First, consider the motivations of the mob who had come to the Praetorium adamant Jesus be crucified and this known criminal Barabbas released. For starters, there are some who try to make the case the same crowd who cried out on Palm Sunday, “Hosanna the King” were now demanding Pilate “crucify Jesus!” I’m not sure that’s a fair assertion.
Though true most of those who’d amassed were indeed present for Jesus’ triumphal entry, keep in mind it’s not only early in the morning and the gathering of such a crowd odd to say the least, but the Gospel records indicate a bit of astroturfing may have been at work.
Notice on the two occasions John records Pilate’s interactions with this crowd we read (John 19:6), “Therefore, when the chief priests and officers saw Jesus, they cried out, saying, ‘Crucify Him, crucify Him!’” Then after trying to appease their blood-thirst by having Jesus scourged, John 19:14-15 records, “And Pilate said to the Jews, ‘Behold your King!’ But they cried out, ‘Away with Him, away with Him! Crucify Him!’ Pilate said to them, ‘Shall I crucify your King?’ The chief priests answered, ‘We have no king but Caesar!’”
Aside from this account provided in John’s Gospel, in both Mark 15 and Matthew 27 we read how it was “the chief priests and elders who persuaded the multitudes that they should ask for Barabbas and destroy Jesus.” In fact, in his summary of the entire scene, Luke tell us (Luke 23:23), “And the voices of these men and of the chief priests prevailed.”
The reason this is important centers on the fact that Jesus wasn’t crucified because of the fickle emotions of an out-of-control mob, but rather the intentional actions of the religious establishment. It’s likely powerful men like Annas and Caiaphas recruited a mob to make it seem like this was an organic outcry against Jesus when it really wasn’t.
Aside from the underhanded nature of such a ploy, what makes the actions of these men all the more egregious is the fact they had been charged by God with the task of looking out for the Messiah! The grand twist to the entire story is the fact they knowingly rejected a man who was likely their Messiah and then had Him crucified!
Understand, the religious leaders did not reject Jesus because they lacked enough evidence. On numerous occasions throughout the Gospels you’ll read how the religious leaders specifically came to evaluate Jesus and His ministry — And each time they left not only unable to find any fault with Him, but were astonished at His teachings!
Even during their trial against Jesus, they struggled making a case. In Mark 14, “Now the chief priests and all the council sought testimony against Jesus to put Him to death, but found none. For many bore false witness against Him, but their testimonies did not agree.”
Again it’s amazing these men were not acting out of ignorance, a lack of revelation, or with limited knowledge. The truth is they demanded Jesus be crucified knowing fully well who He was! These men had been given the revelation of Scripture. They had seen with their own eyes prophecy fulfilled in their midst. And yet, they crucified Him anyway!
The question begs — Why were these religious men so resistant of Jesus? First, there is no question Jesus was a fundamental threat to their authority and way of living.
After years under Roman rule, the Jewish religious establishment had not only adapted, but were thriving under the occupation. For Annas and Caiaphas as long as they kept the peace, their relationship with Rome would continue to prove mutually beneficial.
There is no doubt Jesus’ growing popularity was becoming a political liability. Jesus had become a threat to their power, influence over the people, and subsequent wealth.
If we’re speaking truthfully this morning, many reject Jesus — not for intellectual reason, but practical ones. Simply stated people don’t want to change their way of living or cede power over their life-style choices to Jesus. If these religious leaders accepted Jesus as their Messiah, the implications were more then they were willing to accept — Jesus would automatically possess the authority to tell them what to do!
I have found many people resist Jesus for the exact same reason. It’s not that they don’t believe who He is, they just don’t want to submit to His authority! People want to rule their own lives, call their own shots, be the captain of their own ship, master of their own destiny. Most people want to do what they want when they want to do it free of accountability!
For most the hang up tends to boil down to this one reality… If you accept Jesus as your God, you must also surrender your life to His! His will above your own! This means His authority concerning your behavior takes precedent. In such a dynamic you can no longer do as you please. Instead, you must do what pleases Him!
As you examine the Gospel record you will discover the people who humbly came and encountered Jesus did so because they were sick of the status quo and desperately wanted their lives changed for the better. They recognized and accepted the fact the only Person who could save them — the only One who could really set them free was Jesus.
