Who Was John The Baptist?

So often John, the first cousin of Jesus whom we commonly refer to as John the Baptist, is only given a cursory glance in our reading of scripture. He went before Jesus preaching repentance, he baptized Jesus in the Jordan River, and he got into big trouble with Herod Antipas. And that’s about it. Move along, nothing much else to see here.

But who was John really? Why did he appear at all? How much contact did he have with Jesus before he began his ministry? What was his relationship with our heavenly father, and Jesus? Was he a political stirrer as well as a spiritual loner? Why all that self-denial? What shaped his radicalism? How was he received by the community?

I’ve been reading and re-reading the first part of Matthew 14 for some time now and trying to get myself inside the life of this most fascinating man of God. Then last night I did some journaling and decided to ask Jesus to show me more about John’s life. Below is word for word what I thought the Lord was telling me. The result was so intriguing that I decided I’d share it with you and let you decide whether it was my imagination or a little divine glimpse into the true nature of John and his mission…

“John was like a brother. He was my spiritual brother and human cousin. He was the first-born spiritual brother in the global church, the very first Christian. He knew exactly who I was. He never doubted. His mother retold to him the story of my birth and journey to earth many times.

John was chosen to be the last and greatest prophet, yet the first and greatest Christian, the living link between the two covenants. John was dedicated to the Father and considered it a great honour to be chosen for the role the Father gave him. He walked closely with the Father daily, denying himself the usual and expected lifestyle of a priest’s son serving in the temple, the life of a Levite priest. He knew he had been chosen as a different kind of priest of a new order, of the order of Melchizedek. John carried this burden with dignity and pride, with poise and a great sense of purpose. But it was more than purpose, it was with great urgency and force. He was not a timid man but a man that was single minded like an arrow shot from its bow. He was the spiritual opposite of Pharaoh.

John and I met many times before I began my ministry. We talked about the Father and I told him many things about the Father. John knew more about our heavenly Father and the Kingdom of God than anyone born on earth till that time. I revealed it all to him. That’s why he resisted baptizing me. But he knew the time would come when he would slide away so that I could shine.

He was uncompromising in his determination to do his part to usher in the Kingdom of God. He was fearless and deferred not to rank. All were sinners and sin galled his spirit. People loved him because of this. People feared him because of this.

You will meet him in the future, and both rejoice together in my Father’s house.”

Hmmmm.

 

 

WHAT HAPPENED IN THE LIFE OF JESUS FROM AGE 12 TO 30?

1. INTRODUCTION

Have you ever wondered how Jesus actually grew up under his parents, Mary and Joseph? Or what he did between the age of twelve, when he is found at the temple (Luke 2:41-52), and around 30 years of age when he started his ministry (Luke 3:210-23)? Or how he lived with his family up in Nazareth as a teenager? Or what he really did for a profession? Or how he related to his four younger brothers and possibly the same number of sisters (Matthew 13:55-56)? Or to the wider community in and around the hamlet of Nazareth? Have you ever wondered if he knew how to cook, build houses, shape stone and wood, manage a small business, sow a wheat crop, sail a boat, all on top of diligently studying the Old Testament at night under candlelight? This essay will try to answer those questions.

So, why do we need to nail down these missing years? It’s because Jesus was a really cool guy, one of the greatest in all of history, and therefore lots of religions and cults want him on their side. To get him on their team they create fanciful narratives of what happened in those 18 silent years. For example, when I was on holiday in India in 2008 I came across a book titled Jesus Lived in India that claimed he sat at the feet of their esteemed Hindu gurus during his 18 silent years. Then we have the Mormons claiming Jesus visited North America and left evidence behind for Joseph Smith to discover thousands of years later. I even found a website recently about the Urantia Book, which claims that extra-terrestrial beings have now told us what Jesus did during those silent years. Human imagination, and Satan’s, knows no limits!

So that we do not fall for these simple deceptions it is important that we as Christians try to fill in the 18 silent years of the life of Jesus with as much real evidence from scripture, history and archaeology as possible.

This essay will try to give you some intelligent insights to those 18 silent years using only scriptural references, arguments from scriptural silence, clues from the stories Jesus told, and a little Jewish history and archaeology. Unlike the Hindus, the Mormons and the Urantians, I just want to get as close as possible to what really happened in that tiny village of Nazareth 2000 years ago. I’ll probably make a few mistakes, but I’ll do my best.

Note: In the paragraphs below, I have referred to Jesus’ siblings and family in the full earthly sense for simplicity’s sake, knowing perfectly well they are only half siblings and family. I absolutely believe he was the Messiah, God with us, Emmanuel (Matthew 1:23). However, until he turned 30 years of age only Mary and a few others fully knew the truth about his divine nature. Everyone else in his life just thought of him as a normal local small businessman. Even his younger brothers were embarrassed when he revealed his true identity (John 7:2-9). But, rest assured, they were convinced by the time of the resurrection (Acts 1:14).

2. CLUES FROM SILENCE

I would have liked to have started with evidence from scripture, however, as you will quickly find out, there is an argument from silence about the life of Joseph, husband of Mary, that is crucial to much of what transpired. Therefore, this is where we begin.

The Missing Joseph

When Jesus was 12 years old and at the temple in Jerusalem, we read that Joseph was still alive (John 2:1-11). However, 18 years later when Jesus began his ministry, we no longer hear anything about Joseph. For example, in John 2:11-12, right after Jesus’ first miracle at a wedding we find Joseph missing from the list of family members who travelled from Cana to Capernaum to visit Jesus. A year or so later in Matthew 12:46 we find Jesus’ mother and brothers coming from Nazareth to Lake Galilee again to visit him again, and again they travelled without Joseph. When Jesus returns to Nazareth with them a few days later, we still do not hear anything about Joseph while Jesus is in his hometown (Matthew 13:53-57). Joseph is also missing from the scene before the cross (John 19:26), and from the upper room when Mary and some of Jesus’ brothers were present (Acts 1:14).

Christian tradition therefore says Joseph must have died or was incapacitated some years before Jesus started his ministry. Working on the assumption that Mary would have been around 45-50 years of age when Jesus turned 30, and that Joseph was older than her by some years, and that life was short in that era, this makes sense, even if only an argument from silence. I therefore also conclude that the absence of evidence is evidence for absence. If it is true that Joseph had already died, then this means Jesus was well acquainted with the deep grief and loss so central to the human condition.

Jesus Becomes The Head Of The Family

The absence of Joseph would have made Jesus the new head of the family some time before he started his ministry. He would have taken over the family business. His business skills would have involved budgeting, possibly quoting for jobs, managing the finances, walking far and wide to work on local building projects. His business would have involved much more stonework than woodwork as that was the main construction material in that area. To construct a building in ancient Israel you needed many sets of skills. Jesus would have therefore been a reasonably strong and fit man. His work was his gym!

There was no government welfare in the ancient world. The head of the household was solely responsible for the wellbeing of all under his care. As a man responsible for the welfare of his family Jesus could not start his ministry until they were on a sure financial footing. He probably worked with one or more of his brothers for several years until they were fully trained to take over the family business. Only then could Jesus have responsibly left home. This time to move out came by when he was 30 years of age. This age is spiritually significant as it was the age that Levites were requested to begin their ministry of service in the house of God (Numbers 4:1-3). Jesus looked after his family first, then started his ministry. This is how it should always be.

If Jesus was indeed the head of the household, then he would have been also responsible for the choosing of his siblings’ spouses and their weddings. This was the Jewish tradition. He would have negotiated his sister’s dowries and had the final decision in whom they married, which was usually within the clan. This may explain why Jesus felt compelled to turn the water into wine at the wedding in Cana (John 2:1-5). Perhaps, and this is an educated guess, this was actually a wedding of a cousin, or even his younger sister. If it was his sister’s wedding then it would explain why the waiters came straight to Mary for a solution to their problem, and why Mary went straight to Jesus and dumped the problem on him as the head of the family, and why she put Jesus on the spot in front of the waiters after his initial hesitation. As the head of the household, Jesus would have been responsible for these details.

Where Did Jesus Work?

Just an hour’s walk north of Nazareth was the administrative city of Sepphoris, which is intriguingly never mentioned in the Gospels. Until around 20AD it was the capital of Herod Agrippa’s government in Galilee before he moved his capital to the new city of Tiberius on shores of Lake Galilee. Everyone loves a water view. Sepphoris was still an administrative city in Jesus’ day. It was largely gentile in demography and loyal to Rome under Herod Antipas to the point that it did not join in the Jewish revolts a generation later that destroyed Jerusalem in 70AD. It probably also housed the Galilean Roman Garrison and was the home of the Centurion who came looking for Jesus in Matthew 8:5-13. It was a small city, but big enough to build an amphitheater that held 4,000 people. It is very likely that Jesus worked on building projects in Sepphoris either under his father or later with his brothers. Jesus probably also worked alongside other artisans on these projects, all the while negotiating bids, securing supplies, completing projects and working darned hard. Today the city is a rich archaeological site and it is possible that Jesus and his family could have worked on some of the ruins to be seen today. But we will never know.

3. CLUES FROM SCRIPTURE

During these 18 silent years we are not told anything specific about the life of Jesus…zip and zilch. However, there are many clues from scriptural snippets that can be pieced together to form a reasonably clear picture, with some assumptions built in of course, and I will acknowledge them as we go.

What Sort of Teenager Was He?

We know Jesus was quite an intelligent young lad, literate and academic, as he could hold his own with learned religious teachers at the age of 12 years (Luke 2:46-7). As observant Jews, it was his parent’s duty to teach all their smaller children to read and to understand the scriptures. Jesus then took his own deeper dive into the Jewish scriptures before the age of 12 years. This must have been fascinating and rewarding for his parents to watch. He was obviously a brilliant scholar.

His deep spiritual life and scriptural knowledge at such a tender age launched him onto the national stage on that infamous trip to Jerusalem when his parents lost track of him in the large caravan of cousins and clan members that was headed back to Galilee (Luke 2:41-52). The point Luke emphasises is that Jesus knew exactly who he was at this tender age. He did not become a god as time progressed (V.49). He was already telling his parents that he was divine. There must have been some very interesting conversations between their first born and Mary and Joseph while Jesus was a teenager!

We also know from scripture that he was obedient to his parents after this visit to Jerusalem (Luke 2:51), and that he grew up a strong, wise, and popular young man (Luke 2:52). It was around the age of 13 years that young Jewish lads went through their Bar Mitzvah and were then apprenticed into their father’s occupation. In Galilee this usually meant farming, but for Jesus it meant learning the skills of a craftsman throughout his teenage years in the family workshop and on building sites in and around Nazareth and beyond.

What We Know About Jesus’ Family

Psalm 132:11 tells us that the Messiah would come from the line of David. Matthew 1 and Luke 3 tell us that both Mary and Joseph had royal Davidic bloodlines. Matthew and Luke’s two genealogies tell us that Jesus’ grandfather on his father’s side was Jacob and his grandfather on his mother side was Heli. Since Nazareth was Mary’s home village, and possibly Joseph’s as well, it was quite possible that Jesus knew both his pappa’s Jacob and Heli while growing up.

We also know from scripture that Mary had at least one unnamed sister (John 19:25). Jesus would have most likely known both this unknown sister and her entire family very well as she too grew up in Nazareth and most likely married someone within Nazareth or from a village close by. We are not told in scripture of any other extended family apart from Mary’s first cousin Elizabeth, who probably originally grew up in Nazareth just a few years ahead of Mary, otherwise why would Mary want to stay three months with her when she was pregnant with our Lord (Luke 1:59). Mary and Elizabeth were obviously very close.

Scripture also tells us Jesus had four younger brothers named Simon, James, Joseph and Judas, with at least two younger sisters, probably more (Matthew 13:55-56, Mark 6:3). This makes a total of seven to eight children in the family at a minimum. This snippet of scripture gives us more understanding of what life would have been like in Joseph’s very busy home. Taking two years between births as an average implies that by the time Jesus was turning twenty years of age, some siblings would still have been small children, while others were strapping teenagers. Space in the home would have been limited, so I imagine it would have been a noisy and cramped home, with lots of jobs to be done just to keep the home fires burning. Joseph would most likely have built a workshop next to the house to do some jobs and house his tools, so the dwelling would have looked a little larger than average for the village, with a courtyard as well for the animals needed to transport building materials.

Fast forward ten years to the time when Jesus started his ministry and some of his siblings would have still been teenagers while some, more than likely the older girls, were married, possibly with their own families. If so, then this would have made Jesus an uncle. Some brothers would have been in business with their older brother, others could have branched out. Most likely the girls were married to local men and most local men were farmers. So, farming could well have been on the edge of the work/life roles that Jesus was involved in before he was baptized by John. Each family probably also had their own small orchard and a plot to grow vegetables and herbs. However, the prime purpose of all of Jesus’ business dealings during this time was taking responsibility for the welfare of his family.

To this day weddings are a major feature of any one’s life while travelling through their twenties, and it would have been no different in Nazareth, or for Jesus. I expect Jesus would have attended many in that decade, some of which were his own siblings’ weddings. One such wedding is recorded in John 2:1-11 and it tells us that just after Jesus began his ministry down in Capernaum, he was invited to a wedding back in Cana, which was a slightly more affluent village near Nazareth.

After the miracle at that wedding Jesus, accompanied by Mary, his brothers and his new disciples, went down to Capernaum on the lake for a few days (John 2:11-12). By then Capernaum had become Jesus’ home base. This gives us a clue that there could have been some family connection to that village by the lake that drew Jesus in the first place after he was rejected in Nazareth, and then drew his mother and brothers to join him there after the wedding to visit extended family? Perhaps it was just the wonderful site of all that water? We don’t know the answer, but we do know that they visited him again in Capernaum during his ministry a year or so later (Matthew 12: 46-13:55-56) so there could very well have been some family connection to the fishing village during the silent years.

