Politics in the Days of Jesus

God’s timing always works out, though some may wonder why Jesus Christ was sent to this Earth at this particular time in history we read about in the Bible. It was actually a very pivotal time in history and what we call the ancient world was more modern than we give it credit for. I do not pretend to be a religious scholar, however as a history and government student and teacher I have always been drawn to this period.

There was not an internet or satellite television that could have spread the word of the coming of Christ like we have today. However communication at the time was ahead of any period in the past. One of the things the Roman Empire was noted for was its building a network of roads. These roads were so advanced and lasting that for at least a thousand years after the fall of the empire they were were still in use. The roads were not designed particularly for a mail or messenger service, though they served that purpose. With an empire so vast there was a need for armies to make quick transit from one end of Europe to another and elsewhere. Paul and other Christian missionaries would later make use of these roads to carry the Gospel message, something not possible before the days of the Romans.

It was also a time in history when there was great division within the empire and there was political intrigue in what the Romans labeled Palestine as there was in Rome itself. While Roman law was the most advanced system that man had yet to come up with it also could be twisted to meet the needs of those in power. This was not restricted to Rome and certainly was true in Palestine. Jewish law had the distinction of going back to The Ten Commandments and being the first laws designed by God for man. Again things could be twisted to meet the needs of those in power. It was such twists in the law that would be used against Jesus.

In Palestine itself the leadership of the people was very divided. It was a part of the Roman Empire, however the Roman government tried to at least make local peoples think there was some degree of local control. Sometimes this worked in places like Germania and Egypt, but not so with the Jewish people. Herod the Great (37-4 BC) was appointed by the Romans to serve as king of the Jews because they felt he had the leadership ability and was Jewish. The Jewish people never accepted him as legitimate because he was not of the line of David. The Romans were not into Jewish history. Herod was called “The Great” because he was a builder. He restored the temple in Jerusalem and built the city of Caesaria which was where the Romans made their headquarters to run Palestine.

Herod was a brilliant politician and a cruel tyrant. He was very concerned about renegade groups of Jews who wanted revolution. Herod knew that many Jews looked toward the coming of a messiah, a warrior king in the tradition of David who would drive the Romans out and reestablish Israel as an empire. Therefore when three wise men from other lands came to his throne in Jerusalem seeking to see the newborn king, it was a matter of great concern. Herod had it researched and was informed that this birth would take place in Bethlehem. So the travelers were requested to go to that town and then report back so he too would worship this Messiah. As we know from scripture the wise men did see the Baby Jesus, but were warned by an angel to not go back to report to Herod. Herod was angry when they did not return and to take no chances sent soldiers to kill every boy two years old and under in that community. A horrible act of genocide that did not work as an angel warned Joseph and Mary to take Jesus and leave.

Society in Jewish Palestine was under three major sects. There were the Pharisees who were technically lay and not religious leaders, but leaders in the law. Primarily Old Testament, the first five books. They considered themselves the leaders of the common people and the ones to lead them on the right path. They believed in resurrection. The elite sect was the Sadducees as they were the religious leaders, the keepers of the temple as priests and were under the leadership of the high priest. They rejected the traditional beliefs of the Pharisees and they ruled the court system. It was the Sadducees who made up the Sanhedrin, the Jewish High Council of seventy members who managed the internal legal and religious affairs of Judaism. They also rejected the ideas of resurrection held by the Pharisees. A third group, the Essenes were not politically active, they believed in piety, poverty and a monastic life.

When Jesus Christ began his ministry he related to the needs of the people. However, he had to contend with the Pharisees. The Pharisees did not have social media at their disposal, however they often had agents among the crowds that assembled to see Jesus and who would challenge Him. They would try to get Jesus to make mistakes that could lead to arrest or stoning. Jesus often accused the Pharisees of hypocrisy and for trying to put human rules over God’s righteous standards. They were leading the people away from God’s plan of redemption.

In the story of Jesus and the crucifixion there were three main figures, real power players, who had a love hate relationship with each other. They had little respect for each other, however to keep control over the common citizenry there were times when they had to cooperate.

Serving as a political appointee by the emperor, Pontus Pilate was the prefect of the Roman province of Judea from 26 to 36 AD. He often offended the religious sensibilities of his subjects and also had to use harsh military reprisals against revolutionaries of whom there were many. This was not a plum appointment for a man like Pilate who had ambitions. Rome with its orgies and blood letting games were more to his taste. Pilate knew that to keep the support of Rome he should not make waves.

