The Irony and Paradox at Jesus’ Trial

In our modern information age we are rather inundated every day by so many ‘facts’ that we have difficulty in keeping track of them.  So when is a ‘fact’ something significant that we should pay attention to, and when is it just trivial information?  In Session 8: The Return of the King I mention the many facts that are used by scientists, through reason and observation, to make forecasts and predictions about the future. But sometimes, the significance of the facts escapes even the experts. I read not long ago that there are about 10 000 fully qualified (i.e. PhD and Dr.) economists who advise all the rest of the world (governments, banks, investors, your retirement funds) using economic facts to gain insight into future trends. Yet in spite of this impressive array of educated people who ask us to trust them with our economic well-being barely a handful of them ‘saw’ the housing market crash coming in the US in 2008. And even fewer ‘saw’ it coming like a crash. And very few ‘saw’ the glaring contradictions buried in the Euro when the currency was launched with such fanfare and confidence inspired by the best of human wisdom only a decade ago. The meanings of facts are often missed even by the best of us.

Puzzles at Jesus’ Trial

So it is with the trial of Jesus. Many people have seen the trial depicted in a film or read it in one of the gospel accounts. Yet very few seem to have noticed the paradoxes embedded in his trial, let alone grasped the meaning of them. There are several, but for now I would like to draw our attention to one in particular. Here is the trial of Jesus before the Sanhedrin (Jewish court in that day) recorded in the Gospel of Luke.

At daybreak the council of the elders of the people, both the chief priests and teachers of the law, met together, and Jesus was led before them. “If you are the Christ,‖they said, “tell us.”

Jesus answered, “If I tell you, you will not believe me, and if I asked you, you would not answer. But from now on, the Son of Man will be seated at the right hand of the mighty God.”

They all asked, “Are you then the Son of God?” He replied, “You are right in saying I am.”

Then they said, “Why do we need any more testimony? We have heard it from his own lips.” (Luke 22: 66-71)

Notice how in this exchange Jesus does not answer their question about his being the ‘Christ’.  Instead, he refers to his being something totally different – the ‘Son of Man’.  But his accusers don’t seem puzzled by that abrupt change of topic.  For some reason they seem to understand him, though opposed, even though he does not answer their question about being the ‘Christ’.  So why?  And where does the ‘Son of Man’ expression come from and what does it mean?

The ‘Son of Man’

The Timeline of Daniel's prophecy of 'sevens' culminating in Jesus Triumphant entry

Daniel lived ca 550 BC, long before Jesus

Some digging through biblical history reveals the answer.  ‘Son of man’ comes from Daniel in the Old Testament who records a vision explicitly about the future, referencing a ‘son of man’.  Here is how Daniel (ca 550 BC) recorded his vision:

As I looked, thrones were set in place, and the Ancient of Days took his seat.  His clothing was as white as snow; the hair of his head was white like wool.  His throne was flaming with fire, and its wheels were all ablaze.   A river of fire was flowing, coming out from before him.  Thousands upon thousands attended him; ten thousand times ten thousand stood before him.  The court was seated, and the books were opened…

In my vision at night I looked, and there before me was one like a son of man, coming with the clouds of heaven. He approached the Ancient of Days and was led into his presence.  He was given authority, glory and sovereign power; all peoples, nations and men of every language worshiped him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion that will not pass away, and his kingdom is one that will never be destroyed. (Daniel 7:9-14)

In other words, the son of man depicted by Daniel was a powerful figure from heaven who would establish an eternal Kingdom that would encompass all peoples.  Now reflect for a moment on the irony of the situation at Jesus’ trial.  Here is Jesus, a peasant carpenter living in the backwater of the Roman Empire, with a ragtag following of lowly fishermen who at his recent arrest had just deserted him in terror, and he is now on a trial for his life. By referring to himself as the son of man he is calmly claiming before Caiaphas (High Priest back then) and his other accusers to be that person Daniel predicted. But Daniel wrote of the son of man ‘coming on the clouds of heaven’, taking world-wide authority and establishing a kingdom that would never end! That could not be more different from the actual situation that Jesus found himself in at his trial. It would seem almost ludicrous to bring up that title with him being in that situation.