Matthew 13:55-56 and Mark 6:3 also give us some information on where the family sat on the social ladder via the nature of its family business. The English translations of the Bible say they were carpenters. However, the Greek word translated carpenter is tekton, from which we get English words such as tectonic and architect. The term was commonly used to refer to a artisan or craftsman, in either stone, wood or other materials. Craftsman would have been a better English translation. In common modern terms we should translate the word as builder. This would put the family of Jesus in the lower middle class.

The fact that they were endowed with substantial financial aid by the three wise men (Matthew 2:11) at the time of Jesus’ birth would have no doubt helped them set themselves up well when they returned to Nazareth from Egypt (Matthew 2:13-15). Business owners were a small minority of the workforce as most people in Galilee were farmers, and farming in Galilee at the time was a lucrative enterprise as Josephus tells us: The land is so rich in soil and pasturage and produces such a variety of trees, that even the most indolent are tempted by these facilities to devote themselves to agriculture. In fact, every inch of soil has been cultivated by the inhabitants; there is not a parcel of wasteland. The towns, too, are thickly distributed and even the villages, thanks to the fertility of the soil (Josephus. Wars. 3:42-43). This tells there would have been plenty of work for builders, especially after a good harvest.

From scripture we can also work out that Mary always knew and believed that her firstborn son was the Messiah. However, she must have kept this a tight secret from the rest of the family for some strange reason. We know this because Jesus’ younger brothers were very sceptical and even sneering of him and his ministry claims (John 7:2-9). They even said at one stage that he is out of his mind (Mark 3:20-22). This gives us a small insight into their negative mindset, which seemed a little pig-headed and arrogant, but perhaps it was just their sense of family embarrassment over the negative publicity their brother was giving them, particularly within the local religious establishment (Mark 3:22).

Was Jesus Cosmopolitan or Provincial?

Without doubt we do know that Jesus was rubbing shoulders with non-Jews on a regular basis. Galilee was known as Galilee of the Gentiles (Matthew 4:15-16) for good reason. It had been conquered by both the Greeks in 330BC and then by the Romans in 63BC. It was only a few generations earlier that Jewish farmers were able to wrestle control of Galilee from the Greeks during the Maccabean Revolt. There were still ten Greek cities just on the eastern side of Lake Galilee at the time of Jesus (Matthew 4:25). Every time Jesus looked across the lake while living in Capernaum, there was a gentile world staring back from the other side. Even Sepphoris, just 5 kilometres north of Nazareth was largely a gentile city as Herod himself was non-Jewish, and fearing the Jews, he surrounded himself with the same ilk. Undoubtedly Jesus would have done some building work for gentile families and government administrators during the years he ran the family business. Later on Jesus would think nothing of visiting Gadara, one of these ten Greek cities (Luke 8:26-38) and even going north to Tyre in Lebanon (Matthew 7:24). Unlike many pious Jews, Jesus was comfortable around gentiles, and this was because he wanted his disciples to later on take the Good News to the whole gentile world (Matthew 28:18-20). He was modelling what he wanted to reproduce in others. 

We also know from history that Jesus spoke the Galilean dialect of Aramaic (Matthew 26:73), a Northwest Semitic language which was the foundation of Hebrew. Aramaic had been the language spoken in royal courts and empires in and around Syria for millennia. Its alphabet was also the foundation of both the Hebrew and Arabic alphabets. Its daughter language, Syriac, would go on to become the mother of the Arabic language five hundred years later as well as the liturgical language of the vast but now unknown Nestorian Church of the Middle East. So, Jesus spoke two slightly different languages, Aramaic and Hebrew. One spoken at home, and one in Jerusalem. With the Greeks and Romans living close by, he also probably knew a smattering of Greek and Latin as well.

4. CLUES FROM HISTORY AND ARCHAEOLOGY

What Was His Hometown Of Nazareth Like?

Jesus is known in scripture and in prophecy as Jesus of Nazareth, or as a Nazarene (Matthew 2:23). Isaiah 11:1, Zechariah 6:12 and Jeremiah 23:5 tell us that Jesus will be a branch of Jesse. This word branch in these prophecies is significant as the word Nazareth is derived from netzer, which is Hebrew for branch.  We also know from John 1:45-46 that Nazareth had a lousy reputation! Can anything good come out of Nazareth? was the exclamation made by Nathanael when Philip told him that Jesus, an unknown building contractor from the redneck local hamlet of Nazareth was actually the long-awaited Jewish Messiah who had come to liberate them (John 1:45). Sometimes a single sentence can fill a book!

Nazareth was a Galilean Hicksville, the back-blocks, primitive. It was a boring little hamlet of between 200-400 people. Most Nazarenes were related to each other in some way and were living in a cluster of nondescript stone and mud homes. It was mostly full of large, poor, farming families. It was smelly from all the donkeys, cattle and sheep that were kept overnight in courtyards or in pens just outside the village, and the animals brought the flies and extra smell in summer. It was noisy from the chatter of dozens of small grubby children running free or tending animals. This is probably why later on Jesus was very much at ease with small children (Matthew 19:13). Nazareth had narrow dirt lanes between homes and was only where it was because of the excellent spring and well, which was recently excavated  under the Greek Orthodox Church of the Annunciation in modern Nazareth.

Nazareth was Mary’s hometown (Luke 1:26-27), and scripture also hints that it was Joseph’s hometown as well (Luke 2:4). That’s why Joseph moved his family up there for safety reasons after coming back from Egypt (Matthew 2:19-23). Nathanael was justifiably surprised that anything good could come from that pathetic place. The village Jesus grew up in was exceedingly ordinary, low-class, blue collar to the core. and probably the butt of many local jokes. Today there are a million tiny villages in third world countries all over the world that look exactly the same as Nazareth did. I know them well as I lived in Punjabi villages for weeks at a time in the early 1980’s. Until recently this is how nearly all of humanity lived, all through history. It gives extra meaning to the term: God with us, Emmanuel.

Nazareth was built on soft limestone on a ridge overlooking very rich flat red-soil cropping country to the south. The locals took advantage of this soft limestone to build a labyrinth of cool underground, cellars, cisterns, silos and passageways for both practical storage reasons and for safety. In these cool underground spaces they stored grain, water, wine, olive oil, and anything else they wanted. It is quite possible that Jesus himself worked on digging out some of these structures and the family had their own cellar underneath their family home. Some of these hidey-holes would undoubtedly have also been used to conceal harvest produce from the tax collectors and therefore avoid the insidious levels of taxation the Romans leveed on all Jews. Jesus, as small business owner would have had to pay around 50% of his earnings in taxes to the Romans, and being a devout and honest Jew, he would have reluctantly complied (Matthew 22:15-22).

Nazareth was mainly home to lowly farmers, so it is entirely probably that the family of Jesus was also involved in farming to some degree. Everyone had to eat and there were limited opportunities to buy anything in such a small hamlet. Farming features prominently in the teachings of Jesus (fig trees, mustard seeds, sowing and reaping, sheep and goats, vines and branches) and this flow of ideas probably had its roots in personal experience. Church historian Eusebius tells us that two of the grandsons of Judah, Jesus’ younger brother, were Galilean farmers with a combined plot of 3.4 hectares (Historiae Eccleseastiea, 3:20, 1ff.). If correct this would confirm the family connection to farming, and also tells us that plots were exceedingly small for dryland farms relying on just 580mm of mainly winter rain each year.

Jesus’ Religious Practices

In the years leading up to age 30, Jesus would undoubtedly have been spiritually and intellectually preparing for the day he stepped out onto the national stage. As a devout Jew he would have led the family’s weekly feast every Friday night to celebrate the beginning of the Sabbath. The next day he would attend the local synagogue with all the other men and then rested until sundown. Nazareth’s synagogue was so tiny that the local men took turns reading the scriptures (Luke 4:16-17). He would have also travelled annually the 150 kilometres south to Jerusalem for the annual Passover Festival, which had been a family tradition (Luke 2:41). He possibly took his mother and siblings with him in the years before his ministry began (John 7:1-9). All the rituals and regulations of the law were kept by this High Priest of men in training (Matthew 5:17-20).

Mary’s first cousin Elizabeth lived not far from Jerusalem in the hill country of Judea (Luke 1:64-66), so it is very likely that there was a meeting of lots of extended family during these festival pilgrimages. This would have allowed Jesus to spend quality family time and bond with John the Baptist before coming back down to Judea to be baptized by John years later. He spent some time in the wilderness and with his first cousin, but then when John was arrested, Jesus headed back up to Galilee to start his own ministry (Matthew 4:12).

5. CLUES FROM THE PARABLES

People often tell stories based on their personal experiences. These are deeply ingrained memories in their hearts, and they send the strongest message to others. I will now float the idea that at least some of the parables and stories Jesus told were based on his personal life experiences. If this assumption is correct, then the stories Jesus told give us many more clues as to what was happening in the 18 silent years.

Introducing The Parables

Jesus told about 46 parables and stories in total that are recorded in scripture. He undoubtedly told a lot more, but these 46 were deemed important enough by his disciples to record in the gospels for posterity. Most of them relate to small business, small town living, employment, handling money and debts, the construction industry, farming and herding, fishing, weddings, broken relationships, religious hypocrisy, social status, inheritances, servanthood, paying tax and scheming workers. The list of ordinary events is very revealing when you put it like that. Below is the full list so you can see what I mean:

What The Parables Reveal

The first thing that jumps out from this list is the sheer number of employment/finance/business-related parables and stories. They are by far the majority. Jesus’ use of stories, parables and metaphors was obviously based not only on his intimate knowledge of the Scriptures. However they also seem to be based on his own hard-won experience growing up and running a business in Nazareth, participating in the cyclical life of the village, going to work every day, attending synagogue, and interacting with his family, clan, neighbours, religious leaders and strangers. What we don’t know, and will never know, is how many of the stories recorded in the Gospels come from Jesus’ own personal experience or are about people he personally knew.

Did he know two builders that built on different foundations? Had he observed a pharisee and a tax collector giving offerings at the great temple in Jerusalem? Did he know someone who had lost a precious coin? Or someone who had found a treasure in a field? Did he build barns for a rich farmer, or did he know a rich farmer who had built bigger barns and then dropped dead? Had he been to a wedding where some women forgot to bring enough oil for their lamps? Had he seen a few arrogant selfish sons in nearby Sepphoris demand their inheritance early? Had he heard of a local Galilean farmer who had suffered a spot of bioterrorism when his enemy secretly sowed rye grass in with his newly sown wheat? Did he know a little old lady who had badgered a local official in Sepphoris until she got the justice she deserved? Had he been pruning a cousin’s vineyard, or sown a field for a friend once? Had he known a rich ruler who had given money to his administrators and then gone away on a journey.

We will never know the answers to these questions, but they do raise the possibility that at least some of the stories and parables that Jesus told came directly from personal experience or observation. 

One Last Observation

One description that was definitely a result of detailed and lengthy personal observation was the lethal attack on the hypocritical lives, behaviours and attitudes of the Jewish religious leaders in both Galilee and Jerusalem found in Matthew 23. Here we find an extraordinary and detailed assault on the entire religious hierarchy of Israel. There is no doubt that this was the result of a lifetime of observation and frustration with those who had corrupted the true message of the Old Covenant that both Jesus, as the second part of the triune creator of the universe, and his heavenly father, had conveyed to Israel over a four-thousand-year period of continual revelation. And for what: For the sake of male power, religious ego, money, arrogance and status. His choice of repeatedly using the word hypocrite is instructive on its own. It was a Greek theatre term meaning one who wears a mask. This word was probably picked up easily as he lived less than an hour’s walk from an amphitheatre in Sepphoris that held thousands of people and was used for theatre productions.

6. CONCLUSION

Jesus lived an ordinary earthly life, complete with the joy, sorrow, drudgery, and excitement that everyone experiences in a village/family/provincial/rural environment. He lived in a large, struggling family in a smelly backwater of a village, taking the burden of financial and social responsibility for his mother and all his siblings. He most likely became the head of a small business. He kept himself pure as regards his religion. He felt the pain of losing a dearly loved parent, the joy of seeing his siblings married, and the rejection of several nit-picking, jealous, backbiting younger brothers. He worked for and mixed with gentiles long before he started his ministry. He was extremely intelligent and theologically brilliant, all while developing a fair amount of muscle working on construction sites.

What strikes me the most about this description is the audacity of the Father to send his son to this type of life before launching his ministry. It was so thoroughly ordinary and boring for the creator of the universe, who made a billion galaxies in an instant with the simplicity of a few spoken words, to be stuck in THAT village living THAT monotonous human life for so long. We often talk about the wisdom of God coming to earth to identify with those he was trying to reach, but this is ridiculous!

However, there was genius in the plan too. The ordinary peasants Jesus was trying to reach would have responded to nothing less than someone who was completely one with them: One with their struggles, their culture, their fears, their religion, their professions, their village life, their clan structure, their frustrations with authority, their political oppression, their sickness, their businesses, and their abject poverty. It was only because Jesus did all the above that they were prepared to listen and embrace him as their prophet, their champion. All this before he gave them the ultimate proof of conquering death.

And it’s been like that right through history.

He was and is one of us, yet he is God, Emmanuel!

