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The Mod | The Rejection of God

This post was originally published on this site

Monday, 09 Sep 2019

As a first century Jew under imperial Roman rule, the apostle John understood the challenge that arose between faith in Jesus and allegiance to an emperor who demanded complete submission. This is why John, in his eyewitness testimony, records the trial of Jesus and includes a clear social dynamic with political powers. Jesus’ trial and execution were under Pontius Pilate, and (as the Apostle’s Creed reminds us), this trial and execution was as much political and historical as it was theological.

John’s reason for doing this would be clear for the early church: their submission to the emperor could only go so far. Their allegiance to Rome had limits. A Christian’s greatest allegiance was always to king Jesus; the emperor (while worthy of honor and respect) could only be a temporary and provisional ruler.  As John described the scene, he revealed a world that rejects God in the person of Jesus Christ because the world’s vision was clouded by a desire for political power and respectability.

Since then, the church has continued to struggle to maintain faithfulness to a crucified Messiah while rejecting the allure of political power and respectability.  John was concerned with the church’s faithful witness to Jesus’ words and deeds, and that such a witness could never become entirely comfortable with this world, imagining that political power could aid the church.  The truth is the church has always thrived when she has embraced the weak, crucified Messiah whose Kingdom could not wholly submit to the political powers of the day.

God Rejected

In John 19, Pontius Pilate delivered Jesus to the executioners to be flogged. The guards, having a bit of fun, dress Jesus as a king to mock him. They make a crown of thorns and place it on his head, dress him in a purpose robe (the color of royalty), and say “Hail King of the Jews” as they “struck him with their hands” (v.3). The scourging then followed.  D.A. Carson describes it as the worst sort of beating. “The victim was stripped and tied to a post, and then beaten by several torturers (in the Roman provinces they were soldiers) until they were exhausted, or their commanding officer called them off” he writes. [1] Victims like Jesus, who neither was a Roman citizen nor a soldier, were usually beat with “a whip whose leather thongs were fitted with pieces of bone or lead or other metal.” [2] Eyewitnesses testimonies of these scourings record “victims with their bones and entrails exposed.” [3] The beating was so severe “that the victims sometimes died.”[4]

As Jesus received his beating, Pilate went out to the crowds: “See, I am bringing him out to you that you may know that I find no guilt in him” (v.4). When the guards brought Jesus out before the crowds, the mockery was clear. Jesus stood before them as a bloodied, beaten, and defeated king, and Pilate presented him with the words “Behold the man!” (v.5). Carson captures the social dynamic at play between Pilate and the crowds. Pilate knew that for the Jews allegiance to Rome was “no more than political hypocrisy deployed to ensure that he will condemn Jesus to the cross.” [5] Thus, Pilate threw the charge that Jesus was inciting a rebellion in their face reminding them of their subordinate status to Rome “by saying that this bloodied and helpless prisoner is the only king they are likely to have.”[6]

This presentation of Jesus inspired the crowds to commit the ultimate act of betrayal. Pilate’s words and actions drove “the chief priests to their own blasphemy: We have no king but Caesar.[7] Earlier when the chief priests conducted their private mockery of a trial, they had charged Jesus with blasphemy. Now as an official trial was being conducted, they were the ones committing blasphemy. Their words abandoned their Messianic hope and embraced a Roman emperor in the place of God. [8]

Seeing Jesus

John’s scene alludes to fulfilled prophecy. As Jesus stood before Pontius Pilate and the crowds, the prophet Isaiah’s words rang true:

he had no form or majesty that we should look at him,

and no beauty that we should desire him.

He was despised and rejected by men,

a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief;

and as one from whom men hide their faces

he was despised, and we esteemed him not. (Isaiah 53:2–3)

At the very moment that Jesus stood before the crowds, being mocked by the imperial power of the day, Jesus was rejected. The crowds rejected him; he religious leaders rejected him; the world rejected him. “He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him” (John 1:11). “Like Caiaphas before him (11:49–52), Pilate spoke better than he knew. The long-awaited king of the Jews stood before them, and they did not recognize him.”[9]

Isaiah had prophesied, “Behold, my servant shall act wisely; he shall be high and lifted up, and shall be exalted,” but the people could not see it (Isaiah 52:13). Yet as Jesus stood before the people, exaltation appeared as humiliation and power as weakness. Jesus was not the king they expected or wanted. They wanted power; Jesus appeared weak and humbled. They wanted beauty; Jesus had “no beauty that we should desire him.” Isaiah paints the problem—people cannot see.

