Who was responsible for Jesus’ arrest, his trial, and eventually his death? It’s not an easy question to answer, and its one that the gospels approach in various different ways.
In one sense, it seems that the Romans had a large role to play in the events of Easter. Pilate oversaw Jesus’ trial, and referred Jesus to the Herod, the Roman Ruler in Galilee (Luke 23:1-25). Even though Pilate could find no reason to condemn Jesus, because of fear of the crowd and not wanting to appear disloyal to Caesar, Pilate eventually condemned Jesus to death as a potential revolutionary (Matt 27:23-24; Mark 15:15; Luke 23:4-5, 13-16, 23-24).
In another sense, it seems that the Jewish rulers may have been to blame. They plotted against him, orchestrated his arrest, and tried to fabricate evidence against him designed to incriminate him in the eyes of the Romans. They accused him of threatening to literally destroy the Temple, having missed the point of his teaching! And they felt he was a danger to the Jewish faith; a false prophet leading people astray. (Matt 26:59-68; Mark 15:55-65; John 2:19-22;)
And yet, whilst it seems historically plausible to say that Jesus’ arrest and death was orchestrated by both the Romans and the Religious Leaders, the gospels also offer a third angle: that Jesus himself was very much in charge.
Jesus was fully aware of his impending death. He knew that anyone who dared say the things he said and do the things he did would soon find himself on the wrong side of the authorities. But he was willing to face that possibility for the good of his followers. As he said ‘I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep […] I lay down my life – only to take it up again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down and authority to take it up again’ (John 10:11, 17-18).
We see this complete sense of control throughout the events of Easter Week. When Judas came to betray him, Jesus wasn’t caught off guard. With pain in his heart, no doubt, he told Judas, ‘“Do what you came for, friend.” Then the men stepped forward, seized Jesus and arrested him’ (Matthew 26:50).
When standing before the crowd who were about to condemn him, Jesus didn’t shrink back in fear, or try to remain inconspicuous. Rather, he took the initiative and, ‘knowing all that was going to happen to him, he went out and asked them, “Who is it you want?” “Jesus of Nazareth,” they replied. “I am he,” Jesus said.’ (John 18:4-5)
In the midst of mockery and brutality, Pilate said to Jesus ‘“Don’t you realize I have power either to free you or to crucify you?” Jesus answered, “You would have no power over me if it were not given to you from above”’ (John 19:10-11).
The story of Easter, dark and painful though it is, paints an amazing picture of the power and authority of Jesus. Even when he was being abused, tortured and ultimately executed, there was never a moment when things were out of his control. His death was not a defeat, but a glorious part of God’s plan to rescue the world.
This should be an enormous source of wonder and strength for us. For if Jesus could retain control and authority even in his darkest moments, we can trust that he is in complete control during our darkest moments.
We worship a God who can provide support when we are vulnerable. No circumstances of our lives are out of His control and He is strong enough to help us bear anything that comes our way.
Questions for Reflection
- How does knowing the authority of Jesus give you strength to face difficult circumstances?
- Are there areas right now where it appears to you that God is absent? What would it look like for you to take steps of faith, trusting that God is really in control?
Why not use the following to help you to pray today:
Lord Jesus, thank you that you are in complete control, and that even in the events of Easter Week, your life was not taken from you, but laid down willingly for our sake. I thank you that we can be sure of your authority and power in our lives today, and even when it may feel that you are absent, we can be sure that you are at work. I choose to trust in you, and I pray for strength to face whatever circumstances come my way. Amen.
If you find yourself with some extra time today, why not read Matthew 26 and reflect on Jesus’ experience in the Garden of Gethsemane. What does this teach us about trusting in God’s will? This talk may help you.
Image: Let Jesus Bring You Light, by Vinoth Chandar. Used under CC
This post was originally written for ChristChurch London in 2014.