Rapture? What Rapture? REVISED & UPDATED*
Regardless of how early one sees evidence of a rapture theology within Church writings, the deciding of this issue must rest on the inspired Word of God and what is written in it.
I have been asked to share my views regarding the so called “Rapture” of the saints (believers). This article is by no means exhaustive; however, it does seek to address the common misconceptions and Biblical misinterpretations offered by Rapture proponents.
For many followers of Messiah (Christ) the theological construct known as “The Rapture” is presumed rather than considered. In fact, in speaking to most Messiah followers I find that few if any contest the idea of the Rapture. For the most part the only issue that arises from discussing the Rapture with other believers is whether or not they are pre-tribulation or post-tribulation believers. When I’m asked my thoughts on the so called “Rapture” I often respond, “Rapture? What Rapture?” This is because as both a Jew and a follower of Messiah, I am unable to find evidence for the so-called Rapture in either the Tanakh (OT) or the Ha-Brit Ha-Chadashah (NT). However, before I address the concept (conceived, not self-evident) itself by testing it against Scripture, I will give a brief history of this relatively recent theological phenomenon.
A Brief History of the Rapture Construct:
Proponents of the theological construct called “The Rapture” often sight the writings of early Church fathers as evidence that the Rapture Theology dates back to the earliest days of Gentile Christianity. They interpret the writings of these early fathers of the Gentile Church in a revisionist fashion in order to read into them their preconceived view. In this respect their interpretation of the early Church fathers’ writings is no different from their interpretation of Scripture.
From the writings of Ephraim the Syrian (306 CE – 373 CE) they read “gathered” as “raptured” or “taken up”, and thus conclude a rapturing of believers. In the writings of Cyprian (200 CE-258CE) they read “delivered” as “raptured”. In the writings of Irenaeus (130 CE – 202 CE) they read “tribulation” and presume a “rapture”. In every case they are not quoting explicit evidence for the Rapture but instead are misinterpreting the writings of the Church fathers in the same way they have misinterpreted the Scriptures that they misuse to support the concept of a rapture. The truth is that there is no explicit evidence of the teaching of a rapture in any of the writings of the early Church fathers (1st to 3rd Centuries CE). Even more importantly, a rapture of believers was not taught by Yeshua (Jesus) or the apostles, and further, has never been a theological concept within ancient Biblical Judaism.
While there is evidence that rapture theology was present in the Church for some time prior to the 19th century (Though not as early as the 3rd Century), Pre-tribulation Rapture theology became popular in the late eighteenth century, with the Puritan preachers, and was popularised extensively in the 1830s by John Nelson Darby. Darby’s assertions were picked up by Scofield and distributed further in the United States in the annotations of the Scofield Reference Bible in the early 20th century. Thus, the popular presumptions regarding the Rapture are largely premised on its recent revival in modern Anglo-American Church history.
Regardless of how early one sees evidence of a rapture theology within Church writings, the deciding of this issue must rest on the inspired Word of God and what is written in it. Therefore, what follows will be an examination of the Scriptures that are supposed to prove the Rapture construct (teaching of men).
Scriptures that Prove the Rapture?
1. The most famous of the Rapture passages is found in 1 Thessalonians 4.15-17 and reads:
“For this we say to you by the word of the Lord, that we that are alive, that are left until the coming of the Lord, shall in no wise precede them that are fallen asleep. For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven, with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the shofar of God: and the dead in Messiah will rise first; then we that are alive, that are left, shall together with them be caught up (harpazo[G], gathered, taken away) in the clouds (of the presence: nephele[G] Ex. 13:21), to meet the Lord in the (open) air (aer[G]): and so shall we ever be with the Lord.” -1 Thessalonians 4.15-17 (Author’s Translation from Greek text)
I have placed in brackets the full meaning of the Greek words used, for the purpose of exposing some of the primary misunderstandings that are concluded from the text. First, the Greek word harpazo translated “caught up” in many English versions, rarely means “caught up”. In fact, out of its eighteen uses in the Ha-Brit Ha-Chadashah (NT), there are only three that explicitly mean “caught up” (2 Co. 12:2, 12:4; Rev. 12:5). In all other cases (15) harpazo means “to gather, take away, catch, pluck, seize”, none of which explicitly refer to being lifted into the sky. Further, harpazo is related to the word aihreomai meaning to take for oneself, that is, to prefer, and is used exclusively in the Ha-Brit Ha-Chadashah (NT) to refer to the act of choosing and or those who are chosen (Php. 1:22; Heb. 11:25; 2 Th 2:13).
Neither does the mention of nephele[G] “clouds” denote the sky. In fact, unless otherwise qualified i.e. “the clouds of the sky” (Matt. 26:64), the word nephele[G] (clouds) can refer to clouds or a cloud appearing on earth, like the cloud of the presence that lead Israel through the desert (Exodus 13:21). In fact this same Greek word nephele[G] is used by the Septuagint (Greek OT) to translate the Hebrew anan[H] (cloudy mass, covering) in Exodus 13:21 and refers not to the clouds of the sky but to the cloud of the presence in which the Malakh HaShem (Messenger of the Lord) manifest Himself (Many understand this to be a manifestation of the Messiah Himself). This bears much greater continuity within the context of 1 Thessalonians 4.15-17.
Nor does the use of the Greek word aer[G] “air” denote the sky. In fact this Greek word refers specifically to the breathable air of the lower atmosphere. The Greek lexicon states that aer is “particularly the lower and dense air as distinguished from the higher and rarer air”, so not the sky but the breathable air close to the earth. The more accurate translation would be “open air” i.e. “I’m going outside into the open air”. In common 1st century Greek speech this would not have been confused with the upper atmosphere of the sky. Thus, the Greek recipient of this first century letter to the Church would not have understood this to be describing a rapture (lifting up into the sky, levitation), but a taking away in a cloud like the events describe in Exodus which describe Israel being lead to safety by the cloud (nephele[G]) of God’s presence.
Therefore, a correct reading of the Greek text, even out of context (which is how proponents of the Rapture have taken this text) would be:
“For this we say to you by the word of the Lord, that we that are alive, that are left until the coming of the Lord, shall in no wise precede them that are fallen asleep. For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven, with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the shofar of God: and the dead in Messiah will rise first; then we that are alive, that are left, shall together with them be gathered in the clouds of the presence, to meet the Lord in the open air: and so shall we ever be with the Lord.” -1 Thessalonians 4.15-17 (Author’s translation from Greek text)
This is in keeping with the fact that God will make His dwelling with us on the new earth and not aloft in the heavens (Rev. 21:3). Rapture proponents must ask themselves, “Why would God rapture up believers only to drop them down again so that they can dwell with Him?”
These things aside, proponents of the Rapture take the 1 Thessalonians 4:15-17 Scripture entirely out of context.
In the context of 1 Thessalonians chapter 4, Rav Shaul HaShaliach (Paul the Apostle [Sent One]) answers questions that believers in Thessalonica had concerning death. What has happened to our loved ones who have died before the return of the Messiah to earth? In the end, what will happen to us? What will happen to them? Rav Shaul’s (Paul’s) answer explains the bodily resurrection at the return of Messiah to earth, and not an escape into the sky (Rapture, mass levitation).
In 1 Thessalonians chapter 4:15-17, Shaul (Paul) is making a drash[H] (comparative teaching) using two specific images from the Tanakh (OT) that were familiar to Jewish believers and Gentile converts who were familiarising themselves with the Hebrew tradition. The first has to do with Moses coming down from Mount Sinai, from out of the cloud of the Lord’s presence, carrying the Torah (Tablets) accompanied by the great blast of the shofar [Ram’s Horn] (Exodus 24).
The second image is taken from Daniel chapter 7 where the “One like the Son of Man” (or “human being” or “The Human One”) and the community He represents is vindicated over the enemies of the people of God. Clouds here symbolise the power and authoritative judgement of God in rescuing, delivering, protecting His people Israel (Ethnic, religious, chosen, empirical). Shaul (Paul) now applies this idea to Gentile Christians as well as to Jewish believers, who were facing various forms of persecution in the first century C.E.
Rapture, as it is popularly understood, is nowhere to be found in this so called “Rapture” passage. Scripture clearly teaches that the Messiah will return to resurrect, to cleanse, to heal, restore and to establish the eternal kingdom of God on this earth. Heaven and earth will be united forever as a result of the sacrificial death and resurrection of the King Messiah Yeshua (Jesus).
Concerning the Messiah’s return, the Bible teaches, “And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, ‘Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and He will dwell with them. They will be His people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away’” (Revelation 21:3-4).
The renewed world will be our eternal home with God and His King Messiah Yeshua, and we have the opportunity in the present world to reflect that hope. Rapture on the other hand invites us to escape this world: which is the opposite of the truth seen in the life and ministry of Yeshua. We pray “Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven” according to His instruction, and not “Your will be done in heaven alone far away from the earth!”
2. Some claim that Matthew 24 proves the Rapture.
“And as were the days of Noah, so shall be the coming of the Son of man. For as in those days which were before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day that Noah entered into the ark, and they knew not until the flood came, and took them all away; so shall be the coming of the Son of man. Then shall two men be in the field; one is taken, and one is left: two women shall be grinding at the mill; one is taken, and one is left. Watch therefore: for ye know not on what day your Lord comes. But know this, that if the master of the house had known in what watch the thief was coming, he would have watched, and would not have suffered his house to be broken through.” -Matthew 24:37-43
When reading this teaching of Yeshua we should understand it according to its proper context. The flood destroyed the earth, taking away the wicked and leaving behind God's people (Noah's family). Thus, It was the wicked who were taken and the righteous, Noah and his family who were left behind. Therefore, these verses cannot and do not support a rapture of believers. It is the wicked who will be taken away in the last days and the righteous that will remain.
