But they kept on shouting at the top of their voices, demanding that he should be crucified. And their shouts were growing louder. Pilate then gave his verdict: their demand should be granted.
It never fails to baffle me on how the turn of events from Palm Sunday and throughout the Passion Week would lead to the death of Jesus. From a triumphant entry into Jerusalem where people were praising and glorifying the arrival of the Messiah, a major swing in opinion resulted in his crucifixion just a few days later.
According to some Christian authors, the people welcoming Jesus on Palm Sunday were not the residents of Jerusalem — Jesus rode in the company of pilgrims coming to the city for Passover who had earlier heard about his miraculous deeds and the raising of Lazarus from the dead. These travelling companions were hoping that the Messianic kingdom will soon begin and liberate them from the Romans’ oppression. However, the people of Jerusalem probably thought otherwise. These comprised of the chief priests, scribes, Pharisees and residents of Jerusalem who might be sceptical or in disagreement with the “unorthodox Rabbi” from the countryside. Over the course of Jesus’ ministry, his teachings had alienated and angered the Pharisees, the scribes, the Herodians, and the Sadducees. Not only did Jesus point out their extreme hypocrisy on many occasions, but he also claimed to be God, which was blasphemy to the unbelieving teachers of the law.
The chief priests were a small group of extremely influential politicians and managers. Together with the organization of temple priests, temple guards and overseers who worked directly under the reigning High Priest (a Sadducee), it was estimated that there were at least thousands of people who worked in and around the temple of Jerusalem. The chief priests were the dominant source of sustained opposition to Jesus at that time; often working behind the scenes and at times, enlisted the involvement of the elders, rulers and the scribes. With such influence, it is not impossible that the crowd gathered before Pilate insisting for Jesus’ death had been assembled and suborned by the chief priests. So what exactly led to the crucifixion of Jesus? From the facts of the gospel, Jesus was likely crucified for his God-like behaviour, his outrageous claims to deity and most importantly, the successful propaganda from the chief priests. Jesus consistently upset Jewish scruples about Torah, disrupted the delicate scruples of the perfunctorily religious and threatened the posture of authority in Jerusalem with his claims to Lordship. But ultimately, what brought about his death was the efficacious propaganda by the chief priests on the people, tapping into their emotions using biased and misleading information on Jesus’ failure to adhere to their popularist view of what a Messiah should be. By not exercising his powers and controls to justify his ‘Messiah’-ship, Jesus could have been perceived as a liar or a hoax, thus fitting of the image of a blasphemer which was the aim of the chief priests’ campaign. Little has changed over the thousands of years; even modern-day political advertising is especially fond of attack ads that create a negative impression about potential candidates.
Nearing the end of Jesus’ trial, Pilate resorted to clearing himself of all responsibility by permitting the crowd to make a choice between freeing Jesus or Barrabas. The insistence of the crowd to have Jesus put to death showcased the resourcefulness of the chief priests’ campaign; but more so, it fit perfectly into God’s greater plan for humankind’s salvation. The question to ask ourselves is where would we have been on that Passion Week? Would we be among the sceptical crowds calling for the death of a ‘blasphemer’? It is easy to condemn those who condemned Jesus to death, although I doubt many of us would have acted differently in those circumstances. In this current conflict between Ukraine and Russia, let us remember that God still loves us and desires all of us to experience his love and forgiveness.
(Today’s OXYGEN by Dylan Tan)
Prayer: Heavenly Father, let us pray for all those who have died or are suffering as a result of the war in Ukraine. May you grant us the will and strength to forgive the aggressors of the conflict. Please shower your love upon us and give us the peace that transcends all understanding. Amen.
Thanksgiving: Thank you Father, for being with us every single moment of our lives and guiding us onto the path of righteousness during our earthly journey.