The Way of the Cross – Lenten Season 2018
“While he was still speaking a crowd came up, and the man who was called Judas, one of the twelve, was leading them. He approached Jesus to kiss him, but Jesus asked him, “Judas, are you betraying the Son of Man with a kiss?”
When Jesus’ followers saw what was going to happen, they said, “Lord, should we strike with our swords?” And one of the struck the servant of the high priest, cutting off his right ear.
But Jesus answered, “No more of this!” And he touched the man’s ear and healed him.
Then Jesus said to the chief priests, the officers of the temple guard, and the elders, who had come for him,” Am I leading a rebellion, that you have come with swords and clubs? Every day I was with you in the temple courts, and you did not lay a hand on me.
But this is your hour – when darkness reigns” (Luke 22: 47-53 NIV).
The Divine Irony
It was time.
The mob of Roman soldiers and Temple guards, together with some of the chief priests and elders and their servants had arrived. The Roman soldiers marched in a double file, two hundred in strength, with a Tribune at their head. The rest of the mob was scattered along the line with the majority lagging behind, lacking the discipline for a quick, hard march. Only the temple guards with their robes of purple and red, only dimly visible in the light of the Paschal moon, tried to imitate the discipline and march of the soldiers.
The chief priests and elders were at the front of the line with the Tribune, alternately walking and running in a rather undignified manner to keep up with the Roman soldiers.
Judas was directing the way through the darkness, keeping a sharp eye for the turn that would indicate the way to the small garden estate called Gethsemane, where he was supposed to meet up with Jesus and the others. He was trying to give some last minute instructions to the Roman captain, attempting to maintain the illusion that somehow he was in charge of the expedition. It wasn’t working.
This man, Jesus, wasn’t going to be easy to capture in the darkness, especially in this maze of trees and secret pathways, thought the Tribune to himself. It was hard enough to capture these brigands during the day. What were they doing out here in the middle of the night anyway? But he had his orders and he knew that politics was at the heart of this sorry affair.
You couldn’t exactly capture a popular revolutionary in the middle of a crowded city during the one big feast of the year that celebrated freedom from their enemies, he thought cynically. That was a sure recipe for disaster. Obviously the religious leaders were fed up with this Jesus, and Pilate had agreed to use his Roman soldiers to detain him, at least until after the Passover. Other brigands, like Bar Abbas, had already been captured and that did a lot to quiet down the more radical element of the population, at least for a while.
But he didn’t like this man, Judas, not one bit. As he understood the situation, Judas had been a close personal friend of this popular rabbi and yet he was willing to betray his hiding place to his enemies. Betrayal always left a bad taste in the mouth of a true soldier. But, he sighed, he had his orders.
It was unlikely that they would succeed anyway. He looked briefly behind him at the excited, noisy mob surrounding his soldiers. This was ridiculous. There were only a dozen or so to be arrested but the chief priests and elders had insisted on at least two hundred men, as well as a contingent of their own guards just to make sure. Evidently, they took the stories about the strange powers of this man quite seriously. Supposedly he could heal the sick and even raise the dead. The tribune smiled to himself. If they don’t hear us coming, then Jesus needed to heal his disciples of a hearing problem.
Still he wondered at the stupidity of the whole thing. If this man could raise people from the dead, as some were claiming, a whole legion of Roman soldiers could not arrest him. And if he were merely another brigand with a handful of followers, as the Jews insisted, why did they need so many soldiers. It made no sense.
Well, he thought, at least it was better than the tedious night duty at the palace.
Judas was talkative in his nervousness over the coming confrontation. He was telling the tribune all the stories about Jesus, his healings, his teachings, his coming reign in Yerushalayim. It was obvious that we was trying to purge his conscience, not realizing who he was talking to. But the tribune was hardly listening. One didn’t listen to the useless revolutionary talk of the Jews.
He arranged the final signal with the Tribune. “When we get close, you and your guards must surround the place immediately so that no one can get away. I will approach him and mark him for you. The one I kiss, he is the man. Take him in charge, and see he is well guarded when you lead him away.”
The tribune ignored him; he didn’t need this civilian telling him how to do his job. They had turned off the dirt road and now were following a path up the hill into the grove of trees. It was not dense, and Jesus and his followers would have to be blind not to see the lanterns and torches flaring in the moonlight.
Unless they were sound asleep, of course, mused the tribune. But the noise should have woken them by now. And if they were the brigands that these Jews were claiming, they would no doubt have guards out on the perimeter to warn them if anyone approaches.
But they did not encounter any guards. In fact they walked right up to Jesus and his disciples in a small clearing among the trees and the tribune could see immediately that they had been expected. A fire was burning in the back ground and a solitary man was standing in the light waiting for them. The rest of the disciples were either standing by the fire or the more prudent were half hidden in the shadows under the trees.
While the rest of the mob crowded forward to see what was happening, the Roman soldiers deployed in a half-circle around the disciples. Judas went immediately up to Jesus and said “Greetings, rabbi,” and kissed him.
Jesus took him by the shoulders and pushed him gently back so that he could see into his eyes and said, “Judas, are you betraying the Son of Man with a kiss?”
When Judas did not answer him, Jesus said sadly, “my friend, do what you are here for.”
The exchange was quiet, but the eyes of Judas glinted in the moonlight as Jesus stepped past him to address the tribune. “Who are you looking for?” he said.
And the tribune answered him, “Jesus the Nazarene.”
Jesus said, “I am he.”
With that answer, the whole crowd stepped back a few steps and, tripping over each other’s feet, they fell to the ground. Superstitious awe filled them all, as they realized that this man could not be taken against his will. He had an authority that they could tangibly feel.