3. There are those who claim that Luke 17:20-37 proves the Rapture.
“Two women shall be grinding wheat together; the one shall be taken, and the other left. Two men shall be in the field; the one shall be taken, and the other left. And they answered and said to Him, Where, Lord? And He said unto them, where ever the body is, there will the eagles (Vultures) be gathered together.” - Luke 17:35-37 (context v.20-37)
As in the case of the previous Scripture, the context is relative to the days of Noah and those taken are the wicked while those left are the righteous. In the text of Luke 17:35-37 the disciples ask for clarification saying, “Where Lord?” They were not wondering where the one left behind would be? That one had gone nowhere. The disciples were asking “Where will the one who was taken be?” Yeshua answers, "Where ever the body is, there will the birds of prey be gathered together." The Greek aetos[G] translated eagle is also used to translate carrion, thus “birds of prey” is perhaps a better rendering. Carrion (Vultures) gather over dead bodies, therefore, we read “carcass”. Even if we read “eagle” the result is the same, the dead body is the subject.
“Does the eagle mount up at thy command, and make her nest on high? She dwells and abides in the rock, upon the crag of the rock, and the strong place. From thence she seeks the prey, and her eyes behold afar off. Her young ones also suck up blood: and where the slain are, there she is.” - Job 39:27-30
In the Matthew 24 account, Yeshua makes it clearer by saying that the body is a “carcass”. Thus, those taken away cannot have been raptured, rather, they are the wicked dead.
4. There are many Christians who use the phrase "coming as a thief" as proof of a rapture.
By separating it from the context and believing that Yeshua is coming as a thief for the body of believers, they establish a false theology on a flawed premise. Here’s what the Shaliach (Apostle) Shaul (Paul) says regarding the phrase “comes as a thief”:
“But of the times and the seasons, brothers and sisters, you have no need that I write to you. For you yourselves know perfectly that the day of the Lord will come as a thief in the night. For when they shall say, ‘peace and safety’; then sudden destruction will come upon them, as travail upon a woman with child; and they will not escape. But you, brothers and sisters, are not in darkness, that that day should overtake you as a thief. You are all the children of light, and the children of the day: we are not of the night, nor of darkness.” -1 Thessalonians 5:1-5
First, followers of Messiah understand that there are times and seasons in the outworking of God’s redemptive plan, and Shaul sees no reason to write to them regarding the certainty of their hope in Messiah’s return (v.1).
Second, Shaul clarifies what the believers already know, that “the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night”. Note that it is the day of the Lord and not the Messiah that is referred to.
Third, “they” (not believers but unbelievers), “shall say, ‘peace and safety’; then sudden destruction will come upon them…” This cannot refer to believers because v2 already clarifies that believers know that the day of the Lord will come like a thief upon those who are unprepared.
Fourth, Shaul reaffirms that the believers will not be taken or surprised by the day of the Lord (v.4) because they are not in darkness (night).
Therefore, the day of the Lord will come “as a thief” for the world. It will “come suddenly”, on those who are unaware of Messiah? Shaul (Paul) reminds the community of believers that followers of Messiah Yeshua are not overtaken “as by a thief”, because we will be watching and waiting for the Lord, expecting His return (v.4).
“The thief comes for no other reason, than to steal, and to kill, and to destroy: ‘I am come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly.'” - John 10:10
The Messiah is not a thief, nor should we understand Him figuratively as one who steals. What does a thief come to do? To steal and destroy! Yeshua is not coming to steal and destroy His bride (Body of believers)! Rather, the day of the Lord will bring about the destruction of the wicked.
The day of the Lord will not come like a thief for the body of faith. Rather, the day of the Lord will come as a great surprise to the wicked, just as a sleeping man is surprised by a thief at night.
Therefore, this scripture is also devoid of any evidence supporting a rapture.
5. “And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am.” -John 14:3
Where will Yeshua be? He will be with the Father in the New Jerusalem on the New earth (Rev. 21). Therefore, what need is there for Him to rapture those who He will gather to Himself? There is no need, nor does this Scripture support this false idea.
6. “However, do not rejoice that the spirits submit to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven.” -Luke 10:20
Yes, our names are written in the book of life which is presently held in the heavens. However, Revelation clearly teaches that the New Jerusalem will come down from heaven and that God will dwell with us on the New earth (Rev. 21). Therefore, our names being presently written in heaven does not qualify the Rapture construct. In fact, this verse is identifying believers as Ben Elohiym (Sons of God: God fearers), as set apart from Ben Adam (Sons of humanity: idolaters).
7. The Appearing of the Son of Man
“Then the sign of the Son of Man will appear in heaven. And then all the peoples of the earth will mourn when they see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven, with power and great glory. And He will send His angels with a loud shofar call, and they will gather His elect (Jews) from the four winds, from one end of the heavens to the other.” -Matthew 24:30-31 (Mark 13:24-27)
Notice that it is Yeshua Who will come “in the clouds of heaven”, and not the elect (Jews). Notice also that He will gather the elect (Jews) from the four points of the compass. He does not lift up the elect, He gathers them. The phrase “From one end of the heavens to the other” is an ancient Hebrew idiom meaning “all of the earth”. Therefore, this verse does not support the Rapture construct.
8. Citizenship in Heaven
“But our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Saviour from there, the Lord Yeshua the Messiah, who, by the power that enables Him to bring everything under His control, will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like His glorious body.” -Philippians 3:20-21
As alluded to previously, our names and subsequently our citizenship are presently recorded in the heavens (as members of the Heavenly Kingdom which will descend). However, as also stated previously, the New Jerusalem will come down out of heaven and our residence will be on the new earth in the presence of God the Father and the King Messiah Yeshua.
Not one of the Scriptures proposed as proof by “Rapture” proponents, when read in context using the original languages, support the Rapture construct. In fact, to the contrary, they refute it and in addition, when coupled with the text of Revelation and the wider body of Scripture, they instead properly illuminate the truth that God intends to come down and dwell with us rather than steal us away up into the heavens.
With this in mind, and the fact that neither the books of Daniel or Revelation (the ultimate prophetic descriptions of the latter days) mention a rapture, not once, nor do they imply any kind of rapture, not once; we must conclude that there is no Rapture. Scripture demands it. The reality is that the Rapture theological construct has more in common with the levitation of false esoteric eastern religions than it does with Biblical Judeo-Christianity. In short, the Rapture is a foolish exercise in spiritual escapism.
So when I’m asked, “Yaakov, what’s your take on the Rapture”, I will continue to respond, “Rapture? What Rapture?”
Copyright Yaakov Brown 2020
*Previously published as "Rapture? What Rapture? Deconstructing the Rapture Construct" Copyright 2019 Yaakov Brown
Therefore God allows evil a temporary opportunity in order that evil might destroy itself in seeking to destroy God.
1 Pilate (Pilatos[G], meaning: armed with a spear) then took Yeshua[H] (Iesous[G], Joshua, YHVH Saves, Jesus) and scourged, brutally flogged (mastigoo[G]) Him.
Pilate’s command to scourge Yeshua is not the act of a person who considers the accused to be innocent. Pilate had confirmed that Yeshua was a king of sorts and a possible threat to the stability of Roman occupied Judea. Therefore, the political rhetoric of Pilate in debating the matter with the Jewish religious leaders was simply the means by which he would satisfy Roman law and seek to make himself immune to political repercussions.
Contrary to the suppositions of a number popular albeit misguided Christian scholars, Pilate did not have Yeshua scourged in order to save Him. The scourging itself was known to result in death at times, and cannot therefore be considered a ruse for the purpose of freeing Yeshua. We note that Pilate “took” Yeshua to be scourged. He was an active participant in this vile punishing of an innocent man, and based on Pilate’s history this was certainly not the first time he had done such a thing to the leader of a Jewish uprising.
2 And the Roman soldiers (stratiotes[G]) twisted together a crown of thorns and put it on His head, and put a purple robe on Him; 3 and they began to come up to Him and say, “Rejoice, be glad hail (chairo[G]), King of the Jewish People (Melekh Ha-Yehudiym[H])!” and they struck Him with a rod (rhapisma[G]).
The crown of thorns and purple robe were tools of mockery. Both symbolised kingship, the former a kingship of briars.
Thorns grow prolifically in the Israeli desert and there is a concentration of various thorns in and around Ein Gedi (spring of a kid goat) where David hid from king Saul prior to David’s ascension to the throne of Israel (1 Samuel 23:29, 24:1–2; ). One more recent thorn variety (introduced to the land approx.. 800 years ago) named the Jujube thorn has been given the name “Messiah’s Thorn” by Christians based on the connection between king David and the King Messiah Yeshua.
While we cannot know exactly which thorn was used for the crown of thorns harshly forced upon Yeshua’s head, it is interesting to note the fact that thorns typically grow in the desert and that there is a connection to these thorns and David’s suffering persecution under a king (authority) whose reign God had already determined was to come to an end.
In the case of Yeshua the greater Son of David (King Messiah), the apostate priestly authority of the early first century had already been destined for destruction by God. Sensing that their time of illegitimate power was coming to an end and being jealous of the King Messiah Yeshua, the apostate priesthood like king Saul, sought to persecute the true King.
The crown of thorns full of torture and mockery is none the less a fitting crown for the suffering Servant of Isaiah’s prophecy (Isaiah 52:13-53:12). Yeshua is the ultimate suffering King, not because of His flogging and crucifixion alone (many were flogged and crucified by Rome) but because He suffered the burden of the sins of humanity so that He might deliver us from the wrath of God against sin. The Scripture says “Him (Yeshua) who knew no sin He made to be sin on our behalf; that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.” 2 Corinthians 5:21 and “He Himself (Yeshua) bore our sins in His body on the cross, so that we might die to sin and live to righteousness; for by His wounds you were made whole.” 1 Peter 2:24 and “He (Yeshua) is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world.” 1 John 2:2.
Therefore, the weight of immeasurable suffering endured by Yeshua makes Him King of Thorns (Sorrow) even as His resurrection makes Him King of All, appointed by God. Having known the greatest of sorrows He is able to comfort us in our sorrow, and having overcome death He is able to fill us with the hope of glory.