24th April 2022 Update: A Financial Tsunami Is Coming

Here Are The Statistics I Picked Up Today

  1. 9% increase in the German Producer Price Index (PPI). Increasing PPI is the first stage of getting a consumer inflation figure a few months later. Expect a colossal consumer inflation figure in Germany in a few months. This figure was only surpassed in the hyper-inflation of 1923 and just after the end of World War Two. Duplicate this figure right across Europe.
  2. The EU Central Bank has therefore no choice but to increase interest rates in Europe in a massive way. This will usher in a severe recession in Europe.
  3. US stocks experienced their largest outflow of funds last week since the panic of 2018. The market is turning over. Panic is beginning to emerge. Gold was the only area to see an inflow.
  4. The US bond market is now expecting 10 interest rate hikes in the rest of 2022! This will destroy the easy money Covid stimulus inspired equity and housing boom of the last few years.
  5. There were over 1,000 interest rate cuts by all central banks in the years after the Global Financial Crisis. This has now reversed, and we have seen 75 interest rate hikes just this year. The 40-year-old bond bull market, where interest rates kept dropping and dropping, is now in reverse, probably for the next decade.
  6. Social media stocks in the USA: Netflix, Disney etc. are already down 58%. They soared on easy money, and they have much further to go.
  7. Between the Global Financial Crisis and now, the worlds central banks have injected over $23 billion in quantitative easing, this funny money was their preferred means to suppress interest rates. It made the insiders, the elites rich on cheaper and cheaper borrowings to play equity and housing markets. This is now in reverse. $3 trillion is going to drain from the global economy this year.
  8. The IMF is expecting global earnings per share to collapse from 21% to -3% this year.
  9. US inflation just came in at over 8% in March. Many think it is peaking. However, in the US the PPI is now running at 10% and still rising. So, inflation has not yet peaked in the USA. Meanwhile the Feds interest rates are still stuck at 2.93%. They have SOOOO fare to go to catch up. But never will. The market is predicting they can’t go above 4.5% or they will destroy the economy.
  10. Much of the world’s food supply has now been disrupted. For example, cooking oil prices have tripled in many countries and wheat has jumped 50%. Global food prices jumped 12% just in March. Fertilizer prices have doubled or tripled in the last 12 months. Agricultural exports from the world’s biggest exporters, Russia and the Ukraine, are knee-capped. Humanity is only 10 meals away from riots. The riots have started in Peru and Sri Lanka. They will spread.

What does this mean?

It tells us that global interest rates are about to explode. Economies will tank. Houses will crash. Equities will crash. Bond markets will reverse for the first time in 40 years. Food riots will become common. Unemployment will jump significantly. It’s not going to be pretty.

Most think the Federal Reserve has the job of preserving employment and inflation. This is a lie. Time and time again we have seen their main aim is to look after the stock and bond markets. These guys are money men, and they want to make profits for themselves and their insider mates. This is how it will unfold:

  1. The Fed will hike a lot this year in order to give itself some ammunition for the coming recession so they can cut into that recession.
  2. The market will throw a tantrum, crashing by up to 30-50%.
  3. After that the Fed will reverse so they can rescue their market buddies
  4. Money printing (QE) will once again will become normal, and the markets and economy will recover on this new financial sugar hit.
  5. The US dollar will begin a terminal decline as the world wakes up to the permanent nature of these sugar hits by the global reserve currency.
  6. Commodities, gold and other physical assets will be the go-to save haven for investors
  7. A protracted stagflationary depression will gradually emerge with high inflation combined with increasing poverty. It’s going to be very messy for all governments. Citizens will get very narky.

 

 

I Think I know Why Jesus Told The Parable Of The Sower

All the events of the Gospels, and the parables Jesus told within them, have a historical context that is often lost on us modern readers. The parable of the sower is no exception. The fact that it is told to us three times, in Matthew 13:3-9, Mark 4:1-20 and Luke 8:4-15, tells us it is a very important message. Even a cursory, devotional reading of the parable gives us a multitude of insights into human nature and how human lives interact with the incoming dynamic of the fantastic news of God’s grace for all humanity. But there was much more going on between the lines and behind the words spoken by our Lord on that day.

The more I read and re-read the parable of the sower, the more I asked the following questions: Why did Jesus tell the parable in the first place? Who was he talking to? When did he tell it? Where was it told? Why did he talk about farming? What happened afterward? These are the questions I will try to answer below. Some of the answers are easily found within the Gospels, so I have included all the links to them. Some of the answers are my humble attempt to fill in the blanks between and behind the scriptures. I hope my guesswork does the parable of the sower justice in your eyes.

Where was the story told?

Jesus was definitely on Lake Galilee when he told this story because the narrative says he had to get into a boat to teach (Matthew 13:2). I suspect this was so that the large crowd could all see him in an amphitheater type environment, and so that his voice could travel to the whole audience across the water. There were no PA systems back then for large crowds so natural tools for amplification had to be employed and the amphitheater approach was the most common. Jesus was therefore most likely in the fishing village of Capernaum on that day, which was his adopted hometown (Matthew 4:13). I will work with this assumption.

When was the story told?

The time of the year was probably just after the grain harvest, during the hot months of July or August. Summertime. The clue is in the previous chapter. Matthew 12:1-8 describes the disciple’s journey through a ripe but unharvested grain field. If that event was in the recent past to the telling of the parable of the sower, then this then puts the timing of the story at just after the annual June wheat harvest. This would mean most of the crowd were now free from the massive summer task of bringing in and thrashing the harvest. They were in the mood to celebrate by coming to listen to their favourite local prophet down in Capernaum by the lake.

If the timing was indeed around July or August, then this gives us another clue as to the time of the day when Jesus told the parable. Jesus most likely didn’t leave the house to teach by the lake until later in the day when the midday heat was fading. Matthew 12:46 says Jesus taught in the morning that day at a local house, possibly his own residence or Matthew’s larger home (Matthew 9:10). Matthew was a wealthy Capernaum tax collector before deciding to follow Jesus, so his home would have been an ideal location to teach.

Then, sometime during this morning teaching session his mother and brothers unexpectedly arrived from Nazareth to see him (Matthew 12:46). My best guess is that he then had a break from teaching to have lunch with his mother and brothers. They had come a long way to visit and would have been honoured guests, especially since his mother was there. No doubt they would have eaten and chatted for some time. Then, when the heat of the day had dissipated and people had finished their days chores, he went down to the cool of the lake to do some more teaching because the crowds were building. That time of day is also when the largest number of people within a few kilometres walking distance would have been free to come.

At this time in his ministry, he had already been to many villages in Galilee with the good news and miracles of the Kingdom (Matthew 8:28, 9:35), and had also sent his disciples out on their first practical to duplicate what he had been doing (Matthew 10:1). Everyone in Galilee knew him. He was therefore at or near the height of his popularity.

Who was present for the telling of the story?

There was obviously the large crowd. That’s a given. But who were they? Well, we know from Luke 8:4 that they came from town after town. They came from surrounding villages.

His mum and some of his brothers would most likely have been present too. (Matthew 12:46-13:1). Why wouldn’t they have stayed to listen to him teach in the afternoon and then stay for the night before the full-day journey 30 kilometres back home the next day?

Luke 8:1-4 also tells us that Mary Magdalene, Joanna the well-to-do wife of Chuza the manager of Herod’s household, Susanna, and many others were there as well. We are not told who the many others are, but that statement alone would suggest at least another 10-15 people. It also says the whole 12 disciples were with him (Luke 8:1). This included Judas. We are up to 25-30 people just there. The team of women were most likely helping to keep the disciples fed, financed, and looked after (Luke 8:3). So, they probably helped prepare the lunch that day, as only organised women can. It must have been a bit of a travelling roadshow of some 30 or so insiders scattered among the crowd that day.

Why did Jesus choose a story about farming?

Simple. Most of his listeners were farmers. The crowds were huge, but Capernaum was a small village, so the majority in the crowd had to have come in from the surrounding countryside behind this north-eastern tip of Lake Galilee. This district was prime Galilean cropping and grazing land, and still is today.  Galilee, with its excellent soil and rainfall, was the breadbasket of Israel. So, most Galileans were farmers and the staple food in that region was wheat. There is a high probability that Jesus himself would have helped with previous harvests for some of his extended family members or siblings in the years before his ministry began. Everyone listening therefore would have intimate knowledge of the essence of the parable.

In our modern world most of us are detached from farming and live in large towns or cities, so we have trouble relating to the nuances of this important parable. However, in the ancient world and right up until the mid-20th century, most people in the world were farmers. You too would most likely have been one of them if you lived in an historical time up until the 20th Century. This is still true today in any country that has not been through an industrial revolution. To learn a lot more about the details of wheat farming in 1st Century Galilee just click on this link to another blog I recently wrote on this topic.

Why did he choose this particular parable?

Not long before he told this parable he had returned to the lake and had been walking through some grainfields (Matthew 12:1-8). While doing so he was confronted and reprimanded by several Jewish religious leaders for allowing his disciples the “sin” of eating some of the grain on a Sabbath. It was quite the confrontation. This event must have stirred his awareness of the parallels between grain growing and what it actually takes to accept the Kingdom of God into one’s life and stick with it. Knowing that wheat seed was broadcast by hand in that era, and they had all been walking on a thin beaten path next to a small field of grain at the time of that confrontation could have made Jesus think…hmm. We don’t know for sure if this confrontation inspired his thoughts about the parable of the sower, but it’s feasible.

Who was the story directed toward?

First, he was obviously addressing that very crowd on that afternoon. Some of them were not listening, not caring, passively opposed to him, or outright antagonistic and looking for fault. They were the beaten path. Others were full of enthusiasm but only for what they could get, healings, miracles, multiplied fishes and loaves or great teaching. They were his shallow soil. Others were full of enthusiasm but would eventually be pulled back into their old ways by worries, finances or cares (Mark 4:19). They were the weedy soil. Some in the crowd that day would overcome all obstacles and see many others in their extended families, local villages and beyond also become followers of the Messiah. They were the good soil.

Second, his brothers were present, and we know that some of them had a very dim view of their big brother’s life and ministry (Mark 3:21, John 7:3-5). They actually thought he had lost the plot and John records that they had previously sneered at him sarcastically. If his brothers had indeed stayed to listen to his teaching by the lake that day, then was he not subtly highlighting their stubbornness when he was talking about the birds of the air stealing the seed that landed on beaten paths (Matthew 13:4)?

Third, there would also have also been a few ultra-religious, legalistic folk and their combative synagogue leaders in the audience who were jealous of him and in two minds about what to do with this upstart prophet from up north. They had only recently reprimanded him for healing a man on the Sabbath (Matthew 12:9-14). They had also recently called him the prince of demons for delivering a poor soul from oppression (Matthew 12: 9-37). Were these religious folk also targeted by him when he was talking about the seed that landed on a beaten path and eaten by the birds?

Fourth, and more of a motivation to tell this story to this audience, would be his desire to highlight the fickle nature of the many Galileans who had become his followers but had already fallen away. These were the crowds that had seen the miracles (Matthew 12:15), who had experienced firsthand the grace of God, and yet still not repented! Jesus had only recently scolded three local Galilean villages, Capernaum, Bethsaida and Chorazin, for their lack of faith, repentance and perseverance (Matthew 11:24). Bethsaida and Chorazin were within 10 kilometres of Capernaum where Jesus was. Were folk from those villages in the audience and were they the very people he had in mind when talking about shallow soil and weedy soil? Were theirs the shallow hearts that were already turning back and withering because the local synagogue leaders were hassling them. Or were theirs the selfish hearts growing cold because of the farming cares of their little world (Matthew 13:22)? I think Jesus knew his local audience well.

Fifth, he could have also been prophesying about the future in a few years and decades when the infant church would start to grow but come into a time of intense persecution via the Jewish religious establishment and then by the Romans. This could also have been part of the Matthew’s personal motivation to include this parable in his historical narrative as it would have been so relevant to the infant church at the exact time he was penning his gospel.

Sixth, Jesus could have also been looking ahead prophetically through the centuries and training the future worldwide body of Christ to be careful when they decide to follow him so as to make sure they put down deep roots and pull out all the weeds from their lives and hearts. Life has been tough through most of history for those who will make a strong, genuine stand for the Lord. Were these people on Jesus’ mind too?

Seventh, Jesus was already seeing some people who had accepted the Good News of the Kingdom start to produce fruit in their lives and he wanted to encourage more of it. There was an anonymous believer who was “caught” by the disciples driving out demons in Jesus’ name (Mark 9:38-40). Then there was the woman at the well who saw her whole village come to faith (John 4:1-28). The disciples themselves had seen a great harvest when they were sent out on practical training so they could learn to heal people as their master was doing (Luke 9:1-7, Luke 10:1-17). They returned with phenomenal stories of miracles and demonic deliverance. Was he giving them the encouragement to continue?

What Happened Next?

In Matthew 13:53 it says that when Jesus finished his teaching that day he moved on from there and came to Nazareth and taught in their synagogue, but to much cynicism. Given the fact that his mother and several brothers had come to Capernaum to see him, we can safely assume that he accompanied them the next day or so back to Nazareth, a full day’s walk from the lake.

Why? Probably because his mum asked him to come and catch up with the family he had grown up with. Mum’s do that sort of thing. Was she sick of her other son’s negative comments and wanting her Jesus, whom she knew in her heart to be the Messiah, to come and convince the others of his divinity? In Nazareth he would have spent time with his four brothers Judas, James, Simon and Joseph, and his three or four sisters whose names are not recorded (Matthew 13:55-56). However, the town as a whole still rejected his ministry and authority (Matthew 13:57). Maybe something sunk in because by the time we get to Acts 1:14 in the upper room Luke records that Jesus’ mum and some of his brothers were there as part of the 120.

So, there you have it. We will never know for sure the exact details that lie behind the parable of the sower, but I trust this analysis fills in a few of the many gaps and gives you a better understanding of what was going on in the lead up to the telling of the parable, and immediately afterwards.

Its Easter Friday Today: This Is What Happened Behind The Scenes That Day 2,000 Years Ago

FRIDAY MORNING: THE ROMAN TRIAL

First, let’s look at the personality and background of the judge in this trial as this information will help us understand the trial’s motives and outcome. Pilate has come down to us as one of the more enigmatic figures of ancient Roman history. Little is known about his early years but it is now certain that he existed as prefect of Judea since a stone with his name on it was found during archaeological excavations in 1961. It is assumed that he was an Italian who was born to the Pontii clan in the vicinity of the town of Samnium in central Italy, as that is where this family name originates. All Pontii’s were members of the equestrian order, those who were rich enough to own horses, therefore we know Pilate was born into a family of high social rank.