They didn’t just trip over their own feet, Gabriel knew, as he flew back to his position, but that would be the excuse they would no doubt give themselves later. It was a small gesture, he thought to himself, but necessary.
Until Jesus voluntarily gave himself up, he was still the King and, so long as he was in charge, ruffians like these would bow the knee in his presence. The King of Kings would not be taken by force, even if the lesson was lost upon these blinded sons of the earth.
Gabriel turned his attention to the drama below, keeping an eye on Lucifer as well, knowing that the lesson was just as much for him as for his human partners.
Jesus asked them again, while the chief priests and elders, Judas and the tribune all hastily got to their feet once again, “Who are you looking for?”
And this time one of the chief priests answered, angry over his humiliation in front of the Romans, “Jesus the Nazarene.” He didn’t even bother to look up at Jesus as he roughly knocked the dirt and dust from his robe, obviously angry at what he thought was a cheap trick, the darkness in his mind not even recognizing the warning for what it was.
“I have told you that I am he,” replied Jesus. “If I am the one you are looking for, let these others go.”
But Peter upon hearing that he was to be spared, and fearing to be left out of the battle, pulled out his sword that Jesus had told them to bring, and, gritting his teeth, he ran straight at the nearest one in the mob.
At the same time, one of the other disciples was asking Jesus eagerly, “Lord, shall we use our swords?”
But before he could reply, Peter, always the first to react, was already attacking. It happened to be Malchus, one of the servants of the high priest, who had come along as a witness to bring back his own report to the High Priest. Upon seeing the burly figure of Peter coming upon him with drawn sword, he turned to run but was already far too late. Not that Peter was any great swordsman, at heart he was a harmless fisherman, but he directed a blow to the head of Malchus and managed to slice through his right earlobe.
Immediately the mood of the mob changed. The chief priests and elders, Judas and even the Temple guards cowered in fear, while the tribune and his soldiers raised their own swords and were about to counterattack.
The demons, watching the scene below, were shouting and hooting their glee at the escalating violence. They clapped and jeered and hollered their encouragement while Lucifer stood to one side, in the darkness, his dark wings wrapped around him, just watching. He still could not believe what was happening.
This was a crucial moment. Would Jesus resist, or would he follow through on the agreement?
Already Satan saw this exchange as a contract – signed, sealed and about to be delivered. He had indicated his willingness to participate in the proceedings. He had indicated his willingness to give up a limited number of Jews to form this warrior-church that God seemed to want so much – although this part of the contract was less clear to him. The point was that he was willing, more than that, he wanted it, he desired it, he demanded it! This was to be his revenge!
And while he stood there in the darkness, watching these last crucial moments, he wrapped himself even more tightly with his wings, trembling at the thought of what lay ahead.
Jesus took control of the situation at once. “Leave off!” he said to them, his hands raised, his words as much for the Roman soldiers as for his own disciples. “That will do.”
Turning to Peter, Jesus said, “Put your sword back in its scabbard; am I not to drink the cup that the Father has given me?”
At that, Lucifer’s trembling stopped, and he held himself very still. He was close, so very close. He knew he could not interfere. All the human forces were at work, but Jesus had to make the final decision to go through with it or not. He waited, as quiet as death itself.
“Put your sword back,” Jesus repeated, “for all who draw the sword will die by the sword.” His next words were as much for the cohort of Roman soldiers as for the demonic forces that had helped bring them. “Or do you think that I cannot appeal to my Father who would promptly send more than twelve legions of angels to my defense?”
As Jesus spoke, the cold, hard chill of reality struck Lucifer like a physical blow. The angels were ready for battle!
And there, in one blinding blaze of spiritual glory, Gabriel and his twelve legions unveiled themselves arrayed in rank upon rank of angelic warriors ready for battle, their swords unsheathed, and Lucifer unprotected.
It had been a trap. Satan raged within himself. It had been a trap all along! His dark wings stood out stiffly from his back, his sword immediately in his hand, his arms spread wide, ready for battle. But why? His authority could not be defeated. It would only be a temporary setback, so why bother? What would they gain by attacking him now?
But the drama below continued uninterrupted, unaware of Lucifer’s plight.
Jesus went up to Malchus, who was writhing painfully at the feet of one of the chief priests, holding his hand to his ear to stop the bleeding.
The Tribune watched in disgust as the chief priest was trying to kick him away so that he would not get blood on his robe, but Jesus walked up to him and, kneeling down, picked up the dirty piece of flesh off the ground, wiped the dirt off, and knelt down once again by Malchus. Everyone was watching carefully and the tribune stood there a few feet away unsure of what to do. Jesus took hold of Malchus’ arm and drew his hand slowly away from his ear.
Malchus, looked at Jesus for a moment and then allowed his hand to be taken away. Jesus, with the piece of flesh in his hand, tenderly touched his ear.
The tribune gasped at what he saw, for the ear of Malchus was healed, and the blood had stopped. He bent down quickly to examine it himself. There was still wet blood on the side of his face but there was no wound. He turned to look at Jesus with new awe and respect in his eyes.
Jesus stood up and said quietly to him, and to all the others standing there, “Am I a brigand, that you had to set out to capture me with swords and clubs?” he paused, looking around at them. “I sat teaching in the Temple day after day and you never laid hands on me.”
The tribune smiled at the adroit way that Jesus was handling the situation. He may allow himself to be taken in for questioning, but only if it was clear that all this was only a political pretense. It was clear to everyone, whether they wanted to admit it or not, that Jesus was innocent of any wrong doing. He was obviously a good and kind man returning good for evil.
