Trickery

The Jewish religious leaders that were intent on having Jesus put to death tried to trick him into saying something that they could use against him in a court of law. Matthew described this situation by saying the Pharisees “took counsel how they might entangle him in his talk” (Matthew 22:15). The Greek word translated entangle, pagideauo (pag-id-yoo´-o) means to ensnare (G3802). Pagideauo is derived from the word pagis which means “a trap (as fastened by a noose or notch); figuratively a trick or stratagem (temptation)” (G3803). It seems likely that what was going on during the last few days of Jesus life was an intense spiritual battle that may have involved numerous agents of Satan. The Apostle Paul’s description of spiritual warfare indicated there are many levels and sources of spiritual attack (Ephesians 6:12). He instructed believers to “put on the whole armour of God, that we may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil” (Ephesians 6:11).

The Greek word translated wiles in Ephesians 6:11, methodeia is a compound of two words that means “traveling over that is travesty (trickery)” (G3180). The root words refer to travel (G3593) and accompaniment (G3326), suggesting that Satan is aware of the course of our lives and plans his attacks so that we won’t make any spiritual progress. Jesus’ determination to die on the cross was both helped and hindered by Satan. The most critical aspect of what was going on at the time of Jesus’ death was the requirement for him to have lived a sinless life in order to be qualified as the savior of the world. If Satan could somehow cause Jesus to sin before he was crucified, then Jesus would have died for his own sin, not the substitutionary death of everyone else. The Pharisees strategy when they approached Jesus with the question “Is it lawful to give tribute unto Cesar, or not?” (Matthew 22:17), was to make him an enemy of the state. If Jesus said it was unlawful for Caesar to collect taxes from the Jews, then Jesus could have been arrested and put to death for rebellion against Rome.

Jesus was aware of what the Pharisees were trying to do (Matthew 22:18) and overcame their trickery with his brilliant response to their question about paying taxes. He said, “Shew me the tribute money. And they brought unto him a penny. And he saith unto them, Whose is this image and superscription? They say unto him, Cesar’s. Then saith he unto them, Render therefore unto Cesar the things which are Cesar’s; and unto God the things that are God’s” (Matthew 22:19-21). Jesus diffused the situation by identifying the origin of the coins that were being used for commerce in Jerusalem. Although its laws and culture had been imposed on the Jews, many people were getting rich as a result of Roman occupation and it’s likely that the Jews’ overall quality of life had been greatly improved. Therefore, it made sense for the Jews to pay their share of taxes. Matthew indicated that the Pharisees were impressed with Jesus’ response. He said of their reaction “When they had heard these words, they marveled, and left him, and went their way” (Matthew 22:22).

Not God

The Jewish religious leaders did everything they could to make it seem as though Jesus was not God. One of the ways the Pharisees tried to discredit him was to say that Jesus performed miracles by the power of the devil (Matthew 12:24). In one of Jesus’ final confrontations with these men, it says in Matthew 21:23, “when he was come into the temple, the chief priests and the elders of the people came unto him as he was teaching, and said, By what authority doest thou these things? and who gave thee this authority?” The reason they asked Jesus these questions was because they thought he would disclose his identity and they could arrested for claiming to be God. Instead, Jesus answered them:

“I also will ask you one question, and if you tell me the answer, then I also will tell you by what authority I do these things. The baptism of John, from where did it come? From heaven or from man?” And they discussed it among themselves, saying, “If we say, ‘From heaven,’ he will say to us, ‘Why then did you not believe him?’ But if we say, ‘From man,’ we are afraid of the crowd, for they all hold that John was a prophet.” So they answered Jesus, “We do not know.” And he said to them, “Neither will I tell you by what authority I do these things.” (Matthew 21:24-27, ESV)

The chief priests and elders unwillingness to acknowledge the authenticity of John’s baptism suggests that their claim that Jesus was not God had nothing to do with their belief, but it was merely a means for them to get rid of him. Jesus used the parable of the husbandmen to point out that the religious leaders were intent on killing him (Matthew 21:33-39). In his parable, Jesus said after the husbandmen had beaten and killed the householder’s servants, “Last of all he sent unto them his son, saying, They will reverence my son. But when the husbandmen saw the son, they said among themselves, This is the heir; come, let us kill him, and let us seize on his inheritance” (Matthew 21:37-38). Afterward, Jesus declared:

“Have you never read in the Scriptures: ‘The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone; this was the Lord’s doing, and it is marvelous in our eyes’? Therefore I tell you, the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people producing its fruits. And the one who falls on this stone will be broken to pieces; and when it falls on anyone, it will crush him.” (Matthew 21:42-44, ESV)

Luke recorded in his gospel that the religious leaders wanted to arrest Jesus immediately after hearing this. He said, “And the chief priests and the scribes the same hour sought to lay hands on him; and they feared the people: for they perceived that he had spoken this parable against them” (Luke 20:19). Based on Luke’s statement, it seems unlikely that the religious leaders wanted to kill Jesus because they believed he was not God. At this point, they probably wanted to kill him because they knew that he was.

Personal testimony

Jesus’ healing of the man born blind provided an opportunity for him to give his personal testimony to the religious leaders that denied Jesus was the promised Savior of God’s people. When the man was asked how he had received his sight, “He said unto them, He put clay upon mine eyes, and I washed, and do see” (John 9:15). This straight forward account of what happened left little room for the Pharisees to question the man any further. As usual, the religious leaders were divided about the authenticity of Jesus’ miraculous power. John recorded, “Therefore said some of the Pharisees, This man is not of God, because he keepeth not the sabbath day. Others said, How can a man that is a sinner do such miracles? And there was a division among them” (John 9:16). In an attempt to discredit the man who was healed, the Pharisees brought in his parents to see if they would corroborate his story or deny that a miracle had taken place.

The parents of the man that was healed refused to put their own reputations on the line, but instead claimed that their son was old enough to testify on his own behalf (John 9:23). It says in John 9:24, “Then again called they the man that was blind, and said unto him, Give God the praise: we know that this man is a sinner.” The Pharisees’ persistent haranguing of the man who was healed did little to shake his confidence in what had happened to him. In what appeared to be a sarcastic jab at the Pharisees ignorance, “He answered them, I have told you already, and ye did not hear: wherefore would you hear it again? will ye also be his disciples?” (John 9:27). This man’s courageous personal testimony left the Pharisees with little choice but to ban him from their synagogue in order to prevent him from influencing others into believing in Jesus. In a final attempt to convince the Pharisees he was telling the truth, the man said:

Why herein is a marvelous thing, that ye know not from whence his is, and yet he had opened mine eyes. Now we know that God heareth not sinners: but if any man be a worshipper of God, and doeth his will, him he heareth. Since the world began was it not heard that any man opened the eyes of one that was born blind. If this man were not of God, he could do nothing. (John 9:30-33)

After the man was cast out, Jesus found him and encouraged him in his faith. Jesus told the healed man that he was the Son of God and gave him the opportunity to be born again (John 9:35). Immediately, the man committed himself to Jesus, “And he said, Lord, I believe. And he worshipped him” (John 9:38). The commitment the man made to Jesus was not based on the miracle he done for him, but an understanding of who Jesus really was, God in human form. Jesus allowed this man to worship him because he knew his faith was genuine.

Why did this happen?

As Jesus was leaving the temple in Jerusalem, “he saw a man which was blind from birth” (John 9:1). Most likely, this man was begging by the roadside. Because he had been blind since birth, his condition would have been considered to be the result of a sin his parents had committed or perhaps, punishment for a sin that he had committed while he was in his mother’s womb or even while he was in a preexistent state (note on John 9:1). Most people would have shunned this man and treated him as if he were a nuisance to society. As they passed by, Jesus’ disciples asked him, “Master, who did sin, this man, or his parents, that he was born blind?” (John 9:2). In other words, the disciples wanted to know, why did this happen to him?

Jesus’  response to his disciples question revealed that the man’s blindness was not some sort of punishment, but an opportunity for God to work in his life. Jesus said, “Neither hath this man sinned, nor his parents: but that the works of God should be made manifest in his life” (John 9:3). The Greek term translated manifest, phaneroo (fan-er-o’-o) is derived from the word phaneros (fan-er-os’) which means “shining that is apparent” (5318). Jesus went on to say, “I must work the works of him that sent me, while it is day: the night cometh, when no man can work. As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world” (John 9:4-5). The Greek term translated light, phos (foce) means “to shine or make manifest especially by rays” (5457). A similar term, phemi (fay-mee’) means “to show or make known one’s thoughts that is speak or say” (5346).