As a young man Pilate carved out a military career for himself and probably rose through the ranks via friendship and patronage with Sejanus, a fellow equestrian and the powerful head of the 9,000 strong elite Praetorian Guard, the emperor’s final line of personal defence. Sejanus was thus a confidant of the emperor Tiberius himself. As a rising star on the edge of Rome’s inner circle, Pilate captured the affections of a young woman by the name of Procula, who was the illegitimate daughter of Claudia, third wife of Tiberius. Procula was also the granddaughter of Caesar Augustus. Pilate was indeed a social climber. It is most probable that Sejanus himself recommended Pilate for the position of prefect of Judea in the year 26AD as a good choice for protecting Judea, which was on the eastern edge of the empire, with Parthian influence beginning just 50km from the great lake of Galilee. Because of her social pedigree, Pilate obtained the rare privilege of taking his wife Procula with him on his assignment to this restive part of the empire.

At the time large numbers of Jews lived in Rome as well as Israel and this created a potential threat to the emperor Tiberius. Just 37 years earlier all Jews had been banished from Rome after the emperor’s sister publically declared her allegiance to the Hebrew god. Several years later they had been allowed back in the city and they came in large numbers. Tiberius needed a prefect who could handle the beliefs and famous dogmatism of the Jews delicately. So how did Pilate fare on that score? Almost immediately he arrived in Judea, there was trouble. Pilate proved to be a bad choice for this most delicate of diplomatic positions. He showed himself over and over again to be a coarse, antagonistic and tactless governor. His military background led him again and again to resort to a military solution to problems. He lacked the refined personality of the leading classes of Rome.

Soon after arriving in Judea, Pilate sent ensigns into the Roman military Barracks in Jerusalem. Immediately he was besieged by tens of thousands of protestors in his palace in Caesarea on the Mediterranean coast, and they would not move for a week. To them there could never be a graven image inside the holy city. On threat of death they still did not move so a stunned Pilate placated them with a humiliating back down. This episode was followed a few years later by the sacred treasury affair where Pilate, thinking to win favour with the people, took money from the “bank” of the great temple and used it to construct an aqua-duct into the city. When word spread that the source of the funds was temple offerings, crowds once again besieged Pilate. However this time there would be no back down and Pilate slaughtered them en mass. Finally, in a move designed to enrage, Pilate placed votive shields in honour Tiberius in king Herod’s Palace in Jerusalem. This time the priests appealed directly to Tiberius and, in a huge blow to Pilate’s ego and authority, he was ordered by Tiberius himself to remove them. By the time of the trial of Jesus of Nazareth Pilate was looking for any means possible to score points and antagonise this insubordinate Jewish leadership and nation.

Now we come back to the trial at hand. The text tells us in black and white that Pilate wanted Jesus acquitted at all costs (Luke 23:4). For example, he changed his stand first thing in the morning and reopened the trial (John 18:29). He even gave the case to Herod hoping it would not come back (Luke 23:6). He also pronounced Jesus innocent three times (Luke 22:22). Finally he ceremonially washed his hands of the case and passed the moral responsibility over to the priests (Matt 27:24). Why did Pilate re-open the trial and go through this whole gut-wrenching exercise?

Perhaps Pilate was looking for a political counterweight to the priests, and thought the rising popularity of the Galilean teacher might create this much needed division among the Jews. After all, the High Priest and his family wielded immense power over the nation and to split that power down the middle made his job easier. Or perhaps Pilate truly saw Jesus as innocent, and in a rare moment of altruism he pushed hard for his release. However, this doesn’t account for the late night deal with the priests. Perhaps it was Procula’s dream that challenged Pilate’s highly developed Roman superstitions. We will never know what actually motivated Pilate, but it is most likely the desire to drive a political wedge between the Jews and their leaders. This is the most obvious motive for a Roman Prefect in a troubled and prized province. Nevertheless the narrative plainly suggests Pilate also genuinely saw Jesus as innocent and set up by his enemies. So a lesser motive of justice was undoubtedly at play. Pilate was using this obvious innocence as his card to create the political wedge.

The four Gospels give different versions of the trial with some details missing from each. Below is a reconstruction of the events of that Friday morning using all four gospels and putting them in the logical order where their statements fit. Gaps in one are often covered by another. However, it is very obvious from a reading of John’s account, that he was able to smuggle his way in with the large crowd that attended the Roman trial. This fits in well with his privileged position as a member of the priestly class himself (John 18:15). Also, given the crowd could have numbered five hundred or more, this was not that hard a feat to accomplish. The three synoptic gospels are therefore written as second-hand versions of John’s personal, eye witness explanation to his fellow disciples.

The first point to note in this most famous of all Roman trials, is that Pilate was ready for a trial on the day of preparation for the Sabbath (John 18:28). Court was not meant to be held on this day. Secondly, he was ready first thing in the morning. He knew they were coming. Now, to a first century reader the term “early in the morning” reads differently to what it does for us. These people normally rose and went to bed with the sun. So “early in the morning” was a lot closer to sunrise than what we would naturally assume it to be. Sunrise was at 6.05 am on that day, so court would have been sitting by 6.20 am at the very latest.

From this point on the following is the most logical sequence of events:

1. Pilate went out to the courtyard to meet the priests because they could not enter his palace just before the Passover meal and remain ceremonially clean. To their surprise the Roman governor declared “What charge do you bring against this man” (John 18:29). This is the opening statement of a Roman trial. Trials always started with a call for an Accusatio to be made by the offended party.

2.“They answered and said to him “If this man were not an evil doer we would not have brought him to you.” (John 18:30). The priests were taken aback by Pilate’s re-opening of the trial and were mentally thrown off guard due to the assumption they had a deal done the night before.

3. “Pilate therefore said to them “Take him yourselves and judge him according to your law.” (John 18:31). Pilate was taunting the priests because he knew full well they did not have the authority to carry out a capital punishment.

4. “The Jews said to him “It is not lawful for us to put any man to death.” (John 18:31) “And they began to accuse him by saying “We found this man perverting our nation and forbidding to give tribute to Caesar, and saying that he himself is the Messiah the king.” (Luke 23:2). This is the improvised Accusatio needed to keep the trial going.

5. Pilate pondered this last comment for a few moments for it actually made an impact on mis military mind. He then entered into the palace, called Jesus and said to him “Are you the king of the Jews?” (Matt 27:11, Mark 15:2, Luke 23:3, John 18:33). This is the second part of a Roman trial, the Interrogatio. It was this and only this accusation that Jesus claimed to be a king that carried any weight with Pilate. This was a direct challenge to the emperor Tiberius himself. It is therefore this statement alone that forced Pilate to continue with the trial.

6. Jesus’ reply intrigued Pilate. He slowly, deliberately and calmly declared “My kingdom is not of this world. If my kingdom was of this world my servants would fight, so that I would not be delivered to the Jews. But my kingdom is not from here.” In reply to this eloquent spirituality Pilate said to him “Are you a king then?” (John 18:36). The Galilean continued, “You say correctly that I am a king” (Matt 27;11, Mark 15:2, Luke 23:3). “For this cause I was born and for this cause I have come into the world, that I would bear witness to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth hears my voice.”

7. Pilate now utters those famous words that have echoed down through history. They speak to Pilate’s own frustration with his personal search for life’s meaning through political service to the Emperor, service to the superstition of Roman mythology and his pursuit of wealth and status. With almost a sigh that suggests he has given up on this youthful quest he asks “What is truth?” (John 18:37). When he had finished speaking to the Galilean he was impressed, for he went out again to the Jews and said to them “I find no fault in him at all.” (Luke 23:4, John 18:38).

8. Pilate’s decision would normally be final. But in Luke’s gospel we find the priests protesting indignantly and in their mass anger they mention the fact that Jesus is a Galilean (Luke 23:4-5). This gave Pilate a way out of his dilemma by transferring the trial to Herod Antipas, the Roman puppet king of northern Israel. Herod had jurisdiction over the northern territory of Galilee and was down in the holy city for the great festival (Luke 23:5-7). Herod was soon disappointed that Jesus did not perform a miracle on demand, so wisely and cunningly sent Jesus back to Pilate (Luke 23:8-12).

9. The stakes were now high for Pilate and he could sense the game of cat and mouse coming to an uncomfortable close. In one last vain attempt at retrieving the trial and his pride, Pilate appealed to the tradition of releasing one criminal during the festival who was about to face execution. This again proved to be pointless as the crowd, at the behest of the priests, chanted for the release of a convicted murderer called Barabbas (Luke 23:18). Then, sensing they had the upper hand, the priests yelled abusively at Pilate, arrogantly challenging him over his loyalty to the emperor, saying “Any man who makes himself king is against Caesar. If you let this man go you are no friend of Caesar” (John 19:12). Checkmate!

10. The dilemma Pilate faced was now chillingly clear. He could release Jesus and have the Jewish leadership once again appeal to Caesar, as they did in the motive shields affair. This would result in Pilate’s execution. Alternatively he could once again cave in to the priest’s demands and walk away alive but with his pride power and ego wounded in the process. It was his neck, or the neck of a simple teacher from the borderlands of the empire. In the end there was no choice. The fate of Jesus was sealed and Pilate, sitting on the judgement seat at that part of the palace called the Stone Pavement, washed his hands in disgust (Matthew 27:24). In wrapping up the trial he declared sarcastically “Here is your king!” The abuse and arrogant attitude of the priests simply got louder and bolder with this wisecrack and acknowledgment of tactical defeat. They demanded crucifixion, and they wanted it immediately. (John 19:14-15) They got what they wanted.

11. At this point Jesus became a death row prisoner with zero rights as a human (John 19:16). He was handed over to the Roman garrison for their cruel pleasure. Firstly, he was mockingly clothed in purple, the colour of royalty and taunted. Then a jagged platted wreath taken from a nearby thorn bush was driven into his head. Finally, he received 39 lashes with a cat-o-nine tails, leaving his back chopped to bloody pieces (Matt 27:27-31, Mark 15:16-20). With the torture now complete, preparations began for the ultimate cruelty of the crucifixion.

12. Thoroughly humiliated, Pilate initiated one final act of political spit designed to deeply upset the Jews. He authorised a sarcastic notice be nailed to the condemned man’s cross which read “JESUS OF NAZARETH, KING OF THE JEWS” in Hebrew, Latin and Greek (John 19:19-22). On finding out about the offence, the priests once more fought for the upper hand by demanding it be amended. Pilate had lost the war but was determined to win this one last battle and refused to budge. It was now around 7.30-8.00 am in the morning.

There are several technical points to note from this trial worth recording. First, we can conclude that Plate himself had already heard much about the teacher from Galilee and his reputed power over people and nature. Was this trial his only introduction to Jesus and his reputation? The records we have suggest that some of Pilate’s own soldiers had already been in contact with, and gathered information about the Galilean (Matt 8:5-13). It is obvious Pilate has great respect for the man by the time the trial is over. It can also be assumed that the conversation between Procula and her husband early that morning regarding her dream was the final trigger for Pilate’s determination to make it difficult for his enemies. Finally, it is also evident that John not only attended the Roman trial but was also the one who later pieced together, from Roman guards and other officials, the private conversations between Pilate and Jesus that were conducted away from the priests in the Praetorium.

We also need to also clarify when the crucifixion took place as most commentators suggest around 9.00 am. However, in Johns account it says it was at the “sixth hour” which is often translated as around noon as time was only ever approximate in this era. This is clarified when we see that back in John 4:52 John uses “the seventh hour” to describe the time of day. This phrase was not used in the Jewish time reference system. This tells us he was at times using the Roman system of counting time for his gospel. The Romans counted time as we do, from midnight onwards. Both systems were in use in ancient Israel. So when John says Jesus was condemned at the “sixth hour” it refers to a time much closer to 6.00 am than midday. This makes more sense when we understand the condemned men were left hanging on their crosses for around six hours and there was still time to bundle them off to a grave before sunset. John himself describes the trial at beginning early in the morning (John 18:28). So it is highly doubtful it lasted six hours!

Little is known of Pilate’s life after this event. We do know he spent 11 years as prefect in Judea and left in 37AD. Tradition says that not long after leaving Judea he was either banished to modern day France or asked to commit suicide after coming out on the wrong side of a political scandal. Tradition also says his wife Procula became an early follower of Jesus. We will never really know the fate of either of them.

FRIDAY AFTERNOON: THE CRUCIFICTION

It is now time to tell the next part of the tale from a slightly different angle, that of the followers of Jesus. Nine of his disciples who attended the last supper and the garden are now missing, probably hiding in Bethany. One has committed suicide and two have smuggled themselves into the city where they are looking after the five women. These were those who followed the drama all the way to the cross and the grave and we now switch our attention to their story.

After his Roman trial, Jesus was finally and agonisingly dragged through the narrow streets of Jerusalem at the head of a death procession. Apparently he stumbled under the weight of the heavy cross-bar he was dragging. So an onlooker, Simon of Cyrene, was forced to carry it for him (Mark 15:21). The stunned citizens of Jerusalem looked on in disbelief. Their hero Jesus, who had the city in his hand for a week was about to be executed! On the party trudged, through the city gates and up the hill to his place of death called Golgotha or “The Skull”, which lay a few hundred metres outside the city walls. There he was stripped naked and hauled, with two others, onto Rome’s favourite instrument of torture and death. His feet were hammered to a large tree trunk with a 20cm iron spike. His wrists suffered the same fate as they were firmly secured to the crossbar. The frame was lifted up and then dropped into a hole in the rock used many times previously for the same capital punishment. From that moment, at around 9.00 (Mark 15:25) until his death at around 3.00pm, Jesus’ only way of breathing was to push up on his spiked feet feet so his lungs could fill with air, each and every breath was pure agony.

