Who were the Sadducees and what did they believe?

The Sadducees descended from the line of Zadok, the priest, during the anointing of Solomon to become king. Zadok was loyal to King David and Solomon, and stood against Adonijah’s rebellion. He, and his descendants were therefore rewarded, by being placed as high priests of the Sanhedrin. (1 Kings 2:35) They became people of the ruling class and part of the wealthy aristocracy in Jerusalem. The Sadducees in Jesus’ day often bribed the Roman authorities so that they would be assured to maintain their important roles, including the Temple high priest. This is how kept their control of the Sanhedrin and continued to be part of the wealthy aristocracy in Jerusalem. They would be similar to the Speakers of the House and the Senate in the US congress.

What did the Sadducees believe?

The Sanhedrin was made up primarily of Sadducees, although there were also Pharisees who were members. The principle doctrine of the Pharisees was “separation” from anything that was not holy. They adhered strictly to the Laws of Moses and added to them in order to protect themselves from inadvertently breaking any of the laws.

The Sadducees were in the majority in the Sanhedrin but were a minority in Judea. Like the Pharisees, they also strictly adhered to the laws of Moses but they rejected the additional laws the Pharisees added. The Sadducees did not believe in the resurrection, in angels, nor in the spirit world. Since they did not believe in an after life, they believed there was no future punishment for the evil, nor was there a reward for the righteous. For all intents and purposes, they were secularists.

They believed that people had a free will, which the Pharisees denied. They pushed this doctrine so much that they even excluded God from having any influence in governing of the world. They did not believe in the Messiah nor that he was coming, but the Pharisees believed both. (Acts 23:8)

Why were the Sadducees so threatened by Jesus and his followers?

Sadducees were part of the wealthy aristocracy and lived in mansions, where the Sanhedrin would often meet if the matter was urgent. Then assembled together the chief priests, and the scribes, and the elders of the people, unto the palace of the high priest, who was called Caiaphas,” (Matt 26:3) These are the people who Jesus spoke of when John the Baptist was in prison and they said nothing of that injustice. “But what went ye out for to see? A man clothed in soft raiment? behold, they that wear soft clothing are in kings’ houses.” (Mt 11:8)

Caiaphas’ palace overlooking Jerusalem

After Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead, his popularity skyrocketed. His resurrection quickly got the attention of the Sadducees. They knew they had to silence His influence or their doctrine would be threatened and along with it, their life style. “If we let him thus alone, all men will believe on him: and the Romans shall come and take away both our place and nation.” (Jn 11:48)

Inside the palace of the high priest Caiaphas

If they lost their place, they would also lose their well-respected and comfortable life styles. They became desperate and the chief priests consulted together how they might not only put Jesus to death but put Lazarus to death also! (John 12:10)

What was the origin of the Sanhedrin?

The word “Sanhedrin” is from a Greek word that means “assembly” or “council”. It was first initiated when God told Moses in the wilderness to assemble seventy elders of Israel to help him judge the conflicts brought before him .

 “the LORD said unto Moses, Gather unto me seventy men of the elders of Israel, whom thou knowest to be the elders of the people, and officers over them; and bring them unto the tabernacle of the congregation, that they may stand there with thee.” (Numbers 1:16)

During New Testament times the Sanhedrin served as a Supreme Court within Judea. They assembled in Jerusalem and were made up of 70 men, plus the high priest. The Gospels state that Nicodemus, and Joseph of Arimathea were members of the Sanhedrin at the time of Jesus’ death, and Gamaliel was mentioned as a member in Acts 5:34 only 2-3 months months later. So Gamaliel may have been on the Sanhedrin when Christ was crucified, unless Gamaliel replaced Nicodemus or Joseph of Arimathaea after the crucifixion.

Luke 3:2 indicates there was a joint high priesthood “of Annas and Caiaphas” with Caiaphas being the puppet high priest of his father-in-law Annas who had been deposed as high priest in 15AD, but who was now acting as the president of the Sanhedrin. Annas also had 5 sons who also became high priests.

The parable in Luke 16:28-39 suggests that the beggar Lazarus may actually be the Lazarus who was raised from the dead, and the “rich man” and his five brethren, refers to the high priest, Annas, and his five sons.

The majority of people in the Sanhedrin, including Annas and Caiaphas, were Sadducees. The history of the Sadducees and their tension with the Pharisees, is fascinating and gives insight into the motivation behind the high priest and his bloodthirsty passion to have Christ killed. That will be the topic of the next post.

How was the Apostle John known by the high priest?

And Simon Peter followed Jesus, and so did another disciple: that disciple was known unto the high priest, and went in with Jesus into the palace of the high priest. But Peter stood at the door without. Then went out that other disciple, which was known unto the high priest, and spake unto her that kept the door, and brought in Peter.” (John 18:15-16)

This is a perplexing question, how could a young fisherman from Galilee, be known by the high priest in Jerusalem? Let’s see if we can find a possible answer.

