In Luke’s account of Jesus before Pontius Pilate (Luke 23:1-25) he tells of another question Pilate asked – this time of the mob that was howling for the death of the one whom he had already pronounced innocent. Pilate had offered them a choice between Jesus and Barabbas, a man who had been imprisoned for insurrection and murder. The chief priests had persuaded the crowd to ask for Barabbas and to call for the crucifixion of Jesus. Pilate wanted to release Jesus, but as they continued to call for his crucifixion he asked them, “Why, what evil has he done?”
Even though Pilate three times officially declared that Jesus had done nothing worthy of death, he with all the power of the then most powerful nation on earth could or would not prevent him from dying. Had he delivered him from the cross, there probably would have been a full-scale rebellion and he was not going to risk that happening.
The Jews believed that if Jesus was not stopped there would be so much unrest that the Romans would step in and crush what little power they were allowed under the Roman occupation. But what they did not count on was that there was a third element in the developing events that would bring about a far different outcome that anticipated by either the Romans or the Jews.
God’s hand was at work here. Jesus had come in the “fullness of time” – when everything was in place according to God’s perfect will.
“But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law,” (Galatians 4:4).
“…making known to us the mystery of his will, according to his purpose, which he set forth in Christ as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth.
“In him we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to the purpose of him who works all things according to the counsel of his will,” (Ephesians 1:9-11).
Theologian N. T. Wright describes the coming together of these three elements by comparing them to the actual storm and the disaster movie made about it, “The Perfect Storm,” in which the fishing boat, the “Andrea Gail” is caught and lost. There were three weather systems converging in the Atlantic which made for this enormous storm. And in Jesus’ case, there was going to be a clash of these three powers and the world would never be the same afterward. How would that be?
It would never be the same because it was Jesus who was on trial and who was handed over by Pilate for crucifixion. Jesus who “opened not his mouth” in neither denial nor defense of himself against the charges made. It was Jesus submitting himself to such a cruel, unjust death in order to make his accusers, his judges, his executioners, the Jewish mob and the whole world free – if they would accept the freedom he offered.
“He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth; like a lamb that is led to the slaughter, and like a sheep that before its shearers is silent, so he opened not his mouth. By oppression and judgment he was taken away; and as for his generation, who considered that he was cut off out of the land of the living, stricken for the transgression of my people? And they made his grave with the wicked and with a rich man in his death, although he had done no violence, and there was no deceit in his mouth” (Isaiah 53:7-9).
These weren’t just isolated individuals who were demanding the crucifixion of the innocent Lamb of God. They were willingly taking upon the nation the guilt of Jesus’ death. It was a corporate atrocity – a sin of which the whole nation was guilty. They were accused of this in Acts 2:23 when Peter said, “…you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men.” They hadn’t done this one individual at a time. They had willingly taken it upon the whole of the people, even to their children. “And all the people answered, His blood be on us and on our children!” (Matthew 27:25). There may have been some of these same people who heard Stephen accuse them of the same thing, including them with their fathers in a long history of such national atrocities. And it was not as though they did not already have blood on their hands!
“Which of the prophets did your fathers not persecute? And they killed those who announced beforehand the coming of the Righteous One, whom you have now betrayed and murdered,” (Acts 7:52).
Since Jesus came as Emmanuel – God with us – the perfect representation of God because he is God, whatever these people were doing to him they were doing to God. They were showing their contempt for God. They were rejecting God as their true ruler. They believed they were doing God’s will, but they had drawn up in their own minds a caricature of the true God and were worshiping what amounted to a false God. A false conception of God is a false God. They did not recognize Jesus because they did not know God.
What evil had Jesus done? None, of course. Nothing. Whatsoever. Ever. People had made him out to be evil because he was calling them back to God for healing. Healing of their individual lives and the life of their nation. The only way they could be whole was to accept him for who he said he was. Accept him as he was preached to them just over 7 weeks later. He would be made “both Lord and Christ” – and Peter would announce it to those who were present on Pentecost.
This is one of the great tragedies of our day. Many people want religion but don’t want God. They will do whatever it takes to have their religion but leave God out of it. Oh, they believe they are doing God’s will, but their heart is far from him and their lives are far from what God wanted them to be. The same goes for nations as well.
Jesus came to call sinners to repentance and restoration back to where God intended all men to be – in fellowship with him. But the corporate lives of civilizations and societies can only be changed as the people who make it up are changed. If his crucifixion was a corporate/national sin, then Peter’s call for repentance was a call to the nation to repent as well as the individual. In order to be restored to the place God intended them to be they had to see how they had rejected him and had crucified his son. In order to be the collective people God is bringing to himself, we today as his people must commit ourselves, our combined resources and abilities to doing his will and not our own.
When people do this they gain a realization of what the kingdom of God is supposed to be. It will be, in fact, just what it’s king was. As he humbled himself to serve his disciples and the people of his day, so will the kingdom of his people do today. As he gave himself without reservation, pouring his life out for the salvation and restoration of men to God, so those of his kingdom will pour themselves out for the same reason. Until we see this we have neither understood Jesus nor his kingdom mission in this world.