Suddenly it was all very distasteful to the Tribune. The whole, sorry affair. But there was nothing he could do. He had his orders and he would carry them out the best he could.
Then Jesus added something that Lucifer was anxiously waiting for. “But this is your hour; this is the reign of darkness,” he said, indicating his willingness to be arrested.
“Yeesss!” howled Satan with obvious relief. He laughed wickedly at Gabriel, who now had no authority to interfere. It was all a show, this angelic display of power was all a show!! Jesus was placing himself in his hands. It has begun! The reign of darkness has begun!
The demonic hordes swirled, and cavorted, and shouted and howled with growing boldness in the face of the twelve angelic legions. They watched as the Tribune finally ordered two of his men to seize Jesus and bind him, as well as the other disciples.
In the ensuing mayhem all of the disciples deserted him and ran away into the darkness, many of them barely escaping. One young man had nothing on but a linen cloth. They caught hold of him, but he left the cloth in their hands and ran away naked. All the disciples had gotten away, but then again, the Tribune didn’t seem to be trying very hard no matter how the demons goaded him on.
After they had seized Jesus and bound him in the rough manner of soldiers the world over, they pushed him down the hill to take him back to the city.
The rows of angelic warriors disappeared one by one until there was only Gabriel left, a grim and terrible look upon his face. He would follow and watch, but he would remain veiled and he would remain silent.
All of heaven would remain silent until the deed was done, while the King of Heaven descended into the pits of Hell.
Then, finally, when Hell had spent its fury, heaven would have the last word.
It was a dirty business, but the tribune had his orders to cooperate fully with the Jews in this matter. Normally, under no circumstances would he give up a prisoner to anyone other than his immediate superior. But his orders had been clear – cooperate!
The chief priests that had come with the mob to arrest Jesus now took over. Obviously they had everything planned, so Jesus was brought first of all to the household of Annas, the father-in-law of Caiaphas, who was the high priest that year.
Annas was a crafty old devil. There was no other way to describe him. He had power and influence and was known for his greed and wealth. He himself had been High Priest for nine years while Jesus had been growing up and his five sons would each have their terms in that office as well. Of course, according to the scriptures, the High Priestly office was supposed to be a life-time calling, so most of the people considered Annas to be the real power behind the scenes. Rotating the position among the members of his family was a matter of placating the Romans.
Annas had become rather shrewd in dealing with the Romans and especially with Pilate. Caiaphas, his son in law, held the office of High Priest for the entire time that Pilate was in Palestine, but would be promptly deposed just after Pilate was recalled to Rome. Obviously they worked well together. In any event, there was no doubt who wielded the power in the Sanhedrin, and, true to his cautious nature, Annas wanted to take the measure of this man himself.
The Tribune could not enter the palace of the High Priest as a gentile, so he gave Jesus over to the Temple guards and returned to his barracks to make his report. Jesus would be all right, he reasoned to himself, thinking back on what he had witnessed in the olive grove that night. After all, this Jewish infighting was none of his affair. Still he pondered what he had seen and what it might mean.
Bringing his cohort of soldiers around in an about face, he marched off into the dark of the night.
Peter was sick with worry. After his aborted attempt to defend Jesus, he had fled with all the others into the darkness. He had not really meant to abandon his Master, but it had seemed prudent at the time to escape for the moment and see what could be done afterward. He needed to think! What should he do?
He had been following the mob as they returned to the city, losing himself in the darkness of the night. Mixing with the tail end of the crowd, he pretended to be just another curious onlooker. But then he had bumped into Judas just as they had entered the city gates, which had frightened them both.
Judas had been forgotten in the excitement of finally having Jesus in custody. He had fallen behind and now was mixing with the general populous, full of doubt as to what he had done. It hadn’t gone quite the way he had expected but there was still time for Jesus to declare himself. He would probably wait until he could face the High Priest himself, or maybe even Pilate. With that thought, Judas consoled himself, until he had suddenly bumped into Peter.
For a wild moment he thought Peter would draw his sword and strike him too, but then he realized that Peter didn’t really understand what was going on. He didn’t know what Judas had really done, other than bringing the mob to Jesus and pointing him out. Perhaps he thought that he had been coerced, perhaps he had been captured and had been forced to cooperate. In any event, Peter appeared wary but not antagonistic, more concerned about Jesus than Judas.
By the time they reached the palace of the High Priest and the Roman soldiers had taken their leave, the rest of the Temple guards and the servants and were making a charcoal fire to warm themselves in the early morning chill. Peter hung around outside of the gate with a few others who had been denied entry, but Judas went in since he was known to the High Priest.
Before going upstairs with Jesus and the Temple guards, Judas spoke quickly to the servant-girl at the gate and asked her to allow entrance to Peter. And with that, Judas ran up the stairs. He wanted to be there when Jesus met the wily, old Annas. It would be an encounter to remember.
Lucifer was hounding Peter like a dog on the scent. He could feel the spiritual tremor in the very air around him. The bloodlust was mounting and he knew he could not control it for very long.
When things got this far, it was the preparation that mattered. It was a question of getting all of the spiritual and human forces in agreement, together with the proper authority, all moving in the same direction and then, as things neared the climax, all hell would break loose. He would try to bring the chaos under control after the deed was done.
He would take care of Peter himself, but he had to leave the Sanhedrin to Tundrac and Slimfroth. They had better handle it properly, he growled to himself.
The real danger would come tomorrow with Pilate. Although he had Pilate largely under his control, humans were a troublesome lot, often taking off in unforeseen directions and making a mess of well-laid plans.
The overall case against Jesus was weak, very weak. This is not about justice, he reminded himself. It was about revenge. He was never more wrong then precisely on that point but he would realize that soon enough.
