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.

8. Hope Birthed: The Return of the King

One of the great themes of the gospel is the Kingdom of God – that is the rule of God in the world as well as in the lives of people.  Many of Jesus’ parables were directly about the Kingdom of God.  The overall trajectory of these stories is that the Kingdom starts very small – so small that it seems insignificant and destined for oblivion.  Yet it grows and permeates itself through humanity and established itself as the central order in the entire universe.  This is a mystery of the Kingdom.

Thought the Kingdom of God grows quietly (Jesus illustrated it like yeast working its way through the dough) there are two epoch-changing crises that abruptly transfigure the Kingdom.  Both crises focus on the King of the Kingdom.  As the King completes a mission the Kingdom transforms into another order.

The first crisis that forever changed the Kingdom of God occurred at the Cross.  The death and resurrection of the King – the Messiah – forever altered the Kingdom.  This crisis has already occurred and set the Kingdom on a different trajectory.  It is now alive and growing almost in a subversive, bottoms-up manner.  Every person is invited – but the invitation can be freely declined – to enter and participate in the Kingdom.  Session 7 and the posts in that session look at this epoch changing event.

The second crisis has not yet occurred.  But the Gospel is replete with descriptions and parables about it.  This crisis will be the Return of the King – Jesus Christ – to don the mantle of rule on earth.  And this event will also so transform the Kingdom of God that its course will be again radically alter.

Some would perhaps question whether this is an important event since it has not yet occurred.  They fear that an undo emphasis on future (and uncertain in their minds) things leaves us unable to deal with present issues.  But even from a secular perspective we focus on future (and uncertain) events such as rising sea levels, global warming, pandemics, and potential economic collapses presented in a myriad of scenarios.  These issues are of interest to us precisely because our actions in the present may affect these outcomes in the future.  And though one cannot know with certainty about these outcomes the rationale behind the deliberations of these things is that present-day signs are indicators of their coming to pass in the future.  Thus wondering about rising sea levels is not simply some newly garbed astrology.  With present-day observations, coupled with some understanding of how things work, the claim is that these are calculations about the future – not speculations.

It is the same with the coming again of Christ.  This event, properly understood, will greatly affect how we live our lives in the present-day.  And observations made in the present-day can also be interpreted as signs or indicators of how imminent the events surrounding Christ’s return are.  In fact, Paul writing in 2 Thessalonians about the signs leading up to the return of Christ, told his readers that “Don’t you remember that when I was with you I used to tell you these things” (2 Thessalonians 2:5). Cross-referencing this with his time in Thessaloniki in the historical book of Acts it says that “on three Sabbaths he (Paul) reasoned with them from the scriptures…” (Acts 17:2).  And then it records how he was run out of the city.  So in the very short time we know that he had there, Paul thought this topic worth investing time to teach about.  It is central to the fulfilling of the Good News.

So the posts of this session will help us consider the promised Return of the King.  And one need not have a prior belief in order to consider it.  One can simply look from a detached point-of-view at the ‘signs’ and see if they match up, just like scientists can look at sea levels, climatologists can look at global temperatures, and economists can look at debt and deficit levels as signs of what will happen in the future.

We start the first post in this session at the trial of Jesus.  Yes, at the very place and time of his humiliation he gave echoes of his future return.  And in doing so he drew from even further back, into deep history, at a time before Socrates taught, when the Buddha was living in India, and the empires of Mesopotamia seemed destined to be permanently ascendant.  At that time, almost unnoticed, seeds of the Kingdom and its King were planted by Daniel.

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