There is yet another comparison to be made with the mountain goats of Ein Gedi (spring of a kid goat) and the King Messiah, Who is the “Goat for HaShem” of the Yom Kippur sacrifices.
4 Pilate (Pilatos[G]) came out again and said to them (the Jewish religious leaders), “See (eido[G]), I am bringing Him out to you so that you may know (ginosko[G]) that I find no guilt in Him.”
Pilate brings Yeshua out for a show of Roman piety. We have already learned that Pilate was complicit in the arrest of Yeshua and had an ongoing political relationship with the religious leaders of Israel. Pilate knew what the religious leaders wanted and He knew that he needed to get rid of anyone leading an uprising among the Jewish people. Further, he had already sought proof of Yeshua’s kingship and acknowledged Yeshua as a king and therefore had found guilt albeit erroneous. Today we would call this show of Pilate’s virtue signalling, in the first century it would have been considered nothing short of theatrics. Pilate had clearly decided Yeshua was sufficiently guilty to receive a scourging and was simply looking for a way to “wash his hands” of the matter. Pilate, like the religious leaders was a hypocrite of the worst kind.
5 Yeshua[H] then came out, wearing the crown of thorns and the purple robe. Pilate (Pilatos[G]) said to them, “Behold (idou[G], hineih[H]), the Man (ho anthropos[G], ha gaver[H])!”
Pilate mocks Yeshua’s kingship and adds salt to the wounded pride of the religious Jewish leaders by proclaiming “Behold the man”, and idiomatic saying denoting a great king, more accurately “The Great King”.
As one could imagine this insult drove the religious leaders into a frenzy of hatred, firstly toward Pilate and ultimately against the man Whom they considered a greater threat to their religious power over the Jewish nation.
6 So when the chief priests (archiereus[G], hakohaniym[H]) and the servants (huperetes[G]) saw Him, they shouted out saying, “Crucify [destroy], crucify [drive stakes into] (stauroo[G])!” Pilate (Pilatos[G]) said to them, “Take Him yourselves and crucify (stauroo[G]) Him, for I find no crime (aitia[G]) in Him.”
Once again Pilate seeks to exacerbate the religious leaders. Pilate is well aware that the Jewish leaders have no authority under Roman occupation to put anyone to death least of all crucify someone according to the Roman method of execution. What is more Pilate had found crime in Yeshua albeit erroneous, and had intentionally exacerbated the Jewish religious leaders knowing that they would insist on what Pilate also wanted, the death of Yeshua the would be king.
7 The Jewish religious leaders, Judeans (Ioudaios[G], Yehudiym[H]) answered him, “We have a law (nomos[G]), and by that law (Torah[H]) He ought to die because He made Himself (heautou poieo[G]) the Son of God (uihos Theos[G], haBen Elohiym[H]).”
The religious leaders are citing the Torah law against blasphemy (Vayikra [Lev.] 24:16). In their view to call one’s self “a son of God” was acceptable but to call one’s self “the Son of God” was blasphemy. If Yeshua were not ImanuEl (with us God) their claim would have been valid, however Yeshua is God with us making it impossible for Him to have blasphemed.
8 Therefore when Pilate (Pilatos[G]) heard this statement, he was even more afraid; 9 and he entered into the Praetorium (praitōrion[G]) [Governor’s court room] again and said to Yeshua[H], “Where are You from?”
Pilate’s fear was based on superstition and Roman idolatry, something that permeated his household. This is corroborated by his wife’s dream which she interpreted as an ill omen (Matthew 27:19). Pilate wondered whether it were possible that Yeshua were a son of one of the gods (Rome adopted and assimilated gods from all reaches of the empire). Therefore, his question to Yeshua was born not of the fear of the One true God of Israel but due to Pilate’s idolatrous superstition.
But Yeshua[H] did not answer him. 10 So Pilate (Pilatos[G]) said to Him, “You do not speak to me? Do You not see (eido[G]) that I have the power (exousia[G]) to release You, and I have the power (exousia[G]) to crucify [drive stakes into] (stauroo[G]) You?”
Note that Pilate’s fear did not last long. When his authority was rebuffed by Yeshua’s silence he went straight back to the infantile “I’m the one in charge here!”
Yeshua had already explained that His kingdom was not of the present sin affected world. He had given Pilate an opportunity to listen and accept the truth of Who He was. Pilate had brushed Yeshua’s words aside with pagan philosophy saying “What is truth”. Therefore, his present attempts to induce an answer from Yeshua seem ingenuine at best, born of superstitious fear rather than a genuine desire to see Yeshua released. Pilate’s threat bears no weight because it is levelled against the One Who has been given all authority by the Father God.
11 Yeshua[H] answered, “You would have no power (exousia[G]) over Me, unless it had been given you from above; for this reason he (singular) who delivered Me to you holds (echo[G]) greater (megas[G]) sin (hamartia[G]).”
Note that God is in control even of evil. God has allowed Pilate to act unjustly. God could have chosen to save Yeshua but did not. God is either in control of all things or He is not. If He is not then evil has control of certain outcomes and God is not all powerful. Therefore God allows evil a temporary opportunity in order that evil might destroy itself in seeking to destroy God. The created thing is subject to the Creator. Evil is the fruit of a created thing, therefore, both that thing and its fruit are subject to God.
Note also that Yeshua does not say that Pilate is without sin in this matter, just that the sin of the individual who betrayed Him (Judas Iscariot) is greater.
12 As a result of this Pilate (Pilatos[G]) dismissed (apoluo[G]) Him, moreover the Jewish religious leaders, Judeans (Ioudaios[G], Yehudiym[H]) cried out saying, “If you release this Man, you are no friend (philos[G]) of Caesar (Kaisar[G]: severed); everyone who makes himself out a king opposes Caesar.”
Pilate temporarily dismissed Yeshua to the care of the Roman guards but was immediately faced with a poignant reminder of fealty to Caesar. The phrase “Friend of Caesar” is said to have been a title used of those who were held in Caesar’s good graces.
13 Therefore when Pilate (Pilatos[G]) heard these words, he brought Yeshua[H] out, and sat down on the judgment seat at a place called The Pavement, but in a language of the Hebrews (Hebraisti[G]), Gabbatha[A] (mosaic pavement).
Pilate, who had based his entire reasoning regarding the case of Yeshua on the crime of opposing Caesar’s kingship, had convinced himself that the assertion of the Jewish religious leaders was confirmation of the necessary verdict. Therefore, he had Yeshua brought back out from the holding cell where he had temporarily sent Him.
Pilate sat in the seat of judgement on the platform known as Gabbatha in Aramaic (a language of the Hebrews) ready to pass judgement on Yeshua.
14 Now it was a time of preparation (paraskeue[G]) for the Pascha[G] (Chagigah[H], Temple Passover sacrifices); it was about the sixth hour (6am Roman time). And he said to the Jewish religious leaders, Judeans (Ioudaios[G], Yehudiym[H]), “See (eido[G]), your King (basileus[G], Melekh[H])!”
“The sixth hour” is an exception in Yochanan’s recording of time. Here the sixth hour obviously refers to the sixth hour according to Roman reckoning as determined from 12am. Whereas, elsewhere in his gospel Yochanan uses the Jewish standard for measuring time. This can be explained by context. The trial of Yeshua was conducted according to Roman law and therefore the time is described using Roman reckoning. In most other cases because Yochanan is conveying a Jewish gospel to a primarily Jewish audience he uses the Jewish method of reckoning time. Mark’s gospel records that the crucifixion began at the third hour according to Jewish time keeping (9am), three hours after Pilate’s pronouncement of judgement against Yeshua.
“See, your King!” This taunt is clear evidence of Pilate’s unrepentant heart and his insidious motives. He knows that the Jewish religious leaders hate the idea of Yeshua being king of the Jews and that they will demand Yeshua’s death in response to Pilate’s mocking proclamation.
15 So they (the Jewish religious leaders) shouted out, “Away with Him, away with Him, crucify [drive stakes into] (stauroo[G]) Him!” Pilate (Pilatos[G]) said to them, “Shall I crucify [drive stakes into] (stauroo[G]) your King (basileus[G], Melekh[H])?” The chief priests (archiereus[G], hakohaniym[H]) answered, “We have no king (basileus[G], Melekh[H]) but Caesar (Kaisar[G]: severed).”
Once again Pilate pushes home his advantage over the religious Jewish leaders with whom he is locked in a political power struggle. He repeats his previous taunt posing it as a question “Shall I crucify your king?”
We note that it is a select group among the priests, “the chief priests” that answer with the chilling and ironically blasphemous claim “We have no king but Caesar.” The literal meaning here would be that the two chief priests (Annas [retired] and Caiaphas) spoke this phrase.
16 So he (Pilate) then handed Him over to them to be crucified.
Pilate handed Yeshua over to the Roman soldiers tasked with performing the crucifixion. If Pilate believed Yeshua innocent he had every opportunity to deny the religious leaders access to Him, and every opportunity to hold Him quietly for a while and then release Him. Instead he handed Yeshua over, not to the Jewish religious leaders but to his Roman soldiers.
17 They (Roman soldiers) took Yeshua[H], therefore, and He went out, bearing His own cross, to the place called the Place of a Skull, which is called in a language of the Hebrews, Golgotha[A] (Skull).
Historically speaking it seems that those undergoing crucifixion in first century Roman occupied Judea were tasked with carrying the cross beam of their execution stake. We know from Mark 15:21 that Yeshua carried his own cross beam only part of the way to Golgotha at which point Shimon of Cyrene (a Grecian Jew) took over.
The location of Golgotha is debated but was most likely situated outside the first century Jerusalem city walls to the north west.
An interesting Midrash from the 9th century C.E. describes the Messiah as undergoing a similar experience to that of Yeshua. It seems that within the rabbinic Judaism of the 9th century C.E. there were those who either practiced Messianic faith quietly or had adopted and syncretised Messianic ideas.