The Romans also appointed a person they thought would keep the locals happy, a puppet king of Galilee. Herod Antipas was the sixth son of Herod the Great and he was suspected to have caused the death of some of his siblings. The Jews were offended by him for an illegal marriage to his half brother’s wife Herodias. He divorced his own wife for Herodias who divorced her husband to gain power for herself and her daughter Salome. The two women had power enough over Herod Antipas to cause him to put to death their severest critic, John the Baptist.

The third and least known about was Joseph Caiaphas who had in many ways the most political clout. Known simply as Caiaphas in the New Testament, he was the Jewish High Priest, the leader with another priest, Annas of the Sanhedrin. The First Century Historian, Josephus, considered the most reliable historical source outside of the Bible, related that Caiaphas was the leader during turbulent times. Palestine was ripe for a major revolution. It was Caiaphas who saw a need for Pharisees and Sadducees to unite and to do something about this Jesus. The triumphant arrival of Jesus on Palm Sunday caused a great deal of dismay among the Sanhedrin. Large crowds welcomed this worker of miracles who spoke eloquently on subjects close to the hearts of the people. There was also a strong feeling that Jesus would be the new King David who would lead a revolution against the established leadership.

Satanic powers were fully at work in leading the religious elite, the lay public leaders and Roman authorities to try to find a way to deal with one who claimed authority as the Son of God. The Sanhedrin took a major role, however they were aware that there were influential people like Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathea who believed in Jesus and would support him. Hence it was necessary to find a way into the inner circle surrounding Jesus, one of the disciples who would be willing to betray him for money, get him arrested during the night and put on trial. All of this had been predicted by Jesus, however even the closest of his followers could not believe it.

This brings us to the greatest legal misjustices in history. A time when political greed would supersede the laws of two divergent groups of people. Illegal trials by both the Sanhedrin and the Romans.

Under Jewish law and tradition trials by the Sanhedrin were not to be held at night and all members had to be given notification. This was not done. There was also an interesting tradition that if all members voted for the death of a person then they should consider a new trial at a later date. Though treated as an enemy there was hesitancy to actually kill Jesus, it would be better to let the Romans do it.

The Roman court system had many interesting elements that are followed today in Europe and the United States. The right to representation which later would mean a lawyer had its beginnings then. Pilate opted to be the judge and jury and admitted he could see no guilt in Jesus. He tried to pass the case off to Herod Antipas who likely felt some guilt in his killing of John the Baptist. However Jesus would not speak to the puppet king and was sent back to Pilate.

Christ in front of Pontius Pilate

Pilate felt he had a real dilemma. He did believe in the innocence of this man, but the Jewish leaders warned that permitting Jesus to have any leniency could not sit well in Rome and make Pilate look weak. A flogging was ordered and this was an act that often killed the person. Jesus suffered terribly but did not die.

There was still a demand for crucifixion and Pilate felt he could get by with honoring a local custom. Offer the people the choice of letting either Jesus or a known rabble rousing revolutionary go free. Jesus was not chosen for freedom and there was a mob frenzy for His death. Who these people were who called for death is not clearly defined and it is very likely that agents of the Sanhedrin, Sadducees and Pharisees went among the crowd and stirred them against Jesus. Does this sort of thing sound familiar today?

Pilate was forced to go ahead with the crucifixion and now another puzzlement. Under Roman law you could not be punished twice for the same thing. Flogging was considered an ultimate punishment. So we have here a case of double jeopardy. A continuation of more than one miscarriage of justice.

Of course we know that was all along what Jesus Christ knew must be done for the salvation of all who believed in him. The cruel death He faced and then the triumphant Resurrection had been pointed to as far back as Genesis and referred to many times by prophets over the centuries.

Jesus then came at the right time in history and we know he is scheduled to return. As we look at the divisions and political game playing in our nation and throughout the world one must wonder if the stage is being set for His return. Jesus said no one knew the time this would happen, not even the angels, only God the father. Whenever it happens, this writer wants to be found on task and that is what is appreciated about the Politichicks. They are not ignoring what is going on with the world stage, nor are they wringing their hands and giving up all as lost. They are on task as we all should be.

Dr. Fred Eichelman

Dr. Fred Eichelman is a retired teacher and a director for Point North Outreach, a Christian media organization. He recently had a book published, Faith, Family, Film-A Teacher's Trek. Fred is a former local Republican Committee chairman and has attended hundreds of conventions from political to science fiction. He sees the two as compatible. Fred also tells us he values very much a title we gave him since he could not be a PolitiChick. PolitiDude.

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