Although he wanted desperately to be where Jesus was, to savor the sweet taste of victory over his enemy, he was determined to destroy this fledgling church now before it was really born. He had sent his other captains to hound the rest of the disciples and make sure that they were out of commission. He un-slung his great bow, ready to fire his deadly arrows. He would deal with Peter personally.
Peter felt like Daniel being thrown into the lion’s den. He didn’t really want to go in, but he felt that he must. He wanted to know what was happening, and maybe Judas would come back and give him some news. He wasn’t too surprised that Judas was known here. He was well-connected in Yerushalayim. He could keep an eye on Jesus and report back to the disciples. Peter was actually thankful for him and his influence, though he was still angry over how he had let himself get caught and in his weakness had led them straight to Jesus. Jesus would deal with that later, Peter decided.
The maid at the gate was looking at him intently as if she wasn’t sure she should allow him to enter. The gate was half-open and Peter was about to slip in when she asked him, “You’re not one of his disciples too, are you?” as if not really expecting an affirmative reply. Why would one of his disciples come here? It was too dangerous. But he was a friend of that man, Judas, wasn’t he? And he was one of the disciples of Jesus, wasn’t he?
But Peter replied firmly, “Woman, I don’t know him.” The contempt in his voice would have cowered most women, but she just looked at him even more suspiciously.
Peter hurried through the gate and made himself less conspicuous in the darkness of the courtyard away from the fire. Here he was surrounded by the same crowd that had been in the garden only an hour earlier looking to arrest him. But it had been dark, and very few would recognize him. His heart was pounding heavily, but he was determined to be as close as possible to his Master, to help in any way he could.
Jesus was ushered into the audience chamber of Annas, and pushed forward with his hands bound to stand in front of the High Priest. For a long moment, Annas merely looked at Jesus from slitted eyes, his hand stroking his thinly-bearded chin, while he slouched in his ornate chair. His eyes were bloodshot from the late hour, and he was in a foul mood.
He was an old man; thin but strong with the wiry toughness of a man used to power. Jesus stood erect in the middle of the room in silence, waiting for Annas to speak. But all Annas did was to snort a little, as if to say that he didn’t consider Jesus to be much of a catch. Then he began to ask him about his disciples. He wanted to know names, places, relatives, the number of his followers as if Jesus had been preparing an army for invasion. Jesus said nothing.
Seeing that he was getting nowhere, Annas changed directions and began to interrogate Jesus about his teaching, looking for signs of insurrection or false prophecy. They had argued over this for days already among the elite of the Sanhedrin. Would they try to convict Jesus of insurrection and hand him over to Pilate to be killed, or would it be a charge of false prophesy so that they could stone him in a fit of righteous anger and deal with the political consequences later. Either way he would die! Annas promised himself.
Jesus answered his questions frankly, “I have spoken openly for all the world to hear; I have always taught in the synagogue and in the Temple where all the Jews meet together: I have said nothing in secret.” There are no grounds for the charge of insurrection against Rome, and you know it, he was saying.
Then Jesus continued, “But why ask me? Ask my hearers what I taught: they know what I said.” If you want to charge me with false prophecy, you need witnesses and my disciples will be glad to testify on my behalf.
The implications were obvious. They wanted to charge him with false prophecy by claiming that he led his disciples astray, claiming that he was the Maschiach. But it was a religious question open to interpretation and the crowds by and large believed his claims because of the miraculous signs he had done.
One of the Temple guards was not impressed with Jesus’ frank attitude and slapped him across the face. “Is that the way to answer the high priest?”
With the red sting of the slap still on his face, Jesus answered with dignity, “If there is something wrong in what I said, point it out; but if there is no offense in it, why do you strike me?”
But Annas could see that he was getting nowhere. He would send Jesus, still bound to Caiaphas and let him deal with the problem. With a wave of his hand, Annas dismissed them.
Caiaphas and certain members of the Sanhedrin were awaiting the arrival of Jesus in another wing of the palace. They had managed to get their most loyal supporters together to constitute a quorum of the Sanhedrin to try Jesus that night. In the morning they would call a full council and have him publicly denounced and sent to Pilate, but that was more of a show than anything else. What really mattered would happen tonight.
The Temple guards grabbed Jesus roughly and sent him stumbling on his way down the open corridors.
Peter was getting anxious as he waited in the courtyard for Judas to come back. It was cold and he decided that it was safe enough to warm his hands for a minute at the fire.
But as he reached the group around the fire, the servant girl who was tending the gate, saw him. Indicating Peter with her head, she asked the man at her side, “Wasn’t this man with Jesus of Nazareth?”
The man looked up quickly to get a better look at Peter’s face, but Peter denied it again, with an oath. “I don’t know the man.”
Peter was scared now. He could see on their faces that they didn’t believe him. The man was standing now, his knife in his hand, in the process of eating a piece of meat.
Peter didn’t know it, but this was a relative of Malchus, the servant of the High Priest that he had struck with his sword. This was Lucifer’s ace in the hole. He had worked hard to get this combination of events to happen. It didn’t matter that Jesus had healed the servant of the High Priest, only that Peter had attacked him.
“Yes,” he was saying. “Truly you too are one of them, for your accent betrays you.” He started walking slowly towards Peter, keeping out of the way of the light from the fire, so that he could see his face more clearly.
“Yes,” he said again. “You are a Galilean, you were with him.”
Peter was mumbling his denials as the man came closer, “No, no, you’re mistaken, it wasn’t me!”
Until, finally, the man came close enough to recognize the flaming red beard and brawny strength of Peter. Pointing with his knife, he said eagerly, “Didn’t I see you with him in the garden?”