“In the seven years prior to the coming of the son of David, they will bring iron beams and load them on his neck until his body doubles over and he cries and weeps. Then his voice will rise to the highest places of heaven, and he will say to God, 'Master of the Universe, how much can my strength endure? How much my spirit, my soul, my limbs? Am I not flesh and blood?' It was because of this suffering of the son of David that David wept, saying, 'My strength is dried up like a potsherd' (Psalm 22:16(15)). During this ordeal the Holy One, blessed be he, will say to the son of David, 'Ephrayim, my true Messiah, you took this suffering on yourself long ago, during the six days of creation. And right now, your pain is like my pain [due to the destruction of the Temple].' At this the Messiah will reply, 'Now I am at peace. It is enough for a servant to be like his master.'" -Pesikta Rabbati 36:2
It is interesting to note that the latter portion concerning creation affirms the teaching of Yochanan (John) 1 and Revelation 13:8.
18 There they crucified [drove stakes into] (stauroo[G]) Him, and with Him two other men, one on either side, and Yeshua[H] in between.
Cf. Matthew 27:38, Mark 15:27–28,32, Luke 23:33
The Gospel of Mark interprets this as fulfilment of the prophecy of Isaiah 53:12
“Therefore I will give him a portion among the great,
and he will divide the spoils with the strong,
because he poured out his life unto death,
and was numbered with the transgressors.
For he bore the sin of many,
and made intercession for the transgressors.” -Isaiah 53:12 NIV
19 Pilate (Pilatos[G]) also wrote an inscription and put it on the cross. It was written, “Yeshua Hanatzriy Melekh Hay’hudiym[H]” (Yeshua the Nazarene King of the Jewish People). 20 Therefore many of the Jewish people (Ioudaios[G], Yehudiym[H]) read this inscription, for the place where Yeshua[H] was crucified was near the city (Jerusalem); and it was written in Hebrew, Latin and in Greek.
Pilate wrote this inscription to both taunt the Jewish religious leaders and make clear his legitimate reason for allowing the crucifixion to go ahead. If Yeshua was King of the Jews then He was a threat to the sovereignty of Rome in Judea and a usurper of the authority of Caesar. This was a capital crime.
Contrary to the now prolific Messianic mis-teaching regarding the sign above Yeshua’s head, the Holy Name of God YHVH is not represented. The mis-teaching adds the Hebrew (or Aramaic) “AND” (vav/waw) to the title in order to make it say what the authors’ of this mis-teaching want it to say so as to force the text to meet their albeit altruistic conjecture.
The text of John’s gospel in Greek, and when translated into Latin and Hebrew in order to properly represent the sign hung above Yeshua on the cross reads “Yeshua the Nazarene King of the Jews” and not “Yeshua the Nazarene AND the King of the Jews”.
The difference is plan. “Yeshua HaNatzriy Melekh Yehudiym” does not offer the possibility of the acronym YHVH because there is no “V”. In reality it produces the acronym YHMH (Not the Holy Name). Nor do the other gospels record the title as “Yeshua the Nazarene AND the King of the Jews”. Matthew writes “This is Yeshua King of the Jews”, Mark writes “This is the King of the Jews” but omits “Yeshua”, and Luke writes “This is the King of the Jews” but omits “Yeshua”. Therefore, not only is the YHVH acronym mis-teaching not seen in the Scriptural text of Yochanan (John’s gospel) it is even less tenable in the synoptic gospels.
NB: The Aramaic text doesn’t include the definite article either:
ישוע נצריא מלכא דיהודיא
Yeshua natzraya Malka diy’hudaye
The forced and fabricated attempts of Messianic teachers to make the Holy Name fit into the title above Yeshua’s head is foolish and unnecessary. It causes seekers of truth to identify it as a fabrication and thus reject both the conclusion and the Messiah’s Divine identity. Thus it becomes a stumbling block to non-Messianic Jews and Gentiles alike.
As described by Isaiah the prophet Yeshua is ImanuEl (God with us) regardless of whether the Divine Name is present as an acronym in the title hanging above Him during His crucifixion. There are numerous other valid Scriptural passages that affirm Yeshua’s deity, the multiple I AM statements of John’s gospel notwithstanding.
“For to us a child is born,
a son will be given to us,
and the government will be upon His shoulder.
His Name will be called
Pele Yoeitz (Wonderful Counsellor),
El Gibor (Mighty God)
Aviyad (My Father of Eternity),
Sar Shalom (Prince of Peace).
6 Of the increase of His government
and shalom there will be no end--
on the throne of David and over His kingdom--
to establish it and uphold it
through justice and righteousness
from now until forevermore.
The zeal of Adonai-Tzva’ot
will accomplish this.” -Yishaiyahu (Isaiah) 9:(4)5-(5)6
“14 Therefore Adonai Himself will give you a sign:
Behold, the virgin will conceive.
When she is giving birth to a son,
she will call his name Imanu El.
15 He will be eating curds and honey
by the time he knows to refuse evil
and choose good.” -Yishaiyahu (Isaiah) 7:14-15
Therefore, it is a flawed and pointless exercise to attempt to force some hidden affirmation of the fact by manipulating the inspired text of the Scripture.
21 So the chief priests (archiereus[G], hakohaniym[H]) of the Jewish people (Ioudaios[G], Yehudiym[H]) were saying to Pilate (Pilatos[G]), “Do not write, ‘Melekh Hay’hudiym[H] (The King of the Jewish People)’; but that He said, ‘Aniy Melekh Hay’hudiym[H] (I am King of the Jewish People)”.’” 22 Pilate (Pilatos[G]) answered, “What I have written I have written.”
Once again Pilate stands by his decision to write the plaque because it best suits his purposes. We note that Yeshua never said “I am the King of the Jews” but “You say so”, in response to Pilate. This is yet another false claim made by the chief priests.
Copyright 2020 Yaakov Brown
John 18: “I AM” And They all Fell Down
“You say that I am a king. For this I have been born, and for this I have come into this world, to testify, bear witness to the immutable truth. Everyone who is of the immutable truth hears in My voice.”
The beginning of the so called “Passion Narrative” John 18:1-19:42 (Matthew 26:30-27:61; Mark 14:26-15:47; Luke 22:39-23:56)
Yeshua’s words to the disciples following the Pesach (Passover) Seder (John 13) and prior to crossing the Kidron valley to Gat Sheminim (Gethsemane), which included an open prayer to the Father concerning protection and reassurances of purpose, now come to a conclusion. What follows takes place across the Kidron valley (east of Jerusalem) in the garden of Gethsemane at the base of the Mount of Olives.
It’s interesting to note that the author of Yochanan’s gospel doesn’t include Yeshua’s anguished prayers in the garden or the inability of the disciples to stay awake and keep watch. However the reference to the cup of suffering (v.11) corresponds to the prayers in the garden (Luke 22:42).
John’s gospel which has been focused from the beginning on the all existing nature of the Messiah now reveals “God with us” as Lamb to slaughter. The impressive supernatural occurrence that results from Yeshua’s powerful declaration of identity in response to those seeking to arrest Him affirms His authority and illuminates further the convergent theme of Creator as Word having entered His creation.
Among other things the gospel writer focuses on the actions of his dear friend Kefa (Peter), a man who is fiercely protective of Yeshua and also suffers great emotional and spiritual turmoil over the denial of Him.
The motives of Pilate are illuminated in John’s gospel which implicitly alludes to his involvement in the arrest of Yeshua (v.3, 12), his nonchalant attitude toward Yeshua’s kingship (v.37-38) and his provocation of the Judean leaders (v.39). It’s worth noting that history records Pilate as a man who sought to provoke the Jews in order to justify harsh military response. He was not the innocent bystander that so many Christian commentators make him out to be.
1 Yeshua[H] (Iesous[G], Joshua, YHVH Saves, Jesus) spoke (epo[G]) these words, then He went forth with His disciples (talmidim[H]) over the valley (ravine) of the Kidron[H] (dark, from the root “kadar” to mourn) , where there was a garden (Gat Sheminim[H], press of olives), in which He entered with His disciples (talmidim[H]). 2 Now Y’hudah[H] (Praise, Judas Iscariot) also, who was betraying Him, knew the place, for Yeshua[H] had often met there with His disciples (talmidim[H]).
“These words” refers to the words taught, spoken, prayed over the last several preceding chapters (from chapter 13 to the present chapter) as Yeshua and His talmidim had walked through Jerusalem from the location of the Passover Seder meal, to the other side of the city (the east side).
The Kidron was known at least in part as a valley of refuse. The Levites had once cast the unclean things which had been cleaned out of the Temple into the Kidron valley at Hezekiah’s command to cleanse the Temple of idolatrous elements (2 Chronicles 29:16). There is a correlation here. Yeshua’s death and resurrection will ultimately cleanse the Temple to such a degree that God Himself and the Lamb will dwell in place of the Temple (Rev. 21:22).
“Kidron” means “darkness and mourning” and may be the physical valley that acts as figure for the “valley of the shadow of death” described in Psalm 23.“Gat Sheminim” means “press of olives (crushing of olives), an olive press”. It is fitting that Yeshua walk through “the valley of the shadow of death” to that place where He would firmly decide to drink the cup of wrath that the Father had given Him to drink. As a result of Yeshua being crushed He would resurrect, return to the Father and pour out the oil of His Spirit upon all who would believe.
There is a correlation to be made between the crossing of the Kidron by Yeshua and His disciples and the crossing of the Kidron made by king David and his retinue (2 Samuel 15:23). In the wake of Absalom’s betrayal of David (a prefigure of Y’hudah’s betrayal of Yeshua), David crosses the valley of darkness and mourning (Kidron) and into exile. In some respects this is what Yeshua is doing here: He will go into a temporary exile through death, but like David before Him He will return a conquering King and Ruler.
Gethsemane was a favourite meeting place of Yeshua and His talmidim. It was located not far from Bethany (the town of Lazarus, Mary and Martha) and was close to the city of Jerusalem (approx. 2.5 km away) so as to be a convergent point in the many travels of Yeshua and His talmidim.