Saint Augustine, commenting on the trial and crucifixion of Jesus, points out that there are two ways of seeing Jesus’s crucifixion. One can either look upon Jesus and see the truth, that the one who stood before the crowds is the king or one can look upon Jesus and only see shame and humiliation. He wrote,

Jesus, therefore, went to the place where He was to be crucified, bearing His cross. A grand spectacle! but if it be impiety that is the onlooker, a grand laughing-stock; if piety, a grand mystery: if impiety be the onlooker, a grand demonstration of ignominy; if piety, a grand bulwark of faith: if it is impiety that looketh on, it laughs at the King bearing, in place of His kingly rod, the tree of His punishment; if it is piety, it sees the King bearing the tree for His own crucifixion, which He was yet to affix even on the foreheads of kings, exposed to the contemptuous glances of the impious in connection with that wherein the hearts of saints were thereafter to glory[10]

Most of the people present at Jesus’ trial and crucifixion could only see shame and humiliation. They could only see a bloodied and beaten man. The political inconvenience of Jesus clouded their vision, as did their sin and idolatry of their vision for the Messiah they wanted. The world was in bondage to the evil one, and thus the people could not see. This is why years after this event, the Apostle Paul would tell the Corinthian church, “The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned” (1 Corinthians 2:14).

To see Jesus requires the gift of the Holy Spirit. Only by the power of the Holy Spirit working through the preached word can anyone see past the blinding allure of political power and respectability to embrace a crucified messiah who died for the sins of the world. Only by the gift of God’s grace can this vision of Jesus be nourished and sustained. Only through a constant hearing of the word and participation in the body of Christ will Christians be able to endure the temptation to trade Jesus in for a powerful political leader who will not crush the people of God if they are willing to give him or her their absolute commitment.

As Christians we obey higher laws. We trust in a king who promises resurrection and the renewal of the entire world, and we can trust him because on the cross he really did die for the sins of the world and rise to new life. Jesus has already demonstrated his victory over sin and death, he and has proven his love and compassion for us in his humility to undergo suffering and death for our sakes. He has already guaranteed that he will do for us what he has promised. The questions that are always before us are these: Where is our hope and trust? Are we looking toward a city that is to come where God will reign displaying his glory as the lamb that was slain for the sake of the world or are we looking toward the power and glory of a city that we could build and enjoy where the powerful reign and the proud hold up their heads and enjoy fleeting riches that this world has to offer? Will we behold the man and see the savior who lived, suffered, and died for us, or will we see the shame, humiliation, and defeat of one whom the world has rejected ?

Silverio Gonzalez is a producer for the Core Christianity radio program.  He lives in Escondido with his wife and two children.

[1] D. A. Carson, The Gospel according to John, The Pillar New Testament Commentary (Leicester, England; Grand Rapids, MI: Inter-Varsity Press; W.B. Eerdmans, 1991), 597.

[2] D. A. Carson, The Gospel according to John, The Pillar New Testament Commentary (Leicester, England; Grand Rapids, MI: Inter-Varsity Press; W.B. Eerdmans, 1991), 597.

[3] D. A. Carson, The Gospel according to John, The Pillar New Testament Commentary (Leicester, England; Grand Rapids, MI: Inter-Varsity Press; W.B. Eerdmans, 1991), 597.

[4] D. A. Carson, The Gospel according to John, The Pillar New Testament Commentary (Leicester, England; Grand Rapids, MI: Inter-Varsity Press; W.B. Eerdmans, 1991), 597.

[5] D. A. Carson, The Gospel according to John, The Pillar New Testament Commentary (Leicester, England; Grand Rapids, MI: Inter-Varsity Press; W.B. Eerdmans, 1991), 605.

[6] D. A. Carson, The Gospel according to John, The Pillar New Testament Commentary (Leicester, England; Grand Rapids, MI: Inter-Varsity Press; W.B. Eerdmans, 1991), 605.

[7] D. A. Carson, The Gospel according to John, The Pillar New Testament Commentary (Leicester, England; Grand Rapids, MI: Inter-Varsity Press; W.B. Eerdmans, 1991), 605.

[8] D. A. Carson, The Gospel according to John, The Pillar New Testament Commentary (Leicester, England; Grand Rapids, MI: Inter-Varsity Press; W.B. Eerdmans, 1991), 605–606.

[9] D. A. Carson, The Gospel according to John, The Pillar New Testament Commentary (Leicester, England; Grand Rapids, MI: Inter-Varsity Press; W.B. Eerdmans, 1991), 605.

[10] Augustine of Hippo, “Lectures or Tractates on the Gospel according to St. John,” in St. Augustin: Homilies on the Gospel of John, Homilies on the First Epistle of John, Soliloquies, ed. Philip Schaff, trans. John Gibb and James Innes, vol. 7, A Select Library of the Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers of the Christian Church, First Series (New York: Christian Literature Company, 1888), 429.

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