Tuesday 11 June 2024

Jesus Died & "The Jews" (Revised)

Jesus: Killed/died - the roles


Early in the document we call “the Acts of the Apostles” Peter addressed a crowd gathered in Jerusalem. This was about 50 days after Jesus’ death on the Roman cross. The specific day is called “Pentecost”, though, as usual, the calendar year (33 or 30) is a matter of conjecture. Here is a part of the record: “Fellow Israelites,[a] listen to what I have to say: Jesus of Nazareth,[b] a man attested to you by God with deeds of power, wonders, and signs that God did through him among you, as you yourselves know— this man, handed over to you according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of those outside the law. But God raised him up, having released him from the agony of death, because it was impossible for him to be held in its power (Acts 2:22-24, NRSVUE).

Here I am focussing on the statement that these Jews in Jerusalem had apparently had Jesus handed over to them and had killed him (by other hands) - and fulfilled God’s plan. Now that may not be as simple as it sounds! How had Jesus been handed over, and to whom and by whom?The Pentecost period was an annual observance and no doubt some (many?) who had been there 7 weeks or so before, in the crowds for Passover, were back for Pentecost. Some (most?) of the crowd were local to Jerusalem. (In a previous “Crowds” post I discarded the notion that “the crowd” was a fixed entity, composed of specific individuals. The term is indefinite;  a collective noun which does not specify who made up a crowd at a particular time and place.) Luke makes of point of saying the hearers that Pentecost came from many language groups and were not all “locals”.

So Peter addresses all those gathered hearers (men) as though they have responsibility for Jesus’ execution, even if they had not been part of the crowd before Pilate demanding death. It appeared then they had it in their power to set Jesus free.

The crowd that Pentecost day is apparently identified with the “House of Israel”, with the rulers and elders. Possibly this was a case of shared corporate responsibility? (There is no indication that any of the authoritative and elite “Chief Priests and nobles” were in the gathered crowd.)

Prior background: Three times before the final week Jesus had told his friends that he would be rejected by, and suffer at, the hands of, the “elders and chief priests and scribes” , or of “men”, or of “Gentiles” (See Matthew 16:21; 17:22; 20:18, and parallels in Mark and Luke). John (quite early) makes it clear that Jesus was rejected by “the Jews” and that “the Jews” engineered Jesus’ death. John’s use of that expression does vary, but his focus is the elders and nobles; he does also refer specifically to the priests.

Peter ended his Pentecost message by saying: Let all the house of Israel therefore know for certain that God has made him both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom you crucified.” Now when they heard this they were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, “Brothers, what shall we do?” And Peter said to them, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is for you and for your children and for all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to himself.” And with many other words he bore witness and continued to exhort them, saying, “Save yourselves from this crooked generation” (Acts 2:36-40, ESV). The incredible reversal - you crucified Jesus; God had made him both Lord and Christ. The hearers saw themselves as part of the body responsible for rejecting (and killing) their Christ. They should separate then from the corrupt leadership and the corrupted society. I recall the words to the prophet in the ancient northern kingdom, called Israel: Yet I will leave seven thousand in Israel, all the knees that have not bowed to Baal, and every mouth that has not kissed him” (1 Kings 19:18, NRSVUE).

How big a gathering was it that day? Luke reports: So those who accepted his message were baptized, and that day about three thousand people were added to them (Acts 2:41, CSB). Hard to imagine that many, plus others who did not accept, in one place hearing. Perhaps there was a “stone in the pond" ripple effect, with the vital news being shared around Jerusalem. (Many hearers were visitors to Jerusalem and I speculate that they would eventually also take the story back home with them.)

It is clear that the crucifixion of Jesus was carried out by the Romans. Nonetheless, here Peter laid it at the door of the “House of Israel”. That is a very wide group indeed. Literally it could include people far distant from the events in Jerusalem. I see it as reflecting the corporate entity that was “Israel” at the time. That was then no longer a geographical term - there was a large and continuing diaspora of people following Judaism. (Some time later, at the end of the Book of Acts we get a glimpse of the leaders of one Jewish community in far off Rome meeting Paul. We see they had knowledge of some parts of the story of Jesus and his followers, but were not fully “current:”)

That first Pentecost, Peter exhorts the hearers to repent and be baptised. “Repent and be baptised” was not new, and not specifically about being implicated in Jesus’ death. Looking back to the earlier days we see that the same challenge had been given by John the Baptiser: So John went along the Jordan Valley, telling the people, “Turn back to God and be baptized! Then your sins will be forgiven” (Luke 3:3, CEV).