Could the Apostle John have possibly been a cousin to Jesus?

The first time we read of John in the New Testament, is when he, and Andrew (who was Peter’s brother), were following John the Baptist and saw him baptize Jesus and proclaim Him to be the Lamb of God. When Jesus walked out of the Jordan River, they immediately left John the Baptist and followed Jesus and stayed with him for the night. (John 1:36-40) It is assumed that Jesus, after that night, went directly into the wilderness to fast for 40 days to be tempted by the devil, while John and Andrew returned home to Galilee, to their fishing business, where they worked as partners with Andrew’s brother Peter, John’s brother James and his father Zebedee. After 40 days in the wilderness, Jesus went to the Sea Galilee, and called these four men to be his disciples.

“he was astonished, and all that were with him, at the draught of the fishes which they had taken: And so was also James, and John, the sons of Zebedee, which were partners with Simon. And Jesus said unto Simon, Fear not; from henceforth thou shalt catch men. And when they had brought their ships to land, they forsook all, and followed him.” (Luke 5:9-11)

It has been suggested that the reason James and John left their father so readily was because they were all anticipating that this would happen someday. There seems to be evidence that James and John were actually cousins of Jesus because their mother, Salome, was the sister of Mary, the mother of Jesus. 

To arrive at this conclusion, compare these three verses surrounding Christ’s crucifixion and burial:

1. “And many women were there beholding afar off, which followed Jesus from Galilee, ministering unto him: Among which was Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James and Joses, and the mother of Zebedee’s children.” (Matt 27:55,56)  (the mother of Zebedee’s children is Salome, Zebedee’s wife, and Mary the mother of James and Joses was Jesus’ mother, “Is not this the carpenter’s son? is not his mother called Mary? and his brethren, James, and Joses, and Simon, and Judas?” (Matt 13:5)

2. “And when the Sabbath was past, Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James, and Salome, had bought sweet spices, that they might come and anoint him.” (Mark 16:1) (Again, Mary the mother of James would be Jesus’ mother and in this verse Salome, the mother of James and John, is actually named by Mark)

3.“Now there stood by the cross of Jesus, his mother, and his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Cleophas, and Mary Magdalene.” (John 19:25) This verse has two interpretations, it could be interpreted that John doesn’t name his aunt Salome outright, and instead calls her, Jesus’ mother’s sister. This would be typical for John to not name her directly because he also never refers to himself by his name, but rather, “the disciple whom Jesus loved”

In this verse, are there three or four women who stood by the cross with Jesus’ mother? If John describes four women at the cross, then by referencing the other verses, his “mother’s sister” would be identified as Salome, his own mother. If there are three women, then Mary, Cleophas’s wife, would be Mary’s sister. But then, where would Salome be?

It makes sense to me that Mary’s sister would have been at Mary’s side supporting her during such a distressing time. If Salome is Mary’s sister, then her husband, Zebedee would have been Jesus’ uncle, and John and James, their sons, would be Jesus’ cousins.

If so, Salome, Zebedee, James and John, certainly would have known during all the time they spent growing up with Jesus, that Jesus was the Anointed One sent by God. They would have heard Mary tell stories of her son Jesus being the Messiah. Jesus would have been their loving older cousin who played with and took care of them in their youth. They would have known how extraordinary he was. And they would have waited in anticipation when he would turn 30 yrs and begin his ministry.

When Jesus finally called James and John to follow Him, they would have had done so with a natural confidence and boldness about them, because of their relationship with Jesus. They had already been prepared for this day. And since Peter was John’s business partner and friend, he would have known of this also and been prepared.

This also explains why James and John were called the “Sons of Thunder” by Jesus. They were the sons of their mother, Salome, who was already so familiar with Jesus, she had the audacity to be request, “Grant that these my two sons may sit, the one on thy right hand, and the other on the left, in thy kingdom” (Matt 20:20-21). Perhaps she thought she had a special access to Jesus because she was his “auntie”.

So, if John’s mother, Salome, was Mary’s sister, that would make Mary and Salome cousins to Elizabeth (the mother of John the Baptist), “behold, thy cousin Elisabeth, she hath also conceived a son in her old age” (Luke 1:36). Then Zacharias, (the father of John the Baptist), would be John the Apostle’s uncle.

Zacharius in the temple being told by an angel

Zacharias was the priest in Jerusalem who offered incense in the Holy of Holies before John the Baptist’s birth. Caiaphas was the high priest during this time so it is possible that John had visited his uncle Zacharias on occasion in his youth and been introduced to Caiaphas in the Temple where he worked. John would have been known by Caiaphas.

The birth of John the Baptist

By the way, Caiaphas was also the high priest when John the Baptist was beheaded.

