THE POLITICS OF THE CRUXIFIXION
Copyright 2016 Emmanuel Iweha
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They came to Pilate to get him to sign off on their request to have Jesus crucified. Prior to this, they had not come to him about Christ. This did not mean that he being who he was had no idea what was happening in his constituency. He could have gotten any information he wanted from ‘official’ or ‘unofficial’ sources about what was going on but he was quick enough to gather that they brought Jesus and wanted Him crucified out of envy. It is interesting to note that he did not readily grant them their request as they would have wanted i.e. privately.
In fact, it was a deliberate slight on them when he decided to go to the people directly and ask them what they wanted. They wanted him to pass out a death sentence but he was willing to ignore them and go to the people. Was this slight on the leaders done without provocation?
The fact that they came to him to rubber stamp their decision was a slight on him. They did not ask for his opinion on the matter. They did not come complaining about what was happening. They had already planned everything out, from the apprehension, their quick fire meeting which was more like a kangaroo court and the next thing was to have him killed using Pilate.
Pilate was not going to take it. They just wanted to use him and rather than lying low about the matter; he decided to go on the offensive. They wanted Jesus to be killed. He was ready to let Jesus go scot free. However, he seemed to have over played his hand when he took the matter to the people. He wanted to diminish them publicly by setting up a poll of sorts. He already gathered that Jesus was someone who had more street credibility when it came to an area they felt they had no competition i.e. religious authority.
This was the same area that Pilate could not compete against them. He would always be the foreigner. He would always be the heathen leader even when they i.e. the Jewish leaders also had political relevance. That is, they had legitimacy in an area he wanted to hold complete sway while they still ruled in another area he had no hope of having any influence. The Jewish leaders had boxed him in that area. It was a people game and they held the narrative when it came to religious relevance.
It was their religious relevance that initially gave them a seat at the table i.e. the power table. Pilate was a conqueror i.e. an extension of Rome. He was Cesar’s representative. But he was not necessarily the only way to Rome. Herod was not far away and the system was such that any group could access Rome even when Pilate governed. This was the underlying threat when they told him he was not a friend of Cesar if he let Jesus go free. They had access and it was a relevance game.
This is why part of Pilate’s interaction with the people; an interaction that was devised to completely remove the Jewish leaders from the conversation was this ceremony in which he released a prisoner to them. It was always a prisoner of choice i.e. the choice of the people. This was something he did annually. It was a day of release.
The Jews had one game plan, which was to get rid of Jesus. They carefully looked for the opportunity and found it when one of His disciples came forward, offering to hand Him over for a price. They agreed on the price and hatched the plan. Once they knew the timing of the execution, they went on to prepare for the hearing. The meeting was held at the dead of the night, an unusual hour to have so many people attend without them being informed already.
He had already been sentenced before they found witnesses. They were out to get Him and the whole plan anchored on having the Romans kill Him. Now they told Pilate that it was not lawful for them to kill a man. The law they were referring to was not that of God or their laws but the law of the Romans. They were an occupied people. They were subjects of the Roman Empire and the right to kill or sentence a man to death was deliberately taken from them.
At first glance, it sounded as if they were trying to be law abiding citizens. They had jurisdiction over certain matters and could probably pass judgement and sentence to a certain degree. However, there were some things they could not do i.e. things they needed the express permission of the authorities. One of them was carrying out the death sentence. So it sounded proper and looked like they were doing everything by the book.
But it was a dig at the Romans and beyond this; it was a perfect game plan that was hitched on deniability and absolution. They never lost focus. The focus was the people and how they looked. Their image was paramount. They were not going to kill another Jew. Let the Romans do it as it would play to their overarching narrative that the Romans were the enemy. This would still feed the mob. Yes they wanted Christ dead but what better way to still feed the angst against the Romans than to have them kill Jesus, another Jewish icon? Even those who were aware that they were the ones that handed Jesus over to Pilate would still not be able to beat the argument that they did not have the right or power to kill Jesus. Besides, the Romans do not just kill for the fun of it; they tout their judicial system to be the best, the most modern and humane. They would have to find the accused guilty and deserving of death for them to kill Jesus, making them more complicit.