Luke is guilty too

And yet it is not only Jesus doing this because Luke also does not shy away from recording this claim even though even at the time of his writing the prospects for Jesus and his fledgling movement would have appeared laughable to any knowledgeable reader of that day.  In the decade of the 60’s in the first century when the Gospel of Luke was written, the movement was ridiculed by the elite, disdained by the Jews, and ruthlessly persecuted by the insane Roman Emperor Nero.  Nero had the Apostle Peter crucified upside-down and Paul beheaded.  It should seem beyond sane reason that Luke would keep that fantastic reference in the mouth of Jesus – and by writing it make it public for all their detractors to scoff at.  But Luke was confident that Jesus of Nazareth was this same son of man of Daniel 7, and so, against all seeming odds, he records Jesus’ irrational (if it were not true) exchange with his accusers.

‘Son of Man’ – being fulfilled in our time

Now consider something. After Jesus gave his reply, and centuries after Luke recorded it in writing, some significant parts of the Daniel 7 son of man have clearly and identifiably been fulfilled by Jesus of Nazareth.  Notice how Daniel 7 states of the son of man that “all peoples, nations, and men of every language worshiped him”. Though that was not true of Jesus two thousand years ago – look around now! Peoples from every nation and practically every language (and there are thousands of these) do worship him today.  This includes former animists from the Amazon to Papua New Guinea, the jungles of India to Cambodia; Inuit in Greenland and the Arctic; from East to West and North to South this is happening right now on a global scale.  For no one in all of recorded history is this even remotely plausible – except that very same Jesus of Nazareth. One may dismiss this with a ‘yes well that is due to the spread of Christianity’.  Sure, hindsight is 20-20 but Luke would have had no human way to know how things were going to unfold in the centuries after 62 AD when he authored his book.

And worship, to be real worship, can only be given by a free will, not under coercion or by bribery. If Jesus was the son of man with Heaven at his command then he would have had the power back then to pick up rule by force, but by force he would never have been able to get true worship out of people. For that to happen people must be freely won over; wooed like a maiden by her lover. Thus for the complete prediction of Daniel 7 to even conceivably be fulfilled it requires a time of free and open invitation. This explains the period we now live in, between the First Coming and the Return of the King. This is a time when people can learn about and then freely choose whether they will worship him or not, and its partial fulfillment in our recent times is an indicator or sign that there is a basis to trust that the rest of it will also be fulfilled someday.  At the very least it should raise our curiosity to see how the complete picture of the Coming King is woven through the Bible

And this is so relevant for you and me. Because if the rest of it does come true it will, in effect, smash our lives – in such a bigger way than the economic crash 2008 and its aftermath that is now concerning so many.  So for the next while I hope you will join with me in tracing the development of the themes that Jesus referenced in the Old Testament, that pointed to his First Coming and also to his Return as a King.  These themes are fascinating, are not difficult to follow, and in understanding them could open your eyes to see Jesus differently than you may ever have seen him.

Pentecost – Why did it occur when it did?

Today (May 27) is Pentecost Sunday. Unlike Christmas and Easter this day passes with such little fanfare that there is a good chance you will not think about it or be reminded of it. But it is another sign, a remarkable allusion in the unfolding of the Gospel that it does deserve our full attention. However, to see the significance we need to understand its place in the Biblical story.

Pentecost in Acts 2 of New Testament

If you are aware of Pentecost, you will probably know of it as the day when the Holy Spirit of God came down to indwell the followers of Jesus. This is the day that the church, the “called-out ones” of God, was born. This event is recorded in Acts chapter 2. On that day, the Spirit of God descended on the 120 followers of Jesus and they started speaking out loud in languages from around the world. This created such a commotion that thousands who were in Jerusalem at the time came out to see what was happening and in front of the gathering crowd, Peter spoke the first gospel message and ‘three thousand were added to their number that day’ (Acts 2:41). And the number of gospel followers has been growing continually ever since that Pentecost Sunday.

That event happened 50 days after Jesus’ resurrection. It was during this ‘quiet’ interval of 50 days that the convictions of Jesus’ disciples regarding his resurrection were formed and hardened. On Pentecost Sunday it all went public and history has been changed because of it. Whether you believe in the resurrection or not, your life has been affected by the events of that Pentecost Sunday.