There is another correlation here with respect to the garden. Just as the first Adam received sin into the world in Gan Eden (the garden of Eden [delight]) so too the Last Adam Yeshua (1 Corinthians 15:45) firmly decided to bring about the removal of sin from this world in and through Gat Sheminim (the pressing of olives [oil]).
3 Y’hudah[H] (Praise, Judas Iscariot) then, having received the 600-1000 strong cohort (speira[G], spiral) and servants from the chief priests (archiereus[G], hakohaniym[H]) and the P’rushiym[H] (Separate, distinct, chased ones, Pharisees), came there with torches (phanos[G]) and oil lamps (lampas[G]) and weapons.
“Speira” describes a Roman cohort. This means that Pilate was at least tacitly involved in the arrest of Yeshua. The cohort could not have been deployed without his full knowledge and approval. The Jewish Temple guard was smaller in number and thus could not qualify as a “cohort”. Further the cohort is said to be accompanied by the servants of the chief priests (predominantly Sadducees, some of whom would have been Temple guards) and representatives of the Pharisees (the sect controlling religious politics among the wider Jewish community). The Pharisees did not have their own guard, they were there purely as religious leaders. The full number of those who came to arrest Yeshua was approximately 1200. Matthew’s gospel calls those who came to arrest Yeshua “a great multitude” armed with “swords and long spears” (Matt. 26:47).
4 So Yeshua[H], seeing, perceiving (eido[G]) all the things that were coming upon Him, went forth and said to them, “Whom do you seek?”
Yeshua had already seen these things completed outside of time and space in His position as Word Essence within the Godhead (John 1:1).
17 For this reason the Father (ho Pater[G], ha Av[H]) loves (oheiv[H]) Me, because I lay down My life, breath, soul existence (et-nafshiy[H]) so that I may take it up again. 18 No one, nothing (oudeis[G]) has taken it away from Me or separated (apo[G]) Me from it, but I lay it down on My own initiative, in My Own power, by My Own choice (exousia[G]). I have authority, power, choice (exousia[G]) to lay it down, and to take it up again. This commandment (entole[G]) I received from My Father (Pater mou[G], Aviy[H]).” -Yochanan (John) 10:17-18
The Messiah was prophesied to lay down His life for the people of Israel (Isaiah 53:1-12; Psalm 16:8-11).
Yeshua knew Whom they sought. His question was for their sake. We might understand Yeshua’s question as “You come in the authority of Rome and the Jewish religious politicians, but do you truly realise the authority of the Person Whom you seek?” This is partially revealed to them in the power that emanates from Yeshua in the proceeding verse.
5 They answered Him, “Yeshua[H] the Nasraya[A] (Nazarene, HaNatzriy[H], consecrated, devoted one, from netzer - branch).” He said to them, “I Am, I Exist (ego eimi[G]).” And Y’hudah[H] also, who was betraying Him, was standing with them. 6 So when He said to them, “I Am, I Exist (ego eimi[G]),” they drew back and fell to the ground. 7 Therefore He again asked them, “Whom do you seek?” And they said, “Yeshua[H] the Nasraya[A] (Nazarene, HaNatzriy[H], consecrated, devoted one).”
It is literally true to say that based on the residence of His middle years Yeshua was from the town of Nazareth and was therefore, a Natzriy (Nazarene). It is also true to say that He is the Netzer (Branch) at the root of Natzriy and is come to fully fill prophecy concerning the Mashiach.
Although the speakers do not comprehend what they are saying, the response they give to Yeshua’s question, “we seek Yeshua the consecrated, devoted Branch”, is a prophetic statement of affirmation concerning the role that Yeshua fills as prophesied by the prophet Isaiah:
“Then a shoot will come forth out of the stem of Y’shai,
and a branch (nezter) will bear fruit out of His roots.
2 The Ruach of Adonai will rest upon Him,
the Spirit of wisdom and insight,
the Spirit of counsel and might,
the Spirit of knowledge
and of the fear of Adonai” -Y’shayahu (Isaiah) 11:1-2
Zechariah the prophet speaks a similar word concerning the Messiah but uses a different word for branch “tsemach”.
“Listen well, Joshua kohen gadol, both you and your companions seated before you, because they are men who are a miraculous sign—behold, I will bring forth My servant the Branch.” -Zakhariya (Zechariah) 3:8
“Then speak to him saying, “Thus says Adonai-Tzva’ot: Behold, a man whose Name is the Branch will branch out from his place and build the Temple of Adonai.” -Zakhariya (Zechariah) 6:12 TLV
By using different Hebrew words each prophet describes the strength of the branch at different stages of His ministry.
He said to them, “I Am, I Exist (ego eimi[G]).” (Ehyeh asher Ehyeh) [I have been Who I AM, I will be Who I AM, I AM Who I AM] By this statement Yeshua identifies as YHVH present within humanity and demonstrates power and authority over all things (Exodus 3:14; John 6:35; 8:58).
As Yeshua speaks these words power goes out from Him and causes those who have come to take Him to stagger backward and fall to the ground.
In Hebrew tradition the phrase “fall to the ground”, or “Strike to the ground” can refer to striking a person dead immediately, and is ascribed to God, who performs such acts via His angels, in particular Gabriel (Mighty One of God):
"let the master of thoughts come, (the blessed God,) and take vengeance on you; immediately Gabriel came, והבטן בקרקע, "and struck them to the ground"; and they died immediately.'' -Rav Simeon Ben Shetakh [F. Bavliy. Sanhedrin, fol. 19. 2.]
"if you transgress your father's command, immediately comes Gabriel, and "strikes to the ground".'' -Shemot Rabba, sect. 1. fol. 91. 2.
Therefore, among the religious Jews represented there would have been great fear at the blowing down of those who approached Yeshua. This fear would have been equally present among the superstitious Roman soldiers who witnessed the event. Those who had come to arrest Him were made acutely aware that they would not be successful in their endeavour unless Yeshua allowed them to bind him. All power was in Yeshua’s hands.
8 Yeshua[H] answered, “I told you that I Am, I Exist (ego eimi[G]); so if you seek Me, let these go their way,” 9 to make full (pleroo[G]) the word (ho logos[G], hadavar[H]) which He spoke, “Of those whom You have given Me I lost not one.”
Yeshua declares “I AM” a second time but withholds the power which He had levelled at His pursuers in the first stating of His Divine nature. This is an act of mercy toward His jailors and a clear expression of His decision to lay down His life:
Re: John 10:17. Note that Yeshua lays down His life of His own fruition and power. Neither the thief, nor the wolf, nor any other power is able to take the life of the Messiah except that He allows it. The giving of His life is entirely His decision.
“Of those whom You have given Me I lost not one.” A quoting of John 6:39 which makes an exception of Y’hudah [Judas Iscariot] (who himself chose not to be chosen [given]).
10 Shimon K’fa[H] (Simon [heard] Peter [rock]) then, having a short sword (machaira[G]), drew it and struck the high priest’s (archiereus[G], hakohen hagadol[H]) servant (doulos[G]), and cut off his right ear; and the servant’s (doulos[G]) name was Malchus[H]([kingly] alt. Malchut[H] [kingdom]).
The so called synoptic gospel accounts of this event: Matthew 26:51-52; Mark 14:47; Luke 22:50.
John’s gospel is the only account to name both the perpetrator Peter and the victim Malchus. There are at least two reasons for this. First, John was known to the high priest [v.15-16] and his court and thus was probably personally acquainted with Malchus. Second, John loved and admired Peter’s tenacity and courage in seeking to physically defend Yeshua. John did not act in the same way, perhaps out of fear.
11 So Yeshua[H] said to K’fa[H] (Peter, rock) “Put the short sword (machaira[G]) into the sheath; should I not drink the cup (kos[H]) which the Father (ho Pater[G], Aviy[H]) has given Me?”
“should I not drink the cup which the Father has given Me?” Fits with the account of Luke 22:42.
The cup Yeshua must drink is the cup of God’s wrath against sin. This is the cup we sinners should drink from and yet He (the sinless One) chose to drink it on behalf of all who would receive His atoning work through death on a Roman cross and through His resurrection.
“God made him who had no sin to be a sin offering for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” -2 Corinthians 5:21
“Since we have now been justified by his blood, how much more shall we be saved from God’s wrath through him!” -Romans 5:9 NIV
12 So the 600-1000 strong cohort (speira[G], spiral) and the commander (chiliarchos[G]) and the servants of the Jewish religious leaders, Judeans (Ioudaios[G], Yehudiym[H]), arrested Yeshua[H] and bound Him,
The Greek “chiliarchos” translated “commander” refers to the Roman commander of a cohort of 1000 men. Thus, the Roman commander, the Jewish Temple guards and the religious leaders were jointly responsible for binding Yeshua. In short all present represented the major political and religious interests of both Jerusalem and the Roman Empire and therefore, were all equally culpable. It should be reiterated therefore, that Pilate was complicit in the arrest of Yeshua making His pretence at the subsequent trial all the more abhorrent.
We further note that at approximately 33 years of age Yeshua had shown that He had power to prevent His arrest and yet allowed them to bind Him. This correlates to Isaac, who at the same age allowed Abraham to bind him for sacrifice (Ha Akeidah [The Binding] Bereishit [Genesis] 22).
13 and led Him to Chananyah[H] (Gracious Yah [God], alt. Annas[G], humble) first; for he was father-in-law of Kayafa[A] (Caiaphas, attractive: Yoseph Ben Caiaphas), who was high priest that year.
John’s gospel alone tells of this preliminary hearing held before Annas (Chananyah) the father in law of the High Priest Caiaphas (Kayafa). Once again this makes sense given John’s relationship to the priestly class (v.15-16).