John had eventually been silenced, but not the message. After John was arrested, Jesus went to Galilee, proclaiming the good news[a][b] of God: “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe the good news!” (Mark 1:14-15, CSB). So there was a theme from John, through Jesus, to Peter. God’s forgiveness was needed, and was possible. However, the added element at Pentecost was(is) “in the name of Jesus”. It is through Jesus that God’s mercy is offered to you.

The Apostles’ continuing post-Pentecost activity in the Jerusalem Temple had caused disturbance. They were arrested, but released. A subsequent followers’ group prayer included: Indeed Herod and Pontius Pilate met together with the Gentiles and the people of Israel in this city to conspire against your holy servant Jesus, whom you anointed (Acts 4:27. NIV). No surprise that the political powers had been involved. “With the Gentiles” - plural - were there other important Romans present (Senators?) - during the crisis? 

The apostles persisted in their mission. No stopping them! For the second time they were brought before the Jewish hierarchy to be dealt with. Their popularity at that time shielded them from death, but not from a whipping. And when they had brought them, they set them before the council. And the high priest questioned them, saying, “We strictly charged you not to teach in this name, yet here you have filled Jerusalem with your teaching, and you intend to bring this man's blood upon us” (Acts 5:27-28, ESV).

The hierarchy want to disown responsibility for Jesus’ death! Really? They had set out to have the Romans kill Jesus. Our witnesses tell us there was an extended conspiracy against Jesus. Luke reported of the time, late in the piece: 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 (Luke 19:47-48, NIV). In that portrayal, no crowd involved in rejecting Jesus; the particular crowd of those prior days was only viewed as a problem by the hierarchy.

The conspiracy against Jesus had been behind closed doors. (Conspiracy - see previous posts, “Jesus and those Crowds” and "Jesus must GO"). It had gone on for some time. The elite priests and nobles had faced two problems: how to avoid crowd disturbance; how to incite the Romans to act against their troublesome Galilean carpenter.

But, how could Luke report what was done behind closed doors? Many a secret leaks out! In this case, even before his execution there were people from amongst the ruling class who had become followers of Jesus. Perhaps not many; others certainly joined them later. So God’s message continued to spread. The number of believers greatly increased in Jerusalem, and many of the Jewish priests were converted, too: And the word of God continued to increase, and the number of the disciples multiplied greatly in Jerusalem, and a great many of the priests became obedient to the faith (Acts 6:7, ESV). A picture of climbing numbers, including seemingly unlikely candidates.

Who were Jesus' opposition? The term used a lot by John is “the Jews”. The first occurrence of the term in John is: This is the testimony of John, when the Jews sent priests and Levites to him from Jerusalem to ask him, “Who are you?” (John 1:19, NASB20). I note that “the Jews” sent their representatives to interrogate John the baptiser. Those representatives were themselves, of course, Jewish, members of the House of Israel. But they are not “the Jews”. A little further on in John’s record “the Jews” directly challenge Jesus: The Jews then said to him, “What sign can you show us for doing this?” (John 2:18, NRSVUE).

So, I submit that John essentially uses the term, “the Jews”, to denote the hierarchy in its rejection of Jesus as their Christ. They formed the same entity which wanted to silence the on-going message.

The situation is a little less clear than I said in the previous paragraph. We find Jesus telling a woman: You Samaritans worship what you do not know; we worship what we do know, for salvation is from the Jews (John 4:22, NIV). There Jesus uses the term in the broad sense of God’s ancient chosen people.

Nonetheless, consider this collection from John, chapter 5:

i. After these things there was a feast of the Jews, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem (John 5:1, NASB20).

ii. So the Jews were saying to the man who was cured, “It is a Sabbath, and it is not permissible for you to carry your pallet” (John 5:10, NASB20).

iii. The man went away, and informed the Jews that it was Jesus who had made him well. (John 5:15, NASB20).

iv. For this reason the Jews were persecuting Jesus, because He was doing these things on a Sabbath (John 5:16, NASB20).

v. For this reason therefore the Jews were seeking all the more to kill Him, because He not only was breaking the Sabbath, but also was calling God His own Father, making Himself equal with God (John 5:18, NASB20).

You may find it useful to read through the whole chapter.

