Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Who Framed Jesus?

Recently there was a show on the Discover Channel called "Who Framed Jesus?". My curiosity was peaked about it by the title but I didn't have time to watch it so I recorded it and got around to finishing it yesterday. I must say it is a very interesting and provocative take on the final hours of Jesus' life. I've seen a fair share of these sorts of shows on National Geographic and Discovery, but this one covered more things in depth than most I have heard. I will cover just some of the material they covered, since I didn't take notes and will be going a little bit off of memory. The main reason I'm writing this response is because I view it as a God-ordained lesson for me - I was literally watching a class lecture and reading from a very good article for class yesterday on the very stuff I watched during my lunch break (I work from home and like to consider it a "lunch break" to keep myself on task for the day). So with that in mind, I'll give it my best shot.

First, let me set the overall mood of the show. It was seeking to answer the question after which the show was named, and did so by naming several alleged perpetrators to the death of Jesus - the Pharisees, Judas, Caiaphas the High Priest, Pontius Pilate, and Jesus himself - and it recounted the biblical account and then cast doubt on that with scholars (I use the term loosely) from various universities (Princeton, Stanford, Jewish universities, etc.) giving their reasoning as to why certain accounts fabricated things to make the story sound true. Throughout the show it reenacts scenes that gospel writers recount and then cuts away to give a brief interjection by these scholars, giving their take on what really happened. I will list several points the show made and make a few comments.

The show focused quite a bit of attention on whether or not the Pharisees framed Jesus... whether or not they were influential enough or actually had a motive to want Jesus dead. The curious thing that was missing was, basically, the Bible. While it did mention accounts towards the end of the life of Christ where Jesus had run-ins with the Pharisees, it did not mention the numerous places where it clearly states that the Pharisees wanted Jesus killed and were scheming to get him in trouble. Instead, the Pharisees were given a bit of a pass, giving the implication that the Pharisees couldn't have pulled it off on their own. This is a true enough statement, but I'll get to that in my conclusion.

The next person they focus on is Caiaphas, the High Priest. Caiaphas was certainly a powerful man in Israel, but was he respected or influential in the Roman courts where Jesus would need to be tried? Many times the show pits Matthew against Luke, or Mark against Matthew, and so on, as if there is no real continuity. There were a few times it mentioned "all of the accounts do talk about ______" but the vast majority of the time the goals seemed to be to discredit the validity of all of the writers because they each give a slightly different angle. In the end, the consensus was the that gospel writers needed a "fall guy" and Caiaphas seemed like the write guy - he was powerful, he was a Jewish leader, and Christians supposedly needed the Jews to seem guilty and the Romans to have a pass since Christians were trying to get power in Rome. It's interesting, but it's false - Caiaphas did want Jesus dead, he knew Jesus was making claims to be the Son of God, the Messiah (Christ and Messiah mean essentially the same thing), and knew that the just penalty for such blasphemy (as he believed it to be) was death. He wasn't a fall guy but was rather a key player in the false trial.

Pontius Pilate was examined as well, and this was very intriguing to me. What these scholars did was mention that there was a historical view of Pilate as a ruthless ruler but then in the accounts of Jesus' trial Pilate comes across as weak, indecisive, and bending to the will of the people. This is where my class work came in handy for me. Pilate was indeed a ruthless ruler who hated the Jews - in Luke 13 we read of a time when the Jews were upset because he stole from the Temple treasury. Pilate knew the situation would be hostile so he had his soldiers dress up like Jewish citizens and then, when the signal was given, they took their covering off and murdered many Jewish citizens. This was indeed a ruthless man as history itself testifies to in various writings. But, something was missing in the show that pieces together why this man would bend to the will of the Jews. Pilate was one of many rulers, like mayors but with more power, who had to be accountable to people higher than himself. He had a friend named Sardejus who was the one who reported to Pilate's authorities. Sardejus would basically lie for Pilate and say things were going great and peaceful in Pilate's territory, thus letting Pilate continue his ruthless ways. Sardejus eventually tried to overthrow a powerful Roman ruler and was killed in the process, leaving Pilate without his ally to report to the authorities. Fast forward to Jesus' trial: he knows that if he does not do something to get on the Jews' good side, he may have a riot on his hands because he had no one backing him up any more. So this ruthless man of history and this man of the biblical accounts of Jesus' trial are harmonized - he didn't want to help the Jews but made a political move to appease them. He washes his hands of Jesus' blood because he sees he's not guilty of anything, and yet instead of dismissing Jesus and the Jews he appeases the Jews' request to have Jesus crucified. But the show conveniently skips over this documented historical fact.

The final portion of the show portrays Jesus himself as the one who schemed to get himself killed. Now this is a little trick because, according to the Bible, Jesus did know his fate and did allow (even cause perhaps) the events to unfold as they did. There were prophecies about himself that Jesus made sure to fulfill - riding into Jerusalem on a colt, having Judas betray him, and so on. Jesus even told his disciples (John 10:18) "No one takes my life from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up again. This charge I have received from my Father". Rather than appreciate the beauty of Christ's sacrifice on our behalf as the divine and perfect plan of God to redeem sinful humanity and bring eternal life, the show and its participants decides to portray Jesus as faking fulfillment of prophecy in order to gather a following. What this eliminates is Peter's claim in Acts 2:23-24 - "this Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men. God raised him up, loosing the pangs of death, because it was not possible for him to be held by it."

God the Son submitted to the eternal plan of God the Father (the whole of the Trinity, really) to become to sacrifice for our sins and bring us to God. Jesus' death reconciles us to the Father, yet death did not hold him because he was the sinless and perfect Son. Jesus is the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world, just as John the Baptist said. This show, and others like it, are crafted in such a way as to cast doubt and encourage cynicism towards the message of Christ. What is curious is that there is never any hope given by people for our eternal future - the point is simply to attempt to dismantle the faith of so many. Did the Pharisees want Jesus dead? Absolutely. Did Caiaphas? Yes again, for he knew Jesus' claims and hated him for it. Did Pilate have his hand in it? Yes. Did Jesus himself have his hand in the whole thing, allowing it all to come to pass? Most emphatically, yes he did. The glorious truth is not that these things take away from the grandeur of Jesus' death, but they add to it. We have this BIG of a God! A God who uses religious leaders, the events of false accusations and false trials, and even a pagan ruler to achieve his purposes of paying for our sin and giving us the gift of eternal life. Praise his name!

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