard to believe it was only a matter of money: Then Satan entered into Judas called Iscariot, who was of the number of the twelve. He went away and conferred with the chief priests and officers how he might betray him to them. And they were glad, and agreed to give him money. So he consented and sought an opportunity to betray him to them in the absence of a crowd (Luke 22:3-6, ESV). Their problem solved! This would make it possible to arrest Jesus without a public disturbance; a time when crowds were absent. The scene would shortly be in a quiet garden, late at night.

Jesus still had things to say to his circle of friends. Was he cut short? And immediately, while he was still speaking, Judas came, one of the twelve, and with him a crowd with swords and clubs, from the chief priests and the scribes and the elders. Now the betrayer had given them a sign, saying, “The one I will kiss is the man. Seize him and lead him away under guard.” And when he came, he went up to him at once and said, “Rabbi!” And he kissed him. And they laid hands on him and seized him (Mark 14:43-46, ESV). This crowd (or, "mob"; CEV) came on purpose. They were aligned with the opponents. They had avoided confronting the other crowds. No chances were to be allowed.

Jesus addressed that garden crowd as the agents of the leaders. Someone standing there pulled out a sword. He struck the servant of the high priest and cut off his ear.
Jesus said to the mob, “Why do you come with swords and clubs to arrest me like a criminal? Day after day I was with you and taught in the temple, and you didn't arrest me. But what the Scriptures say must come true.”
All of Jesus' disciples ran off and left him (Mark 14:47-50, CEV). So Jesus stood alone, with the other, antagonistic, kind of crowd. (Was that crowd now growing?)

Pilate was responsible for Judaea, but apparently tried to pass the "Jesus problem" (Luke 23:7) on to Herod (whose jurisdiction was Galilee and Peraea). Jesus knew about Herod, whom he had called "that fox" (Luke 13:32). Do you think Pilate knew about Jesus prior to that day? It is clear that Jesus knew something of Pilate; we find earlier: About this same time Jesus was told that Pilate had given orders for some people from Galilee to be killed while they were offering sacrifices (Luke 13:1, CEV). That sad and unique passage in Luke shows at least knowledge of Pilate's actions.

How does a crowd interact with the Governor; was it orchestrated? What do you think - was the blood-thirsty crowd manipulated? Perhaps the fact that Jesus was not taking up arms, or rousing a rebellion, had helped some, or even many, change minds. We do see this roused anti-Jesus crowd purposefully engaging with the Governor. Now it was the custom at the festival to release a prisoner whom the people requested. A man called Barabbas was in prison with the insurrectionists who had committed murder in the uprising. The crowd came up and asked Pilate to do for them what he usually did.
“Do you want me to release to you the king of the Jews?” asked Pilate, knowing it was out of self-interest that the chief priests had handed Jesus over to him. But the chief priests stirred up the crowd to have Pilate release Barabbas instead.
“What shall I do, then, with the one you call the king of the Jews?” Pilate asked them.
“Crucify him!” they shouted.
“Why? What crime has he committed?” asked Pilate.
But they shouted all the louder, “Crucify him!”
Wanting to satisfy the crowd, Pilate released Barabbas to them. He had Jesus flogged, and handed him over to be crucified (Mark 15:6-15, NIV). "The crowd".... Mmmm? Perhaps Mark is referring to the same posse-like crowd mentioned above in the arrest (the Mark 14 account). Matthew (27:20) actually uses the plural, "crowds", in the pericope.

Were there many in the final, successful, "death" demanding Jerusalem crowd who had also been in the welcome event so shortly before? I wonder. 

"Release to you the king of the Jews?" Was Pilate being sarcastic? He clearly had no concern about Jesus being a "king" to these people. They were welcome to him! This crowd, in turn, actually had no use for such a king as he is.

And so, I suppose, the "elders, chief priests and scribes" could chalk up the success of their plan, and the end (so they thought) of their frustration... (I wonder how they ended up in the long run. I also wonder if any of the people who had been manipulated came to regret it. Judging by the impact on Jerusalem so soon after, I think it likely.)

This king (Jesus) actually looks for people to become his willing subjects; to join his orderly crowd. He is a King, eternal, who wants to be allowed to save his subjects for ever. Surely it is a wonderful free choice. So it was, and so it is.

And some relevant notes, starting from just before the commitment to travel to the city:
Now He (Jesus) took the twelve aside and said to them, “Behold, we are going up to Jerusalem, and all the things that have been written through the prophets about the Son of Man will be accomplished. For He will be [fn]handed over to the Gentiles, and will be ridiculed, and abused, and spit upon, and after they have flogged Him, they will kill Him; and on the third day He will rise” (Luke 18:31-33, NASB20).

The Son of Man will go as it has been decreed. But woe to that man who betrays him!” (Luke 22:22, NIV).

Pilate therefore said to him, “Do you refuse to speak to me? Do you not know that I have power to release you and power to crucify you?” Jesus answered him, “You would have no power over me unless it had been given you from above; therefore the one who handed me over to you is guilty of a greater sin” (John 19:10-11, NRSVUE).

"They" were responsible. They were in control, weren't they?

May God bless you
Allen Hampton

ADDENDUM: My speculations 
Hosanna to crucify: What do you think? I do not imagine Jesus' disciples turned on him at the end. (Judas is the glaring exception; I can not explain his decision; my speculation is that he was thinking like those I am discussing here.)
The population of Jerusalem at the time was swelled by the presence of pilgrims from near and far. It was a peak time for their religious observance. I can imagine a mixed multitude of people hopeful for liberation from Rome wanting to "get on the bandwagon" at the start of the final week. However, Jesus' arrest, abandonment, and processes followed, made very clear that he was not behind, nor supporting, an insurrection.
The composition of the Jerusalem crowds would have varied a lot. Some people, maybe a lot, were disturbed by Jesus' teaching. When it came to the possible release of a prisoner, Jesus' enemies could point out to listening ears that, on one hand, this Nazarene really was all talk; whilst the other Jesus (Barabbas), had shown he was a true man of action and no collaborator. 
Those who called for Jesus to be crucified could be disillusioned with him, even though it was the delusions of their own making that were shattered. Time to get off the bandwagon. Sadly, they could blame him for turning their dreams to dust, again.
In recent times I saw crowds demanding "freedom", etc; I do not believe they were of one mind and purpose, nor were they always the same people; perhaps there were "professional agitators" or politicians at work. Rabble-rousers there were [and are]; Jesus was never one. I refer to those who want to stir up others and disrupt the peace. The people I have in mind dwell upon dreadfully real grievances; paint lurid pictures of conspiracy and impending oppression. They manipulate effects of real, or imagined injustice, or fear, or grief, or disappointment, to create disorder and test the patience of authorities. Jesus spoke for things to change, for things to be different. Not by violence or coercion, but by inward, personal transformation. His message was in conflict with the views and stance of others and he made that plain enough. He never called on his followers to fight others.

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