As the hours passed and his life ebbed away, the usual crowd watched on. There were the four Roman soldiers left behind on duty and who’s privilege it was to take ownership of the prisoners clothes (John 19:23-24). We know for certain that only four Roman soldiers were on duty. This is because they split his clothing four ways and then gambled for his undergarment (John 19:23-24). The thrill seekers, who came to all these grizzly events, were there (Matt 27:39-40). The chief priests were also present and were shouting one last round of abuse (Matt 27:41-43) as they waited expectantly for their great enemy to die. Undoubtedly some who were welcoming him into the city as a hero a few days earlier were there also, with saddened faces. Finally, four or five of his loyal followers hung in the shadows to see the gruesome scene to the end. These were the disciple John, Mary the mother of Jesus, her sister, Mary the wife of Clopas (John 19:25), Mary Magdalene and possibly Mary mother of Joses (Mark 15:47).

As the day wore on and this last group kept up their vigil of respect for their dying leader, a remarkable event occurred. As Jesus hung with intense agony on the cross, he said to his mother “Behold your son” (John 19:26) in reference to John who stood with her and the others. In ancient Israel the words of a dying man were legal testimony, so in this one short statement the eldest son of Joseph transferred his filial responsibility for the future welfare of his mother to his best friend John. In short, Jesus was asking Mary to adopt John as her son. This strongly suggests that Joseph had died some years before this event and Mary was a widow. Jesus, as the eldest in a family of at about five boys and three girls (Matt 8:55-56), bore the responsibility to care for his mother in her old age and fulfilled this duty through this last act of kindness. From that day on the mother of Jesus went to live with John (John 19:27).

At around 3.00pm (Matt27:45), after six hours of pushing his lacerated back up against rough-sawn timber while balancing on spikes for every desperate breath, Jesus was near death. Finally, in answer to the insults and mockery of soldiers and priests, Jesus cried out “my God, my God, why have you deserted me” (Matt 27:46). The huge loss of blood left him now parched with thirst so he called for water (John 19:28). He was offered a sample of the alcoholic drink the soldiers had with them. The gospels call it “vinegar”, but it was in fact a tart, sour wine mixed with water called posca which was a favourite of soldiers at that time (Matt 27:46-49). He then breathed his last with “It is finished”. Mary, distraught at the suffering of her first-born was soon taken away in the arms of her newly adopted son.

It is interesting to note that the same day that Jesus died on the cross thousands of sheep were being ceremonially slaughtered across the city and especially at the great temple. The blood of sacrificial lambs was flowing in preparation for the greatest of annual Jewish feasts. The Passover required the death of a lamb, the collecting of its blood and the sprinkling of that blood across the doorway of each home in the tradition called the Pesaḥ Miẓrayim. This was in memory of the night Israel was spared the angel of death that consumed the first-born of all in the land of Egypt some 1,400 years earlier. The Passover celebrated their escape from Egypt into their promised land, from national slavery to national freedom. At the time of Jesus’ death thousands of ovens and fires were blackening the sky of the city in preparation for the great barbeque.

Crucified criminals would normally have suffered on a cross for another a day or two before finally succumbing to thirst, exhaustion or blood loss and given up the will to live. Their bodies were then thrown into a common mass grave with birds of prey circling overhead. However, the next day was a special Sabbath as it was also the annual Passover festival, so no removal and burial could take place for 24 hours after sunset that day. The priests therefore asked Pilate for the legs of the criminals to be broken. This would suffocate them in a few minutes as they could no longer push up on their feet to get a breath. The bodies could be quickly buried before sunset (John 19:31).

Pilate gave permission for this to proceed and two sets of legs were duly smashed. But when it came to Jesus they found him already dead. Just to make sure of the fact they thrust a spear deep into his rib cage and up into his heart, only to see “blood and water” ooze from the wound (John 19:34-36). This seemed like a miracle at the time, but was in fact no miracle at all. With the benefit of modern medicine it is now a known medical condition called pericardial effusion whereby, under extremely low blood pressure at the point of death causes fluid to build up around the heart. The fact that it is recorded and now understood suggests great accuracy in the telling of the story.

With the sun beginning to set, the drama now took an interesting and unexpected turn. An aging and infirm member of the Sanhedrin (Mark 15:43) asked Pilate for the body of Jesus for burial in his newly hewn, personal tomb. It is ironic that a member of the ruling elite itself, the council that orchestrated the capital punishment, saved Jesus from the commoner’s grave. This man was named Joseph, a man of some wealth (Matt 27:57) from the now non-existent village of Arimathea. Joseph had not consented to the Sanhedrin’s actions and must have sat there with great consternation watching the Jewish trial unfold. In modern terms Joseph would be called a secret believer. Pilate, surprised that Jesus was already dead, consented to this old man’s noble request. (Mark 15:44-46, Luke 23:50-54). Joseph collected his good friend Nicodemus, also a dissenting member of the Sanhedrin, and together they set about their melancholy task (John 19:39). What they were too afraid to do in life, they now made public in death, thereby forfeiting both their positions on the Sanhedrin and their lifetime of social privilege. They would now be outcastes along with the rest of the followers of the dead man. Normally, the body of a dead criminal was a Roman possession, but with the intervention of these two men, the body became a Jewish possession and responsibility.

The women who watched this development unfold could now see one last opportunity to pay their respects opening up. It seems this group were informally led lead by Mary Magdalene, as she appears in all four gospel accounts of the story. They had stood at a distance and watched the ordeal of the crucifixion of their leader. Now they decided to stay on after Mary and John’s departure, watching as Joseph’s workers took down and hastily wrapped the body of the dead prophet in a single linen cloth (Matthew 27:59) before taking it to Joseph’s own personal tomb about a few hundred metres  away. As they followed this small procession, they marvelled at the lack of proper preparation for burial that the body of Jesus was receiving. This was due to the quickly setting sun, after which all work would cease due to the commencement of the Sabbath. So, as they walked behind the burial team, they hatched a plan to rectify the situation straight after the Sabbath in order to pay their last respects to their leader (Luke 23:55-56). At the tomb they watched as a large stone, weighing up to a tonne, was rolled down an incline and across the entrance of the tomb to keep out scavenging animals and tomb raiders (Matthew 27:60).

At 5.00pm, with 15 minutes to go before sunset and the closing of the city gates, the women quickly scurried back to their place of residence to prepare the spices and wrappings needed for a proper Jewish burial. This would have involved collecting around 30 kilograms of myrrh and aloes, which were the preservative spices of that era (John 19:39). These were going to be tightly stuffed into a series of long linen sheets wrapped tightly around the body so that the end product was a form of mummification. In the Jewish tradition the head of the deceased was wrapped separately to the body in its own linen cloth (John 20:6). Because of this hastily hatched plan to finish the burial first thing Sunday morning, it is quite obvious that none of the women were in any way expecting a resurrection.

Now the women, all Jerusalem, and every other player in this historical event, except of course for the Romans, ate the sacred meal and then waited with baited breath a full 24 hours for the self-imposed lockdown of the Passover Sabbath to pass. Everyone knew the day after the Sabbath was going to involve a great commotion, rumours, outrage, and possibly calls for revenge. But for now, the whole city was shut down from sunset Friday until sunset Saturday as people stayed in and near their homes for a whole day of quiet religious reflection.

There were two reasons people obeyed this unusual religious observance. Firstly it was to honour the creator Yahweh because he also took rest after making the universe (Genesis 2:2). Secondly, it honoured the escape of the Hebrews out of Egypt some 1,440 years earlier. For them Egypt was a 400 year ordeal of slavery, toil and heartache. Yahweh had miraculously delivered them into Israel, the fabled Promised Land; their very own piece of permanent real estate. The Passover was an annual reminder of this act that required the death of a lamb and an elaborate ceremonial meal.

As a final footnote, Jesus was not dead for three days but around 40 hours, from 3.00pm Friday until about 5.30 Sunday morning. This is exactly one full Sabbath with a few hours added to each end, a coincidence not lost on the disciples over the next six weeks as they tried to piece together the significance of all these happenings.

Is The Occult Influencing Russia?

Background

As a Christian I am very mindful that there are spiritual strengths and powers often lurking behind the political events of this world. Jesus made us very aware of this influence during his ministry in Galilee (Mark 1:39), and in his dealings with the power elite in Jerusalem whom he described as children of Satan (John 8:43-44). Scratch the surface of most countries today and you will see the same influence. Here are a few examples:

From personal experience I can tell you that most of the Central Asian “Stan” countries are Islamic on the surface but deeply influenced by black magic and pre-Islamic occult/shamanistic practices behind this religious veneer. Most Tajiks do not practice formal Islam at all but are heavily involved in the original pre-Islamic folk superstitions and low-key Zoroastrianism. Turkmen people are great believers in trinkets and amulets which are widely sold in markets to ward off evil spirits, to summon good spirits and to protect their new owners from various troubles and misfortunes. I personally spoke to people in Kyrgyzstan in 2016 who verified this widespread belief in the occult as their true religion. India is also riddled with demonic influence right up to the highest levels of society. I know; I lived there for a year and confronted demon possessed people on multiple occasions. The Shinto practices in Japan do likewise to their culture. The New Age movement and the fanatical push to enshrine sexual perversion as the highest legal value in the Western world are two of many manifestations of the occult in our midst.

But what of Russia?

First, some background. Russia is not really a European country. It’s not Asian either. It’s a geographically and culturally insecure blend of the two, a uniquely hybrid civilization. It looks to the west for acceptance and equality but finds only rejection, and rightly so given its deep autocratic roots. It looks to the east for its grass-roots culture and spirituality, but more on that in a minute.

It is also slowly vanishing. Its population drops by about 0.5% every year every year because of its shockingly low birth rate, and this rate of decline is accelerating. There are now more abortions than live births. Substance abuse is at astronomical levels. It is deeply corrupt from the bottom to the top and has always been run by a ruthless mafia gang regardless of the style of leadership. Family formation is pathetic while divorce is high. Over one million citizens have AIDS, and the rates are growing at 10-15% a year. There is no rule of law and there never has been. Its health stats are some of the world’s worst. This list is the depressing legacy of an Atheistic Communism that saw its government murder or starve some 20 million of its own citizens! Before the end of this century, Russia will cease to exist as we know it. It’s a culture that has lost hope.

These cultural statistics give you an indication of what is happening in the spiritual realm under the surface, behind the curtain.  Demonic forces are at work in this land.

To make matters worse, the Russian Orthodox Church (ROC) is trapped in an outdated cultural expression and incapable of change. It is deeply intolerant of other faiths and sees itself as the only legitimate expression of Christianity with all other denominations being invalid or sectarian. It was birthed in blood a thousand years ago when the king of Kiev converted and then forced all his subjects to do the same on pain of death. The ROC is deeply tied to the state, giving Putin legitimacy for his bloodthirsty overseas campaigns and his domestic agenda of tyranny, as long as the state enhances the ROC’s power. It’s head, Patriarch Kirill, endorsed the invasion of Ukraine and the atrocities being perpetrated by Putin, even though many under him condemned it. Only 6-10% of Russians have anything to do with the church, so its spiritual life is very weak, but its cultural and political influence is still strong.

The Occult is all-pervasive

In contrast to the poor state of Orthodox Christianity, tens of millions of Russian consult occult practitioners on a monthly or even weekly basis. Even the Moscow Times has produced articles on the resurgence of witchcraft in Russia. This has deep pre-Christian roots in the old Slavic culture that has lingered to this day, just as I noted above for neighbouring parts of Central Asia. In his seminal study of Russian folk culture, Ivan the Fool, Andrei Sinyavsky detailed a pervasive Tsarist-era belief in superstition, magic and pagan gods, as well as the widespread popularity of sorcerers and faith healers: In Old Russia, almost everyone resorted to elementary magic for help, wrote Sinyavsky. Magic was used on a daily basis. This is the fertile, demonically saturated, ground from which sprung their most famous mystical practitioner, Grigori Rasputin, personal confidant of Tsar Nicholas. His rise was partly attributed to his demonic mystical powers and partly by the fact that many of the aristocracy at the time were intensely curious about the occult and the supernatural.

Fast forwarding straight past the era of Communistic Atheistic suppression of all religion, I recently came across a 2015 New Humanist article on the role of the occult in Russia, where they noted the resurgence of widespread belief in, and engagement with the occult since the fall of Communism. The article said, and I quote: In 2010, a psychologist with the Russian Academy of Sciences cited World Health Organisation data that indicated there were more occult/faith healers (800,000) in Russia than professional doctors (640,000). And Russians are putting their money where their faith is. In 2013, the country’s leading cardiologist complained that his fellow citizens spend almost £20 billion every year on magical and paranormal services. This, the astonished surgeon pointed out, is almost twice the amount Russians spend on foreign medical care. Another statistic is perhaps even more revealing: Russia’s Academy of Sciences estimates that 67% of all Russian women have at some time sought help from a “psychic or sorcerer”. The figure for Russian men is one in four. 

If true, this would mean one in 170 Russians is a professional occultist, with Anatoly Kashpirovsky being the most famous of them all. Russia is more heavily influenced by the occult, shamanism, psychics, witches, and sorcerers than almost any nation on earth! To further quote from the New Humanist article, Nikolai Naritsyn, a Moscow-based psychoanalyst who has written on the subject, says that the average Russian is completely confused and disorientated by modern life. And when they ask Where do financial crises come from? What do the laws they pass in parliament mean? Why has my salary been halved? To find his solutions, his truth, he heads to witches and wizards.

The occult should be seen as the true religion of Russia.

What About The Government?