They were willing to embrace a life-change, because they wanted their lives to change! The sad reality is the one group who were always around Jesus but were never changed by Him were these religious leaders who in the end demanded He die.
Secondly, there is no question these men resisted and rejected Jesus because He challenged their religious system and moral hierarchy. These devout men took pride in a works-based system that combined the Law with their own man-made traditions to obey.
It’s not an accident that throughout His ministry Jesus was constantly pointing out the flaws within this framework. His very perfection illustrated how imperfect they really were. In His teaching Jesus called out their religion as only producing a false morality. Through His activities Jesus showed open disregarded for their non-Scriptural traditions.
Ultimately, Jesus’ associations contrasted their judgment of sinners with an abundance of grace and love. In John’s summary of Jesus’ life presented in John 1:17 we read, “For the law was given through Moses, but grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.”
The problem with the Jewish religious system was that it had created a framework whereby man could achieve God’s approval without God’s direct involvement. Sadly, I have found many people reject Jesus because they don’t want to admit they need help and they resist acknowledging they really aren’t as good a person as they think they are!
You see many people reject the salvation Jesus provides because they don’t want to admit they are the problem and that they need a Savior! It’s why the religious leaders rejected Jesus. They created their own religious system that allowed them to worship gods of their own choosing all the while resisting the one Savior they really needed!
It’s a sad but true reality that the soul who rejects Jesus as their Savior will possess a tongue that cries out, “Away with Him!” The difficult thing for such a tormented soul will be the day in which they actually need a Savior they will hear, “Depart from Me for I never knew you!”
Back in verses 16-18 John writes that “Pilate delivered Jesus to them to be crucified. Then they took Jesus and led Him away. And He, bearing His cross, went out to a place called the Place of a Skull, which is called in Hebrew, Golgotha, where they crucified Him…”
In the Greek the phrase “Place of the Skull” is originally “Kraniou Tôpos.” In Latin we then derive the phrase “Calvariae Locus” from which we then get our English word “Calvary.” In his account John tell us this “place” Jesus was crucified was known in the day as “Golgotha.”
While the exact location of Calvary isn’t known, there are several theories. There are some who believe “Golgotha” was simply a descriptive term that referenced a specific hillside outside Jerusalem that resembled a literal skull with the outline of a human face. While not officially recognized by any church, many Protestants believe a rock face that looks like a skull located northwest of the city near the Garden Tomb is the actually site of Golgotha.
Since “Golgotha” can be translated as “Gol Goatha” or “mount of execution”, others see it as a reference to a mountain located near a cemetery. The most interesting theory states that because “Golgotha” is just a contraction of “Goliath of Gath” it was actually the location where King David ultimately buried the head of the giant.
Historically, the location of Golgotha or Calvary was originally determined by Helena, the mother of Constantine, to be in the western part of Jerusalem proper. To commemorate this holy spot in 325 AD the Church of the Holy Sepulcher was built on the location.
As you study the topic you will discover there are really four Biblical requirements necessary for the location of Golgotha. (1) As a place of execution Golgotha had to be outside the city gates, but still close enough to be used. (2) As a place for Roman executions Golgotha would have been situated along a common roadway coming into and out of Jerusalem.
(3) Because a wealthy man named “Joseph of Arimathea” will procure the body of Christ and lay Him in his tomb before the start of the Sabbath, its only logical Golgotha was situated near an expensive tomb that was specifically situated in a garden. In fact, three days later, upon her arrival “Mary Magdalene” will mistake the resurrected Jesus for a gardener.
(4) According to Mark 15:38-39, from the location of the crucifixion one would be able to peer into the inner courts of the Temple. “Then the veil of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom. So when the centurion, who stood opposite Him, saw that (present tense) Jesus cried out like this and breathed His last, he said, ‘Truly this Man was the Son of God!’”
Early church father Tatian writing in 160 AD, “And immediately the face of the door of the temple was rent into two parts from top to bottom... And the officer of the foot soldiers, and they that were with him who were guarding Jesus, when they saw the earthquake, and the things which came to pass, feared greatly, and praised God, and said, this man was righteous; and, truly he was the Son of God. And all the multitudes that were come together to the sight, when they saw what came to pass, returned and smote upon their breasts.”