“High priest that year” is an indication that something other than Torah commanded priesthood was being practiced. The high priest of the Torah must be a descendant of Aaron and would be high priest until his death. In the early first century C.E. the priesthood had been defiled by Roman influence and the greed of certain Jewish religious power brokers, thus there was an albeit tenuous political relationship between the Jewish authorities of the time and the Roman Empire via her governor in Judea.
Annas had become high priest in 6 C.E. and reigned in that position until 15 C.E. In addition to Caiaphas many members of Annas’ family became high priest after him, including five of his sons. This was an apostate priesthood that existed in conjunction with Roman rule and was a desecration of the rightful priesthood of Israel. This in part is why Yeshua had set up His own Sanhedrin (Luke 10:1). Yeshua had confirmed the line of His priesthood (of all believers under Messiah) in His talmidim (disciples) as He ritually washed there feet during the Seder meal (John 13:4-17 see my article and note).
Caiaphas (Kayafa) [A.K.A Yoseph Ben Caiaphas] was appointed (contrary to Torah law) by Roman governor Valerius Gratus and served under him from 18 C.E. to 26 C.E. He then served under Pontius Pilate from 26 C.E. to approximately 37 C.E. In order to maintain his position political ties and compromise would have been necessary. He was not a legitimate (according to Torah law) high priest. He was chairman of the Sanhedrin which was made up predominantly of Sadducees. Ultimately Caiaphas held the position of high priest at the behest of Rome, making Pilate’s complicity in the arrest of Yeshua undeniable.
14 Now Kayafa[A] (Caiaphas, attractive: Yoseph Ben Caiaphas) was the one who had advised the Jewish religious leaders, Judeans (Ioudaios[G], Yehudiym[H]) that it was expedient for one man to die on behalf of all the people (kol-ha’am[H]) [11:49-52]. 15 Shimon K’fa[H] (Simon [heard] Peter [rock]) was following Yeshua[H], and so was another disciple [the author John]. Now that disciple was known (gnostos[G]) to the high priest (haKohen hagadol[H]), and entered with Yeshua[H] into the courtyard of the high priest (haKohen hagadol[H]),
God honoured the prophetic nature of the words spoken by Caiaphas (11:49-52) not because Caiaphas was a legitimate high priest but because the role of high priest was one of mediation and revelation to the people of Israel. In fact the legitimate line of Aaron seems to lead us to Yochanan the Immerser as a more likely candidate for a legitimate high priest. Regardless, Yeshua will be raised the Highest Priest of an everlasting priesthood that both precedes and supersedes the priesthood of Aaron.
Verse 14 gives clear evidence in support of translating “Ioudaios” as “Jewish religious leaders or Judeans [in the sense of a sectarian noun]”. The text calls the nation of Israel (all Jews in the land) “the people” and explains that Kayafa (Caiaphas) had advised the Ioudaios (Jewish leaders) on behalf of all Jews Ioudaios (the people). Therefore, the word Ioudaios must be translated according to context and not in an arbitrary manner.
The most obvious candidate for the unnamed disciple is the author Yochanan (John). Based on the inference of the text we can deduce that John was not only in relationship with some members of the Sanhedrin but was also known to the high priest personally. The fact that John was allowed entry based on his relationship to the priesthood and that he was afforded the right to gain entry for Peter (v.16) shows that there were those among the Sanhedrin and Pharisaic sect that remained sympathetic to Yeshua. As is so often the case this pretrial of Yeshua was subject to the loudest voices rather than the correct mode of Torah justice. It is very likely that many in the room disagreed with how Yeshua was treated.
16 but K’fa[H] (Peter) was standing at the door outside. So the other disciple [the author John], who was known (gnostos[G]) to the high priest (hakohen hagadol[H]), went out and spoke to the doorkeeper (thuroros[G]), and brought K’fa[H] (Peter) in. 17 Then the young girl (paidiske[G]) who kept the door (thuroros[G]) said to K’fa[H] (Peter), “You are not also one of this man’s disciples (talmidim[H]), are you?” He said, “I am not.”
Many are quick to pass judgement on Peter for his denial, and of course it was to his shame, however, who among us would have confessed our allegiance to a man accused of capital crime while we stood among his many accusers and at the risk of losing our lives? Peter had just risked his life for Yeshua by cutting of the servant Malchus’s ear in the midst of close to 1000 Roman soldiers and 200 Temple servant guards and Pharisees, was this the act of a coward? Was John questioned? Did John make an effort to physically protect Yeshua? And yet we laud John and decry Peter. Nonsense! Both were righteous, both acted according to their roles.
It is a mistake to presume that John’s gospel seeks to show Peter as a coward. To the contrary, John depicts his dear friend Peter in all the fullness of his humanity and with admiration.
18 Now the servants and the attendants were standing, having made a fire of coals, for it was cold and they were warming themselves; and K’fa[H] (Peter) was also with them, standing and warming himself. 19 The high priest (hakohen hagadol[H]) then questioned Yeshua[H] about His disciples (talmidim[H]), and about His teaching, doctrine, instruction (didache[G]).
The pretrial that follows is illegal according to both Roman and Torah law. There were no legitimate witnesses as to a crime, the accused was not treated with respect or given an advocate, two or three corroborating witnesses were not presented and so on. That a man of such religious authority and political influence as Annas would conduct such a trial shows a lack of integrity and is an abhorrent misuse of power, compounded by the fact that Annas had recently been in the role of high priest and would surely influence Caiaphas in regard to Yeshua’s conviction at the hands of Pilate.
20 Yeshua[H] answered him, “I have spoken openly, unreservedly, without ambiguity (parrhesia[H]) to the world (ho kosmos[G], ha olam[H]); I always taught in the gathering places, the synagogue (sunagoge[G]) and in the house of the temple (ho hieron[G], beiyt hamikdash[H]), where all the Jews (Ioudaios[G], Yehudiym[H]) come together; and I spoke nothing in secret. 21 Why do you question Me? Question those who have heard what I spoke to them; they know what I said.”
Due to context we see that “Ioudaios” is used here to refer to all Jews (Israelis), this being an exception to its more regular usage as a reference to the Jewish religious leaders and or the Judean religious sect of first century Judaism.
Yeshua shines a bright light on the illegitimacy of the pretrial and invokes Torah instruction with His answer.
“Do not spread false reports. Do not help a guilty person by being a malicious witness.” -Shemot (Exodus) 23:1
A judge “must not commit unrighteousness!” -Vayikra (Lev.) 19:15
A judge “must not show favour to or be partial to a litigant!” -Vayikra (Lev.) 19:15
A judge “must not take vengeance or bear a grudge!” -Vayikra (Lev.) 19:18
22 When He had said this, one of the attendants standing nearby struck Yeshua[H], saying, “Is that the way You answer the high priest?” 23 Yeshua[H] answered him, “If I have spoken wrongly, testify of the wrong; but if rightly, why do you strike Me?”
Yeshua had not disrespected the authority (albeit illegitimate) of Annas, rather He had simply demanded that Torah law be followed and appropriate witnesses be presented in order to validate any accusations being levelled against Him.
Note that the One Whose word had sent men reeling and falling to the ground less than 40 minutes prior nonetheless allows himself to be struck. “Like a lamb to the slaughter…”
For the powerless man humility comes easy, but true humility is proved in the gentle response of a strong man.
The striking of one who speaks the truth warrants a weighty fine according to Mishnaic law:
The servant of the high priest who struck Yeshua should have been corrected by the Council, and made to pay the two hundred zuzim, fine required by Mishnaic law for such an offence, this fine could be substantially higher if the dignity of the person abused was deemed laudable. Perhaps in this case as much as 400 zuzim? (Mishnah Bava Kama, c. 8. sect. 6.)
It is interesting to note that the Mishnaic fine due Peter for cutting a man’s ear was four hundred zuzim. (Mishnah. Bava Kama, c. 8, sect. 6.) Given Yeshua’s status the unpaid fine due His offender might be considered to cancel out Peter’s debt.
24 So Chananyah[H] (Gracious Yah [God], alt. Annas[G], humble) sent Him bound to Kayafa[A] (Caiaphas, attractive) the high priest (hakohen hagadol[H]). 25 Now Shimon K’fa[H] (Simon [heard] Peter [rock]) was standing and warming himself. So they said to him, “You are not also of His disciples (talmidim[H]), are you?” He denied it, and said, “I am not.”
Interestingly Yochanan (John the gospel writer) doesn’t record the details of the trial before Caiaphas nor the subsequent meeting of the Sanhedrin the following morning. It seems that Yochanan is more interested in conveying the meta-narrative of Yeshua’s Divinity and redemptive purpose than he is in giving a blow by blow account. He is clearly aware that there are others who have recorded the detail of these events (Matthew 26:59-68, 27:1-2; Mark 14:55-65, 15:1; Luke 22:66-23:1) and is content with conveying the gospel according to the inspiration that the Holy Spirit has afforded him.
It seems that Annas was at least partially convicted by Yeshua’s words. The act of sending Yeshua to Caiaphas places the responsibility of His conviction in the hands of another. However, like Pilate, Annas is complicit and will ultimately be held to account by God.
Sadly the Talmud Bavliy outright lies concerning the events of Yeshua’s trial claiming that after Yeshua was found guilty, a herald went before him forty days declaring his crime, and signifying, that if anyone knew anything worthy in him, to come and declare it (Talmud Bavliy Sanhedrin, fol. 43. 1.). Ironic that this is written in the tractate “Sanhedrin”. This is an unqualified revisionist lie concerning the history of events surrounding Yeshua’s trial. Our rabbis should be ashamed for this false witness against our King Messiah! The polemic nature of their lie is palpable.
Peter’s second denial comes as the trial of Yeshua begins to heat up and the stakes become clearer. This is a life and death moment in time for all associated with Yeshua.
26 One of the servants of the high priest (HaKohen Hagadol[H]), being a relative of the one whose ear K’fa[H] (Peter) cut off, said, “Did I not see you in the garden with Him?” 27 K’fa[H] (Peter) then denied it again, and immediately a rooster crowed.