Does the government dabble in the occult? Although we don’t have any concrete evidence, The Humanist journalist interviewed Valeriya Karat, a high-profile sorceress in Moscow, who boasted that she often gets secret visits from government officials. They come in the middle of the night so that no one will see them. I can’t name names, of course, but Russian government officials always consult sorcerers before taking major decisions. Marina, another Moscow based sorceress says that whenever there are big international talks going on, Russia always brings a psychic or witch along to influence things.

Is Putin personally influenced by these occult practices? Yes! The most influential Russian academic of this century, and the man they call Putin’s brain, Alexander Dugin, is as well-versed in the writings of early 20th century British occultists as he is in modern political theory. The New Humanist article says Dugin has a long and documented involvement in the occult. In the 1980s, he is reported to have been a member of the Moscow-based “Black Order of the SS”, a group of intellectuals fascinated with both mysticism and Nazism, as well as – according to former members of the circle – experiments with drugs and sex magic. Later, Dugin took his interest in the occult to a new level. In the early 1990s, he became editor of the Eurasian magazine Elementy. The front cover of the magazine’s second issue featured a portrait of Baphomet, the goat god who is also the symbol of the US-based Church of Satan. Dugin frequently wrote about the occult within the pages of Elementy, as well as praising the “spiritual and transcendental side of fascism”.

Dugin, ever the militant nationalist, also believes that the Ukraine should not exist as anything but part of Greater Russia. He is the reason why Putin invaded. Dugin gave Putin the intellectual justification to invade, while Patriarch Kirill gave him the spiritual justification to invade. Putin’s own ridiculously inflated ego gave him the political justification to invade. This terrible war is all just another page in the long and depressing story of demonic influence over the Russian civilisation.

Putin’s beliefs have now evolved into a belief in the manifest destiny of the Russian Orthodox civilisation to go forth and re-establish the true greatness of “Christian civilisation”. That’s just code for enhancing the power of the Russian state. Think of it as Attila the Hun (Putin) teaming up with a witch doctor (Dugin) and a corrupt priest (Kirill) to kill and conquer. Satan and his army of demons are loving this as their Jesus himself told us that their mission is to steal, kill and destroy humans (John 10:10). And they use humans to do their dirty work. John 10:10 is a perfect description of what Satan, through his human proxy Russia, Is doing in the Ukraine right now.

How will this end? I believe the words of our Lord are prophetic when he said to his disciples to go and make disciples of all nations. That includes Russia. He said to pray that his Kingdom would come to the earth just as it is in Heaven. Prayer is the key. Only prayer, love, grace, mercy and the Holy Spirit of Christ can set this nation free of its demonic shackles. This process is beyond our lifetimes, but it WILL happen. The events of 2022 have only sped the process up as the global body of Christ has been awakened to intercede for this broken part of the world.

The Parable Of The Sower Part One: Growing Wheat In Galilee

I grew up on a wheat/sheep farm in western New South Wales, Australia. When I started reading and re-reading the parable of the sower a week ago, I naturally started to think about the farming practices involved behind the parable. So here is a summary of my research into the Galilean wheat farming practices that all the parable’s audience would have intuitively understood, but of which we are largely ignorant today.

Before we start, please remember that these people invented wheat farming! The transition from hunting and gathering straight after the global flood to cultivating wild grasses like wheat, rye and barley took place in the very spot where Jesus told the story, the Fertile Crescent between Iraq and Egypt. This land had already been cultivated for thousands of years before Jesus told the story, two thousand years ago! Wheat growing was in their blood.

Growing Wheat in Galilee

The land in Galilee was also very fertile, the best in Israel because of its excellent rainfall on rich red soils. The further north you go from Jerusalem the better the rainfall. The rainfall in Nazareth was about 600mm or around 23 inches and mainly fell in the winter. This was perfect for winter wheat and barley cultivation. In European and American latitudes wheat is grown in summer, but in the hot Mediterranean climate of Israel and Australia wheat is a winter crop.

As a province, Galileans were about 80-90% farmers and Jesus’ hometown of Nazareth would have been no different as the largest tract of arable land in Galilee is just to the south of Nazareth. Down in Jesus’ adopted hometown of Capernaum by the great lake, the rainfall was a little lower at around 400mm or 16 inches. However, this was also the rainfall of my hometown, and we were a very successful wheat farming family. So, grain growing would have, and still does, extend across Galilee and down to the shores of the great lake.

This near saturation of farmers suggests that some of his earthly cousins and family members would surely have been wheat/barley growers. It is also likely that at least one or more of his sisters married a farmer. I would be not at all surprised if Jesus was called out to help with sowing and harvest duties for extended family members when needed before his ministry started. From personal experience on our farm, I can tell you it must have been all available hands to the plough and sickle during the two busy periods of sowing and harvest all over Galilee. This is because all grain growing in ancient Israel relied on manual labour for sowing, weed control, harvesting, and thrashing so it was extremely labour intensive for the whole community. No fossil fuels, no tractors, no harvesters, no artificial fertiliser, and no chemical insect and weed control. Just muscle power.

How Good Was The Harvest?

The return on all this hard labour was usually about tenfold. One unit of seed in the ground for ten units out at harvest time. The use of animal manure was widespread (excuse the pun) as this kept the fields from being flogged out. Its also why the weeds were included in the parable. Animal manure is full of undigested seeds which grew with the wheat when the rains came.

A good crop only came when the natural rains were good. This would push the yield up to around 20-30-fold. An exceptional crop of up to 100-fold had to combine these perfect early and late rains (Jeremiah 5:24, James 5:7) along with plenty of manure fertilisers. These exceptional harvests were known but very uncommon. The seventh-year rest for the whole land also aided in restoring the fertility of the Galilean wheat belt (Leviticus 25, Josephus: Wars, 1:54–66).

The Autumn and Spring Rains

Why were the early and latter rains important for wheat growing? Well, you need moisture to sow and germinate the seed. You also need moisture to plough the ground otherwise the oxen-powered, iron tipped, single-pronged ploughs would only bounce off the hard dry ground. On our farm we had to wait for these early winter rains as well, and there was much consternation if they didn’t come on time. In springtime you also need late rains to fatten the seed and to fill the head up to 3-4 seeds wide for a bumper crop. If the latter rains didn’t come the harvest would be half its potential with fewer and smaller grains, but higher protein levels in the meagre harvest. High protein wheat (above 13%) can be made into bread while low protein wheat (below 11%) goes into cakes and the like.

The annual calendar

The annual rhythm for working the land is succinctly recorded in the Gezer Calendar, a limestone tablet dating from around a millennium BC, the time of Solomon. It describes the agricultural cycle month by month, giving the tasks to be performed at certain times of the year.

Two months gathering (October-November)

Two months planting (December-January)

Two months late sowing (February-March)

One month cutting flax (April)

One month reaping barley (May)

One month reaping and measuring wheat (June)

Two months pruning (July-August)

One month summer fruit (September)

From experience I can tell you that barley ripens up to a month before wheat (but has slightly lower nutritional value) and that is why the two separate entries on this calendar.

The major Jewish feasts and festivals followed this agricultural rhythm: Passover and unleavened bread in the spring just before the barley harvest (March/April), Pentecost seven weeks after the Passover and during the wheat harvest, and the feast of Tabernacles when all harvests were completed (September/October). That’s when food was abundant so that’s when people celebrated and gave respect to their creator for his provision. This is something modern city-based westerners have completely forgotten, to their loss.

Who lived in Galilee?

The region of Jesus’ youth and ministry was often known as Galilee of the Gentiles (Matthew 4:15) as it had many foreigners living alongside the local Jews. The foreigners were more often than not Greek settlers and Roman occupiers. The Greek presence was the result of Alexander the Great’s conquest of Israel and subsequent removal of Jews from their farmlands. Galilee’s best farmland was handed over to the conquerors and that is why there were still ten Greek cities on the other side of the Jordan during Jesus’ ministry (Matthew 4:25). The Hasmonean revolt in 167-164BC removed the Greek farmers from Galilee as it was mainly a Galilean farmers revolt. They got their farms back. The Greek invasion is also why the New Testament was written in Greek.

During this New Testament era the average farm size was about 2-4 hectares or up to ten acres. This figure comes from Eusebius’s account (Historiae Eccleseastiea, 3:20) of the two grandsons of Judah, brother of Jesus, who declared to the Roman government that they derived their sustenance from an area of 39 plethra (3.4 hectares) which they cultivated with their own hands. This was the farm of two families, so it suggests that the average family derived its livelihood from 1.7 hectares. Several passages from the Talmud refer to about 2.3 hectares as a large field and a substantial inheritance. Multiply those figures by 2.5 to get acres.

Sowing the crop: December-January

The story of the sower has the farmer broadcasting the grain by hand on a cold December or January day. Perhaps that’s when the parable was told as it was current and relevant, but we will never know. I can personally verify this January sowing time for wheat in Israel. In January of 2019 I was visited Beersheba and they had just sowed their grain crops after good rains.

Sowing was done at the rate of about 13 kilos or 30 lbs. per acre or 1/4th of a hectare, about half our modern rates. This lower rate is because we have better wheat varieties and better artificial fertiliser. The land would probably have been ploughed a few times before sowing whenever rains came. Ploughing several times produced a fine textured seedbed, and therefore it was easier for the tiny seeds to make contact with the moist soil, triggering germination. Ploughing after earlier pre-sowing rains also got rid of sprouting weeds. This process has not changed for dryland farming for 2,000 years. We just did it with huge machines over hundreds of hectares…with little human effort.

The grain landing on four different soil types in the parable is explained by the fact that the Galilean fields were very small and nearly all had walking tracks around them for animal and human movement, and as boundary markers. I lived in India in 1981 and can vouch that these narrow tracks are still the norm today around third-world farming villages and fields.

With one single vigorous broadcast a farmer could cover about five lateral metres. If his broadcasting was near the edge of the field, you could have had a few seeds land on the walking track, and a few on the stony edges of that track. Lots of seed would have fallen on the ploughed but weed/thorn infested ground on the edge of the field. Why was this space full of headache plants? It’s because this zone next to the track was where humans and animals would often drop weed and thorn seeds stuck to their garments or their animal’s manure while passing along these tracks. The farmer would make sure lots of seed would was broadcast on the good soil a few metres further in the field that was not contaminated with weeds.

This scenario is probably what the listeners imagined while Jesus spoke. The idea of a Galilean farmer deliberately looking for stony paths, rocky soil and weedy soil separately to sow precious grain into doesn’t make sense and would ruin the message behind the parable.

Once the seed was broadcast it was still sitting on top of the damp soil and had to be ploughed under to a depth of about 7cm or 3 inches.  To do this the farmer typically ploughed again perpendicular to the last direction ploughed to cover the seed. This was often accompanied by branches, or a log dragged behind the plough to smooth the soil. Then, when the grain and weeds germinated it was time for periodic weeding after each rain to remove any competition to the small wheat and barley seedlings.

Harvest time (April)

Harvest was the most exciting, busiest and exhausting time of the year. For me growing up on the farm it was a super-special event with large machinery going 14 hours a day, heavy trucks running everywhere, silos full, storage at a premium, and meals constantly driven out to family members and itinerant workers every day. My whole town would lift if the rains were good and it was a bumper harvest. I am sure it was no different in ancient Galilee, Nazareth and Capernaum.

Reaping was a team effort, and backbreaking work. Teams of people would complete a field, then move to their neighbour’s field until the harvest was complete. Then each family would take care of their own grain from that point on. The faster the harvest, the safer the harvest, both then and now. A corner of each field had to be left for the poor people to glean from and feed themselves. This was a form of self-motivated ancient welfare for which Naomi and Ruth were grateful to be a part of (Ruth 1:22-2:2, Leviticus 19:9, 23:22).

Try to think of their ancient wheat crop as a collection of uneven short spindly plants and not our beautiful scientifically bred, perfectly aligned monoculture of hundreds of hectares in today’s farms. Two thousand years of plant breeding has made a big difference to what wheat looks like.

Threshing the grain from the wheat stalks came next, and wheat does not like to give up its grain! Threshing was extremely laborious and monotonous. To save human effort, an animal was often tied to a pole and would walk around in a circle on a stone base with its feet slowly grinding the grain free from the wheat head. If a farmer was too poor for to own an animal, the family would belt the wheat talks against a rock by hand. After separation the grain was tossed into the air and winnowed in the wind. The chaff would land a few metres away and the heavier grain would land at the labourer’s feet. The chaff became animal feed for the dry season through summer or was used for brick making. I’m sure, as a builder, Jesus was familiar with this practice. Having built a mudbrick home in the 1980’s I can assure you that straw is absolutely essential for mudbrick making.

At this point the wheat was double checked to remove any last remaining stalks and taken to a family silo inside, under or next to their home. I saw many of these mudbrick wheat silos inside courtyards in Panjabi villages in 1981. Each typically contained around 100-200 kilos of grain and would be sealed to prevent vermin from getting inside. A family would need several of these to get through to the next harvest. In Galilee grain was often stored in very large clay pots or in silos dug into the ground beneath the floor of houses.

Most of the harvest was consumed by the family as the year progressed, while some had to be kept for next year’s sowing. They did not buy bread from supermarkets! They made it themselves. Some grain was paid in taxes to the occupying Romans, some went to the priests, and some went to specialists like Jesus who was a builder in the local village of Nazareth before starting his ministry.

Matthew 12:43-45: Who Is “This Evil Generation”

In Matthew 12 we find a short passage that intrigues me. In it Jesus said that when a demon is cast out of a man it wanders around in dry places looking for a new host. Unable to find one it returns to its original host and finds it empty, swept clean and decorated. It then invites seven other spirits more evil than itself to join it. The final condition of that man is far worse than the first.

Now, I always thought Jesus was teaching about demonology. But he wasn’t.