The problem with both the Church of the Holy Sepulcher and the popular location of Protestants is that neither factor in the ability of those at the cross on Calvary to view into the Temple to see the tearing of the veal. With this in mind, I’m convinced the only location that is consistent with the Biblical requirements for Golgotha is the Mount of Olives.
Consider… (1) The Mount of Olives was located outside the city, but close. (2) The Mount of Olives was situated on a popular roadway that connected Jerusalem with the Jordan Valley. (3) Located at the southern base of the Mount of Olives was not only the Garden of Gethsemane, but also a graveyard specifically designated for the nobility of Jerusalem.
(4) Since the Temple faced east and the Mount of Olives was located due east of the city, the only place you would be able to peer into the Temple in order to witness the veil being torn in two as Jesus breathed His last would be from the peak of the Mount of Olives.
Mishnah, “The Temple walls were high, save only the eastern wall, because the High Priest that burns the Red Heifer and stands on the top of the Mount of Olives should be able to look directly into the entrance of the Sanctuary when the blood of the Red Heifer is sprinkled.” The point is that it would be impossible to see into the Temple from any other location!
“Ok, Pastor Zach… Why does this matter?” First, if Golgotha was located on the Mount of Olives, the geographic ramifications of Jesus journey to the cross are powerful.
As Jesus is led from the Fortress of Antonio to the Mount of Olives He would have exited the city from the north using the Sheep Gate. From there Jesus would once again find Himself crossing through the bloody Kidron before making the ascent up the Mount of Olives.
The perfect “Lamb of God” passing from the Sheep Gate through the blood of the Passover sacrifices to then be sacrificed Himself is an awesome picture. Additionally, the symbolism of Jesus’ blood mixing with the blood of the atoning sacrifices further reinforces its significance.
The second reason Jesus dying on the Mount of Olives is so important ties directly into the Levitical procedures concerning the sacrifice of the red heifer.
In Number 19 we read, “Now the LORD spoke to Moses and Aaron, saying, ‘This is the ordinance of the law which the LORD has commanded, saying: 'Speak to the children of Israel, that they bring you a red heifer without blemish, in which there is no defect and on which a yoke has never come.
You shall give it to Eleazar the priest, that he may take it outside the camp, and it shall be slaughtered before him; and Eleazar the priest shall take some of its blood with his finger, and sprinkle some of its blood seven times directly in front of the tabernacle of meeting.
Then the heifer shall be burned in his sight: its hide, its flesh, its blood, and its offal shall be burned. And the priest shall take cedar wood and hyssop and scarlet, and cast them into the midst of the fire burning the heifer... Then a man who is clean shall gather up the ashes of the heifer, and store them outside the camp in a clean place; and they shall be kept for the congregation of the children of Israel for the water of purification; it is for purifying from sin.”
According to this passage, in the dedication of the Tabernacle, a red heifer “without spot” and “without a yoke” was to be slaughtered outside the camp, its blood used to purify the place of meeting, and then the body burned. The ashes would then be preserved for future use as a “purification for sin” for anyone who incurred defilement through contact with the dead.
What’s interesting is this unique offering was not something that regularly happened. The sacrifice only occurred when the Temple was formally dedicated. You see the ashes of the red heifer were viewed as being sufficient for all the people and the onetime sacrifice universal. When a person needed purification from contact with the dead, a fresh heifer was not required to be sacrificed. The sacrifice of one heifer was sufficient for all!
While in the context of the Exodus and specifically the Tabernacle the offering was to occur “outside the camp,” once the Jews had settled in the land and built the Temple, the sacrifice of the red heifer was to take place on the Mount of Olives. Again, the Mishnah stated, “The Temple walls were high, save only the eastern wall, because the High Priest that burns the Red Heifer and stands on the top of the Mount of Olives should be able to look directly into the entrance of the Sanctuary when the blood of the Red Heifer is sprinkled.”
