MATTHEW 26:57-68.NOVEMBER 27.
"Who when he was reviled, reviled not again."I Pet. 2:23 .
WE cannot do better at the opening of this study than quote the words of Mr. Chandler. He said: "Many remarkable trials have characterized the judicial history of mankind. The trial of Socrates, before the dikastery of Athens, charged with corrupting the Athenian youth, with blaspheming the Olympic gods and seeking to destroy the constitution of the Athenian Republic, is still a sublime and thrilling chapter in the history of a wonderful people.
"The trial of Alfred Dreyfus is still fresh in the memories of men. The French Republic is still rent by contending factions. His friends say that Dreyfus was a Prometheus who was chained to an ocean-girt rock while the vulture of exile preyed upon his heart. His enemies still assert that he was a Judas who betrayed, not God nor Christ, but France and the Fatherland. But these trials, one and all, were tame and commonplace compared with the trial and crucifixion of the Galilean peasant, Jesus of Nazareth."
It is not for us to say that the Jews were wholly excusable in their course of injuries toward Jesus, in causing his crucifixion by the Romans. On the other hand, it is proper for us to consider everything that could be thought of calculated to mitigate the severity of our judgment regarding the injustices there practised. And it is proper also that we should consider what, from their standpoint, would seem to be extenuating circumstances. This is everywhere recognized as just treatment. The attorney, defending a criminal who has pleaded guilty to the charges against him, is considered to do only his duty by his criminal client when he presents whatever in the circumstances of the case would tend to prove that the culprit had cause, or thought that he had reason, for his misdemeanor.
Viewing the Jewish people of nearly nineteen centuries ago from this standpoint, we get a more reasonable view of the situation than is otherwise possible. We hearken first to St. Peter's words respecting the transaction. He said, "I wot that through ignorance ye did it, as did also your rulers." Had they known, they would not have killed the Prince of life.Acts 3:15-17.
The Jews did not for one moment suppose that the great Messiah, foretold to be their Prophet, Priest and Kinglike unto Moses, but greater; like unto David and Solomon, but greater; like unto Melchisedec, but greater [R4710 : page 358] would appear as "a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief." Although those very words were written of him by the Prophet, they were hidden from their eyes of understanding by the glorious things related of him in other prophecies. They saw the glories. They saw not, understandingly, the sufferings. To this day they interpret the sufferings of their nation as being those which will ultimately inure to their advantage. The prophetic descriptions are not concentrated nor collected, but scattered, "here a little and there a little," so written that they could not be understood at the time; nor were they understood even by the Lord's disciples until after his resurrection from the dead, when he explained them, and, subsequently, by the holy Spirit, enabled them still more fully to understand that thus it was written in the prophets, and thus it behooved the Son of Man to suffer before entering into his glorybefore he began to bless Israel and all the world.
Yea, today many Christians are as deeply confused on this matter as are the Jews. Many have rejected entirely the thought of Messiah's glorious Kingdom reign for the general blessing and uplifting of Israel and all humanity. From their standpoint, if "the sufferings of Christ" were intended to prepare the way and usher in his Kingdom of glory, then the programme must have failed, or else his Kingdom of glory is to be a heavenly Kingdom and completely in accord with the prayer taught by our Lord, "Thy Kingdom come; thy will be done on earth." The trouble is that they will not realize that where the sufferings of Christ, the Head, ended, the sufferings of the "Body of Christ" beganthe sufferings of "the Church, which is his Body"filling up the measure of the afflictions of Christ, which are behind. (Col. 1:24.) As soon as the "Church, the Body of Christ," shall have finished the bearing of the cross, after him, following in his steps to the end of the journey, then the Kingdom glories will be ushered in. Israel's blindness will be turned away, and the blessing of the Lord will begin to fill the whole earth.
The Jews, who caused the crucifixion of Jesus, certainly did so in much of the same spirit which led St. Paulthen Saul of Tarsusto cause the stoning of St. Stephen. As Saul was forgiven, so Israel is to be forgiven; as the Scriptures declare, "The Lord will pour upon them the spirit of prayer and supplication," and then they will see, with the eyes of their understanding, "him whom they pierced, and they will mourn for him" (Zech. 12:10), and their mourning will be turned into joy; for, as Joseph forgave his brethren, so will this great antitypical Joseph of the throne of earth freely forgive those who caused his crucifixion.
