And Pilate wrote a title also, and he put it upon the cross. And the writing was: JESUS OF NAZARETH, THE KING OF THE JEWS. This title therefore many of the Jews did read: because the place where Jesus was crucified was nigh to the city: and it was written in Hebrew, in Greek, and in Latin. Then the chief priests of the Jews said to Pilate: Write not, The King of the Jews; but that he said, I am the King of the Jews. Pilate answered: What I have written, I have written. [John 19:19-22]
The crucifixion of Jesus was horrible, but of course the whole experience from start to finish was excruciating for Him. His own people slapped and spat on Him. He was taken back and forth from Pilate to Herod and back to Pilate. Having spoken the Truth throughout His ministry, He was now forced into silence and had to suffer fools. He had to hear the high priest of Israel accuse Him of blasphemy for that which would have been blasphemy had anyone else claimed to be the Son of God. The same irony is in place when Pilate places the sign over His head. The King of the Jews was meant as a sly joke, directed more at the Jews than at Jesus. Pilate was saying, “Here is your true King”, but neither he nor the Jewish leaders believed it.
We have the image of Jesus wounded, beaten, crowned with thorns, scorned and mocked and tortured and even nailed to a cross and left hanging from it to His death. That is the King of the Jews. Of course it is. That is the most fitting image for the King of the Jews as they were about to commence their diaspora 40 years after His death. It fits. Jesus’ sacrifice at the time of the Passover, the sacrifice of the Lamb of God, would begin that Exodus that would lead to the Jews’ most difficult period of “wandering in the wilderness” in their history. His church was in formation, but His people, the people of His flesh, were going to undergo similar trials to His, culminating in the Holocaust, our own crucifixion. And Jesus led the way. He really was the first Jew to experience that period of persecution. He really was the King of the Jews.
So if Jesus is King of the Jews, how did He become Lord of the Romans?
By oppression and judgment he was taken away, and with his generation who did reason? for he was cut off out of the land of the living, for the transgression of my people to whom the stroke was due. [Isaiah 53:8]
The translation above is from the Hebrew Masoretic text. Christian translations say He was stricken. But the phrase “to whom the stroke was due” places the person to whom it refers in his proper position in history. Most Christians take it as a given that the person referred to in Isaiah 53 is Jesus. If Jesus was cut off from the land of the living, for the transgression of “my people” (what people? Israel), TO WHOM THE STROKE WAS DUE, then it follows logically that if it were not for His being cut off from the land of the living, it would have been HIS PEOPLE who would have been cut off from the land of the living. In other words, Israel would have been “cut off as a nation”.
There are those who believe that the Catholic Church is the “new Israel” and thus supplants the Jews. This begs the question. The Catholic Church cannot be the people for whose transgressions the stroke fell upon Jesus. The Church came from Jesus. Jesus in the flesh came from the Jews. Reversing the order makes nonsense of the prophecy.
To understand this, let’s look at the history of the Jews, subsequent to the Crucifixion. During this time, it is the Roman Empire that will carry the torch, that will become Christian, through the examples of martyrs.
Judah, the Roman Province of Iudaea, experienced revolts and rebellions which drew the Romans to come and slaughter the inhabitants of Jerusalem and destroy the Temple, to take the Temple treasures to Rome. (Including the seven-branched candelabrum featured in the Arch of Titus in Rome, obvious evidence that the Jews had a Temple in Jerusalem.) In 137 AD, following the Bar Kokhba rebellion, the land was renamed Syria Palaestina, and the Jews were forbidden under pain of death to even enter Aelia Capitolina (Jerusalem renamed). Although Jews remained, it was no longer Jewish land. Five centuries later, the land was overtaken by the Muslims following the death of Mohammed. For the most part, the Jews found themselves in the Diaspora. They wandered the earth, not tied to their promised land.
But if thou wilt not hear the voice of the Lord thy God, to keep and to do all his commandments and ceremonies, which I command thee this day, all these curses shall come upon thee, and overtake thee...
And as the Lord rejoiced upon you before doing good to you, and multiplying you: so he shall rejoice destroying and bringing you to nought, so that you shall be taken away from the land which thou shalt go in to possess. The Lord shall scatter thee among all people, from the farthest parts of the earth to the ends thereof: and there thou shalt serve strange gods, which both thou art ignorant of and thy fathers, wood and stone. Neither shalt thou be quiet, even in those nations, nor shall there be any rest for the sole of thy foot. For the Lord will give thee a fearful heart, and languishing eyes, and a soul consumed with pensiveness: [Deuteronomy 28:15, 63-65]
Now, let’s take a flight of imagination. We will imagine that Jesus did not come, was not crucified, and His Church was not established. We will follow the short track and the long track. The short track is in keeping with the above quote, that the stroke meant for the people actually fell on the people. That’s easy. The Jews were utterly slaughtered by the Romans. They end up as a footnote to history.
Let’s try looking at the long track. The set-up is easy. We’re imagining there was no crucifixion of Christ. What does this mean for the Jews? And how does it prove that Jews have actually, unwittingly, all along, been witnessing for Jesus?
Well, along comes Titus, who sacks Jerusalem. And the Bar Kokhba rebellion, and the renaming of the land by Hadrian, and the Diaspora. Now the Jews wander the world. They set up communities. They retain their customs, the rabbis are ascendant where the Temple is gone, pretty much the history we know. Except for one detail.