Do you agree that in only one above example, (i), the term “the Jews” clearly conveys the sense of the continued religious practice of the ancient nation? In the next three examples the meaning is restricted to the powerful in Jerusalem. In the final example, (v), who are “the Jews”? It would include the religious authorities but could possibly be wider to cover a collection of angry (doubtless male) hearers. (Aggressive discord sadly happens all too often in the community, even our community.)

As the message was taken far and wide it clearly included the fact that Christ died; that he had been crucified and risen (thus implicating Rome). I do not find a continuing focus on the role of “the Jews”.

Consider this example from Paul, Apostle; missionary: You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous person, though for a good person someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Since we have now been justified by his blood, how much more shall we be saved from God’s wrath through him! For if, while we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through his life! (Romans 5:6-10, NIV)

Christ died for the ungodlyChrist died for us - that is the point. This was the definite plan and foreknowledge of God.

Clearly the focus is what God was doing and how that affects us; or may affect, you and me. However, the situation is a little unclear I find. Except for Athens, we do not have detailed account of the messages delivered in the many specific locations visited as the news spread. What was said in those days? I think we can read the Gospels, for they are the remaining parts of the messages. In particular, I see Luke as the critical summary of the universal message, the “good news”, shared in many places. Luke’s use of the term “the Jews” is very sparse indeed and contrasts with John. The centurion heard of Jesus and sent some elders of the Jews to him, asking him to come and heal his servant (Luke 7:3, NIV; see 23:3, 37, 38).

Luke in fact has the angelic messenger using the word “sinners” as the label of the antagonistic people. Jesus isn't here! He has been raised from death. Remember that while he was still in Galilee, he told you, ‘The Son of Man will be handed over to sinners who will nail him to a cross. But three days later he will rise to life.’ ” Then they remembered what Jesus had said (Luke 24:6-7, CEV) That general description, sinners, could be shared very widely, in fact, universally. Who are the sinners? Who, indeed.

While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.... (see above)

(In a shortly forthcoming separate post I address the question of Saul of Tarsus [Paul the Apostle] in relation to this topic.)  

Christ has died; Christ is risen; Christ will come again. 

May God bless you
Allen Hampton

Scripture quotations marked (CEV) are from the Contemporary English Version Copyright © 1991, 1992, 1995 by American Bible Society. Used by Permission.
Scripture quotations marked (CSB) are from the Christian Standard Bible. Copyright © 2017 by Holman Bible Publishers. Used by permission. Christian Standard Bible®, and CSB® are federally registered trademarks of Holman Bible Publishers, all rights reserved.
Scripture quotations marked (ESV) are from the ESV® Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
Scripture quotations marked (NASB20) are taken from New American Standard Bible. Copyright © 1960, 1962, 1963, 1968, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1975, 1977, 1995, 2020 by The Lockman Foundation, La Habra, Calif. All rights reserved. Used by permission. www.lockman.org
Scripture quotations marked (NIV) are taken from the Holy Bible, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®, NIV® Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.
Scripture quotations marked (NLT) are taken from the Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright ©1996, 2004, 2007, 2013 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.
Scripture quotations marked (NRSVUE) are from the New Revised Standard Version, Updated Edition. Copyright © 2021 National Council of Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission.

Note: I retain the reference marking to footnotes [eg, a], but not the content. The footnotes may be found in the text, eg via Bible Gateway.

Scripture quotations courtesy BibleGateway.com, and
BlueLetterBible.org
Image: Image by OpenClipart-Vectors from Pixabay

Postscript

And the dreadful stuff going on?

And the dreadful stuff that has gone on?

And the dreadful stuff in the neighbourhood?

And the dreadful stuff that has been done using the name of Jesus?

Does it all connect?

Will all perpetrators be judged?

When will it all end?

What do you say?

Do not bring us to the time of trial, but rescue us from the evil one

Please God.

ADDENDUM 9/6/24

I have been reminded that for more than 1,500 years people have recognised creeds about Jesus, which may include:

For our sake he was crucified under Pontius Pilate,
he suffered death and was buried,
and rose again on the third day (Nicene Creed)

He suffered under Pontius Pilate,
was crucified, died, and was buried
He descended into hell;
on the third day He rose again from the dead; (Apostles’ Creed)

So - the ancients who devised these statements ensured that Pilate's name was not forgotten! They made no mention of the role of "the Jews" - none. Now that seems wise, I think. Pilate had the call to make on that day. Others had the passing roles of "sinners".
It is a shameful thing that the ancient history has, in some circles been, attached to anti-Semitism, as though that is somehow service of God.
https://www.britannica.com/topic/anti-Semitism 

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