Discovering this information was quite surprising to me even though it seems to make sense, and whether one chooses to believe it or not, it is really not that significant. It makes no difference in the big picture. What’s important is that Christ was born into a family on earth and that he fulfilled all prophecies concerning Him, and He took the blame and paid the price for man’s sins with His death on the cross and because He rose again. We now have access into the “Holy of Holies” where we can have sweet fellowship with God forever!

Make you have a blessed Easter and rejoice and celebrate the great things God has done.

In Christ,

Robert Newhouse

The Story of Good Friday

The city was in turmoil! People were afraid. Children were whimpering. Never had there been a day like this before. Darkness had covered the land for three hours and it was still the middle of the day. No birds were singing. Nature was deathly silent. People couldn’t understand what was going on. Some questioned if this might be the end of the world as spoken of by Amos the prophet, “I will cause the sun to go down at noon, and I will darken the earth in the clear day” (Amos 8:8)

The evening sacrifice was about to begin and the high priest started to perform his daily duty in spite of the darkness and strange circumstances surrounding him. Just as the Passover lamb had been prepared the day before for each household to celebrate the Passover, today a Passover lamb would also be sacrificed just for the priests.

The priest laid an umblemished male lamb on the alter and laid his hands on it. People huddled together before the altar and prayed the eighteen benedictions as they did every morning and evening. This time as the people prayed, four of the benedictions resonated in their minds. They prayed for their redemption, for their sins to be forgiven, that the Messiah would soon come, and for the resurrection of the dead. As soon as they finished, the high priest raised his knife and plunged it into the innocent lamb and the blood poured out of the sacrifice. And so it was, a sacrifice of blood being shed for the sins of the people.

It was strangely silent and suddenly people heard a lone distant voice crying out from the direction of Golgotha. As the echo of that voice faded, there was a low rumbling coming from the depths of the earth. It increased in intensity until the entire earth quaked! It felt like God Himself was shaking the earth! People screamed and ran! Some fell to their knees. Families huddled together. The earth began moving in waves like the sea in a storm. Statues and walls tumbled to the ground. Everything was being shaken, but mostly the souls of the people in the city!

Suddenly there was a loud crash coming from the Temple. And then, after what seemed like an eternity the shaking stopped. A priest came out of the temple and stood on the steps and shouted to the people that the veil in the temple before the Most Holy Place had been torn in half from the top to the bottom. People were dumbstruck in amazement. What was going on? Was this the end of world?

Then out of the chaos and confusion in the streets walked a man whose face was set like a flint to do God’s will. He had just come from the direction of that voice and where the crucifixion of two thieves and Jesus of Nazareth was taking place.

Everybody knew him. He was a kind man and respected by the Romans, the Jews and the common people, for though he was one of the richest men in the country, he was also known for using his wealth to help others. When people saw him, he had a calming effect on them. He had no fear. The darkness began to fade and light returned. The sun broke through the dark, dark clouds.

When he was told that the veil in the Temple had been torn from the top to the bottom, he understood what happened, and it only increased his resolve. He knew what he had to do and turned towards the direction of the Praetorium.

He boldly walked up the steps and asked to see Pontius Pilate. The guards prevented him for a moment but Pilate, who was standing on the veranda overseeing the damage done by the earthquake, saw who it was.  He commanded the guards to let him in. These men knew each other and respected one another.

The bold man said that he wanted to have the body of Jesus of Nazareth so he could give him a proper burial. Pilate was surprised to hear that Jesus was already dead and sent a servant to get the centurion overseeing the crucifixion to find out if it was so.

While they waited for the centurion to come, the two men talked about the tragic events earlier in the day and the night before. Pilate knew this man was on the Sanhedrin and was surprised that he seemed to care about Jesus. He asked him why he wanted so desperately to condemn this innocent man and how could he condone this wicked deed? The man was ashamed to admit that he was on the Sanhedrim and though he was a disciple of Jesus, he was one in secret. He had been afraid to admit that he believed in Jesus because he loved the opinions of men more than the opinions of God. That confession stuck like a knife in Pilate’s heart. It convicted him of what he too had done.

Then, the bold man said he had been sleeping during the night and didn’t even know that secret trials had been called. He discovered all this had happened while he slept.

So, Pilate told him of the trials of Jesus that were held illegally at night with Annas, then Caiaphus. At dawn the Sanhedrin met and proclaimed Jesus guilty and brought Jesus to him and demanded he be crucified. He explained how he questioned Jesus and told them that he found no fault in him and that he had done nothing worthy of death. He then sent Jesus to Herod and though he mocked him, he found him not guilty. He told how his own wife had a dream about Jesus and pleaded with him to have nothing to do with him.