It’s the next sentence that gives us the reason for the teaching. Jesus finished by saying that this is what life will be like for this evil generation. The New American Standard version says it the best: That is the way it will also be with this evil generation. The teaching on demons was just an analogy, it was not meant to be taken literally. He was talking about a whole generation of Israelites, the whole nation. So, what was Jesus referring to?

For a clue, let’s look at one of his other similar statements for a clue. Matthew 24:1-35 gives us great detail about what is going to happen to this generation (Verse34). The passage begins with the disciples calling Jesus’ attention to the physical glory and architectural spendour of the temple in Jerusalem. Jesus immediately tells them that the temple is going to be demolished in violent fashion. Intrigued, the disciples ask for more details so Jesus spends verses 3 to 34 telling them what will happen in the lead up to the destruction of the temple. We know the passage has nothing to do with the end times as it finishes with him telling them this generation will not pass away until all these things have happened. There’s that term again.

Over in Luke 11: 45-53 we see the same term pop up in the same context. An expert in the law attacked Jesus for insulting him (verse 45). To which Jesus made some very strong remarks and finished with the statement that this generation will be held responsible for all the blood of the prophets shed since the beginning of the world.

So now we have three instances of the same term being used for the same purpose; to give a prophetic announcement that the Judaic system of religion with its ridiculous laws, social suppression and control, its inbuilt hypocrisy, onerous systems of worship, and cultural pride would be demolished within a generation.

And it happened just as Jesus prophesied.

In the late first century the Jews rebelled against their Roman occupiers. By 70AD Jerusalem was been retaken and then completely wiped out. Over a million people died in the rebellion and 100,000 were taken to Rome as trophy slaves to be employed building their famous Colosseum. Titan’s victory arch next to the Colosseum still displays the images carved in stone of the destruction of Jerusalem in 70AD. This wholesale destruction of Israel was what Jesus was talking about. The Christians were warned and when they saw the storm clouds on the horizon the fled Israel as told to by Jesus (Matthew 24:15-20). Israel as a nation ceased to exist in 70AD until May the 14th 1948!

In fact, the Book of Revelation is also mostly about this single seismic event. Consider the following clues:

First, the book of Revelation itself opens by telling all who were about to read the document that it concerns events that must shortly take place (Rev 1:1). The original readers were also told, as concerns the book, to heed the things which are written in it, for the time is near (Rev 1:3). Clearly the events prophesied in the book had immediate relevance to the original readers.

Second, the theme of the book is strongly connected with the destruction of Jerusalem (Rev 11:2, 8, 17:18, 18:9, 19-20), an event that historically took place in 70AD.

Third, John speaks of Nero Caesar as still on the throne (Rev 17:9-10), Nero died in June 68AD.

Fourth, Daniel spoke of the future restoration of Jerusalem, the coming of the Messiah, the sealing up of prophecy and vision, and the destruction of Jerusalem along with its temple in Daniel 9:24-27. Daniel also told us that all prophecy would be sealed before the destruction of Jerusalem, and we know from history that Jerusalem was destroyed in 70AD.

So, there is a lot more to this little passage than meets the eye. I’m sure the statements about demons coming home to roost in an empty human host are correct, but the bigger picture here is the gigantic spiritual switch from the Old Covenant to the New Covenant as witness by the physical, spiritual, political and religious divorce of the nation of Israel once the birth of the church had been completed.

The rest, they say, is history!

 

 

 

Easter: What Happened Thursday

THE ARREST AND SCATTERING

First, what was the motivation for arresting Jesus? The legal order for the arrest of Jesus came from an organisation called the Sanhedrin (Matt 26:3). This was a group of around 23 elite religious rulers who controlled all daily facets of Jewish life under the watchful eye of the Roman Prefect (John 18:31). They exercised religious and legal power in this most religious and legalistic of cultures. They were the defacto political rulers and they also ran a hated extortion racket at the great temple of Jerusalem by forcing people to exchange their gold and silver money for near worthless copper, then making them buy their sacrificial animals at inflated prices from a select cartel of suppliers (John 2:13-17). The combined religious, political, legal and economic power of the Sanhedrin made its leadership extremely wealthy. There was no separation of church, state and financial power in ancient Israel. It was a perpetual one-party state under the control of Rome.

The ultimate reason for the Sanhedrin’s arrest of the greatest Jew of their generation at that moment was simply a gut-wrenching fear of political revolution, a revolution that would involve a total loss of their cosy control over Jewish political, religious and economic life (John 11:49-50). Consider these preceding events: At the beginning of the week Jesus had been welcomed into the city as a national hero by thousands who clearly saw him as a great prophet (John 12:12-13). In fact it seems he already had international followers among the tens of thousands of religious tourists that had arrived for the annual Pesach or Passover feast (John 12:20-21).  He then launched into a daily barrage of scathing attacks on the priests of the Sanhedrin for corrupting the purposes of God and stealing from the people (Matt 23:1-37). When they tried to counter attack he was able to repeatedly confound them in open public debate (Matt 22:15-45). He taught the people in veiled parables that the days of the Sanhedrin’s power and corruption were coming to an end (Matt 25:1-46). He even spoke of wars, rumours of wars and the destruction of the great temple (Matt 24:6). As the week wore on Caiaphas and his inner circle came to the obvious conclusion the teacher from Galilee was plotting a coup. But they also genuinely feared the people would side with Jesus if he was confronted openly, so they hesitated, waiting for a moment of weakness in their enemy’s movements that was outside the public gaze.

Now we move on to the actual timing of the arrest. It is now Thursday evening, the beginning of Nisan 14 and the evening of the special Galilean feast called Seudah Maphsehket, which we commonly call the “Last Supper”. This special pre-Passover meal was adopted only by the Galileans and its purpose was to remember that it was only the first-born sons of the Hebrews who were in danger from death at God’s hand in Egypt. After the Last Supper there would be a 24-hour fast. The next meal to be eaten was the Passover meal on the special Sabbath Saturday evening.

I put it to you that the capture of the prophet took place on, or just before midnight on that fateful night. This is because the Last Supper was is a ritual that took from two to three hours to complete, so it would have finished at about 9.00pm. Between then and the arrest the disciples had become extremely tired, even those who had been burly fishermen who were used to night shifts (Luke 5:5, John 21:3-4). In fact, by the time of the arrest some disciples had already fallen asleep three times (Matt 26:39-43). So it is very safe to say the arrest took place around the middle of the night. The text makes it very clear that these men were being held against their will deep into the night by a man spending time in anguished prayer. He was waiting to be arrested long after the normal time for sleep (Matt 26:45). So, why the three-hour wait on a cold and dark hillside? Why did the arrest take so damned long? Had Judas failed in his attempted betrayal when he left the meal at around 9.00pm (Matt 26:23-25)?

As a common informer Judas was useless because everyone knew Jesus was staying in Bethany (John 12:1). So where does he fit into this cascading scene on Thursday night? The record tells us that Judas had met with the priests on Monday or Tuesday and signalled his willingness to do a deal, but the priests took no notice (Matt 26:14). This was because the temple guard could have been dispatched to Mary and Martha’s house at any time during that week of festivities to collect Jesus (John 12:1-2). The delay in arresting Jesus is only explained by the High Priest’s genuine fear of the people and of revolution. The popularity of their enemy had reached a point where they were afraid to act.

Suddenly, at around 9.15 pm Judas brought the Sanhedrin some unexpected news. Jesus was no longer combative, but was actually speaking about his immanent arrest (Matt 26:31). In fact he was waiting to be arrested in a garden just to the east of the great temple (Matt 26:45). It was now or never for the priests to deal with the greatest threat to their power they had ever experienced. This new information precipitated action, and all it cost them was thirty pieces of silver (Matt 26:14-15) which was the going price of a slave at the time.

Judas left the Last Supper when the meal concluded at approximately 9.00pm (Matt 26:23-25). But the arrest didn’t occur until around midnight, so why the three hour delay? This can only be explained by walking through the logistics of the drama. It took Judas around 15 minutes to get to the High Priests home with the news, and probably another 15 minutes to deliver the message to the appropriate person, Caiaphas. Assume it took another 30 minutes for the Sanhedrin to assemble and debate their decision. Assume it took another 30 minutes to organise an arrest party of guards and 15 minutes to walk to Gethsemane. This only takes us to around 10.30pm, not late enough for the disciples, who were fishermen, to have fallen asleep three times. So we have a 60 to 90 minute gap in the drama.

This gap can only be explained if there was a late night deal made with the Roman Prefect Pilate to have Jesus executed early the next day. All executions had to go through Pilate as this privilege had been taken away from the Jews in 15AD. If Pilate had not agreed to process the execution there was no point in arresting Jesus as he would have to be kept alive for the next seven days while the feast was in progress. This stalemate could have stirred up social unrest and possibly rebellion, once people found out their hero was behind bars. Jesus had to be executed the next day before people caught on that the plot was afoot. The solution was to go to Pilate and seal the deal before making the final decision to execute the arrest. Only this action can account for the one hour delay in the arrest and the extended wait in the garden for the arrest party to arrive.

In addition to the logic of this timeline there are three lines of supporting evidence. First, Pilate was ready for a trial very early the next morning on a day when trials a not normally heard, so he must have known about the arrest (Mark 15:1). In addition to this his wife Procula had a dream that evening about the prophet Jesus and early Friday morning she told her husband, just before the trial, to have nothing to do with him (Matt 27:19). People often dream about the last topic of conversation before their go to bed. Finally, Pilate opened the trial the next morning formally, instead of simply going through the legal formalities. The shocked reply of the priests suggests they were not expecting to go through a process of proving the guilt of Jesus from scratch (John 18:29-31).

At an hour to midnight, a large contingent of temple guards (John 18:3) and temple servants (John 19:10) were assembled and briefed by Caiaphas. Judas probably spoke as well because he knew where to go (John 18:2) and he told them he would identify Jesus for them with a kiss on the darkened hillside (Matt 26:48-49). Aware of the Galilean’s threats to overthrow the social order and suspicious of his rumoured supernatural powers, these men left the fortified city walls heavily armed and in great numbers, ready for mass resistance to their cause, ready for a rebellion (Matt 26:47). We can assume forty to fifty men to be in this party, including a contingent of Pharisees and court officials (John 18:3) who would soon act as court “witnesses”. By law it was required that witnesses in a Jewish court case had to be part of the arrest party.

Up on the hillside, the arrest party was first spotted from some distance as the file of torches made its way through the pitch darkness of the olive grove to confront the small party of weary disciples. When they could be seen drawing menacingly closer, Jesus surprisingly stood his ground, forcing his disciples to stay when logic told them to run. Consternation filled their minds. Why wasn’t their leader fleeing the approaching mob? When finally the two groups met face to face a few minutes later, Judas anger replaced fear as was discovered to be a traitor! Some of the disciples began to reach for their weapons. The potential melee was only averted with a stern rebuke from their leader (Luke 22:49-51). Then, for reasons that didn’t make sense at the time, Jesus offered himself without resistance on the proviso that the disciples be left alone (John 18:4-7). This request was granted and Jesus was immediately bound and led away, leaving his band of men stunned.

Reading between the lines it seems that in the swirl of bodies and noise during that confrontation night, both John and Peter managed to intermingle undetected with the mob and secretly gain entry to the city with them (John 18:15). The city gates were firmly shut and guarded at all times after dark that night except during the exit and re-entry of the arrest party, so this is the only conceivable explanation for the appearance of John and Peter in the city later that night at the trial (John 18:15).

As the torch lights file back toward the city, the other nine disciples regrouped a safe distance further up the hill and spent a precious few minutes assessing their options. Once it is realised they were missing Peter and John, as well as Jesus, it undoubtedly created a sense of horror and foreboding in their minds. The only conclusion they could read from their rapidly diminishing set of circumstances was that Peter and John were arrested along with Jesus, and they would be next.

At this point it is most likely that John’s older brother James (Matt 4:21-22) started calling the shots as he is the most senior member of the disciples left (Matt 26:36-37). The things they discussed in those few moments must have centred on securing their own safety and assessing the possibility of the temple guard seeking out other followers of the prophet. This would mean arrests the next day in their village of lodging, Bethany (John 12:10-11). Only one course of action was now deemed sensible, and that was to get over the hill and down to the village to warn them of the tragic arrest of the great teacher and the mortal danger that all now faced them (John 12:1-4).

So nine frightened and bewildered men began to stumble through the pitch darkness for some 1.5 kilometers and arrived at Bethany around 1.00am. After the raising of Lazarus from the dead a year or so earlier, the whole village were followers of the great prophet (Matt 26:6). This fact, combined with the tiny size of homes in that era of foreign occupation and heavy taxation, tells us that only a few of the disciples were staying at Martha’s home. Still, that is where they must have delivered the news first. Already anxious because of the party had not returned at a normal hour, Mary, Martha and Lazarus’ worst fears are now realized. Now all of those now on the run woke up their respective hosts with a story of horror. Within minutes the entire village was awake and listening, weary eyed, to the terrible fate that had just befallen Jesus and his leadership.

Sleep would not have come easily to any of them until nearer to daybreak. But before it did, plans were being sketched into their conversations as to what to do the next day in the face of various threats and developments. They would not be caught off-guard twice. Their leadership was under arrest and the mothers of three of these nine men were trapped in Jerusalem. Amazingly, because of the complete lack of reference to this entire group for the rest of the crucifixion and resurrection drama, we now know exactly what those plans were. There was to be no rescue attempt and no plan to sneak into the city with the flow of traffic the next day to connect with the others. There was just too much chance of arrest at the city gate. These men decided, for their own safety and that of their many friends in Bethany, to simply lay low and wait. At any moment they may have needed to flee further north toward their home district of Galilee. Alternatively, if Peter and John were released, they would need to be in Bethany to meet them. Either way, they chose wisely to stay out of the city.