In other words, all we did was to hand Him over to the Romans. It was the Romans that killed Him. But you must remember that they apprehended Jesus at the dead of the night. That is, they were not bold enough to approach him in day time –because of the people. In all their hating of and scheming against Jesus, they still did not want the people to hold them responsible i.e. it was all about fighting for the hearts and minds of the people because that was what kept them relevant. Their over arching game plan was to keep the animosity against Rome festering without being seen to be actively doing it. So this one issue could be used to add to what they had always been doing. It was all about control that would continue to make them relevant. They hated Jesus but they knew that this would not be lost on the people so this was a great way of redirecting their focus by bringing in someone else into play i.e. the Romans.
They had always wanted the Romans to kill their rivals and this is what had been going on. Some of these rivals never knew that they were considered as rivals. Gamaliel listed some of them when he was trying to convince the council not to do anything to harm the Disciples of Christ. He talked about individuals who drew people after them by their zeal for the country. These were threats to the supremacy of the council but they knew that the Romans saw them as threats too and did not need to do much for them to wade in since these individual were directly challenging the Romans in the political arena, an area the Romans were quick to respond. Jesus was different in this regard because He did not come talking about political power. He came as a direct threat to the spiritual authority of the council, not political and the council would have to do something extra to get the Romans involved since this was an area they did not consider to be critical or a threat to their dominion.
This does not mean that there were not others who looked like a challenge or some who actually challenged their spiritual authority. A good case in point was John the Baptist. However, Christ stood out because His authority was backed with power, signs and wonders. He took them by surprise i.e. His effectiveness. In a certain way, He became their perfect nightmare; someone with a spiritual authority that did not come in through the ranks. Indeed, someone that made the hierarchical structure that had been laid out by tradition to look irrelevant. The structure was not just to create a pecking order amongst them and setup an aspirational framework i.e. a clear route to the top of the food chain. This served to keep everyone in check and compel them to play the game if they want to further their position.
Beyond all this, it was a structure designed to keep people out. You have to be in to be in and those that were outside will remain outside. They became the religious elite. The order. They were always rattled by those who came from ‘nowhere’ like the John the Baptists and others but they could look down on them because they did not belong. That is, it was a way to tell themselves and others who cared to listen that you should not take anyone serious who is not part of us.
And they were a lively bunch. They had sects within sects. There was enough to keep them busy with their politicking and infighting. Jesus was the person that came that had everything they were afraid of and he was not part of them.
He showed that he was more learned i.e. he broke that barrier as the Pharisees, scribes and doctors of law knew they had met someone that was not part of the system or went through the system but was better than them. He was an orator. He knew how to captivate the audience. This was not part of the men that robbed widow’s houses and for pretence make long prayers. This was not a man that used devices to keep people spellbound. He did not need to power-dress to show that he should be taken serious. The fact that he dressed just like His disciples i.e. he was a ‘commoner’ rubbed salt to their injury. The power he displayed raw power.
He had the word and could do the miraculous. He was everything they were not and he obtained it by not going through their schools and all the system they put in place. Just his existence was a constant threat. His success was a threat. Anytime he spoke, showed innate wisdom and displayed raw power attributed to God it was like an accusation to the council that everything they had put in place was a lie designed to keep the people in check. As far as they were concerned, it was a given that Jesus must die.
They had to do something more to get the Romans involved and the first thing that came up was to bring up the issue of judicial authority. This was obviously another thorny issue they had with the Romans. Their power to adjudicate was limited by law. The ultimate power was to have the ability to pass out the death sentence and carry out the execution. This was one area they knew the Romans would not concede to and it had been made unlawful. However, they were given the right to pass out the death sentence. The caveat was that the Romans were the only ones that could execute anyone. This was what showed that they were living under the hammer of the Romans. This was the opportunity they had to bring them into the fray as well as work to absolve themselves.
To them it was a simple idea. Tell Pilate that they had passed out the death sentence on a man. He already knows that he is the one that would have the final say. The simple thing would be for him to give a nod to their request but they probably had one or two things up the sleeve that would compel him to do their bidding. They would not have presented the case to him if they did not have any way of making him do what they wanted. They might have suspected that Pilate would be quick to put them down and would be ready to bargain or even twist his arm to have their way.
They were so sure of having their way that they had prepared to ask for Roman guards to guard his graveyard since they were already aware of the rumours of him not staying dead should he perchance die. Things did not go as smoothly as planned. Pilate was not ready to be railroaded.
