Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
April 1, 2000
Gospels explore Jesus' crucifixion
Much of the life of Christ is veiled in obscurity. From the age of 12,we have the assurance he was obedient to his parents and that his mission was to do the will of the Father which begins publicly with the reading of Isaiah's prophecy.
The most certain thing we know about Jesus' death is, that while he was condemned by the Jewish authorities for blasphemy, he was executed by the Roman empire for sedition against their government in Judea.
Jesus, mocked as the "king of the Jews," was crucified as a rebel terrorist on the orders of Pontius Pilate, the fifth Roman procurator of Judea, according to the Roman historian Tacitus.
This is confirmed by all four Gospels which attempt to explain the embarrassing fact Jesus was executed as a political offender.
Central to understanding this apologetic explanation is that the first Christians were Jews, or were identified with the Jewish popular movements of the time.
Several messiahs had announced themselves as saviours to throw off the yoke of a repressive Roman superpower.
A Jewish revolt had erupted around 66 AD which began with a crushing defeat of the Roman army by the rebels and ended in the razing of the Temple in 70AD.
Until that pivotal event, the fledgling Christian community had been controlled and directed from Jerusalem.
The mother Church had been wiped out. The link with the original source had been broken.
Christians everywhere faced the danger of being regarded by the Roman authorities as subversives associated with Jewish nationalism.
Nowhere was this danger greater than in the belly of the beast, Rome itself.
It was around this time that the Gospel of Mark was written. No doubt the evangelist was motivated by a deep concern to protect the Roman Christians, and place a distance between them and their Jewish origins.
He represents Jesus as endorsing the Jewish obligation to pay tribute to Caesar, while the zealots endorsed tax evasion based on the belief that the Jews owed allegiance to God only.
Mark shows us a reluctant Pilate, who finds Jesus innocent, but is forced to give in to an angry mob enticed by the chief priests.
Mark suggests this body of clerics was determined to destroy Jesus from the start.
The Roman authorities are portrayed more favourably than the Jewish leaders. A few days earlier, Jesus had triumphantly entered Jerusalem and attacked the temple trading system and thrown out the money-lenders who exchanged Roman currency with its offensive graven images into suitable temple coinage with which to buy sacrificial animals.
These transactions provided a lucrative income for the pro-Roman sacerdotal aristocracy. Jesus' bold action challenged their positions, and disturbed the law and order of the Jewish state for which they were responsible to Pilate.
The high priest asks Jesus if he is the Messiah. In contemporary Jewish belief, the Messiah would bring the existing oppressive world order to an end. It would also end the world of the collaborators.
The high priest takes Jesus' answer as blasphemy and condemns him to death, by delivering him to the Roman authorities as a subversive.
"We found this man perverting our nation and forbidding us to give tribute to Caesar." writes Luke.
Matthew describes the Jewish leaders as mocking the dying Jesus, while a Roman centurion recognizes in him the Christ: "Truly this was the son of God".
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