A primary objective of Jesus’ ministry was to make the truth known about God’s character and his attitude toward sinners. The Jewish religious leaders tried to convince people that a sinless life was possible and that their behavior was the perfect example of how to live a godly life. In reality, Jesus was the only sinless person ever to exist and he was continually harassed by the Pharisees and scribes because he wouldn’t do things the way they wanted him to. When Jesus healed the man that was born blind, he did it in such a way that it was obvious that the man’s faith was involved or the healing couldn’t have taken place. It says in John 9:6-7 that Jesus, “spat on the ground, and made clay of the spittle, and he anointed the eyes of the blind man with the clay, and said to him, Go, wash in the pool of Siloam, (which is interpreted, Sent).”

The blind man demonstrated his faith or belief that his blindness was not a permanent condition when he did what Jesus told him to. The light that Jesus shed on this man’s situation was that he had the ability to see even though he was born blind. The truth of the matter was that God didn’t want to punish this man, but to make him whole. As a result of his healing, the man was questioned by the Pharisees in order to get some evidence against Jesus because in order to heal the blind man he made clay on the Sabbath, something they considered to be against the law. The man that was healed said this about Jesus, “Since the world began was it not heard that any man opened the eyes of one that was born blind. If this man were not of God, he could do nothing” (John 9:32-33).

Controversy

Toward the end of Jesus’ ministry, there was a lot of public debate about his true identity. Part of the problem was that Jesus intentionally tried to keep his identity a secret. Many times after he performed a miracle, he would tell the recipient not to tell anyone what had happened to him. Even when Jesus took three of his disciples to the top of a mountain and showed them his glorified state, he instructed them saying, “Tell the vision to no man, until the Son of man be risen again from the dead” (Matthew 17:9). It says in John 7:1, “After these things Jesus walked in Galilee: for he would not walk in Jewry, because the Jews sought to kill him.” The controversy about Jesus stemmed from the fact that many people knew him as the son of Mary and Joseph, a carpenter who had lived an ordinary life until the start of his ministry around the age of 30. When it was time for Jesus to begin his work of salvation, he tried to win the common people over without impressing them with his holy grandeur. Often times, Jesus had to sneak away to remote locations just to get a break from the masses of people that sought his help. During a popular religious festival, that would be attended by the majority of the Jewish population, Jesus was encouraged to “go into Judea, that thy disciples also may see the works that thou doest. For there is no man that doeth any thing in secret, and he himself seeketh to be known openly. If thou do these things, shew thyself to the world” (John 7:3-4).

The crux of the argument being presented to Jesus was that his intention of being the savior of the world meant that he had to be known by everyone. Therefore, it was necessary for him to go where masses of people could witness his miracles. Jesus knew that the risk of being killed was too great for him to expose himself to anymore public appearances. After Jesus’ brethren were gone, it says in John 7:10, “then went he also up to the feast, not openly, but as it were in secret.” Jesus’ intention to keep himself hidden from the religious leaders was nearly an impossible feat. When it was discovered that Jesus was somewhere in the vicinity, “Then the Jews sought him at the feast, and said Where is he? And there was much murmuring among the people concerning him: for some said, He is a good man: others said, Nay; but he deceiveth the people” (John 7:11-12). When the Pharisees heard the murmuring about Jesus, they sent officers to arrest him, but Jesus told them, “Yet a little while am I with you, and then I go unto him that sent me. Ye shall seek me, and shall not find me and where I am, thither ye cannot come” (John 7:33-34).

Jesus’ reference to his ascension to heaven was probably meant to startle the officers that came to arrest him so that they would realize he wasn’t an ordinary man that they could just take into custody. When the officers were asked to explain why they hadn’t arrested Jesus they told the Pharisees and chief priests, “Never man spake like this man” (John 7:46). In other words, they recognized the supernatural power of Jesus’ words and were unwilling to try and take him by force. Like the prophet Elijah, Jesus could have brought fire down from heaven and consumed these men if he chose to (1 Kings 1:10). At the heart of the discussion about Jesus true identity was the question about whether or not the Pharisees intended to allow the Jews’ Messiah to accomplish his mission on earth. At that time, it was becoming clear to the religious leaders that Jesus had already won over the majority of people and proven himself to be who he claimed to be, “the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world” (John 1:29). Among the Pharisees that were debating what to do about Jesus, was Nicodemus (John 7:50), the Pharisee that had come to Jesus by night and admitted, “no man can do these miracles that thou doest, except God be with him” (John 3:2). Even though Jesus had given him an in depth explanation about how he could be saved (John 3:3-21), Nicodemus didn’t appear to have been converted, because rather than sharing what had happened with the other Pharisees, Nicodemus suggested a trial should be conducted in order to settle the controversy about Jesus’ identity once and for all (John 7:51).

