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. Then some began to spit at him; they blindfolded him, struck him with their fists, and said, “Prophesy!” And the guards took him and beat him. Mark 14, verses 63-65.
Would we do any different? Put yourself in the place of the priests. They were conflicted in many ways. Their conventional wisdom was threatened. The balance of power in both their religious and political worlds was in danger. Their popularity was in question. Their senses of right and wrong were askew. And their history demanded that they do exactly what they were doing.
Yep. Everything they had ever learned or believed as devout high priests of the temple of the Most High God demanded their indignant response now that this Galilean rabbi was calling Himself I AM. They had been trained since boyhood that the Messiah would come and that he would fit in a certain mold. He wouldn’t be from Nazareth (even though Jesus was born in Bethlehem). He wouldn’t challenge their place. He would restore the political standing and economic prosperity that the nation had known under King Solomon.
This Jesus of Nazareth didn’t quite measure up. Then He sealed His fate by insisting He was God, that He was indeed the Messiah who had been promised since the days of Adam and Eve. Should it surprise us that they were genuinely angry enough to demand Jesus’ execution. Is that an over-reaction?
Again, consider their day and time. They lived as an occupied nation under the rule of a brutal conqueror. Rome didn’t just march in and set up voting stations. They conquered Judea, executed all who opposed them, and enslaved the conquered Judeans. Any freedoms that the Israelites had known before were eliminated. Instead of living as God’s chosen people under the rule of Israelite political leaders, the citizens of Judea lived as people under the rule of a Roman dictator. The dictator emperor’s representative was a military governor who was empowered to do anything he pleased to keep order and, more importantly, to extract treasure (think “taxes”) from the Jewish occupants of this new province. Your home could be seized, you could be arrested without notice, you could be executed for things we would take for granted. This is what it meant to live under Roman occupation. To make the point, thousands of soldiers were sent to be at the governor’s disposal as he carried out the emperor’s will.
Over time, the high priests had worked out delicate arrangements on how to keep the peace with their Roman overseers. Call them politicians or patriots: the leaders of the Temple still did what they could to preserve the old Jewish order with as little bloodshed as possible. Now came this wandering preacher from Nazareth who was upending the delicate apple cart that the Jewish leaders had constructed. He did it while preaching simultaneous Godly peace and civil insurrection of the soul. Should it surprise us that the priests wanted Jesus dead if they could find a plausible way to kill Him?
I’m not saying we should feel sorry for Caiaphas or the others, though maybe that wouldn’t be out of hand. But perhaps we should genuinely consider their predicament to understand more why they did what they did.
Lord, forgive them for they know not what they do.
Read Mark 14, verses 53-65.