Like the red heifer Jesus was taken outside the camp to the Mount of Olives and sacrificed once and for all to purify men from sin! And because He was “without spot” (sinless) and “without a yoke” (willing) His one time sacrifice was permanent and sufficient for all!
In Hebrews 9:11-14 we read of Jesus, “But Christ came as High Priest of the good things to come.... Not with the blood of goats and calves, but with His own blood He entered the Most Holy Place once for all, having obtained eternal redemption. For if the blood of bulls and goats and the ashes of a heifer, sprinkling the unclean, sanctifies for the purifying of the flesh, how much more shall the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered Himself without spot to God, cleanse your conscience from dead works to serve the living God?”
In many ways the actual sacrifice of the red heifer presents a picture of the cross. Once the heifer had been killed we read how “the priest were to take cedar wood, hyssop, and scarlet, and cast them into the midst of the fire burning the heifer.” How interesting that Jesus was crucified on a cross made from cedar. While on the cross He was offered drink from a hyssop branch. And oh, how the red scarlet pictures the cleansing blood of Jesus.
I also don’t find it to be an accident the act of offering the first red heifer in order to purify the earthly dwelling place of God was not designated to Moses (who represented the Law) nor to Aaron (who represented the priesthood), but to Aaron’s son “Eleazar.” In the Hebrew his name means “God has helped” or literally the “Helper of God.” Sound familiar?
In much the same way as the sacrifice of the red heifer, not only has Jesus’ one time sacrifice satisfied the penalty of your sin and the death that results, but the Holy Spirit has taken His blood and purified you to be “the temple of the living God!” (2 Corinthians 6:16).
The third reason I think Jesus dying on the Mount of Olives is so significant is that of the 15 times this mountain is referenced in Scripture it always speaks of separation.
In Ezekiel, the prophet describes seeing the “glory of the Lord” depart from the Holy of Holies leaving the Temple and the holy city only to “stop above the mountain east of it” before going up to heaven. Matthew Henry, “God separated Himself from the vileness of His people.”
Every time Jesus visited the Mount of Olives He maintained this symbolism of separation. In the garden as He prepared Himself for His coming arrest and execution, Jesus separated Himself from the disciples to spend time in prayer. Then upon His ascension to heaven from Olivet Jesus physically separated Himself from the church sending the Spirit in His place.
Prophetically, when Jesus returns to establish His kingdom on earth, He’ll touch down on the Mount of Olives. Not only will He then proceed to separate the elect from the wicked, but Zechariah says the Mount of Olives will split in two and a spring of water will rushing forth to restore the earth. Geographically, it’s worth noting the mountain is actually formed by the separation of a northern summit from a southern summit by small and narrow inlet.
Again the imagery is fascinating… As Jesus hangs on a cross on the Mount of Olives He will experience the ultimate separation when His Father forsakes Him the moment He became sin for us! And yet, it will be from that separation that “Living Water” would flow forth able to quench man’s spiritual thirst by permanently restoring him to God.
There is no question Golgotha being on the Mount of Olives is not only more in line with the Bible requirements for the location and more consistent with the Levitical typology of the red heifer, but it provides deeper spiritual meaning behind Jesus’ journey, crucifixion, and experience. If the Mount of Olives is in fact the location of Golgotha, the journey to the cross deepens in its meaning and the experience of Jesus on the cross becomes deeply symbolic.
John 19:19-22, “Now Pilate wrote a title and put it on the cross. And the writing was: JESUS OF NAZARETH, THE KING OF THE JEWS. Then many of the Jews read this title, for the place where Jesus was crucified was near the city; and it was written in Hebrew, Greek, and Latin. Therefore the chief priests of the Jews said to Pilate, ‘Do not write, ‘The King of the Jews,’ but, ‘He said, ‘I am the King of the Jews.’’ Pilate answered, ‘What I have written, I have written.’”
In Roman culture we know it was customary that the condemned would have their crimes written and hung around their neck. Then once crucified the sign would be nailed above the guilty so that onlookers would know for what reason that individual had been executed.
In many ways a Roman crucifixion was not just about executing a person, it was a PR event designed to illustrate for the masses what would happen to revolutionaries and criminals.