But the Jews were insistent that Jesus be crucified. They threatened to tell Caesar that he was protecting a traitor. He had never seen people so insanely bloodthirsty. Pilate told how he let the people decide and gave them a choice of which criminal he should release. He thought for sure the common people would choose to release Jesus, because he remembered that it was only a few days before, the people were shouting Hosannas to him as he rode into the city on a donkey. He’d let them decide.

But it was early in the morning and most people were at home. And there were voices in the crowd that morning that incited the people into a mob-like frenzy and they shouted that they wanted Barabbas released and Jesus to be crucified. He said he was shocked that they chose Barabbas so he had Jesus scourged hoping that would placate their blood lust. But when they saw Jesus with the crown of thorns on his head, they had no pity but shouted even louder to crucify him. Pilate took out a bowl and washed his hands of any responsibility for the death of this innocent man and then turned him over to his soldiers to be crucified.

Pilate had finished telling the story and he felt like he had just given a confession. At that moment the centurion came into the room and affirmed that Jesus was indeeded dead. He told them they were going to break his legs but discovered he had already died just before the terrible earthquake. The Centurion then repeated in amazement what he said at the cross, “Surely this man was the son of God”. Then he said that they were ready to take the bodies down and throw them into the common grave they had dug.

Pilate knew that this was exactly what the Jews wanted to happen to Jesus’ body so the people would quickly forget about him. He remembered how he wrote on the sign. “Jesus King of the Jews” just to annoy them. Perhaps this could be an opportunity to irritate them even further. He told the centurion to give Jesus’ body to this man standing before him because he had a tomb ready to bury him properly.

As the centurion left, the man thanked Pilate and quickly left. Pilate was still deeply troubled but had some satisfaction in knowing that he had finally done the right thing.

The kind gentleman had to work quickly for there were less than a couple of hours of sunlight left before the Sabbath began, when they would have to be finished with their task.

As he left the Praetorium, he saw his friend Nicodemus standing outside and told him that he had been given Jesus’ body and would bury him in his own tomb. He asked Nicodemus if he could help and buy some myrrh and aloes for the burial and he would try to find a linen cloth to bury him in. They agreed that they would meet at Golgotha at the cross as quickly as possible.

It is amazing how quickly he found a shop open in the city on Passover and after the earthquake. As he entered the shop he asked for the finest Egyptian linen money could buy so he could bury his friend. The shopkeeper told him that, in the back, they had some Egyptian linen that was so finely woven, only kings and nobility could afford it. He told her that was exactly what he wanted. She expressed her condolences on the death of his loved one, and he told her it was for Jesus, the man who was just crucified. She was perplexed as to why he would want such expensive linen to bury a criminal? He boldly proclaimed that this Jesus wasn’t a criminal but was the Messiah who died for his and her sins. He was amazed at how bold he was. He felt so free he didn’t care what anybody thought. He was going to proclaim Christ to everybody he met!

He gathered the linen and willingly paid the enormous price. He loved Jesus and this extravagance was only natural to give someone you loved so much. At the cross, he saw Nicodemus and his servants struggling to carry all of the spices they had purchased for the burial. Nicodemus had bought a hundred pounds of myrrh and aloes, enough to bury 200 men! Nicodemus saw the fine linen that had been purchased and that it was fit for the burial of a king, and he was pleased.

They saw the mother of Jesus holding her son’s body as if to prevent the Roman’s from taking it and casting it to the dogs. The gentleman gently bent down and softly told her that Pilate had given the body to him and that he could place the body in his own tomb which had just been carved out of the rock cliff nearby. The centurion talked to the Roman soldiers and affirmed what he said was true and they turned and left.

He asked her if he could take the body and bring it to his tomb. He was able to point out his tomb to her because they could see it from Golgotha.  She gave the body of her son to the two men and they carefully prepared it to be transported. They understood that if they touched a dead body, they would be considered unclean for seven days and could not participate in the priest’s Passover feast nor any of the festivities. But they no longer cared, nor did it mean very much to them any more. This was far more important than the Passover. And then it dawned on them that Jesus’ sacrifice of His life was the fulfillment of the Passover! They were performing the true Passover for the blood of Jesus had been placed on the doorposts of their hearts and the angel of death would forever pass over them!

They quickly arrived at the tomb and started preparing the body. They placed the body on the bench in the tomb and began to wrap it in the linen cloth. They didn’t have time to clean the body properly. As they wrapped, they quickly placed large amounts of spices in the folds. They saw Jesus’ mother and Mary Magdalen standing in the garden outside the tomb watching. They had to move fast for it was almost sundown, but they were assured that the women would come after the Sabbath and do a proper job cleaning and preparing the body.

Just as the sun began to set on the horizon, they stepped out of the tomb and removed the brace holding the great stone. It easily rolled down the groove cut in the rock and covered the entrance of the tomb. They hastily filled in the remaining cracks with mud and stones and walked back to their homes, just as the sun went under the horizon.