The final denial by Peter comes in the face of direct confrontation by a witness to his act of defence in the garden of Gethsemane. One has great compassion for Peter at this point given the compounding of the accusations against him and the very real threat of death by association. The rooster crows according to Yeshua’s prophetic words (13:38).
Note that Yochanan does not dwell on Peter’s denial. He simply records it as fulfilling the prophetic word of Yeshua. Peter is dear to Yochanan.
28 Then they led Yeshua[H] from Kayafa[A] (Caiaphas, attractive) into the Praetorium [praitōrion[G]] (Governor’s court room), and it was early, daybreak (proia[G]); and they themselves did not enter into the Praetorium so that they would not be defiled, become ritually unclean (miaino[G]), but might eat the Pascha[G] (Paskha[A] Passover sacrifice).
The ritual uncleanness or defilement mentioned here is not to do with Torah observance but with extrabiblical law that considered an observant Jew to be unclean after entering the home of a gentile. This is why Peter was given the vision of the heavenly cloth filled with all kinds of animals (Acts 10:28).
"the dwelling houses of Gentiles", or idolaters, "are unclean" - Mishnah Oholot, c. 18. sect. 7.
"if the collectors for the government (Romans) enter into a house to dwell in, all in the house are defiled.'' - Maimonides. Mishcab & Mosheb, c. 12. sect. 12.
According to both the Mishnah and Yarhci it was unlawful to to rent out a house in Judea to a pagan or to assist in building a Basilica for them. The Basilica is explained to be a palace, in which judges sit to judge men. (Mishnah. Avoda Zara, c. 1. sect. 8; Yarchi & Bartenora in ib. sect. 7.)
The “Paskha” or festival offering mentioned here is not the Passover meal of the previous evening but the Chagigah (festival sacrifice) made on the day of the Passover during the first century Temple period. Therefore, those who claim that the Seder meal in John’s gospel is not a Seder meal are in error based on a lack of understanding of first century Temple practice (Mishnah Pesachim 6:4 re. the eating of the Chagigah until the intervening night [15 Nisan]).
As further evidence of my assertion: King Josiah is said to offer for the Passovers (plural) three thousand bullocks, and the priests three hundred oxen, and the Levites five hundred oxen (2 Chronicles 35:7). Yarchi interprets these as the peace offerings of the Chagigah (Festival offering), which in second book of Chronicles are called Passovers (plural).
1 Esdras 1:7-9 mentions three thousand calves, besides lambs, that Josiah gave for the Passover; and three hundred by some other persons, and seven hundred by others: Deuteronomy 16:2, is explained of the "Chagigah", in both the Jerusalem and Babylonian Talmud (Talmud Hieros. Pesacb. fol. 33. 1. Talmud Bavliy Pesachim, fol. 70. 2.)
Therefore, besides the Passover lamb, other sacrifices were slain, "in the name of the Passover” (Mishnah Pesachim, c. 6. sect. 5.)
The present text then is referring to the aforementioned Passover sacrifices which the observant first century Jewish men in question were to eat that day, and therefore were being careful not to defile themselves according to the Mishnah.
It should also be noted, that all the seven days of the festival were called the Passover; and those who eat the matzot (unleavened bread), say:
"Let everyone that is hungry, let him come and eat all that he needs, "and keep the Passover".'' - Haggadah Shel Pesach. p. 4. Ed. Rittangel.
29 Therefore Pilate (Pilatos[G], meaning: armed with a spear) went out to them and said, “What accusation do you bring against this Man?”
Knowing what we do about Pilate’s actions during his role as governor of Judea and the fact that a Roman cohort was sent to arrest Yeshua (this could not have happened without Pilate’s approval), it is extremely difficult to take Pilate’s words as a genuine enquiry. He clearly already knew what some of the religious leaders who opposed Yeshua wanted. Therefore, Pilate’s question is a deception. In short, Pilate is a fraud and is complicit in the plan to put Yeshua to death.
Spotlight on Pilate
Pilate had sought to offend and provoke the Jews from the outset. His modus operandi was to provoke and then decimate those whom he saw as the Jewish agitators in Roman occupied Israel. Josephus tells us that Pilate provoked both Jews and Samaritans to riot “in order to abolish Jewish laws,”.
The gospel records Pilate mixing the blood of Galilean Jews with their sacrifices (Luke 13:1). This desecration alone was abhorrent but it was not the only action of its kind perpetrated by Pilate.
(see appendix A. for more details of Pilate’s actions)
30 They answered and said to him, “If this Man were not an evildoer, we would not have delivered Him to you.”
The religious leaders and their adherents had no evidence of evil doing. This was a false and unsupportable claim.
31 So Pilate (Pilatos[G]) said to them, “Take Him yourselves, and judge Him according to your Torah[H], law (nomos[G]).” The Jewish religious leaders, Judeans (Ioudaios[G], Yehudiym[H]) said to him, “We are not permitted to put anyone to death,”
One must hold in a loud and sardonic guffaw (gut wrenching laugh) at the reading of this. Pilate, whose modus operandi was to seek to “abolish Jewish laws” (Josephus), says “Judge Him according to your Torah”. Seriously, you couldn’t make this stuff up if you tried. Pilate is a two faced hypocrite, a liar, and a hater of both the idea of a Jewish Messiah and the Jewish people as a whole.
“We are not permitted to put anyone to death,” According to first century Roman law the Jewish leaders were not authorised to carry out the death penalty except in very rare cases. Therefore, because their false accusation concerned a crime for which they believed the Torah required capital punishment, they were seeking Pilate’s judgement and sentencing of Yeshua. Bottom line, without Pilate’s approval, tacit or otherwise, Yeshua could not be crucified. The washing of his hands would not be sufficient to clean the guilt of Pilate’s unrepentant soul.
32 to make full the word of Yeshua[H] which He spoke, signifying by what kind of death He was about to die [John 3:14-15; 12:32]. 33 Therefore Pilate (Pilatos[G]) entered again into the Praetorium, and summoned Yeshua[H] and said to Him, “Are You the King of the Jews (HaMelekh HaYehudim[H])?”
Yeshua’s word prophesying the type of death He would die (John 3:13-15; 12:32) was significant in that He would not die by stoning, the Torah prescribed method of death for the crime of blasphemy (Vayikra [Lev.] 24:16). This was to fulfil the figure of the snake on the pole held up by Moses to offer a means of redemption to those Israelites suffering snake bites during a plague against their disobedience as they wandered the desert toward the land of Israel (Bamidbar [Num.] 21:8-9; John 3:14-15).
We note that the previous events had taken place outside the Praetorium and that Pilate now brought Yeshua inside in order to talk to him away from the listening ears of the Jewish religious authorities.
Pilate’s question is one that seeks to find grounds for an accusation of insurrection. Anyone claiming to be a king was in direct opposition to the Roman Emperor and was therefore subject to the death penalty. Pilate had already killed Galilean Jews for similar reason (Luke 13:1). It seems clear that Pilate saw killing Yeshua as a win, win. First, he would be putting down a possible Messianic insurrection and second he would gain a large political favour from the subservient Jewish religious authorities, making his job as governor much easier (at least for a time). Of course history tells us that he did not manage to restrain himself after Yeshua’s death, and was reported to the Emperor by the Samaritans whom he had sought to decimate on Mount Gerizim in 36 C.E.
34 Yeshua[H] answered, “Are you saying this from your own soul (men nafshakh[A], alt. on your own initiative), or did others tell you about Me?” 35 Pilate (Pilatos[G]) answered, “I am not a Jew (Ioudaios[G]), am I? Your own people (ethnos[G]) and the chief priests (archiereus[G], HaKohaniym[H]) delivered You to me; what have You done?”
Yeshua knows Pilate’s motives and the influence the religious leaders have had upon him. By addressing Pilate’s own soul Yeshua’s question affords Pilate an opportunity to repent but Pilate does not take the opportunity to do so.
Pilate’s reaction to Yeshua’s words is disingenuous, he lies to both Yeshua and himself. Pilate had okayed the sending of the cohort to assist the Jewish authorities in arresting Yeshua, therefore, he is lying in his pretence regarding the delivery of Yeshua by the chief priests. Notice that Pilate says “your people”. Pilate’s character as exhibited in the history of his actions as governor of Judea tells us that he detested the Jews, Yeshua being one of them.
36 Yeshua[H] answered, “My kingdom is not of this world (ho kosmos[G], haolam[H]). If My kingdom (malchutiy[H]) were of this world (ho kosmos[G], haolam[H]), then My servants would be fighting so that I would not be handed over to the Jewish religious leaders, Judeans (Ioudaios[G], Yehudiym[H]); but as it is, My kingdom (malchutiy[H]) is not from this place, not of this side (enteuthen[G]).”
Yeshua is King of all and will reign over the renewed heavens and earth, a world devoid of sin. He is not saying that He is not King over this present world, rather He is saying that His Kingdom is not of (born of, seeded by) this sin affected world. His Kingdom is of the heavens, of God Himself. Yeshua will return to reign forever. Pilate was unable to comprehend Yeshua’s response because he was deeply rooted in a kingdom of this world (the temporary Roman kingdom).
Note the Hebrew “Malchutiy” My Kingdom. It sounds familiar because it shares its root with the name of the servant of the high priest “Malchus” kingdom. The temporal and fallen kingdom of Malchus (representing the apostate priesthood. A kingdom of idolatry) was deaf to the Word of Yeshua and His Kingdom everlasting.
One Jewish commentator agrees that the Messiah is not of this world:
"the Messiah is separated from the world, because he is absolutely intellectual; but the world is corporeal; how then should the Messiah be in this world, when the world is corporeal, and ענין המשיח הוא אלהי לא גשמי, "the business of the Messiah is divine, and not corporeal?" - Rav Y’hudah Bezaleel Nizeach Israel, fol. 48.