Politics, ambition and control. He was a professional politician who understood the game. Pilate quickly recognized what they were playing at when they told him he was the one that could have Jesus killed. They wanted Him dead. Once they triggered that request, it behoved on Pilate to at least look into the matter. What he found left him angry. It was a matter of religion. It was a matter of spiritual authority. For the first time, the council had found a match, someone they could not handle. This was an intriguing prospect to Pilate. The fact that they wanted him dead underscored his strategic importance. In fact and for this reason alone, Pilate would have wanted Christ to remain free so that he could counter balance the council in an area he did not have much of an influence. And to think they now wanted him to get rid of their enemy! Added to this, he was not ready to be their rubber stamp.
This was an opportunity to get at them and help further his cause in connecting with the people. The scriptures tell of him sending Jesus to Herod when he discovered that he was Herod’s jurisdiction. At face value, this could be taken as him given deference to Herod. However, the Jews were also aware of this. That is, as a matter of law, they knew that Pilate was the right person to bring Jesus to and it would further serve their purpose if the Romans were brought into play.
This did not mean that they loved or cherished the relationship they had with Herod. They could have taken him to Herod at the first but their primary concern over rode this thought. Pilate on the other hand scored a political point by sending Jesus to Herod. He also deflated the plans of the council. They were not expecting this and for a moment, they lost control and influence. They were momentarily not in charge of the plot.
Herod on his part seemed to only be in it for the entertainment value. Jesus did not even look like a remote threat. The council could not compel or make a case for Jesus to be killed before Herod. And once that entertainment value was dampened, Herod did not seem to have any need of keeping him around. However, he used him to score his own political point not by just granting the wish of the council but by sending him back to Pilate.
Whatever issues they had prior to this time was buried the minute Herod sent back Jesus to Pilate. Herod was the only person that won something here without it looking like anything else but a political victory. Pilate continued his games with the council. He had no intention of being their tool but him and they had to couch their action in political finesse. That said, he played his trump card when he decided to bypass the council and go to the people. It was a given at this point that Jesus would not be killed i.e. in the mind of Pilate.
He was expecting them to ask for the release of the populist rebel, who was admired by all for his zeal. However, it was a time of release and that only meant that one man would be released. It was not a time to kill so Jesus would not have been killed even if the other person was released. This too did not look like something that was going according to plan for members of the council. They were expecting a private hearing. Pilate threw it out in the open by bringing it back to the people. This took out the ‘it’s the Romans’ argument. Pilate knew that it was a religious issue and such issues will always have divided opinions. He was basically docking the council. The people were going to be the judge in a matter that he knew they would have divided opinions. This also absolved him of responsibility.
Another thing here is that he set the members of the council to dirty their hands. They wanted to do this privately. He brought them out into the open and they had to go through the added indignity of canvassing the people. The table was turned against them. Now they had to come out openly to state their position. The council wanted the rebel to be picked over their adversary. It was like throwing worms into the river and watching as the fish fought over it and the members of the members of the council became part of the melee. Perhaps this was too much to ask for on the part of Pilate who may have expected them to stand aloof and take the public slight with aplomb.
Things were getting pretty fluid at this point. The council had shown their hand and were really into the fray. The people were swayed to go for the rebel. This swaying implied influence. Remember that the gold mine here was not Jesus but the people. Pilate and the council were fighting for the hearts and minds of the people. The fact that now went for the rebel at the behest of the council meant that they now had the upper hand. Pilate just witnessed what would have been a highly divisive event become a display of the reach and influence of the members of the council, a group he was seeking to humiliate and brake the hold they had over the people.
At this moment of fluidity, Pilate decided to play another card. He asked the people what he should do with Jesus. He wanted to leave having had the last word on the matter. He was fighting for the soul of the people. This was a day they asked for one man to be released. He was giving them an extra; they were going to determine what would happen to the other person.
Pilate was not expecting the death request. He was probably not expecting such a uniformed response as well but he gambled because he wanted to win this particular battle. The council on their part were on a roll. They had just swayed the people to pick the rebel. They had already showed their hand and now that Pilate had openly requested for what the people would want done to Jesus. They had nothing more to lose as they committed to seeing Christ die by crucifixion.