This man did not know what his future might be, but he was not at all frightened. He felt freer than he ever felt before in his life. God used him at the exact time to fulfill the part of God’s plan that only he could do. Not only did God change this man’s heart from being a timid, secret disciple of Jesus, but God used him to fulfill the ancient prophecy that Isaiah had written over 600 years earlier, “He was assigned a grave with the wicked, and with the rich in his death” (Isaiah 53:9).

The grave that Jesus was assigned with the wicked, was the mass grave dug by the Romans to throw in the bodies of Jesus and the two criminals crucified with him. But instead, Jesus was with the rich in his death. It was highly unlikely that these two circumstances would ever be united in the same person, unless Joseph of Arimathea claimed the body of Jesus and placed it in his own tomb.

The Meaning of Maundy Thursday

Greetings to you as you celebrate Easter Week! In England, the Thursday of Holy week is known as Maundy Thursday. The word “maundy” is the Latin word for “mandate, or commandment”. The mandate that is being referred to, was given at the Last Supper when Jesus turns to his disciples and says, “A new commandment I give unto you, That ye love one another; as I have loved you, that ye also love one another.” (John 13:34)

In order to understand the significance of Maundy Thursday and this “new mandate”, we have to understand what the “old mandate” was and where it came from and how it was fulfilled so we can have the new mandate Christ was referring to.

To do that, we have to go back 4000 years to Genesis 15:8-18. This passage describes how God told Abraham that He was going to multiply his descendants to be as many as the stars of the sky and that God would give him the Promised Land to inherit. Abraham is between 75-80 years old and it seems rather hard to believe, so he asks God how he can be sure this will happen. Then God tells Abraham to do something that, on the surface, seems rather strange. He told him to take heifer of three years old, and a she goat of three years old, and a ram of three years old, and a turtledove, and a young pigeon. Then Abraham divided the animals in two and set their parts on either side of the path and the birds were also placed on either side. After Abraham did that, a great darkness descended, and God, in the form of a smoking furnace, passed between the cut upon pieces. And the story stops there. Does that seem a little strange to you?

This passage describes a mysterious ritual, which is bewildering to the reader at first glance unless it is looked at from an historical perspective.

During this time, Abraham was living in the city of Hebron (about 19 miles south of Jerusalem, or Salem, where Abraham had just met with Melchizadek). His neighbors were of the tribe of Heth, who was the great grandson of Noah and they were also known as Hittites. They had developed what was known as the Hittite treaty, or covenant. This treaty developed because people desired protection from their enemies. 

During this time in history, people on earth lived in small city-states and were under constant fear of being attacked. There no nations yet, as this took place only a little more than 400 years after the Flood of Noah. The Tower of Babel and the confounding of the languages happened only 200 – 250 years earlier, and people lives in villages according to their language groups. They were small and were in constant fear of being attacked.

The kings of smaller cities (the “vassal” kings) were especially vulnerable, so they would often seek protection with the king of a larger city (or “Suzerain king”). The treaty, or covenant, was designed so that if the weaker city was ever attacked, the greater king’s army would protect the lesser king and fight with them. In return, the smaller king would agree to pay the greater king tribute, or give him fair maidens or whatever they agreed to. Once the terms of the treaty were agreed upon, it would then become a blood covenant. 

They would seal this blood covenant with a ritual; where the lesser king (the vassel) would cut an animal in two, and place the pieces on either side of a path. Then, the vassel king would walk between the cut upon animal and say, “Let this be done to me, and moreso, if I do not fulfill my part in this covenant.” 

This is why it was called a blood covenant; because if the lesser king did not fulfill his obligations of paying his tribute, the greater king could legally cut him in half and kill him, thus fulfilling the covenant. As long as both kings were alive, the covenant was in force. Only when one died could the blood covenant be fulfilled and exist no more. ( BTW, this is a type of blood covenant that marriage refers to when a husband and wife say the words, “until death us do part.”)

What makes the story in Gen 15 so amazing is that Abraham (the lesser king) did not walk between the animals, but the Greater King, God Himself, walked between the cut upon animals and in essence said, “Let this be done to Me and more so if Abraham does not fulfill his part of this covenant.” 

At this moment God took 100% of the responsibility for this covenant and the relationship between Him and Abraham. This is the perfect example of the love of God. God’s responsibility in this covenant was that He would protect Abraham including his yet unborn descendants, multiply them, and give them the land He had promised to them. Abraham’s responsibility was to perfectly serve God, love and obey Him. Abraham’s part of the covenant is summed up when God tells Abraham “be thou perfect”. (Gen 17:1)

How did Abraham and his descendents do with their part of fulfilling the covenant? Did they walk perfectly before God? No, they repeatedly failed and broke the laws God gave to them. They were unable to fulfill the covenant. Abraham and all his descendants should have died and been cut in two. But in this covenant, it was God who walked between the cut upon animals and said that He would suffer the consequences for Abraham breaking it. 