But this understanding of Pentecost, though correct, is incomplete. And it will keep you from seeing the allusion, the Sign. Many people yearn for a return to that Pentecost Sunday to have a similar experience of speaking in languages and dramatic signs of the Holy Spirit. And since the first disciples of Jesus had this Pentecostal experience by ‘waiting for the gift of the Spirit’, today people figure that similarly if we ‘wait’ He will come again in a similar way. And so many people wait and implore God for a similar experience. To think this way is to assume that it was the waiting and yearning that moved the Spirit of God back then. To think this way is to miss the point and overlook the allusion – because the Pentecost recorded in Acts Chapter 2 was not the first Pentecost.

Pentecost from the Law of Moses

No, in fact Pentecost was a regular Old Testament festival. In the time of Moses, several annual festivals were prescribed and celebrated throughout the year. The festival of Passover was the first to be celebrated in the Jewish year. In Session Five I showed how Jesus was crucified on that very Jewish festival. And so Jesus, the Lamb of God, was sacrificed on the same day that all Jewish people were sacrificing their lambs in memory of their first Passover. Given that there are 365 days in a year it is striking that Jesus dies on that very day. It is like Moses, 1500 years before the event, establishes the festival of Passover as an allusion to the eventual crucifixion of Jesus.

But it does not end there. Exactly 50 days after Passover the Jews celebrated the Feast of Pentecost. And they had been doing so yearly for 1500 years by the time the events of Acts 2 happened. In fact, the reason that there were people from all languages who were in Jerusalem that day to hear Peter’s message was precisely because they were there to celebrate the Old Testament Pentecost.

We read in the Law how Pentecost was to be celebrated

Count off fifty days up to the day after the seventh Sabbath [i.e. of Passover], and then present an offering of new grain to the LORD. From wherever you live, bring two loaves made of two-tenths of an ephah of the finest flour, baked with yeast, as a wave offering of firstfruits to the LORD. (Leviticus 23:16-17)

On the day of firstfruits, when you present to the LORD an offering of new grain during the Festival of Weeks (i.e. Pentecost), hold a sacred assembly and do no regular work. (Numbers 28:26)

In the Jewish feast of Pentecost the Jews were to offer up a grain offering along with the regular burnt offerings. The grain was to be ‘firstfruits’ of new grain harvested from the land. This was an allusion – the depth of which was unseen by the first Jews from the time of Moses – of the coming of the Holy Spirit on that more famous Pentecost Sunday in Acts 2.

Pentecost: A Sign of Firstfruits

This is significant on several counts. First of all, one of the reasons that the Gospel is ‘good news’ is that not only is it about a conquering of death, but it is also about living life differently. Life is now a union between God and people. And this union takes place through the indwelling of the Spirit of God – which began on the Pentecost Sunday of Acts 2. The Good News is that life can now be lived on a different level, in a relationship with God through His Spirit. Paul puts it like this:

Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption to sonship, the redemption of our bodies. (Romans 8:23)

The indwelling Spirit of God is a ‘firstfruits’ of the gospel, intimately tied in with the resurrection because the Spirit is a firstfruits – a deposit so to speak – of our coming personal resurrection.

Pentecost Timing: Evidence of a Mind

And it is this remarkable coinciding of the timing of the events of Acts 2 and the Feat of Pentecost with the themes of firstfruits and abundant living that point, once again, to a Mind planning this through history. Given that there are 365 days in a year why should the events of Acts 2 happen exactly on the Feast of Pentecost, the day when the Jews celebrated ‘firstfruits’ of the grain and oil of the land – the things that give not just life, but an abundant life?  The timing is remarkable. Timing like this happens only by intent, and intent shows a mind behind it.

Did Luke ‘make up’ Pentecost?

One could argue that Luke (author of Acts) made up the events of Acts 2 to ‘fall’ on Feast of Pentecost. Then he would be the ‘mind’ behind the timing. But when you read Acts he makes no reference back to the Law to tell the reader that this is ‘fulfilling’ the Feast of Pentecost. Instead he points the reader to (another) fulfillment of a prophecy from the book of Joel. Why would he go through the trouble of inventing something ‘big’ on that day and then not help the reader see how it fulfills the Feast of Pentecost. In fact, Luke does such a steady of job of reporting events rather than interpreting their significance that most people today do not know that the events of Acts 2 fall on the same day as the Old Testament Feast of Pentecost.  Most people think that Pentecost has its start in Acts 2. If Luke made it up to ‘fit’ the Old Testament he was a genius in dreaming up the connection but a failure in ‘selling’ it since most people today are not aware of it.

