The Gospels: God’s Judgment of Jesus

Icon by Dmitry Shkolnik

One of the unusual aspects of the Four Gospels is that while an inordinate amount of the writing is devoted to the last week of Christ’s life (His arrest, crucifixion and resurrection), relatively little explanation is offered in the Gospels themselves explaining the theological significance of these events.  Notions of the atonement, relating Christ’s crucifixion and resurrection to the human condition including sin and mortality, are much more the themes of St. Paul, who in turn spent little time writing about the details of Passion Week and the Resurrection, but rather focused on their theological implication for the entire human race.

One idea that came to me while reading CFD Moule’s BIRTH OF THE NEW TESTAMENT is that the Gospels are written in such a way as to reflect both the growing disputes and antagonisms between Jesus and the other Jewish traditions prevalent in His day as well as the growing partisanship pitting Christians against the Jews who rejected the messianic claims of Jesus’ disciples.  The Gospels are probably trying to convey the sense that neither in direct disputes with Jesus nor later in history in arguing with the disciples were the Jews able to fully refute His messianic claims.   The Gospels offer a plethora of evidence to uphold the claims of Jesus to being God’s chosen One:  miracles, the voice of God, events that fulfill scriptural prophecy, Jesus’ unique and particular use and interpretation of the Torah and all Jewish scriptures, Jesus’ own teachings and wisdom and commands, Jesus’s prophecy and prediction about what was to happen, even the witness of demons and non-Jews!   As the Gospels have it, the evidence is overwhelming, and really only those who perniciously and defiantly reject God are not convinced by the truth presented in the Gospels. 

In the end, the Gospel tradition presents the Jews as unable to refute Jesus’ Messianic claims, and yet unwilling to admit to the truthfulness of these claims.  So, almost as a means to avoid cognitive dissonance, the Jewish leaders plot to let the Romans take over the situation.  By turning Jesus over to Rome and accusing Him of political crimes, the Jewish leaders never have to fully deal with their inability to refute Jesus in discussion and debate over the Scriptures.  Jesus is executed by Rome, and the Jewish leaders can take the safe route that “if God had chosen Jesus or really wanted Him” God will save Him.  Obviously at the crucifixion God does not save Jesus from criminal execution, which thus safely closes the case for the Jewish leaders – “we may not have been able to overcome His clever arguments, but God has judged Him.” 

The twist in the story of course is the resurrection.    For though Jesus is condemned to death as a cursed criminal and though for all practical purposes the disciples are scattered – sent cowardly into hiding — suddenly and completely unexpectedly (despite Jesus’ own prophecy) news emerges about claims that He is risen from the dead:  God favored Him after all and has judged Him as righteous, chosen and favored beyond anything the Jews had imagined to that point in their dealings with God.

The Gospels present the disciples, including the women disciples,  not at all looking for the resurrection.  The women go to the tomb to anoint the corpse:  they are surprised as anyone to discover the empty tomb and do not in fact interpret the empty tomb as a sign of the resurrection until itis explained to them as a sign by the angelic visitors.  Even at that point, the women remain unsure  and the men disciples are equally doubtful about their witness.    Everyone, including Jesus’ own inner circle of followers is totally astonished by the news of the resurrection and they all have to scramble to understand what the resurrection might mean.

All four Gospels are written following this same basic format: even the followers of Jesus do not know exactly what they are looking at or for.  Jesus does tell people to believe Him, or if not Him, then believe the works that He does.   He tells them even to believe God – none of the evidence He offers convinces anybody of anything.  Christ also tells a parable in which someone rising from the dead will not be enough to convince those who stubbornly choose blindness rather than seeing the truth. 

Emmaus: Christ reveals Himself in Scriptures & in the Breaking of the Bread

The Gospel tradition seen in this way is thus not so much offering a theological understanding of the implications of the death and resurrection of the incarnate God.   This understanding will become clear through time.   The Gospel tradition seems more geared toward dealing with those who for whatever reason refuse to accept the witness of  Jesus, His works, or His disciples, by asking everyone to consider what was God’s ultimate judgment of Jesus?    The Gospels bring us to the point of challenging us to believe in Christ based upon how He was judged by God, not by His enemies or even by His disciples.    It will remain for the Church to then explain how we should live together in this (unbelieving or even hostile) world as disciples of the Risen Lord.    As believers, we must now read again and often the teachings of Christ to further study them as Jews studied Torah to understand the will of God.

