by Matthew W. Bassford
As different as the four gospels are, all four of them put their greatest emphasis on the events of Jesus’ death, burial, and resurrection. Before that point, their narratives take different paths and discuss different things. At that point, all of them focus on the garden, the cross, and the empty tomb.
However, even before the gospels come together, we can feel them beginning to converge. Jesus, even though He will be the innocent victim, is the one firmly in control of the situation, bringing the threads of history together. Indeed, even though Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John are interested in different facets of the story, they all reveal Jesus doing the same thing: turning up the pressure on the chief priests.
John 12:9-11 reports that the resurrected Lazarus was, not surprisingly, attracting tremendous attention from the crowds. In response, the Jewish leaders decide not to believe Jesus because of the miracle, but to try to kill the evidence of the miracle—Lazarus—in order to keep the people from believing.
In Luke’s account of the Triumphal Entry in Luke 19:37-38, the crowds are celebrating Jesus’ entry as King into Jerusalem, using the words of Psalm 118:26. This is rebellion-against-the-Romans talk, so the Pharisees urge Jesus to quiet them. He refuses.
In Mark 11:15-17, Jesus cleanses the temple, driving out all the animal sellers and moneychangers who were clogging the temple courts. Everyone in Jesus’ day would have known who got a cut from all the commerce—the chief priests. According to Matthew 21:14-17, in response to His miracles of healing, the crowds begin to hosanna Jesus as the Son of David—more incitement to rebellion. The chief priests get angry and demand that Jesus shush them. Again, He refuses.
In this context, our final reading for the week is unsurprising. The chief priests plot with Judas for Jesus to be betrayed into their hands.
If they weren’t so utterly corrupt and evil, it would be easy to feel sympathy for the Jewish leaders at this point. Jesus has them completely boxed in. His spectacular miracles have won over the crowds. Those same crowds are saying irresponsible things about Jesus as King, and Jesus is allowing them to continue. He is challenging their authority and showing them up as spiritual frauds. All of this is happening in the spiritually volatile atmosphere of the week before Passover, a holiday that celebrated the Jews’ deliverance from a foreign oppressor.
If the chief priests do nothing, the situation will spin out of their control swiftly. If they decide to back Jesus so that the whole nation rises against the Romans, they are convinced that the Romans will win and destroy them along with Jesus. The only solution that is left is to solve the problem by killing the man, the option they decide to take.
We often think of the Jewish leaders as these devious, cunning plotters, and they were. However, all through the week before Jesus’ death, we see them running scared, constantly thwarted in their attempts to restore order by Jesus. They are the rulers of the nation, but they aren’t directing events. He is, and He is directing them toward a conclusion that nobody but God had even dreamed was possible.