As time goes on, no one really knows or much cares who they are. They are not persecuted, because there is no crucifixion that they are blamed for. ("If only!”) There is no church. There is no Islam, because there is no spread of Christianity for Mohammed to react against. There is no persecution, no pogroms, the Jews are not kicked out of one country after another, so actually there is no truly worldwide diaspora. There is no Merchant of Venice, because there is no Shylock. The Roman Empire, perhaps, takes over the entire world. Or it wars with another empire, which then wars with another, etc., the usual pattern. One empire takes over another, different cultures become dominant, no one has heard of Jesus, and only groups of Jews have heard of Yahweh. Even if they take back Judea, they are one nation among many that no one else would have motives to consider much beyond perhaps cultural fascination.
AND. The world does not hear of the glory of God. They have no reason to. The strength of the Jews over the centuries has been in their struggle, their overcoming of the pogroms and persecutions. Without these focusing elements, the Jewish culture has no reason to continue. Or if it does, it is not a light to the world. Why do I say this?
Because the Way needed to be prepared. Just as God prepared the Israelites to worship Him by bringing them to Egypt, so the world needed some preparation for accepting Him, too. And in our scenario, they haven’t. Gone is the prophecy of Zechariah:
Behold, I will make Jerusalem a cup of drunkenness to all the surrounding peoples, when they lay siege against Judah and Jerusalem. And it shall happen in that day that I will make Jerusalem a very heavy stone for all peoples; all who would heave it away will surely be cut in pieces, though all nations of the earth are gathered against it. [Zechariah 12:2-3]
Jerusalem is no cup of drunkenness to the surrounding peoples if they don’t know Jerusalem from Taipei. The bottom line question about Jerusalem, without the history which Christianity has brought us, is, “Who cares"? Only the Jews would care. It has been by this kind of negative witness, by being sustained through the Diaspora in a wilderness surrounded by peoples who don’t realize the purpose of their Chosenness, that the Jews have been a light to the world.
And here’s where the whole thing goes topsy-turvy. Put Christ back in the picture, and suddenly the ongoing “perfectly uncanny deliberateness, to be at any price,” is understandable, and the Jews are a light to the world, because THE JEWS ARE TO THE WORLD AS CHRIST WAS TO THE JEWS.
When Jesus walked the earth, His own people rejected Him. Their leaders participated in His death, by calling for it. It was the Romans who hammered in the nails, but the condemnation came from the Jewish leaders. So, in the Holocaust, did a European atmosphere of anti-semitism act as a call to a type of Roman Empire (Nazi Germany) which worshiped power and military might, to do the unthinkable- to commit murder on God’s Chosen People, just as the Romans murdered God’s Son.
What then? That which Israel sought, he hath not obtained: but the election hath obtained it; and the rest have been blinded. As it is written: God hath given them the spirit of insensibility; eyes that they should not see; and ears that they should not hear, until this present day. And David saith: Let their table be made a snare, and a trap, and a stumbling block, and a recompense unto them. Let their eyes be darkened, that they may not see: and bow down their back always. I say then, have they so stumbled, that they should fall? God forbid. But by their offence, salvation is come to the Gentiles, that they may be emulous of them. Now if the offence of them be the riches of the world, and the diminution of them, the riches of the Gentiles; how much more the fulness of them? For I say to you, Gentiles: as long indeed as I am the apostle of the Gentiles, I will honour my ministry, If, by any means, I may provoke to emulation them who are my flesh, and may save some of them. For if the loss of them be the reconciliation of the world, what shall the receiving of them be, but life from the dead? [Romans 11:7-15]
Now, let’s look at the mechanism of it. The mechanism of Christ taking the blow meant for the nation. How did it happen? The Jewish leaders made the accusation, but the Romans committed the act. What happened here was an act of collusion, a handshake between the Jewish religious leadership and the Roman political leadership. Three centuries later, the Jewish God was accepted by the Roman political leader (Constantine). How does something like this happen?
The chief priests therefore, and the Pharisees, gathered a council, and said: What do we, for this man doth many miracles? If we let him alone so, all will believe in him; and the Romans will come, and take away our place and nation. But one of them, named Caiphas, being the high priest that year, said to them: You know nothing. Neither do you consider that it is expedient for you that one man should die for the people, and that the whole nation perish not. And this he spoke not of himself: but being the high priest of that year, he prophesied that Jesus should die for the nation. And not only for the nation, but to gather together in one the children of God, that were dispersed. (John 11:47-52)
The Pharisees did not know that Jesus has come to fulfill the Law. Jesus was the sacrificial Lamb of God. He came to be put in the place of the lamb of the Passover. The Pharisees had no way of knowing that. Not even Jesus’ own disciples grasped it. Apparently only Jesus and John the Baptist knew this. The Pharisees would have been priests of the Temple. They performed the sacrifices. In this case, their leadership decided that Jesus should be sacrificed, yet they did not perform the action. By colluding with the Romans in His death, they effectively brought the Romans into spiritual communion with themselves.
But as the priests of God, it was THEIR JOB to perform the sacrifice. THIS is where they failed, the result of a lack of faith. They were to have acted the part of Abraham. Instead, they had the Romans do for them what they, for fear of the Romans and collusion with the ways of the world, could not do. When they were persuading a wavering Pontius Pilate, they rejected Jesus as their King and declared the kingship of Caesar in His stead. So they handed over not only the scepter, but the priesthood as well. THUS the priesthood was handed over to the Roman Catholic Church.
Back to Fruit of the Tree