So, now we have set a scene where most of Jesus’ disciples are absent for the rest of the crucifixion drama, while a small party are marooned inside the city walls, completely cut off from their friends This party consisted of Joanna, who was the wife of king Herod’s palace manager, Mary mother of Jesus, Mary Magdalene the ex-prostitute, Salome mother of James and John, Peter and John. It is this unlikely group that now gains a ringside seat into our planet’s most history-altering event. John, through his connections and influence with the priests, becomes their leader. Peter’s character faults are soon exposed and he disappears from view until Sunday morning. The women are free to come and go as they wish.

THE JEWISH TRIAL

After the drama of the arrest, Jesus was taken straight back to the home of Annas, father-in-law of the Caiaphas the High Priest, for preliminary questioning. This note in the narrative tells us a lot about this man’s lingering authority in the Sanhedrin. Then it was on to the nearby home of Caiaphas (Matt 26:57-8, John 18:12-13). There were two options available to the arrest party as to how to get to the homes of Annas and Caiaphas once inside the walls. The arrest party most likely took Jesus via the temple grounds so as to avoid the route through the residential streets of the city where they could have been spotted by any of the thousands of admirers of the great teacher.

Who was this High Priest (whose very tomb was possibly unearthed in 1990)? Joseph Caiaphas, the sworn enemy of Jesus, had been High Priest since 18AD and would remain in that powerful position for half a decade after this trial. The High Priest ruled the everyday affairs of Israel. Roman consent was only needed for the more important matters, such as this trial as it involved capital punishment. Caiaphas had married the daughter of the previous High Priest Annas, who had been forcibly removed by the Romans for executing capital sentences, but who still obviously held real political power. So we know this supreme position in the Jewish world was jealously guarded within an extended family structure that included Annas’ five sons and son-in-law. Caiaphas was at the peak of his tenure and had every motive in the world to make sure no one, absolutely no one, usurped his family control over the nation. A few months earlier he even threatened to kill the recently “resurrected” Lazarus in light of the thousands of Jerusalemites who were becoming admirers and followers of the upstart Galilean healer (John 12:10-11). A few years further on in history we find him threatening Peter and John for healing a crippled man (Acts 4:1-7). In the mind of this man power ruled supreme and any threat, no matter how justified, philosophically consistent, prophetically compelling or politically popular must be crushed. Caiaphas knew his family’s unpopular neck was on the line if the population turned on him.

Waiting for the arrest party to arrive at Caiaphas’ home was the full body of the Sanhedrin, the supreme court of all matters religious. Interestingly, some of the Sanhedrin are known to us. Nicodemus and possibly Joseph of Arimathea, both secret admirers of the prophet, were reluctantly present (John 3:1, Mark 15:43). In all likelihood Annas’ own sons John and Alexander were present (Acts 4:6). The official ruler of the Sanhedrin, the very wise and learned Gamaliel, was there also (Acts 5:34). In fact, he should have directed proceedings, but was usurped in this instance by Caiaphas. Once joined by the mob and the guards, we can imagine a crowded, noisy, adrenaline-filled courtyard (John 18:15) of up to one hundred people, with faces dimly lit by a few candles and olive oil lamps. Their noisy entrance was to be brusquely quietened after a few minutes by Caiaphas as he rose to speak. Three of the disciples were watching from the corners of the room. They were John, Peter and Judas. John was known to the High Priests family, and was probably a close relative through either his mother Salome or his father Zebedee (John 18:15, Matt 4:21). Then there was Peter, who only got in to the courtyard because of John’s personal influence at the front gate (John 15:16), and whose Galilean accent would soon give him away (Matt 26:73). Finally there was Judas the thief and betrayer, who was so disgusted with the outcome of his doing that later he committed suicide (Matt 27:3-5, John 12:6).

So, with the timeline now understood, we can safely assume the Jewish trial of Jesus (Matt 26:57-75) took place in the very early hours of Friday morning. This is a very strange time indeed, since in Jewish law a capital charge against a man could not be heard after dark. Adding to the illegality of the trial was the fact that only accusers and witnesses could execute an arrest. In this case it had been the temple guard accompanied by a motley crew of friends, palace servants and priests assembled at the last minute. Now they had to hastily concoct some fabricated evidence against Jesus. First there were several unnamed charges brought against Jesus based on fabrications and lies (Matt 26:60). This makes sense given the last minute nature of the arrest party and the lack of time the witnesses had to collaborate their lines of argument. In the Jewish legal system witnesses and prosecution lawyers were one and the same people. This first line of accusation quickly fell apart as witnesses contradicted each other, so it was overthrown.

Then some someone, probably a court official or Pharisee with a little more intelligence, spoke up and suggested a more valid line of accusation by stating that Jesus had committed the crime of threatening to destroy the temple and rebuild it in three days (Matt 26:61). The penalty for this crime of sorcery was death. This was much more promising. However Caiaphas knew it would not carry any weight with the Roman Prefect, Pilate, as it only involved speculation within a religious system and no obvious threat to Roman power.

The fact that the High Priest Caiaphas wasted time on these charges suggests that he was not all-powerful to work his will on the Sanhedrin. He had to satisfy their very strong tradition of abiding by Jewish legalities. In their system of jurisprudence there were three classes of evidence. Vain evidence resulted in the death of the witnesses because they were obviously lying to get the accused punished. Standing evidence looked good but needed more proof. Adequate evidence resulted in the establishment of guilt and immediate punishment. Today we call it “beyond reasonable doubt”. Frustrated that the vainness of witnesses and weakness of their accusations, Caiaphas had to finally break with legal tradition again and cross examine the prisoner himself. Perhaps it was the clue “in three days” that inspired Caiaphas to lunge in. Was Jesus talking about his own claim to divinity, kingship and royalty?

Taking leave of the legal proprieties, Caiaphas now used this ace card and accused Jesus of a false claim to divinity, of being the Messiah, a claim that carried the death penalty. After watching Jesus previously defend himself with stoic silence he also added “I adjure you by the living God” which is the most solemn oath in the Hebrew legal code (Matt 26:63). To not answer when thus challenged in a Jewish trial was in itself grounds for stoning. Jesus was caught, so he answered for the first time. The answer we are given in the gospels is “I am” (Mark 14:62), “You have said” (Matthew 26:64) and “You say that I am” (Luke 22:70). The discrepancy lies in the fact that, to a cultivated Jew, courtesy forbade a direct answer. His answer was affirmative and this alone was going to carry weight with both the Sanhedrin and the Roman Prefect. The time was now somewhere around, or just before the first glow of morning as the record tells us that a local rooster started crowing (John 18:27). So it was probably now around 4.00 am. With guilt secured, it was time to rest up a few hours before heading, en masse, over to Pilate’s Jerusalem residence for the early morning show trial before Pilate.

Matthew 12:46-50: Who Is My Family?

Today I am going to dive into an interesting event that happened during Jesus’ ministry which gives us an insight into both his natural family and spiritual family. My notes below are full of background speculation about his family but I believe as you read on you will agree that it is very plausible speculation.

In three Gospels (Matthew 12:46-50, Mark 3:31-35, Luke 8:19-21) we get the same story about Mary and several of Jesus’ brothers coming to meet him. They waited outside the building and Jesus was soon made aware of their arrival. He then gave a small sermonette, telling the crowd that his true family were not his flesh and blood but those who were obedient to his father (Matthew 12, Mark 3), or hear the word of God and obey it (Luke 8).

Jesus’ Natural Family

As a human, Jesus was born into and raised by a human family. So, the scene begins with the arrival of Mary and several of Jesus’ brothers. So, who were they? We know from Matthew 13:55-57 that Jesus had four younger brothers born to Mary and Joseph. They were James, Joseph, Simon and Judas. The passage also says, are not his sisters all with us. This implies at least three younger sisters, possibly four but we will go with three.

So, we are talking of a family that had at least 8 children if you include Jesus. Assuming Mary was 18 years old when she became pregnant with the Lord, and Jesus was around 32 years old at the time of this incident, this would put Mary at around 50 years of age when she came to see him. She would very likely have had one or more teenage children still living at home, while several of her adult children were probably married with their own families.

At her age she could still probably get around in a spritely fashion and could also afford to leave her younger children at home in the care of older siblings and travel a bit. So, for one of the few times in her life, she did.

The fact that she turns up in the company of her sons and without her husband is instructive. These sons would have been two or more of the four boys mentioned above, but probably those that were still single and working locally near the family’s Nazareth home. Where was Joseph? He was not mentioned so must have been either deceased or incapacitated. Since he was a lot older than Mary when they married this is a fair assumption.

Jesus left Nazareth at the beginning of his ministry some two years earlier and had set up his home base in Capernaum (Matthew 4:13). So, Mary would not have seen much of her son for the last two years. At some point Mary would have heard so many reports and rumours about her son that she expressed a wish to her children that she wanted to go and see for herself firsthand what her now famous first son was up to. Every proud mum loves to see their kids achieve great things and Mary would have been no different, probably more so because of who she knew her son to be.

Or perhaps she was annoyed from listening to her adult male children dismissing these reports of what Jesus was doing and calling him a crazy man (Mark 3:21, John 7:3-5). Was there sibling jealousy that she decided to address by taking some of them to meet Jesus and see for themselves what he was doing? After all we know that his brother James was not a follower until after the resurrection. These men knew Jesus from childhood so it would have been a monumental mental shift for them to come to accept him as the Messiah.

Regardless of the rationale for the trip, it would have been inconceivable that an older woman would travel alone in that era (Luke 10:25-37), so she was chaperoned by her sons along the dusty Galilean roads from Nazareth to lake Galilee where we know Jesus was at the time (Matthew 13:1-2). The journey would have taken two days as it is around 40 kilometres from Nazareth to the lake, and 50 kilometres to Capernaum.

The distant memory of the angelic visitation, the three wise men and the drama of Jesus early life, as well as the miracle of the water turned into wine in Cana (John 2:9), would have come flooding back to her as reports started to come to her in Nazareth of miracles, healings, the dead being raised, and the prickly confrontations with the religious authorities. These thoughts would have filled her with anticipation as she walked.

And this is where the Biblical narrative cuts in.

After Jesus had finished teaching in this house he moved down to the lake and taught large crowds from a boat just offshore (Matthew 13). This was when he told them the stories of the sower and the four types of seeds, the wheat and the tares, the great catch of fish, the yeast, the mustard seed and the pearl of great price. So, Mary and the brothers of Jesus were present for all these powerful messages. Were any of them sent as a hint to his brothers about their fate if they continued their mockery and disbelief?

After Jesus had finished teaching he then proceeded to travel back to his hometown of Nazareth (Matthew 13:54-58). We can safely assume he was travelling with his mum and the brothers that come with her. We can also safely assume he was going back to pay a visit to his human family and would have stayed with them while there. Once again he started teaching in the local synagogue, but was on the whole rejected by his hometown.

Jesus’ spiritual family

As the creator of the universe and second in the trinity, Jesus was already part of a spiritual “family” and dearly wanted us humans to join it. This is why he often spoke about his Heavenly Father and himself as the Son of God. His most important instructional prayer began with the single word; Father (Matthew 6:9-13). These are human terms that we can relate to, otherwise it gets a bit complicated for our small brains.

So in this passage Matthew recorded for posterity the fact that Jesus shifted the perspective for his listeners to the reality that pervades all the physical and spiritual dimensions of the universe and beyond. This reality was the very essence of his mission on earth. His purpose was to depopulate hell and populate heaven, to invite humanity into a spiritual family that would enjoy the presence of our generous creator-dad forever. Jesus was telling everyone who would listen in that room that God was not a tyrant, not a stern legalistic judge, not demanding we grovel through a lifetime of duty and works, not uncaring and not distant. He was a loving, caring abba, a dad.

He was on a mission to adopt us back in to his family!

So, why wouldn’t he have said what he said, even though on a human level it may have been confronting for the family. But for all the others there that day it was a lightning bolt of revelation and hope. For those locked out of the straitjacket of the ridiculous religious systems of ancient Israel this was the most amazing news: For the prostitutes (Matthew 21:32), the tax collectors (Matthew 9:10), the Samaritans (John 4:39), those living beyond the borders of Israel (Mark 3:8), the poor in spirit, the physically poor, the meek, the mourners, the hungry, the merciful, the peacemakers and the persecuted (Matthew 5:3-11), the prodigals (Luke 15: 11-32), and women (John 12:3), the  demon possessed (Matthew 8:28-34), the sick and lame (Matthew 9:27-34).

The list goes on for 2,000 years. These people now had a family. They had a future. They had hope. They had heaven. We too have a future and hope and heaven if we accept the free gift of adoption into this family through Jesus’ death and resurrection. The promise continues. The brokenness of sin and Satan that infects almost every human on the planet has a cure, not in drugs, alcohol, fame, fortune or pride, but in the heart healing adoption into the most loving family in the universe.

Passing On The Blessing

This eternal promise was brought home to me powerfully six years ago. After having raised our three children to adulthood and accumulated enough to be able to do a spot of travelling in retirement, we were confronted with a life-changing choice. My wife’s stepfather’s eleven year old grandchild needed a home. She had been raised by my wife’s mum until my wife’s mum died when the child was six, then by her grandfather on his own until he too died when she was eleven. We were next in line…if we would accept her into our family. My wife had known for many years in her heart that we would eventually be raising this cherished child. I didn’t!!!!

So, as I was emotionally wrestling, praying and thinking things through, the Holy Spirit spoke very clearly to me one day and said I adopted you into my family so now its time to pass on the gift and blessing. Boom! Gone were my dreams of travel, a comfortable retirement and helping my wife through her continuing cancer journey. After the Lord spoke it was all over. How could we not take on a precious child of God who was either going to be living with us in a warm, stable family near to all she had known all her life. The alternative was with strangers in foster families and brokenness, abandoned by us.

That was six years ago. It was tough initially as we were nurturing a broken soul, but now, looking back I would not have swapped it for the world. God is good.

Because God is dad!