Jesus was blamed and executed by the governing authorities (both Jewish & Gentle) because of the threat He presented to their nation & empire, respectively. Jesus was a threat to Israel because He taught love of enemy to the masses. So the national leaders planned to silence Him one way or the other. Notwithstanding His miracles or His super-positive message of faith, hope & love and notwithstanding the Sixth Commandment of Moses (Thou shalt not kill), they felt entirely confident and committed in executing Jesus. Why? Because they were entirely committed and confident nationalists. And the Scriptures are explicit about this:
47 Then the chief priests and the Pharisees called a meeting of the Sanhedrin. “What are we accomplishing?” they asked. “Here is this man performing many signs. 48 If we let him go on like this, everyone will believe in him, and then the Romans will come and take away both our temple and our nation.”
49 Then one of them, named Caiaphas, who was high priest that year, spoke up, “You know nothing at all! 50 You do not realize that it is better for you that one man die for the people than that the whole nation perish.”
– John 11:47-50, NIV
Similarly, Pilate’s final concern was to support – and be seen to support – the empire:
….Pilate tried to set Jesus free, but the Jewish leaders kept shouting, “If you let this man go, you are no friend of Caesar. Anyone who claims to be a king opposes Caesar.” When Pilate heard this, he… (agreed to crucify Jesus).
– John 19:12-13, NIV
Nationalism was the real motivation of those who wanted to stop Jesus teaching the people – a nationalism that doubtless valued such things as ‘keeping the peace’, ‘justice’ and ‘national security.’ The problem is that Nationalism values these things above:
- dying and going to God
- obeying the commandment “Thou shalt not kill”
- Jesus’ vision of a God of love & faithfulness despite persecution & death and
- the faith to follow Jesus’ pacifist example.
I would guess that a large majority of both Christians and non-Christians world wide are raised to be nationalists. As children, we are typically indoctrinated and inspired to believe that fighting for one’s nation is an honourable and necessary duty. Nationalism has been the world’s No. 1 religion since the Tower of Babel.
So how do modern day nationalists reconcile the fact that Jesus was killed by Nationalism and for typically nationalistic reasons? The short answer is that they don’t because they cannot. You may as well ask how many murderers attribute their crimes to their own insecurity? or to their lack of faith in God? or to their lack of experience of God’s love for them? and to their reprobate hatred for their victims? If they did correctly identify the problem, they would most likely call out to God & He would deliver them from their lostness. Murderers have rationalisations such as: ‘he deserved it’, ‘I needed revenge’, ‘they would have otherwise have testified against me (about an earlier crime)’, ‘he was going to kill me (it was self-defense)’ and ‘I just felt like it.’
Likewise those who justify the use of lethal violence by the State ignore the fundamental spiritual malady and Jesus’ essential cure. They focus instead on their nationalistic agenda as described above. And so all of us – for as long as we actively dwell in the non-pacifist camp – will squirm under the Truth Teller’s analysis – that, in God’s eyes, we are murderers and liars! cf. John 8: 37-44, especially:
40 ….you are looking for a way to kill me, a man who has told you the truth that I heard from God.
42 Jesus said to them, “If God were your Father, you would love me…
44 You belong to your father, the devil, and you want to carry out your father’s desires. He was a murderer from the beginning, not holding to the truth, for there is no truth in him.
When it comes to saving our own skins,
“There is no one righteous, not even one;
11 there is no one who understands;
there is no one who seeks God.
12 All have turned away,
they have together become worthless;
there is no one who does good,
not even one.”
13 “Their throats are open graves;
their tongues practice deceit.”
“The poison of vipers is on their lips.”
14 “Their mouths are full of cursing and bitterness.”
15 “Their feet are swift to shed blood;
16 ruin and misery mark their ways,
17 and the way of peace they do not know.”
18 “There is no fear of God before their eyes.”
– Rom 3:10-18, NIV
Which is why, when it comes to the Cross, we (specifically, our religious and cultural leaders) make up other reasons to explain the truth – as the prophet says:
He was despised and rejected by mankind… (taking) up our pain and bore our suffering,
yet we considered him punished by God,
stricken by him, and afflicted.
But he was pierced (by) our transgressions,
he was crushed (by) our iniquities;
– from Isaiah 53:3-5, NIV
[I have substituted ‘by’ instead of ‘for’, which makes more sense in context. Note that the Hebrew word ‘min’ is a vague preposition with wide application. The NIV translators translate ‘min’ both into ‘for’ and into ‘by’ in this very chapter; i.e. Is 53 as mentioned by Gillis.)
In my view, Christ’s death on the Cross was not, as is widely supposed, an acceptable human sacrifice to God for our sin. Jesus Christ was God’s loving & undefended invitation to experience reality as it really is. He is God come to change our fundamental perceptions & attitudes about Him, ourselves and the miracle of life. I see the Cross is God’s ultimate pitch to wake us out of our stupor of fear (of death and dying), of the myth of redeeming violence and out of every form of faithlessness (sin). Without Jesus’ pacifist (shalom) Spirit within us, we are bound to legalise State-sponsored murder and to justify it with lies.