The Covenant was broken. The price must be paid. The King who walked between the cut upon animals had to die. But God is a Spirit, how can He die? In order to pay the penalty and fulfill the blood covenant, God would have to become a man. Only if God became a man, could He die. So in the fullness of time, Jesus, was born, for the purpose of fulfilling this covenant and dying for the sins of the people when they did not obey God’s commands.

Now let’s fast forward to the Maundy Thursday. It’s the Last Supper and we have to be able to visualize what is taking place. The disciples are not sitting around a table like in the Leonardo daVinci painting. Actually, Jesus and all the disciples are laying on their left sides on blankets and pillows on the floor (propped up by their left elbows). They lay around a large bowl of food and their feet go outward from the bowl like spokes on a wheel. They are dipping into the bowl with pieces of unleavened bread similar to a tortilla. This is called a sop. They would eat out of the same bowl and often when they would pick up a particularly succulent morsel out of the pot they would feed it to someone else.

The Last Supper

John is laying on the right side next to Jesus. Jesus begins the supper by saying to all of them, “Verily, verily, I say unto you, that one of you shall betray me.” (Jn 13:21) While the disciples are talking amongst themselves, wondering who is going to betray Jesus, John simply leans back and put his head on Jesus’ chest so his ear was a couple inches from Jesus’ mouth and asked him “Lord, who is it? Jesus answered, (He whispered into John’s ear ) “He it is, to whom I shall give a sop, when I have dipped it. And when he had dipped the sop, he gave it to Judas Iscariot, the son of Simon. And after the sop Satan entered into him. Then said Jesus unto him, That thou doest, do quickly.” Jn 13:25-27)

At that moment Judas left the room to betray Jesus. Now Jesus knew that the wheels were in motion for the Old Covenant to finally be fulfilled. At this moment, Jesus knew the time of His death was at hand. Then He turns to His disciples and gives them the new mandate; (the new covenant), “A new commandment I give unto you, That ye love one another; as I have loved you, that ye also love one another.” (John 13:34)

That’s different from when Jesus said we are to love the Lord our God with all our heart and our neighbor as ourselves. Now, we are to love one another as Christ has loved us.

And how did Jesus love us? He took 100% of the responsibility for Abraham and his descendants breaking the old covenant of Gen 15. Jesus died in our stead and took 100% of the blame for our sins. That’s how Jesus said we are to love one another. We are to take the blame for one another, even if the other party is guilty. Love is more important than being right. Has your husband or wife offended you? Take the blame and choose to love her or him anyway. God knows who is right. That’s all that matters. Take 100% of the responsibility for the relationship. This is the New Covenant, the New Testament, the New Mandate. 

But did Jesus literally fulfill the covenant? Did He actually get cut in half like the animals in Gen 15? It’s true He had a spear thrust in His side and blood and water gushed out. He had a crown of thorns shoved down on His head and blood streamed down His face. He was whipped and the flesh on His back was torn apart. Yes, he was mutilated and horribly tortured, but was he actually cut in half like the animals of the old covenant? … Surprisingly, He was. 

One of the last statements Jesus uttered on the cross was,  “My God, my God why hast thou forsaken me?” (Matt 27:46)

At that moment, for the first time in eternity, God the Father and God the Son were cut in two. They were divided. Jesus took our sin on the cross and because sin cannot be in the presence of a Holy God, God the Father turned His face away from His Son and they were separated. Jesus descended into Hell with the sin of the world on Him. The Godhead was divided asunder. Jesus died.

This is the way the Old Testament Covenant was finally fulfilled and therefore it is no more. We are free from the laws of the Old Covenant and our trying to be perfect people. The Law of trying to do what we are supposed to do, what we ought do, and what we need to do, no longer applies to us. We are dead to trying to obey the Law in our own strength. Now Christ can live in us and He can transform our hearts to where we fulfill the Law without our even being aware that we are. We are so focused on His love for us and our love for Him we are no longer conscious of our Selves. We see others with Christ’s eyes and we love them as He does.

This is the new mandate Christ has given us; to love one another. And we can’t fulfill this new mandate any better than we could fulfill the Old Law. The love we need to love our enemies and bless them that curse us, does not exist within us. We have to find this love outside of ourselves and receive it from Jesus.

On Friday, the moment when Christ died, the most amazing thing happened – the veil in the Temple was torn in two, from the top to the bottom. The curtain, that separated man from God, opened up and gave us access to come into God’s presence, just like Adam had in the Garden. 