The Jews are not so different from other people now, nor were they then. History indicates that some of their highest offices were held by irreligionists for their political influence; thus the chief-priest, at the first advent of our Lord, was a Sadducee, who wholly disbelieved in the promises of God to Israel, including a disbelief in the resurrection of the dead. Similarly today there are high-priests, both amongst Jews and Christians, who disbelieve, and yet hold high positions. Amongst Christians there [R4711 : page 358] are D.D.'s who are unbelievers; and many of the most notable rabbis amongst the Jews also declare themselves thorough unbelievers. We are not claiming that such unbelieving Christian and Jewish ministers would lightly espouse and support an unjust procedure against an innocent man. We do not know about this. It has yet to be tested, perhaps. We do know, however, that when faith in a Divine Revelation and in a Divine supervision of human affairs is lost the natural effect is that the losers of the faith become more and more policy-men and consider policy the extreme of human wisdom, particularly in the guidance of affairs of Church and State.
Taking history for it, that the leaders of Judaism at the time of our Lord were Higher Critical unbelievers (Sadducees), we can readily see that their policy was to curry favor with the Roman Emperor and to seek to hold the common people in subjection to themselves. To these, then, it must have seemed almost a calamity that a poor man, although of noble birth, of the family of David and the Tribe of Judah, should gather about him a handful of nondescript fishermen, tax-gatherers, etc.; that he should pronounce himself a king and declare the setting up of his Kingdom to be near, and that by the exercise of some supernatural power for the healing of their diseases he should attract the "common people" to his standard, but not the learned. We can well imagine their reasoning that, if this thing, the popularity of Jesus, continued to increase, it would shortly reach the ears of the Roman Emperor, and then all their claims for imperial favors would be discounted, and they would be rated as a nation of rebels.
The riding of Jesus into Jerusalem, just before the Passover, on an ass, after the manner of the kings of Israel and surrounded by a multitude shouting, "Hosanna to the Son of David who cometh in the name of the Lord," capped the climax, so to speak, and convinced these unbelieving Jews, politicians, occupying religious offices, that it would be far better that one innocent man should die than that the whole nation should be turned into turmoil and wrecked by the Romans in consequence. How many American preachers, judges, officials, etc., would, in this enlightened day, be inclined similarly to decide such a matter! And is not this the policy which always prevails in monarchies? Fancy such a commotion in the capital of Germany, Italy, France, Austria, Russia, Great Britain, the United States. Fancy that after such a parade, mimic though it might appear, the adored one should go to the temple and execute a long-neglected law, and, in thus exercising his religious rights, suppose that he should drive out the money-changers and merchants from the outer precincts of their chief religious Cathedral! What would be done to such a person today? Do we not know that in the most civilized lands he would be arrested and imprisoned, and in the more savage lands he would be beaten or executed? When, therefore, we view the situation from this standpoint we lose any spirit of antagonism which might have been ours; it turns to sympathythat a religious nation should allow itself to get into the hands of politicians to such an extent.
It was very courageous on the part of St. Peter that, after having smitten off the ear of the High Priest's servant (though the wound was healed by Jesus), he followed his Master into the Court of that high-priest to see what would be done. The arraignment was at night, although it was contrary to Jewish Law to try a prisoner at night for any serious offense. But there was an excuse. This was a special case; haste was necessary, because whatever should be done must be done quickly; the very next day the unbelieving officials perceived that Jesus had great influence with the common people. They believed him to be a brilliant but harmless fraud. He had committed no crime, but he was a disturber of the peace, and they felt fully justified in taking his life. The Feast of Passover was at hand and would last a week, and it [R4711 : page 359] would be contrary to their Law that any execution should take place during that week. Besides, they feared the amount of influence which Jesus might exercise during the week, when there would be from one to two millions of people in and around Jerusalem from all over Palestine. They had already determined that their action must be short, sharp and decisive. This was decided before the arrest was made. They were ready and waiting at that midnight hour to carry out their murderous designs, for the good of their nation, as they thought.
They had difficulty in finding a charge; for what had Jesus ever done except acts of kindness and the uttering of words of wisdom and correction and hope? Blasphemy was a serious charge under the Jewish code. They would charge him with that as being the easiest to prove. He had said, when near the temple, "Destroy this Temple, and I will rear it up in three days." "But he spake of the Temple of his Body." Some of those who heard him understood him to speak of the literal temple. This they charged was blasphemy, because it took years to build the temple, and for Jesus to rebuild it in three days would mean a claim on his part of Divine power. But the charge did not seem sufficiently strong, even for those who had premeditated his murder. They wanted something to give a color of justice, at least, to their findings. So the chief-priest thought to get Jesus to commit himself in their presence and said, I adjure thee by the Living God to tell us whether thou be The Christ, the Son of God. Jesus replied that this was true, and that they would yet see him in heavenly glory and power at the right hand of Divine favor. This, the high priest declared, was sufficient proof of blasphemy. "Behold, now ye have heard his blasphemy, What reply ye?" And the council answered that he was worthy of death. The rabble in the Court, hearing the commotion, felt at liberty to abuse the prisoner, as they had done others. They showed their contempt of him by spitting upon him. They derided him by smiting him and saying, Prophesy, tell who smote thee. "He was reviled, yet reviled not again."