37 Therefore Pilate (Pilatos[G]) said to Him, “So You are a king?” Yeshua[H] answered, “You say that I am a king. For this I have been born, and for this I have come into this world (ho kosmos[G], haolam[H]), to testify, bear witness (martureo[G]) to the immutable truth (aletheia[G], haEmet[H]). Everyone who is of the immutable truth (aletheia[G], haEmet[H]) hears in My voice (phone[G], bekoliy[H]).”
“So you are a king” Pilate is hoping to confirm a legitimate reason to put Yeshua to death.
Yeshua holds Pilate accountable for his assertion “You say I am a King.” Then Yeshua proves Pilate with the words “Everyone who is of the immutable truth hears in My voice.” And Pilate confirms his true nature by saying, “What is Truth?”
38 Pilate (Pilatos[G]) said to Him, “What is truth?” And when he had said this, he went out again to the Jewish religious leaders, Judeans (Ioudaios[G], Yehudiym[H]) and said to them, “I find no reason to punish Him.
This performance places Pilate in the ultimate position of power. He has assured himself that he has a legitimate reason to kill Yeshua based on Roman law concerning insurrection and at the same time knows he can achieve this by passing the buck onto the Jewish religious authorities thus killing two birds with one stone. Therefore, Pilate is lying when he says “I find no reason to punish Him”. Pilate had sought the reason by asking that specific question concerning Yeshua’s Kingship.
The Talmud asks the same question Pilate has asked but gives an authoritative answer:
"What is truth?" and the answer is “the living God, and the King of the World!” - Talmud Hieros Sanhedrin, fol. 18. 1.
Therefore, the better question is “Who is Truth”. God defines Truth and truth reflects the character of God.
39 But you have a custom that I release someone for you at the Pesach[H] (Passover); do you wish then that I release for you the King of the Jews (HaMelekh HaYehudim[H])?”
This next question of Pilate which is posed to some of the Jewish religious leaders is insidious, duplicitous, he knows that the Jewish religious authorities are already enraged at the idea that Yeshua might be the King of the Jews. Added to this is the specific inference “King of the Jewish religious leaders, the Judean sect Ioudaios”. Pilate is intentionally rubbing their noses in it and provoking the result he wants. He knows that by using this title he will bait the Jewish religious authorities into choosing someone other than Yeshua to set free according to the governor’s Passover concession.
Bear in mind that there were not more than a thousand Jews present alongside the Roman cohort and Praetorium staff. By far the majority of Jews in Israel at the time were opposed to the political manipulation of the religious leaders and their plan to put Yeshua to death. The majority of Jews at the time (as testified to by the gospel narratives) if they were not certain that Yeshua was the promised Messiah, they were at least convinced He was Elijah, or the prophet Moses spoke of, or one of the other prophets, risen and active in the land. They believed this based on the miraculous signs He worked and the righteous teaching He proclaimed concerning the reconciliation of the Kingdom.
40 So they cried out again, saying, “Not this Man, but Bar-abbas[A] (Covenant son of the father/daddy).” Now Bar-abbas[A] was a robber (lestes[G]).
What a heart wrenching irony that the man set free is named Covenant Son of the Father? As well as dying as a substitution for all who would receive Him, Yeshua literally dies in place of a Jewish robber named Covenant Son of the Father.
Copyright 2020 Yaakov Brown
Philo of Alexandria, The embassy to Caligula 299-305
Pilate was an official who had been appointed prefect of Judaea. With the intention of annoying the Jews rather than of honouring Tiberius, he set up gilded shields in Herod's palace in the Holy City. They bore no figure and nothing else that was forbidden, but only the briefest possible inscription, which stated two things - the name of the dedicator and that of the person in whose honour the dedication was made.
But when the Jews at large learnt of this action, which was indeed already widely known, they chose as their spokesmen the king's [Herod the Great] four sons, who enjoyed prestige and rank equal to that of kings, his other descendants, and their own officials, and besought Pilate to undo his innovation in the shape of the shields, and not to violate their native customs, which had hitherto been invariably preserved inviolate by kings and emperors alike.
When Pilate, who was a man of inflexible, stubborn and cruel disposition, obstinately refused, they shouted: "Do not cause a revolt! Do not cause a war! Do not break the peace! Disrespect done to our ancient laws brings no honour to the emperor. Do not make Tiberius an excuse for insulting our nation. He does not want any of our traditions done away with. If you say that he does, show us some decree or letter or something of the sort, so that we may cease troubling you and appeal to our master by means of an embassy."
This last remark exasperated Pilate most of all, for he was afraid that if they really sent an embassy, they would bring accusations against the rest of his administration as well, specifying in detail his venality, his violence, his thefts, his assaults, his abusive behaviour, his frequent executions of untried prisoners, and his endless savage ferocity.
So, as he was a spiteful and angry person, he was in a serious dilemma; for he had neither the courage to remove what he had once set up, nor the desire to do anything which would please his subjects, but at the same time he was well aware of Tiberius' firmness on these matters. When the Jewish officials saw this, and realized that Pilate was regretting what he had done, although he did not wish to show it, they wrote a letter to Tiberius, pleading their case as forcibly as they could.
What words, what threats Tiberius uttered against Pilate when he read it! It would be superfluous to describe his anger, although he was not easily moved to anger, since his reaction speaks for itself.
For immediately, without even waiting until the next day, he wrote to Pilate, reproaching and rebuking him a thousand times for his new-fangled audacity and telling him to remove the shields at once and have them taken from the capital to the coastal city of Caesarea [...], to be dedicated in the temple of Augustus. This was duly done. In this way both the honour of the emperor and the traditional policy regarding Jerusalem were alike preserved.
Flavius Josephus, The Jewish War 2.169-174
Pilate, being sent by Tiberius as prefect to Judaea, introduced into Jerusalem by night and under cover the effigies of Caesar which are called standards.
This proceeding, when day broke, aroused immense excitement among the Jews; those on the spot were in consternation, considering their laws to have been trampled under foot, as those laws permit no image to be erected in the city; while the indignation of the townspeople stirred the countryfolk, who flocked together in crowds.
Hastening after Pilate to Caesarea, the Jews implored him to remove the standards from Jerusalem and to uphold the laws of their ancestors. When Pilate refused, they fell prostrate around his palace and for five whole days and nights remained motionless in that position.
On the ensuing day Pilate took his seat on his tribunal in the great stadium and summoning the multitude, with the apparent intention of answering them, gave the arranged signal to his armed soldiers to surround the Jews.
Finding themselves in a ring of troops, three deep, the Jews were struck dumb at this unexpected sight. Pilate, after threatening to cut them down, if they refused to admit Caesar's images, signalled to the soldiers to draw their swords.
Thereupon the Jews, as by concerted action, flung themselves in a body on the ground, extended their necks, and exclaimed that they were ready rather to die than to transgress the law. Overcome with astonishment at such intense religious zeal, Pilate gave orders for the immediate removal of the standards from Jerusalem.
Flavius Josephus, Jewish Antiquities 18.55-59
Now Pilate, the prefect of Judaea, when he brought his army from Caesarea and removed it to winter quarters in Jerusalem, took a bold step in subversion of the Jewish practices, by introducing into the city the busts of the emperor that were attached to the military standards, for our law forbids the making of images.
It was for this reason that the previous prefects, when they entered the city, used standards that had no such ornaments. Pilate was the first to bring the images into Jerusalem and set them up, doing it without the knowledge of the people, for he entered at night.
But when the people discovered it, they went in a throng to Caesarea and for many days entreated him to take away the images. He refused to yield, since to do so would be an outrage to the emperor; however, since they did not cease entreating him, on the sixth day he secretly armed and placed his troops in position, while he himself came to the speaker's stand. This had been constructed in the stadium, which provided concealment for the army that lay in wait.
When the Jews again engaged in supplication, at a pre-arranged signal he surrounded them with his soldiers and threatened to punish them at once with death if they did not put an end to their tumult and return to their own places.
But they, casting themselves prostrate and baring their throats, declared that they had gladly welcomed death rather than make bold to transgress the wise provisions of the laws. Pilate, astonished at the strength of their devotion to the laws, straightway removed the images from Jerusalem and brought them back to Caesarea.
Josephus on Pontius Pilate and the Aqueduct Riots
Flavius Josephus, The Jewish War 2.175-177
"On a later occasion he provoked a fresh uproar by expending upon the construction of an aqueduct the sacred treasure known as Corbonas; the water was brought from a distance of seventy kilometres. Indignant at this proceeding, the populace formed a ring round the tribunal of Pilate, then on a visit to Jerusalem, and besieged him with angry clamour.
He, foreseeing the tumult, had interspersed among the crowd a troop of his soldiers, armed but disguised in civilian dress, with orders not to use their swords, but to beat any rioters with cudgels. He now from his tribunal gave the agreed signal.
Large numbers of the Jews perished, some from the blows which they received, others trodden to death by their companions in the ensuing flight. Cowed by the fate of the victims, the multitude was reduced to silence."
Flavius Josephus, Jewish Antiquities 18.60-62
"He spent money from the sacred treasury in the construction of an aqueduct to bring water into Jerusalem, intercepting the source of the stream at a distance of thirty-five kilometres. The Jews did not acquiesce in the operations that this involved; and tens of thousands of men assembled and cried out against him, bidding him relinquish his promotion of such designs. Some too even hurled insults and abuse of the sort that a throng will commonly engage in.
He thereupon ordered a large number of soldiers to be dressed in Jewish garments, under which they carried clubs, and he sent them off this way and that, thus surrounding the Jews, whom he ordered to withdraw. When the Jews were in full torrent of abuse he gave his soldiers the prearranged signal.
They, however, inflicted much harder blows than Pilate had ordered, punishing alike both those who were rioting and those who were not. But the Jews showed no faint-heartedness; and so, caught unarmed, as they were, by men delivering a prepared attack, many of them actually were slain on the spot, while some withdrew disabled by blows. Thus ended the uprising."
© 2020 Yaakov Brown
Founder of the Beth Melekh International Messiah Following Jewish Community,