And Peter immediately began to swear and curse saying, “I don’t know this man you are talking about.”
And at that moment, a cock crowed while he was speaking, and Peter heard the marching of the Temple guards and looked up into the open corridors and saw his Master.
Jesus turned and looked straight at Peter.
It was a look that seemed to telescope the distance between them to merely a few feet, excluding all else. It was a look of gentle understanding and love, the same look that he had given Peter when he had almost drowned in the angry waves on the lake. It was that look that had saved him once, but it was that look that now threatened to destroy him, for it was at that moment that Peter remembered Jesus’ words, and his own boasts of undying loyalty.
His shame was so great that he left the courtyard running, bitter tears of regret coursing down his face to lose themselves in his great red beard. Peter ran and sobbed, his great frame shaking with the strength of his grief, until the early morning light found him exhausted and asleep once more in the garden on the Mount of Olives.
Gabriel felt like all joy had fled the world. His sadness was deep and profound as he followed Jesus into the lair of his enemies. He knew that his Master was grieving for Peter and praying silently for him as Peter faced his own dark night of the soul.
Peter was always ready and willing, perhaps too much so. He was always the first to plunge into danger, the first to react, or defend, the first to walk on water. Who, but Peter, would have gained entry to the courtyard of the High Priest filled with people looking to arrest him? Who, but Peter would sit shivering in the cold in the presence of his enemies for hours awaiting one glimpse of his beloved Master, one word about his fate?
Only Peter, Gabriel smiled. He had the makings of a true warrior. But sometimes his faith could not sustain itself in the situations his impetuousness got him into. He had not yet received the Presence, Gabriel reminded himself, but he had the heart of a lion.
Gabriel knew that Jesus loved Peter, and that Peter loved the Lord. In the end that love would save him, and in the end that was the difference between Peter and Judas. Both would be sorry for their betrayal, both would weep tears of regret, but in the end love wanted to be reconciled, and self-pity wanted to escape.
Jesus could hear the voices raised in heated argument before he was roughly pushed through the door, tripping over the few stairs down into the room where the Sanhedrin waited.
It wasn’t the entire Sanhedrin, just enough of them to keep the proceedings legal. Not that there was anything legal about a trial held at night. Still, they wanted to have enough clout so that the real meeting of the Sanhedrin scheduled for the morning would be nothing more than a show, to keep the appearance of legality. It was absurd, and obvious, but that is the pretension of evil – always trying to look good while plotting injustice.
Caiaphas sat on a great chair in the middle of the room while the others sat in the few available seats, or leaned against the wall. The room was small for such a large group of people but they didn’t seem to mind. They were all intent on Jesus and they were frustrated.
A messenger had come a few hours earlier to announce that they had captured Jesus and Caiaphas had given the order to have him brought to his father-in-law Annas for questioning first. He wanted more time to figure out what to do with him. Without Jesus present they had been trying to find evidence against him, however false, on which they might pass the death sentence. But they could not find any, though several lying witnesses came forward. They kept bringing conflicting reports about him. It was a thoroughly frustrating affair, but Caiaphas was determined to find some way to condemn him to death.
With Jesus before them, other false witnesses came forward and said, “We heard him say that he had the power to destroy this Temple made by human hands and in three days build another, not made by human hands.”
Caiaphas immediately got to his feet, indignant, and demanded, “Have you no answer to that?” He walked around behind Jesus and then hissed in his ear, “What is this evidence these men are bringing against you?” as if it were something very damaging rather than something they merely misunderstood.
Jesus was silent.
But even on this point their evidence was conflicting. Anyone who threatens to destroy the Temple, which was the religious heart of the entire nation, could be charged with insurrection, with plotting against the nation. But it was not conclusive. Some of the witnesses, under oath, had also heard him prophesy that it would be the Romans that would destroy Yerushalayim and the Temple.
Finally, the high priest who had been pacing like a cornered lion, stopped in the middle of the room and pointed a finger at Jesus and said, “I put you on oath by the living God to tell us if you are the Christ, the Son of God.”
And the room fell silent, wondering if Jesus would be foolish enough to convict himself. Not that it would be legal, but that was obviously not the point.
Jesus, looking around the room so that no one escaped his penetrating gaze, finally spoke, saying, “I am.”
There was an audible gasp from several in the room to hear him speak and condemn himself. But Jesus was not finished.
“All of you in this room will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of the Power and coming with the clouds of heaven.” In that one statement he had told the religious supreme court of the Jews that he would become their Judge and that he was in fact their God, as well as their Maschiach.
Of course, Caiaphas, in his unbelief, saw it as blasphemy and in a parody of religious fervor, he tore his robes, and turning to the others he said, “What need of witnesses have we now?” We are all witnesses. “You heard the blasphemy. What is your finding?”
And they all gave their verdict. He deserved to die.
Tundrac was trembling with anticipation. He knew that this was his moment. His Evil Master would be coming soon to take command of the operation, but right now Tundrac was in charge and he had laid his plans carefully.
Normally, they could not touch Jesus directly themselves. They were spirits after all, not made of detestable flesh and bones. But there were a few exceptions. Sometimes, after years of work or because of a sudden trauma or by means of a direct invitation, they could gain access to the life of a human. They would possess them and torment them and use them for their own purposes. It was great fun, or at least it had been, until Jesus came along to spoil it.
But here in the Sanhedrin they had no such authority and for obvious reasons. Lucifer had commanded them not to interfere in that way with the religious leaders. Demon possession was often rather obvious and no self-respecting member of the Sanhedrin could be seen in that light. This was, after all, a religious body overtly opposed to the demonic forces. Their influence had to be much more subtle. But there were other ways.