In Jesus’ case it’s worth pointing out that Pilate mentions no crime, but only the truth, “Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews.” Some have argued that, within the context of Jesus still wearing a crown of thorns, the intent of such a plaque was to further mock Jesus. I don’t believe this was the case. In fact, John gives us more details to clear up any confusion.
Finding out what Pilate wrote of Jesus, John tells us the “chief priests” actually come to him with an official objection. They didn’t like the implications and want Pilate to change it. What’s interesting is how Pilate answered them. He says, “What I have written, I have written.” You get the sense Pilate knows he’s played a central role in the most incredible of tragedies.
Frankly, Pilate is really a tragedy in his own right. As we noted last Sunday, he knew Jesus was completely innocent. Aside from this Pilate had done everything in his power to avoid sentencing Jesus to death. He hated the whole situation. Yet, in the end, he cows to political pressure, goes against his conscience, and sentences Jesus to be crucified anyway.
Pilate literally tries to wash his hands of the matter, but history seems to indicate he’ll never be able to escape the fact he was the one who decided Jesus’ fate. For the rest of history Pilate would be forever known by this one decision. Choosing what to do with the man from Nazareth would end up being the most important judgment he would ever make.
Pilate woke up one unsuspecting day with Jesus standing on his doorstep! And for the next several hours he had the unique experience to converse personally with Almighty God. Pilate knew Jesus was innocent from his own examination. His wife warned him to have nothing to do with “that just man!” And yet, tragically for Pilate, he willingly ignored divine revelation.
According to tradition Pilate’s wife (Claudia Procula) would eventually become a follower of Jesus and was influential in the early church. In his final letter to Timothy Paul closes by writing that “Claudia sent her greetings!” Some believe this is actually the same woman.
Pilate’s story goes from bad to worse. In sentencing Jesus to be crucified he had been swayed by the opinions of others. Sadly, he cared more about his present life than the one to come. The irony of it all is that while Pilate made his decision to “gratify the crowd” — according to early church father Eusebius — a year or so later the Jews would riot anyway and Pilate would be banished to Vienna where he would ultimately kill himself in disgrace.
Imagine the moment Pilate found himself in eternity standing before Jesus! The Man he’d crucified now stood before him very much alive! The rumors of resurrection were true! Amazement quickly turns to terror as Pilate’s heart sinks to the realization his eternal fate would now be determined by “Jesus of Nazareth, the King” of heaven and earth!
The first thing Pilate notices about Jesus was the scars in His hands and feet. He then looks at His face and recalls how beaten and swollen it was. The glory Jesus is now clothed with was a stark contrast to the naked Man who stood before him following the scourging he’d given Him. No longer crowned with earthly thorns Jesus radiated a heavenly majesty.
When Pilate had been told that Jesus claimed to be the “Son of God” he’d grown terribly afraid. Now those fears have been realized! Pilate falls to the ground as the Accuser of all humanity begins crying out with a voice he recognizes, “Away with him! Away with him!”
Pilate knows his fate had been sealed by a singular decision he’d made about Jesus. Though he’d done everything to wash his hands of the matter so many years earlier, Pilate knows deep down that he was “guilty of the blood of that just Person!” He was guilty!
Its in that moment Pilate hears a broken-hearted Jesus declare a timeless truth, “Whoever confesses Me before men, him I will also confess before My Father. But whoever denies Me before men, him I will also deny before My Father who is in heaven.” (Matthew 10:32-33)
Pilate knows the verdict will not be favorable. As he sits there thinking he’s filled with an immeasurable regret. “How could I have been so short-sighted and foolish? I knew the truth. My wife warned me. So what if I had gained the whole world only to now loose my soul!”
“Pontius Pilate, you were given every opportunity to believe in Me” declared the voice of the Judge snapping Pilate back to reality, “It didn’t have to be this way. But since you denied Me before men, depart from Me for I never knew you.” The story of Pilate’s life ended as such… “So Jesus delivered him to be sent to hell for all eternity. So they took Pilate and led him away. And he, bearing his guilt and shame, when out to the place called Hades, where they cast him into eternal darkness.” (John 19:16-17 dramatized.) What makes this all such a terrible tragedy is that Pilate’s tale didn’t have to end this way!
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