God Questions His Creation: Genesis 9:3-4 (b)

See:  God Questions His Creation:  Genesis 9:3-4 (a)

Genesis 9:3 Every moving thing that lives shall be food for you; and as I gave you the green plants, I give you everything. 4 Only you shall not eat flesh with its life, that is, its blood.

“…lifeblood…”    Right after Abel made his animal sacrifice; he is murdered by his brother Cain.  Here after Noah’s animal sacrifice God speaks to Noah about the sacredness of blood, each person’s blood – life is sacred.   This law for all mankind demands an absolute adherence to the sanctity of human life.   God lays down a rule that if anyone or even if any animal sheds a man’s life, the murderer shall be put to death.  God does not want Cain’s sin to be down played or accepted.  Murder is punishable by death.  But this certainly reflects the fact that everything has changed on earth and none can live together in peace.  God has accepted that the human heart apparently cannot be washed clean of its wickedness, but now He lays down a law forbidding murder.   God does not prevent murder from happening (and His Son will suffer the consequence of His decision!), but His law demands that humans must control themselves.  And if a human can’t control himself and kills another human, the rest of the humans by God’s command are to deal with the killer.   This will become the foundation for Old Covenantal civil society.   God does not offer nor promise to deal with human wickedness such as murder.   Humans are to practice self-control.  But if they can’t control themselves, then humans must band together and take control of the person who refuses to practice self-control.  This is God’s expectation of humanity – humans must begin to police themselves because God has ordered it.   In the New Covenant, in the new order, in the new world instituted by Jesus Christ however, on the cross He does not demand Old Covenantal justice, rather He prays, “Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do” (Luke 23:34).  He inaugurates a new Kingdom not of this world, nor of its values, not even of the ones from the Torah.

“Only you shall not eat flesh with its life, that is, its blood.”     God forbids the eating of flesh with blood still in it even before Moses exists and he is given the law from God to teach to the people.   Genesis puts this law as one of the first laid down by God for all people – not just for observant Jews, for the law is given before Abraham or Moses lived.  It is interesting that in Acts 15 when the Apostles are considering what religious laws Gentile converts to Christianity must keep, they adopt only three rules mandatory for all Christians and one of them is the Genesis 9:4 prohibition against eating meat with blood still in it:  “abstain from the pollutions of idols and from unchastity and from what is strangled and from blood” (Acts 15:20).   They do not require all 613 laws of the Torah, nor even the Ten Commandments!   This same set of rules is repeated in Acts 21:25.   To be a Christian, you do not need to be an observant Jew – no requirements for keeping Torah nor kosher.   But Gentile Christians were expected to recognize the universality of certain moral laws.

“Only you shall not eat flesh with its life, that is, its blood.”    One lesson God may have wanted to convey to the survivors of the flood is that life is still sacred.  They get out of the ark and witness the mass devastation which has taken place – all flesh has been destroyed.  But God doesn’t want the survivors to misunderstand the events.  All flesh was destroyed because of the distortions brought about by wickedness.  The destruction of all flesh was not a pronouncement that life has no value, nor that God favors ethnic cleansing or endorses mass murder.  God affirms the value, the sanctity of life by telling the humans the blood is holy, life is sacred.  God wanted the survivors of the flood, and all who read their story to learn that sacredness is still part of creation.  They may no longer be living in the Holy Paradise of Eden.  They may no longer be residing in the antediluvian world of Noah’s forefathers.  This however has not changed the holiness of life itself.  Meat eating is allowed, but humans must recognize the sacredness of all life and the sanctity of every human life.  God wants the humans He has saved to understand this most significant lesson.  The significance of the story is not that there is now law governing human behavior; the importance of the story is that life is holy, and in the face of the destruction of all life by the flood, humans must be told that God still sees life as sacred and He expects His chosen humans to do the same.  God will say that He will never again destroy all human life to rid the world of evil and sin; nor does He command His humans to try this method to perfect their world.

Already in this Genesis text we seen an understanding that a price to be paid for human holiness and perfection is human blood.   The rest died that the righteous might survive.  This idea is repeated in the Passover Story of Exodus where too some die in order that others may live.  The theme finds its fullness and complete meaning in the death of Jesus Christ on the cross, where again a death was necessary for holiness and perfection of humanity to be attained.  In the New Covenant however, it is God who dies rather than God who purifies humanity through the death of some ungodly humans.  The death of the ungodly cannot perfect humanity, whereas the death of the perfect God-man reveals the purity of humanity.

Next:  God Questions His Creation:  Genesis 9:5-7