Then on Sunday, the greatest miracle in history took place! The Holy Spirit raised up Jesus Christ from the dead and He became again alive and united with the Father. The Trinity was again made whole! We now have access to enter into the Holy of Holies and come into the presence of God and interact with Him and to love Him as a bride loves her husband. And it is only when we are crucified with Christ can we walk through the torn veil and come into the presence of God. “Having therefore, brethren, boldness to enter into the holiest by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way, which he hath consecrated for us, through the veil, that is to say, his flesh” (Hebrews 10:19-20)

Now we are able to love one another as Christ loved us. Through Christ’s love within us, we can take 100% of the responsibility for our relationships. No longer do we have to feel compelled to point our finger at one another’s sins. Now we can demonstrate the love God has for us and take the blame for another’s offenses towards us. Now, we can discover that love is more important than being right. Jesus was perfect yet He took all the blame for our sins and suffered for it. He died instead of us. We can now love one another the same way. 

This is the story of Easter. This is the Gospel.

May you have a blessed Easter celebration as you walk through the veil, into the presence of God and enjoy Him forever.

In Christ,

Holy Week #18: What happened to Joseph of Arimathea and Pilate after Christ was crucified?

This question is just for fun because these are legends that cannot be authenticated, but there may be some elements of truth in them. Here are some legends concerning what happened to both men.

One tradition is that, after the crucifixion, Joseph is said to have been sent by the Apostle Philip to Britain, with other disciples, and settled at Glastonbury, in southern Britain. He supposedly had already been familiar with this area because he formerly had been a merchant of tin from the mines located here and he had previously visited the Jewish settlements located in the area. He erected the first Christian house of prayer in England, which was replaced by the abbey that exists in Glastonbury to this day.

Many other stories and legends have arisen regarding Joseph of Arimathea being in England. Because Joseph was from the royal lineage of King David (through David’s son, Nathan), Joseph and his family were also considered royalty in England and Joseph’s descendants eventually became a part of the King Arthur of Camelot story and the English royalty of today, all claiming to be descendants of King David.

It is also said that when Joseph led his small new congregation in partaking of communion and read, “Whoso eateth my flesh, and drinketh my blood, hath eternal life and … This cup is the new testament in my blood” (John 6:54, 1 Cor 11:25), some misunderstood what he said and they thought that he was referring to the actual cup that Joseph was holding and that he had actually collected the blood of Jesus in it while Jesus was on the cross. They concluded that if anyone drank from that particular cup, he would have eternal life. This began the legend of the Holy Grail.

According to St John Chrysostom, (347-407 CE), Joseph of Arimathaea was one of the 70 apostles appointed in Luke 10.

Another legend is that shortly after Jesus’ crucifixion, Pontius Pilate returned to Italy and retired in the far northern regions of Italy, known today as Switzerland. There, next to Lake Lucerne is a mountain known as Mt. Pilatus, where it was reported that Pilate lived out the remainder of his days.

Legend has it that at night when the wind blows through the trees on the mountain, you can still hear Pilate moaning because he allowed the Son of God to be crucified and regretted it for the rest of his life. I’ve been there. I’ve heard the wind and it does sound like someone moaning! :-)!

Holy Week #17: What is the personal application we can learn from Joseph of Arimathea?

Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus were moved by fear. They feared ridicule, social ostracism  and the possible expulsion from Sanhedrim and the synagogue. The two of them sat in silence as the council’s scornful question was asked, “Have any of the rulers or of the Pharisees believed on Him?” (John 7:48) They ought to have jumped to their feet and said ‘Yes, we have!’ Instead Nicodemus gave a feeble reply, “Doth our law judge any man before it hear him?” (v 51) All it took was just one contemptuous question to reduce him to silence. “Art thou also of Galilee? Search, and look: for out of Galilee ariseth no prophet.” (vs 52) That little question was enough to force Nicodemus into silence, dropping his timid plea for the man he believed to be the Messiah.

How many of us have beliefs about social or moral questions which we are ashamed to confess publically, out of fear of the finger of ridicule being pointed at us? We not only find this curse of secret discipleship in the Church, but it is everywhere today. People fear confrontation and getting involved because they want to maintain their personal peace and affluence. They are “secret disciples,’ whose convictions are only personal and they will only come out of their holes when the battle is over, and then they will shout the loudest with the victors. Very few people are willing to endure uncivil ridicule and condemnation.

Have you ever dared to stand alone? Ridicule breaks no bones. Ridicule has no power, if you make up your mind that it shall not have any. Ridicule is only unpleasant for a moment at the beginning. It’s like when a child wades out into the ocean to swim. He fears the cold water only until his head goes under water, and then after that, the ocean no longer bothers him. And so it is with the ridicule which Christian faithfulness may bring upon us. It only hurts at the beginning, and people very soon get tired. Face your fears and Christ will lift you up into His presence where you will be hidden and protected in the cleft of the Rock. At that point the worst thing that can happen is that your body will die and you will remain forever in God’s presence, which is far better!

Holy Week #16: Why was it necessary to take the body down before the Sabbath?