Hence this post. Now that you are aware of it you can consider the good news of the offer and reality of a life made abundant not by possessions, pleasure, status, wealth and all the other passing trifles pursued by this world, which Solomon had found to be such an empty bubble, but by the indwelling of the Spirit of God. Think about it!  If this is true – that God offers to indwell and empower us – that would have to be good news. And the fact that the timing of the Old and New Pentecosts are perfect is evidence that indeed it is this very God that is the mind behind these events and this offer of an abundant life.

Addressing objections to the Signs of Abraham & Moses

In my previous post I noted that a really good comment had been submitted on the External Evidence Session, basically questioning the value of external evidence.  The comment noted that external evidence does not tell us whether or not the gospel stories were legendary extrapolations built around a historical kernel of events.  I agreed, but submitted that at the very minimum external evidence can be used to weed out pretenders from contenders, similar to how first-year university courses are often designed to weed out students with insufficient motivation or aptitude.

First-year courses also serve as the foundational prerequisites upon which the more useful upper-year courses are built – the ones that give the knowledge and information that we really use.  In a similar way we are now in a position to integrate the External Evidence Session with that of Session 5 – where we opened a case to see if there is a Divine Mind behind the biblical account.

Abraham sacrifices his Son

In that 5th Session we looked at two very important stories in the earliest section of the Old Testament – in the Pentateuch of the books ascribed to Moses.  We first looked at the account of Abraham being willing to sacrifice his son on Mount Moriah, which (though many are not aware of it) we showed to be the place where the city of Jerusalem was eventually established.  And we saw that there are allusions in this account of Abraham that have fascinating parallels with, and point to, Jesus’ crucifixion in Jerusalem.  It is the fact that the allusion predates the event it alludes to by thousands of years that makes it so especially intriguing.  It points to a drama/literary mind, but since no human mind can coordinate events far into the future it opens the possibility that there is indeed a Divine Mind coordinating these events.

Tacitus: External Evidence Corroborating where Jesus was crucified

Now the first (and most obvious) rebuttal to this is that the gospel writers simply made up the ‘detail’ of Jesus’crucifixion being in Jerusalem to make it ‘fit’ that Abrahamic allusion.  But now we know from external evidence that Tacitus (a historian not at all sympathetic to the gospel) places that event in Judea.  He says:

Christus, the founder of the name, was put to death by Pontius Pilate, … but the pernicious superstition, repressed for a time broke out again, not only through Judea, where the mischief originated…(Annals XV. 44)

Josephus: External Evidence Corroborating Jesus

Josephus, the Jewish historian from the same period agrees with Tacitus in saying that:

At this time there was a wise man … Jesus. … good, and … virtuous. Many people among the Jews and the other nations became his disciples. Pilate condemned Him to be crucified and to die.  (Antiquities Book XVIII, III)

And Josephus tells us in his Antiquities in the two paragraphs just preceding this quote that:

But now Pilate, the procurator of Judea, removed the army from Cesarea to Jerusalem, to take their winter quarters there …Pilate was the first who brought these [pagan] images to Jerusalem and set them there …But Pilate undertook to bring a current of water to Jerusalem (Antiquities Book XVIII, III)

In other words, though the Roman center had previously been in Cesarea, Pilate was in Jerusalem when Jesus was executed.  So we have two external sources with unbiased or negative motives that corroborate the crucifixion of Jesus being under Pilate in Jerusalem.  Thus we know that the Gospel writers did not fabricate this detail to make it ‘fit’ the allusion from Abraham.

Moses’ Passover Account

Similarly with the Mosaic Passover story we saw allusions pointing to the Passover as the time of year when Jesus was to be executed.  For Jesus’ death to fall on that same festival by chance is slim indeed.  Adding to that is that the Mosaic account tells us that this festival is a ‘sign for us’ and it comes with so many parallels to Jesus crucifixion.  Did the Gospel writers fabricate this link to the Passover to make it ‘fit’ the allusion from Moses?

Jewish Talmud: External Evidence

We did not cover this particular item in the External Evidence session, but in the Jewish Talmud is preserved this statement about the execution of Jesus.