Sometimes in a fit of uncontrollable anger, especially in private or in a mob situation, the demonic forces could take part directly in an orgy of furious anger against a particular person. It would not normally be recognized for what it was, so their cover could be kept intact. It was the only way to participate in something he wanted to do so very much.
It was almost time. His demons were whipping the anger and hatred toward Jesus up to a frenzy as the Sanhedrin heard with their own ears the blasphemy. Slimfroth was hissing and slithering up and over Caiaphas, crawling between his legs and over his shoulders in his excitement, looking for the moment when entry would be granted.
Tundrac bellowed at him in rage, because he had chosen Caiaphas for himself. He approached Slimfroth in a fit of anger that matched the mood of the room and reached out to grab him by the throat.
At the same time the room erupted into an orgy of slapping and spitting and derision towards Jesus. And Tundrac and Slimfroth both entered Caiaphas, not wanting to miss the opportunity and together, their animosity forgotten, they both participated with evil pleasure in the grandest feast of their evil existence.
Judas slipped into the room just as it began and he was stunned into silence as he watched, furious at the leaders for their shameful indulgence and furious at Jesus for not doing anything about it.
No one was sure who had started it but, once begun, it became an outlet for their furious anger and frustration. Some of them started spitting at him and, blindfolding him, began hitting him with their fists and shouting, “Play the prophet, Christ! Who just hit you?” Their evil laughter echoing the laughter of the demons raging within, they continued heaping insults on him.
The attendants also rained blows on him, mocking and beating him, proper decorum forgotten as servant and master together indulged their evil passions against an innocent. Never had the halls of justice been so flagrantly misused, so obviously perverted to selfish ends, so meanly executed.
And Judas stood by himself in a corner of the room, a look of shocked horror on his face at what he was witnessing until, suddenly, he bolted from the room and fled into the night, no longer able to witness the disintegration of his life’s work.
But Jesus remained silent, the spittle hanging from the side of his face. He did not even wipe it away. His face stinging with the slaps, his holy ears ringing with the insults that were a truer blasphemy than anything he had said, he was tripped up, falling and bruising his knees, and then hauled roughly to his feet again. He bore it all in silence which merely goaded them into further rage and furious anger as if burning coals of fire had been heaped upon their heads.
Gabriel had to turn his face from the gruesome scene. Worse suffering was to come, and even death. But in some ways, this was the worst of all. This was his own people, his own family, his own nation. God had come to visit his people and they had rejected him and beat him and spit upon him. And wonder of wonders, he was letting them do so and bearing it all in silence.
There was a divine irony at work here, thought Gabriel grimly. Lucifer could not see it, or perhaps he only saw one aspect of it. No doubt he enjoyed the irony of God’s own people becoming the instruments of his suffering and death. That would please Lucifer’s morbid sense of humor to no end. But there was more going on here than even Lucifer knew, Gabriel reminded himself.
Certainly it was beyond comprehension why God did not rain down fire and sulfur from heaven to consume these evil humans he had created who would dare to touch His beloved Son. But love would not let Him. It was inconceivable that the Creator would allow Himself to be insulted and slapped by the very creation He had made. But it was love that allowed it. And it was this love that Gabriel saw in the face that already was marked with blood from a fist of anger. A face already marked with spittle and pain from the slaps of the rulers of his own kingdom, his own people. The people he had saved from Egypt on that Passover night so long ago. A freedom that they had been celebrating that very night. The birth of a nation that he had prepared for his own coming.
There were two levels of truth here, marveled Gabriel, meditating on this wonderful, terrible revelation of the love of God for His people. On one level, this was a story of revenge, both demonic and human. It was the age old story of injustice. The poor, the weak, the innocent condemned by the rich, the powerful, the guilty.
Caiaphas knew, on his level, that Jesus was a substitute. He would die for the nation so that the Romans would not get upset and come and take away their power, their Temple. It had been a weak excuse, when any excuse would do. But it worked. Lucifer had a better grasp on things but even he was still in the dark as to what was really going on.
It was obvious to Lucifer that Jesus was innocent. Even the charges were trumped up, and the legal proceedings had to break every law in the book to get Jesus condemned. Jesus was innocent of the death penalty but would die anyway. Jesus was innocent of the charge of blasphemy because he was telling the truth. Jesus was innocent of the charge of insurrection and sedition against Rome but he was condemned to death for political expediency.
But on another, deeper level – a level that Lucifer was not even aware of yet, Gabriel knew – Jesus was guilty. Jesus was a substitute but not merely in the body, taking the physical place of another. He was a substitute morally, spiritually as well. Jesus was not merely taking punishment for sin upon himself, but took the sin itself upon himself.
He became sin for his people, Gabriel marveled at that truth. And the people became holy in his righteousness. It was a substitution in the most complete sense of the word.
When humans looked upon him, they saw Jesus as a failed revolutionary, or a beloved master caught helplessly in the grasp of the enemy. When demons looked upon him, they saw the Son of the Living God, shorn of his glory and majesty, vulnerable and powerless, open to their mockery and revenge. When Gabriel and his brothers looked upon Jesus, they saw his true character, his true glory, in the humiliation with which he bore the shame of punishment and rejection from his own people.
But when God, the Father who loved him most perfectly, looked upon Jesus, He saw – by common agreement within the Godhead – the object of his wrath. He saw all the hideousness of sin, all the evil, the pettiness, the disobedience, the suffering, the lust, the murder, the adultery, the lies, the violence, the backbiting, the scoffing and blasphemy of sin.
He saw sin itself, all the sin of the world, all the sin of the ages before and after Christ, he saw it all in its terrible, evil manifestation there in the person of Jesus. And it was love that allowed him to see it where it should not be, to punish him who was not guilty but became guilty out of love.
