The Pharisees, the Sadducees and the politics of the crucifixion
Thinking about the death of Jesus always produces a variety of emotions. On one hand, we feel a deep sense of gratitude, hope and praise, for without his willing sacrifice and ignominious death, we would all remain under the sentence of sin with no possible way out. In short, we and the entire human race would be doomed to destruction. On the other hand, when we think of his death we feel the dull, persistent aching pain of sadness, because we know Jesus was an entirely innocent man who was subject to the most unfair and devious kinds of deception, mistreatment and torture. Did you ever wonder what was behind the events that brought Jesus to the point of crucifixion? Did you ever think about who did what and why to position the Savior of all mankind as an enemy of the state?
To clearly understand the events that led to Jesus’ death, we can examine a really simple question – “Who crucified Jesus?” The most obvious answers are “the Jews” as provoked by their leadership and “the Romans.” These are two groups of people who were very much at odds with each other, and that just provokes another question – did they collaborate together on this or was there more to it? Well, there was more to it – there was much more to it.
Let’s start with the Jews of that time, specifically those in Jerusalem who had authority over their own people of Israel. Being under Roman rule meant that their “authority” was very limited but that did not prevent major internal wrangling for power and influence among those who were in positions of perceived authority. First you had the Pharisees, a group who elevated themselves above the people by way of generations of adding “oral traditions” to the original Mosaic Law, which made following the Law an impossible task. Then there were the Sadducees who were supposed to be the “priests” among the Jewish people but instead focused themselves on politics – on expanding their political power as far as the Romans would allow it. Pharisees and Sadducees did NOT agree on a lot and did NOT get along, yet in the end they joined forces to eliminate Jesus.
Next we have Annas, a Sadducee who was supposed to be the High Priest over Israel at that time but was not allowed that title by Rome because he was a forceful, powerful man. Annas, even without the title of High Priest, maintained major influence. And then there was Caiaphas, also a Sadducee, who became the High Priest as an appointee of Rome. Though he was the nephew of Annas, he was deemed a much more controllable man by Rome.
When you combine these two groups and these two men you get a real mix of power and a great divergence of opinion and process in wielding that power. Unity was not their strong suit, and yet they all united to eliminate Jesus, the most peaceful, apolitical and God-honoring man to ever walk the earth. What did they do, how did they do it and most importantly how did they get away with it? Mix Pontius Pilate and Roman rule into the picture and you find a tangled web of political influence and intrigue. Check out our April 10, 2017 podcast, “How Were Politics Part of Jesus’ Crucifixion?” and trace the pieces and influences that led to Jesus’ death. If you are like me, you will find the whole thing to be astonishing!
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