“Jesus was hanged on Passover Eve.  Forty days previously the herald had cried, ‘He is being led out for stoning because he has practised sorcery and led Israel astray and enticed them into apostasy.  Whosoever has anything to say in his defence let him come and declare it’.  As nothing was brought forward in his defence he was hanged on Passover Eve” cited in FF Bruce,  Jesus and Christian Origins outside the New Testament. 1974 p.56

So we have, once again, hostile witnesses, that though disagreeing on the meaning of Jesus, place Jesus’ crucifixion (ie hanging) at Passover.  They would be the last people to have any motive to do so because it strengthens the meaning of Jesus that they are vehemently at odds with.

So we cannot simply dismiss the fulfillment of these allusions that we looked at in Session 5 as simply fabrications on the part of the gospel writers.  We have to take it seriously as history.

And that does partially address an issue that was raised when Justin asked:

The main issue at hand, I think, is the apparent impossibility of Jesus’ miracles and resurrection…can that really be addressed in this way?

In other words, how can one verify the miraculous?  And we here are confronted with a strengthening case for a Divine Mind in these accounts since, using external evidence, we cannot dismiss their fulfillment simply by saying that the gospel writers made it up.  These particular details are verifiable.  And if there is a Divine Mind, i.e. God, then certainly miracles are possible.  Now, I titled Session 5 as an ‘opening case’ because I think if there are only these two allusions it is certainly conceivable that coincidence could explain them.  But it does open up a possibility that surely warrants further investigation.  Are there more, even ones that are more explicit?  Here is a good place to start to investigate.

Archaeological Discovery of Ancient Temple Announced

The Jerusalem Post, on Christmas Day, announced the discovery of a seal used in the Temple worship in Jerusalem has been discovered.  The article, which includes a video of the artefact Continue reading

5. Considering Inspiration – How Allusions in the Bible point to a Divine Author

In the last two sessions we have seen that there is a strong case for the fact that the text of the Bible is reliable.  In other words what we read today is what the original authors wrote down so long ago.  And we have also seen that much of what they wrote is verifiable history.  At the very least, the framework of the Gospel accounts are based in verifiable history.

Now we want to use this baseline information to ask a more interesting and controversial question.  Can a case be made as to whether or not there is indeed a Divine Mind (God) behind the gospel narrative?  In this session we just open the case and do some initial exploring, to see if it is even worth continuing to explore this question or not in later sessions.

Blog Posts Related to this Session

  • October 27, 2013 - Bones, Skeletons & Zombies come alive: Prophetic Halloween before our eyes

  • September 23, 2015 - The Feast of Tabernacles: layered like an onion … with meaning

  • April 1, 2015 - A Funny Gaffe – fit for a Good Friday

  • October 30, 2014 - Halloween II: The zombie coming to life before our ears as well as our eyes

  • April 13, 2014 - Palm Sunday: Passover Plot or Providence Program?

  • February 7, 2014 - The Prophet, The Skeptic, & the Fulfilled Event (Pt. 2)

  • January 24, 2014 - The Prophet, The Skeptic, & the Fulfilled Event (Pt. 1)

  • December 17, 2013 - How it was foretold that the “Christ” is coming … and why

  • December 10, 2013 - Christmas is Coming! But not in the way you are thinking…

  • March 24, 2013 - The Branch: Sprouting Exactly in time to be … ‘cut off’

  • March 10, 2013 - How was Jesus’ name prophesied long before his birth?

  • February 18, 2013 - The Sign of the Branch (Part 1): The Dead Stump Reborn

  • February 17, 2013 - Where does the ‘Christ’ in Jesus Christ come from?

  • February 15, 2013 - What was the Passover Sign of Moses?

  • February 14, 2013 - What was the Sign of Abraham’s Sacrifice?

  • January 24, 2013 - Promise to an Ancient Man: Revealed in elections of a modern nation

  • December 28, 2012 - What If God were … One of Us?

  • December 7, 2012 - Jewish Testimony: Was Jesus the son of a virgin from the line of David?

  • November 17, 2012 - Does God Exist? Does He bless?

  • October 17, 2012 - The Final Countdown – Embedded in the Beginning

  • August 3, 2012 - The Irony and Paradox at Jesus’ Trial

  • May 27, 2012 - Pentecost – Why did it occur when it did?

  • January 14, 2012 - Addressing objections to the Signs of Abraham & Moses

  • December 27, 2011 - Archaeological Discovery of Ancient Temple Announced

  • December 21, 2011 - The Passing of Christopher Hitchens: Carrying misconception to the Grave