Lucifer had not figured it out yet. He knew that the Maschiach was a suffering servant, but he had no conception of the kind of love that would go this far to redeem his people. In the Great Divine Irony of this most important moment in the history of the world, God was on Satan’s side. Or, to be more accurate, Satan was on God’s side.
He was being used not as the instrument of his own revenge, but as the instrument of a Righteous God who was pouring out his wrath on the Beloved Person who had become sin itself. The wrath of God would not be spread out in the lives of every human soul on earth, but rather it would be concentrated on one Holy Person, who was the manifestation of sin itself. The concept was mind boggling. The act was world shaking. Gabriel shuddered with the enormity of it all.
Satan should have been doing everything in his power to prevent what was happening, but he had fallen to his own temptation – the temptation to indulge his evil appetite, regardless of the consequences. Not understanding the meaning of what was happening, not understanding the nature of the love that would do this terrible thing; he had fallen prey to the evil of his own evil nature. The Divine Sting was at work, and like any good sting operation, it depended on the target to act according to his own interests, his own character, his own weaknesses and therefore fall into his own trap. Poetic justice at its best, Gabriel allowed himself a smile.
And so, accused of blasphemy, Jesus, who was God In The Flesh, was innocent and the rulers of Isra´el were guilty.
Accused of blasphemy, Jesus, who was Sin In The Flesh, was guilty of the vilest blasphemy of mankind that began in the garden and continues even today. As Sin In The Flesh, Jesus was guilty of doubting God’s word, and doubting God’s character and His love for His people. As Sin In The Flesh, Jesus was guilty of the sedition and rebellion and insurrection of mankind in attempting to overthrow the government of God. No, on this level Jesus was not innocent at all. Jesus was guilty as sin. So that those who were guilty could have a Savior who took their place. There was no other way.
And so he was innocent of the hellish spitting and slapping and punching with fists that he had to endure as God In The Flesh.
But, as Sin In The Flesh, he deserved it all. He bore it all for his people. And in truth, it represented the Father’s wrath upon mankind, upon sin, upon the great evil and disobedience that man had allowed into his perfect creation.
Jesus, the King of Kings had now become the King of Sin, the King of Self. And the many individuals who daily rebelled against the rule of God in their lives, the kings of self that would make up the supporting cast of the Great Divine Irony, would spit in the face of Jesus the spit that belonged on their own faces. They would slap the face of God with the slaps that should sting their own faces. They would finally whip him and crucify him, the King of Kings, with the whippings and pain and death that should be visited upon them, the kings of self.
They saw themselves as instruments of revenge, but, in fact, they were instruments of justice. And in the Irony of Heaven, they were ultimately instruments of love and mercy, though they would remain guilty of injustice and hatred toward the Son of God. .
It was a Divine Irony that uses revenge to accomplish justice and justice to accomplish mercy. It was a Divine Love that was so far beyond anything that Lucifer could imagine that he did not have the faintest idea that his ultimate defeat was accomplished by his own hand. Until, of course, it was too late.
Jesus noted that there were a few guilty faces in the assembly that would have considered him a friend and spoken up for him if they did not fear being put out of the synagogue and losing their position of power and influence.
He was brought before the council with his face carefully washed, even though the marks of a beating were still visible in the blackness under one eye and the small stubborn trickle of blood that came from his nose. No one was fooled, but one of the elders asked anyway about the beating as a matter of official record. He was told that the guards had treated Jesus roughly, but had already been disciplined for it.
This was to be a civil proceeding, a civilized travesty of justice. It was simply a way of keeping their consciences quiet, by giving the proceedings a cloak of legality. Not many were fooled. The decision had already been made. The elite of the Sanhedrin had already persuaded some, and warned others to fall into line. But, almost to a man, they were in agreement anyway. At least those who were there.
They got immediately to the point, knowing that Jesus would incriminate himself if asked the right questions. “If you are the Christ, tell us,” one of the elders commanded.
“If I tell you,” Jesus replied with more than a hint of sarcasm in his voice, “you will not believe me, and if I question you on the legality of these proceedings, as I have the right to do, you will not answer.”
Before they had a chance to get angry with him, Jesus continued, giving them what they wanted to hear. He said prophetically, “But from now on, the Son of Man will be seated at the right hand of the Power of God,” indicating once again that he would ultimately be their Judge. It was a warning that went unheeded.
“So you are the Son of God then?” they asked again just to make sure, the angry emotion of the night trial absent in light of this expected response. They were obviously just going through the motions.
He answered, “It is you who say I am.” It is you who want me to say it, even though you will not believe it. Listen to the sound of your own voice, the words on your own lips, and believe, or not, as you wish, the thought went unspoken.
“What need of witnesses have we now?” they said, the repetition sounding hollow even in their own ears. “We have heard it for ourselves from his own lips.”
The whole assembly then rose, and they brought him before Pilate.
And so the rulers of Isra´el, condemned the Holy One of Isra´el to die for the people and handed him over to their enemies. The betrayal of Judas giving birth to the betrayal of Isra´el against her own King. The King of the Jews.
Judas was angry. He was angry at the chief priests and elders who had obviously condemned Jesus to death on the flimsiest of excuses. He had been horrified at the undignified spitting and physical and verbal abuse they had heaped on him last night. He had never been more disgusted with the spiritual leaders of the nation.
And our cause is in the hands of men like these? He shook his head roughly as if to rid it of the thought. All through the abuse, Jesus was silent and humble, and the anger in Judas continued to rise.
