With Easter coming up on the 27th, I thought I would answer some Easter-related problems the challenger has with the Bible and Christianity over the next few weeks. This one has to do with when people in Jerusalem welcomed Jesus to town on Sunday but then were clamoring for His death on Friday. What happened?
Jesus is adored and worshiped as a King as he enters Jerusalem on Palm Sunday. He then proceeds to work miracles, heal the sick, and demonstrate his supreme wisdom, making him even more of a figure for adulation. But five days later, without explanation, he is abruptly hated so much by his own people that, given a chance to have him released, they chose to free a common criminal instead. There is something seriously wrong with this story.
What most likely happened is that the account of these events was altered to absolve the Romans and place the blame for Jesus’ death on the Jews (see Problem #21). This is because by the time the scriptures were written, the focus of Christian evangelism was on the Gentiles throughout the Roman Empire, while the Jews, freshly defeated in their war with Rome, were viewed as detestable villains.
Unfortunately for the challenger, his conspiracy theory that Biblical authors conspired to frame the Jews for Jesus’ death and absolve the Romans falls flat. Jesus is adored and worshiped as the long awaited Messiah on Palm Sunday as He enters Jerusalem. In fact, His chosen method of entry was deliberate as it fulfilled Old Testament prophecy about the Messiah. Zachariah 9:9 says:
Rejoice greatly, Daughter Zion! Shout, Daughter Jerusalem! See, your king comes to you, righteous and victorious, lowly and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.
Jesus’ chosen method of entry was not lost on the Jews in Jerusalem. The crowd on Palm Sunday thought that the time had finally come where their Messiah was going to establish God’s Kingdom here on Earth. Not a heavenly kingdom, but an earthly one – one that looked like all of the other earthly kingdoms with borders and cities. It’s this interpretation of prophecy that’s key to explaining the turnaround in five days.
The challenger says that Jesus “proceeds to work miracles, heal the sick, and demonstrate his supreme wisdom, making him even more of a figure for adulation” during that week. But let’s take a look at three distinct incidents that actually happened:
The people of Jerusalem wanted Jesus to overthrow Rome and set them free. Instead, He goes to the temple and starts overturning tables. Then He throws a bunch of people out — notice “those who bought and those who sold.”
Some suggest that Jesus merely didn’t want people to pay exorbitant prices. He was against the “money changers” who were making money dishonestly. But Jesus also threw out “those who bought.” He wouldn’t even “allow anyone to carry anything through the temple.”
Christ disrupted a way of life. Temple-goers had been involved in this money exchange for absolution of sin for a while. But in so doing they were robbing God of worship. So Jesus put an end to it.
Bottom line here is this: You just gave a rousing welcome to the guy who will set your people free, and the next thing you know he is throwing you out of church.
Some Pharisees and Herodians showed him a coin with Caesar’s inscription on it and ask if it was lawful for them to pay taxes to Rome. Many of those who hailed Jesus as the long-awaited Messiah expected him to say “No way. In fact, this is the end for Rome. They’re going down.”
Instead, Jesus answered:
Give to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s. (Mark 12:17).
The Jewish authorities didn’t expect this nuanced reply, so they walk away marveling. Yet Jesus’ answer is a clear. He will not confront Caesar in the way that Moses confronted Pharaoh. Jesus has a bigger mission to accomplish but the crowds don’t understand.
And while some were speaking of the temple, how it was adorned with noble stones and offerings, [Jesus] said “As for these things that you see, the days will come when there will not be left here one stone upon another that will not be thrown down.” Luke 21:5-6
It’s important to remember that unless the Bible says that he spoke to his disciples about something privately, then many of his remarks to them were heard by others. During Jesus’ trial, some gave false testimony that he’d claimed he would destroy the temple himself, so “temple talk” by Jesus was likely major fodder for gossip during this final week.
Talking about the destruction of the temple was serious business. Remember, many of Christ’s followers were expecting his ministry to climax in military victory, not defeat. He’d already had that crazy episode in the temple a few days earlier. Now he’s talking about the end of the temple, down to the foundation stones? Why not talk about the destruction of Herod’s palace in that way? Or Pilate’s Hall and the grand buildings in Rome?
That doesn’t sound like someone who has come to free the Jews of Roman rule and establish an earthly kingdom with himself as ruler. I can only imagine the Jews’ disappointment and frustration given their interpretation of the prophecy concerning the Messiah.
Unbeknownst to them at the time, but to us Christians now, Jesus had bigger fish to fry so to speak. Rather than establishing an earthly, political kingdom, He came to save all of humanity by paying the penalty for our sins. And thank goodness He did, otherwise, we’d all still be accountable for them!