And if a man have committed a sin worthy of death, and he be to be put to death, and thou hang him on a tree: His body shall not remain all night upon the tree, but thou shalt in any wise bury him that day; (for he that is hanged is accursed of God;) that thy land be not defiled, which the LORD thy God giveth thee for an inheritance.” (Deut 21:22, 23)

As far as the Romans were concerned, the bodies of executed criminals either were left on the stake to rot and be eaten by vultures, were thrown into a common grave, or were dumped in the wilderness to be eaten by wild dogs.

It was a law of the Jews however, that the body of an executed man should not remain on the cross on the Sabbath. “The Jews therefore, because it was the preparation, that the bodies should not remain upon the cross on the sabbath day, (for that sabbath day was an high day,) besought Pilate that their legs might be broken, and that they might be taken away.” (John 19:31)

Did the Pharise’s break the Sabbath when they requested to have the tomb sealed?

The Pharisees soon learned that their plan to have Jesus’ body thrown into a mass grave with the other criminals was foiled by Joseph of Arimathea placing Jesus’ body in his own tomb. Matthew describes their reaction this way, “Now the next day, that followed the day of the preparation, the chief priests and Pharisees came together unto Pilate, Saying, Sir, we remember that that deceiver said, while he was yet alive, After three days I will rise again. Command therefore that the sepulchre be made sure until the third day, lest his disciples come by night, and steal him away, and say unto the people, He is risen from the dead: so the last error shall be worse than the first. Pilate said unto them, Ye have a watch: go your way, make it as sure as ye can. So they went, and made the sepulchre sure, sealing the stone, and setting a watch.” (Matt 27:62-66)

The day Christ was placed in the tomb was the day of preparation, the day before the Sabbath. Therefore, the next day was the Sabbath. In their blind hatred of Jesus, the Pharisees broke their own Sabbath laws and conspired what they could do to prevent the disciples from possibly stealing Jesus’ body. They came to Pilate, again breaking the Sabbath and worked out the details to secure and seal the tomb.

Rome’s official officer would have to order the stone to be rolled back. Then he went into the tomb and examined the body of Jesus to verify that it was Jesus and that He was really dead.

The chief priests and elders would have entered the tomb, on the Sabbath, with Rome’s official officer so they could look upon Jesus’ dead body and put an end to their worries that He had somehow survived.

Roman guards checked the contents of the tomb because they wanted to know for sure a body was there. They didn’t want to be guarding an empty tomb that would later be used as a claim of resurrection, while they got blamed for the disappearance of Jesus’ body.

After all of these inspections were complete, Rome’s official officer ordered the stone rolled back in its place. While the chief priests, elders, and Roman guards watched, he secured the site and sealed it shut with the seal of the governor of Rome.

The Roman guard was a sixteen-man unit that was governed by very strict rules. Each member was responsible for six square feet of space. The guard members could not sit down or lean against anything while they were on duty. If a guard member fell asleep, he was beaten and burned with his own clothes. But he was not the only one executed. The entire sixteen-man guard unit was executed if only one of the members fell asleep while on duty.

Holy Week #15: The Great Stone

Why was a great stone rolled in front of the tomb?

Most crucified victims in ancient Rome were left hanging on the cross even after they were dead, as a warning to those contemplating rebelling against Rome’s laws. The elements and the birds and animals took care of the mess that was left. It was not unusual, however, for Roman authorities to grant the body of a crucified person to his friends or family, provided he was not guilty of high treason. Pilate evidently did not think Jesus was guilty of what the Jews charged him with (high treason); otherwise he would not have given Christ’s body to Joseph of Arimathaea.

The Bible describes a great stone placed in front of Jesus’ tomb. The “great stone” (Matt 27:60) was technically called “golal”, and it sealed the gravesite. It was set on an incline in a channel cut in the rock. That made it easier to enclose the tomb by rolling the stone downhill.

It took several men to roll the stone back up the incline, which discouraged grave robbers and wild animals from being able to enter the tomb. Small stones, dirt and mud were jammed in between the cracks assuring that no small animals could gain access into the tomb.

Only the very wealthiest of Jews were able to afford such a large stone. Archeologists have discovered that the vast majority of tombs had smaller openings with smaller stones in the shape of a cork that were slid into the openings.

Matthew describes what happened to that enormous stone, “And, behold, there was a great earthquake: for the angel of the Lord descended from heaven, and came and rolled back the stone from the door, and sat upon it.” (Matt 28:2)

John describes it a little differently, “The first day of the week cometh Mary Magdalene early, when it was yet dark, unto the sepulchre, and seeth the stone taken away from the sepulchre.” (Joh 20:1)

The words “taken away” implies that the angel easily tossed the stone aside to where it lay flat on the ground some distance from the opening and then he sat on it, waiting for Mary to show up. What a frightening display of power! With angels like that protecting us, do we really have anything to fear?