At every moment, Judas had expected Jesus to react, to respond to their insults, to display his power and authority. He had done it before, in the streets. He had called them white washed tombs, serpents, brood of vipers. Just a few days ago, he had roundly cursed these same Pharisees and scribes and called down the blood of the slain prophets upon the heads of the leaders of this generation. Where was all that fire and brimstone now?
Yes, Jesus made him angry. But the more that Judas watched the illegal proceedings; the more he noted the difference between the holy, dignified demeanor of his master and the obvious jealousy and pride and hatred of the Sanhedrin, the more Judas was filled with remorse.
He had left the house sickened. Stumbling through the courtyard, he did not see Peter, but he didn’t care anymore.
He kept saying to himself, “What have I done? What have I done?” In a daze he wandered through the streets as a bleak dawn sun peaked over the horizon and soon found himself making his way back to the garden on the Mount of Olives where it had all begun.
Walking into the clearing among the trees where the disciples had slept briefly the night before, Judas saw a slight movement on the ground among the trees. He went over to investigate and found Peter trembling with fatigue and grief, his cloak wrapped around him as he lay shivering on the cold ground.
When Peter saw Judas, he sat up quickly and moved back a bit, looking around for anyone else that might be with him. But he said nothing.
Judas saw the furtive glance and guiltily looked away, knowing that Peter didn’t trust him not to bring more soldiers. Peter’s eyes were wide with sleeplessness and there was a wild and desperate look in them as if he didn’t know where to turn or where to hide from the shame that was now his constant companion.
Peter didn’t say anything; he just sat with his back to a tree with his cloak still wrapped around him as much for protection from his own demons as from the cold. Judas was sitting on his haunches, crouched a few feet away, playing with a stick and scribbling nervously in the dirt. He still could not look directly at Peter, but he needed to talk, to explain. Maybe Peter would understand.
Slowly at first but then quicker and quicker as if he wanted to rid himself of every memory of that night and the deed he had done, he told Peter what had happened. He told him what had happened in the Sanhedrin, what had happened in the interview with Annas, which now seemed mild in comparison. But most of all, he tried to explain why. Why all this had happened, why he had done what he did. Betrayal? He still could not say the word, and yet remorse flooded through him and threatened to drown him.
Betrayal? Yes, maybe, but it wasn’t supposed to happen that way! It sounded hollow even in his own ears. And in that moment, he knew what he would do.
Getting up quickly, he left Peter there in the garden, not knowing if he had heard or understood anything he had said. But it helped to talk about it. And now he would make it right, at least for himself.
As he entered into the Temple sanctuary, he unloosed his money bag hanging from his belt and gripped it tightly in his hand as if he were directing all of his pent up anger into those thirty pieces of silver. He found some of the chief priests and elders still there, dealing with the throngs of people still celebrating the festival, unaware, yet, of what was happening.
“I have sinned,” the confession was torn from his throat in a cry of desperation. “I have betrayed innocent blood.” There, he had said it. Betrayal, that’s what it was. He had admitted it. Somehow he wanted that confession to change things, to turn back the march of time, to stop the flow of history and make it all right again.
“What is that to us?” He was shocked by their disinterest. “That is your concern.”
He saw the disgust and mockery in their eyes for him, the one they had used, the betrayer who had willingly offered his services but was, after all, contemptible. Flinging down the silver pieces in the sanctuary he made off, and went and hanged himself, not able to live with his remorse. It was sudden. It was decisive. It was wrong. Judas had not learned a thing.
It would be a great temptation to assume that Judas was a good man who had made a genuine mistake, thought Gabriel, considering that any man might easily have done the same. And it was true, he thought sadly, they are all betrayers at heart, setting up their own kingdoms to rival the authority of God in their affairs. How often they try to use Him to accomplish their own great causes, to gain their own benefits, to achieve their own ambitions? No, not one of them is any different than Judas, or Peter. Betrayal and denial is their stock in trade.
But there is also forgiveness for them all, even for Judas. But sadly Judas had taken matters into his own hands. He convicted, judged and sentenced himself, as if he had that right, and in the end he became his own executioner.
The truth is that remorse is never enough, shame is never enough, even repentance is never enough if there is not the love that seeks reconciliation. People throughout the world and down through history have had to face the shame of sin and weakness, but salvation is more than that. It is restoration, it is forgiveness, it is reconciliation through the blood of the cross. That is the only way to be saved from the shame of sin.
This was a lesson that Peter had yet to learn and that Judas, making the wrong choice again in his self-pity, had decided never to learn.
The chief priests picked up the silver pieces and said, “It is against the Law to put this into the treasury because it is blood money.”
Over the next few weeks they discussed the matter and when they learned that Judas had hung himself in the potter’s field they decided to buy that plot of ground and make it into a graveyard for foreigners.
Many hours after his death, the body of Judas, putrid and bloated with gases, had finally fallen from the tree and had burst open, spilling his entrails upon the ground. It was a gruesome end for someone who represented the seed, and even the act of betrayal, in everyone. But Gabriel could not grieve for him. He had chosen his path. He was the betrayer.
Since it was already unclean, and had accepted the blood of a betrayer and a self-murderer, the graveyard would become known as Hakeldama, the Field of Blood.
The Desert Warrior
P.S. Let’s talk to God….
Lord, I don’t ever want to be like Judas, full of remorse but without love for you. I don’t really want to be like Peter, either, at least not in terms of betraying you. And yet, I betray you continually. I am so sorry. Please restore to me the joy of my salvation and teach me the ways of godly sorrow. Thank you for the Divine Irony that allows me to have a substitute in your Son, Jesus. Help me to honor that sacrifice with my life. I belong to you. In Jesus’ name I pray. Amen.