 

Weather forecast

One of the ongoing challenges Jesus had to deal with during his ministry was conflict with the religious leaders that influenced God’s people. Jesus had very little of what we refer to today as positional authority. In essence, Jesus was a nobody that arrived on the scene and gathered a huge following in a relatively short period of time. No one knew for certain that Jesus was God, except for the many miraculous things he did, many of which had never been seen before. Jesus could have done more to convince people of who he was, but it was apparently not God’s will for his identity to be completely revealed until after he had been resurrected from the dead.

In an attempt to get Jesus to prove that he was the Jew’s Messiah, Matthew tells us that the Pharisees and Sadducees “came, and tempting desired him that he would shew them a sign from heaven” (Matthew 16:1). Matthew’s reference to tempting suggested that the Pharisees and Sadducees were working as agents of Satan and were attempting to get Jesus to go against his Father’s will by making a spectacle of himself in order to prove that he was without a doubt the savior of the world. Jesus’ response to their request showed that he was aware of their motives and had intentionally refused to appease them in spite of their ability to discredit him. Matthew reported:

He answered and said unto them, When it is evening, ye say, it will be fair weather: for the sky is red, and in the morning, it will be foul weather to day: for the sky is red and lowring. O ye hypocrites, ye can discern the face of the sky; but can ye not discern the signs of the times? A wicked and adulterous generation seeketh after a sign; and there shall no sign be given unto it, but the sign of the prophet Jonas. (Matthew 16:2-4)

Jesus used the example of weather forecasting to show that the Pharisees and Sadducees were only pretending to not know who he was. The many miracles Jesus performed were adequate evidence of his divine character and authority. There had even been a previous occasion when God spoke from heaven and said, “This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased” (Matthew 3:17). The issue that was really as stake was whether or not Jesus would act according to the will of Satan or according to will of God, his heavenly Father. Matthew said of Jesus, “And he left them, and departed” (Matthew 16:4). In other words, Jesus just walked away without saying anything further to them.

Witnesses

Jesus responded to the Jews rejection of him as their Messiah by first letting them know that they would be jusged for their choice (John 5:22) and then, explained to them that there would come a day when everyone would be resurrected from the dead, but rather than entering into the presence of God and living with him for eternity, those who rejected Jesus would spend eternity in hell (John 5:29). Jesus intentionally made a point of declaring the truth about God’s judgment early in his ministry, and also talked about it often, so that no one could say, I didn’t know about that. Comparing God’s judgment to a legal case in which each person would be charged with some offence, Jesus said, “Do not think that I will accuse you to the Father: there is one that accuseth you, even Moses, in whom you trust” (John 5:45). Jesus said this because his “listeners prided themselves on their attachment to Moses, the great lawgiver. So it was an unexpected thrust for Jesus to say Moses himself would accuse them before God” (note on John 5:45).

Thinking about the evidence required to convict someone of a crime in a court of law, Jesus identified four witnesses that could testify that he was in fact the Jews’ Messiah. The first witness Jesus called to their minds was John the Baptist (John 5:33). The Jews were familiar with John’s message and many saw him baptize Jesus in the Jordan river (Matthew 3:16). During his first encounter with Jesus, John stated, “Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world” (John 1:29). Jesus told the Jews, “But I have greater witness than that of John: for the works which the Father hath given me to finish, the same works that I do, bear witness of me, that the Father hath sent me” (John 5:36). Jesus was referring to his works of salvation. The Messiah’s mission was to save God’s people and Jesus intended to finish that assignment through his death and resurrection. Ultimately, there was no better way for Jesus to prove he was who he said was than to resurrect himself from the dead. If that wasn’t enough, Jesus added that God himself had testified to his identity (Matthew 3:17) and the Scriptures also testified of him (John 5:39).