Pilate too had already committed himself, perhaps more than he intended as he tried to weave through the political tangle he had brought on himself. The council wanted Christ dead. The people now wanted Christ dead. Pilate was losing on every side and at this point, he seemed willing to defy the people. Then the council played their final card, telling him that he was no friend of Caesar if he let Jesus go. This was the crux of the matter for Pilate because as much as he sought the heart and mind of the people and wanted to put the council down; his political relevance relied heavily on how Caesar perceived him. He understood the underlying threat. They were willing to push the narrative that he was not fighting for the interest of Caesar.
If they had brought this issue up at the beginning, Pilate would have shot it down pretty fast. However, the matter had now left the private rooms and was ushered into the public gallery in a move pushed by Pilate himself. The irony may not have been lost on him. This was the checkmate. It was already too public for him to do anything otherwise. The council had made a request and the people had also made the same request so why should he rile Caesar’s subjects by going back on his word? He was here to keep the peace of the land not to cause war.
They publicly canvassed for death by crucifixion. Their game plan was exposed but at this point, it really did not matter. They had what they wanted but not in the way they wanted it. It was not a complete victory. Pilate got them to grovel. He too had what he wanted but it was not a complete victory. He gave the people what they asked for although the people only asked for what the members of the council wanted. It was only Herod who seemed to have had a clean victory.
It was all about the people but this event showed that they can be pushed to want things they never intended. They swayed this way and that way and by the end of the day, Jesus had been crucified.
Jesus was the least person in this game. That is he had a game too but he did the least to make it happen, which meant he did the most when looking at it spiritually.
Everything He said and did not say led him closer to his death. Every action he took and did not take brought him closer to his crucifixion. In the scheme of things as it was limited to the event of the politics of his death, he was more or less a bystander. The council wanted him dead but they were more occupied with the game they had entered into with Pilate. Yes Pilate later got more intrigued at Christ but no more than he allowed himself as the politics of the interaction still held sway. He so much wanted to have the upper hand but they i.e. the council kept on checkmating him.
It would have been wonderful for him if Herod had taken it out of his hands. But it may be that Herod was the more politically suave of the lot by not deliberately meddling into the matter of killing Jesus. Perhaps the politics of the death of John the Baptist and how it all hung on him was not too far away from his mind.
Pilate was engaged with the council and they were engaged with him. Eventually each scored points over the other but none of them left the arena feeling they had it the way they planned.
There was an invisible hand at play. This made it impossible for them i.e. any of them to have it the way the wanted it even though they were completely unaware of this invisible hand. It was impossible to have it the way they wanted. The only thing they got was that which was permitted.
The scripture has truths, words of wisdom and power. The scripture has varying degrees of truth.
“I returned, and saw under the sun, that the race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, neither yet bread to the wise, nor yet riches to men of understanding, nor yet favour to men of skill; but time and chance happeneth to them all” Ecclesiastes 9:11
This is a fact of life. There are times when things just happen and what is expected if certain things are done does not materialize. The scripture above is stating the obvious, something gotten from observing life.
“Then he answered and spoke unto me, saying, This is the word of the LORD unto Zerubbabel, saying, Not by might, nor by power, but, by my spirit, saith the LORD of hosts” Zechariah 4:6
This is another fact; a spiritual fact. This supersedes the other. Time and chance is about life without the invisible hand. By my spirit is that invisible hand. With time and chance, the battle i.e. the political manoeuvrings could have gone either way. Pilate could have had the better of the council or they could have had the better of Pilate. But with this case, it was all about “by my Spirit”; the invisible hand was going to make sure things occurred according to that which has already been written.
“There is no wisdom nor understanding nor counsel against the LORD” Proverbs 21:30
Everything is in the scripture and there are truths that go beyond the observation of the physical or the social interactions that is life. Jesus was not necessarily in the game because he was aware of the invisible hand. He was not just aware of it but he knew the game play of the invisible hand. There is something bigger than the fray that is around you. As you participate in life, there is something that supersedes whatever devices people are putting into gear.
Their congregations, agreements, deals and tit for tats to get that advantage, one more square inch of dirt they can raise their banners over is something that can suck you dry. Recognize the game but know that there is always that invisible hand. All Jesus did was submit in knowledge. Do the same thing. Know the devices, watch and pray. Speak when you should as Paul, who splashed water on dynamite when he told the Pharisees that he was just as they were and had the same hope. The dynamite exploded and the council fell into a trap that they did not know was there in the first place.
Wisdom is always profitable to direct and everything has been given to you. The politics can never be greater than God’s game plan.